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).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (7): Launch Out Into the Deep . . . For What??

Have you ever felt like God was asking you to climb out onto a limb . . . but you’re not sure if it’s really God or just your imagination? The quandary is: If it’s really God, then you’re willing to do something that seems futile by human wisdom, but if it’s just your imagination, then you know you’ll end up getting hurt one way or the other and probably feeling very humiliated and stupid. Yes? You know that feeling? I certainly have at various junctures in my life.

In Luke 5:4, where Jesus asked Peter to “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught,” I wonder if Peter had the same thought. Peter (aka/Simon) and his brother Andrew had been fishing all night without catching anything. I’m sure they were very tired and ready to go home to sleep. On top of that, Peter had already extended himself by letting Jesus use his boat as a pulpit from which to address the crowds who had gathered to hear his wisdom. Wise teacher? Yes! Knowledgeable about fishing? I suspect Peter had  his doubts.

Nevertheless, Peter and Andrew had already committed to following Jesus, and following requires obedience, so Peter reluctantly obeyed (at least partially; notice Jesus’ “nets” versus Peter’s “net,”—a small alteration that ultimately made a big difference, as we’ll see next Sunday): “And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5).  Do you admire Peter’s willingness to obey? I do, even though it wasn’t complete. He was learning to trust, and I often identify with his doubts and fears. Peter stated his objections but proceeded to do as told . . . sort of. The essence of being a good follower is to state your opinion but obey your leader, whether it’s following Jesus, your husband (gasp!), or your boss. Furthermore, Jesus asked him to go deep! Are we willing to go deep with Jesus . . . out where— not only could we fall out of a tree— we could totally drown?!

In studying a passage for meditation, I like to consider many translations, and almost universally, the texts record Jesus telling Simon Peter to “Launch out into the deep.” However, in most of the modern versions, Jesus’ command ends something like this: “and let down your nets for a catch.” The most presumptuous is probably The Living Bible, which states it this way: “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets and you will catch a lot of fish!'”

This turns the command into a promise that is not in the King James Version (KJV), and although the vocabulary of the KJV  is sometimes archaic, I tend to trust its scholarship. In the KJV, Jesus tells Simon to “let down your nets for a draught.” Draught is an ancient word related to “drag” or “draw” and is usually used in terms of dragging or pulling liquid, as water through a net in fishing. (Or, in recent times, the idea of drawing out a “draught” or “draft” of beer into a cup.)

Although the difference may seem slight, I don’t believe Jesus is giving a promise of success to Peter, and I think the same is true for us today. When God tells us to launch out into the deep with him and put down our nets for a draught, He is asking us to obey him without promising any particular reward. Our nets may come up empty, or they may come up full, but the important thing is: Are we going to follow Christ and do what he asks or not? Period. Are we going to be okay if we fail by human standards and feel humiliated? Jesus didn’t promise us worldly fame or fortune, nor did he say that we’d be able to look with pride at what we’ve accomplished by following him. In fact, he predicts persecution, and if his life is our “perfect” example, then it looks like humiliation is in the mix too.

However, Jesus did promise us a life of spiritual abundance and fruitfulness if we follow him, and that’s worth more than any material gain. Are you willing? I am. Are we “able”? Well . . . that’s a harder question to answer!

‘”Are Ye Able,’ Said the Master”
(—Earl Marlatt, 1926)

“Are ye able,” said the Master,
“To be crucified with me?”
“Yea,” the sturdy dreamers answered,
“To the death we follow Thee.”

Refrain:
Lord, we are able. Our spirits are Thine.
Remold them, make us, like Thee, divine.
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
a beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.

Are ye able? Still the Master
Whispers down eternity,
And heroic spirits answer,
Now as then in Galilee. [Refrain]

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:1-5).

Free Seminar on Learning “God Speech”…Christian Prayer

Did you know that at its root, “theology” means “God speech”? I always thought theology meant “the study of God,” and that’s the common modern idea, but in the original Greek, “ology” is derived from “logos,”  meaning “word.”  Biology is the study of life, but it’s also “life words”…learning how to speak the language of life. Similarly, “theology” means learning to speak the language of God.

Do you know how to speak God words? To talk to God? To let him speak to you and respond back to him, the way I toddling child learns to speak to his father?

Starting today, Wednesday, February 27, 2017, my son Jonathan (who is now a professor at Moody Bible Institute) is beginning a series on prayer, and I wanted to let you know, just in case it might be interesting to you. For those of you who may not know, Jonathan’s great passion is to make Christian education available to anyone who wants it, regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to attend a traditional university for training. Moody has been wonderfully supportive in working on this vision with him. Here is the specific information:

 

 

 

Dear Friends of Aqueduct Project,

We are incredibly excited to invite you to a live lecture series on prayer that will take place on Wednesdays beginning this week, February 22, 2017! You can join in on this live event from anywhere in the world with a single click. Full details are available at the course landing page: http://aqueductproject.org/prayer-seminar/

We have assembled a teaching team of seven gifted and passionate students from Moody Bible Institute who will be delivering these lessons alongside me. Whether you are able to join us for only one lesson or whether you will be able to participate in the entire series, we hope that we will see you soon for this transformative experience!

No registration is required, and all lectures are free! If you have questions, please email Jack DePuy at jacob.depuy@moody.edu.

“When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:17–18, ESV)

Yours,
Jonathan J. Armstrong, Ph.D.
President of Aqueduct Project

Origins: Springs of Faith in Engedi

Brad PowellUsually on Wednesdays I like to share reflections on current events or review uplifting movies or good books, but I want to start including especially good sermon series sometimes too. For instance, my daughter’s husband, Carl, is a videographer for Northridge, a mega church near Detroit. Their pastor, Brad Powell, is such a thoughtful teacher that they just opened their fourth campus (in Grosse Ile) this fall, and on the first day the new building opened, twice as many people showed up as could fit in the auditorium! So, on the second Sunday, they already had to go to 2 services to accommodate all the people who are coming.Brad Powell teaching Brad just started a new series in September called “Origins: Old Testament Edition.” My son-in-law traveled with a group from Northridge last spring to learn about Israel and get footage and inspiration for this series, and so—of course—I was very eager to check out Carl’s video handiwork as well as hear the messages. I’ve been so inspired by Brad’s teaching that I want to recommend this series. If you can’t take the time to just sit quietly and listen, you can always double task like I do, listening while you work out, do calisthenics, drive to work, fold laundry, wash dishes, or whatever!

http://northridgechurch.com/talks/origins-2/en-gedi/

I can’t really condense the messages, but let me give you just one insight from Brad’s message on En Gedi. This was especially meaningful to me, because Alan and I have taken a trip to Israel, so  I could picture everything in my mind:

Sunset in Israeli Wilderness David and his men were wandering in the desert trying to avoid King Saul, who was jealous of David’s popularity. Springs of Engedi They finally managed to reach the life-giving springs of En Gedi, which bubble up out of the rocks in the middle of the barren wilderness. Deer in woodsBrad mentioned that when they visited early in the morning, they didn’t find anything but animals.The Dead SeaAll the tourists had gone to the Dead Sea instead, which is very close by and much more impressive. Swimming in the Dead SeaThis is absolutely true! Our tour bus didn’t stop at the Springs of En Gedi at all. The resort where we stoppedInstead, our destination was a glamorous resort along the banks of the Dead Sea. Dead SeaThe only trouble is, the Dead Sea is dead. Nothing ever grows in it!Swimming in Dead Sea  It’s fun to float in it, but although it will sustain a person’s weight, it can’t sustain the life of any living thing! Wilderness of IsraelBrad pointed out that spiritually—like David—we live in an arid world, Oasis in Israel's Wildernessbut instead of seeking refuge in the life-giving waters at the Springs of En Gedi, Beautiful Dead Seawe are drawn to look for pleasure in places that are beautiful but have no life. Springs of Engedi NRCWhen we feel that deep, restless longing in our souls, drinking in the world’s glamorous “Dead Sea” won’t quench our thirst. We need to come to God. He is the true spiritual En Gedi: The spring of living water:
“O Lord, the hope of Israel,
all that forsake thee shall be ashamed,
and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth,
because they have forsaken the Lord,
the fountain of living waters.”
(Jeremiah 17:13, emphasis mine)The Road to EngediHow about you and me? Where do we go to find spiritual life and peace?Swimming at resort on Dead Sea God truly is my En Gedi, my fountain of living waters, and I pray He’s yours too!Barefoot Creek

 (I took the photos of Brad Powell and the Spring of En Gedi while listening to the message on their website. All the rest were from my trip to Israel with Alan, except the picture of the deer and the last picture, which were taken at our previous home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)