Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In the Blink of an Eye

Davin (our 21 year old son) came home last night from playing softball and it was obvious something was bothering him. He proceeded to tell us that he had just heard that one of the boys he played baseball with in high school is being charged with murder. According to Davin he was a quiet, somewhat shy, really nice guy, and, although they had not been great friends, Davin spent considerable time with him. Michael was very involved in Davin's playing and knew everyone of those boys by first name and position. I remember a lot of pimples and green uniforms. The somberness in our kitchen was palatable. Those of you who know me know that I don't cry a lot, but I have been fighting back tears ever since.

So what happened? We don't have details and it is not my place to share them, but it seems drugs were involved. All I could think of was, "there but by the grace of God, goes my child." But my heart has ached ever since. I woke up several times last night feeling like I needed to cry out to God, "Help them!" Help this mother whose baby is now facing years behind bars. Help this family who is trying to make sense out of all of it. Help this young man whose dreams have now been shattered to smithereens. All in the blink of an eye.

I spent the morning listening to God-is-in-control music. That is usually the only way I can make sense of this kind of stuff; reminding myself who He is in our direst circumstances. And as I was driving to work, all of a sudden I was reminded that everything changed in the blink of an eye 2000 years ago. At the cross we went from enemies of God to being redeemed. To where by His grace things like this do not have to be the end of us. To, if we let Him, he can turn all the horror in our lives into something good. To a place where ashes can become beauty again. And the beauty of that moment has had ripple effects all these years. Everytime someone says yes to Him all of the above becomes true in their lives. It happened to me, and it happened to most of you.

I don't know anything about this family and so I have no idea whether or not they are believers, whether or not they have Jesus to turn to. But I am praying for that for them. I am praying that they perceive Him reaching out to them, comforting them, and embracing them. And I am praying that Davin, as he tries to process all this, will also turn his face to the Lord and say, "Lord, that could have been me. Help me."

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Don't Want to Have It All Together

One day at school, I was a bit of a mess. I couldn't mind my highlighter or pencil and I was running round trying to get things done. Someone said that it was good to see me a bit frazzled because I always seemed to have it all together and it was good to know that I had my off days too.

I was a bit heartbroken. I thought... is that what people think of me? That I have it all together?

That was never my intention. I generally don't share with many people the things that are going on in my life because that is just the type of person I am. Unless you are someone I trust deeply, I am very unwilling to be vulnerable with you. My intention in trying to always remain upbeat and put together is not to point to myself, it was always to point to Christ. I thought that by pushing through the tough times, helping others in spite of my own pain, and working hard pointed to the absolute belief that I had  in God's plan for my life.

But I guess I was wrong after all. I have become one of those people that is hard to get to know. I am one of those people that seem a little bit unapproachable. And that is no one's fault but my own because  somewhere along the way, I have rebuilt that wall that I thought was long demolished.

When people look at me and think I have it all together they don't see so many things going on in my life. I am hiding an apartment so messy that I can't have people over. They don't see the Friday nights spent alone doing homework. They don't see the moments of profound self-doubt and uncertainty. They don't know that it is hard for me to make friends. They don't know that I stay in the background because it hurts less when I am ignored.

image from here

I need balance.

I stand behind my original intention to always honor God in spite of it all but perhaps I need to be a bit more open about what is going on behind the curtain. I don't want to have it all together because I want people to see Christ in me in spite of my brokenness. I want the victories and successes in my life to point solely to Him and not my perfectionist tendencies.

I don't want to have it all together, I just want Him putting His plan to action in my life.

 It's time I start finding that balance. 
Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jesus and the Feast of Tabernacles

I had to post this e-mail newsletter I got from the Chosen People Ministries - if for nothing else because I want to remember where to find it.:) I LOVE this kind of stuff and this serves as a reminder that God does not waste anything! The picture is from the replica of what the temple/Jerusalem would  have looked like at the time of Jesus. The water the author is talking about actually ran down the temple stairs and down the streets. The Pool of Siloam would have been to the bottom left so they had to bring the water uphill. Enjoy!


We have just finished celebrating Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), which is also called Hoshannah Rabbah – the Great Day of Salvation. I wrote a chapter on this incredible Jewish festival in the book my wife Zhava and I wrote for Moody Press many years ago, entitled The Fall Feasts of Israel. I would be happy to send you a copy at cost with free shipping if you'd like to read it! You can order it by replying to this e-mail, and we will bill you so you do not need to send any money ahead of time.
The week was a busy one in the religious Jewish community in Brooklyn, where I live. Sukkah booths dotted the landscape and Orthodox Jews took the week off from work – many were living in the booths or at least eating their meals in these structures. You can check out a few pictures in our "Sukkot in Brooklyn" photo gallery to get a sense of the neighborhood!

According to Jewish tradition and also gleaned from Leviticus 23, the purpose of living in booths is to remind the Jewish people of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites and to remember the ways in which God provided for the Jewish people. Additionally, the Jewish people are reminded of the frailty of life – just as the booths let in the wind and the rain and are built without nails, so we in our humanity are frail creatures and can only have joy in life if we fully depend upon God and His provision.
This is one of the reasons I love this holiday! It is also a great time to witness to Jewish people, as the somber and serious season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are now over and my people are now reflecting on the joy of knowing God's care.

I especially love the last day of the seven-day festival of Sukkot, as in John chapter 7 we see Jesus celebrating this day with the multitudes of Jewish worshippers gathered at the Temple:
Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Jesus spoke these words at the conclusion of a ritual that was referred to as "The Ceremony of the Water Drawing" in the Talmud. Alfred Edersheim describes this ceremony as follows:
Thus the Talmud says distinctly: 'Why is the name of it called, the drawing out of water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said: "With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation."' Hence, also, the feast and the peculiar joyousness of it are alike designated as those of 'the drawing out of water'; for, according to the same Rabbinical authorities, the Holy Spirit dwells in many only through joy.

This is the culmination of the week-long festival, during which the Jewish people were daily asking God to provide rain so that the new season of crops in Israel would be able to grow. Each day the priests would bring water in large urns from the pools of Siloam to pour out over on the altar while raising their hands and asking God to send rain. This tradition developed over the years, and the request for rain expanded to include the sending of the rain of His Spirit in the end of days – a clear signal of Messianic expectation. "Send the rain... send the Messiah" was the mentality, as expressed in the reading of Psalm 118.
On the final day of Sukkot, the priests and the Levitical orchestra would march down to the pool of Siloam, fill the large urns and carry them back to the altar with great ceremony. They walked around the altar seven times, crying out "Save us, save us, save us, Lord," based upon Psalm 118:25, O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity!

In the midst of these heartfelt cries to God by the Jewish people for the promised salvation, Jesus stood up and with a loud voice announced that what was hoped for was now fulfilled! Their Messianic hopes and prayers that the Spirit would be given to provide sustenance, life and joy would now be fulfilled in Him!

What a magnificent event! What a moment for Yeshua to announce His Messiahship!
I know that you have a busy and challenging ministry, as do I, but I hope you are encouraged by knowing that we can fully depend upon Him who provides the Spirit and the joy to keep us smiling.

May the joy of the Lord fill your soul today!

Your brother in the Messiah,

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Am I Willing to Admit That I Might Be Wrong??

image from here

Today I came across the Facebook statuses of one of my closest friends from college. In it she said: 

God will provide for your every need. Except, he might not heal you, because he might want you to have that sickness, so that you can learn something from it. #LIE

I commented that I did not think that the second part was a lie, because while He doesn't necessarily want any of His children to suffer, that in His sovereignty, He does not heal everyone. While my friend believes that God wants to heal everyone, I don't think He does. Obviously, illness and disease is NOT from God but He has allowed it (in the case of Job) or even used it to bring glory to His name. 

Here's the thing... sometimes when I say that I think God uses illness for His glory people say two things. They say that a good Father wouldn't cause an illness. To that I would say that God, at least to my knowledge, doesn't cause the illness. In fact, we did! Humanity introduced sin into the world and although Christ's atonement allows us to stand righteous before God, we are not automatically absolved from the consequences of a fallen world. Illness is a part of our fallen world and God Himself choses how to deal with it when we ask Him for healing. 

Secondly, people say that a healed person brings more glory for a person to walk in health, healed by God, than when He uses a person's illness for His glory. Now, I think that is a lie. Who are we to say what brings God more glory? Why is a person healed a bigger impact than a person who, in spite of their illness, still praises God? It is here too that I am sometimes accused of allowing my experience of people who are ill but still praise God to influence my theology. I say, no, because I don't believe that Scripture affirms that God wants all healed. My experience is just an outflowing, a confirmation of sorts, of what I see in God's word. 

Now, let's be clear. I don't think God wants people to be sick, much like I don't think He wanted Adam and Eve to allow sin to enter the world. I don't think He wants to see us suffer and I don't think He wants to see creation slowly destroyed by depravity. Yet, for some unknown reason, sometimes He allows bad things to happen and God-loving people die from illnesses that He could have healed. 

Furthermore, I think that we as a Church need to be more bold about asking for healing. Just because I don't think God wants to and will heal each person, doesn't mean that I don't believe we shouldn't ask. Yet, I am also comfortable with the reality that we live in a fallen world and so many things about how God works in this fallen world are beyond my comprehension. 

I was sitting here this afternoon, just mulling this over. Often, as a seminary student, I am accused of putting God in a box and not allowing Him to be supernatural. I am accused of being a know it all. I am accused of being prideful and arrogant. 

And you know what? Sometimes, these people are right. Sometimes, in spite of my best efforts, my relationship with God becomes more about school and less about Him. Sometimes I talk like I know more about the Lord than other people. Sometimes, I think I am better than other people. 

And sometimes I am just wrong. 

There are so many things that I am not willing to be wrong on. Fundamental issue of our faith must be preserved in an orthodox manner so that the Gospel message will remain intact. On so many things, I am not willing to entertain the idea that I am wrong because those things are the foundation of my relationship with God.

Yet, others, I am finding, I need to be careful to not harden my heart and close my ears to what others are saying because maybe it is something that I need to hear. I need to be careful that in my hurry and zeal to protect orthodoxy that I don't drown out the Lord's correction in my life. 

So, all this to say. This healing thing... I disagree with my friend and many others on God's desire to heal. I do think we need to be careful when making blanket statements about His desire to heal, but I also want people to be more open to asking for healing in the first place.

And above all, I want to always be willing to let the Lord guide me. 

So, today, I am willing to admit that I might be wrong. I don't think I am, but just maybe, I have had it all wrong this whole time. 
Friday, October 5, 2012

Who is Jesus Watching?

The big article in the latest issue of Christianity Today highlights 50 women to watch as according to them these women are the ones who are “most shaping the church and culture” today. While I am all about publicly recognizing women (and men) who have dedicated their lives to Christ and/or bettering our world, I have to admit that the more I dove into the article the more saddened I became. One of my friends and colleagues pointed out that the layout and look was almost identical to People Magazine. A few days later I read an article on Her-meneutics, a blog by women for Christianity Today, expressing their disappointment that more women were not featured in another article about the 100 top Christian blogs. I understand the intent of both these articles, but is this where we have arrived? Christian notoriety?

As a female in ministry I have encountered every situation that my gender seems to create. I cannot count the times I have been asked whether or not I want to be the next Beth Moore – and admittedly I have tipped my feet in that dream. I have watched men get opportunities I was more qualified for, just because they were male and I was female. I have been shunned in my classes by fellow students, sometimes more overtly than others. (I want to add that the faculty at Phoenix Seminary has always been very welcoming and encouraging to me.) But I have also watched women react to these kinds of situations in ways that have made me ashamed of my gender - and have done it myself more often that I care to remember.

In my role at Phoenix Seminary I counsel women who are either considering seminary, just starting seminary, half-way through seminary, or getting ready to graduate, regarding what ministry will look like for them. What really is at the other end of 3 or 4 or 5 years of hard work and lots of money? Unfortunately I have to tell them that the options are limited at best. I try to get them to realize that they may never make a single penny doing what they have been trained to do. The enrollment counselors down the hall have to be just as realistic with the women who come and seek to be educated here. Yet we all want to see more women as students. I have also realized that my job is less about changing the way the male students here interpret the women-in-ministry scriptures, but encourage the women to respond to the situations they face with dignity and grace, which will help the men see them as viable partners in ministry.

The 50 women in the Christianity Today article are all amazing women in their own right! I know one of them and have sat under the teaching of a few others. And praise God for the ministry they are doing and the difference it is making. But then there is the sweet, quiet female in our office, who patiently makes sure that the vinyl lettering on someone’s office window is straight because “it is their name and that is important to them.” She will never be on the cover of Christianity Today. In a conversation about all this my friend and colleague told me that she felt Jesus had said to her, “It does not matter who the rest of the people are watching. I’m watching you.” If we remember the story of the widow and her mite that should be the attitude of every one of us, male or female. I can't help but wonder if there were as many books written or conversations had on unity in the body as there are about what women can and/or should do in ministry the church would be a different place.

Charm [and fame, and fortune, and accolade] is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised – Prov 31:30