Friday, October 31, 2003

I loved this edition of OnLine with Faith, presented by my colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot. If you'd like to subscribe to this series of e-mailed inspirations, contact Glen at

We are not citizens of this world trying to make our way into heaven,
we are citizens of heaven trying to make our way through this world...
We are not to live so as to earn God's love, inherit heaven and purchase
our salvation. All those are given to us a gifts; gifts bought
by Jesus on the cross and handed over to us. We are to live as God's redeemed.

The Landisfarna The Anglican Digest

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Bible Verse
Ephesians 2:8-9

You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than
we deserve. This is God's gift to you, and not anything you have
done on your own. It isn't something you have earned,
so there is nothing you can brag about.

Lord, help me to live in your free gifts of love, forgiveness and salvation.
Help me to live as your redeemed child. Amen
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Curtain is Torn
Matthew 27:51

[message shared with Friendship Church's Women's Renewal Weekend, October 25, 2003]

I don’t usually remember my dreams. But I had a frustrating one not long ago that I do remember.

In it, I’ve gone to the house of a friend. After I walk in, the place is packed with people, almost none of whom I know. I look and look all over my friend’s house, but can’t find him anywhere.

The closest I get to seeing him is when I spy his silhouette behind a rather sheer curtain. I can barely discern him as he works at pouring people drinks and pulling things out of the oven in his kitchen.But before I can get to him, some people come up to me and move me in a different direction.

After that, unable to find my friend, I leave the house, feeling frustrated.

Weird! And yet when I think about it, that’s sort of how many people see God: distant, unapproachable, covered by a curtain of mystery.

Others, frustrated by God’s seeming distance and maybe, just a little bit full of themselves, dismiss the whole idea of God. They say God is like the wizard of Oz, hiding behind scary displays of power and threatening words, but impotent to really do anything to help us in this often painful and confusing world.

But when we pay attention to the God we meet through Jesus Christ, we realize that God is neither a distant figure or a helpless wizard trying to intimidate us while begging, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

The Bible says that God came into our world through Jesus Christ. He did this, as you know well, to die as the perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sin. Jesus gave up His body and blood in order to pay the price we owed to God for our sin. The New Testament writer Paul says, “...the wages of sin is death, but the free gift is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God came to earth as a baby who soils his diapers, a boy who experiences adolescence, a man who works hard at a trade, and a condemned criminal in order to give His life so that sinners like you and me can live with God forever. That isn’t a distant God. That’s God up-close and personal!

And God didn’t suddenly become the wizard behind the curtain after Jesus rose from the dead and went to heaven either!

For one thing, He instituted this meal–bread and wine, His body and blood–so that we could be re-membered to Him, re-united with Him, a sweet preview of the forever feast we’re going to enjoy with Him in heaven.

We have God’s love letter to us, the Bible, that we can read each day and sense God’s presence.

Jesus also commanded us to pray to God the Father in His Name and promised that our prayers would be heard.

And He filled the Church with His Holy Spirit so that ordinary people like you and me could be living reminders to each other and to all the world that God is close, that God wants to be one with us, that God wants to be reconciled to all His children.

The Jesus-filled people you and I can find in the Church may be the most wonderful reminders of Jesus' presence and love that we can find! There have been many times when I have been discouraged or overwhelmed and somebody in Jesus’ family, the Church, has said something to me or made a simple gesture of love and I knew that no matter how alone I may have been feeling before, that God really was and is there!

Our son Philip had an experience of this a few weeks ago. Phil is twenty-two now, a senior in college. He thought and we thought that he would be graduating this spring for sure. He still might do so. But for some reason, a problem was discovered just a few weeks ago: not all of his credits from Capital University, where he had attended his first year, were accepted at Asbury. On a normal pace, he would be two credits shy at the end of spring semester.

Ann and I weren’t exactly pleased, especially because this problem was discovered so late in the game. I told Philip that while he would be paying for any additional course work he might do beyond spring semester, he should move heaven and earth to see if he either could take the additional classes needed in the spring or get credit for the disputed courses. Phil felt badly that he hadn’t paid close enough attention to things to have realized there was a problem earlier. He felt badly that in some way, he had wasted money because of this oversight. And he didn’t want to go to his academic advisor, a guy he had never liked and who, he thought, didn’t like him either. But I pressed him and said, “You must talk to him.”

He did so and felt entirely differently about his advisor than he had before. He sensed a genuine love and concern coming from this man, even though he was telling Philip that they might not be able to get him graduated at the end of the academic year.

As Philip started to walk out of the advisor’s office, he turned to him and asked, “I feel like I really messed up. Would you please pray for me?” His advisor said, “Well, come on back in here. We’ll do it right now.”

Philip learned again the reality that God is not distant. God isn’t inaccessibly hiding behind a curtain. God is available to us in prayer. And God has His agents everywhere to remind us that He cares and He wants to be reconciled to us. God wants to be one with us.

Maybe the best proof of how much God wants to be in our lives is what happened to a curtain one day two-thousand years ago. In the temple in Jerusalem where the Jews worshiped, there was a place called the Holy of Holies. It was the place where it was thought, the very presence of God dwelt. It was covered with a curtain. Just once a year, the high priest was allowed to go behind the curtain in order to present God with a sacrifice of an unblemished lamb. There, the priest would ask that every Jew’s sin would be forgiven. But he and the people had to go through an elaborate ceremony, which included the worshipers being sprinkled with the blood of this lamb, before the priest could even be worthy of approaching God.

On the Friday when Jesus died on a cross two-thousand years ago, strange things happened. But the Gospel of Matthew tells us about the strangest...and most wonderful. It says:

"Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed His last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom..."

The Savior, Who gave His body and blood as a loving sacrifice, has torn the curtain that once kept us from knowing or seeing or being one with God. And He invites us to follow Him in a life of constant fellowship with God. Whatever burdens you have, whatever sins with which you may be wrestling, whatever personal inadequacies you may feel, the invitation is the same. The curtain has been torn. God is on your side.

God is willing to take your weaknesses and give You His strength. If there are any walls between you and God, they don’t need to be there. The way is open to oneness with God. Walk on in; the curtain is gone and God is waiting for you...and He’s got a smile on His face.

Monday, October 27, 2003

QUOTE FOR TODAY: "As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might." (Marian Anderson, 1902-1993, Opera Singer)

Jesus, God in the flesh, said: "In everything do to others as you have them do to you; for this is the law of the prophets." (Matthew 7:12) [This is called The Golden Rule.]

Sunday, October 26, 2003

God, Money, and Sex
Part Two: God and Sex
Proverbs 5:15-23

(Shared with the people of Friendship Church, October 26, 2003)

True story I’ve told before. I heard it from an intensive care unit nurse twenty-one years ago and it’s stuck with me. An elderly retired pastor named Henry was under this nurse’s care. He’d had a long stay in the unit. Henry was one of those brave followers of Christ who endured adversity and dying with cheerfulness and was always grateful for any kindness the hospital staff showed him. His condition had declined sharply and now it was clear that he could die at any time. For several hours, he had been in a somewhat comatose state. Nobody was sure if he could hear them when they spoke to him. But they kept talking to him, trying to tell him how much they loved him.

The hours in an intensive care unit, at the bedside of a loved one can be excruciatingly long, you know. Henry’s wife and children had stepped out for a few moments and the nurse decided to go to Henry’s side. She remembered how much Henry loved to sing. She also knew his favorite song. And so softly, she began to sing to Henry: “Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”

At that, the nurse was shocked to see Henry open his eyes, lift his head off his pillow, look into her face, and tell her, “And don’t you ever forget it, either!” And with that, Henry fell back onto the bed and died.

As we look at this subject of God and the powerful force of our sexuality, like Henry we need to never forget that the God we know through Jesus Christ loves us.

That’s because there are times when we may chafe under God’s will on this subject.

And there may be other times when we feel burdened by guilt for the things we feel, think, do, or have done with our sexuality.

But God, the God Who first thought up and created sex, does love us. He wants what’s best for us. He wants to forgive us when we go wrong and He wants to help us to enjoy this gift. And don’t you ever forget that!

Last week, my wife, some friends, and I went down at the Tall Stacks Festival on the Ohio River. We spent a long time on the Purple People Bridge, looking at the paddlewheel boats and at the river itself. A river is a terrific thing, another invention of God. A river can provide people with drinking water, with a means of transportation, with recreation.

But, as theologian Richard Foster points out, when a river overflows, trouble happens. Houses and businesses can be damaged or destroyed. Crops can be wiped out. A river doesn’t seem so wonderful when it moves past its banks, its proscribed boundaries.

According to the Bible, which deals with the subject of sex a lot and more frankly than most Christians even know, sex is like a river. When we use our sexuality within the boundaries created for it by God, sex also is a good and beautiful thing. But when misused, sex can hurt and destroy and disrupt people’s lives. That’s why our Bible lesson from Proverbs today tells husbands:
"Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?..."
We live in a culture in which sex is pouring over its banks constantly. Recently, my wife, daughter, and I started working out at Gold’s Gym. I like it a lot. But one of the things I find a little tiresome is the constant diet of music videos showing on most of the TVs there. I wish I could tell all the producers, directors, artists, and composers who create music videos that there is more to life–and more even to our sexuality–than the middle regions of the human body.

Paraphrasing an observation once made by C.S. Lewis, if an alien from another planet came to earth and spent one hour watching our TV shows, including the commercials, that alien would conclude that something had gone seriously wrong with the human appetite for sex.

It’s this overwrought appetite for things sexual that makes God’s guidance on this subject so important. So what does God tell us are the ways for sex to remain within its boundaries and be the good thing it was meant to be?

First: We need to remember that sex is a good thing, created by God.

If you look at the first of two creation accounts that appear in the Old Testament book of Genesis, you’ll find God creating new things for each of six days. At the end of each of the first five days, God looks at His creation and says, “That’s good.”

But then on the sixth day, God creates human beings in His image. The Bible also makes a point of saying that God created the first humans “male and female.” At the end of that day, God declared that everything was “very good.” God made men and women to complement each other, to have the potential for becoming, both physically and emotionally, “one flesh.” That's a very good thing!

Second: According to the Bible, God didn’t just create sexuality so that we humans could make babies.

While the Bible does make clear that sex is only to happen between a man and a woman committed to one another in lifelong marriage, it isn’t meant to be used just to populate the planet. Some historians tell us that the notion that our sexuality was only to be about making babies first started in the Church with a man named Augustine. Augustine was a wonderful theologian and preacher and Christian example in many ways. But when it comes to sex, he may have felt so guilty about his past sexual philandering--regretful over how sex had once been in control of his life--that he just decided that sex was a bad thing.

One of my favorite Biblical passages on this subject comes from the story of Abraham and Sarah. That couple, you remember, were chosen by God to be the ancestors of the Israelite people. Into the nation of Israel the Savior Jesus was to be born. But there couldn’t be a nation of Israel if Abraham and Sarah didn’t have kids. Sarah had gone through menopause years before. When she hears God promise Abraham that she will still have a baby, she laughs, and asks, “After all these years, my husband and I old, am I going to have pleasure with my husband.”

Intrigued by that passage, I asked a Hebrew scholar about it. He confirmed my suspicions: The pleasure to which Sarah referred wasn’t just the pleasure of having a child. She was also talking about the pleasure of being sexually united with her husband. (I’m not making this stuff up! The Bible is full of not just good counsel about our sexuality, but appreciative celebrations of it.) God made us sexual beings for our enjoyment.

By the way, the pleasure of our sexuality doesn't derive only from having sexual intimacy with a husband or wife. Genesis says that we have been created as sexual beings. There are things that are unique to men and women. Each are different in many ways. From these differences, there comes a certain energy that doesn't exist in relationships with persons of our own gender. With the French I say, "Vive la difference!"

In his book, The Friendship Factor, Alan Loy McGinnis describes a relationship he enjoyed with a female friend of his. McGinnis was in his forties at the time and his friend was in her eighties. They had dinner together periodically. He talked about the fact that while there was no chance that the two of them would be sexually intimate, the presence of sexual energy between them was undeniable.

I remember talking with a young pastor, then in his thirties. He said that he was headed for the Bible study he did with the seventy-something women of his congregation. "They flirt with me, Mark," he told me. "They tease me about being a young man who enjoys an intimate relationship with a beautiful wife. It's all very innocent and chaste. But they flirt with me. And they love it when I flirt back."

Because God has made us male and female, there can be a wonderful and innocent complemantarity that happens between men and women even when there is nothing sexual in their relationship. God just made us that way. It's like the old saying, "God made us Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." To ignore that reality would be naive! As long as people are careful about not allowing things to rush over the river banks, it's okay to appreciate our differences.

Third: God created sexual intimacy as the sign and seal of a married couple’s love for each other. In his book, Struggling with Sex, Arthur Rouner tells the story of a married couple who had come to him for counseling. They reported being intensely frustrated with their sexual relationship. In fact, their sexual relationship had ground to a halt. They were even beginning to wonder if they would remain married.

As Rouner talked with the couple, he learned that before they were married, they both had numerous partners. Sex wasn’t a sign of commitment and love; it had no real significance to them. It was something you might do with a virtual stranger after you watched a movie.

They had drained their sexuality of its meaning before they were married and so once they were married, there was no romance, no commitment, no fun, no passion, no love in their intimacy. Fortunately, over time, Rouner was able to help this couple put their lives–their whole lives under the Lordship of Jesus. They learned to appreciate that sexual intimacy is only for married couples. And they found the excitement and joy that belongs to married couples who have made their sexual intimacy a sign and a seal of their commitment to one another.

Fourth: No matter what mistakes we have made with our sexuality in the past, God can forgive us.

This, in fact, may be the most important point that I make today.

In his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, author Jerry Bridges tells about something that he has often said when speaking with college audiences. Imagine, he tells them, that we could somehow display all of the thoughts you’ve had for the last twenty-four hours on this big screen up here. As the audience members begin to think about some of the things they’ve thought, they begin to laugh nervously.

Fact is, all of us are sinners. And Jesus says that to even look upon a person lustfully, because sexual sin begins in our minds, is the same as physically misusing sex. When you consider that, you realize it's true. Adultery doesn't begin with a physical act. Rivers overflow their banks gradually. The water rises until at last, it encroaches on the land around it.

Adultery begins with a more-than-admiring glance. An inappropriate comment. A far too intimate secret shared. A lingering touch. Obsessive thoughts. Each of those things may seem harmless enough in themselves. But unless we put our minds and bodies under God's control, taken together, the flood will begin and so will the destruction to marriages, relationships, and our very souls!

Because adultery begins in our minds, Jesus tells us, we’re all guilty. Yet, there is something else we need to realize...the very fact with which I began this message: the God we know through Jesus Christ loves us. No matter what our sins, we can turn to God and receive forgiveness and the ability to say no to future sin and yes to God’s way of living life!

Just the other day, I saw a commercial on TV. The product being sold was whole-house heating, furnaces. How did they try to sell their furnaces? Sex.

A mantra of the advertising industry is, "Sex sells." If sex can be used to sell something as mundane as furnaces, it must be powerful.

But powerful as it may be, sex is only good when, like money which we talked about last week, we let God be in charge of our sexuality.

So, four things I hope you’ll remember from today:
  • Sex is a good thing created by God.
  • God created sex not just so married couples could have children, but so they could bring one another pleasure.
  • God made sex to be a sign and seal of lifelong marital commitment.
  • And, when we violate God’s will–whether in thought, word, or deed–we need to remember that God loves us and through Jesus Christ, He can forgive us and help us to rededicate our whole lives to following Him.