RESURRECTION ENCOUNTERS

The resurrection changed everything, turning skeptics into believers and mighty guards into wimps. Let’s see where Jesus showed up. Wouldn’t it be cool if he paid a visit to Pilate or crashed a Sanhedrin meeting? That’s not the way God operates. The sun shines on the just and unjust. When Jesus returns, he will clean house. In the meantime, he focuses on his team. He goes to those broken by his departure, with one exception–his younger brother. Here are his appearances in order:

MARY MAGDALENE

Who is the first? Not one of the twelve, but clearly one of the most dedicated. While the disciples hid behind locked doors, three women braved the guards to pay tribute to their dead Messiah. The sight of angels and an empty tomb sent two women back to report. One lingered. Jesus had revolutionized her life, and she would forever praise his memory. He delivered her from seven demons, from total bondage to freedom and adoration. His death would not change her focus. Some depict her as formerly immoral. We don’t know that, only that she had been invaded by darkness, and the king had set her free. Now love consumes her. How kind of Jesus to honor what the disciples do not–profound faith and gratitude. Women then had less regard from men, even the chosen disciples–but not from the son of Joseph. When he said, “Mary,” she knew. Maybe he’s calling your name today!

THE OTHER WOMEN

Jesus is making a statement. He comes to the broken, the despised, the second stringers. He affirms their devotion. The disciple showed how much they revered the women by not believing their report. Jesus does not come to the high and mighty but to the low and meekly. Sidelined women–take it as a compliment. Even if the men don’t see it, Jesus does! Give him your heart. He makes it easy to love him.

PETER

No one expected Peter to flinch under pressure, and certainly not Peter. Fear and doubt take strong people out, and Peter now saw himself as a deserter. Were it not for Jesus turning losers into winners, nothing would have changed. How merciful of the Master to make a personal appearance to the one who would give his all when brought back. Jesus came not to rebuke but to rebuild. It took. He knows that you care for him, too, even if you have turned your back in a time of weakness. Let him restore you. The angels told the women, “Go tell his disciples and Peter…” (Mark 16:7). The fisherman had failure on his mind–Jesus had Peter on his. He has you as well, even if you have gone against him. How compassionate can you get!

EMMAUS DISCIPLES

As they walk with eyes blinded to the stranger, they say, “We had hoped…” Past perfect tense, action from the past that continues in the present. The traveler who joined them rebuked them for unbelief and gave them a “Walk Through the Bible” seminar, and their hearts burned, but they weren’t sure why. The Bread of Life changed that when he broke it in their presence, then vanished. They hotfooted it back to Jerusalem, a 10K, to give their stirring report. Once again, doubt had turned to resurrection faith! He will do the same for you!

THE DISCIPLES MINUS THOMAS

It was the evening of the resurrection. The disciples were hiding in fear. Jesus walked through the walls and said, “Way to go, brave soldiers.” No! He said, “Peace be with you.” Then he followed with, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” They weren’t expecting a commission– maybe a court marshall. He was still believing in them to get the job done–and they rose to his level of expectation. Jesus believes in you when you cannot believe in yourself. Take courage and keep on keeping on. (A longer blog than normal).

THE DISCIPLES WITH THOMAS

One week later, doors still locked. Same greeting. Jesus sure is proactive rather than reactive, believing in people too afraid to go for it. Then he went after Thomas, the man who would die a martyr’s death preaching the gospel in far away India according to good tradition. He, too, needed a lift from doubt to faith, and when it returned, he was the first to call Jesus God, proclaiming with confidence, “My Lord and my God!” Way to go, Saint Thomas! Jesus can transform your doubts as well.

SEVEN AT THE SEA

Jesus chose to confirm the faith of those who would represent him after he is gone, rather than going to those wallowing in the skeptic tank of unbelief. Spending a night on the lake with nothing to show for it was neither productive nor fun. Fishing with Jesus put a big catch in the boat, a picture of what would be happening in their world a few weeks hence. They had celebrated the Last Supper. Call this the Last Breakfast, with Jesus the cook. Then he again goes after Peter to reverse a three-fold denial with a strong three-fold affirmation of love. It was so strong that no threat from the enemy could silence his proclamation. Jesus can help you move from fear to faith.

FIVE HUNDRED

From one woman to three and one man to ten–now over a half thousand. What a commissioning service. Most would never see him again this side of eternity, but they would bear strong witness to his death and resurrection wherever God sent them.

JAMES

Had you been raised in the family of Joseph and Mary, do you think you would have believed that your older sibling was the Messiah? James didn’t, until his resurrected bro paid him a visit. Once in the new family, he never turned back, and he served as leader of the Jerusalem church, wrote a strong letter that bears his name, and died a martyr proclaiming his earthly brother–and his Lord.

THE APOSTLES AT ASCENSION DAY

They saw him lift off after final words of commission and comfort, including the promise of his presence. It was the last time they would see him. Hard to think of him gone. When the Spirit came ten days later, they never wished him back. He was home–they were filled!

PAUL

People were afraid of Saul. Then he encountered someone more powerful, who put him on the ground and struck him blind. He had met his match. The person said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The voice spoke back, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Saul must have thought, “Oh, oh.” Then he was told to go into Damascus for instructions on what to do next. Thus started the call of the greatest apostle who ever lived. Faith turned a murderer into a missionary. Confess it with me:  “I believe in the resurrection of the body and live everlasting.”

LEARNING EMOTIONAL HEALTH FROM JESUS (part 3)

3 THERE’S A TIME FOR MADNESS.

In three paragraphs, we see three different emotions and three very different words from Jesus. Each word and emotion is supported by Old Testament Scriptures. “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (45,46). The Bible warns us against wrong anger, because we often lose control.  Jesus, however, models appropriate anger. Anger is even harder than sadness to get right. Jesus was so submitted to the Father that he could feel what the Father was feeling. When a house of prayer is turned into a place of scalping and cheating, expect God to be mad. The disciples remembered the Scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17; Psalm 69:9). Jesus was inflamed with the passion of God, in touch with God’s emotions. 

Don’t justify inappropriate anger. Be absolutely sure that God is in it. James wrote that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (1:20), but the anger of Jesus did. It was not anger of a man out of control but a Son passionate about his Father.  Oh that we can be so filled with the Spirit that we can be full of rejoicing when it is time to rejoice, ready to feel our sorrow or the sorrow of others when needed, and also prepared to be angry at what angers God.

How can you explain three different emotions like this–glad, sad, mad, all in the same day, one following the other? Jesus was in submission. He thought, felt, and said nothing independent of his Father. Don’t let the crowd determine your joy–let the King. Don’t just be sad when you are feeling sorry for yourself, but definitely be sad at things worth crying about. And be slow to anger, but when the Spirit moves you to anger, express it. Don’t pop off in a moment and say something mean or stupid. Stop and ask God if He is angry at what is stirring in you. Let God heal broken emotions such as resentment, unforgiveness, fear and shame, so that you can be free like Jesus to express the fullness of joy, the sorrows worth crying about, and the injustices worth being angry about. May God help us to live emotionally healthy like Jesus. Let the Man of Sorrows determine your sadness. You might want to stop before speaking or acting and ask God, “How do you feel about this?” so your anger is reflecting the heart of God and not your impatience or lack of emotional control. 

When the Bible speaks about anger, most of the time it is the anger of God. Some see the Old Testament God as the God of anger and the New Testament God as the God of love. Like one little girl said when hearing about the anger of God, “That was before God became a Christian.”  The Bible warns against wrong anger and models appropriate anger. Jesus was so free in his spirit that he could receive the Father’s heart for every moment. He was not controlled by shame or bitterness. May God heal us, so we are free to express emotions as Jesus did!

LEARNING EMOTIONAL HEALTH FROM JESUS (part 2)

2 THERE’S A TIME FOR SADNESS.

Jesus was healthy in his thinking and in his emotions. He was the happiest person who ever lived, but he was also the saddest. Isaiah described him as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).  Luke writes, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ’Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation’” (19:41-44). 

This was a time for sadness. He knew the city would reject its king—and suffer horrible consequences. Gladness does not preclude sadness. Some think it does. The disciples must have been baffled by the change in emotion. Gladness and sadness are siblings. We may think that we should avoid sadness to find gladness. Not true. The more we appropriately enter into our sadness and that of others, the more joy we will receive. No one entered into the sorrow of others more than Jesus. 

Are you able to be sad about things worth being sad about? Jesus did not ignore sorrow. We don’t have to fear it. We desire with Paul the “power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering” (Phil. 3:10). When I once prayed at the altar at Trinity Lutheran for new members, the liturgical prayer included a prayer of endurance in times of suffering. When I got to one woman, she looked up and said, “Don’t pray that prayer over me.” Her picture of the Christian life did not include sorrow or suffering.

I have a friend who went through some difficult times. When I talked to him about them, he said, “I am trusting the Lord. He is doing a good work.” What he said was true, but I got the feeling that he wasn’t letting the reality of the sorrow address him. When it is time for sadness, we don’t pretend to be glad. Rather than avoiding pain and sadness, we are to receive it as a God-given emotion. Joy is not incompatible with sadness. We are in fact commanded: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

Life is harder than I thought it would be. With two sisters who were divorced and now two sisters who have died from Parkinson’s, sorrow has come close. 43 years after Jesus cried over Jerusalem, the stones were not crying out, they were wailing. There was not left one stone upon another except for the western wall of the temple proper, which is now called the wailing wall. The six-day war in Israel in June of 1967 was a miracle war. The war of AD 70 was a massacre, and Jesus was heartbroken ahead of time.

Jesus is both the ruling king and the suffering servant. He could not contain the grief when he saw four decades ahead to the slaughter. This began the toughest week of his life. May God give us grace to weep at what is worth weeping about.

LEARNING EMOTIONAL HEALTH FROM JESUS (part 1)

A close friend of mine did not cry the day both of his parents died. He told me this, aware of his need to get healing in his emotions. Salvation doesn’t deal with all our internal problems. Some of us have had our emotions capped, and we need proper release. Jesus was free with his feelings; the Pharisees were not.  Emotions are funny creatures. They are meant to help us fully engage in life, like a colorful spectrum. Sometimes they control us rather than supporting us. Unforgiveness, self-pity, guilt, shame or anger can rule our lives. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who give ulcers and those who accept them. God can free us from bondages, so we can get in touch with his feelings rather than being stuck with our unhealthy ones. As we watch Jesus on Palm Sunday, we see the breadth and health of his emotional capacity to fully enter into life. No one was ever more free.  

1 THERE’S A TIME FOR GLADNESS.

The Palm Sunday crowd was rejoicing. As Jesus moved across the slope of the Mount of Olives, the crowd grew and the noise level increased. “As he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the ground. As he was drawing near–already on the way down the Mount of Olives–the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Luke 19:36,37). An electric moment, charged with energy, which really made the religious leaders nervous. They managed to get close enough to Jesus to say, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” Solomon wrote, “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Eccles. 3:4).  The Pharisees never knew what time it was, and they weren’t the best dancers in town. The response of Jesus was profound: “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (40). 

Prophecy is being fulfilled. Jesus is right on schedule. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus picked the right time to enter the city. Scholars estimate that the crowds in and around Jerusalem for the passover feast might have numbered up to two million. Here is the king coming home. Matthew says that “all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’” Up to a quarter of a million lambs would be sacrificed later in the week. Where people recognize the rightful King and his reign over the City of Peace (the meaning of “Jerusalem”), it is time to rejoice. The psalmist writes, “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad” (Ps. 97:1). Why is Jesus rejoicing? Because he knows he is King!

Are you able to rejoice in the King? Do you experience his reign in your life? Can you access his joy and join with him? How does it impact your worship? Your relationships? Your peace? If you recognize the reign of the King, then you know about joy. If your financial situation is not good, or your health not the best, or your children struggling, but you know the King is in town, you can rejoice as he comes near. Hosanna! (Part 2 coming).

SHOULDA, COULDA, WOULDA!

How do we cope with two powerful emotions–guilt and shame? Until we discover that God has provided a way to overcome these gut responses, we have some internalized ways for “handling” a crisis:

SHOULDA. We point that accusing finger at ourselves and say, “You shoulda called your mom before she died.” “You shoulda said you were sorry before the accident.”  “You shoulda been willing to pick them up at the airport. Why did you say you couldn’t? That was a lie.”

COULDA. Then we tell ourselves what we could have done differently. “You coulda  actually studied for the test rather than playing Parcheesi all night. “You coulda said that you were sorry rather than making excuses for yourself. Totally inappropriate under the circumstances.” “You coulda helped with the yardwork, rather than saying you had a back problem.”

WOULDA. Then we lighten the load of guilt and shame (or so we think) by saying what we would have done under other circumstances: “You woulda called your friend and asked to get together if you knew how serious her problem was.” “You woulda completed the assignment if you knew that your grade depended on it.”  “You woulda asked your pastor to intervene if you knew how much he was hurting.”

Talking to yourself can be helpful if you are healthy and self-aware. If you are unhealthy emotionally and don’t have an accurate view of reality, dialoguing with self will put off taking important steps to walk out of your past into your future. Damaging emotions like self-incrimination have the opposite effect of blaming others rather than taking appropriate responsibility for your attitudes and actions.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda describe people who are safer with their past than their future. More people vote for regret than repentance. Something may need to change. I can’t simply cry about the person who misrepresented me, scorned me, told me I’d be better off going to Junior College. Rather than changing, we excuse ourselves with inferior emotions that attach blame. The woulda can release us from the coulda. The shoulda says that we are aware of what we have done, but it stops short of repentance that invites the mercy of God and contributes to change. It freezes us in illegitimate self-talk, keeping us from a divine make-over. The coulda shows our “good intentions.” The woulda says that we might have done things positively under different circumstances. The verdict: guilty as charged. Shoulda coulda woulda are lame excuses.

What is a better response? The cross of Jesus Christ, God’s provision for our bad judgment, our stupid mistakes, our deliberat sin. But we must come with brokenness, not excuses. Don’t attempt to lighten the load so “it’s not that bad.” In actuality, it is worse. Otherwise, Christ would not have had to die. He did not die for an inaccurate judgment but for a wrong decisions, an immature heart, a loveless response. The cross enables us to truly repent rather than “playing it safe” and holding back. Goodbye shoulda, coulda, woulda!

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IS PERSECUTION COMING TO AMERICA?

In the 1980’s a young man named Dan Hall asked me about our vision for Trinity Lutheran. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said, “You know; McDonnell Douglas has a vision for its company. What’s ours?”  I said glibly, “The Great Commission.” Statements like this became an asset and sometimes a fad for churches that wanted to know where they were going. At some point, we realized that an essential undergirding for vision was missing–values. Vision tells us where we are going. Values tell us who we are. Visions change; values don’t. Values speak of identity; vision calls us to a destiny.

The world is growing increasingly uncomfortable (make that “intolerant”) with Christian values. No surprise. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (Jn. 16:33). He didn’t say, “You might.” To be the church is to be opposed by those who operate with pagan values. We embrace life from conception on. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; make and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). This makes our identity sacred, and same for our sexuality. But not to everyone. The world chooses a different value system.

Paul and Peter, the two most prominent apostles of the early church, reinforced the statement of Jesus. Paul called suffering a gift (Phil. 1:29). He commended the Thessalonian church for its steadfastness and faith while going through persecution (2 Thess.1:4).  Peter said, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (I Peter 4:12). A world that rejected Jesus will resist followers who look like Him. He said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

So how do we deal with those who hate our values? Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Paul followed in step:  “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14). “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure” (I Cor. 4:12). 

Our country was founded on Christian values or on principles that did not put Christians on the defensive. That has slowly eroded away. We now live in a predominantly secular culture whose operating principles are often antithetical to ours. No major university in the country today teaches or believes Christian values as they did two centuries ago. Their graduates are entering the stream of a non-Christian culture that treats our faith as terribly out of fashion. We are nothing close to a “moral majority.”  We have become an immoral minority. We are still tolerated in some circles, but the slide into paganism is a landslide. Culture was once guided by a Judeo-Christian consensus. Imagine that. Now it is shaped by moral relativism. (Sorry, longer than normal).

The principal of a public elementary school told the teachers, one of whom goes to our house church, that they would no longer call their students boys and girls; they would call them friends. Sexual identity is no longer God-given; it is up for grabs. Welcome to your future. When Amazon shut down Parler, it was a clue to the kind of control the big three (Amazon, Google, and Apple) will wield in the days ahead. That could be highly problematic.

The agenda of the power that be does not favor Christians. It will exclude them down the road. It aims at more control. Persecution is minor at this point but could increase in the years ahead. Our government might look more like socialism than the democracy we have known for two plus centuries (since 1783). How should we then live?

  1. We will neither be surprised by hardship nor turn into victims because of it. Victims say “if only…” and  look to the past, to what could have been and isn’t. Victors look to the future and ask “what if?” What if God uses the disenfranchisement of the church like He has done in China, where it has been reported that 25,000 are becoming Christians every day? The opposition is purifying the Bride and drawing in the lost. Similar victories are reported in Iran and India. The church flowered during the first three centuries when it was strongly resisted by both the government and the people. When it became acceptable and even popular, it lost its influence and stagnated.  It might be possible to slow down the trend, but if it picks up steam, we’re in for a bumpy ride. Hang on–and stay strong in the Lord!
  2. We need to identify with those who are suffering in other countries. We are exhorted:  “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3). Let us stand with them in prayer.
  3. We will prepare those under our care to suffer for righteousness’ sake, so they can disabuse themselves of the American Dream and embrace the divine mandate. When we are accused of racism and bigotry, let us make sure the accusation is not true, even though they won’t believe us. Jesus endured the cross. When we are called to pain and perseverance, let us look forward to “the joy set before us” (Hebrews 12:3). Suffering now means glory then!!

YOU’RE A VICTOR, NOT A VICTIM! part 2

When Joe’s cellmates had dreams, he didn’t say, “I’ve had bad luck with dreams. I won’t touch them.” He did what he knew how to do, then added, “Make mention of me to Pharaoh.” Yeah, right! Did the butler remember? Two years later. That’s 730 lousy days. Does Joe chalk it up to a waste? No. He was in school. He got a high school diploma in elementary sheepherding. He went to college and majored in business administration. He passed a difficult course called “Handling Egyptian Women.” He did graduate studies in prison management. His homework was preparing him. He didn’t know what for, but he was faithful. He got a PHD in integrity, and God promoted him to the prime minister position. He became the second most powerful person in the world. It’s a short distance from the prison to the palace, and God has no transportation problem. He can put you where He wants to–in a moment. But He is more interested in what He does in you, so He can then do something powerful through you. If His character is in you, being used for His purposes is a simple matter. Joseph graduated Summa Cum Laude.

A VICTIM LIVES IN THE PAST. A VICTOR LIVES IN THE FUTURE.

Victims regret what could have been and isn’t. A victor lives with what can be. Joseph got married and had children. He named his first child Manasseh (“forget”), because “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house (Genesis 41:51). His second son was Ephraim (“twice fruitful”), “for God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (52). A pastor friend of mine, Joe Johnson, says that you know you are healed when you can thank God for how He has used the pain of your past to bring fruitfulness. When something in us dies, the decay fertilizes the flowers that bloom right over the place of death. Joseph was instructed by the pain but not paralyzed by it.

He might have said, “If only my brothers had not done this…” or, “If only Potiphar had not believed his crummy wife.” “If only’s” say that God doesn’t hold our life–circumstances do. Victims who react this way are living in the past. They are being lived, not living, passive, not active. Their lives are programmed by a negative agenda. Victors live forward. Joseph had thirteen years of hardship, but he lived as if he had a future–and he walked into it. Victors learn to trust God in the midst of trying circumstances, while victims cave in under them. Victors don’t discount God’s presence in the midst of pain. They trust Him to be working, even while circumstances go south. He said regarding the dream he needed to interpret, “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (41:16). When he introduced his family to his father, he said, “These are my sons, whom God has given me here” (48:9). So God-centered, not self-centered.

A VICTIM IS BITTER. A VICTOR IS BROKEN.

Joseph’s focus was on God’s provision more than his pain. He told his brothers, afraid of revenge, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (50:19,20). He continued to trust God in the presence of great disappointment. We see some potential pride and self-righteousness in the seventeen-year old–none of that from Joseph on the throne. He looks clearly into the future as the director of resources during the years of plenty, then the famine. He is not crippled by his past, and he carries the nation through seven years of blessing and seven years of famine. What a leader! He was seasoned through sorrow. I dare you to let go of the “if only’s” and embrace the future rather than clinging to the past. I urge you to believe God to move you from criticism to confidence and take hold of your destiny. Grumblers don’t win–and winners don’t grumble!

ARE YOU A VICTIM OR A VICTOR? part 1

Joseph at age seventeen had it good. Favored son status. Fancy coat from Dad. And a dream that indicated a positive future. The next thirteen years were downers–literally: down to Egypt, down from son to servant, down to the pit. How would you handle such a turn in events? He could have grown bitter at his brothers, at his Dad, at his boss, at God.

Joseph responded with anything but bitterness. Looking at his responses can hopefully help us go through difficult times and not be victimized by them. Hard struggles can turn us into skeptics and harden our hearts. Attitude leads to action. Many destinies are buried around the corner of an injustice that causes resentment to stick in the soul. We’re all victimized at some point. How we respond determines whether we come out a winner or a whiner. Here are some truths that surface from the life of Joseph:

A VICTIM LOOKS OUT. A VICTOR LOOKS IN.

A victim’s problem is the other guy. If little children have a problem with someone, they deal with the someone rather than the problem. If I don’t like you, that’s your problem. Mature people look in; immature people look out. Joseph’s brothers had a problem with Joseph, so they sent him down the river. Victims blame others for their unhappiness, their bad fortune.

Meanwhile, Joseph is serving Potiphar, making the best of a bad situation. And Potiphar “left all he had in Joseph’s charge” (Genesis 39:6). When life turns sour, we can make excuses for our anger or laziness. Not our young friend. “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man…and his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper” (39:2,3). Victimized by brothers, he chose to be a victor.

A VICTIM SAYS, “YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF.” A VICTOR SAYS, “YOU OWE IT TO GOD.”

Potiphar’s wife went after Joseph. He could have thought, “Hey, my dream has turned into a nightmare. I need some fun. Nobody will know.” Those who feel victimized can talk themselves into compromise. Those who have been cheated feel justified to cheat.

Not Joseph. He wouldn’t even have coffee with the lady: “He would not listen to her, to lie with her or to be with her” (39:10). His reason: “How could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (9). Not a little compromise–great wickedness. The Bible says to make no provision for the flesh. Victims do–Joseph didn’t.

It backfired. Joseph chose purity and lost his position. Down to the dungeon. He could have complained. “I try to please you, God, and get thrown into this place. Is serving you worth it?” Not our friend. “The Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners” (21).

From a nice house to a dungeon. “What’s wrong with the lighting down here?” I can hear people complaining.  Not Joseph. He didn’t badmouth the prison guard or gripe about the dark. He made the best of a bad situation–and God honored him.

Victims ask why; victors ask what. They do what they need to–and God makes up the difference. Same thing happened in the prison (that Joseph call “the pit”–40:13) that happened in Potiphar’s house. He acted in a way that made people trust him. Before you complain about your bum deal, find out what your job is–and do it.

My friend Johnny was losing his wife to cancer. She contracted it the first year they were married, and it was the fifth year. I said, “It must be hard to have looked forward to a life together and now look back on so much pain. I’ll never forget his response: “God doesn’t owe me anything. I owe God everything.” No victim there. (Part 2 coming).

A HOUSE CHURCH NETWORK?

I meet two times a month with 8 to 10 people to develop a house church network. Some have planted house churches. Others are considering it. Email if you’d like to join us. pa@harvestcommunities.org. Here’s a q and a.

1  What does a house church look like?  Each one’s different. That’s the beauty of house church. Depends upon the leaders and the people connected to it. I Corinthians 14:26 gives this good description:  “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” The phrase “each one” suggests wide participation. People typically do not go to church to share a testimony or a scripture. Imagine the potential growth if each person came prepared, not just the pastor. That’s one of the strengths of a house church.

2  Do you see house churches replacing traditional church structure?  No. Both have value. My eagerness to build a house church network is not meant to be a criticism of the church. We are coming alongside and planting house churches to help the church do its job of reaching lost people and strengthening the saints.

3  Who leads a house church?  Sometimes the host and hostess, but not always. Although house churches are meant to be small, they must be led. Leaders keep a flow of participation and know when it’s time to shift from teaching to worship or maybe a prophetic word. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Cor. 14:33).  Paul gives guidelines in this passage, closing by saying that “all things should be done decently and in order” (v. 40). 

4  Is there a limit to the size?  Yes, the size of the house. While it can be difficult for friends to split, healthy growth may mean divide and conquer.

5  What about young children?  Depends upon parents and the leader. Some kids might last a whole meeting. Other groups keep them for half, then send them off with a gifted teacher.

6 Any liabilities of a house church?  Thinking we have arrived, that we do it better than traditional church. Pride precedes the fall! 

7  What should be the goal of a house church?   Winning lost people and building up Christ-followers.

8 What is your hope with this network?  That individuals and house churches will hear about us and join for fellowship and accountability.

9 So why are we meeting together? To start a network. Individual house churches will be connected to one another, with the leadership meeting periodically for oversight, counsel, and vision.

10 How is this different from a cell church?  Cell churches typically are under the structure of a local church. They are not independent groups in the same way that a house church is. 

11 What kind of accountability do house churches have with a leader?  The leader is a servant, more like a father than a general. He serves the individual house churches, meeting with the leader(s) to bring encouragement and help as needed, sometimes mentoring leaders. 

I hope to hear from you. Let’s build together!!  Paul

A TRIBUTE TO ESTHER FROM HER ONLY BROTHER

I thank God for you, Esther. We had a lot in common, like music and literature. I was always proud of you for excelling in so many areas. 

  1. Same major as mine–English Literature. You were smarter than I was, so you got better grades. You were a gifted writer. I am sure you were an excellent teacher of literature.
  2. Music was another area of strength. You didn’t need music to harmonize. It came naturally for you. I wonder why you didn’t learn piano, because that would have only extended your influence in music. Maybe in heaven. Hey, I’ll teach you. Remember when you, Debra, and I sang for a Lenten service at Trinity. It was supposed to be a holy moment. I gave the starting note, assuming you and Debra would get your note from the chord. Wrong! We started way too high. By the third line you had opted out because of laughing. I couldn’t last much longer and I faded out, leaving Debra to finish the song by herself. She was mad. I was in tears with laughter!
  3. Thank you for looking up to me. I was proud having my sister working at the church where I was pastor. You and Karen, my future bride, roomed together and hung out a lot. You brought her down to family events. Thanks for doing that!! I have heard some crazy stories about cooking at the Larry Christenson home. Thanks for signing up to be an intern at Trinity. You were a hero with the students. All ages loved you because you were full of enthusiasm and fun. You did musicals that were outstanding and brought out a lot of people. I know that because of your training Sandy Hall, the principal, sometimes looked to you for help.
  4. You have always had a great sense of humor. You loved out-of-the-box activities. You could invent fun. My sadness was that in later years that fun turned to sorrow and suffering, as Parkinson’s began to do a number on your body, and then on your emotions. The Esther we knew took the back seat while a struggling mother and teacher could barely cope with how life had turned on her.  It was a bitterly long stretch for you, and your brother and sisters ached for you. I prayed for you a lot, but I wish that I had called you more to pray for you. Our prayer was that God free you from all that you had been through especially these last two decades and call you to a much better place. Last night He answered that prayer, quietly, peacefully, reverently, with your sister Kaaren!! We look forward to a wonderful family reunion in the New Earth where righteousness dwells. I can almost hear you singing your heart out.                                           Thankfully, sorrowfully, joyfully, Your brother Paul