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October 2009

September 2009 entries

Days of Awe

This is the 22nd of September, 2009. For the Jew it is the 5th of Tishri 5770. For many of us the most significant thing about today is that it is the first day of Autumn. Fall officially begins at 5:18 EDT this evening in the northern hemisphere. So as you read this you are just enjoying the last few fleeting moments of summer or fall has just overtaken you and summer is just a memory. The most important thing for a Jewish person is that we are in the middle of the "Days of Awe."

Five days ago, according to the Jewish lunar calendar, the month of Tishri began with the Feast of Trumpets. This feast is also known as Rosh Hashanah. It literally means "head of the year." While the Feast of Trumpets is 5 days behind us, the Day of Atonement, or "Yom Kippur" is only five days ahead. The intervening days are known as the "days of awe." According to Jewish tradition three books are opened in heaven between these two high holy days. The book of life for the righteous, the book of life for the unrighteous, and the book of life for those who are in neither book. If a person is deemed righteous he is written in the book of life for those who are righteous. If he is a bad person then he is written in the unrighteous book of life. He is not expected to live through the year. If a man is in-between he is given ten days, the days of awe, to repent before the book is closed and his destiny is sealed forever. This is a period of time for many Jews to do acts of kindness and service and repent.

At the end of the "days of awe" is the Day of Atonement which begins at evening this Sunday. This is the highest holy day on the Jewish calendar. When the Temple was still functioning in Jerusalem it was the day the high priest went into the Holy of Holies. This only occurred once a year. On that day he would enter the Holy of Holies three times. First he would light the incense to fill the room with fragrant smoke that represented the prayers of all the people before the throne. He returned a second time. There he would sprinkle a bulls blood on the mercy seat which covered the ark of the covenant. Yom Kippur, is literally day of covering. The blood of a the bull covered the ark and thus covered the sins of the people until the same time next year. He would then sacrifice a goat set aside for the Lord. He would return for the third time to repeat the sprinkiling procedure just as he had with the blood of the bull. After leaving the Holy of Holies he would stand at it's entrance and sprinkle the blood of both animals on the floor. Everyone who entered that room would have to enter by the way of the blood.

It is not hard to imagine how important it was to be represented in the Holy of Holies by the priest. During the ten days of awe much repentance and good deeds were done. It is interesting to note that because the Jews use a lunar calendar that the days of awe began when the moon was the darkest in the sky. The darkness would remind them of their sins and how they separated them from God. Isn't it true that all of us are more likely to be burdened the most by our sins in the darkest days of our life. Don't we most often repent when we are in darkness caused by our sin. In these days it is important that we make sure our names are written in the righteous book of life. We can know that because our High Priest, Jesus Christ,  has entered into the Holy of Holies on our behalf. He has spilled His own blood on the Mercy Seat for our forgiveness. And anyone may enter into the presence of God by walking through the blood. In these days of awe let us covenant together to pray for one another until that last and final Rosh Hashana, "Day of Trumpets." On that day the dark days will be over when the Trumpet of God sounds to call us all home.  Until then keep the faith!

There Is Rock Under That Sand

I was listening to a cd in my car during lunch today. Not a music cd, remember I'm a pastor, but it was a conversation with a another pastor who had been dealing with some issues in his life. He made a few insightful comments that struck a chord with me. He mentioned that he had prayed for hundreds of men while working for "Promise Keepers." He had prayed for miracles in their marriages, their ministries, their health and their faith. Knowing and believing that God was answering many of those prayers in miraculous ways he wondered why it seemed God did not answer his personal prayers for healing and faith as well. His willingness to share his struggles with others had differing consequences based upon the experience of those who would listen to his story. To many it gave hope. To know that this man who was a "professional" Christian had struggles of faith similar to theirs. Still others were turned off by such talk. Many of these were people who had been through difficult times in church struggles where they had left wounded or spiritualy depleted. They did want to know of the ministers struggles. He was to be strong for them and always on top of his game. His transparancy was a sign of weakness.

One particular crucial moment in this man's life came when he finally cryed out to a former under-graduate teacher. In the phone call with his former mentor this man admitted that his faith was nearly gone. Through pressure from theological liberals and suffering in his own family he no longer felt like he had a faith that could withstand the onslaught of negative emotions. He described it to the teacher this way: "I feel like I have been standing at the edge of the ocean for years staring out at it's expanse. I could feel the rush of the waves against my feet as I just barely touched the edge of it's greatness. But now, I no longer feel the waves and it seems the water is receding further and further away. I am now just standing on sand." His professor responded; "I only know that when all the water is gone and even the last grain of sand is gone from beneath your feet you will be standing on a solid rock."

The pastor now understands that he is one of the people that God speaks the loudest to through trial and struggles with faith. He believes God listens as he cries out of his darkness. It is in those darkest hours that he has known the power of God in his life. I think I understand. I have often thought about the man who had been lame for 38 years as he lay beside the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. The Bible says in John 5 that around him lay a "great multitude of impotent folk." For some reason God chose this one man to heal. While others lay watching, this man stood up and took his bed and began to walk. Their must have been a great and collective cry for healing as the others watched their former neighbor move to another neighborhood. If I were in the crowd of "impotent folk" I would have raised my hands in the air and begged Jesus for a mirale. If we were all honest that would be the response of every suffering human being. We would have been angry at God few hand picking just one out of many to receive His blessing.

In my own personal struggle I am finding that in a pit of despair God offers not immediate rescue but enough of His presence to give me places to hold on. He offers nuggets of truth in the words of others enough to keep me from looking down at the pit and instead casting my gaze up at God. I have to return to the simple truths of my faith where "Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so." It drives me to a place where the presence of God is more important than the answers to my questions. I have learned that while God does not stop me from seeking healing; He wants me to more fervently seek the Healer. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. You all are a blessing!   

I Never Moved

Last post I wrote of my recent disappointment with the status of my faith. There was so much feedback from that entry I thought I would catch you up on my progress. Thanks to the many of you who said you were praying and would be praying for both my spiritual and physical well-being. I am certainly not where I wish or should be at this point, but I have noticed some improvement.

I have come to realize slowly over the years I have allowed more input into my life that is not spiritually beneficial. I enjoy talking finances and listening to talk radio. I am quite fond of 60's and 70's classic rock and roll. After getting the bad news from the doctor last week, I suddenly found those to be less than comforting. I was driven back to listening to more Bible teaching than just political or financial ramblings. While I still enjoy Fleetwood Mac and the Doobie Brothers, the words to their songs don't edify me like music with Christian lyrics. I also realized I was doing more and praying less. I have been spending a lot of time on my knees lately. I'm still not satisfied with the results and I have told the Lord as much. He still sits silently in the wings without a noticable move in my direction. I am coming to believe my problem may be more like the joke I used to tell. When an old farmer and his wife drove past a young couple sitting close to one another in an approaching car, it prompted the farmer's wife to ask why he didn't sit that close to her anymore? His response as he sat securely behind the wheel,"I never moved."

This week I go back to the hospital on Friday to have a test to look at my heart again. Based upon the results of this test I will learn what type of treatment they will recommend. Prayers are appreciated.   

Low Marks and In-Completes

It is easy for faith to become business. I was reading an old transcript when Jim Bakker first was released from prison and appeared on the Larry King show. Larry asked him about his fall. What happened really? It seems what sent him to prison was selling more retirement rooms at a development that was never designed to hold that many people. The legal term is fraud. Larry tried to get Jim to pin-point when it all went wrong. Did he start off with evil intentions? Was it always about the money? As I expected JB couldn't point to an exact moment or day when it started turning into just making money. He told Larry that he started with the best intentions to share Jesus with as many people around the world as he possibly could. When it became successful it also became expensive. Religious organizations really don't have products to sell. You can't ramp up production or cut costs. The only answers are more people giving or people giving more money. Over time the tail began wagging the dog. Before it was over, and I mean prison, Jesus was just a sidebar.

After prison Jim Bakker changed. He became less interested in the dollar and more interested in the person. His demeanor certainly was different. Every word wasn't spoken as he rose repeatedly on his tip-toes. He was slower in his delivery and more deliberate. I think the business of religion had taken a backseat to the person of Jesus in Jim's life. Contrary to popular teaching trials don't enlarge our faith, they test them. The outcome is patience (James 1:3) and patience allows God to perfect us. Trials just allow us to see how far we have come.

This past week I began a trial period in my life. I'm looking at my spiritual report card and I'm not impressed. Lots of in-completes and low marks. More than I even imagined. I visited a cardiologist for the first time in my life though I have known of a problem since I was a child. My home town doctor called it an athlete's heart murmur and said it was common among kids who played a lot of sports; and I did. I have always felt "twitterpations" (to use Thumper's word) and skips in my heartbeat. I thought that was normal for everyone. After all, that is all I've ever known. The doctor, with poor bed-side manner informed me it was much more than and that my heart had enlarged because of it. In a short, ten minute conversation, where I felt I was holding him back from his tee time at the club, he informed me that it would require heart surgery. I asked if that would be invasive and he laughed and said "as invasive as it gets."

I left the doctor's office that day a little stunned. I had gone just to get established with a cardiologist, not that one I can assure you, and left with heart surgery somewhere in my future. But the hardest pill to swallow was how I felt. Being the senior pastor of a mega-sized church I should have walked out of there talking about how confident I was that the Lord would see me through this trial. And that it would all work out for my good. I didn't. The test of my faith was already revealing how far I was from God's honor roll. I was scared and a little bit angry. I have lost almost 40 pounds in the last two years and kept it off. I quit eating fried foods and sugar laden soft drinks and tea. But on the way home from the hospital I observed one beer bellied, cigarette smoking, french fry munching man on the street after another who had not just been told he would have to have surgery where they take out his heart and play with it. I was angry at God. I was mad at myself for being angry with God. I was disappointed with myself how I was reacting. But mostly, I was shocked with the realization my faith had become all about doing and nothing about being.

Now, 5 days later, I'm still not satisfied, but I'm trying to raise my grade point average. I'm trying to pray more and just talking about praying less. I am earnestly seeking a fresh touch from God. Someone mentioned they thought they saw me cry Sunday near the end of my message. They did. It was from frustration about my own lack of faith coupled with my own desire to recapture "my first love." (Revelation 2:4) I desperately don't want my faith to be just a business. I have never stopped believing what I do is the most honorable calling in the world. But I don't want to do it in the flesh. I would appreciate anyone who will to pray that God breathes a fresh manifestation of His power in my life. I'm not opposed to a healing prayer or two either.