Saturday, July 31, 2010

Healing in His Wings

If I could only touch Him, I will be healed.  My lifelong prayer has been like that of the father of the spirit-possessed son in Mark 9:24: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"  

It was another Sunday when I started thinking up reasons not to go to church ... too much school work to get done, the yard needed mowing, other chores that needed to be taken care of before the start of another work week.  But, as always, I was so grateful I went.  There was a powerful lesson for me -- that of the woman who suffered for twelve years from bleeding.

Mark 5:24-34 (New International Version)

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed."  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

 "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' "

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."
In those days, a woman with such a bleeding disorder, probably caused by a hormonal imbalance or a common uterine disorder that nowadays is easily cured, would have been unclean -- an "untouchable" who was a cast-off from society.  People would not be allowed to touch her.  Imagine: a life with no human physical contact.  Unclean.

But, let us be clear about the meaning of "unclean" -- translated from the Hebrew "tumAH."   It does not mean evil.  Here's how The Jerusalem Perspective explains it:
The Hebrew expressions tohoRAH (cleanness, purity) and tumAH (uncleanness, impurity) are technical terms that have no positive or negative connotations. Scripturally, one is either in a state of purity, or not in a state of purity. Uncleanness is a human phenomenon, almost commonplace, and one must view the contrast between clean and unclean as a contrast between that which is holy and that which is not (Lev. 11:47), between that which is divine and that which is human. Ritual cleanness and uncleanness should not be thought of as a contrast between good and evil.
So, imagine being this poor woman, unclean for twelve years -- i.e. no physical contact.  No hugs.  No kisses.  No holding of your hand.  No pats on the shoulder.  For fear the person would be made unclean by the woman's disorder.

"If I touch his clothes, I will be healed", thought the woman.  Undoubtedly, the common verse from the Hebrew scriptures must have propelled her forward: "But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall." (Malachi 4:2)  Here's where the Old Testament interweaves so beautifully with the New when one looks at the original Hebrew in the text.  From
As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus probably wore tassels on the corners of his garment. The Jewish practice of wearing these tassels developed from God's command in Numbers 15: "You are to make tassels on the corners of your garments?so you will remember all the commands of the LORD" (v. 38-39).

Later in Jewish history, the tassels were incorporated into the Jewish prayer shawl, called the tallit, which is worn by many Jews today. On each corner of the prayer shawl are long tassels, or tzitzit, knotted five times to remind Jews of the five books of Moses. The four spaces between these knots represent the letters of God's name, YHWH. And the knots along the prayer shawl edges use exactly 613 knotted strings, representing the 613 laws of the Torah.

Ezekiel prophesied that the Messiah would come with healing in his "wings." But the Hebrew word for "wings" could also be used to identify the tassels that Jewish men wore on the corners of their robe. Based on this prophecy, the Jews expected the Messiah to have healing in his tassels.

During his ministry, one woman demonstrated her faith in Jesus by seeking healing in his tassels. Matthew 9 tells us that a sick woman, whose disease had probably left her untouched for twelve years, thought to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed" (v. 21).
When she touched the Messiah's tassels, the woman was healed. And Jesus commended her for her faith.
Healing in His tzitzit ... Healing in His wings ...  Healing in His tassels.  The Messiah would have healing in His wings ... tassels.  The ill woman knew in her very soul that she needed to reach out and grasp the tassels of Jesus' prayer shawl.  "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed."

Imagine being the woman ... an outcast, yet daring enough to push through the crowd to grasp the tassels that dangled from his prayer shawl ... to instantly feel healing within your body ... the old, familiar flow of blood stopping ... maybe, too, any accompanying pains and anemic exhaustion dissipating into nothingness.  You are restored -- physically, spiritually, and communally.  

Then, to hear Jesus question His companions and the crowds: "Who touched me?"  

"Yikes!  He knows!  How does He know?  Will He know it's me?  Of course He will!  Yikes!  What do I do?!?  Do I run?  Will I be punished for being unclean and daring to touch the robe of a rabbi?  What will they do to me for my brashness?"

Jesus looks at the faces of those in the crowd ... surely reading the very hearts, souls and minds of each person.  Your eyes lock.  There is an instantaneous connection ... "You're the one" He speaks to your being.  

But, rather than derision, you receive love ... praise ... acceptance ... inclusion ... such foreign and forgotten things in your lonely twelve years of isolation.  His words permeate your entire existence: "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

What is your suffering?  What do you need to be healed from?  What isolation are you existing in?   Will you be so bold, as that woman was, to push through the crowd ... through the derision ... through the emotional and spiritual blockade ... will you push through and grasp the tassels of the Rabbi's prayer shawl?  

"Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ducks Quack, Eagles Soar

I received this insightful piece from a friend today ... Enjoy!

Ducks Quack - Eagles Soar
No one can make you serve customers well....that's because great service is a choice.

Harvey Mackay, tells a wonderful story about a cab driver that proved this point.

He was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing Harvey noticed was that the taxi was polished to a bright shin.. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for Harvey .

He  handed my friend a laminated card and said: 'I'm Wally, your driver. While I'm loading your bags in the trunk I'd like you to read my mission statement.'

Taken aback, Harvey read the card.. It said: Wally's  Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the  quickest, safest and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment....

This blew Harvey away. Especially when he noticed  that the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!

As he slid behind the wheel, Wally said, 'Would you like a  cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.' My friend  said jokingly, 'No, I'd prefer a soft drink.' Wally smiled and said, 'No  problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, water and orange juice..'  Almost stuttering, Harvey said, 'I'll take a Diet Coke.'

Handing him his drink, Wally said, 'If you'd like something  to read, I have The Wall Street Journal, Time, Sports Illustrated and USA  Today..'

As they were pulling away, Wally handed my friend another  laminated card, 'These are the stations I get and the music they play, if  you'd like to listen to the radio.'

And as if that weren't enough,  Wally told Harvey that he had the air conditioning on and asked if the  temperature was comfortable for him. Then he advised Harvey of the best  route to his destination for that time of day. He also let him know that  he'd be happy to chat and tell him about some of the sights or, if Harvey  preferred, to leave him with his own thoughts...

'Tell me, Wally,'  my amazed friend asked the driver, 'have you always served customers like this?'

Wally smiled into the rear view mirror. 'No, not always. In  fact, it's only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I  spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do.  Then I heard the personal growth guru, Wayne Dyer, on the radio one day.

He had just written a book called You'll See It When You  Believe It. Dyer said that if you get up in the morning expecting to have  a bad day, you'll rarely disappoint yourself.. He said, 'Stop complaining! Differentiate yourself from your competition. Don't be a duck. Be an  eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.'

'That hit me right between the eyes,' said Wally. 'Dyer was  really talking about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I  decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the  other cabs and their drivers.. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were  unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So I decided to make some  changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.'

'I take it that has paid off for you,' Harvey said.

'It sure has,' Wally replied. 'My first year as an eagle, I  doubled my income from the previous year. This year I'll probably  quadruple it. You were lucky to get me today. I don't sit at cabstands  anymore. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a  message on my answering machine. If I can't pick them up myself, I get a reliable cabbie friend to do it and I take a piece of the action.'

Wally was phenomenal. He was running a limo service out of  a Yellow Cab. I've probably told that story to more than fifty cab drivers  over the years, and only two took the idea and ran with it. Whenever I go to their cities, I give them a call. The rest of the drivers quacked like ducks and told me all the reasons they couldn't do any of what I was suggesting.

Wally the Cab Driver made a different choice. He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles.

How about us?   Smile, and the whole world smiles with you .... The ball is in our hands!

A man reaps what he sows. Let us not become weary  in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not  give up... let us do good to all people.

Ducks Quack, Eagles  Soar.

Have a nice day, unless you already have other plans.

SORROW looks back, WORRY looks around, and FAITH looks UP...  BECAUSE OF THE FATHER'S LOVE, I AM CHANGED!!!

"Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain." 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Be A Missionary Wherever God Places You

On occasion, I've had some Christian friends say that they feel bad for not going abroad to do mission work.  They give reasons of job and family obligations -- huge barriers, indeed, to overseas evangelism.  However, we should not lose sight of the mission field that is right outside our homes.  I was greatly inspired to have learned recently that Saint Paul, in his final years as a prisoner of Rome chained to a Roman soldier, continued his work of sharing the Gospel with the world -- and successfully so.

As I started checking into this bit of history, I had to smile at some of the results I got while using Google.  I believe I tried googling "Paul under house arrest", and one of the results was for a company: “Do you need to be on house arrest?  Inexpensive and No Ankle bracelets …”  Wow!  I didn't know such services were available!

But, as I ferreted through the different search results, I came up with a bit of background on Paul's situation in Rome:

- From Wikipedia: "He arrived in Rome c 60 and spent two years under house arrest.[9][Acts 28:16] All told, during his ministry the Apostle Paul spent roughly 5 1/2 to 6 years as a prisoner or in prison."

- From Christianinconnect:
What Paul wrote in prison in Rome: Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians
Paul finally arrived in Rome around A.D. 59 to 60. There he was held under house arrest and guard for the next two years. His Roman imprisonment, or captivity, has been dated as A.D. 59-61, and even as A.D. 61-63.
- What was Paul's house arrest like?  This from Yahoo Answers:
The bulk of the information available comes from Acts 28...

16 When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.

17 Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans.
23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.
30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance! (TNIV)

He was renting a house.
He was under military guard.
He was allowed to meet with and teach anyone who wanted to come.
This went on for two years.
 - More about Paul's house arrest from Adventist Archives:
Paul was a prisoner under house arrest in the capital of the Roman Empire.  During this, his first imprisonment, he was not in a dungeon, but was permitted to live in his own rented quarters with a Roman soldier as guard.  Perhaps he was chained some of the time, but he was permitted to entertain guests and to preach the gospel.

Paul took advantage of this opportunity and used his time profitably.  He had assistants who ran errands for him and invited the people.  First of all, he invited his own people, the Jews, that he might explain to them why he was a prisoner, and present to them the great theme of his life, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  As a result he won some of them, as well as some from Caesar’s household, a runaway slave, and others. 

"And I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including all the soldiers in the palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ. And because of my imprisonment, many of the Christians here have gained confidence and become more bold in telling others about Christ." (Philippians 1:12-14)

Luke concludes his account with:
"Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 28:31)
Just think about it: Paul was chained to a Roman soldier.  It is logical to assume that these guards, who were rotated every couple of hours, would have been witness to Paul's entertaining of guests and preaching of the Gospel.  How many of them would have been converts?  What impact did these Roman converts have on spreading God's Word even farther?
The praetorian guard can mean the barracks of the soldiers or the soldiers themselves – ten thousand elite, hand picked heroes of Rome. How did they know? Paul told them.

Every day, for eight hour shifts, day and night, Paul had two soldiers, six a day, chained to his wrist.

He had a captive audience.

What did Paul see in these men? Brutality? Bonds? No. He saw each one as a person that Christ died for.

How many times did they tell him to shut up? How many times did they slap his face? How many times did they laugh at him?

Don’t be chained by your chains!  [source]
Or, as George Cladis of Christianity Today put the question: "Pardon me, but who is chained to whom?" 
Perhaps he prayed furiously, "Lord, unchain me from this guard; set me free to do your work."

"Paul," God must have said to him. "Look! You've got it all wrong. You're not chained to that guard. He's chained to you! And I gave you the gift of preaching. Preach, Paul! Preach!" Paul literally had a captured audience in the persons of these imperial guards who arrived every eight hours for their shift. Some of them became believers and in turn spread the gospel throughout the imperial guard—a special force of men from Rome's elite families. God used Paul's "imprisonment" to influence Rome's high society with the gospel!

Paul's perseverance in prison, shrewd evangelistic tactic, and courage to preach to the very guards who held him down, encouraged other Christians to be bold as well.

Questions for discussion:
  • Now, what are you chained to that is actually chained to you?
  • How can you turn around a difficult situation to advance the Kingdom of God?
Great ideas to consider!  Who are you chained to?  Who is chained to you?  In your sharing of the Gospel, how far will those messengers carry God's Word?

Don't forget that our immediate world is a tremendous mission field, and there is much work to be done.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Christianity and Its Role in the Revolution

Happy 4th of July, everybody!

I just finished posting over at my political blog Hummers & Cigarettes a piece by Peter Lillback of Townhall "This Fourth of July Remember the Role of Christianity."  Lillback addresses the common myth that George Washington was a Deist and, instead, dismisses this common revisionist fallacy and offers proof of Washington's Christian faith.

At the time that I found this article on Townhall, I also spied some interesting reading about George Whitefield, the famous evangelist preacher involved in The Great Awakening, spreading the Gospel throughout England and North America.

Here's David Stokes' piece (emphasis added):
In September of 1775, five months after the battles of Lexington and Concord, and while the shot heard ‘round the world later immortalized by Ralph Waldo Emerson still echoed, some Continental Army volunteers gathered at a church in the small coastal Massachusetts town of Newburyport, located almost 30 miles northeast of Boston. They were about to go to battle—an initiative led by, of all people, Benedict Arnold. The men decided that a little prayer accompanied by an extemporaneous sermon might be a good idea.

The town’s Old South Church had found a bit of recent fame as people proudly pointed out that the bell in its clock tower had been cast by a fellow named Paul Revere, who had just months before made a name for himself on horseback. Revere, of course, is better known for his connection to a certain Old North Church. But some of the citizen-soldiers listening to Chaplain Samuel Spring’s challenge that day knew that they were also in the presence of another important bit of history—something they saw as very relevant to the emerging War of Independence.

As they listened to the sermon that day, many of them couldn’t help but be preoccupied with the pulpit itself. On the Sunday immediately following the battles of Lexington and Concord, the local minister, Dr. Jonathan Parsons, spoke fervently about liberty. His passion prompted a man named Ezra Hunt to step into the church’s aisle to form a company of 60 fighting men on the spot—said to be the first such group to attach itself to the fledgling Continental Army.

But as if those two connections to the greater cause weren’t enough, there was a third even more compelling reason many of the men found the venue so fascinating.

It was what was under the pulpit that inspired them.

Five years earlier, during another Bay State September, someone who had actually founded the Old South Church back in yet another September—in 1740—had been scheduled to preach a sermon. He was America’s most famous clergyman, although his preferred appellation was—“revivalist.”

George Whitefield was back in town and a great crowd was anticipated at church in Newburyport that day. But it was a sermon, one of his more than 18,000, he would never preach. Reverend Whitefield died that morning in the church parsonage. The great voice that had cried out in the wilderness of colonial America fell silent. A few days later, with much grief and ceremony, the revivalist was buried in a crypt directly beneath that pulpit at Old South Church—where his grave remains to this day.

Many of the men sitting in the church on September 16, 1775, preparing to go to war, were restless. No disrespect was intended for the chaplain, they just wanted him to be done with his remarks so they could see Whitefield’s tomb. They wanted to make a connection—not only with history and fame: but with what we might now refer to as the DNA of faith.

Lost to many Americans today via the whitewash of history that has led to a bit of a cultural brainwash when it comes to the founding era, is the story of Whitefield and the Great Awakening he helped spark. The common revisionist narrative today places faith and matters of religion on the periphery of history—an enduring lunatic fringe encompassing past and present. This better fits the secularist worldview espoused by those who want us to see government, statism, and struggles for social justice as not only the way to move boldly into the future, but also as consistent with our past.

Sadly, such a future may, in fact, be ours if enough people don’t wake up, but no amount of tinkering with textbooks can actually change what really happened way back when. The enlightenment and passion that burned so bright during the epochal moments of our national gestation nearly two and a half centuries ago on these shores were fueled by something quite spiritual and profound.

There will be reenactments this weekend illustrating Revere’s ride, volleys fired, and a declaration proclaimed, but what will be missing as America rounds up its usual respects this 4th of July will be a cultural revisit to the seeds planted in the hearts and minds of men and women in the decades before 1775-1776.

If America was born 234 years ago this weekend, the case can be made that she was conceived 35 years earlier. Long before men named Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hancock, and Franklin became notable and influential, there were a few clergymen—preachers—who meteorically blazed across the colonial sky.

Chief among these preacher-cultural celebrities was George Whitefield.

Ordained in the Church of England at the tender age of 22 in 1736, he quickly became well known for his voice—it was loud and commanding, but never shrill and off-putting. It was said that he could speak to 30,000 people (Benjamin Franklin counted them once) and that all could hear him, even in the open air. His diction and flair for dramatics had audiences hanging on every word. Historian George Marsden suggests that Whitefield’s communication gifts were so remarkable that even uttering the word “Mesopotamia” could bring people to tears. The preacher spoke with “Much Flame, Clearness, and Power.”

Whitefield emphasized personal conversion with his powerful messages on the new birth from Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John. The converted formed new churches—hundreds of them—and revived existing churches that had long been spiritually moribund.

Interestingly, George Whitefield was not without his critics. Much of his opposition came from clergymen. The preacher was adept at using the media of his day (e.g., among the first to understand the power of newspapers) and he was certainly a showman. Biographers have regularly referred to him as “Divine Dramatist” and “Pedlar (variant of “peddler”) in Divinity.” One Boston cleric of the day complained that Whitefield “used his utmost craft and cunning to stoke the passions and engage the affections of the people.” But Whitefield not only took it all in stride, he saw the criticism as, in fact, drawing attention to his work and helping his cause. He was the first modern preacher to bring innovation, marketing savvy, and advertising to ministry.

The chronological locus for the Great Awakening was the period of 1740-1742, but the residual and enduring effects lasted into the revolutionary period. And this is where the history being taught in schools today—and that most of us grew up hearing—misses the boat.

In their book, God Is Back: How The Global Revival Of Faith Is Changing The World, John Micklethwait (editor in chief of The Economist) and Adrian Woolridge (Washington bureau chief of The Economist)—both men Oxford-trained secular journalists—argue for the obvious connection between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution. They see our struggle back then, in contrast to the French Revolution, as “a unique event in modern history—a revolution against an earthly regime that was not also an exercise in anti-clericalism.”

While revolutionary France “defined itself by its hostility to religion,” they contend “Americans saw no contradiction between embracing the values of the Enlightenment and republicanism while at the same time clinging to their religious principles.”

And we have the Reverend George Whitefield, among many others, to thank for this.

When the sermon was finally done at Old South Church that September day in 1775, some of the citizen-soldiers sought out the church’s sexton and asked to see where Whitefield was buried. The sexton actually opened the coffin and a few of the officers obtained tiny bits of material from the dead preacher’s collar and wristband, carrying them into battle as good luck charms.

Of course, I am not all that into amulets and such, but I find myself cutting these men some slack. Their simple excision of fabric was really an exercise in remembrance and connection. They knew that what they were going to do soon in battle was somehow, someway tied to what Whitefield and others had been part of years before.

Some years ago, a member of my congregation visited that church in Newburyport and brought me back some pictures of the scene. The crypt was still there, but it was surrounded by half-empty paint cans, buckets, and other typical church basement stuff (I am sure it’s been cleaned up since). It was almost like some had forgotten the significance of what they had down in that basement.

Then again, reading much of the history written about the 18th century these days, it’s pretty clear that America, for the most part, has long-since forgotten the spiritual roots of the revolution we’ll all sort of remember this weekend.

Oh—and here’s a Newburyport footnote. The town was back then associated with great preaching and in 1805 another future visionary and liberator was born to grow up there—William Lloyd Garrison, the famous abolitionist. There may, in fact, be something to faith DNA.
The "Whitefield" always grabs my attention, because my grandfather, a Methodist minister, was given the middle name of "Whitefield" (pronounced 'whit-field').  Reading about George Whitefield is fascinating ... check his story out at Wikipedia.

I endeavor to learn more about our nation's "faith DNA" -- something being whitewashed out of American history these days by the revisionists.