July 26 Esight, 2011

Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. “You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? “But give that which is within as charity [disinterested benevolence], and then all things are clean for you. (Luke 11.37-41)To continue from the last eSight, this week I want to focus on the second reason that any religious system that places more emphasis and importance on performance-based outward behaviors rather than the realities of what is going on inside of the person’s heart is dangerous and spiritually and relationally destructive.

Too often, these kinds of religious environments lead us to simply focus on the external things and trust that, if we keep at these things long enough, the inside will eventually catch up, but it never does. Let me explain. At its base, it really is a pharisaical kind of religion. If I just wash my hands right, if I just wash the dishes right, or if I just eat the right things, wear the right things, listen to and watch the right things, say the right things, and have the right beliefs about certain doctrines, then I’m OK with God and everything will be fine. In these religious environments, we are taught that if we just follow the rules and believe the right things, then we are going to be OK. It translates into a simple approach that says that the way to get right with God, the way to make sure you are loved by God, and the way to make sure you are saved is to just do the behaviors and believe the right things. Then you can know you are OK.

Even now, I know someone reading this is saying, “But isn’t having the right doctrinal understandings important? Aren’t there intrinsically self-destructive behaviors we should stay away from?” And to that I would answer, “Of course.” But it becomes just as intrinsically destructive when we place greater emphasis on these things than on what is going on inside of people. It’s an outside-of-the-cup focus rather than an inside-of-the-cup focus. You can be doing all the right behaviors and believing all the right doctrines and still be empty and lost on the inside. Let me remind you that even the Devil himself knows exactly what the Bible teaches doctrinally. But this has no reconciliatory power between Him and our heavenly Father. This isn’t to say that doctrine isn’t important. I spend countless weeks each year helping people see the Father differently through a paradigm shift in some of people’s cherished “doctrines,” but notice that the emphasis is NOT to simply change someone’s doctrinal position but to help them SEE the heart of the Father so that, by His love for them, love IN THEM can be awakened on an internal, heart-relational level. It’s a completely different emphasis and focus.

What I’m referring to in this eSight is a religion of externally focused behaviorism or externally focused intellectualism rather than a relationship in which what matters most are matters of the heart. A focus that is directed at what is on a person’s inside? THAT is what matters.

Now, I do want to be honest. Externally focused, performance-based religion has been very popular throughout history and especially in my own denomination because it does have certain advantages to it. First, it makes you feel secure. It’s doable. It’s tangible. Most religious people’s mindset is one of fear, and they are just asking, “Tell me what to do, what to believe, what to think, just put it down on paper, and if I can do that, then I know I am going to be OK.” It’s so concrete! It really is appealing to most people on a religious level. Second, it has another advantage. If I really believe that if I just do the do’s and don’t do the don’ts and believe the right things, then that means that I don’t have to worry about all the garbage inside of me, all the nasty things inside of me. I don’t have to go deep. I’m given a false sense of assurance that everything can just remain at the surface level (this can produce very religious people who are, in reality, just functional atheists, with little or no real kingdom living going on inside of them). An externally focused religion affords me the privilege of having assurance without having to worry about letting God heal what’s going on inside of me.

Last week, we discussed how, in these kinds of religious environments that put a premium on religious externals, there are a lot of people who feel really righteous for doing the externals and believing the right things, but inside, they can be full of all sorts of ugly things, like gossip, bigotry, racism, or relational dysfunction, but they don’t even notice that because they are conditioned not to notice that stuff and, in fact, they are rewarded for not noticing it or hiding it, and they believe that everything is OK as long as the outside looks correct. They are conditioned to look at external things.

I know these environments well because I spent the first few years of my own journey following Jesus in one of these environments. Some of you have heard me talk about my suspender days, so I won’t go into it here.

As I shared last week, the first reason I believe that these religious systems are dangerous is that, in a system like that, you are rewarded for being the best pretender or actor, or for hiding. And I will add this week that, in these environments, usually, the ones who rise to leadership are those who tend to be the most shallow and least prone to introspection, and they can be very internally dysfunctional. I know this first-hand because, if I could “confess” my “faults to … another” for a moment, I was one of these kinds of people. God continues to have to save ME from the temptation to be, if I can be honest, an externally focused, performance-based Pharisee rather than letting Him do His healing work in me on the inside. I believe that God is calling all of us to greater introspection. And if you submit to His healing work, one of the byproducts is that you begin to see through religious facades more readily and you yourself become more passionate about an inside-of-the-cup experience. This also, in turn, changes the way we relate to others. We begin to care less and less about what’s on people’s outsides and begin to focus more and more on what’s on people’s insides, knowing that THAT is what really matters most. But now I’m going off on a tangent. Maybe I’ll write more about that next week.

This week, I want to focus on the second reason that I believe these kinds of religious environments are so spiritually dangerous and relationally destructive. But it’s going to involve a little logic. You see, an externally focused, performance-based, behaviorist religion presupposes an externally focused, performance-based, behaviorist GOD! (Once again, what is your picture of God? Come on, did you really think we were going to be looking at these passages without my asking that question?) It’s a very sub-Christian view of God and contrary to Jesus’ view of God. It’s a view of God as being One who is more interested in the rightness of your doctrinal beliefs and the rightness of your behavior than He is in YOU. (Warning: the following statement may challenge your current picture of God, but I’m challenging you to remain open-minded and finish reading to the end.) This religion is one that, if you have the right behaviors and the right beliefs attached to you, then you’re “IN,” and if you have the wrong behaviors or the wrong beliefs attached to you, well, then you’re “OUT”. This religion has a God who relates to you and loves you conditioned upon the rightness of your beliefs and the rightness of your behaviors. And I submit to you that, if Christ is at the center of your picture of God, what you think about the kind of person God is, then that kind of view of God just is not, well, adequate. All of our thinking about God is to be centered on Jesus Christ, perfectly expressing the character of our God on the Cross. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9, 10). And Jesus didn’t base how He related to people on the rightness of their beliefs or the rightness of their behavior. In fact, He tended to upset those who had the right beliefs and the right behaviors, and He tended to attract those who had the wrong beliefs and the wrong behaviors. He didn’t condition how He related to people based on what they believed or what they were doing. The best example I know of concerning this reality is the story of the thief on the cross beside Jesus who asked to be remembered by Jesus when He came into His kingdom. Jesus didn’t turn to this thief and say, “Well, it depends; do you smoke? How were you baptized? What day did you go to church on?” I know that this is upsetting the cart for a lot of folks right now. But, remember, I’m not saying that these things aren’t important. I’m simply pointing out that Jesus didn’t condition how He related to people based on these things, and He said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” These things have intrinsic benefits in and of themselves, but God, if He is anything like Jesus, doesn’t condition how He relates to us based on those things. Jesus looked at this thief on the cross and saw the orientation of this thief’s heart; Jesus saw what was going on “inside” of this thief’s “cup,” so to speak, completely ignored what was going on “outside” of the thief’s “cup,” and saw something going on in this thief’s HEART that made him salvageable. (And Jesus salvaged anyone who could be salvaged!)

I submit that the behaviorist, externally focused, performance-based view of a God who bases everything on the rightness of your beliefs or behavior is a sub-Christian view of God. And THIS picture of God doesn’t administer life to anyone who holds it. It doesn’t bring the kingdom of God inside of you. You can do all the right behaviors and have all the right beliefs, and even if you do all of these things perfectly, if this is your picture of God, on the inside, you are still going to be empty! This is the second reason I believe that these externally focused environments can be so spiritually damaging. This kind of view of God doesn’t bring you the fullness of life that Jesus came to bring you. It doesn’t bring the joy of the kingdom; it doesn’t bring the peace of the kingdom. And it doesn’t bring to a person the “power” of the kingdom. It leaves you empty. And the reason is simple. You were created and I was created to experience and derive life from unconditional love, unconditional worth, and unconditional significance. Our hearts, the inside of our cups, need to feel love that not based on what we believe or how we behave. We need – we were created – to feel significant, to feel worthwhile on the inside (in our hearts) in a way that only God can give to each of us. But, you see, if I am doing certain things or believing certain things to feel loved, to feel significant, to feel worth, to feel “accepted” by God, then my heart knows that what is really loved and what is really significant and what is really worthwhile is NOT me but the things I did and things I believed to feel loved, to feel worth, and to feel accepted. The worth and the love and the significance attaches to what I do and what I believe to get it, but it doesn’t attach itself to ME! The inside of your “cup,” your heart, can NEVER get full, never feel fulfilled, never feel satisfaction, never feel truly loved, and no matter how much you do and or how right your beliefs are, you will always feel spiritually and relationally unfulfilled and EMPTY! Your heart continues to starve and die, and the hunger inside of you, never being fulfilled by your externally focused, performance-based picture of God, now turns to other, sometimes very self-destructive, things to try to find some fulfillment and some “wholeness.” (This is why very high-profile conservative religious leaders sometimes are caught doing some very stupid and hypocritical things.) This picture of God or God’s love never really nourishes the heart because God’s love and acceptance is always conditioned on externally focused, performance-based THINGS! When you do things and your love and worth and significance is conditioned upon what you do and the rightness of your beliefs, then, again, all the love, worth, and significance attaches to those things and none of it attaches to you; none of it really gets to your heart. NONE of it nourishes your heart and really changes you from the inside out!

This week, let me close by simply saying that the “outside-of-the-cup” picture of God always leaves you empty. But as long as you are under the delusion that the way to get love, worth, and significance is to focus on the outside of cup, you’ll keep on trying to perfect your behavior or become more stringent or accurate in your beliefs (splitting theological hairs over really insignificant things in the scriptures) because you believe that, if you can only get it right, then you will feel full and significant, but it never, NEVER, pays off. You never enter into the fullness of the life and the love that God made you for.

This picture of God is a demonic lie, straight from the Father of Lies, and Jesus came to destroy his works and inventions. Jesus came to show us what the Father is truly like. Jesus came to dispel the soul-destroying, heart-depriving darkness that had enshrouded our understandings of God. Jesus came to bring us life, life unlimited, through revealing to us the true picture of what the God of this universe is really like.

I know I’ve given you a good chunk of things to ponder this week. I pray, as you do, that the kind of God we find in the person of Jesus Christ will truly bring worth and significance to your soul, love to your heart, and change to your life.

We’ll continue with the third reason next week. I think next week’s will be shorter. Whew.

Keep living God’s unconditional love. Go build the kingdom.

Love you guys, and see you next week,

Herb

July 11 Esight, 2011

Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.” (Luke 11.37-41)

I would like to continue exploring Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisee in Luke chapter 11 this week. In looking at these passages again, I honestly cannot tell you how many weeks we will be looking at this passage, but I see at least a couple more weeks ahead of us. These passages were some of the passages that God used to turn my world upside down and I feel that it’s time to share them with you! For this week, lets just start up again where we left off. Last week I shared with you that there were three reasons that I felt that religious systems that place a greater emphasis on external, outward, performance-based behaviors than on what is truly taking place in people’s hearts are spiritually damaging and relationally destructive. This week, I would like to take the time to focus simply on the first of those three reasons.

When we belong to a system that places a greater emphasis on the outside of a cup than it does on the inside of the cup, points are awarded within that community or fellowship for how well you perform. You receive points based on how well you appear to have things together. Points are awarded for how well you “look.” Inevitably, the greatest number of points are given to those who are able to pretend the best! Points end up going to those who are the best play actors, to those who put on the best “show”, to those who are the best at faking it. No one get’s real. No one get’s whole. No one receives genuine healing. And the reason this is so dangerous, is that if you do happen to pull back the thin veneer of these types of systems, you’ll find all types of very sick dysfunction going on just below the service, but no one is allowed to really talk about it. There are all kinds of unspoken “no talk” rules, because we are the people of God and we are supposed to be holy, blameless, and righteous! We must LOOK perfect! But people in these systems are still genuinely struggling, but they are afraid to talk about it. This in turn makes them feel as if they are alone, too many times they think they are this only ones struggling. This is exactly why Jesus warned us so passionately in this very same context of Luke 11 (Luke 12): “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” It destroys the kingdom Jesus came to establish from the inside out, undoing all the leavening that the Gospel is endeavoring to do, because no one can stop for a moment and just be honest. Everyone is in denial, and true “confession” or honesty about your religious community’s faults becomes relegated to a cliché. True growth, healing and transformation can never take place.

The word Jesus uses here for hypocrisy is: hupokrisis, which means “play actor.” It was the word used for those who performed in the Greek theater. It specifically refers to those who have two faces, two tongues, and two hearts; those who are being two people.

You see, in a religious system that places a greater importance on outward conformity through external behaviors than on the transformations God wants to make in peoples hearts through the revelation of his love, things quickly become a pretense. Everyone begins to hide. No one feels safe letting his or her hair down. Relationships become conducted at arms distance. No one really enters into community, where we actually begin to know and love each other. I know this may sound scary if you have only experienced an “outside of the cup” religious system, but to be truly “known” and unconditionally “loved” is what we were made for, and it’s beautiful when you genuinely experience it. (I’ll write more on this next week, as it’s rooted in the second reason I believe that an “outside of the cup” focus produces something religiously dangerous.) In an “outside of the cup” religious system, each person begins putting on what has sometimes been referred to as his or her “church face,” whereas in their real lives they are different people entirely. This is nothing less than duplicity. It’s being two different people. Jesus calls us not to be duplicitous, but to be authentic! And to begin that authenticity by letting Him open our hearts to see what’s in His heart for us. And to provide an environment where people don’t have to pretend, but where they feel safe enough to be authentic. You see, this produces a religious community that is quite different. A religious community that is free from pretending or pretension. A religious community that is honest, and that accepts people wherever they are at, without undermining the life-transforming power of God’s love.

If I could have you ponder any question this week, it would be this: do we really trust that when we begin focusing on the inside of our cups, we won’t lose the cleansing of the outside too? Do we truly understand that through this process, the outside truly and authentically becomes clean from the inside out?

This is what I share in my book Finding the Father, which has resonated with so many. Our outward behavior is determined by our inward thoughts and feelings, which are determined specifically by how we see God, or, in other words, by our picture of God. What we believe God is truly like. This is why Jesus largely ignored the outside of people’s cups, choosing instead to focus all of his attention on having them see the Father in their hearts. This is also one of the many reasons we are called, as followers of Jesus, to give the last message of mercy to this dying world, as a message that is the revelation of God’s character of love.

I’ll close this week with Jesus’ words from Luke chapter 6:

For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. Luke 6:43-45

Both the “outside of the cup” religious system and the “inside of the cup” religious system produce fruit. We can recognize the type of system that we follow by the kinds of fruit that are produced. May we all create environments in which people are accepted as they are, as well as enabled and equipped to be radically transformed from the inside out by the power of that very acceptance.

Keep living in love, loving like Christ, and building the kingdom.

See you next week. I love you guys,

Herb

July 4 Esight, 2011

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.” Luke 11:39First, let me say thank you for all of your feedback on the weekly podcasts, and second, let me apologize for taking last week off. Last Monday came at the end of a very busy week, during which I was engaged in giving 20 presentations in one week at the Mountain View Camp Meeting here in West Virginia. And let me say, boy, was it a rush! So many testimonies of how a fresh perspective of God’s love was transforming things for folks from the inside out! I was so wiped out at the end of it all, but man, was it worth it! So thank you for your understanding of my not writing an eSight or publishing a Podcast for last week.

This week, I’d like to start an I-don’t-know-how-many-part series on a passage that is speaking volumes to me right now. I have completed my camp meeting circuits for this summer and our

Adventist culture has, once again, especially been impressed upon me. I want to make sure though that you understand that I’m talking about our culture. I believe in our message. Our biblically based message is why I am a part of our movement as a denomination, but our culture over the last 150+ years has developed some very dangerous elements that I would like to address. I do not think that it is by accident that in the context of my summer, visiting camp meeting after camp meeting, that our loving Father has directed my attention to these passages. In the next few weeks, I’d like to share some of the thoughts He has been impressing upon my heart because I believe they have the potential to bring the same healing to your heart that they have brought to mine. You see, I, too, have been burned by the unhealthy elements that have developed among us as a people. I pray that the same positive healing and insightful experiences I have had through these passages over the last few weeks will also ring true for you and bring you positive results as well.

So, with out any more explanation, here goes.

The passage is Luke 11:37-54.

We’ll begin right at the beginning and go through this passage for as many weeks as it takes to get through the relevance each passage holds for us today.

“And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner.” Luke 11:37, 38

The placement of this event, in Luke’s orchestration, is right after the accusation by the Pharisees that Jesus was casting demons out of folks by the power of the Devil. Immediately following, in Luke’s purposeful design, he tells this story. A Pharisee invites Jesus to dine, but then Jesus does something very purposeful. He obviously and blatantly skips washing His hands. THIS, although there is NO Old Testament law regarding hand washing, had CULTURALLY grown to be held as equivalent to the law. Camp meeting after camp meeting across this continent drove home to me that we, too, are not immune to these traps. We, too, have things that have become in our culture of Adventist tradition on par with what we consider to be the Law. Depending on which area of the country or continent you are visiting one of our camp meetings, you will find that each area has its own cultural taboos. This should be a wake-up call for us to think through some of the elements of our way of life. It is healthy to reassess ourselves every so often to see whether we are ascribing more significance to some things in our “lifestyle” than what they truly and intrinsically deserve.

There are three points I want to quickly make regarding Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ head-scratching “marveling”.

“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now, you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.’” Luke 11:39

First, I think it is important to note, given some of the folks I have bumped into in my travels this summer, that we cannot derive from this story an example of how we are to relate to someone who is hosting us as a guest. Honestly, if someone invites you to their home for dinner, and the first thing you do is strike up a pointed conversation concerning your host’s hypocrisy, well, in short, you are being rude! The Bible tells us clearly that love “does not behave rudely” (I Corinthians 13:5).

Second, this story takes place in a much broader context and culture. Jesus was a prophet in Israel. He was calling to account a leader in Israel. This is never the way Jesus calls anyone else to account. These words of Jesus and His manner here are very unique to what we normally witness in how Jesus related to people. Here though, we see Jesus taking up His God-given role of prophet and calling the leaders of Israel to accountability. This is what prophets did in Israel. So this again is a unique situation. Unless you are a prophet and the person you are relating to is in leadership, none of us have any right to use this story as an example in methodology or justification for being religiously rude.

Third, and I’ll leave you with this until next week, the reason Jesus so blatantly skips washing His hands in the plain view of this religious leader and provokes this leader’s question is so that Jesus could call to attention the extremely harmful characteristic of a religious system that places more emphasis on external performance-based behavior than on the internal matters of the heart. Let me repeat that. There is something very spiritually damaging in the environment of a religious system that places more emphasis and importance on external performance-based behaviors than on what’s really going on, on the “inside” of people. Why is this kind of focus by a religious system so spiritually damaging? Why is it so relationally destructive to communities and fellowships where people are called into healing relationships with God and each other?

There are three significant reasons as to why this type of religious system is so intrinsically dangerous to one’s spiritual health. It’s with these three reasons that we will pick up next week.

Something to ponder for sure.

Keep living in love. Keep building the kingdom.

I’ll see you next week!

I love you guys,

Herb

June 22 Esight, 2011

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” Matthew 8.10This week I want to conclude our two-part series on the idea of Biblical Faith, and I would like to begin by looking at Jesus’ amazement at the centurion’s faith in Matthew’s gospel quoted above. There are many insights we could extract from this story, but the one I want us to zero in on this week is that what Jesus was amazed at was not the greatness of this centurion’s faith quantitatively. Rather, Jesus was amazed at this centurion’s faith qualitatively. In other words, it was not the quantity of this man’s faith but the quality of this man’s faith that pleasantly surprised Jesus.

I think this point cannot be emphasized enough. I’m currently at the Mountain View Camp Meeting here in West Virginia. (If you have been praying for these meetings with me, God is blessing tremendously the hearts and lives of those who have been attending my presentations. I’ll share more about this with you in next week’s ministry update.) This week, I met a dear soul who is in a wheelchair and has fourth-stage bone cancer. Her husband shared with me that some well-meaning Christian had told him that if a person is not healed it is simply because they did not have enough faith. I have to admit, it took every ounce of self-control I have not to become livid when I heard this. This idea has caused more damage in the hearts of those who have experienced this life’s trauma than we have space to recount.

Jesus utterly and completely rejected this abuse of his own teaching on faith. Jesus explained what He meant by little versus great faith in His answer to His disciples in the wrestling with the “why” of their inability to cast out a certain demon in this father’s son. Jesus did say it was because their faith was little, but it was because of the littleness qualitatively not quantitatively. For He immediately, so as not to be misunderstood, added, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, [quantitatively small] you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17.20). This may sound strange in our post-modern naturalistic world view, but instead of the casting out of this certain kind of demon being dependent on the disciples’ mustering up enough faith quantitatively, this type of demon took a certain quality of faith to be cast out.

Now what does all this mean in light of what we shared last week? Faith is not something that simply takes place in our intellect alone. It’s something we do with our heart. And remember, faith—true heart-level faith—always has an object. Do you remember what we said that object was? It was God’s love! God’s character! God’s goodness! If you will go back through the Gospels and every where you see Jesus saying to someone, “Your faith has saved you,” substitute in the place of the word “faith” the phrase “your picture of God” (what you are believing about God), tremendous insights into Biblical faith will open up right before your very eyes. Tremendous insights!

Notice, Jesus was saying about the centurion, ‘I have not found so great a picture of God, an understanding of the character of God in relation to the subject of human suffering (the context was a dying servant). No, not in all Israel!’

Look at Jesus’ interaction with the woman and the issue of blood I wrote about a few weeks back:

Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matthew 9.22)

In other words, ‘Your understanding of the character of God—what you are believing God to be like—drove you to break every Levitical law regarding issues of bleeding and press through this crowd to touch me!’ The cultural belief about God’s character would have led her to despair. Remember, a gross misunderstanding of Deuteronomy 28 had led people to believe that if a person was suffering the way this lady was, it was because God was punishing her for something she did. This woman’s picture of God caused her to reject this way of viewing God, and Jesus affirmed her for it and even went so far as to say that it was her understanding of God’s character—her belief regarding what God is like in contrast to what everyone around her believed—that had drove her to this moment of healing!

Just try it this week. Go back through the gospels and everywhere you see Jesus saying, “Your faith has saved you” substitute the word faith for “your picture of God:” what you believe God is like!

Lastly, let’s close this week with Jesus’s words to the woman of Luke chapter 7.

I want you to try what I’m encouraging you to do with this story here.

Luke 7.44-50:

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith [your newly found understanding of God’s character of love that you grasped hold of through My revelation to you] has saved you; go in peace.”

I want to be clear. Faith is not meritorious, but to believe that God is as beautiful a being as Jesus revealed does have an intrinsic life-changing effect. This is what I believe Jesus was teaching us: Just as we were lost as a race by embracing a faith in the wrong picture of what God is like, we are restored by embracing a faith in the picture of our Heavenly Father that has its source in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the exact representation of what the Father is like. If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. Do you believe this? Then this is what Jesus referred to as faith. And this kind of faith, even though it is a mustard seed, moves mountains! It’s not about how much faith you have, but rather, it’s about what kind of faith you have. What kind of belief are you holding regarding God’s thoughts and feelings toward you? What kind of God are you believing Him to be?

I hope these last two weeks have opened to you a deeper understanding of what Jesus called faith, and I pray that we all together will be able to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of our Heavenly Father, to know this love that surpasses mere intellectual knowledge, that engages us on a heart level, that we too may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of what our God truly is.

Live by this kind of faith. Live in Love. Love like Christ. And keep building the kingdom!

I love you guys,

We’ll see you next week.

Herb

June 14 Esight, 2011

“Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.” Luke 8.12This week, I want to begin a two-part series on faith. I hope to flesh out my definition of Biblical faith a bit because there is so much confusion on this subject. Then, next week, I’d like to build on the points we make this week with three of Jesus’s revelations about the nature of faith. I believe that these two weeks will be paradigm shifting for many; for others, it will be good review.

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2.19)

First, I want to be very clear that Biblical Faith is much more than mere mental assent to facts. I don’t care how amazing those facts may be, simply having the right facts doesn’t equate with what the Bible calls faith. I mean, the Devil Himself is, on an intellectual level alone, doctrinally correct! But to experience Faith is much more than simply doctrinal correctness.

Yet another misconception is that Biblical Faith is simply “trust.” I want to affirm that a healthy relationship with God (or with anyone for that matter) involves trust; however, Biblical Faith is more than simple “trust.” I trust my insurance company, but I’m not necessarily experiencing what the Bible calls faith. I may believe in them to hold up their end of our arrangement if life should take a turn for the worse. But, this principle is not what the Bible calls real faith. Trust is, at its best, very egocentric. It’s all about me! I really don’t care about my insurance company so long as it follows through with the rules of the policy for which I paid.

Many have mistakenly confused faith and trust; therefore, their religious experience has been little more than fire insurance—if you know what I mean. The Biblical teaching of faith is not simply mental assent to fact, and it is much more than self-centered insecurity driven “trust,” too! What is Biblical faith?

The answer becomes clear when you compare the following four verses. Let’s begin by looking at the first three:

“And He said to them, ‘O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!’” (Luke 24.25)

“And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” (Acts 8.37)

“That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe with your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10.9)

Did you notice what all three of these verses have in common? Faith is something we do not with our heads, but with our hearts! Don’t get me wrong. My heart also has serious difficulty becoming passionate about something my head can’t get itself around. BUT, the intellectual aspect, although necessary for some, is not necessarily what the Bible calls faith. True saving belief is something that happens on a much deeper heart level!

Follow closely as the fourth verse explains this even further.

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Galatians 5.6)

This verse is exceptional! The Greek here is a little ambiguous. Paul could have been saying that faith always expresses itself through love, which is truth. He may be indicating how Jesus told us the distinguishing characteristics of His followers are the fruits that you see as a result—love. (I plan to write more on this topic two weeks from now. Look for it not next week but in the week to follow). But also, the way the Greek is written here could indicate that Paul was saying that Faith is always set in operation or activated by love, God’s love for us.

Both are true! When we believe in God’s love for us, that faith is activated, through the revelation of God’s love, to now go to work expressing that same love for others. This week, I want to especially focus on this “activated” aspect. Faith, although it involves the intellect, is not purely an intellectual experience. It involves that heart. It is that special experience when the intellect grasps God’s love in a way that deeply affects our hearts and moves us onto a meaningful “heart” level. It is more akin to deep life-changing heart appreciation and gratitude for the love we see in God’s heart for us, a love that makes us want to no longer live for ourselves but for Him who loves us so deeply, radically, and overwhelmingly self-sacrificially (2 Corinthians 5:14,15). If you’ve never experienced this kind of faith, it truly is hard to explain in words. But if you have seen God’s love, and you are familiar with what happens inside of you as a result, THAT is what the Bible calls FAITH. It’s the moment that you see how deeply you exist in the heart of God, which supernaturally places Him in your heart as well.

One last verse:

2 Corinthians 4.6

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

I find it interesting that, in the light of truth that God is love, He is aiming the light of this truth at a certain place in each of us. Did you catch it in that last verse? He is shining that light “in our hearts.” It “passes mere knowledge,” Paul said (Ephesians 3:19) and affects us at a much deeper level.

Would you like to encounter a deeper experience in what the Bible calls Faith? Remember, this heart-level faith is activated by encountering God’s love for you! But how do we experience His love for us more deeply? This is what next weeks e-Sight is all about.

Keep focusing on His Extravagant love for you this week. Keep choosing to believe it despite the other voices in your head! May your faith in this love deepen and overflow with desire to share this divine love with all who are around you!

Live in love and keep building the kingdom! See you next week.

Love you guys.

Herb

June 6 Esight, 2011

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12)This past week, while speaking at Lake Junaluska Camp Meeting, I had the privilege of meeting a certain young person who brought the above text to my attention with a question about its meaning that was causing him great distress. Before I share with you his question, let me also add to his text one other statement from Jesus that seems to say the same thing.

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15).

Here was my young friend’s question: “Does God really withhold forgiveness from us until we forgive other people who have hurt us? And if so, how do I forgive those who have hurt me so deeply, so that I don’t run the risk of not being forgiven by God?”

This reminded me of an encounter I had years ago with a young mother. You see, her heart had been broken by a recent tragic event. Her six month old son had died. She had always wanted to be a mother, but death, like a gypsy, had stolen away her newfound joy and realization of this dream. She was devastated. Now, there are many details to her story that I addressed with her that I won’t share here. Well-meaning church folk had tried to comfort her by reminding her of the hope of resurrection, but this just came off as insensitive to her, and a belittling of her pain in the here and now. But worse than this, she had been sexually abused as a teenager and she genuinely struggled to find forgiveness for her abuser.

She had been told by a well-meaning preacher (but very misguided) that if she didn’t forgive this person, God wouldn’t forgive her (Sick! I know.). She had just lost her six month old child and the only hope she had was a resurrection she felt she would never have a part in. How could God forgive her for her sins if she could not forgive those who had sinned against her? The whole story is simply gut-wrenching, but based on the very same misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching that spawned the question I was asked last week by my young friend. How are we to make sense of Jesus’ statements? At the very least, his words should make us begin to ask questions. Is this really what God is like?

Insight (eSight) is found when we look beyond our limited English-based translations to the original statements in their original language. There are five words used in the Hebrew and Greek languages to express separate but related aspects of what we call “forgiveness” in English. (For more on this, please see the presentation on our Web site titled “Charizomai,” or see chapter 13 by the same title in my book, Finding The Father, published by Review & Herald Publishing in 2009.)

The two words I want to draw your attention to in this week’s eSight are the Greek words apheimi and charizomai. These words each have certain nuances. One refers to actual forgiveness in the heart of the party that has been wronged, and the other contains the nuance of what we would call “forgiven-ness” in the heart of the one who has committed the wrong. In order to really catch the subtleties of these two words, consider that in every violation there is a perpetrator and a victim. But both have very real intrinsic psychological and emotional responses to what has happened. For example, the perpetrator could feel shame, guilt, and condemnation in their heart over what they have done. The victim, on the other hand, could feel anger, disbelief, or the desire for revenge.

Charizomai is normally what we think of as forgiveness. It describes what happens in the heart of the victim if they should choose to let go of their anger, disbelief, and the desire for restitution or revenge.

Apheimi, on the other hand, refers to the perpetrator being set free from their sense of shame, guilt, and condemnation. (The Greek actually implies sending the shame and guilt away from the transgressor, a kind of setting the transgressor free from the intrinsic realities of what they set in motion in their own conscience.)

Now, let’s break down what Jesus is actually saying, but we’ll do so by adding Luke’s version to this mix:

“And forgive [apheimi] us [for] our sins, for we ourselves also forgive [apheimi] everyone who is indebted [obligated] to us” (Luke 11:4).

We aren’t praying for a change in God’s heart toward us as a result of our having a change of heart toward those who have wronged us. Rather, we are praying for a deeper experience in what we might call “forgiven-ness” as we extend “forgiven-ness” to those who have wronged us! Jesus illustrated this again in the following parable.

“Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:32-35).

You see, the lord of this story originally forgave the slave. But when the slave refused to offer the same forgiven to others, he was handed over to the “torturers.” For the sake of space and time, consider this: If a person who lives life with feelings of revenge, or a spirit of demanding restitution from everyone who has wronged them, embracing a spirit of un-forgiveness toward others, do you think that in the age to come, it will be difficult or easy for those people to believe God has forgiven them for what they have done against Him? It is as if we are burning the very bridge for others that we each will one day have to cross ourselves. Jesus was warning us here. Not that God is a quid pro quo, tit-for-tat, kind of God, but, rather, that a person can live in such a spirit of stubborn unforgiveness toward everyone around them that they actually become incapable of believing in even a remote possibility that God could be so forgiving of themselves. It is not that God doesn’t forgive them in His heart, but that these folks prevent God from being able to usher them into the experience of forgiven-ness.

So, do we forgive in order to be forgiven? Or, do we forgive because we have been forgiven?

Do you have folks in your life you need to forgive? Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and expecting the other person to die from it. It’s madness. But let me be quick to add what this doesn’t mean, too. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you trust the people who have hurt you. It doesn’t’ mean you give them permission to hurt you again. You simply relinquish your right of restitution or revenge. You’re letting them off the hook for that which they have done to you in the past.

But how do we do this? This might sound odd, but you forgive others by forgetting about forgiving others, and instead, focus all of your heart on seeing and believing how deeply you, in the heart of God, have been forgiven. This will create, in you, a sense of forgiven-ness. This in turn awakens forgiveness toward those who have wronged you, which, being genuine, will motivate and inspire you to help usher those who have wronged you also into a sense of forgiven-ness. And this compounds your OWN sense of forgiven-ness for your own mistakes! This ushers you into a deeper experience of apheimi (forgiven-ness) concerning all the times you have missed the mark! It becomes a reciprocating cycle that is ever deepening our own understanding of the forgiveness that is in God’s heart toward us all. But where does it all begin? In believing, remember, how deeply we have first been forgiven.

Let me leave you with this. God’s forgiveness is not simply something we receive for our personal sins. To receive God’s forgiveness also means embracing a way of doing life with those around us. His forgiveness is not just a reality that gives us assurance or eternal security. It’s a principle we receive and submit to live by in all our relationships. But what is it that causes you to embrace this principle of forgiveness toward others as a way of life? We must see and believe how deeply God has already forgiven us! And as we submit to the power of that forgiveness, it will, in and of itself, awaken in our hearts forgiveness toward all who are in our lives.

I wish each of you much love and a deeper sense of Divine forgiveness AND forgiven-ness this week.

Live in love, live in God’s prevenient forgiveness, and in the light of His extravagant forgiveness for you, be imitators of God and go build the kingdom.

Love you guys,

Herb

May 30 Esight, 2011

When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And they went on to another village. (Luke 9.51-56, TNIV)I have to admit that this is a very confusing story for me personally. I’m going to ask you to put yourself in James’ and John’s sandals for a moment as we begin this week and consider some very important questions. The first question is this: why did James and John ask if they should call fire down from heaven on these Samaritans? The answer is even stranger, because it’s rooted and grounded in an Old Testament way of seeing God.

There are two bold historical events that give James’ and John’s question some basis. The first is the fire that God rained down out of heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and the second is Elijah and his interaction with actual Samaritans (2 Kings 1).

But it gets worse before it gets better. We have to add to these the additional numerous other accounts (I will only list a few of them here) as well as prophetic statements that form the basis for their question as well. This exercise may seem tedious, but I encourage you to stay with me until the end.

And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (Levitus 10.2)

Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. (Numbers 11.1)

Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense. (Numbers 16.35)

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4.24)

Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you. (Deuteronomy 9.3)

For a fire is kindled in My anger, and burns to the lowest part of Sheol, and consumes the earth with its yield, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains. (Deuteronomy 32.22)

Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble and dry grass collapses into the flame, so their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust; for they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 5.24)

From the LORD of hosts you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, With whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire. (Isaiah 29.6)

And the LORD will cause His voice of authority to be heard, and the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger, and in the flame of a consuming fire in cloudburst, downpour and hailstones. (Isaiah 30.30)

And say to the forest of the Negev, “Hear the word of the LORD: thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am about to kindle a fire in you, and it will consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched and the whole surface from south to north will be burned by it.’” (Ezekiel 20.47)

“Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 22.31)

So I will send fire upon the house of Hazael and it will consume the citadels of Ben-hadad. (Amos 1.4)

So I will send fire upon the wall of Gaza and it will consume her citadels. (Amos 1.7)

So I will send fire upon the wall of Tyre and it will consume her citadels. (Amos 1.10)

So I will send fire upon Teman and it will consume the citadels of Bozrah. (Amos 1.12)

So I will kindle a fire on the wall of Rabbah and it will consume her citadels amid war cries on the day of battle, and a storm on the day of tempest. (Amos 1.14)

So I will send fire upon Moab and it will consume the citadels of Kerioth; and Moab will die amid tumult, with war cries and the sound of a trumpet. (Amos 2.2)

So I will send fire upon Judah and it will consume the citadels of Jerusalem. (Amos 2.5)

Seek the LORD that you may live, or He will break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph, and it will consume with none to quench it for Bethel. (Amos 5.6)

The point I want to make for you is that James and John were fully “Biblical” in their response to the Samaritans’ rejection of Jesus. And yet Jesus REBUKED them. Don’t gloss over that word “rebuke.” It’s a strong word to describe a strong response to them by Jesus.

I am becoming more and more alarmed at modern Christians in their use of the Old Testament to justify their refusal to follow the clear teachings of Jesus and the principles of His kingdom. (I recently encountered this in some responses to comments I made on Facebook about the execution of Bin Laden.)

Jesus taught us:

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

I know this is going to raise some significant questions for some of you. It’s OK. Live in those questions for a moment. Put yourselves in the same head-scratching position as those who listened to Jesus in His own day.

Consider what the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration is whispering to us today.

Follow closely. The Jews based everything they believed about God on the Law and the Prophets (the cultural symbols for these were Moses and the greatest prophet, Elijah, himself being translated.)

To the law (Moses) and the testimony (the prophets represented by Elijah)! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8.20)

But the picture of God that the people in Jesus’ day had taken from these two sources was imperfect. It was partial. It wasn’t complete. In the Transfiguration, what we are witnessing is a special transfer of authority from Moses and Elijah to Jesus, to be witnessed by Jesus’ disciples. Peter, James and John witnessed Moses and Elijah, figures which, in their culture, stood for the source of all of their beliefs about God and how He calls us to live, standing there with Jesus. Then the Father speaks audibly:

Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to HIM!” Luke 9.35 [emphasis added.]

What is this saying? As you have based everything you believe about Me on the teaching of Moses and Elijah, now base everything you believe about Me on My Son! Listen to Him now!

You see, although what they believed about God was based on the Law and the Prophets, they had grossly misinterpreted this God they had found in the Law and the Prophets. They had taken from these two sources a picture of God that was lacking. We are not to think that Jesus came to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but rather, Jesus radically re-interpreted the Law and the Prophets in such a unique way that it gave the people of His day a completely different picture of God. (It also undermined the entire religious system that had been built on that wrong picture and that is one of the primary reasons that they crucified Him.)

Take note of Jesus’ reinterpretation of what the Law and the Prophets were actually teaching with James’ and John’s original question in mind:

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for THIS is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7.12 [emphasis added.]

This is the message of the New Testament. The Old Testament, although true, had been misunderstood. Jesus had come, by contrast, as the exact, full, complete representation of the character of God.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, . . . . And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature . . . . (Hebrews 1.1-3)

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1.17,18)

Once again, I’m not saying that Jesus came to abolish the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17) at all. But the picture of God that the people in Jesus’ day had understood from these two sources was imperfect. It was partial. It wasn’t complete. Paul understood this when he wrote to the Corinthian believers,

For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial [picture of God ] will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13.9)

It was this tension between the Old Testament and the Teachings of Jesus that caused the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to reject Him. It is this tension that we need to live in today as followers of Jesus. And it is this tension that should give us grave warning not to base our treatment of our enemies on Old Testament stories but on the life, teachings, death and resurrection of God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. When we find tension between the Old Testament and Jesus’ clear commands, we must, by default, side with Jesus’ clear commands and assume we are misinterpreting the Old Testament. Remember, Jesus interpreted the Old Testament in such a way that allowed Him to still give the Old Testament authority in His life, but in a way that simultaneously gave Him a radically different picture of God than what others had gotten from the Old Testament.

Lastly, I hope those who need to hear this right now will understand what I’m saying and what I’m not saying. When we look at the violence of Christian Church history, and even today’s American nationalistic violent version of Christianity, we do not find that the teachings of Jesus have been tried and found wanting. We find that the teachings of Jesus have been found difficult and left untried.

Thinking of all those who are not believers, but who are watching us today from the outside, may the day come soon when the label “Christian” is used, once again, to designate those who are following the teachings of Jesus. I want to be a part of that, don’t you?

Something worthy of wrestling with. (For sure.)

Imitate God. Live in Love. Love like Christ. And go build the kingdom.

Much love to each of you this week.

Herb

May 23 Esight, 2011

“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Jesus—Matthew 6:7, 8).This week, I’d like to share a few thoughts on prayer. Almost every time I speak on this topic, I try to be careful, because there are so many misconceptions out there about this issue. I don’t want to ever give the idea that prayer somehow entails asking God to be “good.” I am convinced that He already is. Think about the above statement from Jesus.

God already knows what we need before we ask. Notice the following statement by Jesus as well.

“For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:32).

Now, if we believe that God is good, and God already knows what we need, then why are we praying? Some would answer that question by simply saying, “Well, prayer changes or benefits us.” Although I would agree that to some degree, it does affect us when we pray, the Bible doesn’t seem to teach that the primary purpose of prayer is to change the “pray-er.” Rather, prayer is something much more dynamic in its effect on the world around us. You see, prayer is NOT about convincing God to do what He otherwise wouldn’t have done. Prayer affects this world, enabling God to do what He otherwise couldn’t have done.

Follow the following story carefully.

In those days, I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks. I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all until the entire three weeks were completed. On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, while I was by the bank of the great river, that is, the Tigris, I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen . . . He said to me, “O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you. And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia . . . Then he said, “Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince (Daniel 10:1–21).

This is quite an extraordinary story, and there are some simple points that I’d like to expand on. Daniel’s prayer had been heard three weeks earlier. This angelic being was dispatched immediately. Another free moral agent, whether angelic (fallen) or human, interposed to create a three-week delay for this angel. There is so much that I want say about this, but time and space will not permit it here. Suffice it to say, however, that too many times we attribute unanswered prayer to a desire that is contrary to God’s will or to faith too weak to bring about the desired result. (I think both of these concepts have been sorely abused.) Yet this story speaks of issues far beyond these clichés and pat answers. This was not a matter of God’s will or of Daniel’s faith. There was another variable here that was quite different from either of these two issues. And in this variable, I believe we begin to see what prayer actually does.

Follow the words of Paul:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12).

Our enemies are spiritual forces, authorities, rulers (fallen) in heavenly places. (As a side note, it’s good to remember that if it has flesh and blood, it’s not our enemy. We, as kingdom people, are called to love those we would normally consider our enemies, realizing that the real enemies are the forces working behind the scenes in any given situation. Maybe I’ll write more about this in a future eSight.)

Paul again:

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

We are given very powerful weapons in this spiritual warfare. Paul lists these weapons for us in Ephesians 6:11–18, and the last weapon that he mentions is PRAYER. Then he states:

With this in mind [this spiritual warfare that we are engaging in with spiritual forces], be alert and always keep on praying . . . (Ephesians 6:18).

It is through our prayers that God’s will is enabled to be “done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Again, prayer isn’t about asking God or convincing God or even informing God of anything! Prayer is one way that we confront the forces at work down here that are standing in the way of God doing what He knows we need and what He is more than willing to do. Again, prayer is NOT about convincing God to do what He otherwise wouldn’t; rather, it is enabling God, on a planet where free will is a significant variable among humans and even fallen angels, to do what He otherwise couldn’t.

Prayer is not at all about persuading God to be good. Notice Jesus’ words.

“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you . . . (John 16:26, 27).

He doesn’t need persuaded.

And Jesus has assured us that He, too, is on our side!

“Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do” (John 14:13).

“If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14).

This is why the Apostle John could write the following:

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him (1 John 5.14, 15).

Then why does it seem that some very good prayers remain unanswered? Remember, God answered Daniel’s prayer on day 1, but there were other variables at work that delayed the actual results for three weeks. This was not God’s doing. God was at war, through the medium of Daniel’s fasting and prayer, for three weeks and finally was able to get through to him. (I know this sounds odd to our post-modern naturalistic mind-set, but live in the “bizarre-ness” of this story for just a moment, and see if some pieces of the puzzle don’t begin to fall into place.)

Each and every prayer that we pray is effective. Each one leaves the world a different place than it was before we prayed. Does this mean that God then becomes able to easily step in and make His will be done? Not necessarily. Through our prayers, he may be able to pull off some of our and His desires now, and others He may accomplish at some point in the future (given that we keep praying); still others He may finally pull off in the age to come. But it is our privilege and duty to expand the kingdom in the here and now, confronting the spiritual forces that oppose God’s will—and one of the mightiest weapons we have with which to do so is prayer.

I will say that it is encouraging to me that sometimes even Jesus had to pray twice. Have you ever considered that? The blind man did not immediately receive His sight. It was God’s will, God was working, Jesus’ faith was perfect—yet it took Jesus praying twice for this man to receive the full restoration of His sight!

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly (Mark 8:22–25).

In closing, let me add one more thing. James gives us insight into the power of prayer: when we are living in love, in reconciliation one with another as a community, our prayers have a greater effect on this world.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another,

For more strong or able is the entreaty or prayer of him who is put right or in right relation [to each other and God] to bring about the desired result (James 5:16).

(That is my personal translation.)

Three things I leave with you:

First: Live in Love.

Second: Know that prayer is not informing God of what we need or convincing God to be good and to give us what we need.

Third: Know that each prayer we pray has a powerful effect and leaves the world a different place than it would have been had we not prayed. Each prayer makes a difference, whether or not we obtain the desired outcome. We will witness some desires being fulfilled now, and others maybe not until we are in the Kingdom, but it is our job and privilege to enlarge the kingdom here and now, today!

Live in love, pray without ceasing, and keep enlarging the kingdom.

I love you guys,

Herb

May 17 Esight, 2011

And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.” But Jesus, turning and seeing her, said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” At once, the woman was made well. Matthew 9:20-22.Matthew’s description of the above event is a little sparse. Take a moment and read through Luke’s and Mark’s telling of this story, and then I’d like to share with you what’s on my heart that I see in Jesus’ understanding of the character of the Father this week.

Luke 8:

And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.

And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?” And while they were all denying it, Peter said, ” Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.” But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.” When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Mark 5:

A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse — after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Immediately, the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Immediately, Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. But the woman, fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

Let’s begin by looking at the “legal” situation, with its social and religious implications, that this woman would have experienced during her 12 years of hemorrhaging. It will take a moment, but the point will be well worth it.

When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Leviticus 15.19.

Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean. Leviticus 15.25.

Also, whoever touches the person with the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. Leviticus 15.7.

She shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed. Leviticus 12.4.

With the above texts in mind, follow carefully what this would mean for her. And remember, this had been going on for twelve long years.

She had been:

Cut off from other people; she would have been a social outcast.

Cut off from the sanctuary; she would have been viewed as a religious outcast.

Cut off from being able to be a man’s wife; she would have been alone, destitute, and abandoned, even reduced to begging for some sort of income. Mark (Peter) even indicates that she had exhausted what money she did have on failed medical solutions, as well.

No human touch for twelve years. No connection with any religious service for twelve years. Financially destitute, she was with no means or hope of turning things around. Far more devastating than the financial dilemma, the social and religious stigma of having to walk around being “unclean” and the garments she would have worn, also indicating, from a distance, that she was “unclean,” would have given her the same standing as a leper.

Now notice the risk for her in doing what the above story tells us she did regarding her “touching” Jesus as He passed through the crowd.

First, she, by “sneaking” in, polluted the crowd. Once everyone found out, she would have made a lot of people extremely upset. They would now have to go through, each of them, the ceremonial washings and be unclean (i.e. in isolation without coming into contact with anyone else) until that evening. Talk about having someone ruin your day!

Second, she polluted Jesus by this act. She touched HIM!

Third, she lied. Luke’s telling of this story reveals that they were all denying it, but when this woman realized she could not escape, she came forth and confessed what she had done.

Now notice Jesus’ response:

Don’t pass over this too quickly. She was expecting rebuke. In fact, it’s how Jesus, according to the law, should have responded. This woman broke the law and polluted everyone there, including Jesus Himself by touching Him. And yet, Jesus affirms her by calling her “daughter.” He affirms what she did calling it “Faith”. Jesus affirms what she has done, although highly “illegal”, as a beautiful thing.

Now I will admit that this raises some serious questions that I will not attempt to answer here. I simply want you to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ heart in relation to this woman and realize that He did nothing unless it was how He saw His Father relating to things as well (John 5:19).

Jesus doesn’t give instruction on how the law is to be carried out now by the crowd in this situation. No lectures about washing. No instruction for the people. And NO rebuke given even to this woman for her total disregard of the law’s direct commands. Why?

I want to say that it was situations such as this (Jesus implied approval of this woman’s total disregard for what had been commanded) that made it necessary at times for Jesus to say things such as, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Matthew 5.17). This is not an isolated case. Two (of many) similar situations that immediately come to mind are the many Sabbath altercations between Jesus’ disciples and the Pharisees and Jesus’ defense of the woman caught in the midst of adultery. In each situation Jesus defends the violators of the law. Here, with this woman who shows total disregard for what the law says with issues of blood, Jesus calls this woman “daughter”! What a term of endearment for this woman! She has spent the last twelve years on the outside of everything she held dear. Jesus knew what she needed to hear the most. It was as if He put His arms around her with this one word and whispered, “Welcome home; this is where you belong. Be whole; I’ve got you; you have no more to fear. You’re with Me now.”

“But she broke the LAW!”, some will say. And to that I would agree. Yes she did. And who hasn’t? What always eclipsed everything else for Jesus though, was not a person’s position toward law, but rather what was their heart’s orientation to Himself. What direction were they moving in, away from or closer to Himself? This is what Jesus always seems to make the criteria for whether someone was “in the kingdom” He was establishing or outside of it. (See the story of the thief on the Cross, for the clearest example of this.)

In closing, I want to zero in on this one subtle point.

Over and over again, in matters of law, Jesus exemplified that when the concern for people contradicts or crosses our keeping of law, Jesus always chose people over the law. (In the altercation between His disciples and the Pharisees over the Sabbath, Jesus even used David’s illegal eating of the showbread as an example. Then applying it to the current situation, states, the Sabbath was made for people. Not people for the Sabbath.) I know the questions this raises, but I believe it is healthy for us to simply let our hearts “marinate” in this reality for a moment before we try to “theologize” it away.

People mattered most to Jesus. People were His top priority. And when we, known for being people of the law, become known for being people who believe that people matter most, then and only then will the earth be lightened with the truth of God’s character of love as it also was through Jesus. Too often, I have been guilty of placing the law above people. And just as He did in His own day, Jesus turns this reality again on its head in our day as well.

May we become experts, not simply in the law but in our concern for the people God brings to our path as well. When they matter most to us and we become successful at communicating that they matter most, too, then we won’t simply be enlarging a church; we’ll be enlarging the “kingdom” as well.

Here is a statement I read just this past weekend by Tim Keller in his Reason for God.

“If your fundamental is a man dying on a cross for his enemies, if the very heart of your self-image and your religion is a man praying for his enemies as he died for them, sacrificing for them, loving them—if that sinks into your heart of hearts it’s going to produce the kind of life that the early Christians produced. The most inclusive possible life out of the most exclusive possible claim—and that is that this is the truth. But what is truth? The truth is a God becoming weak, loving, and dying for the people who opposed him, dying forgiving them.”

It’s this truth that this woman with the issue of blood saw in the eyes of Jesus. It was this truth that forever changed her life that day. May those who cross our path see this truth in how we relate to them as well.

Live in love, take up the Cross, and let’s together go enlarge the kingdom.

Much love to each of you,

Herb

May 9 Esight, 2011

BY THIS EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES, IF YOU LOVE ONE ANOTHER” (JOHN 13:35, TNIV).This week, I’d like to simply string a few texts together and let them do the talking (or, ahem, the writing). Here goes:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1, 2).

Do everything in love (1Corinthians 16:14).

If I speak in human or angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).

If the above verses have any truth in them, then we have to confess two things. First, we must take these verses seriously. Jesus and the Apostles were clear that nothing else is as important (i.e., “above all” in 1 Peter 4:8) as embracing love, as our doctrine, as our lifestyle, as our message, and, most importantly, as our method in reaching the world.

I just finished reading the book UnChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons, and I have to confess that I, too, am guilty of embracing a religion that, historically, has placed almost everything else above loving others. Jesus prayed in John 17, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20–21). Jesus had hoped that the love seen in His followers would convince the world that He IS this world’s Savior; however, because many of us do not obey Christ’s command, the Christian church has today become the best argument and evidence for some that He IS NOT.

Writing this week in defense of another popular and gifted preacher who has just been labeled as a heretic, a friend of mine wrote the following:

“You have to wonder why millions of people have been tortured and murdered by Christians throughout history for espousing ‘heretical’ views about baptism, communion, the church and a very long list of other doctrines, while not one person (so far as I know) has been officially disciplined—let alone accused of “heresy”—for failing to adequately love (as when they tortured and murdered others in Jesus’ name, for example).”

It’s an honest question for sure.

As one final example, I’ll take you through an exercise that I was recently taken through. Read the following closely and see if you can identify this scene, which is taken from religious history: (Warning, the following historic account contains graphic violence.)

“Mothers were skewed on swords as children watched. Young women were stripped and raped in broad daylight, and then doused and set on fire. A pregnant woman’s belly was slit open, her fetus raised skyward on the tip of a sword and then tossed on one of the fires that blazed across the city.”

I guessed the Middle Ages. What did you guess? More often than not, people’s number one guess is the Crusades. Sadly, what people say is, “How horrible. That must be describing Christians.” Actually, the above passage describes the violence that erupted between Hindus and Muslims in India in the spring of 2002, as described in the New York Times. BUT, the fact that this is so readily attributed to Christian history should be a wakeup call to all of us who are followers of Jesus. This is the reputation that Christians still hold in the world we are trying to reach with the message that God is Love.

I, too, am not innocent. I, too, have been part of this. I, too, have been part of something that has been the main obstacle keeping people out of the kingdom instead of being the means to get people into the kingdom. Simply through the label “Christian,” I am known in the broader society for a lot of things—and sadly, the depth of love for sinners, my enemies, and even other Christians doesn’t make that list.

How is this going to get turned around? I am convinced of a third thing, and that is that we will never begin loving others by simply trying to do so. What we need is a transforming encounter with God as He really is, as revealed through the life and teachings (and death) of Jesus. What we need is a transforming encounter with God’s love for each of us on a deeply personal level. Only by love is love awakened.

We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

This is why Paul prayed the following:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17–19).

Filled with all the fullness of God? Yes, that’s what I need! I want to be an imitator of God and walk in the way of love too. All of our credibility depends on it (John 17:20–21).

I leave you with these two thoughts this week:

1) Whatever faults we may accuse others of having, if we are devoid of love for them, all of their faults are NOTHING compared with our own (Matthew 7:1–3). We can have all of the right doctrine in the world, but if we fail to love as Christ loved us, we are all heretics.

2) The God of this universe loves you more deeply than you could ever fathom! Take some time this week to bask in, meditate on, and dive deeply into what’s in His heart for you. It, in and of itself, will awaken those very same things in your heart for those around you as well.

Love as Christ loved you,

Live in love,

And keep enlarging the kingdom.

Much love to each of you,

With the utmost sincerity,

Herb