Friday, March 23, 2012

Israel Study Tour

Barb Harwood photo

I just returned from a 10-day study tour of Israel. I may be sharing some of the experiences my husband, Brad, and I had in Israel in the coming weeks, but will briefly share one thing now. And that is, if you or someone you know is pining to go to the Holy Land, or if you are sorrowful that you don’t know if you will ever be able to go, I can say this: You, as a believer, are the “Holy Land.” You don’t have to go to Israel to see the temple of God, because Acts 7:48 and 17:24 tell us God does not live in temples built by man. God created man, and lives in the temple of each believer, as we read in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” And again in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own…”

If you’re thinking that it would be the most amazing thing in the world to visit the supposed tomb(s) of Jesus, I can say that I was there, but Jesus was not (certainly He was present in Spirit). But the tomb is empty. “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28:6; see also Luke 24:6).

Jesus, who walked the Sea of Galilee, bore our sins on Calvary and rose to life and out of the tomb donated by Joseph of Arimathea, is just as close to each and every one of us here in our home towns as he is to us when we visit Israel. He wasn’t any closer to me in Israel than he is right now as I write these words, and to you as you read them.

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus’ time on earth took place in a small area of what is now known as Israel. Although Jesus will return to Israel, He is now in Israel, just as He is in Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, Dublin, London, Singapore and any given place on earth. His Kingdom on earth continues in us.

Is it great to visit Israel? Absolutely yes. But I believe it is even greater to know that Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, lives in us, ministers through us and overcomes death for us right here, where you and I are.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

"But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" 1 Peter 1:16

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Danger in Self-Analysis

The following quote from Swiss physician and psychiatrist Paul Tournier expounds on what I wrote yesterday about not looking back. Tournier lived from May 12, 1898 to October 7, 1986 and is known for his work in pastoral counseling. In 1932 he combined his medical and counseling practices into one, realizing that the physical and the spiritual go together.

“I have mentioned the danger of overdoing self-analysis….‘Overcome evil with good,’ writes St. Paul (Rom. 12:21), and in doing so he invites those who are getting lost in the labyrinth of self-analysis to turn their eyes away toward the positive call of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Meditation is a way of analysis, but it is also a way of synthesis. The mind finds in it not only a conscious analysis of past faults, but also a vision of the task to which God is calling it. ‘Forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal,’ writes St. Paul again (Phil. (3:13-14). Conscious of God’s forgiveness, the mind, without going analytically into all the remote factors in its difficulties, can resolve them all by making the leap of faith. It abandons the fruitless search into the past, and the empty analysis of the present, and can turn its thoughts toward action.” Paul Tournier, The Healing of Persons

Tournier goes on to say that many people’s natural tendency is to take pleasure in losing themselves in the “labyrinth of problems” that psychoanalysis brings to light. Meditation (not in the New Age sense, but in the sense of thoughtful considering) misapplied is solely analytical. It must instead seek the “dynamic element of faith, courage, and action,” which will help us to rid ourselves of whatever sin or personal flaw we are expunging. In this way, writes, Tournier, we find “assurance, joy and liberation.”

The main problem with self-analysis is self. Until we allow God’s analysis of our self, we will be caught in a dead-end. As I always say, “how can I help me if I am the problem?”

(Disclaimer to the theology of Tournier: Some who see the name of Paul Tournier may raise their eyebrows because they have heard that Tounier is a Universalist. I have briefly looked into it, and it is not clear to me. Tournier did not study to be, and did not claim to be, a theologian. Based on the writings of his that I have read, there is no doubt in my mind of his right handling of each person’s need to claim the gift of Jesus for themselves in this life. His writing on the power of the Gospel and faith in Jesus to regenerate broken hearts and minds is much needed today in a world that not only compartmentalizes mental and physical health from the spiritual, but has basically cut the umbilical cord linking the three.)

For a further study of Tournier, click on the following link:

“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” Matthew 22:37 (note the mind-body connection here that Tournier is talking about).

“Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” John 8:31b-32

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:1-2

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Don't Look Back

As I near my 50th year, and as I disciple younger people, one thing is becoming clear: not much is gained from looking backwards. I’m not talking about reminiscing with friends over good memories, or looking at photo albums of our children when they were small. I’m talking about the kind of looking back that keeps a person from moving forward.

Most looking back is in the negative, with people saying things like, “I never got to have fun,” or “I married too young,” or “I should’ve stuck with the French Horn,” or “I could’ve been a teacher,” or “my parents are the reason for how I am today” or “we should have stopped at two children” or “I’ll never earn what I could have if I had gone to college” and on and on.

Then there are those who cannot get past the good times that, apparently, have left, never to return. For instance, those glorious soft-focus days when the kids were toddlers, splashing in the baby pool (as a recent empty-nester, I’ve been guilty of this!). Or, there’s that first love in 8th grade, to which every potential or current spouse is compared. There are those rose-petal early months of marriage, or the simplicity of bygone childhood with its freedom from responsibility. At age 5, the world is an endless chain of discovery, surprise, delight and possibility. Throw Santa (and finding out one day that he isn’t real) into the mix, and you’ve got enough to keep a psychologist busy for years!

But we don’t need a psychologist to tell us what the Bible already has. An occasional walk down memory lane via a scrapbook is okay. Packing our bags and moving back there isn’t. But that’s where many folks are choosing to live. They can’t seem to get past the what-ifs, missing out on the what-is’s.

For example, remembering the early love for a spouse can be good for a marriage, as it reminds us of the reason we first married. But lamenting the change that happens over time in a marriage: sloppy familiarity, job challenges and exhaustion from the arrival of sleepless yet active children--can keep us from appreciating and being thankful for what we have. We need to also see that, as a marriage or a life grows, so do confidence, comfort, closeness and reward. We rob ourselves of joy when we constantly look over our shoulder at what was or what could have been.

We’ve all heard the term "the grass is always greener." But if we had done the “what-ifs,” would life really be any more satisfying? Who can know? The person who laments not going to college doesn’t realize that they never had a college loan to pay off, and never experienced not being able to find a job in their field after four or more years of college. I know of a trained architect who is working retail!

And that 8th grade boyfriend that haunts the marriage? He’s grown up, lost some hair and leaves toothpaste on the sink just like everyone else. Seriously, the avenues each person could go down in life, starting with the parents assigned to us, are endless. Do we really want to waste “what is” by returning to a time or place that wouldn’t nearly have been as perfect as our speculating mind makes it seem? (and the reverse is true. Some, by stewing over the past, have made it much worse than it really was. And if it really was bad, they only hurt themselves by continuing to revisit it).

The Bible tells us that when we submit to Christ and agree that He is our authority in life, we are to focus on things above (Colossians 3:1-2). We do that by following Philippians 3:12-16, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

And what is it we have already attained? If we have repented and accepted forgiveness and the gift of salvation from Jesus, we are then a new creation. “The old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17). Only then can we forgive our past and those who were part of it. Only then will we stop lamenting our bygone Camelot.

However we got here, good or bad, we can’t live there anymore. Our parents are no longer raising us, Jesus is. Our old boyfriends and girlfriends are yesterday. Leave them there. The days of our youth, good or bad, are no longer a place we live. Since we are a new creation in Christ, with a new playbook, worldview, hope and joy, we don’t need to dig up the past to try to understand today. The day we commit to walk with Christ is the day we are born. He takes away our sin, regardless of how it got there. He takes away our pain, no matter who hurt us or how. He teaches us to let go of the bad past that haunts us and the rosy past that tempts us. In Jesus we go forward into the future and purpose He has for us. He is waiting for us to stop looking back so that we can see Him, standing, right in front of us.

“Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” Luke 9:62 (Note: John MacArthur makes the following comment on this verse: “A plowman looking back cuts a crooked furrow.” Looking back makes our future crooked, you might say.)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:….” 2 Corinthians 5: 17-18

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3