It Seems Good to the Holy Spirit and to Us

It is fairly public knowledge that we are retiring and our last Sunday will be June 3, 2018. I have been asked a number of questions concerning the decision, including “How did you reach your decision?” I am not sure that there was a particular path of decision-making that was followed that I can delineate. Certainly there was much thought, discussion and prayer between Carol and me over a period of time.

I believe when one is younger and considers something of this nature, it is often couched in terms of “When is the best time for me to retire?” The problem is, the ”for me” is often just that, “for me.” But if one buries one’s life in the church, that must become a lesser factor in the decision making. The real issue, “When is the best time for the church for me (us) to retire?”.

An Acts 15 standard has for years been a guiding goal for my life. It poses a difficult problem, one that could not be answered immediately by Paul and Barnabas. On one side was what seemed to be the unchangeable; on the other was the unstoppable power of change, the grace of God.

Paul and Barnabas had gone to Antioch and reported how God had “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles,” grace in action, Acts 14:27. Men, however, had come from Judea teaching, “Unless you are circumcised according to the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.“  Paul and Barnabas had “great dissension and debate with them,” but could reach no resolution. It was decided that the two disciples would go to Jerusalem and consult with leadership – apostles and elders – for a decision.  They were to consider if two thousand years of custom and practice, given to Abraham originally and endorsed by God repeatedly, would no longer be binding for one to follow Christ. There seemed to be no right answer.

After much discussion and debate among those in Jerusalem (15:7), Peter stood and reminded the others that it was evident that God had chosen the Gentiles just as he had chosen the Jews. His argument was simple and binding: none of the Jews, including himself, had been able to carry the yoke of the Law successfully; he could not justify putting the same Law on others. He said, “We are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way as they are,” v 11. James, the leader, endorsed Peter’s insight and a letter was drafted that expressed that grace and included the words of explanation, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”

That is a great way to live and it is the place where Carol and I reached in this experience. Twenty-nine years is not 2000 years, but is the large part of our ministry. Change is not easy, but in the grace of God, it is necessary. And, it is unavoidable. Anyone at 74 who confuses that with 47 has a problem. There is change that has taken place and more will come. We do not retire under any pressure, frustration or even any suggestion of others. Leadership has been gracious, seeking to make sure this is our decision. It is, and it seems “good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”

The result of the Acts 15 decision was the explosion and multiplication of Christianity. That is what we preach. Our prayer is that God will use our decision to multiply the ministry of Northland Cathedral.

Raised Like Christ

The necessity of writing this article is probably the best thing that has happened to me today. It forces me to reaffirm essentials over electives, world-shaking realities over momentary transient insignificancies. I had considered addressing thoughts relating to our retirement, but when it was brought to my attention that this was the Easter issue, retirement considerations seemed to become nothing but vapor in comparison.

The issue of the Easter issue is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not an issue just because some would make anything they did not understand an issue; it is an issue because its reality is unavoidable and its “unavoidableness” makes it significant in every consideration of life. That He arose is a reality, but that His is the picture, pattern and power of our resurrection amplifies the sphere of impact of His experience. Deny His resurrection and there is no ground left for a claim or hope for one’s own.

The issue of the reality of Christ’s resurrection is addressed in numerous ways. Science uses experiments so it will not have to experiment. The goal of science is predictability and replication. An experiment involves the unknown; the results are not useful, however, until they can be demonstrated to be consistent. When results are consistent, they are predictable.

When a person becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, he experiences radical transformation. This began immediately following the resurrection, when the eye-witness accounts were verified against the predictions (prophesies), and the experiences of those who accepted the truth that Christ was indeed alive again, after his horrible death, began to show some consistencies. They lost their fear of death and began to witness to others of the living Christ. The amazing thing was the power of their witness; it was as convincing as that of the apostles, themselves. For almost two thousand years this has not changed. The original eye-witness, and the on-going experience of millions of believers, many whose lives have been tested by the crucible of suffering and death, cannot be ignored.

Scripture teaches that when one believes the witness of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, comes into that one’s life. Romans 8 tells us that the presence of that Spirit in one’s life is the guarantee of his or her resurrection, and since it is by the same Spirit, it follows the same pattern, Romans 8:11.

There are things of interest in this life that momentarily may demand our attention. They may, for a very short time influence how we “feel,” but when how one feels becomes more significant than how one “is,” when the insignificant overwhelms the cataclysmic (a word that came into use in the 17th century relating to the very significant flood of Noah), life cannot be lived with wisdom.

One day when Christ returns, the great “experiment” (in the eyes of the world) will become the great demonstration; the unknown will become known. What is now the pattern will be replicated by millions who will be raised like Christ. The marvel is, the results are already predictable.

Spring Will Come

The January – February  landscape in the Midwest, where I live, is radically different  from the vibrant display that is witnessed at certain other times of the year.  The first verse of the wonderful song, “America the Beautiful” would not have been written the same way if the writer were viewing the fields in January.   There are very few “amber waves of grain,” or “fruited plain” for the next couple of months.  The lyrical structure would have missed the easy rhyme of “plain” and “grain.”  In place of the “waves of grain” lie fields that are past harvest, perhaps with only the remaining stubble.  Some have been plowed under, and will be replanted with another crop to allow particular soil components to be replaced.

Even the winter sky is different.  In place of the stark white cumulus clouds of Spring seen against the backdrop of huge stretches of blue, the sky is stratified with shades of grey, and even these are limited.

Sometimes it seems, especially later in the winter, that the earth is just marking time.  We like to see things grow, and very little is growing that we can see.  While some fruit, like apples, may need a certain chill to become sweeter, very few continue to improve as winter progresses and becomes deeper and colder.

But just because we do not see things growing in the fields does not mean that nothing is going on.  With some plants, root systems are developing.  In other settings, particular pests or bugs are exposed and die off or are controlled.  When the ground is turned over, certain fungi dies in the cold. Seeds in the ground are going through a particular process.  And even perennial plants have a process that continues unseen.

Most of us know all this as a reality.  The farmer does not fret when his wheat is not ripe in January.  He knows in the Spring it will begin to sprout, will grow during Summer and by Fall, be ready to harvest.  The farmer must be a person that understands the rhythm and many processes of nature.

Nature was given us by God to help us understand Him and how He works.  Faith is not looking at a crop ready for harvest.  Faith is toiling to prepare ground, investing in seed and not eating it but planting it, putting it in the ground and covering it up.  Faith is the waiting for weeks before one sees anything, and with some plants even years.  Faith is seeing the plant show above ground, but not touching it early.  Any interruption will distort its final product. 

Faith is what we have to exercise with children, trusting that God is faithful.  Faith is working with friends, not seeing progress for an interminable length of time, and when we begin to see change, still having to wait until eternity to see the end result.

So relax.  It is Winter.  Spring will come.  And if it is Winter in your life, let what God is doing, perhaps unseen to others, prepare you for his wonderful Spring, Summer and final harvest.

But God...

Few descriptions are complete without using the word “But.”  That is true because few things in our world are consistent from beginning to end.
“But” is an interesting word, a word with power far beyond its simple structure.  It is a conjunction implying contrast or exception,  “on the contrary,” “except,” “unless.”  “He was rich, but never learned to enjoy his wealth because he never learned to give.”  One assumes “rich” suggests some potential for enjoyment, but in spite of his wealth, joy is missing. Because is also a conjunction that implies consistency:  in the above sentence, lack of giving is consistent with lack of joy.  Possessing wealth is no guarantee of joy.  (I actually did not think of addressing giving in these sentences, but one could certainly infer that, in the least, I had subconscious intent to do so.  Perhaps.)
2 Kings 5:1 begins the story of Naaman, a very high ranking officer in the Syrian army, “the captain of the army of the king of Syria.”  He was a decorated veteran, and rightfully so.  He was valiant in battle, and successful, because strangely to us, “by him the Lord had given victory to Syria.”  The inconsistency in this man’s life of success was, “but he was a leper.”  
Leprosy was a terrible disease, a death sentence, slow but incurable.  Its early signs were often missed – perhaps nothing more than a white  flaky sore on the skin.  In its course, however, it changed every facet of one’s life.  Because of its contagion, the victim was ultimately isolated.  Because of its disfiguring factor, a specter of fear was associated with it; because of the spiritual overtones that developed with it, it was seen as a plague from God.  In Naaman’s case, perhaps the disease had not progressed far enough to be recognized by outsiders, but Naaman knew.  The “but” of leprosy negated all else he had accomplished.
One cannot leave the story without reading the whole chapter.  A word from a servant girl, a visit to a prophet, Elisha, a directive from God to dip or rinse seven times in the Jordan River, initial reticence to do so but ultimate obedience, and the God who was the source of his military victories became the God whom he encountered on a much more personal basis.
Scripture is not a narrative on the dystopian inexorable progress of sin nor the utopian dreams of universalism;  it is a description of God’s good creation, scarred and disfigured by “The Fall,” but anything but abandoned by God.  Each time sin is in the ascendency, God intervenes.  The principle is, “Where sin abounded, grace super-abounded.”  It is an exposition of “But God…”  This is not an idea of some cosmic game, but a struggle that is played out both on earth and in the heavens.  The God who interrupts and limits the alien contagion we call sin, yet seems to allow sin to continue to exist, has already declared its end; it and its author, Satan, and all who follow him, will be cast into the lake of fire.  Instead of God interrupting a world that is otherwise universally fallen, where sin does abound, the time will come when the leprosy of Naaman, the evil that brought on the flood, the spirit of hatred and violence that was the climate of the crucifixion of Christ, the iniquity that fuels all of the evils of man – it will all be destroyed, and there will be a new heaven and new earth where only righteousness dwells.
There are hopeless situations in life, that is, hopeless in our perception.  “But God” – the God who makes sure light shines into the darkest situations, sets the limits, interrupts, redeems, forgives, heals and delivers.  


When I was young I never realized it but kids really do grow up fast. The doctor delivers them (It sounds like FedX but they don't deliver them to your house, you have to pick them up yourself) as tiny infants; many would fit in a shoebox. The mother holds the infant to her breast and in one of the most touching, tender, inexpressible moments, mother feeds her child. That universally amazing moment of seeming perfection is captured by artists, photographers and writers - recorders of every kind. We want to preserve it, partly because, looking back, we will see time as only too short.

That infant begins to change, overnight it seems. Their cute and charming early indication of wanting to nurse soon becomes a somewhat irritating demand to have their own way. There is a reason the term "the terrible twos" was coined. My guess is, Adam and Eve began to notice the trait. The early excitement of going to school sometimes evolves into "Do I have to go?"

By age twelve, that sense of personhood is so developed, that their personhood sometimes clashes with ours. It is just a matter of a little time. Jesus asserted himself at that age. He did not run away during a temple visit; his parents left him, and when they finally discovered that fact, went back to get him. He was still in the temple, now in dialogue with the Jewish teachers who were amazed with this precocious twelve year old young man. His parents had left him, but in good parental fashion, rebuked him. Jesus seemed to go "off script: in modern thinking; he (the Son of God, and apparently very much aware of it) accepted the rebuke and followed obediently. 

Mary's memories of those moments may have flooded back into her mind when just thirty-three years later she was with several other women near the foot of a cross, a crude instrument of suffering and death, its use perfected by a brutal Roman government. Her son, the one who had nursed at her breast, hung there.

With his death certified by the soldiers, the professionals, permission was given for his body to be taken down and buried in a borrowed tomb. He would only need it three days. His resurrection was not a "maybe"; it was declared beforehand by God. It was God's immutable will - not just the resurrection, but birth, life, suffering, death, and finally, the resurrection. Read that again, "Finally" the resurrection. It was not part of a cycle to be repeated; it was a straight-line event, a "once-for-all-time" event, "finally".

Our time between Christmas and Easter seems so short that we can hardly get everything into the "program." From an eternal perspective with God, we will see the shortness of time here. We will not see how hard life was, but how little was asked by God, and yet how much He gave. The resurrection is the "finally" of this process, when death will have lost its power, when the grave will be useless for believers, when the same power that raised Jesus from the dead raises every person who has died believing in Christ in every age, from every nation, and the vision of Revelation 21 becomes a reality: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth... and I heard a loud voice..., 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men... and they shall be His people... and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and there will no longer be death.'" It is just a matter of time.

No Shortcuts to Understanding

A month before the birth of a baby a certain intensity seems to become evident. In the past year my family has been blessed with two more grandkids, a boy, Roman, the son of Matt and Jennifer in North Carolina, and a girl, Marciana, daughter of Jonathan and May, here in Kansas City. In both cases there was a strange mixture of anticipation, fear, excitement and impatience. The product is an atmosphere crackling with energy and incredible activity, things getting done that have easily been put off. 
The pre-birth of Christ must have had some of the same perspectives. Things had not been particularly easy during the time. Mary’s pregnancy had begun with a visit by an angel, followed  by a visitation of the Holy Spirit. I have heard many couples claim, “I don’t know how it happened!” Only Mary and Joseph, however, could truthfully say that. 
Having fathered and grandfathered children, I am glad the Heavenly Father took no short-cuts in the incarnation of His Son. His humanity, to be complete, necessitated the cooperation of Mary. It is His complete humanity, however, that is our hope. He was tested in all points like we are tested, scripture says. And so He understands. 

When "the unforeseeable" becomes reality...

This is the afternoon of "the day after," not the day after a nuclear attack, the Rapture of the Church of the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius, but the day after what is being called an "unforeseeable election result," the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States. "Unforeseeable" is probably a euphemism for "I didn't see it coming." Most in one political party would probably express that, and even some in the party that prevailed. Handwringing on one side is matched by triumphalism on the other. How should a Christian react to the new reality?

Along with much practical effort, many Christians have spend much time in prayer for this nation and probably for the election of the candidate of their choice. If their candidate has prevailed, there is a natural sense of having accomplished something, a victory of sorts, with the work of God having been done. If one has prayed, and the opposing candidate has been elected, the feelings are difficult to define beyond disappointment and perhaps anger.

We must first keep right perspective. There was simply a process followed by a nation, a procedure that has been in place for nearly 250 years established by a Constitution - and it worked again. Another person has been elected to become president. Besides this, his party has prevailed in Congress. Nothing else, however, has been accomplished. The poor are still poor, the homeless are still that. If one had cancer before the election, he probably still is afflicted. Hundreds of millions of individuals still have never heard a real gospel message. The plight of the orphan, refugee, girl held captive as a sex slave, mother who lost her son, man who cannot earn enough to keep his family alive: these have not changed. I wold suggest a pattern by which to live in the aftermath of this new reality:

-Refuse careless discussions of politics that might cause another discomfort or even offense; one is not more righteous based on whom one has supported in an election.

"Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord," Hebrews 12:14

-In place of election issues that have disturbed so many, cleanse your mind with advice from the apostle in Philippians 4, "Rejoice in the Lord... Let your gentle spirit be known to all men... be anxious for nothing..., whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute..., think on these things." Lesser things are not worthy.

-Understand that political victory is opportunity and responsibility to address issues of poverty, unfairness, oppression and the other realities that demean "those for whom Christ died," as well as recognizing a nation's greatness while leading it in humility. It is a time to rebuild a nation's strength while realizing that its real strength must be in the Lord.

-With the same faith with which we called on God to guide an election, whoever the winner, continue to call on Him to give the new leadership a moral compass that registers "true north" according to God's Word, and the strength of character to lead accordingly.

Pastor J. Lowell Harrup, 11-9-16