#Advent16

"House with garden for sale by owner."

#Advent16 — Missed it?

A reading from the Gospel According to Matthew.

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”

Matthew 11:2-6 (NLT)

This is the Word of the Lord.

This passage is among my favorites in the entirety of Scripture, and is one that I talk about often. In fact, I mentioned it in Monday’s post.

John the Baptist is in prison.

Jesus is not. He’s out doing Jesus things.

John is quite confused.

The Messiah that the Jews were in search of was a military leader. He was the One who was going to once-and-for-all liberate the Jewish people from their oppressors. Hittites, Philistines, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and now Romans had all been in control of this tiny nation for the majority of its history. The Messiah was going to change all of that. He was going to raise up an army, plot a military strategy unequaled in history, and make his nation great again.

But, that wasn’t happening.

And, John was in prison.

John. The forerunner of the Messiah.

John. The voice in the wilderness proclaiming that Messiah was here.

But, the One he thought was the Messiah wasn’t acting like he thought Messiah should ask.

Had he missed it?

There.

Isn’t that the question that we all come to time and time again: “Have we missed it?”

Those of you who read our newsletter know that we’re changing cities. Moving a bit further inland, closer to the rail and the airport, and into the city where another John (the Apostle) is buried. We knew that this was going to be happening in the month of December. We were expecting. Hoping. Trusting that by 15 December we would have a lease signed on a new apartment, and would be packing the old one up.

Well, hello 15 December.

We’ve been searching since 1 December. We’ve looked at about 12 different places. Some, we knew as soon as the door opened that it wasn’t the place. Some, we thought we might could make it work, but it would be challenging. One was perfect, but the owner elected not to rent to us.

We will see more places today.

"House with garden for sale by owner."

“House with garden for sale by owner.”

The other day, at the prompting of a friend, we went to a house for sale and inquired with the neighbor about it. “Would they be willing to rent?” We asked. We are waiting for that answer now, and if they do rent it, we would probably take it. It would be a dream come true kind of place.

There’s another place that we’ve been asking to see for a week now. “I must talk to the owner, who is s a farmer and is in the fields.” Still waiting.

More than one time in the past two weeks I have stopped and asked, “Have we missed it?”

John, in prison and in desperation, sends his people to see Jesus.

“Are you the Messiah?”

If not, we need to rethink our strategy. If so, then when is this army going to be built. The Romans are terrible. They’re destroying the country. They’re stealing our gold. They’re terrorizing our neighborhoods.

We need a rescuer. We need the Messiah!

Jesus does what Jesus usually does—He answers without answering.

Look around you and see what’s happening. That’s was Jesus’ answer. Look around and see.

Look around.

Jesus points out that there are blind people who can now see. Lame people who can now walk. Good News is being preached to the poor. Even the dead are raised.

Look around.

A moment of honesty here. If I am one of John’s disciples I would be tempted to respond something like, “But, Jesus, my friend’s 5 year old son is dead.”

Or, “But, Jesus, a young man who I really like is in a hospital bed with a heart thing.”

Or, “But, Jesus, a man who loves you a ton is still in prison.”

Or, “But, Jesus, I’m still looking for a place to live.”

We’ve talked about this before on the blog. I struggle with the now but not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven. I really want Jesus to just fix all the problems all at once. I want him to heal all the sick. Raise all the dead. Rescue all the oppressed. Conquer poverty. And, find me a house.

Now would be good. But, that isn’t Jesus’ way. And it frustrates me.

Have we missed it?

“Go tell John,” Jesus says, “what you see.” In other words, stop thinking that I’m about to raise up and army and go kick some Roman butt. That’s not the way this works.

Jesus comes not to restore our Kingdoms. Jesus comes to institute his Kingdom.

And, then, leaves it with us to keep that institution going. He leaves it to us to keep bringing healing to those who need healing. He leaves it to us to keep bringing life in the face of death. He leaves it to us to conquer poverty.

His Kingdom does not lead us to overthrow governments. It leads us to operate within them to make life better for all.

So, yeah, we miss it when we put Jesus in the place of some militarily minded government leader. And, we miss it when we think that Jesus will set all things right—right now. And, we miss it when our response to the crises in the world is “Jesus is coming back soon, so you better get ready.”

Advent is all about waiting. It’s all about longing. It’s all about wondering. It’s all about something that will happen soon—someday.

The other night, I was on the phone with a trusted friend. We were talking about the housing struggle. He told me in a not-really-joking way that our housing search was a bit like Advent. Waiting for the right thing. Waiting for the promised place. The appointed time.

Advent is all about waiting.

In the meantime, we go and tell what Jesus is doing. We proclaim a Messiah that is very different than what we think he should be.

So, no, we haven’t missed it when we keep proclaiming good news to the poor. Or, bring healing  to the sick. Or, bread to the hungry. Or, blankets to the cold.

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

#Advent16 — It is Christ

A reading from the Psalms.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD.

Psalm 146:5-10 (NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

God made everything. Therefore, everything belongs to God. And, God takes care of His creation.

The great philosopher/theologian Dallas Willard once said:

“God, who created the universe, has no problem invading it.”

God invades His creation to bring restoration to His creation.

God isn’t interested in destroying that which He lovingly created. God is interested in caring for it and restoring it back to it’s original design.

God cares for the oppressed. He feed the hungry. He frees the prisoner. He makes the blind to see. He lifts up those who are pressed down. He loves the righteous. He watches over the immigrant. He is the Father to the fatherless. He is the spouse to the widow. He frustrates those who are wicked.

And, He invaded His creation. In the form of a baby. In a manger. In a stable. In a backwater town.

Immanuel.

God. In the middle. Of everything.

A God who is so loving that He’s not willing for any to perish. Yet, yearns for all to come to know Him.

Personally and intimately.

Yet, with fear and trembling.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote:

“The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature.”

All exists so that God through Christ and through His creation might be glorified.

And, so, into the mess of the world the Christ child was born. And, lived. And, taught. And, died. And, rose again.

And it is He who heals the brokenness of the world around us.

“It is Christ who remakes all things more marvelously than creation, this is the reason for hope.” — Pope Francis

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

#Advent16 — Flowers in The Desert

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

The desert and dry land will become happy;
the desert will be glad and will produce flowers.
Like a flower, it will have many blooms.
It will show its happiness, as if it were shouting for joy.
It will be beautiful like the forest of Lebanon,
as beautiful as the hill of Carmel and the Plain of Sharon.
Everyone will see the glory of the LORD
and the splendor of our God.
Make the weak hands strong
and the weak knees steady.
Say to people who are frightened,
“Be strong. Don’t be afraid.
Look, your God will come,
and he will punish your enemies.
He will make them pay for the wrongs they did,
but he will save you.”

Then the blind people will see again,
and the deaf will hear.
Crippled people will jump like deer,
and those who can’t talk now will shout with joy.
Water will flow in the desert,
and streams will flow in the dry land.
The burning desert will have pools of water,
and the dry ground will have springs.
Where wild dogs once lived,
grass and water plants will grow.
A road will be there;
this highway will be called “The Road to Being Holy.”
Evil people will not be allowed to walk on that road;
only good people will walk on it.
No fools will go on it.
No lions will be there,
nor will dangerous animals be on that road.
They will not be found there.
That road will be for the people God saves;
the people the LORD has freed will return there.
They will enter Jerusalem with joy,
and their happiness will last forever.
Their gladness and joy will fill them completely,
and sorrow and sadness will go far away.

Isaiah 35:1-10 (NCV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

I must admit that I was somewhat tempted to post the reading for today without comment. Just let the text stand on its own. This text is among the most beautiful pictures of life in the Kingdom of Heaven in the whole of the Scripture. It paints for us a picture of life. It paints a picture of life lived to the fullest (see John 10:10).

Yet, as I read and reread the text for today, I found myself thinking of things that are not like the Kingdom of Heaven. I found myself thinking of things that are—like us—waiting for Christmas. Things that are longing for Messiah. Things that are groaning for a new King.

This text is a prophecy from Isaiah. Speaking to a people who are in exile. A people needing to be rescued from their captivity.

We see a fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus. In our Gospel reading for this week (Matthew 11:2-11, to be posted on Wednesday), we read about John the Baptizer’s disciples coming to Jesus to find out if he is indeed the one who had been promised—the one who would set all things right. Jesus doesn’t give a direct answer. He merely tells them to look around and see. Take account of those lives that have been changed. The blind that could now see. The lame that could now walk. The deaf that could now hear. The dead that were now living again.

“The Kingdom,” Jesus tells us, “is near.”

Right here.

Right now.

What I find frustrating about this passage, and the passage in Matthew 11 is that there were still blind people and deaf people and lame people and dead people. There were still poor that had not heard the good news of Jesus. The Kingdom had come. But, not in it’s fullness. Pain and suffering and hurt and sadness still existed even as Jesus is telling John’s disciples to look around them.

And, it still exists today.

Last Saturday evening, in the city of İstanbul, there was a football match (soccer match for my American readers). Beşiktaş was taking on Bursaspor. About two hours after the match (which Beşiktaş won 2-1), two bombs were detonated. One a car bomb, the other a suicide bomber. 38 people were killed. 155 others were injured.

Pain. Suffering. Destruction.

Still exists today.

And, in these dark moments, it’s hard to see, and harder to say that the Kingdom of Heaven is here.

But, it is.

And, it is not.

See, the Kingdom of Heaven is one of the great mysteries of our faith. It arrived in resounding glory on an evening in a sleepy little village in a land controlled by an occupying force.

A baby.

A manger.

A mother.

A father.

A star.

A shepherd.

An angel proclaiming, “Salaam alaikum!”

Peace be upon you!

But, that was not the end of the story. Go into all the world and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, this Baby—now a Man raised from the dead—would tell His followers.

Go and proclaim that there will someday be streams in the desert. Flowers in the desolation. Pain and suffering will be replaced by life lived to the fullest.

On the front page of one of the Turkish newspapers this morning was a photo of a black wrought iron fence. At the base of this fence there were bright red roses being laid. Honoring the memory of those who were slain outside that football stadium in Istanbul.

Yet it reminded me of this passage. Flowers in the desert, the prophet called them. Even in a land where the majority of the people know nothing about the Kingdom of Heaven, there are still places to look and see that the Kingdom is here.

Now.

And, there is even more to remind us that it is a long way from its fulfillment.

Flowers

Flowers

That is what Advent is about. A stark reminder to us that even though we ended the Liturgical Year a few short weeks ago by proclaiming that Christ is the King, we begin it by waiting for the King to come. We ended the year by enthroning the new King in His Kingdom. And we being it by wondering when he new King and his Kingdom will come.

In the desert, a flower will bloom.

And then another.

And another.

And another.

Until the day comes when the desert is full of flowers.

#Advent16 — We believe

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Romans 15:5-9a (NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

These words from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans are among my favorites in the Canon of Scripture. Paul is writing to a church that is struggling. They are experiencing persecution at every turn. They need encouragement. They need to endure. They need to unify.

But, Paul isn’t admonishing them to unify against the Romans. He’s not rallying them to march in the streets and protest against the authorities. While there is a time and place for that, this isn’t it.

Paul’s message is to operate with one voice and one mind. He understands that in order for people to be attracted to the Christian faith, they need to see something different from the people who call themselves Christian. They need to see a group of people who can come together in one place and in one accord.

Unity brings glory to God.

Disunity does not.

When we operate as individual silos of believers—my church, your church, that denomination, those people—we don’t bring glory to God. That doesn’t build the Kingdom of Heaven. When we build walls between other groups of believers, we build our own little kingdoms. When we can’t operate with other believers, we build barriers that block people from coming to know Jesus.

Unity requires that we accept one another. It requires us to welcome those who are not like us. It requires us to hear voices that don’t sound like ours. It requires us to cast aside our nationalistic ideals, and hold firm to Kingdom ideals. Unity is hard work.

Unity changes the world. People are attracted to unity. When the Body of Christ can stand up and operate together, the world will see that we are His Disciples. That’s how they will know we are His followers.

“We believe,” the Creed says. We. Not I. We. Because our faith is a community faith. We do this thing together. We believe.

Fresco of John The Baptizer from the Saklı Kilesesi (Hidden Church) in Göreme, Turkey

#Advent16 — The Crazy Uncle

A reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

Later, John the Baptizer appeared in the desert of Judea. His message was, “Turn to God and change the way you think and act, because the kingdom of heaven is near.” Isaiah the prophet spoke about this man when he said,

“A voice cries out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord! Make his paths straight!”

John wore clothes made from camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.

Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole Jordan Valley went to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized, he said to them, “You poisonous snakes! Who showed you how to flee from God’s coming anger? Do those things that prove you have turned to God and have changed the way you think and act. Don’t think you can say, ‘Abraham is our ancestor.’ I can guarantee that God can raise up descendants for Abraham from these stones. The ax is now ready to cut the roots of the trees. Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. I baptize you with water so that you will change the way you think and act. But the one who comes after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clean up his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into a barn, but he will burn the husks in a fire that can never be put out.”

Matthew 3:1-12 (GW)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Fresco of John The Baptizer from the Saklı Kilesesi (Hidden Church) in Göreme, Turkey

Fresco of John The Baptizer from the Saklı Kilesesi (Hidden Church) in Göreme, Turkey

I love John the Baptizer. I have this image of him that’s like this strange uncle that the family is just a little bit nervous to take out in public. He’s just a little bit unfiltered. Willing to say anything regardless of how appropriate it might or might not be. He’s not afraid to rub folks the wrong way. He’s the kind of a guy who could land himself (and everyone associated with him) in hot water without a lot of effort. This is my image of John the Baptizer.

Wild hair.

Strange clothes.

Raspy voice.

And, this is the guy that God calls on to be the forerunner of Jesus.

Some people were attracted to John because they liked his message of change and hope. The Messiah—who had been the subject of prophecies for centuries—was on his way. They knew that John had a part to play in this story.

Some people were coming out simply because they were curious what he was going to do next. What will he say? What will he eat?

Others were not happy with him or his message. They didn’t like the way he spoke to or about them.

And, yet, John kept proclaiming the message.

THE KINGDOM IS VERY NEAR! He would say. Or yell.

He especially rubbed the religious authorities of his time the wrong way. Prophets are like that. John wasn’t afraid to call out the things that were in opposition to the Kingdom of God. He wasn’t afraid to point out the things that were roadblocks in the “Way of the Lord.” So, the Pharisees and Sadducees caught the brunt of his rage.

And, later, King Herod himself would hear about this man John.

John, like Kingdom people of today, stood in opposition to the things that weren’t as God wanted them to be. He wasn’t afraid to proclaim to the nations what wasn’t right. He wasn’t afraid to call out the religious officials who had blocked people’s access to God and the Temple through heavy rules and financial desires.

In this Advent season, we are faced with an important question. Are we willing to stand in the way of those who wish to act in opposition to the Kingdom of Heaven?

John prepared the way for the Messiah by calling out the religious and governmental authorities for keeping people on the outside.

Are we willing to do the same?

One more thought about the crazy uncle analogy…

In these days, it is important for us to be the crazy uncle. It is important that we not silence our voices in the face of things that are in opposition to God’s Kingdom. It is important that we speak up for the poor and the hungry and the immigrant and the refugee and the orphan and the widow. It is important that we become just a little bit unhinged at injustice and work to right that which is wrong. That’s a part of being a forerunner of the Kingdom of Heaven.

#Advent16–Pray for the King

A reading from the Psalms.

O God, help the king to judge as you would, and help his son to walk in godliness. Help him to give justice to your people, even to the poor. May the mountains and hills flourish in prosperity because of his good reign. Help him to defend the poor and needy and to crush their oppressors. May the poor and needy revere you constantly, as long as sun and moon continue in the skies! Yes, forever!

May the reign of this son of mine be as gentle and fruitful as the springtime rains upon the grass—like showers that water the earth! May all good men flourish in his reign with abundance of peace to the end of time.

Psalm 72:1-7 (TLB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Today’s text is a prayer from the Psalms for the king. It is a prayer that the king would rule with justice for all. It is a prayer for prosperity. It is a prayer for the poor to be defended against their oppressors.

What would our nation be like if we prayed this prayer every day?

Prayer changes things. Not necessarily because of the prayer itself, but because prayer ultimately sparks the one saying the prayer to action. So, when we pray for the king to rule with justice, we are sparked to ensure that the king is ruling with justice.

We pray. God moves. We act as a response to God’s movement. We bring ourselves inline with His Kingdom and work to ensure that His Kingdom is being brought to earth.

So, yes, believers should be politically active. However, our action must be filtered through the lens of the Kingdom of Heaven. “Your Kingdom come,” we pray.

Yes, believers should pray for the leaders. But, praying for the leader to see politically or morally the same way as we do is not what we are called to pray. We are called to pray “Your Kingdom come.” We are called to pray for the king to act justly for all people.

Rich.

Poor.

Homeless.

Homeowner.

Natural-born.

Immigrant.

Refugee.

We pray that the king would act with equal justice for all people. Additionally, we act with equal justice to all people.

When unjust laws are made. We need to continue to act justly. We don’t yield to the laws of the land when they stand in opposition to the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven. We continue to do the Kingdom thing.

Here is where we must be careful. Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of Heaven more than any other subject. We need to seek to understand the principles that he outlines in these words. The best way to do that is to read prayerfully the things that He said. The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most succinct places to start. For we Kingdom Citizens, it is our constitution that sits above all other constitutions.

Here’s my challenge to all of us. Let’s take time every day to prayerfully read the Sermon on the Mount. And, then, let’s try to live it out. As we do, let’s pray that the king lives it out as well.

Pray for the king. Pray for him to acts justly to all people. Pray for the prosperity of the land in which you dwell. Pray for the poor to be defended. Pray for those who oppress the poor to be stopped.

And, work to make it happen.

Elizabeth sleeping in Emily's arms.

#Advent16 – Relationships

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch.

The life-giving Spirit of GOD will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, the Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-GOD.

Fear-of-GOD will be all his joy and delight.

He won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay. He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice. His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked. Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

The wolf will romp wth the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid.

Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend to them.

Cow and bear will graze in the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.

Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.

The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

On that day, Jesse’s Root will be raised high, posted as a rallying banner for the peoples. The nations will all come to him. His headquarters will be glorious.

Isaiah 11:1-10 (The Message)

This is the word of the Lord.

This is perhaps my favorite of the Advent passages in the lectionary cycles. The Prophet paints for us two beautiful images. The first is all about how the King that is to come will judge. The second is all about the beautiful Kingdom that will slowly-by-slowly come into being.

He will judge rightly. Not based on hearsay. Not based on wealth. Not based on power or strength. But, based solely on the wisdom and understanding that comes from the Fear of the Lord.

He will build righteousness—a legal and relational right-standing with God. The restoration of relationship destroyed by the fall. Man places back into right-standing with God, with neighbors, with himself, and with creation. All things working in tandem as originally designed by the Creator.

Wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, calf and lion, cow and bear all living and working together in harmony.

Little children taking the lead in caring for the creation.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ teaching on entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. “Be like the child,” he said. Be fascinated with the Kingdom of Heaven as a little child is fascinated by animals.

Elizabeth sleeping in Emily's arms.

Elizabeth sleeping in Emily’s arms.

Elizabeth, my 18-month old, love animals. Dogs and cats and lions and bears and donkeys and any other animal that she can see. Last night, when I put her to bed she said, “Hav hav”—the sound that dogs make in Turkish. I handed her the plush dog. She then said, “Ayı”—the Turkish word for bear. So, I handed her the stuffed bear. She put one under each arm and went to sleep.

Today, as I read this passage, I think of that image. A little child fascinated by creation. Two animals that could hurt her. Resting peacefully together under a fuzzy blanket on a chilly Turkish evening.

And, the Prophet says, “This. This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.” Wild and ferocious animals. Animals that zoologists will tell us are natural enemies. Lying down together with a little child.

The fulfilled Kingdom of Heaven—that place that Jesus initiated with his birth—is a place where all things are restored to original design and intent. All things are made new again. All things are brought back to Eden.

Because all relationships are made right. Man is placed back into right-standing with his Creator. People are in right-standing with one another. The relationship with ourself is made right. And, mankind is taking care of the creation around him.

So much of modern teaching—especially in the evangelical world—is focused on only the relationship between and and God. We ignore things like psychological care for oneself, and right-treatment of one another, and caring for creation. We focus on “getting right with God,” but fail to talk about what that means for all of the other relationships of which we are a part.

Yet, all relationships are in need of being set right. The Kingdom of Heaven is about setting all things right. It is about restoring all things to original design. So, we must work through restoring broken relationships with our neighbors, and ourselves, and with creation.

When we walk out the Kingdom of Heaven, we learn to take care of ourselves. We set healthy boundaries. We sabbath. We know when we’ve eaten too much and slept not enough, and we change these things.

When we walk out the Kingdom of Heaven, we learn to love our neighbor as ourselves. And, we learn that our neighbor is often the one most unlike us. The muslim. The immigrant. The stranger. The homeless. The hurting. And, we care for them as we do for ourselves. We meet their needs without question. We love them.

When we walk out the Kingdom of Heaven, we learn to care for the physical world around us. We reduce our carbon footprints to ensure that our children, and their children have the resources they need. We reduce deforestation. We pick up litter. We invest more in alternate energy than in energy sources that damage creation—and the people who inhabit it.

This is the Kingdom of Heaven that the Prophet dreams about. This is the Kingdom of Heaven in all its fullness.

Relationships restored.

Relationships made right.

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

#Advent16 — Revolution!

A Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Another reason for right living is this: you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for the coming of the Lord is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is far gone, the day of his return will soon be here. So quit the evil deeds of darkness and put on the armor of right living, as we who live in the daylight should! Be decent and true in everything you do so that all can approve your behavior. Don’t spend your time in wild parties and getting drunk or in adultery and lust or fighting and jealousy. But ask the Lord Jesus Christ to help you live as your should, and don’t make plans to enjoy evil.

— Romans 13:11-14 (TLB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

When Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, he did so with great urgency. See, the early Church believed that Jesus was coming back—next Tuesday. It was so close they could almost taste it.

Almost two thousand years have passed since then. The darkness is still pressing in. The hour is still late. And, we still await the return of our King.

But, we shouldn’t let two thousand years of waiting stop us from changing our lives or the world around us. We should continue to live as if the time is short. We should continue to live as if the King’s return is scheduled for next Tuesday.

What does that mean?

What does it mean to live as light in a place of darkness?

Paul’s words to the church at Rome were more than just an admonition to live right in order to be on Christ’s good side when he returns. This admonition goes far beyond that.

Paul is telling these believers in Rome—the ultimate of ungodly empires—that it was time to change the culture in which they lived. It was time to bring light into a dark place. It was time to do things differently than those around them did.

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

I read a great book last year called Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again by Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea. (An affiliate link to purchase the book is at the end of this post.) In it the authors highlighted seven areas where the early Church changed the culture around them. Seven areas where they lived as light in the darkness of empire. Each of these seven areas have a modern-day equivalent. In other words, we Kingdom People need to continue to live as light in darkness.

Empires still exist. Darkness still surrounds us. And, we are still called to walk in and carry the light in the midst of it. To change the world.

That’s what Kingdom People do. They stand up to the empire of man, and bring in the Kingdom of God. Where there is injustice, they bring justice. Where there is fear, they bring love. Where there is conflict, they bring peace.

Sometimes, we do this through active engagement. Standing alongside people who are being forced from their homelands. Opening their homes to orphans, widows, and immigrants. Intervening in conflict by bringing medicine and food.

Sometimes, we do this through passive engagement. Living our lives in a way that is contrary to the culture around us. This is what Paul is talking to the Roman Church about in our text. “Quit the evil deeds of darkness,” Paul writes.

Don’t watch or read pornography.

Don’t cheat on your wife.

Don’t get drunk.

Don’t fight.

Don’t go to wild parties.

Don’t be jealous of your neighbor.

Change the culture by not participating in the culture. Where the culture isn’t in line with the Kingdom of God, don’t be a part of it. Do the opposite.

For we Kingdom People, “everyone else is doing it” is not a valid reason. We must weigh everything we do against the values of the Kingdom. We must live to bring about revolution in the empire of man. To stand firm in the face of that which is not in-line when Jesus and His Kingdom.

Let me leave you with a quote that I came across today by Bishop Robert Barron:

“I don’t think we’ll understand Advent correctly until we see it as a preparation for revolution.”


Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again
By Mike Aquilina & James Papandrea / Image

In Seven Revolutions, authors Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea examine the practices of the early Church – a body of Christians living in the Roman Empire – and show how the lessons learned can apply to Christians living in the United States today. Through expert storytelling and historical insight, the authors show just how revolutionary Christians were against the backdrop of ancient Rome, and just how revolutionary we can be today.

Refugee Camp

#Advent16 — The Olivet Discourse

A Reading from the Gospel According to Matthew:

“But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

“The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

“The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have bene there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.”

Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Today’s Advent reading has us looking beyond the manger, past the cross, beyond the Ascension and even beyond today. It has us looking for the King to return in fullness. It takes us to the top of the Mount of Olives into one of Jesus’ most often quoted (and most often misunderstood) discourses—The Olivet Discourse.

Let’s begin here: The Olivet Discourse was not given for us to speculate about who is in and who is out, or about dates and times, or even to scare us into living right. Jesus’ purpose in this discourse is to encourage His Followers that even in the midst of the ugliness and mess of the world (after all, He is largely predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and ultimately Israel as they knew it), He is still the King. Further, He seeks to use this encouragement for us to live our lives to bring His Kingdom even in the middle of these messes and uglinesses. He challenges us to align our lives with Him and His Kingdom. So that when He returns in the fulfillment of His Kingdom, we will see it and know it and embrace it.

When we read these “end-times” passages in the scriptures, it is important that we remember four key points as we read.

First, Jesus wins. He is the King. He is the One whose coming was foretold from the beginning of time itself. He is the one who sets all things right. He is the One who will return to bring heaven (in all of it’s splendor and glory) to earth.

Second, suffering and pain are still present in the world. Jesus came to set all things right, but not all things are yet set right. We, as His followers, are called to continue this partner with Him i this work of setting things right. Yet, because not all things are set right, there is still pain. There is still suffering. Death still happens. Divorces still occur. Far too many children still get cancer. Too many elderly people face dementia. These things still happen.

Let me pause here. I will be the first to admit that I have no good answers to the problem of suffering. I don’t.

Refugee Camp

Refugee Camp

I live in a land where there are more than 3 million people who have fled their own homeland due to war and violence. I see them in town begging for bread. I seem them on the bow of the coast guard boats that enter the harbor below our front window after they’ve been rescued from the cold waters where their makeshift boats sank as they sought a new and better life in Europe.

I don’t know why a friend has to watch as his parents suffer with dementia.

I have no explanation for why dear friends had to sit helplessly through surgery after surgery and then ultimately bury their five-year-old son.

I struggle to understand cancer.

I don’t have answers for these questions.

But, here’s what I do know. We are called to do something about pain and suffering. We are called to cry with those who are crying. We’re not called to offer up hollow platitudes about “God being in charge” or “God wanting another angel.” We’re called to suffer with those who suffer. To cry with those who cry. To listen to those who need to yell and scream and cuss. To sit silently and hold a hand. To mourn with those who mourn.

Suffering and pain are as real today as they were when Jesus sat on that mountain and delivered the discourse from which today’s text is drawn. I don’t know why he didn’t heal every sick person that crossed his path. But, I do know that when his friend Lazarus was in the grave, before he raised him from the dead, Jesus stood alongside his friends and neighbors and wept.

Third, evil is real. Even though Christ has come. Even though the Kingdom has begun. Even though for two thousand years men and women have worked tirelessly to bring more and more of the Kingdom to bear. Evil still exists. Evil is still a reality with which we must deal.

Fourth, we must struggle against evil. We are called to stand in opposition to the things that are not as they should be. We stand in opposition to people being mistreated—even if it is by their own government. When children go to bed hungry, we stand in opposition by bringing food. When cities are overran by evil people, we do all we can to share the overwhelming love of Jesus—even at the risk of our own life.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

And, that is what Kingdom people have done for centuries.

When the ancient Romans used the horrible practice of exposure as a means of birth control, it was the Kingdom people who took these unwanted babies and gave them new life.

When a lady was told to change seats in a bus simply because of her skin color, it was the Kingdom people who peacefully protested until she was allowed to sit wherever she wanted.

When young girls and boys are kidnapped and sold for sex, it is the Kingdom people who find them and rescue them.

When poor people were left out in the streets to die alone, it was Kingdom people who took them in and cleaned them and nursed them and loved them and then buried them.

When millions were being taken away from their homes and interned in camps, it was Kingdom people who hid them from the authorities.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

We work to bring the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed into its fulfillment. Knowing that there will come a day, when Jesus will return and say “Well done, you good and faithful servant” to those who have feed the hungry, and sheltered the homeless, and spent time with the widow, and fathered the orphan.

#Advent16 — Ascending to the New Jerusalem

A Reading from the Psalms:

Pray that Jerusalem has peace: “Let those who love you have rest. Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications.” For the sake of my family and friends, I say, “Peace be with you, Jerusalem.” For the sake of the Lord our God’s house I will pray for your good.

Psalm 122:6-9 (CEB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

In ancient times, there were a collection of Psalms that the people of Israel would pray as they journeyed to Jerusalem for their yearly sacrifices. This particular Psalm is one of those. As the people of Israel would walk toward the Holy City they would pray these Psalms together. They would remember the goodness of God in times past while they yearned for an eternal King to come and rule over them with peace and rest.

For us, Advent is a bit like this ascension to Jerusalem. We remember that a new kind of King has been promised from time hence. The Prophets proclaimed that this King would come. And throughout Advent we march closer to this quiet cave in a small city. In that cave lies a newborn Baby—a new King—who himself is the gate to the new Jerusalem.

“I am the Way” that baby would later say. The way to life. The way to life lived to the full.

And, so, we march toward this New Jerusalem.

Advent is the season of waiting. But, our waiting is an active waiting. We call to memory the prophetic words of ages past. We dream prophetically about the King and His Kingdom to come. And, we walk excitedly toward that manger in that cave in that lowly city in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

And, when we arrive at the manger we find that the real work of faith has just begun. With fear and trembling, we work to bring about the fulfillment of this new Kingdom. We work the work of shalom. We work to make that which is crooked straight. We work so that that which is lost might be found. We welcome this new Kingdom, and work to bring it to it’s fulfilled state.

We ascend into the New Jerusalem, as the New Jerusalem descends upon the earth.

We work to bring the Kingdom to fulfillment, as the Kingdom comes in fulfillment.

One step at a time.