Discipleship

Book Review: Be The Message

Be the Message

In Be The Message, authors Kerry and Chris Shook, challenge the reader to live their life as a walking presentation of the gospel. They challenge us to live beyond ourselves and to listen for God to show us ways in which we can meet needs that are often right in front of us and overlooked.

Hearing God’s Voice is one of the most difficult elements of the Christian life to explain. Everyone hears differently. There’s not a clear formula that works for everyone all of the time. Yet, Kerry and Chris provide some ideas that can serve as basic principles to hearing God. Clear space. Stop doing stuff and allow God to speak. Read and meditate on Scripture. Listen for those things–the authors call them “Holy Disturbances”–that cause you frustration, discomfort, scream injustice.
We often miss God’s voice because our lives are so noisy. Hearing His whisper requires diminishing the racket that screams through our daily lives, and creating a space and time when we push back against the confusion and find sacred silence. — Kerry and Chris Shook in Be The Message

The authors illustrate their points through numerous stories and examples from their own lives as well as the life of their church–Woodlands Church in Houston, Texas. Many of these stories center around a “Holy Disturbance” and their acting upon what God had to say about that disturbance.

Oftentimes in our lives, we come across things that make us mad. Things that cause a “righteous indignation” to rise up in us. An injustice that causes pain for someone. Something that clearly is not the way that God intended for life to be lived. Yet, we tend to look at things through calloused eyes. Maybe they’re poor becuase they choose to be. Perhaps they don’t have food becuase the dad drinks too much. It’s their fault.

Yet, the example of Jesus and the message of God don’t allow us space to make those judgements. They force us to act on the behalf of the poor and the needy and the widow and the orphan.

The poor and the powerless are mentioned nearly three thousand times in Scripture. It’s simply not possible to read our Bibles for five minutes without coming face-to-face with God’s fierce love for the poor and His intense passion for justice. — Kerry and Chris Shook in Be The Message

Justice is a word that we often misunderstand. We often think that justice means that someone gets what’s coming to them. We confuse justice with judgement. God calls us to be people who bring justice. He calls us to be people who look not at what someone has done, but rather looks at people through the eyes of a loving and forgiving and compassionate God.

And that’s the message. The message that God came in the person of Jesus. That He looked on us not as people who need judgement, but rather people who need justice. He provided that justice in the person of Jesus. And, because of that, our lives have been transformed. And that story of transformation is a message that the hurting world needs to see.

Regardless of the circumstances of your past, you get to choose today what your life message to the world will be. Regardless of the sins and mistakes of your past, because of God’s grace, the rest of your story has yet to be written. — Kerry and Chris Shook in Be The Message

God’s desire for the rest of our story is that it involve other people. Our stories aren’t intended to be monologues. Rather, they are intended to be a beautiful tapestry that includes all of the mess and ugliness and pain and suffering of a broken world around us. A broken world that needs us to Be The Message.

——————–

073818: Be the Message: Taking Your Faith Beyond Words to a Life of Action Be the Message: Taking Your Faith Beyond Words to a Life of Action
By Kerry & Chris Shook / WaterBrook PressTake your faith beyond words to a life of action! Exploring the Bible story of the rich young ruler, the Shooks observe that he had the right theology—but when Jesus called him to action, the wealthy man couldn’t accept the cost. Discover what might be holding you back from being God’s message to the world. 240 pages, hardcover from Waterbrook.

 

Resurrection Diaries: Thomas

Dinner was awfully different tonight.  The food was the same: lamb, flatbread, cucumbers, olives.  But, what a strange occurrence.

We were in the main room of the house.  The table had been laid out as always.  All of us in our usual seats.  For fear of someone wandering in, we had the doors locked.  Still not sure what the authorities—Jewish or Roman—are thinking about us.

As we talked about the events of the last few days, and wondering if the stories of our friends having seen Jesus were really true, Thomas made the most outrageous statement.

“I’ll believe it when I see it.  When I can push my finger through the holes in his hands and feet, and can shove my hand into his side, then—and only then—will I believe it.”

Well, finally, someone said what most of us were thinking.

And, then, Jesus showed up.  In the room.  With us.  Door was still locked—I checked it myself.  But, there stood Jesus.

“Hey, Thomas,” he said.  “Come over here, put your hand here.”  He pulled back his robe to reveal the spot where they had shoved the spear into His side.

Thomas did, and then let out a holler unlike any I’d ever heard.

“It’s Him!”

“Really, guys, it’s HIM!”

———

Aren’t we all a bit like Thomas?

Others had seen Jesus.  The women, some of the men, Cleopas and his friend had seen Jesus.  Eyewitnesses to the resurrection.  Yet, Thomas isn’t so sure.

Maybe it was a vision.  Maybe a dream.  Maybe a hallucination.  But, actually Jesus?  Not sure.

He challenges the others.  Maybe they’re even growing a bit tired of Thomas’ verbal doubts.  And, then, Jesus shows up.

Can you hear the laughter of the others?  “See, Thomas, we told you!  We told you that He was alive!  You didn’t believe us, but I guess you do now!”

But, I can relate to Thomas.  At some point in all of our lives, we will doubt.  We’ll doubt the trustworthiness of God.  We’ll doubt the promises.  We’ll stand on the edge of the road, looking at the empty—but blood-stained—cross where our dreams were killed, and there we will doubt.  We’ll be forced to admit that our hopes and dreams are dead, and our prayers will go unanswered.

And, then, into the room, walks Jesus.  Smiling.  Laughing.  Comforting.  And, gently scolding.  Jesus.

In that moment, our doubts are erased.  Our fears are calmed.  Our hope is restored.  The trustworthiness of our God is proved.

Yet, doubt isn’t a good thing.  It’s a real thing, but it’s not good.  Doubt says that our God isn’t big enough to overcome our problem.  To doubt is to deny the goodness and grace of God.  It’s to deny the very resurrection.  To doubt is to say, “God, You can’t handle this.”

To doubt is to make you the lord of your life.  It’s worshiping at the altar of self.  It’s idolatry.

So, what do we do?

I’m reminded of the story of the Israelites.  Time and time and time and time again throughout the Old Testament, God’s chosen people are given the command: “REMEMBER.”  Read the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and count the number of times this command is given.  Read the Psalms and see how often remembering is a part of the worship of the Israelite people.  Read the Proverbs and see the wisdom in remembering.

Remember!

This command isn’t meant to be taken in a philosophical, “Yep, God is good all the time” kind of way.  It’s a command to write down what God has done for you.  It’s a command to write them down.  To recite them to your family.  To teach them to your children.  To talk about them on your way to school and work and church and Wal-Mart.  To listen as your children recite them back to you.

“Hey, Dad, remember that time that God…”

Remembering only works when you are an active participant in the process of remembering.  You have to say it out loud.  You have to repeat it.  You have to write the story.  You have to tweet the good news.

You have to be aware of the miracle.  Don’t write things off to coincidence.  Quit calling it fate.   Stop ignoring the miracle within the mundane.  God is working.  He is moving.  He cares about the big things and the little things.

A couple of years ago, we were in Colorado Springs doing our Discipleship Training School with Youth With A Mission.  One particular Tuesday, I was craving a hamburger.  I could almost taste the meat and the cheese and the mustard and the pickle.  I remember driving my friends crazy because I kept talking about how good a hamburger would taste.  The next day at lunch, we had hamburgers.  Now, I had no idea what was on the menu.  I just knew that the day before I told God that hamburgers sounded really good.  I could call that a coincidence.  But, to do so would be to assume that God doesn’t care about hamburgers, and He doesn’t care about me.  So, to this day, we talk about the day that God cared enough to provide hamburgers.  And, friends, these weren’t just frozen patties.  These were hand-crafted, flame-broiled, with bacon, thick and juicy hamburgers.

Because, God cares about my wanting hamburgers, and He cares about Thomas’ doubts.  He cares enough to provide hamburgers, so I can trust Him with things like airfare, and my kid’s health, and beds to sleep in.

And, so, we remember.  We write it down.  We talk about it.  We rehearse it.  We tell each other the story.  And, we remember the goodness of God.

Thomas, we are told from Church tradition, travelled to India.  It is believed that he baptized several people in the town of Muziris, India, and served as a missionary to the people of India.  He is known as the Patron Saint of India.

Thomas’ response to seeing the wounds of Jesus was to proclaim boldly that he was no longer the lord of his life.  Instead, he trusted God’s goodness to restore and renew and resurrect.  And, he went about the rest of his life proclaiming that message of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

You can read the full story of Jesus revealing Himself to Thomas in John 20:19-29.

#Lent14 — Only Two Kingdoms

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent  seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life.  Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!  Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.  Focusing on the self if the opposite of focusing on God.  Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God.  That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.  And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.  Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about.  But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms.  It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?  When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life.  With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

Romans 8:6-11 (MSG)

This is the Word of The Lord.

In this life, we are faced with a choice.  We can choose to live our lives with the goal of fulfilling our own desires, or we can choose to live our lives yielding our desires to the desires of God.  It’s a choice.

In today’s text, Paul confronts us with this choice.  He presents for us the facts of each way of life.  If we live based on our own selfish desires and ambitions, then it’s a dead-end.  We become self-absorbed and we ignore God.  Yet, on the other hand, if we live our life by the Spirit of Christ, then we live a life of power and purpose and fullness.

It’s really quite simple.  We either choose to live our lives to better ourselves or our position in life, or we live our life to make God’s name great.  It’s either about us or Him.

There are only two kingdoms.

We either live in the kingdom of self-advancement, self-achievement, and self-preservation.  Or, we live in the kingdom of God-Advancement.  We either live for ourselves.  Or, we life for God.

Which is it with you?

Christ didn’t come to earth and die on the cross to make live better.  He didn’t die to modify our behavior.  Rather, He came to transform our ENTIRE lives.  He came to shift us into a completely different direction.  He didn’t come to make things easier or make us more successful.  Instead, He came to redeem us unto Himself so that we might partner with Him in the Greatest Story of all time—His story.

And, so, we live differently—not succumbing to our own selfish desires or plans, but rather yielding to God’s desires and plans for us.  The reality of a life lived yielded to God’s plans and desires is a life of fullness.  A life of Shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken.  A life where the crooked places are made straight and the steep places are made level.  Where what’s broken is fixed and what’s missing is found.

It’s a life lived in the Kingdom.

Where are you living?

Ramana, Baku, Azerbaijan

Ramana, Baku, Azerbaijan

Lent 2013: Grapes and Figs

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from the Gospel According to Luke

Then Jesus told a story. “A man had a fig tree,” he said. “It had been planted in his vineyard. When he went to look for fruit on it, he didn't find any. So he went to the man who took care of the vineyard. He said, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree. But I haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'

“'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year. I'll dig around it and feed it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' “

— Luke 13:6-9 (NIRV)

Many years ago, when I was in college, I worked in a nursery (the plant kind). I remember my boss, Mickey, telling me one day the definition of a weed. We were sitting in his office having pizza for lunch on one very hot Saturday. We were chatting about plants and landscapes as we looked at some trade magazines. He showed me a picture and said that it looked like there was a weed in the landscape. “A weed?” I asked. He pointed to a particular plant that didn't really fit into the overall scheme and said, “Yes. A plant growing where it doesn't belong. Even though a rose bush is beautiful in full bloom, if it's in the middle of an azelea bed, then it's a weed.”

A weed. You know, a fig tree in the middle of a vineyard.

Here's Jesus teaching His disciples–and us–through a parable (a kingdom truth wrapped up in an earthly example). This time He tells about a fig tree. A land owner grows a vineyard. Somehow in the midst of this field of grapes, a fig tree gets planted. But, it's not a particularly good fig tree. It's been there–taking up space in the vineyard–for three years, and there are no figs. The owner of the vineyard tells his laborer to cut it down and plant more grapes. But, the farmer, seeing potential, says, “Give me a year. If there are no figs next year, I'll cut it down.”

Jesus is, in essence, telling the disciples that there is a weed in this man's vineyard. He intended to grow grapes, and instead he has a poor excuse for a fig tree.

But, his laborer sees something else. Maybe it's all of the grape vines that are out of place.

Potential.

The laborer tells the owner, let me care for this “weed”. Let me clear the ground under it. Let me water it. Let me spread some donkey manure around it. If it produces fruit, then great! If I fail, then ok, I'll cut it down.

The laborer sees the potential for the fig tree to produce figs, and, consequently, more fig trees. Yes, it will take a lot of years for the vineyard to become a fig orchard, but there is potential for that to happen.

Do you know a fig tree in a vineyard? That person in whom you see potential to turn the entire vineyard into an orchard? Are you willing to take the time to disciple that person? To prune them? To fertilize and water them? To help them reach their potential?

That's discipleship. Helping someone reach their God-given potential.

Let's look at this same story from the owner's perspective. He has a laborer who has a plan. The laborer has a fifty-fifty shot at this plan working. It could be a bust. In which case, the owner will have spent money on water, fertilizer, and man hours to no positive outcome. But, if this hair-brained scheme works, then consider the possibilities.

Do you know this laborer? That person whom you have been discipling that has an idea that could either be hair-brained and work, or brilliant and fail. Will you release them to try? Will you father them if it fails?

That’s leadership. Helping someone reach their God-given potential.

Two men.

One tree.

A thousand grapes.

Potential?

Plan?

The wise owner will say, “Laborer, I don't know if what you're proposing will work, but…”

The wise laborer will say, “Owner, I know it makes sense to cut down the tree, but…”

A rose in an azelea bed is a weed. But, a bed of azeleas in a rose garden is also a weed.

You can choose to cultivate the fig tree, or cut it down. But, in only one scenario are you helping the fig tree reach it's God-given potential.

Let me challenge you–us. That person who has all kinds of potential but seems impossible, may just need someone to say, “Go try it. If it works, I'll rejoice with you. If it fails, I'll be here to help you.”

What if, we all said that–and meant it–to one another?

Caleb and a crazy tree.

Caleb and a crazy tree.

 

Lent 2013: Keep Track

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from Paul's epistle to the church at Philippi.

Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I've warned you of them many times; sadly, I'm having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ's Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.

But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven! We're waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He'll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

— Philippians 3:17-21 (MSG)

Paul, writing to the church he helped plant at Philippi, has come to an important point in his life. He has come to the understanding that living as a citizen of “high heaven” isn't an easy thing to do. It is going to require sacrifice.

He offers an admonition to the church. He says to “keep track of those you see running this same course.” In other words, you aren't in this fight alone, nor do you have to be.

We're spending this week in conversations about the majority religion in Central Asia. The person leading our conversations is a believer who was the first in their family to make a decision to follow İsa. As they told their story, they made this comment: “When I came to decide to follow, I thought I was the only person in my country who had made this decision.” (Today in that nation only 2.75% of the population are Jesus Followers. Then it was only a few tenths of a percent.) They continued, “I was so happy to learn that I wasn't the only one.”

Following Jesus is hard. So, Paul admonishes us to find others who are following and join them in the journey.

In other words, community.

Or, family.

Or, Kingdom.

Yesterday morning, we heard a report of a person (in the area we are now in) who made a decision over the weekend to become a follower of İsa. Not a decision made lightly. It took many months of conversations–discipling. Yet, after hours of hearing the Gospel, they committed to follow. They laid down their nets, left the fish, left the boats, and followed.

And, here, Paul would say to them, partner with others who follow. And, Paul, would tell us the same thing.

For us, these partners are you who read this blog, those who pray daily for us, and those who give to send us to come to the nations.

It is the team of people who we have working with us here, and the team we'll join in another location at the end of April.

It is you who email, Skype, Facebook, and tweet us encouragement.

It is the individuals who have guest written for us this week, and who will guest write for us in coming weeks–these individuals who we have asked to Pastor (Shepherd) us.

It is those who when Stephanie and I were children poured into us the stories of God's work in the world.

It is MJP and the board of Get The Word Out! who cover us as we go.

So, to each of you, we say thank you. We couldn't do it without you. We wouldn't do it without you.

And, with Paul, we admonish you. Connect. Be community. Be family. Be the Kingdom. Don't do it alone.

Skyping with folks back home.

Skyping with folks back home.

 

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Confirming Voices

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  Having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, you highly favored one!  The Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what king of salutation this might be.  The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’  He will be great, and will be call the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever.  There will be no end to his Kingdom.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God.

“Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For everything spoken by God is possible.”

Mary said, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to your word.”  The angel departed from her.

Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.  It happened, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, that the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy!  Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!”

Mary said, “My should magnifies the Lord.  My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for he has looked at the humble state of his handmaid.  For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed.  For he who is mighty has done great things for me.  Holy is His name.  His mercy is for generations of generations on those who fear him.  He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He has put down princes from their thrones.  And has exalted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things.  he has sent the rich away empty.  He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his see forever.”

— Luke 1:26-55 (WEB)

I believe that Mary needed Elizabeth to speak words of life to her at that visit. I imagine Mary probably had many questions, and that she needed confirmation of the word the angel, Gabriel, had spoken to her before she left town. And not only did Elizabeth impart words of life to Mary, but she used the same words the angel had spoken: “Blessed are you among women!”

Not only did Elizabeth speak common language as the angel, but she confirmed things from the angel and Mary’s encounter that she couldn’t have otherwise known.

 

Angel – “You will conceive in your womb.”

Elizabeth – “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

 

Angel – “The holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God.”

Elizabeth – “the mother of my Lord should come to me.”

 

Angel – “Elizabeth…also has conceived a son.”

Elizabeth – “The baby leaped in my womb for joy!”

 

Mary to the angel -“Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Elizabeth – “Blessed is she who believed.”

 

Angel – “For nothing spoken by God is impossible.

Elizabeth – “For there will be fulfillment.”

 

The Lord speaking to Mary through the angel, Gabriel.

Elizabeth – “…the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!”

 

The Lord washed away all of Mary’s fears by bringing such solid confirmation of His Word. In fact, Mary is so encouraged by this word that Elizabeth has confirmed through being filled with the Holy Spirit that she is able to pour out such a beautiful expression of worship to God that we have it recorded and still recall it two thousand years later.

God speaks, and He does it in a number of ways. In this instance, He spoke to Mary through the angel, Gabriel, and through the Spirit-given words of encouragement and confirmation spoken through Elizabeth.

I want to encourage you to be an Elizabeth. If the Spirit of God comes on you to speak to a certain person, don’t doubt it or shy away from the prompting. The word He has given you may very well be a confirmation of what He has already spoken into that person, and speaking that word may inspire that person to pour out a beautiful expression of worship to God.

 

Advent 2012: Preparing the Path: Beyond the Circumstances

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emfmanuel.

A reading from the Paul’s epistle to the Philippians

I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.  God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.

— Philippians 1:3-11 (NIV)

I want to live a life so confident in God’s goodness, wisdom, and power that even if I were in prison, I would continue to press on in the work of God’s kingdom. That’s the confidence in God that Paul shows in Philippians. I see so many glimpses of Paul’s uncompromising trust in the nature and character of God through these verses.

  1. He believes that prayer moves the heart of God. If he didn’t believe in the power of prayer, he wouldn’t be continually praying.
  2. He trusts in God’s justice. He does not show frustration in his circumstance of being in chains for Christ, nor does he succumb to a spirit of self-pity and despair.
  3. He uses the time as an opportunity to be praying, thanksgiving, writing, discipling believers, encouraging, making plans, remembering the goodness of God, and rejoicing!

Let’s allow this Word of God to transform us today–not allowing our circumstance to be the be all and end all. Rather, let’s not allow our circumstance to influence our behavior at all. Let’s be so wrapped up in who God is, that our actions are those which we would want others to imitate (Philippians 3:17, 4:9)!

Studying the Word at the Church in Ephesus

Studying the Word at the Church in Ephesus

Lent 2012: 7.3 — Guest Post: Nathan Kilbourne

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

The Reverends Kilbourne

We are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, has agreed once again to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, AR. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,”Hosanna!

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord–the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.

— John 12:12-16 (NRSV)

There is a great danger in confusing knowing about someone or something and actually knowing someone or something. As one ethics professor said to her students, “It is possible to make an A+ in this course in ethics but still flunk life.” In other words, it is not enough to have correct answers. Correct answers only get a person so far. Knowledge leads us to a certain point; yet, it is not an end in and of itself.

Rather in order for knowledge to be effective, one’s cerebral understanding must to be connected to real life experience of the particular subject. Said another way, if one’s knowledge only exists within the mind, within the classroom, or within (let’s say) a worship space, then it is possible to know “all things” and yet such knowledge will make little impact upon our individual and communal lives.

And yet, the great danger of confusing knowledge about someone or something and actually knowing someone or something is not necessarily the lack of relating knowledge to concrete reality. Rather, the great danger is to assume false mastery over the particular subject or person. When we believe we know about someone or something and have little or no experience with that subject or person, such disconnected knowledge leads us to assume we have sufficient knowledge. The great danger lying beneath is we end up subjecting the person or subject to our expectations or framework.

For instance, I love sports talk radio. To me, it is an enjoyable waste of time. One of the most entertaining parts of sports talk radio is the call-in shows. No matter where you are I’m sure you can relate. People call-in to discuss a game, ask questions, and so forth. However, there are those who call-in and believe they are the coach. Because they have read a few magazines or played pee wee football they believe they have mastery over the subject. They present themselves as if they have all the right answers. And yet their knowledge is often so disconnected from the day to day operations of a professional or college sports team, they truly have little idea of what they are saying. The same is true when we tell (not ask) our doctors we need a particular medication because we saw an advertisement on television or spent 15 minutes online diagnosing ourselves. Knowing about something is different than knowing something.

Knowledge is relational. It requires a dynamic, give and take, learning and unlearning relationship in order for it to be effective. To assume mastery is to fail in understanding knowledge. Knowledge is an ongoing pursuit tempered with humility. It is a willingness to continue to pursue a subject or person and allow one’s expectations to be transformed by the relationship one has to the person or subject being pursued.

The crowd in our Scripture lesson knows about Jesus. In Matthew’s version of the Triumphant entry (Matt 21:1-11), the crowds know that Jesus is a prophet from Nazareth! They even have all the correct answers and say all the right words. Of course, all signs are pointing to Jesus being the Messiah. And the crowds certainly know what the Messiah will do – He will free God’s oppressed people from foreign occupation. The scene even looks like a joyful royal entrance, like Solomon riding a mule into Jerusalem to claim the throne. The crowds even shout, “Hosanna, to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!” Our long awaited King has come. One who will free us from foreign occupation and claim the throne of Israel. Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! The crowds know about the Messiah. They know what the Messiah is supposed to do; in fact they are almost certain how Jesus is supposed to act.

And yet, knowing about someone doesn’t equal knowing someone. While it may have been a joy for the people to see Jesus riding into Jerusalem like Solomon did so long ago, while they had all the right words, and know Jesus has come to challenge the powers and principalities, how deflating must it have been when he began to speak about his own death (John 12:27-36). How deflating it must have been when Jesus with his own disciples lifted the bread and the cup and said, “Take eat, Take drink…this is my body, this is my blood.” Their salvation wasn’t coming as they expected. It didn’t fit their frame of reference.

The crowds eventually turned on Jesus. “Crucify him,” they screamed. Shouts of Hosanna quickly faded when they realized Jesus didn’t fit into their known world. You see, knowing about someone doesn’t equal knowing someone.

But Jesus did not come to claim a throne, but a cross. And Jesus had not come to fulfill their expectations but the expectations of the Father. The crowds didn’t know as they shouted, “Lord save us, we beseech you (in other words Hosanna), Jesus was going to answer their plea but in a way they would not understand. At least not until after he was glorified.

Knowing about someone does not equal knowing someone. Possibly this Lenten season, we should take the place of humility when it comes to knowing about Jesus and admit we don’t know it all. Knowledge requires a dynamic relationship, one of learning and unlearning, a give and take. We can only know Jesus as we are invited into his presence and we can be thankful that through the cross and resurrection, Jesus makes himself available. Do you know about Jesus or do you know Jesus? Hosanna, Lord save us we beseech you!

 

Lent 2012: 3.4 — A Call to Come and Die

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

— Mark 8:31-38 (NIV)

 

Following Christ is a call to come and die. God has chosen us and adopted us as His sons and daughters bearing His name. We must die to our flesh, our pride, our desires, and our will. When we die to ourselves, Christ fully lives through us (Galatians 2:20). We adopt His character, His will, His desires, and live as Jesus, bringing glory to His name. Look at Jesus’ prayer in John 12:27-28. Though His heart was troubled, He did not pray, “Father, save me from this hour.” He knew the Father’s will and His purpose. He prayed, “Father, glorify Your name!” Even though it meant Christ must lay down His life. He laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11,15). He laid down His life for His friends (John 15:13).

Let’s examine our lives. Which areas of our lives are we trying to save? In other words, we will follow Christ unless He asks what of us? What do we own and lay claim of? What will we not relinquish?

And Jesus said to all, “If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also]. – Luke 9:23 (Amplified Bible)

 

 

Lent 2012: 3.2 — The Last Word

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

Here’s the story I’ll tell my friends when they come to worship, and punctuate it with Hallelujahs: Shout Hallelujah, you God-worshipers; give glory, you sons of Jacob; adore him, you daughters of Israel. He has never let you down, never looked the other way when you were being kicked around. He has never wandered off to do his own thing; he has been right there listening.

Here in this great gathering for worship I have discovered this praise-life. And I’ll do what I promised right here in front of the God-worshipers. Down-and-outers sit at God’s table and eat their fill. Everyone on the hunt for God is here, praising him. “Live it up, from head to toe. Don’t ever quit!”

From the four corners of the earth people are coming to their senses, are running back to God. Long-lost families are falling on their faces before him. God has taken charge; from now on he has the last word.

All the power-mongers are before him–worshiping! All the poor and powerless,too–worshiping! Along with those who never got it together–worshiping!

Our children and their children will get in on this as the word is passed along from parent to child. Babies not yet conceived will hear the good news–that God does what he says.

— Psalm 22:22-31 (The Message)

Getting in the last word is a desire for many. It seems to be a power position to be the last word. You ended the argument. You got in the final barb. Your comment is the one that people will remember. You won!

Yet, today’s reading gives us a different perspective on the last word. “God has taken charge; from now on he has the last word.” (verse 28)

He has the last word!

In that, we have hope. We don’t have to be the victor. We don’t have to end the argument. We simply have to allow Him to have the last word.

In another of our texts for this week (Mark 8:31-38), we find Jesus telling his disciples that they must “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him.” They must let Him have the last word.

The beauty of it all is when we allow Him to have the last word, we can sit at His table and eat our fill. We get to be a part of helping those from the four corners of the world to come back to Him. To let Him have the last word.

To let Him have the last word, is to forget what is behind and press on to that which is ahead (Philippians 3:13). It is to present yourself as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). It is to seek the Kingdom of God before all things (Matthew 6:33).

Lent is all about letting Him have the last word. As we look to the cross, we look for Messiah to complete God’s rescue plan. We look for Messiah to bring Light into our Darkness and create order out of our chaos (John 1:1-14).

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life–your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around-life–and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. — Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)