The Very Good Gospel

Book Review: The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper

The Very Good Gospel

The Very Good Gospel

Read this book.

Seriously.

In her new book, The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper (Twitter, Website) presents us with a fresh approach to the Gospel. She takes us back to the beginning—to the creation poems in Genesis—and paints us a picture of a world as God intended it to be. She shows us how relationships were created to be in harmony, and when they are God declares it to be VERY GOOD.

Enter the snake. The apple. The deception. The “I will make a better god than you, God.” And, relationships are no longer in harmony. Death and destruction and suffering and pain and hurt enters the picture.

The remainder of the Scriptures, Harper points out, are all about bringing these relationships back into the order of God’s original intent. Salvation isn’t just about getting a ticket to heaven, but is about restoring the relationships of creation back to their proper place. Redeeming the brokenness, and from it recreating something new and beautiful.

This is one of the most important books of our day. We need to recapture the depth and beauty of God’s original intentions and design for His creation—that which He declared in no uncertain terms to be VERY GOOD.

Harper helps us to understand the old axiom, “If it’s not good news to the poor then it’s not Gospel.” She paints for us a picture of life as Jesus intended. A life of serving one another without expectation for return. A life of living for the other and not for the self.

Every person who claims to follow Jesus should take time to read this volume. They need to let the truths in it sink deep into their marrow. They need to let it effect the way that they live and move and have their being.

Here’s a short promo video that explores some of the themes in the book.

 

—————

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Blogging for Books book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Be careful!

As I’ve laid awake jet-lagged at 4:00am for the last two hours tonight, I’ve been reflecting on how much I was told to be careful as I left the comforts of America for Turkey (which, by the way, holds its own but different sets of comfort for us). “Be careful.” What does that even mean? The two words are care and full. What does a life full of care look like?

My favorite book says to love your neighbor (cross-cultural context) as yourself. My Big Brother has told me that our Dad has such a close eye on us that he even knows how many hairs are on our heads. In fact, Dad is so watchful of all things, He even knows when a sparrow, which is sold at a rate of five for $0.02, falls. Because my Dad loves, values, and cares for me so much, I don’t have to worry about myself. Dad would much rather me have my eyes on Him—seeing what He’s seeing, doing what He’s doing, saying what He’s saying—than worrying about what I’m going to eat, drink, or wear. He’s going to feed, water, and dress me. He actually loves doing that kind of stuff so much so that He makes sure all the flowers in the field are dressed with the most beautiful petals and leaves too. That’s just who He is.

So knowing all this, I really don’t need to be full of care for myself. However, I still agree with those who tell me to be careful if that means living a life full of care. My Book is teaching me to use my food to give the hungry a meal, to use my water to give the thirsty a drink, to use my home to invite in the stranger, to use my clothes to dress the naked, to use my time to care for the sick and to visit the imprisoned. This seems to be the right and appropriate focus of care.

So yes, I will try to be careful. It’s a more difficult road to take, a more narrow road, but it’s the road I want to travel on. The easy way out would be to live care-free, not caring about the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners. That’s the easy way out because I can be care-free in my own strength. It doesn’t take work. I hate to admit it, but the easy way out comes pretty naturally for me.

But I can’t bring good news to the poor and healing to the broken and freedom for the captives and light for the prisoners living in darkness in my own strength. To live that way, I need to remain in Jesus with Jesus remaining in me. I need to live with His anointing and His spirit on me. And that’s possible because of how much He loves me, and how much He loves all those He has sent me to love and care for with His grace, His compassion, and His love.

Dreaming and imagining with God tonight of living life carefully!

 

When We Were On Fire by Addie ZIerman

Book Review: When We Were On Fire – Addie Zierman

When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman

When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman

In her book, When We Were On Fire, Addie  Zierman (@addiezierman on Twitter and on her blog) leads us on a journey.  It’s a journey that many of us have walked in some way or another.  A journey that takes our faith from something passed down to something passed up to something passed on.  It’s a journey that in the beginning we think should be clean and straightforward, but ends up being the messiest mess of our lives.

As I read When We Were On Fire, I found myself reliving moments of my past.  Rediscovering broken pieces of my own faith journey that have (either unknowingly or willingly) been swept under rugs where they have waited for years to be tripped over.  While Addie’s journey and my journey are very different, the underlying threads of faith, radical lifestyle, and standing alone at flagpoles in the rain are quite similar.  Also similar are the resulting crises of faith that bring us to the raw bottom of who we are as fallen and broken people. Yet, these crises serve to be that point from which—through God’s mercy, grace, and love—we piece back together some of the broken pieces and cast out some of the others.  The challenge, of course, lies in knowing which to keep and which to toss.  In knowing which parts of our broken lives get put in the rubbermaid tub in the basement and which get burned in our best friend’s fireplace.

Addie sums up (on page 212) her faith journey this way:

“…the real work of faith has nothing to do with saying the right words.  It has to do with redefining them, chipping away at the calcified outer crust until you find the simple truth at the heart of it all.  Jesus.

For a period of about ten years, I struggled to reconcile the faith of my formative years—and its brokenness—with reality.  I struggled to understand that God wasn’t just sitting around waiting for me to screw up so He could send some major disaster—personal or otherwise—to smack me—and whomever else might be nearby—around a bit.  I struggled to see God as something more than just One who sends judgment after judgment.  I wanted God to be a God of love and a God of peace and a God of comfort.  Yet, those things ran counter to what I had heard for years from the pulpit. I wanted salvation to be more than just a “Get Out of Hell Free” card.  I wanted it to have an—unforced (but not struggle-free)—impact on my life now.  I wanted the real work of faith to be a simple truth.

Yet, I didn’t see that.  I didn’t understand the reality of salvation, or Kingdom, or God’s character.  I didn’t understand that when God created mankind He didn’t say “It is good.”  Rather, He said, “It is VERY good.”  Instead, I saw that the fall made everything not good at all.  And, consequently, made everything subject to God’s—destructive and final—judgement.

The way I understood it was that if we were broken people, it was because we hadn’t “let go and let God” do His work (something that Addie works through in her memoir).  Which, really, amounted to a lot of work on our part.  Grace, we were told, meant that we couldn’t “earn” our salvation.  Yet, it also meant, that we had to do a whole lot of work to keep God happy with us.  We always remained saved, but judgement was coming.  You wanted to be standing on the right side of the aisle when it did.

So, for years, I hid out in the corner and let God get even more unhappy with me.

Or, so I thought.

What I’ve come to discover is that He was NEVER unhappy with me.  Rather, He was constantly seeking me out.  Searching for me.  He knew right where I was.  Yet, He chose to search.  And, He was constantly building highways that would lead me back to Him.  Sometimes, I would walk a few steps down that highway before veering off onto some other road.  And, He, in His grace, would simply build yet another highway.  Until, the day came, when I realized that He loved me.  Even in my brokenness.  Even in my messiness.  He truly was happy with me.  I was created in His image.  And, His response to that was “It’s VERY good.”

What I’ve come to learn about that road back to faith (which doesn’t really ever end) is that God paves it in front of us, and that step-by-step we walk down it.  Each step is an opportunity for us to pick up a broken piece of our life and ask God what we should do with it.  Does it go back in its place?  Does it go into the rubbermaid tub?  Does it go to the fireplace?

And, then, we take another step.

I should warn you that Addie uses some words in her book that one wouldn’t hear in their Sunday morning church service.  Words that we tell our children never to use.  Yet, sometimes, those are the words that best describe the pieces of our past.  Those are the words that best explain the brokenness.  Sometimes, those are the only words that we have left to say.  And, then after they are said, God can begin His work of redeeming and restoring.

That’s the hard part about our faith journeys.  They’re messy.  They’re ugly.  They require us to be humble and real and broken and in pain.  Yet, they also are healing.  They are life-giving.  They are shalom—that beautiful gift of Grace that fixes what’s broken and finds what’s missing.

Shortly after I finished When We Were On Fire, I posted to Facebook a couple of initial thoughts.  Here they are:

What happens when we stop using our faith to mask our brokenness and instead allow it to clear away the pieces of brokenness to reveal something beautiful hidden beneath it?

It’s not a pretty process.  It’s messy.  But, it’s redemptive and restorative.  It is salvation.  The Kingdom coming.  One. Step. At. A. Time.

It also takes a community.  It requires us to stop viewing faith as an individualistic concept and being to learn the beauty of walking out faith with others who are also broken and sorting through their brokenness in their own messy ways.

And, that’s where we are.  We are all broken.  We are all in different places of sorting out our brokenness.  No two stories are the same.  But, the Storyteller is.  And, He really really really loves us.  And, in His love and grace and mercy, He walks through the process with us—at our pace.  Ever reminding us that He has said, “It is VERY good.”  Something He can say, because He sees the original intent and design, and knows that as long as we are walking through the process, He can redeem the brokenness and restore us—bit by bit—to that original intent and design.

And, therein lies the gist of Addie’s book.  Faith born.  Faith grown.  Faith slipping.  Faith lost.  Faith found.  Faith in process of being found again.  And again.  And again.  Learning day-by-day to trust the Storyteller.  Learning moment-by-moment that some pieces will never quite fit again and others shouldn’t.  Learning that the old cliches of our youth don’t quite ring as true as we once thought.  Learning that faith can never be defined in a cliche, but rather must be lived into—one broken piece at a time.

Pg 212 from When We Were On Fire

Pg 212 from When We Were On Fire


  • FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Addie Zierman’s book When We Were On Fire from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

425456: When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over
By Addie Zierman / Convergent Books
When We Were on Fire is a funny, heartbreaking story of untangling oneself from cliche in search of a faith worth embracing. It’s a story for anyone who has ever felt alone in a crowded church. For the cynic. The doubter. The former Jesus freak struggling with the complexity of life.It’s a story about the slow work of returning to love, Jesus, and (perhaps toughest of all) His imperfect followers. And in the end, it’s about what lasts when nothing else seems worth keeping.

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.

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Choose Peace

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 Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi.

Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

— Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)

Life delivers countless experiences that have every potential to be a breeding ground for anxiety, stress, and worry. We’ve all given it, and don’t we sometimes even justify our anxiety or worry as being the responsible thing to do? Or just as bad, we sometimes believe it is the only action we can take.

Anxiety is not God’s way.

When situations develop that could arouse anxiety, we are to choose not to be anxious. As children of a Father, God, and King whose arm is never too short, He is to be the one we go to first. He desires to be remembered, thanked, inquired of, petitioned.

This world is full of parents who have not been there for their child, who are so deficient of love themselves that they cannot possibly give love, who are so busy and preoccupied that they do not make the time to respond to the needs and desires of their child. Perhaps you have been in such a place as a child and because of wounds and hurts from wordly parents or people in the place of parental authority, you project that image onto Father God.

Please allow me to speak the word of truth into your spirit. I ask you to let this word of God – to let Jesus Himself – into the wounds of your heart and allow Him to begin a healing process in you that He will carry on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, these may forget, yet I will not forget you! Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. — Isaiah 49:15, 16 (WEB)

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close. — Psalms 27:10 (NLT)

But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. — Isaiah 43:1 (NIV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. — Ephesians 1:3-6 (NASB)

But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth. — Psalms 86:15 (HCSB)

This is who our Father is. So we have no need to be anxious. Our Father God loves us and cares for us and will never forget us. And once we begin to rely on our Father’s love and faithfulness, we are guarded by His peace. Imagine a loyal guard – strong and armored – who is dedicated to keep watch over the door of your mind and your heart. Keep that image in your mind as the day unfolds, and remember to [choose to] be anxious about nothing. I bless you with the peace of God.

Caleb Sleeping

Caleb Sleeping

 

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

Quiet(ly Working) Weekend

We had a reasonably quiet weekend.  Steph and Emily are both sick, so we basically locked ourselves in our room and “vegged”.  I was able to get caught up on a bunch of reading, which was nice.  Here are some things I read and learned:

Finished Lucky: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People by Glenn Packiam.  You should read this book.  Not just because Glenn pastors the church we attend here in Colorado Springs, but rather because it presents a beautiful (and easily understandable) look at the Beatitudes and the Kingdom of God.  It is well-written and packed with truth.

I read about a third of The Sermon on the Mount by John Wesley.  This volume is a collection of Wesley’s sermons and commentaries on Matthew 5, 6 and 7 (aka The Sermon on the Mount).  As with most of Wesley’s sermons, these aren’t for the faint of heart.  Sermons in Wesley’s era were much deeper than a lot of the sermons we hear today.  Yet, these are loaded with deep truth of God’s Word and His Kingdom.  Well worth the read (keep a dictionary handy).

I read the Psalms.  I can’t even begin to tell you the beauty that I find in these chapters.  Wow.  I am convinced that it is impossible to walk away from a reading of the Psalms and say, “That was a waste of time.”

I read Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.  This quartet of books by the Apostle Paul make up my second favorite book in the Bible (Job is first).  While the overall thematic ideas are the same between the four, Paul tweaks each one just enough to give you the nuggets of truth in different ways.  At the heart, though, is a recognition that grace supersedes all else.  And through that grace we are made to be the Righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.  In Ephesians, we get this incredible cosmic view of God followed by a “this is then how we should live” section.  Finally, Paul says, “You can’t do that on your own, so let me tell you how to walk in the Spirit.”  Even though God is BIG, He is still relational and wants to walk through your day with you.  Beautiful.

I read First, Second and Third John in five translations.  I love John’s epistles.  John gives us a view of the love of God unlike any other view in the Scripture.  Written toward the end of John’s life, he has come to understand what Jesus was trying to teach back in the Sermon on the Mount.  Love must be central.  All else is noise unless there is love (1 Corinthians 13).  John came to a deep understanding of this revelation and then said, “Here, church, live this.”   Throughout his letters to the four churches (Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, and Colosse), Paul prays that they may have a deeper revelation of that love.  To Ephesus he writes, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and huh and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).  The Love of God.

Finally, I caught up on the news from around the world (by specifically reading media out of about 7 geographical regions, 4 other areas with socio-political situations currently percolating, 2 other areas that God is talking to us about).  The world is a hurting and broken place.  It’s chaotic.  It’s confusion.  It’s darkness.  Yet, we know the Light!  We know the Bringer of Orderly Order!  And we look for Kingdom to come in those situations.  We pray.  We hope.  We give.  We work.

So, how do I sum up what I learned this weekend?

  • God is a big God with big plans, dreams, goals, and visions.
  • God is not just “some god” who chooses to take an inactive role in the universe.  Rather, He is constantly working (ofttimes quietly) to set up His Kingdom.  Yet, He needs His people (you know, “those called by His name…” (2 Chronicles 7:14)) to be active through prayer, giving, and service in order to bring that Kingdom to pass.
  • Jesus came to show the world that the law wasn’t just a set of rules to follow.  Rather, at the heart was a Heart.  A big Heart.  A Father’s Heart.  The law was written because people didn’t love, honor, and serve one another.  So, Jesus sits on a mountainside and tells a multitude that there’s more than just not murdering, or not seeking vengeance, or worrying about tomorrow.  That more, as Paul and John teach us, is that there is a Father.  That Father loves us beyond our comprehension.  And, as a response to that love, we should love others beyond comprehension.
  • No matter how dark a particular situation may be (I’m thinking of North Korea and some things I learned about it earlier in the week), God is at work in the background.  He’s preparing.  Piece by piece.  Poco y poco.  Bringing it all together.  The darkest hour is just before dawn.
  • Finally, keep praying.  Prayer unlocks things.  Prayer changes things.  Prayer positions things.  As Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  (Acts 2 prayer class, that should sound a lot like John 1.)

A Walk, A Lesson, A Meal, A Messiah – Lesson 1

(This series was originally posted in October 2011 on my personal blogsite.  We thought we would share it with you all this resurrection week.)

This week we are taking a walk with two disciples and Jesus.  During this walk, we will explore seven lessons from the story of the Road to Emmaus.  Our text for the week is from The Message translation of Luke 24:13-32.

That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was.

He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?”

He said, “What has happened?”

They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

Then he said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into his glory?” Then he started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him.

They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So he went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized him. And then he disappeared.

Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as he conversed with us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures for us?”

— Luke 24:13-32 (The Message)

————————-

I love this story.  Even though I have heard or read it my entire life, it didn’t resonate with me until a week or so ago.  Since then, I have spent a good deal of time meditating on it and want to share some thoughts.

We find two men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  They were Christ-Followers.  They had been in Jerusalem during Passover.  While we’re not given a lot of specifics about them, it would be likely that they were there when Jesus rode triumphantly into the city, perhaps they were there in the upper room, and they might have been in the garden with Jesus.  We don’t know how long they had followed Jesus, yet Luke gives us a good understanding that they were disciples.  They tell Jesus, “We had hoped He was Messiah.”

They had forsaken all and followed down what seemed now to be a dead end.  Now, they had turned back to Emmaus and were going home.

Lesson 1: Following is sometimes hard faith work

Think about it.  Two men that had chosen to follow Jesus.  They had walked where He walked.  Talked to the same people He had talked to.  We find in the story that they considered Jesus a best-friend.

But, now, He’s dead.  And their conquering political hero is not able to overthrow the Romans.

And that’s where we find the breakdown.

They considered Jesus as the One who would “free” the Jews from their oppressors.  Jesus – the next King of Israel.

Now, it’s three days later.  Sunday afternoon – Easter afternoon.  Jesus has risen.  The women are talking about it, but these two aren’t following that.  They had seen Him die.

Until that fateful Friday they had followed.  They had done the work that they were called by Jesus to do.  And now, it’s Sunday afternoon.  They’re going home.  It had been a dead-end road.

Jesus calls us to forsake all and follow Him.  Sometimes it may seem that we’re on a dead-end trajectory.  Sometimes it might seem that we’re headed to Jerusalem for Passover.  And we tend to almost always be ready to give it all up because we don’t understand the bigger mission.  We’re ready to walk back to Emmaus because we don’t understand why the breakthroughs for which we have been praying aren’t happening.

We’ll see a bit later in the story that faith is critical.  It’s more than just thinking that He was the One, but truly believing it.  Following requires faith.  Like these two followers, we don’t know or understand why Jesus wants to go to Jerusalem.

Maybe our two friends were saying to one another, “If we’d have known, we could have celebrated Passover at our place in Emmaus.”

Sometimes, Jesus wants us to go to Jerusalem for Passover.  It takes a step of faith to follow.  Forsaking all, they had followed.  Unless we understand the bigger mission, we – like our two Emmaus friends – will think it’s all a dead end.  Yet, faith tells us to keep walking toward Jerusalem.  Faith tells us to linger in Jerusalem for 40 days.

Lent 2012: 6.1 — The Fleecy Thing

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.

Later, the LORD sent this message to King Ahaz: “Ask the LORD you God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want–as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead.”

But the King refused, “No,” he said, “I will not test the LORD like that.”

Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human patience? Must you exhaust the patience of my God as well? All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

— Isaiah 7:10-14 (NLT)

The beginning of our text for today reminds me of another story in the Scriptures. Remember Gideon? Unlike King Ahaz, he wasn’t at all worried about putting God to the test. In Judges 6, we get the story. God tells Gideon that he needs to lead the army against the Philistines. Gideon isn’t so sure. After all, he’s small and weak–“My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my entire family!” (Judges 6:15, NLT). So, Gideon puts out a fleece. He puts God to the test.

I once heard Jon Peterson (from 24/7 Prayer) say, “God likes the fleecy thing.”

Yet, Ahaz, decides that even though the prophet has told him to put out a fleece, he isn’t going to do that. Judah is in a tight spot. The Northern Kingdom, Israel, and Syria have joined forces against them. Our text places us in the midst of this story. If we back up a few verses, we find God telling the Prophet Isaiah to tell Ahaz to stop worrying (vs. 4). “Yes, the kings of Syria and Israel are plotting…”, but, “…this invasion will never happen” (vs. 5, 7).

And Ahaz is in that spot where we often find ourselves. Somewhere between the promise and the fulfillment. All Ahaz can see is the situation surrounding him. War is inevitable. He can see the armies at his door.

Yet, he has a word from God–“this invasion will never happen.”

Firmly planted between the promise of God and the reality of the moment.

Firmly planted between the now and the not yet.

Firmly planted between the promise of Messiah and the reality of the cross.

So, Isaiah, offers Ahaz a way to see his faith. “Ask the LORD for a sign.” Ahaz declines. So, Isaiah says, “God Himself will give you a sign.”

Proof of the promise.

The fleecy thing.

What happens when you’re in that spot? You can see the armies coming against you. It looks dreary. Yet, you know God has promised that the invasion will never happen. It’s easy in that moment of being stuck in between to get discouraged. It’s easy to think that God has all but forgotten His promise.

I believe today’s text is telling us that it’s ok to ask for God to reaffirm that promise. I believe it’s ok to say, “God, I trust you, I believe you, yet right now I could use a bit of reassuring.”

After all, God set the rainbow in the sky to remind Himself of the promise (Genesis 9:12-16).

So, don’t be afraid of “the fleecy thing.”

Rehoboam – The Sometimes Truster

 By the time Rehoboam had secured his kingdom and was strong again, he, and all Israel with him, had virtually abandoned God and his ways. (2 Chronicles 12:1 MSG)

Rehoboam.  Son of Solomon.  Wisest of all of the Kings of Israel (and of any other country).  Abandoned God.

Solomon.  Built the Temple of God.  Son of David–the man after God’s own heart.  

David.  Shepherd boy turned King.  Catalyst to Israel’s Golden Age.  Successful in all his ventures because of his devotion to God.

What happened?

Upon Solomon’s death, Rehoboam becomes King.  However, his brother, Jereboam, soon leads a rebellion and the kingdom is split.  

Nevertheless, Rehoboam gets off to a pretty good start.  He seeks after God, and follows His commands.  But then…

As his kingdom becomes secure, he abandons God.  

How often do we do the same?  When things are tough, we follow God.  We listen and obey.  

But then…

Our kingdom is made secure, and we abandoned God.  We develop a self-security.  We fall into the mode of thinking, “Look what I did.”

We abandoned God.

Like Rehoboam, we build up defenses in a vain effort to protect “our kingdom”.  We built strong fortresses and high walls.  We put our trust in our own devices.

Yet, notice what happens later.  Egypt decides (at God’s behest) to attack Rehoboam’s nation.  Rehoboam has his back to the wall–the wall he built.  God uses the prophet to tell him that this mess was of his own making.  And Rehoboam repents.

After the battle is over, we find that Rehoboam’s shields of gold have been replaced with shields of bronze that are only brought out in times of defense.  Rehoboam turns his attention back to God.  Recognizing God as his protector.  Remembering the songs of his grandfather, David, he recognizes God as his shield.

In the end, though, Rehoboam is listed as a bad king.  God wasn’t central to his life.  God was an after-thought.  God, to Rehoboam, was sort of a protector-in-a-bottle.  As long as things are good, I did it.  When things get tough, then I need God.

The lesson for us is to trust in both the good and the bad times.  To need God when we are on the mountaintop and when we are in the valley.  

To live one life.

A life of constantly trusting God.  Of viewing Him as our sole source. 

Live one life!