#Lent14 — A Photo Meditation On Psalm 121

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 Psalms.

I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains?  No, my strength comes from GOD, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.  Not on your life!  Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep.

GOD’s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you—shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke.

GOD guards you from every evil, he guards your very life.  He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always.

Psalm 121 (MSG)

This is the Word of The Lord.

I love this Psalm.  It’s such a beautiful reminder of the goodness and protection of our God.  He stands guard over us—waiting and watching for the enemy to attempt an attack.  He shields us from the sun in the heat of the day and from the cold of night.  He guards us from evil and watches over us in our comings and goings.

In lieu of using a bunch of words to explain and paint pictures of this Psalm, I decided to share with you a few pictures that we’ve taken in our travels that serve to illustrate it.  As you look at each picture let it inspire a prayer of thanksgiving to God for His diligent protection of you.  We’d love to have you share some of those prayers in the comments below.

The hills around Huapoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

The hills around Huapoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

From the hills above Yalova, Turkey.  Overlooking the Marmaras Sea and Istanbul.

Overlooking the Marmaras Sea and Istanbul from the hills above Yalova, Turkey

From "Gypsy Hill" overlooking Kuşadası, Turkey.

From Gypsy Hill overlooking Kuşadası, Turkey.

The mountains around Antalya, Turkey

The mountains around Antalya, Turkey

Sheep Pasture in Antalya Province, Turkey.

Sheep Pasture in Antalya Province, Turkey.

Phaselis, Turkey

Phaselis, Turkey

Volcán de Agua, Antigua, Guatemala

Volcán de Agua, Antigua, Guatemala

Lent 2013: God’s Riches Are Not Exhausted

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 Prophet Isaiah

I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King.” Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.

— Isaiah 43:15-21 (ESV)

I remember praying for Michael one evening at a prayer gathering when we were in a time of waiting on The Lord for a breakthrough. The miracles God had already performed on our behalf had left us in awe of Him, but to be honest, we were both beginning to fear that we had received as much of the big miracles from Him that we were going to receive. We believed He would still watch over us, care for us, and provide for us, but as far as the knock-your-socks-off going far beyond our wildest dreams miracles, we were starting to figure one can only have so many of those per lifetime.

As I was praying for Michael, God began to fix my eyes back on Him again and on who He is as our Father and our God. As my mind was filled with the knowledge of the glory of God, my faith began to rise again as God began to restore that childlike faith that believes that God is love and able and almighty, and He is a God who blesses. I realized that we could never exhaust the imagination of our Father God! How foolish and wrong to ever have entertained the thought that He was through with blessing us! I had magnified my challenges rather than my Lord.

Though the Israelites had seen God perform mighty works and wondrous deeds, He had not even begun! We have not seen all The Lord can do. God has been revealing Himself to mankind from the beginning of creation, and we still only have the faintest glimpse of His majesty. He delights to give us a fuller understanding of Himself.

Father God, I read the things you did in days long ago, I hear testimonies of your goodness from my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I see the incredible way You have moved mountains in my life. Help me not to take all those many stories, put them in a box and try to fit You in it, thinking that You must certainly be ready to retire after all those displays of your love and power. Help me to regard all those stories as just beginning of all you will do. I confess that You are bigger than I could ever imagine! Show me Your glory that I may declare it among the nations! For Your glory! Amen.

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Father’s Song

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 Prophet Zephaniah

Sing, daughter of Zion!  Shout, Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem.  Yahweh has taken away your judgments.  He has thrown out your enemy.  The King of Israel, Yahweh, is in the midst of you.  You will not be afraid anymore.  In that day,, it will be said to Jerusalem, “Don’t be afraid, Zion.  Don’t let your hands be weak.”  Yahweh, your God is in the midst of you, a mighty one who will save.  He will rejoice over you with joy.  He will calm you in his love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.  I will remove those who grieve about the appointed feasts from you.  They are a burden and a reproach to you.  Behold, at that time I will deal with all those who afflict you, and I will save those who are lame, and gather those who were driven away.  I will give them praise and honor, whose shame ha been in all the earth.  At that time I will bring you in, and at that time I will gather you; for I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says Yahweh.

— Zephaniah 3:14-20 (WEB)

As I was reading this passage that reveals our gracious and compassionate Father God, several other passages that say the same thing came to my mind:

Ezekiel 37:21-28 (WEB)

Say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, where they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all; neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, now with any of their transgressions; but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, in which they have sinned, an will cleanse them:  so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.  My servant David shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my ordinances, and observe my statues, and do them.  They shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob my servant, in which your fathers lived; and they shall dwell therein, they, and their children, and their children’s children, forever: and David my servant shall be their prince for ever.  Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.  My tent also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  The nations shall know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in their midst forevermore.

Psalm 126 (WEB)

When Yahweh brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.

They they said among the nations, “Yahweh has done great things for them.”

Yahweh has done great things for us, and we are glad.

Restore our fortunes again, Yahweh, like the streams in the Negev.

Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.

He who goes out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, will certainly come again with joy, carrying his sheaves.

Isaiah 35 (WEB)

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad.  The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose.

It will blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing.  Lebanon’s glory Lebanon will be given to it, the excellence of Carmel and Sharon.  They will see Yahweh’s glory, the excellence of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

Tell those who have a fearful heart, “Be strong.  Don’t be afraid.  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution.  He will come and save you.

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.

Then the lame man will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing; for waters will break out in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.  Grass with reeds and rushes will be in the habitation of jackals, where they lay.

A highway will be there, a road, and it will be called The Holy Way.

The unclean shall not pass over it, but it will be for those who walk in the Way.  Wicked fools will not go there.

No lion will be there, nor will any ravenous animal go up on it.  They will not be found there; but the redeemed will walk there.

The Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return, and come with singing to Zion; and everlasting joy will be on their heads.

They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

Luke 15:20-24 (WEB)

“He arose, and came to his father.  But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.  The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him.  Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate; for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again.  He was lost, and is found.’  They began to celebrate.”

Revelation 21:3-7 (WEB)

I heard a loud voice out of heaven saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling place is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away from them every tear form their eyes.  Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more.  The first things have passed away.”

He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things news.”  He said, “Write, for these words of God are faithful and true.”  He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give freely to him who is thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes, I will give him these things.  I will be his God, and he will be my son.”

This theme of our Father God–who desires us, though we have sinned and fallen short; who redeems us, though we neither deserve it nor can repay Him for the sacrifice freely given; who adopts us, though we were orphans–weaves itself throughout the scriptures and gives testimony to who He is. He loves us with an unconditional love, and the longing in His heart is that we will turn our faces toward Him that He might receive us into His arms, His kingdom, His family, His abundant life. It is only because of His grace that we are saved, for we could never work hard enough or be worthy to receive His salvation – His adoption. But He is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth (Psalm 86:15).

Father God is rejoicing over us with singing, and in His joy, we are able to sing with Him, shout, be glad, and rejoice with all our heart for He loves us, and we are His children!

View from Golden Ponds, Longmont, Colorado

View from Golden Ponds, Longmont, Colorado

Blessing on a Bun

Yesterday afternoon during my work duty, I was really craving a hamburger. I mentioned it to my work partners even. It was a mad craving.

Juicy burger.

Cheese.

Bacon.

Mustard.

So, last night while I was laying in bed talking with God, I said, “I’d really like a hamburger”. I wasn’t really asking. Just more of a statement.

Well, when our class broke for lunch today, one of our staff members said that lunch was hamburgers! I was stunned, and laughed.

“Seriously?”, I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Last night, I mentioned to God that I’d like to have a hamburger.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“Wow! They rarely make burgers. They take too long to prepare. Plus, today is a staff meeting day so time is even more limited.”

Well, I have to say, that was one tasty burger. Not even a prepackaged frozen burger. It was the real deal. With cheese. With bacon. Even guacamole for those who like that on their burgers.

God looking out for His kid.

I’m convinced that when God does things like that He chuckles. Almost like a parent when their kid opens a gift that’s been on the wish list for awhile.

God chuckling at me.

It’s amazing to think that God would take time out of His schedule sometime last week to mention to the Kitchen Manager that one of His kids was going to want burgers the following week. Yet, that is exactly the kind of God I serve! One who cares about hamburgers with cheese and bacon,

So, Father, thanks for the burger! It was a meal that I will never forget!

 

Lent 2012: 6.4 — The Lord’s Favor

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.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  Then the angel left her.

— Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

What does God’s favor look like?  A happy family settled into a fine house with the security of a cushioned 401K, a successful career with a high salary?  Having our children excel in their private lessons and their academic scores?  Having the nicest lawn on the block with the newest model of luxury car in the garage?

If that’s how we view God’s favor, then we’ve mistakenly confused God’s favor with the American dream.  No, they aren’t the same.  In fact, they often work in opposition.

What did God’s favor look like for a young Galilean virgin we know as Mary, the mother of Jesus?  God’s favor meant that she would become pregnancy with no believable explanation of who the father was.  The pregnancy would make the suspicion of adultery highly likely, of which the punishment was death (Leviticus 20:10) by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:21).  God’s favor meant giving birth to His Son–God’s Son–while on a trip she was obligated to take to a crowded city where she and Joseph, her husband-t0-be could find no room to stay, only to end up giving birth to her firstborn in a stable and placing Him to rest in a manger.  God’s favor meant receiving a prophetic word from Simeon as she and Joseph presented Jesus to the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem that a sword would pierce her own soul.  God’s favor meant he had chosen her to be the mother of a man who would commit no sin, yet would become sin in order to redeem those who would confess Him as Lord.  God’s favor meant that He had chosen her to bring Him glory.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

Was God’s favor a safe bet for Mary?  Did it place her in a prestigious place in society?  Was it financially a smart move?

God’s favor.

The opportunity not to bring glory to oneself, but to bring glory to the Father.

Can we join in the prayer of the Psalm and say, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).