Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

#Advent16 — It is Christ

A reading from the Psalms.

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

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

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

Praise the LORD.

Psalm 146:5-10 (NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

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

The great philosopher/theologian Dallas Willard once said:

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

God invades His creation to bring restoration to His creation.

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

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

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

Immanuel.

God. In the middle. Of everything.

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

Personally and intimately.

Yet, with fear and trembling.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

Kuş14 – Photo Journal 2

Well, it's been a couple of weeks since our last photo journal. We've explored more of our city. We've walked an average of 1.8 miles each day (with some days as much as 5 miles). We've ridden in dolmuş (a public transportation method) and autos–some even driven by me.

As we work our way through our days and through our city, we find ourselves looking for places where we can see the Kingdom of a God already present in the culture as well as the landscape. So, many places we look and see evidence that imbedded within the DNA of everyone–even those who don't yet walk out life in the Kingdom–is parts of the Kingdom. All mankind is created in the image (mirrors of His character and nature) of God.

So, here are some of the images we've captured in the past couple of weeks. Let them spark you in prayer and celebration of the beauty of God's creation. Join us in prayer as we seek to live out our lives incarnationally.

This is the Mosque at the top of the hill about two blocks from our Villa. Five times each day, we hear the Call to Prayer from this minaret. While it is intended to call our Muslim neighbors to prayer, it reminds us to pray for them.

When we packed for this trip, we forgot to pack Hot Wheels cars for Caleb. Fortunately, his friend here loaned him a few.

Sometimes, you just need a touch of home. I'm grateful for the ability to stream a little Arkansas Razorback football to Turkey.

The majority of the food that we eat comes from the local Pazar (weekly street market). While walking through the Pazar it is not unusual to see the merchants cutting fresh fruit and offering it to you as you walk by. The other day as we walked through I was struck with the thought that the Kingdom of God is like the merchant in the Pazar who sells you 1.1 kilograms of fruit for the price of 1 kilogram.

The sunsets here on the Aegean Coast never cease to amaze me. The Psalmist writes (and Eugene Peterson interprets), “That's how God's Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith.” (Psalm 19:6, The Message)

One day last week, I went out for coffee with a friend here in Kuşadası. What a blessing it was to sit for a couple of hours with him and hear the dreams that God has placed within him. Our view from the table on the deck at Starbucks was a phenomenal view of the island in the harbor.

Finally, yesterday evening we were at our friends house here watching their kids as they went out of town to celebrate their 19th wedding anniversary. As I walked out of their Sitesi (housing complex) to run to the store, I snapped this photo of their common area. What a beautiful reminder that God in His creativity loves us so much that He provided such detail and color for us to be inspired–and reminded of His faithfulness–by.

 

 

Lent 2013: “God, Do It Again!”

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 Psalms.

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion's exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn't believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—”God was wonderful to them!” God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest. So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

— Psalm 126:1-6 (MSG)

God was good to us.

God is good to us.

God will be good to us.

As I write this, it is late evening. The last call to prayer of the day should ring out from the nearby Mosque by the time I'm finishing writing and editing this post. I sit in our team hotel surrounded by my family. Our fantastic teammates are in their rooms scattered throughout the hotel.

We are so honored to be here with these folks. They hail from three countries: the US, Canada, and Australia. They are diverse. They range in ages from fourteen months to seventy. Married couples, families, and singles.

As we worship each morning, I often will look around the room and just be amazed at what God has brought together in this team.

And, in those times of worship and prayer, we pray as the Psalmist did:

“God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest. So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.”

We walk through the streets of this city and see the faces of countless people. People who have quite possibly never heard the name, İsa (Jesus). People who only know God as He is presented in the Qur'an–distant and moody.

Yet, this is the same port from which Paul and Barnabas set sail for Antioch in Acts 14:25. Once upon a time, this was a land that understood who İsa was. It was a land where God was relational.

And, so, we pray: “God, do it again.”

And around this hotel people who answered the call to head into the harvest prepare for bed on a Tuesday evening.

Yet, we are but a few here temporarily. Many others across this nation go to bed tonight in homes they rent or own. In major cities and small villages. They sleep.

Wondering.

Praying.

Hoping.

That tomorrow the people of this rich and beautiful land “will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.”

They pray for breakthrough to come.

So, tonight (today for you reading this) we pray for their strength. We pray for their encouragement. We pray that they will not grow weary in well doing.

And, we pray–as İsa asked us–that “The Lord of the harvest would send forth laborers into His harvest.”

Praying for one of the laborers in the harvest.

Praying for one of the laborers in the harvest.

 

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.

Standing with a Cosmic God

Today, we're diverting from our Lenten lectionary series. I wanted to share with you some thoughts on a reading we were required to meditate on as a team here in Central Asia. Our reading is from Paul's epistle to the church at Ephesus.

This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God's way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

— Ephesians 3:7-10 (MSG)

Paul finds himself in an interesting place. He's in prison. He doesn't know what's coming down the road. Yet, here he is writing to a church that is being shepherded by John–the Disciple whom Jesus loved. Like John does in his gospel, Paul begins his letter in a cosmic way. He presents the church with a cosmic God–a giant, big, consuming God.

“My task,” says Paul, “is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along.”

No small feat. Especially for this one who only the paragraph before called himself the “least qualified of all available Christians.” Yet, Paul has come to an understanding of something very important. He has reached an understanding of the beauty of Sonship. God, the great Father, called this lost unlikely ragamuffin Saul. Changed his name to Paul. Taught him to be a son. Then, released him to be a father to churches all over Asia Minor. It is out of this place of Sonship that Paul moves into the ability to present such a cosmic view of God–His Father.

And here, in this passage, Paul makes an epic claim. A claim so big that we often read right past it. He says this:

Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

What?!? God's great epic of redemption is being made known through us messed up–but redeemed–ragamuffins to even the angels? These same angels who sit around the throne of God and worship 24/7?

In between their angelic glimpses of the glory of God, they're chattering away about this epic plan that God worked out from the dawn of time. Not because they've watched it transpire over the course of the millennia, but rather because these–unlikely–followers of the Messiah are making the glory of God known in the nations.

As Paul continues through this epistle, he moves from this cosmic view of God into lessons on how we should live in light of this cosmic knowledge. How do we treat one another, live with our spouses, raise our children, and walk out life as a Messiah follower. Finally, he warns us–and then prepares us–about the spiritual battle in which this cosmic epic is embroiled. “Stand,” he says, “and when you can't stand anymore keep standing.”

But, the message is clear, don't stand alone. Stand with the cosmic forces of God. Stand with the fellow ragamuffins who follow–clumsily–this strong God who invited us into the epic.

The kids in Ancient Ephesus

The kids in Ancient Ephesus

 

Merry Christmas

We pause a moment this morning to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Here's the telling of the Christmas story from our favorite children's book: The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you have kids, or if your don't, then this book is a must-have.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!!!

Emmanuel has come!

You can purchase The Jesus Storybook Bible through our affiliate link to ChristianBook.com below.

708257: The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name
By Sally Lloyd-Jones / Zonderkidz

Every story whispers his name.

A Bible like no other, The Jesus Storybook Bible invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God's great story of salvation–and at the center of their own story too!

The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of all is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. From Noah, to Moses, to the great King David–every story points to him. He is the missing piece to the puzzle–the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle.

The Jesus Storybook Bible makes an excellent gift at Christmas, when we all remember that he is the puzzle piece that makes all the other pieces in our lives fit.

Recommended for ages 4 to 8.

 

Lent 2012: 7.1 — Give Thanks! The Lord is Good!

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.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”

— Psalm 118:1-2 (NIV)

Give thanks!!  The Lord is good!  His mercy and faithful loving-kindness endure forever!  This is the overarching message of Psalm 118.  Something changes in our minds, wills, and emotions when we choose (because it is a choice!) to remember the goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and loving-kindness of our God and Savior.  I love John’s relationship with Jesus, which comes across so distinctly in his gospel and epistles — if you love Jesus, you will obey Him; if you love Jesus, you will love others.  Our love for Jesus is shown through our obedience to him and our love for others.  How much easier it is to trust Him enough to obey Him when we are remembering his goodness and faithful love!

Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.

— Psalm 118:19-21 (NIV)

In John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”  As we remain in Jesus — entering through the gate that is Himself — we receive righteousness, and upon that understanding and knowledge (not only head knowledge, but a knowledge deep in our spirits), our hearts are overflowing with thanksgiving.  He is the gate in which we enter relationship with Father God.  His sacrifice of laying down His life to receive the punishment for sin that we deserved is the only we we may enter into relationship with Father God.  Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.

— Psalm 118:22-24 (NIV)

Just as John had a unique knowledge of the interweaving of loving Jesus, obeying Him, and loving others, Peter seems to have a special kind of grasp on this cornerstone concept as he speaks of it in both Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7.  (I wonder if this analogy had such significance for Peter, because of what Jesus did in John 1:42 when instead of calling him Simon, Jesus calls him Cephas–which is translated Peter and means “rock or stone.”)  Peter explains this prophetic word from the other side of Jesus’ death and resurrection by saying that Jesus was rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him.  The very ones whose debt Jesus was paying for with His own life, were the ones who were rejecting Him.  Even Peter rejected Him, yet Jesus received him back with an everlasting love and forgiveness.  Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

LORD, save us!  LORD, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.  From the house of the LORD we bless you.  The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

–Psalm 118:25-27 (NIV)

Hosanna!!  It means “Save us now, we pray!”  We see this cry for salvation in this psalm together with more prophecy of God’s rescue plan through Jesus.  This prophecy is realized as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving branches and shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Is the kingdom of God established in our whole heart, or do we have a divided heart with shaded fragments?  Let’s repent for any area of our heart in which we’ve not allowed the King to reign.  Let’s invite Him to ride into those places as we cry, “Hosanna!  Bring salvation and wholeness.  Let your light shine on us and in us!  I offer myself to you wholly and unreservedly.”

You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

–Psalm 118:28-29 (NIV)

Not only is YHWH the one, true God.  He is my God!  We say it directly to Him, “You are my God!”  I love the way the psalmist goes back and forth from speaking of God to speaking to Him — He is good!  I will give you thanks!  You have become my salvation!  The LORD has done this!  LORD, save us!  The LORD is God.  You are my God!

When we have an attitude of praise and thanksgiving, it is natural for us to both tell others of His goodness and to be in communication with Him, telling Him directly and personally of our love for Him and our thanks to Him.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!

LORD, my God, Your love endures forever!

Lent 2012: 4.2 — God’s Glory On Tour

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, thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.  Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures every evening.

Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, but their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.

God makes a huge dome for the sun–a superdome!  The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, the day breaking sun an athlete racing to the tape.

That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith.

The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together.  The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road.  The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy.  The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes.  God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat-gold, with a lifetime guarantee.  The decisions of God are accurate down to the nth degree.

God’s Word is better than a diamond, better than a diamond set between emeralds.  You’ll like it better than strawberries in the spring, better than red, ripe strawberries.

There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure.  Otherwise how will we find our way?  Or know when we play the fool?  Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!  Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.  These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray.  Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

— Psalm 19 (The Message)

Siamese Twins and Pike's Peak

Siamese Twins and Pike's Peak, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Psalm 19 is one of my five favorite Psalms.  The poetic beauty of nature used to illustrate the beauty of the Word of God.  And, who can resist fresh-picked, red, ripe strawberries?

God’s glory is on tour!  God’s glory is evident in the creation.  The skies, the rocks, the trees, the mountains all proclaim it.  They shout it.  God’s glory is on tour!

Yet, their proclamation is silent.  Even though His glory is written all over creation, it isn’t in creation that God chooses to speak with us.

Think of it as “show-and-tell”.  Creation shows us the greatness of God, yet He uses His Word to tell us of His greatness.

God’s Word.  Logos–God’s Word made alive.  “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.  We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (John 1:14, The Message)

And, in this Word, we find revelation that pulls our lives together.  We find the right road–the ancient path.  We find life-maps showing us the way to true joy.  We find clear direction.  We find a Name–in which we move and live and have being (Acts 17:28)–with a pure gold reputation.  We find the decisions accurate to the uttermost.  We find red, ripe strawberries on hot summer days.  We find warning from danger.  We find hidden treasure.

Yet, more than that, in this Word, we find the very hope (confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God) of Glory–Christ in us! (Colossians 1:27).  God’s glory is not just on tour in the skies, yet God’s glory is on tour with every step we take!  In every place we enter we bring God’s glory.  We take God’s glory on tour.

“Let me tell you why you are here.  You are here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.  If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?  You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.  God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hid you under a bucket, do you?  I’m putting you on a light stand.  Now that I’ve you there on a hilltop, on a light stand–shine!  Keep open house; be generous with your lived.  By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

— Matthew 5:13-16 (The Message)