Advent14 — Bounty and Blessing

A reading from the Psalms.

I can’t wait to hear what he’ll say. God’s about to pronounce his people well, The holy people he loves so much, so they’ll never again live like fools. See how close his salvation is to those who fear him? Our country is home base for Glory!

Love and Truth meet in the street, Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss! Truth sprouts green from the ground, Right Living pours down from the skies! Oh yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty; our land responds with Bounty and Blessing. Right Living strides out before him, and clears a path for his passage.

Psalm 85:8-13 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

How we live matters. Living a life that is built on the principles of the Kingdom will be a life that proclaims the Kingdom. It will be a life that shines light into darkness. It will be a life that spreads life and the desire to live similarly to others.

In the New Testament, we call that discipleship. Teaching–by example–how to live Kingdom life. Teaching–by example–even those who are not yet citizens of the Kingdom.

When we live based on the principles of the Kingdom, we change the world around us. People will see and choose to live differently. They will ask questions. They will wonder what makes you different.

Living based on Kingdom principles will even impact the environment–the physical world around us. We will be concerned with the beauty of a place. Not to make it into a show, but to make open the throat of the the environment to proclaim the goodness of God. Because God's goodness is not intended to only impact you and me. It is intended to impact every element of creation.

Advent isn't a time of waiting for just us Followers of the Messiah. It is for a time where all the world waits in breathless anticipation of something better than. Something other than. For a lot of the world, advent–this season of waiting–isn't just a month long. For parts of the world, it is a season that has gone on for millennia. Waiting for the other than. Waiting for the better than.

Let's be honest. The world isn't in the greatest of shape. Wars. Rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Famines. Over utilized farm and ranch land. Sickness. Disease. Floods. It's a mess.

And it's into this mess that God desires to proclaim goodness and beauty, and the land responds with bounty and blessing.

Remember the other day when I said that eschatology matters. Here's why. If our eschatology is one that says, “it's all gonna burn up anyway,” then our lifestyle will walk out with that belief as our foundation. We will work to keep people from burning up, but we won't work to keep the planet from burning up. We're only walking out half of the story. We will live as if Heaven will be only a place for those who die, and not a place to be walked out today.

God's intention is that people should life full lives. Lives where all they need is provided. Where life is full of joy and peace and goodness. Yet, He also intends for the land to be full of bounty and blessing.

I met a rancher in Nebraska a few months ago that understands this. He understands the importance of caring for the land. The importance of proclaiming the beauty and goodness of God. And, the land has responded with bounty and blessing. He has a ranch that has won awards for it's ability to produce strong and healthy cattle, but not at the expense of creation. He conserves the land. Plants trees. Manages the water consumption. And, in the lean years, his ranch continues to produce. After spending time with this friend, the phrase, “the Kingdom of God is like” rang through my ears. And, the land has responded. Beauty and goodness. Bounty and blessing.

As citizens of this new Kingdom that was ushered in from a manger in Bethlehem so long ago, we should live out a life that proclaims God's goodness and beauty. And in so doing, the people will be blessed, the culture will change, and the land will respond with bounty and blessing.

Yet, first, we must embrace the Kingdom Life. The “with God now” life as Dallas Willard calls it. We live life with God now. Waiting, yes, for the Kingdom to be completed in it's fullness. Yet, knowing that when the Christ child came, He brought with Him the Kingdom. Because, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

Here.

Now.

But also, not yet.

And, in between, we wait. In between, we live out our lives as Kingdom citizens first. Kingdom citizens above any other citizenship.

And we proclaim the goodness and beauty of our God. And, even the land responds with bounty and blessing.

 

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!

 

#Lent14 — Remember

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.

Come, let’s sing out loud to the LORD!  Let’s raise a joyful shout to the rock of our salvation!  Let’s come before him with thanks!  Let’s shout songs of joy to him!  The LORD is a great God, the great King over all other gods.  The earth’s depths are in his hands; the mountain heights belong to him; the sea, which he made, is his along with the dry ground, which his own hands formed.

Come, let’s worship and bow down!  Let’s kneel before the LORD, our maker!  He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep in his hands.

If only you would listen to his voice right now!  “Don’t harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, like you did when you were at Massah, in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me and scrutinized me, even though they had already seen my acts.  For forty years I despised that generation; I said, ‘These people have twisted hearts.  They don’t know my ways.’  So in anger I swore: ‘They will never enter my place of rest!’”

Psalm 95 (CEB)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Today’s text reflects on the story from yesterday’s text, Exodus 17:1-7.  The Israelites are in need of water.  Yet, instead of asking God for water, they complain.  Instead of seeking water from the One who created water they grumble about there not being any water.  They fail to remember the goodness of their God!

Remember.

In the last quarter of 2013, as we began to pray about 2014, I asked God to give me a single word to serve as a theme for 2014.  A word that I could meditate on over the course of the year.  A word that would serve to be a life-raft for the troubled waters.  A word that would serve as a constant reminder of God’s love, grace, and promises.

Remember.

As 2014 dawned, God answered my prayers, and gave me the word, “Remember.”  As I’ve read through the Scriptures this year, I’ve looked for places where God tells His people to remember.

Remember who they are.

Remember whose they are.

Remember who holds it all together.

Remember who will never let them go.

Remember.

Psalm 95 is one of those passages.  The first two-thirds of the Psalm are a reminder of the Creator.  The idea of a Creator God is critical to our lives because if God can’t/don’t create, then He can’t re-create either.  If God isn’t a Creator, then water never appears in the desert.  If God isn’t a Creator than shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken—can never come.

See, Shalom requires that which is broken to be fixed.  It requires that which is missing to be found.  It requires that which is fallen to be raised up.  It requires a Creator.

The final third of this Psalm is an admonishment to the Israelites.  It serves to remind the Israelites that there was a time that they forgot their Creator God.  That they choose to grumble and complain instead of remember.

Remembering is key to faith.  Our faith is built as we remember the greatness of our God.  Faith is strengthened by our remembering the things that He has done to rescue and protect us.  Faith is solidified by remembering the ways that He has provided for us.

Remember is one of the core messages of the Old Testament.  Remember who you are.  Remember Whose you are.  Remember what God has done.  Remember how you were in bondage and He rescued you.  Remember how you were on top of the world and how He sustained you.

Never forget.

Remember.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses gives the Israelites the SHEMA—“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (verses 4-5).  Yet, Moses doesn’t stop there.  He continues on with a command to remember:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” — Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (ESV)

You, parent, shall teach them diligently to your children.  Pass on the legacy of remembering.  What has God done for you?  Tell your children.  Repeat it.  Recite it enough that they can recite it back.  Your story should become their story.  It’s what God did for you and your descendants.

Remember!

Never forget!

Pass it down!

Write it down!

First Century BC Carvings at Yarnatas, Turkey

First Century BC Carvings at Yarnatas, Turkey

#Lent14 — Agreeing And Acting On The Promise

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.

God promised Abraham and his descendants that he would give them the world.  This promise wasn’t made because Abraham had obeyed a law, but because his faith in God made him acceptable.

If Abraham and his descendants were given this promise because they had obeyed a law, then faith would mean nothing, and the promise would be worthless.  God becomes angry when his Law is broken.  But where there isn’t a law, it cannot be broken.  Everything depends on having faith in God, so that God’s promise is assured by his gift of undeserved grace.  This promise isn’t only for Abraham’s descendants who have the Law.  It is for all who are Abraham’s descendants because they have faith, just as he did.  Abraham is the ancestor of us all.

The Scriptures say that Abraham would become the ancestor of many nations.  This promise was made to Abraham because he had faith in God, who raises the dead to life and creates new things.

God promised Abraham a lot of descendants.  And when it all seemed hopeless, Abraham still had faith in God and became the ancestor of many nations.  Abraham’s faith never became weak, not even when he was nearly 100 years old.  He knew he was almost dead and that his wife Sarah could not have children.

But Abraham never doubted or questioned God’s promise.  His faith made him strong, and he gave all the credit to God.  Abraham was certain that God could do what he had promised.  So God accepted him, just as we read in the Scriptures.  But these words were not written only for Abraham.  They were written for us, since we will also be accepted because of our faith in God, who raised our Lord Jesus to life.  God gave Jesus to die for our sins, and he raised him to life, so that we would be made acceptable to God.

Romans 4:13-25 (CEV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Today’s post originally ran on March 7, 2012.

Today’s text takes us back to the story of Abraham.  God has given Abraham a promise.  He’s promised Abraham a son–more than that even.  Sons that number as many as the grains of sand or stars in the sky.  And, Abraham trusts the promise.

Despite the odds.

He’s old.  His wife is old.  They’re childless.  The promise seems all but impossible.  So many things stacked against the promise.

Yet, when God makes a promise, and their are impossible situations, there we find grace.  “God’s promise is assured by his gift of undeserved grace” (verse 16).

In his epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:20), Paul reminds us that “all the promises of God find their yes in him.  That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”  We utter our Amen–our wholehearted agreement and willingness to act on it–to His promises.

God’s promises are conditional.  He promises, we add our Amen–our agreement and action.  His promise to Abraham was conditional upon Abraham’s obedience to leave Ur and possess the land of Canaan.  God’s promise to Israel is conditional on their obedience to worship Him and Him alone (something they have never in their history been able to do, because they have tried within their own power and not with His power).

God has made a promise to each of us.  It is a promise for rescue.  It is a promise for a life is that more than sufficient (John 10:10).  Yet, it is up to us to walk in that promise.  To allow Him to be Father.  To allow Him to have the last word in our lives.

What has God promised you?

Have you said “Yes” and “Amen”?  Have you agreed and acted upon that promise?

#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

#Lent14 — What Was Once Is Not Any Longer

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.

You know the story of how Adam landed us in this dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death.  That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses.  So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses.  Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God.  But Adam, who got us into this, also point ahead to the One who will get us out of it.

Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin.  If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do!  There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift.  The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence.  If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us all into this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it.  But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life!  One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.

Romans 5:12-19 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

One man.  

One command.

One disobedience.

That’s all it took for all mankind to be tossed head-long into the “dead-end abyss of separation from God.”

BUT!

Sometimes, that’s the best word in the English language.  A simple word that takes everything that was said before and flips it onto it’s head.  A word that makes the crooked places straight and the missing things whole.  A word that says, what once was isn’t any longer.

BUT!

One Man.

One Death.

One Resurrection.

That’s all it took for mankind to be pulled out of the separation and placed into a “life-gift.”  Yet, not just life, but “wildly extravagant” life.  Life that is recreated through the “grand setting-everything-right.”

What was once is not any longer.

Broken?  Fixed.

Missing?  Found.

Crooked?  Straightened.

Those who were alone are now with family.

Those who were oppressed are now free.

Those who were sick are now healthy.

Those who were dead are now alive.

I love the story of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:2-14.  He sends his men to Jesus with the command to find out if Jesus is the Messiah.

“Are you the One?”  they asked Jesus.

Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: The blind, see, the lame, walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.” (Matthew 11:4-6 (MSG))

What was once is not any longer.

Life is different.

The King has come!

And, when the King comes, so does His Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God.  Where what’s broken is fixed and what’s missing is found—Shalom.  Where things are put back into the original order in which God intended them to be.  Where life is given abundant and full.

The Kingdom has come, because the King has come!

What was once is not any longer.

Life has come and is coming.  There is a part of the Kingdom is that is still in a not yet.  People—even Kingdom people—still have broken things in their lives.  They still hurt.  Sickness still exists.  How do we reconcile the fullness of the Kingdom with the emptiness that we often find?  It’s such a frustrating thing to see Kingdom People suffer.

Even now, I think of people all over the world—people in the Kingdom—who are going through the battles of life.  Who still live in places of brokenness or illness.  Even this week, I have found myself in a place of screaming out for those people.  Wanting to change their circumstances, but can’t.

Yet, I still know.  Kingdom has come for them.  Yet, the fullness of the Kingdom remains to be.  And, that is where we all live.  Somewhere in between the two.  Somewhere between knowing that Shalom is God’s desire for us, and living fully in Shalom.  And, yet, even in that place of the in-between, we see enough of the Kingdom coming into lives and situations to know—and proclaim—that Kingdom has come.  And, with each step taken in the journey of life, Kingdom comes and grows.  Ever expanding.  Ever encompassing more and more of our life and situations.

What was once is not any longer.

Signal Hill Trail, Mount Magazine State Park, Arkansas

Signal Hill Trail, Mount Magazine State Park, Arkansas

#Lent14 — Co-Creating

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 Book of Genesis.

The Lord God put the man in the Garden of Eden. He put him there to work its ground and to take care of it.

The Lord God gave the man a command. He said, “You can eat the fruit of any tree that is in the garden. But you must not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you do, you can be sure that you will die.”

The serpent was more clever than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. The serpent said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat the fruit of any tree that is in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We can eat the fruit of the trees that are in the garden. But God did say, ‘You must not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden. Do not even touch it. If you do, you will die.'”

“You can be sure that you won’t die,” the serpent said to the woman. “God knows that when you eat the fruit of that tree, you will know things you have never known before. You will be able to tell the difference between good and evil. You will be like God.”

The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good to eat. It was also pleasing to look at. And it would make a person wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. And he ate it.

Then both of them knew things they had never known before. They realized they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made clothes for themselves.

— Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 (NIRV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

We know this story so well.  God says one thing, Satan questions what He said.  And we are left to choose sides.  Do we go with what we know God said, or with what the enemy wants us to think He said?

Somewhere between the promise of God and the fulfillment of that promise lies the enemy. For Adam and Eve, the promise was a life lived in constant community with the Creator.  And, even more than that, a life lived co-creating with the Creator.

God’s original intent for His creation was to have someone with whom He could co-create.  The first thing He commanded man to do was name the creation–help Him in creation.  Co-create with Him.

And, that command still stands.  We are invited to co-create with Him.  To stand alongside the Creator and dream the dreams worthy of creating.

But, the enemy wants to do anything it can to stop us from living out our call.  To cut us off from relationship with the Creator.  The enemy longs to stop us from creating with God.  He longs to steal from us the promise that God has given us.

One of the principles of community development is to remember that God is already in the place to which we have come to work.  He was there long before we arrived.  He will be there long after we leave.  Yet, for a time, He chooses to ask us to partner with Him to bring His Kingdom to that place.  He asks us to stand alongside Him and be his hands and feet.

In this process, we are standing somewhere between a promise and fulfillment of the promise.  And the enemy looks for ways to throw us off our game.  To move our focus from the relationship that comes from working WITH God and onto some ill-framed requirement to work FOR God.  While, I expect the enemy to be most delighted when we just stop working altogether, I think it’s happy when it can convince us that working FOR God is more important than being in relationship WITH God.

When we begin working FOR God instead of WITH God, we lose the key element in this whole thing.  We lose the relationship that comes from being with Him.  Our work begins to feel like work and not at all like relationship.  This isn’t to say that working with God is easy.  It isn’t.  But, it is the most rewarding thing you can do!  Imagine, co-creating!  Dreaming big–no, God-sized–dreams, and then seeing them come to fruition.

That’s the life to which each of us are called.  To stand alongside the Creator.  In relationship—which is the definition of righteousness (to be in right legal and relational standing with God)–with Him.  We were created to co-create.

When Jesus came and died and rose again, He did so for the purpose of setting us back on the road to Eden.  He did to place us back in relationship with the Creator.  So that we could once again stand in the place of co-creating.  That we could dream big and work WITH God to bring those dreams into fruition.

He came so that we could help to bring the Kingdom to earth now.  Salvation isn’t just about going to heaven SOMEDAY.  It’s about living in heaven TODAY.  It’s about having a life that is full beyond overflowing (John 10:10).  It’s about living our every day lives in a way that we see the Kingdom come in every situation.

Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden.  But, that is just the beginning of the story.

Caleb and his Legos

Caleb and his Legos

 

#Advent13: Celebrating in Suffering

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans.

And that’s not all.  We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters.  When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness.  And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

When the time was right, the Anointed One died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak.  Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good.  But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us.  As a result the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future.  If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life?  In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God.  That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.

— Romans 15:4-13 (The Voice)

The Word of God for the people of God.

Do you celebrate in times of suffering?

That’s a tough thing.  When things are going hard.  When the circumstances look dismal.  When there appears to be no good way out.

Do you celebrate?

Paul, who wrote this epistle, knew a thing or two about suffering.  He knew how hard this whole Jesus-Follower life could be.  He’d been beaten a couple of times by this point in his career.  He’s been in prison.  He’s found struggles at many turns.

And, here, he tells us to celebrate in seasons of sufferings.

Rejoice when it’s hard!

A couple of things that we have to establish before we can even talk about celebrating in suffering.

First, when we decide to give our lives—the WHOLE thing—to Jesus, life doesn’t immediately get all happy-go-lucky.  Trouble will come.  The Kingdom is not realized in its fullness at the immediate point of our decision to follow.  Life will be hard.  People will still die.  We will still get sick.  We still have to pay bills.  We still have to walk through dark times.

Second, when we decide to give our lives—the WHOLE thing—to Jesus, we don’t have to wait until we die for the Kingdom to be realized in fullness.  Salvation is more than just a promise to not go to hell.  Heaven is more than just something for which we wait.  It is something that begins at the point of decision.

The Kingdom of Heaven is both now and not yet.  It is both a present reality and a promise to be fulfilled.  And, life is lived in the in-between.

Because, we live somewhere between the now and the not yet, we are assured that sufferings will come.  Yet, we are also assured that we can hope—even celebrate—during those sufferings.

The Anointed One—Messiah—came.  He died for us.  He gave His life that we might live.  He brought us the Kingdom.  He ushered it in—the now—and promised that the day will come when it will be fully realized—the not yet.  The day when lion and lamb lay down in the field together.  The day when earth is reborn into the reality that God has intended for it from the moment of creation.

And, somewhere, in-between the two, we celebrate in sufferings.  We rejoice when times are good.  When things are going in a way that doesn’t hurt.  And, we rejoice in the times when they aren’t.

We rejoice not because we have some warped view of pain, but rather, because we know that the pain is temporary.

It’s in this hope—confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God—for the fullness of the Kingdom that we can celebrate in our sufferings.  Because, our sufferings build within us character.  They form us into the person who God wants us to be—someone fully dependent on Him.

So, rejoice in your sufferings.  They build character.  They make you dependent on Him and His Kingdom.

What’s all this have to do with Advent.

Advent is a time where we remember with the Israelites the promise.  The promise that says, “A King is coming!”  It is the promise of Shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken—breaking into the midst of our mess.  It is the promise of “orderly order” emerging from “chaos” (John 1).  It is the promise that “what God wants done will indeed be done” (Dallas Willard).

And, so as we walk between the promise and the manger, we walk with our heads up.  We walk with celebration in our step.

Even though, times might be hard.

Even though, we might have lost  a loved one.

Even though, we might have been diagnosed with tragedy.

Even though, we might be faced with uncertainty in our income.

Even though, we might be at the end of our paycheck with bills left to pay.

We rejoice.  Because, we know that the Kingdom is here, and is still to be fulfilled.  We rejoice because we know that even in our heartaches and disappointments God is working out our characters.  We are growing more dependent on Him and His Kingdom.

So, celebrate in your sufferings!  The King is coming!  And, when the King comes, the Kingdom comes with Him!

Sunset in La Vista, Guatemala.

Sunset in La Vista, Guatemala

 

Lent 2013: Some Other Beginning’s End

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.

An Old Testament reading from the book of Joshua.

While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

— Joshua 5:10-12 (ESV)

And, now, the end has come. At least that's how it likely felt for the Israelites. They have been traveling–a journey that should have taken weeks at worst–for years. An entire generation has died. They've changed leadership. And, now, the end has come.

Well, sort of.

There was a pop song (Closing Time by Semisonic) that had the line, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”

And, that's where we find the Israelites.

They have entered the land. Canaan. The land to which God had promised to bring them. They've made it. The Jordan has been crossed.

But, this isn't really much more than some other beginning's end.

Years earlier (Exodus 15), they were wandering in the wilderness–that's far too nice of a word, they were in the desert. And, as we often do, they were concerned with their bellies.

“We're hungry,” they whined.

“You brought us out here to starve to death,” they accused.

Now, at this point in the journey they had been on the road all of a few weeks. While they didn't know it, they would have forty plus more years of this trip. But, nevertheless, they complained.

So, God agreed to rain bread down on them every night. They didn't know what it was, so they called it “What is it”. And, that was what they ate for the next forty years. Everywhere they went, every morning–except the Sabbath, because God wanted His people (and us) to worship Him by resting–it rained “What Is It”.

Later, they complained about the bread, and God sent them quail. So, here they are, roaming in the desert eating–literally–from God's hand. Bread and meat.

And, now, they've crossed the Jordan. They've entered that fertile land of milk and honey. And, God stopped sending “What is it”.

They ate of the fruits of the land. A new beginning at some other beginning's end.

There are so many times in our lives where we have eaten at the hand of God. Where He has miraculously fed us from His table. Yet, there comes seasons when God allows us to eat of the fulfillment of the promise.

We, too, at the fulfillment of the promises of God to us, eat of the fruit of the land. A new beginning at some other beginning's end.

There many years later, in that Promised Land into which Joshua has led the people, Jesus stands at a table. Arms opened and palms up–the posture of prayer in this part of the world–and says, “Do this in rememberance of me.”

A new beginning at some other beginning's end.

And, now, we find ourselves like the Israelites being fed from the hand of the Messiah. Proclaiming His death anew, as Paul put it, each time we remember our Messiah over the table.

Longing with each bite of bread and each sip of wine for the Messiah to come again and rescue us from life.

Life that's hard.

Life that isn't fair.

Life that often leaves is screaming: “What is it?”

And, this is where I sit tonight. Thinking–and praying–for friends and family in the thick of it. Not quite at the end of an old beginning. Still eating the manna in the desert. Screaming to God: “What is it?!”

A set of new grandparents fighting a battle with cancer.

A girl struggling to understand how to forgive that which seems unforgivable.

A young mother in pain from a back injury.

A worker mourning the death of a colleague in another distant land.

A couple trying to hear what their next steps should be after being asked to leave a nation to which they have given their lives.

A family with a newborn baby born with many complications that is spending more time in doctor's offices and hospitals than anyone should have to spend in a lifetime.

A family mourning the loss of a child who died way too young.

A group of women who gather as a home fellowship and pray for their husbands to come to be followers of Jesus.

A man who is feeling the tug of Jesus to leave the nets, the boats, and the fish to follow Him to a distant shore.

And, I pray that in the midst of their deserts they clearly feel in their hand the hand of the Father who walks beside them.

I pray that their eyes are opened to seeing the work He is doing.

I pray that their ears hear His gentle voice saying, “just hang on.”

I pray that the Kingdom will come.

I pray that they will cross their Jordan River, will take a deep breath and will eat of the fruit of the land.

And, there in that moment of joy, that they will find some other beginning's end.

The bread and the wine at a Passover Seder

The bread and the wine at a Passover Seder

 

Lent 2013: Stop being Self-Confident

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 First Epistle to the Corinthians.

Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God's fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ. But just experiencing God's wonder and grace didn't seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

The same thing could happen to us. We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did. And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did—”First the people partied, then they threw a dance.” We must not be sexually promiscuous—they paid for that, remember, with 23,000 deaths in one day! We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes. We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them.

These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don't repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.

— 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (MSG)

Paul strikes us with a great truth that we often read past. We like the whole “God won't give me more than I can bear” stuff, but we miss a much more important–foundational truth. A truth that runs contrary to a worldview with which most of us were raised.

“Forget about self-confidence,” Paul says, “It's useless. Cultivate God confidence.”

We are raised–at least in America–with the thought that “we can do it.” Countless volumes have been written to help us get enough self-confidence to make it happen. To win. To succeed. To just do it.

Self-confidence, Paul tells us, is useless. It doesn't work. It doesn't help us succeed.

Prior to this painful declaration, Paul explains a deep truth to the church at Corinth. He walks the church quickly through the Israelite story. In doing this, he makes the case that no amount of self-confidence in the world was going to get these people from Egypt to Canaan. They needed something else. They needed God-Confidence.

He goes even further to say to the church at Corinth–and to us–that we're in the same boat. Trials and tempatations are going to come, and if you are reliant on your own self-confidence, they will be more than you can handle. But, if you have cultivated God-Confidence, then you can handle them.

We have done at least a few generations (my generation and later) of young people a great disservice. We've planted within them an idea that they can make it on their own. All you need is hard work, ingenuity, and self-confidence. But, Paul, smacks that idea in the face.

One day I was in a Barnes and Nobles and stumbled upon a book called “The Complete Idiots Guide to Ventriloquism”. Quickly, I snapped a photo and posted it on FaceBook with the caption, “I guess Ventriloquism for Dummies” was already taken. But, now, it makes me wonder if we haven't taken this “building of self-confidence” to a whole new–and unhealthy–level.

Paul, would argue we have. We don't need self-confidence. Self-confidence won't help us. We need a complete and utter dependency on God. We need to admit that we can do nothing of our own accord. If we are going to succeed–in the Kingdom (the only place success matters)–then we must realize that our success is dependent totally on God.

We MUST develop a confidence in His abilities. We must understand that outside of Him our own self-confidence (the opposite of God-Confidence, and therefore, a part of the kingdom of darkness) is never going to lead us to success.

Relying on our own self-confidence will cause us to truly have more than we can handle. But, relying on God, we can handle anything. Why? Becuase, it's Him and not me.

God-Confidence is that one thing that will cause to remember that “God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.”