LENT15 – Beloved Dust and Perfect Love

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the day on which we begin our slow and reflective journey to the cross and the tomb beyond. We begin that journey with the reminder of death. Yet, we hold closely to the hope of resurrection, for Lent doesn't end at the cross. It ends at an empty tomb with the joys of Easter, because, after all, we are Resurrection People.

I've been thinking a lot for the past several weeks about pain and suffering and the ugliness of the world around us. It's really quite easy to do. Simply turn on the news for five minutes and you will hear of the latest atrocity. Yet, for me this is all a little closer to home than a story on the evening news.

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with several Pastors who are serving among refugee populations in Turkey and Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). Throughout our time together, I heard story after story after story that makes one sad to be in the same race with those committing the atrocities. And that is something that we are forced to face head-on in Lent–we do share a race with them.

So, last night, as we stood with hundreds of other people in a Colorado Springs high-school auditorium with our friend, Pastor Glenn and his congregation (New Life Downtown), we embraced our shared humanity. We stood and asked for mercy and grace and peace and forgiveness not just for our sins, yet also for the sins of humanity. We were reminded anew that from common dust we come, and to common dust we will return. All of us.

In that moment of having the ashes applied to my forehead, and hearing the words, “Remember you are dust. Beloved dust.” I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I felt (both spiritually and tangibly) what can only be called healing. Restoration of life. I was reminded–deep in my bones–that Perfect Love drives out Fear. I was reminded that no matter the level of fear, Perfect Love drives it out. And, the cross is the ultimate expression of Perfect Love.

So, while the conflicts rage on, we stand in a different understanding. We stand on different ground. And, we know that only Perfect Love will drive out fear. We stand in opposites.

We remember those words that Paul wrote to the Church in Rome reminding them of how Jesus-Followers are to treat their enemies:

Bless those who persecute you: bless and do not curse.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

…as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14,17,18-21 (NIV)

As the conflicts rage on, we–as Kingdom citizens first–are called to respond to these conflicts differently. It's an upside-down Kingdom in which we live. We have a King who calls us not to physical fights for freedom, but rather to Love and Bless and Serve. And, in our loving and blessing and serving, we bring the Kingdom into darkness.

We are not called to bring the military might of our physical nations to fight our battles. Rather, we are called to bring the might of the Gospel. We're called to bless and do not curse. We're called to rise above the physical fray and love our enemies–as we would love ourselves. And, we are called to do this NO MATTER HOW BAD OUR ENEMIES MAY BE.

“Peter,” Jesus said, “put your sword away!” (John 18:11 NIV) And, to us he says the same. Reminding us that we are called to fight our battles in a different way. We are called to fight as citizens of the Kingdom. And, in the Kingdom, we fight with love and blessing and honor and food and water and clothes and tents.

As I stood and received the ashen cross on my forehead last night, I was reminded of the state of the world. We are all dust. Beloved dust. Dust into which has been breathed the breath of God Himself. God's breath breathed into all of mankind. God's breath bringing life to all.

We are all beloved dust. Dust loved by the King of all Kings. Dust invited to be a part of a Kingdom that supersedes all earthly kingdoms. Dust invited to be a part of a Kingdom that doesn't look like–or act like–earthly kingdoms.

We fight battles with the Gospel. We don't fight battles with the sword. We bring the gospel. We bring Perfect Love. And in the bringing of Perfect Love, fear is cast aside. In the bringing of Perfect Love, hatred is cast aside. In the bringing of Perfect Love, the need for the sword is cast aside. In the bringing of Perfect Love, the King comes.

And the Kingdom comes.

And God's will is done.

On earth.

As it is in heaven.

From A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd

From A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd

 

#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

Lent 2013: BUT!

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.

Have pity, Lord! I am hurting and almost blind. My whole body aches. I have known only sorrow all my life long, and I suffer year after year. I am weak from sin, and my bones are limp.

My enemies insult me. Neighbors are even worse, and I disgust my friends. People meet me on the street, and they turn and run. I am completely forgotten like someone dead. I am merely a broken dish. I hear the crowds whisper, “Everyone is afraid!” They are plotting and scheming to murder me.

But I trust you, Lord, and I claim you as my God. My life is in your hands. Save me from enemies who hunt me down. Smile on me, your servant. Have pity and rescue me.

— Psalms 31:9-16 (CEVUS06)

One of my favorite words in the Psalms is the word “BUT”. Time and time again, we find the Psalmist in a rough spot, and after he goes through the litany of things that are not really going all that well he begins a phrase with “BUT”. Today's reading is another of those times.

Things are not in the best of shape.

His entire body aches.

People are plotting to murder him.

BUT.

As I write this, two different faces float through my mind. One whose entire body aches. The other has people that would plot to kill them if those people knew who they were.

And, yet, in both cases, I can hear them utter, along with the Psalmist, “BUT!”

These are two very real people with very real issues.

One lies in a hospital bed. Her body is slipping into a coma. Liver is not functioning. Doctors are saying there no reason for the tumors that have been benign for years to suddenly turn aggressive. And in the midst, she whispers, “BUT.”

And, her husband screams it.

The other works to understand the world of human trafficking. God has put them in positions to talk to those actually involved in the trafficking process. When they ask about their plans, this person simply tells them what the Bible says. And, while the world goes on around them, this friend whispers, “BUT.”

And, with them both we ask that you to whisper out a “BUT” for them.

See, the Psalmist understood something that we often miss. He understood that when things looked the most impossible he could still trust in The Lord. He could still lean on the breast of his Lord and say, “But, I trust.”

So, here we are, on a crisp night at the beginning of Holy Week in Central Asia. We think of these two friends–and many others. We reflect on what we know of the Character and Nature of our Father God. And, because of this knowledge, we raise our palms to heaven, look upward, and cry out, “BUT.”

And, we ask that as you read this you too take a moment to whisper a prayer for our friends. Both locked in a spiritual battle that goes way beyond any of our abilities to overcome. Yet, both trusting. Lift your voice with ours and theirs and together let us cry out “BUT!”

The church in Ephesus

The church in Ephesus

UPDATE:

Between the time of writing this last night and waking up this morning, we were notified that our friend, Cathy, had passed on. She had been battling cancer, and now she rests in the arms of our Saviour.

Cathy, and her husband, had spent the last few years rebuilding the church that Paul started and John the Beloved led in Ephesus. We had the honor of meeting them, and serving alongside them, last summer. Our lives were made richer by that time.

Cathy was also a new grandmother. Her first grandchild had been born only a few weeks ago.

So, this morning, between our cries of “WHY?”, we cry out “BUT”. We cry it out for Mike. We cry it out for their family. We cry it out for their church.

And, as we continue our march to the cross, we ask that the Messiah in His grace and mercy would be Shalom in this time. May He comfort their sorrow, and wipe their tears.

Communion at the Church in Ephesus

Communion at the Church in Ephesus

 

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

 

Emily’s Prayer

Sunday afternoon, we had a scare with Emily’s eyes.  They had symptoms that resembled the dreaded Pink Eye.  We all went into what has become a standard procedure for moments of pressure.  We prayed.

And prayed.

And prayed.

And asked others to pray.

Throughout Sunday night, Emily struggled to sleep.  She kept waking up with her eyes stuck shut and saying that she just wanted to be able to open her eyes.

We kept praying.

We also had a Get The Word Out “Healing” Word CD playing all night in her room.

And, once again, the morning brought us news of His unfailing love!

Emily woke up with her eyes looking better.  They were still puffy, but the draining was gone.  The redness in the eyeballs was gone.

By late morning, even the puffiness was gone.

Emily's Prayer

Emily's Prayer

As we were having our quiet time yesterday morning, Emily was praying for God to complete the healing process on her.  She wrote a letter to God as her prayer.

Then, during worship time yesterday morning, the kids were asked to go to the front and pray over adults that came to them for prayer.  It was quite special seeing our daughter laying hands on people seven and eight times her age and praying over them.  What a moment!

All made possible, by God’s unfailing love to once again bring healing.

We were asked yesterday what our gut reaction was when troubles come our way.  As Steph and I thought about it and talked about it and remembered the last several storms that we had been through, we said that our reaction was to pray and trust.  We have learned to not hang on to that which we can’t control.  We have learned to immediately turn it over to God and then leave it on the altar.

As I laid in bed and thought about all of this, and prayed through the other “storms” that are hovering around, I went back to the prayer of Jehoshaphat.

O YHWH, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven?  You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you.  O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?  They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgement, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’

But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them.  See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance.  O our God, will you not judge them?  For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.

— 2 Chronicles 20:6-12 (NIV, emphasis mine)