#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: Tonight, We Hope

We sit here in Central Asia in the final hours of Lent. We've journeyed now through the season. We've seen Jesus heal the sick, raise the dead, and ride into Jerusalem.

Then came today.

We caught up with Him in Gethsamene last night. Anguished. Broken.

And, then. One of our own. One not all that different than me. Betrays Him. Calls Him Rabbi, and then kisses Him.

We listened through the side hallway as the Sanheddrin, then Pilate put Him on trial. Such a sham of justice. No witnesses. No corroborating evidence.

We were in the crowd. People all around us yelling, “Crucify Him.”

We fell to our knees in stunned silence as we heard the verdict. “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty. … “Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find him not guilty.” (John 19:4, 6 (NLT))

We followed along behind as they forced Him to carry His own cross. Afraid He would die before reaching Skull Hill, they forced a stranger named Simon to help Him.

And there on that Hill, we watched as He was nailed to that cross.

We heard His words.

We watched Him die.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea came and buried Him. They were disciples, but had stayed that way in secret. Now, they aren't hiding it.

And now, we sit in silence. Wondering what's next. Trying to have hope. We watched Him raise Lazarus. We heard Him talk about resurrection.

Maybe?

Hope?

Hope that this death–like Lazarus'–isn't an end. Hope that this death is but a beginning. Hope of His–and our–resurrection.

Hope. Joyful and confident expectancy in God's goodness.

The same Hope that brought us to the manager. In awe that the fulfillment of the greatest promise in history had finally come. Is this Him? After all these years? Has Emmanuel finally come?

The same hope that brought us into Jerusalem following Him riding a donkey less than a week ago. Is this Him? Our glorious King? Is this the day that His kingdom will be established?

The same hope that brought us to the tomb of His friend, Lazarus. The same hope that watched as Lazarus hobbled out of that tomb.

And, now, at the mouth of another tomb, we wait in silent hope.

And, we light the candle.

We pray.

We hope.

We wait.

Huddled in a quiet and dark place. Hoping that the knock at the door is a friend and not a foe. Could we be the next to die? Will they round the rest of us up now? These same questions are being asked right now in a very real sense by people all over the world.

And, silently. We wait. We pray.

We hope in silence that the morning will release us from the tension of living between the now and the not yet.

Suspended between the death of the promise–that promise that only a few months ago we celebrated by the lighting of this candle–and the hope of a new promise. A new kingdom. A new life.

And in that suspended place, we sit in silence. In darkness. In hope.

We hope in our silence that the morning will bring us news of God's unfailing love.

But, for tonight we mourn.

We remember.

We reflect.

We hope.

 

Lent 2013: David in the In-Between

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.

God—you're my God! I can't get enough of you! I've worked up such hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts.

So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in your strength and glory. In your generous love I am really living at last! My lips brim praises like fountains. I bless you every time I take a breath; My arms wave like banners of praise to you.

I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It's time to shout praises! If I'm sleepless at midnight, I spend the hours in grateful reflection. Because you've always stood up for me, I'm free to run and play. I hold on to you for dear life, and you hold me steady as a post.

— Psalm 63:1-8 (MSG)

Samuel is dead.

Saul is chasing David.

David is living in a Philistine city.

Times are–shall we say–tough.

There is no clear indication that this skirmish with Saul is going to end at any point in the near future. In fact, in 1 Samuel 27:1 David is even doubtful that he will ever see the promise of God–the fulfillment of his annointing as king at the hand of the now dead Samuel.

There's a common thread in most Bible stories–and most of our stories. This thread is the idea of being caught somewhere between a promise and the fulfillment of that promise. It strikes us as all stages of life. Sometimes, we even find ourselves somewhere between multiple promises and their fulfillment. The question for us is not what are we doing to hold on to the promise or to hurry it's fulfillment (as if that works), but rather what we do in the in-between places.

David is clearly in an in-between place. He knows what God has said. But, the person who told him what God said is dead (1 Samuel 25:1). His one lifeline to the promise isn't around to keep him anchored any longer, and David is losing hope.

It is In this in-between place where David pens today's text.

David has discovered something about the in-between places. These places aren't about the promise or the fulfillment of the promise. These places are about our response to God. How do you respond in the in-between.

Do you worry?

Do you quit?

Are you in the fetal position in the corner in tears?

Or, do you respond as David does and worship?

David had spent countless nights under the stars tending the sheep and worshiping. It was in this place of worship that David learned some important things about God, and God's desire for him. He knew–I mean he really KNEW–who God was. Not just rumors of God, but he knew God firsthand (as our friend Glenn Packiam puts it). And, it was this knowledge that sustained, and even made David to thrive, in the wilderness.

Notice in our text how David doesn't discount the hardships of the wilderness–the in-between place. He hits it head-on in the first sentence. But, unlike we often do, he doesn't hang out there. Yes, it's hard. That's reality….BUT!

David quickly shifts his attention to worshipping. He acknowledges who this God that he knows so intimately is. He lavishes praise to God.

Arms waving!

Throat shouting!

Feet dancing!

Breath taking!

God!

And out of this place of worship, hope–that confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God–for the promise is restored.

He goes from hunger and thirst to prime rib and gravy!

He goes from hiding out in an enemy town to running and playing in the fields.

He goes from running for his life to being held steady as a post.

He understands that in the in-between our hope must be centered not in the promise, but rather in the One who made the promise. Hope must come from a place of intimately knowing God. It must come from a firsthand faith.

And, it is in this place of worship and intimacy that we realize God truly is for us. He truly is holding to the promise that He made. Even when the fulfillment of that promise appears that it will never come to pass, He holds on to it. In this place of intimacy, our hope is renewed.

Whatever in-between place you find yourself in at this moment, stop. Take a deep breath. Fall back into the arms of God. And, may your hope be restored.

 

Mediterranean Sea

Mediterranean Sea

 

Standing At The Manger

Our waiting is nearly over. Our four week march is nearly at its end. We find ourselves only a few short hours from the manger.

Angel choirs are in final dress rehearsals.

Shepherds are waiting in the wings.

Rooms are filled in Bethlehem.

And a stable–full of animals–awaits a King.

Emmanuel is quite nearly with us.

In just a few hours, we will know once and for all that Messiah has come. Just as prophets and priests have foretold for centuries. The proclamation will ring out from that angel choir to those shepherds–the least of these–that in Bethlehem–that most unlikely of places–a Messiah has come.

And, He is named Emmanuel.

God is with us.

On this night before the dawn, we stand at the edge of a new beginning. As we stand here, we think of the many who have been waiting for this moment. Preparing all their lives for this moment.

And, our minds turn to those who most need Emmanuel in this moment.

We think of spouses and children who for the first time will not have that significant other or beloved parent to stand in this place with them.

We think of parents whose children rest on a precipice of their own–lingering somewhere between heaven and earth. Somewhere between the now and the not yet. Hovering silently in the hand of a Creator who loves as only a Father can.

We think of parents who have in this very season of Advent buried their children. Children killed in wars, or in senseless tragedies. And, we think of children who have buried their parents.

We think of families who for one reason or another must be apart from one another on this evening.

We think of those huddling in corners of homes–as such as they might be–in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Not knowing if morning will bring the dawn of a new day.

We think of those in the darkest of dark lands–North Korea–who have never known anything other than longing.

And, yet, somehow–together–we all stand at the edge of a manger and gaze in longingly.

For, it is this night of nights that will change everything.

Messiah will come.

Emmanuel will be reality.

And, as we stand here, we know that on the other end of the story stands a cross. And, further beyond, an empty tomb.

And, there in that quiet manger will lie the Embodiment of that which we’ve thought about as we waited through these four candle-lengths of Advent: Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.

It is only the cross–and the empty tomb beyond it–that changes the despair of separation, sickness, fear, hatred, sadness, and confusion.

Even at Advent–and its culmination that we experience tonight–we know that we are people who hope. We know that we are people at peace. We know that we are people filled with joy. We know that we are people who love.

Because, we are Easter People.

And, this is the tension in which we live. We are people who pause to wait quietly for Emmanuel all the while knowing that not only will Emmanuel come, but that He has indeed already come–and will come again. And in this tension, we struggle to understand–so many un-understandable things–while we lean back on the promise that as Easter people we live not only from Christmas to Easter, but we live all the year round with the knowledge of faith’s great mystery–Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ lives again.

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

So, we pause–in the midst of our struggles and lack of understanding–to breathe deep in the presence of a Baby that will change everything. We bow silently at the side of a manger–a roughly hewn stone–and here we lay at the feet of this Child all of our hopes, dreams, fears and needs. And, at this manger, we know that all things will be made new.

Because, we are Easter People.

Christ has come.

Emmanuel.

With us now. With us then. With us forevermore.

So, breathe deep, my friends.

Light all five candles.

Listen quietly as the angels begin their proclamation.

Our waiting is over.

 

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Confident and Joyful Expectation

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

John spoke to the crowds coming to be baptized by him. He said, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming of God’s anger? Produce fruit that shows you have turned away from your sins. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham even from these stones. The ax is already lying at the roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down. They will be thrown into the fire.”

“Then what should we do?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “If you have extra clothes, you should share with those who have none. And if you have extra food, you should do the same.”

Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” John told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

John replied, “Don’t force people to give you money. Don’t bring false charges against people. Be happy with your pay.”

The people were waiting. They were expecting something. They were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ.

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But One who is more powerful than I am will come. I’m not good enough to untie the straps of his snadals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His pitchfork is in his hand to toss the straw away from his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his storeroom. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.”

John said many other things to warn the people. He also preached the good news to them.

— Luke 3:7-18 (NIRV)

“What should we do?”

The question of the ages. We’ve heard what you said, and now we want to know, “What should we do?”

And, then, John prepares the path for the coming Messiah. He gives them an answer that leads to a great sacrifice.

Give.

You can’t wear two coats at the same time, so give one away.

Don’t cheat people out of money.

Don’t bring false charges.

Don’t live your life for yourself.

Here’s the voice in the wilderness, the son of Zecariah–the faithful servant–preparing the path for the coming Messiah. The King is coming, he would say, and when He comes so does the Kingdom.

Proclaiming the message of the Kingdom to a people expecting–hoping–for something. Hoping for rescue.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God.

Hope. Knowing that God is for you and in that knowing anticipating that God will act out of His goodness–His Character and Nature.

And, out of that place of Hope, the people wonder, “Is John the Messiah?”

That crazy man? Wearing camel skin? Gnawing on grasshoppers? Him? Messiah? Could it be?

But, John, almost reading their minds, tells them in no uncertain terms, “I’m not the Messiah. I’m not even worthy of untying His sandals.”

I wonder what the people were thinking after that. Here they are in a place of extreme hope. A place of confidently and joyfully expecting the goodness of God–the Messiah. A place of hoping that their rescue was nigh.

John, continues on with his message–the good news. The news that while he wasn’t the Messiah, He was indeed coming soon.

Here we are, two thousand years later, proclaiming that same good news. The King has come, and, with Him, He has brought Kingdom.

Yet, we live in the place of tension. We live in that same place of hope. That place between the now and the not yet. We live in confident and joyful expectation of the goodness of God.

We live in the place of hope that God is walking through the valley of the shadow of death with us. We’re not walking alone. We walk with Emmanuel. Because, we know, that God is truly with us. And, as the song says, “If our God is with us, then what can stand against us?”

 

Caleb at the Ancient Walls of Constantinople

Caleb at the Ancient Walls of Constantinople

 

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Shifting Expectations

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

We are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, has agreed once again (see here and here) to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, AR. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of The Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

— Luke 3:1-6 (NRSV)

Expectations are hard to let go of in life. We expect certain things to happen in certain ways; We have a vision as to how life will end up and how we will get there. Some of these expectations are created by our own minds, while other expectations are given to us by wider society. We set our own expectations or we live by other’s expectations. Either way, these expectations lay out for us as to how the world operates. In some ways, these standards may be healthy as they give us a sense of moving toward a goal. While at other times, these expectations may prevent us from seeing and hearing the movement of God in our lives.

In our Scripture passage, it is interesting that Luke spends such a great deal of time noting as to who is in charge. For the first two verses, all we get is a list of names of those “important” people in Jesus’ day. And yet, it doesn’t seem like Luke is name dropping here. Moreover, while Luke is often concerned with giving an “orderly” account of Jesus’ life, it seems Luke sets us up for a dramatic shift in the story. Luke begins by naming all the emperors, rulers, and priests in Jesus’ day. All those whom we would expect to know if something great was happening in their kingdoms. In fact, these important people would be surrounded by the most “capable” individuals who could advise them as to what is happening in their kingdoms and in their world.

And yet, of all the important people whom one would expect to bring or know earth shattering or world altering news, none of those in the know, have a clue. Rather, John, the son of Zechariah, whom we know little about other than Zechariah was a priest serving in the temple, becomes the ambassador of God’s salvation. All expectations are taken off the table. God chooses to act beyond the systems we have set up in order to bring about God’s salvation. God’s salvation will come not from the powers that be, but rather, through those whom we would least expect to bring world altering news. God’s good Word will flow from the faithful hearts of ordinary people who have been empowered by the Spirit.

God’s Spirit moves with absolute freedom beyond the our expectations to bring life altering salvation. At times we may miss the voices of those calling out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord because we are blinded by our own expectations. Yet God uses John, the son of Zechariah, to call the world to God. God uses a man, whose father was simply faithful to the call of God. So today, let us be reminded to simply pay attention and to listen intently. Let us not forsake or miss those moments God is calling out to us because they do not meet our expectations. Who knows, God might in fact be altering those expectations anyways.

 

Advent 2012: Preparing the Path: God’s Sunrise Breaking Through

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, what he swore to our father Abraham–a clean rescue from the enemy camp, so we can worship him without a care in the world, made holy before him as long as we live.”

“And you, my child, ‘Prophet of the Highest,’ will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

— Luke 1:67-79 (The Message)

Leading into Zacariah’s prophecy, we get the story of the birth of John the Baptist. An angel appears to Zacariah and tells him that his wife will have a baby. But, he and his wife, Elizabeth, aren’t exactly young. In fact, we’re told they were “quite old.”

Zachariah was a priest. He knows the history of the Jewish people. He knows one story in particular – Abraham and Sarah.

Angel appears.

Says, “You’re going to be a pop. Congratulations.”

Zachariah laughs.

Outloud.

Just like Sarah did.

Here is a priest. A man who has taught hundreds of Jewish children their history. And he laughs at a story–an epic story central to his people’s history–that he’s heard before.

This story shows hope.

Once again, we see God choosing the unlikely to become the molder of history.

An old man.

An old woman.

A baby.

The foreteller of the Messiah.

God removing people from their personal dramas to make them a part of His story.

The angel tells Zachariah that his lack of belief–belief of a story he’s known all his life–would result in his mouth being shut until the baby is born.  Maybe, when we fail to believe in the promises of God, He would prefer that we just keep our mouth shut.

Contrast Elizabeth’s response. She “relishes” in the fact that she is pregnant. Fortunately for her, Zachariah couldn’t talk. He couldn’t be the wet-blanket that he would have undoubtedly been if he had been able to speak. He couldn’t derail the joy of God as we so often do when we hear a promise of God that will remove us from our own dramas.

Then the baby is born.

“Name him John”, Elizabeth says.

Counter-cultural.

No one in the family is named John.

No significance.

But, Zacariah, speaks.

“Name him John.”

God likes to work counter-culturally.

God often takes us from what’s comfortable when He uses us in His story. He doesn’t remove us from the drama, rather He walks with us through the drama.

Zachariah then prophesies. He says that this boy, John, would foretell the coming of the Messiah.

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Then he makes a profound statement: “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

Because God has chosen to have mercy on us once again, He will break through our darkness with His beautiful sunrise.

The beauty of Emmanuel is that Emmanuel is right now. God is with us in the right now.

Emmanuel doesn’t airlift us out of our situations, rather he parachutes in to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” with us. In the midst of our darkness, He breaks in with His sunrise.

When Job is in deepest despair, God speaks out of the storm.

When Elijah is hiding in a cave, God breaks in with a still, small voice.

When His people were in slavery, God burns a bush to get Moses’ attention.

When we are struggling with addictions, God’s sunrise brings us comfort and strength.

When we are experiencing death, God’s sunrise brings us hope of new life.

In the middle of our darkness – our personal drama – God’s sunrise, Emmanuel, breaks in and moves us into His story.

 

Tea With A Stranger

One of the most beautiful phrases in all of Scripture (at least in my reading) is “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” (Luke 24:28)

The story preceding this phrase is a wonderful scene. Two men. Walking down a road. Downtrodden. Confused. Hurt. Insulted. Struggling to cope with what has become their reality.

Their Messiah, or at least the One they thought was their Messiah, is dead. Hope crushed. Dreams dashed.

It’s the ending that no one ever dreamt would come. This Man was supposed to be the Rescuer. He was supposed to be the one who would make all things right again. Who would, as John said, bring light into darkness [John 1].

But, tragedy strikes. And these two men are left to deal with it. And all they can think to do is walk home.

On their journey, they are face-to-face with a stranger. Together they walk and talk, and when they reach their destination, they–in true “warm culture” fashion–invite the stranger to stay.

“Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”

Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.”

Glasses of Çay in Central Asia

Glasses of Çay in Central Asia

Or, as they would say in modern-day Central Asia, “Come in for çay (tea).”

Not a question. A statement.

Not a suggestion. A presumption.

The risk with this invitation is it’s ability to be life-altering. Intently, these men have listened as this Stranger has talked to them about the goings-on in Jerusalem. Intently, they have listened as He explained centuries worth of prophecies and Rabbinical thought. And, now, they ask Him to stay for dinner. Perhaps it is so that He can tell more stories. Share more thoughts.

But….

What these men didn’t know was they were inviting Jesus–the Messiah–to stay with them.

And, then, it happens. Reality itself changes. Their Messiah is alive and in the same room with them. Hope restored. Dreams renewed. Life revealed.

What a story. A simple walk and an unexpected dinner guest, changes everything about their present reality.

And, here we are today, some in dark reality, some in hopelessness, some in confusion, some in just moments of tiredness. And, there He is, the Stranger walking next to you. Wanting to talk with you about that reality.

Will you invite Him in for a cup of çay?

 

Psalm 143

Psalm 143

Friday night, we went to the Burn here at YWAM-Colorado Springs. It was a fantastic time of just hanging out with God. Almost from the beginning, He took me to Psalm 143, and left me there for the next three hours. Here are some of my random thoughts, learnings, prayers, and insights into this RICH passage.

O YHWH, hear my prayer listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. (Verses 1 and 2)

No matter how hard we try, we cannot stand on our own attempts at righteousness. Righteousness is the result of repentance. It is the free gift of God to those who repent. Upon repentance, God forgives and places us in righteousness. Some deeper thoughts on righteousness can be found on an earlier blog.

The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. (Verses 3 and 4)

The word “me” is a reference to our soul. It is our “mind, will, and emotions.” In other words, the enemy pursues us in our mind, will and emotions. He crushes our mind, will, and emotions. He makes our mind, will, and emotions to dwell in darkness (cross-reference John 1). All of this pressing on our mind, will, and emotions effects our spirit. It causes our spirit to grow weary. It grows faint. As our heart (mind, will, and emotions) grows dismayed our spirit grows faint.

Contrast this with what Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 — “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Also, with the writer of Hebrews 4:9-10 — “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”

The enemy pursues our soul, which wears out our spirit. Yet, God gives rest to our spirit.

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have down. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. (Verses 5-6)

A couple of beautiful things happen in these verses. First, the word meditate means to murmur or imagine. So, the Psalmist is saying here that he will fill his imagination with all the works of YHWH. Second, the word “consider” is to converse with oneself about them. In other words, I will talk to myself about all the things YHWH has done.

What an amazing thing it would be to spend your time imagining how God might meet your needs instead of imagining all of the bad things that might possibly happen. Or how great would it be to spend your time talking about the great things that God has already done for you instead of talking about how bad things might get. It will drastically change your outlook!

Answer me quickly, O YHWH; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. (Verse 7)

The Psalmist says that his spirit has reached its limit. It has hit the end. Jesus addresses this in the Beatitudes. “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Matthew 5:3, The Message).

In the mind of the Psalmist to not see God’s face is the same as being thrown in prison. It is a hopeless life. It is a captive life. It is a meaningless life.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Rescue me from my enemies, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Verses 8-10)

Packed into the idea “unfailing love” are things like God’s favor, His mercy, His kindness, and His beauty! Wow. There’s a lot there. Unfailing love. Favor. Mercy. Kindness. Beauty. All because our confidence is in YHWH. When your confidence is in YHWH, all of YHWH’s best is yours. That’s the beauty of righteousness–right legal and relational standing with God. In the New Testament understanding it is to have an equity of character with the One who made you righteous.

For God to show us the way we should go is for Him to make us to ascertain by seeing. It’s clear. It’s not confusing. It’s a path that you know that you know that you should be on.

Then the Psalmist asks for rescue. Yet, it’s more than a simple rescue. It’s to be snatched away from the enemy. Don’t just swoop in and safe me, rather grab me and yank me away from my enemy.

I can bank on the unfailing love, the clear path, and a snatching rescue because I have hidden (covered) myself in YHWH. Or in the Pauline understanding: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-3 (NIV))

We have been hidden with Christ in God.

Covered by righteousness!

Finally, the Psalmist asks that God teaches him to do God’s will. To do God’s delight. To possess God’s character (compare that with the New Testament understanding of righteousness, or with the Lord’s Prayer). The Psalmist prays a similar prayer in Psalm 86:10-13 — “Teach me your way, O YHWH, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.”

For your name’s sake, O YHWH, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. In your unfailing love, silence my enemies; destroy all my foes, for I am your servant. (Verses 11-12)

For the sake of Your Name! The Psalmist prays two things for his enemy. First, that he will be cut off or destroyed. Second, that he will be made to wonder as one who is confused. The path of the righteous man is clear (verse 8), but the path of the enemy is made to be confused.

So, with this understanding, here’s how I now read Psalm 143.

O YWHW, hear my intercession and my supplication, listen to my earnest prayer for mercy; in Your faithfulness, Your trustworthiness, and Your righteousness come to my relief. Do not bring your servant into judgement, for I cannot stand on my own attempts at being in right legal and relational standing with You.

The enemy pursues my soul, he crushes my soul to the ground; he makes my soul to dwell in darkness and chaotic confusion like those long dead. So my spirit grows weary within me; my soul within me is dismayed.

I remember the days of long ago; I fill my imagination with all Your works and I talk to myself about all that Your hands have done on my behalf. I spread out my hands in surrender to You; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, O YHWH; my spirit has reached its end. Do not be absent from me or I will resemble a prisoner.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, favor, mercy, kindness, and beauty, for I have put my confidence in You. Cause me to ascertain by seeing the path that I should walk, for to You I lift up my soul. Snatch me from my enemies, for I cover myself in You. Teach me to do Your will, to be Your desire, and possess Your character, for you are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on an upright, plain, straight, even, and prosperous path.

For Your Name’s sake, O YHWH, preserve my life; in Your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. In Your unfailing love, destroy my enemy; cause my enemy to walk in confusion, for I am Your servant.

 

Lent 2012: 5.2 — In a Tight Spot

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.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever.  Let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim that He has redeemed them from the hand of the foe and has gathered them from the lands–from the east and the west, from the north and the south.

Fools suffered affliction because of their rebellious ways and their sins.  They loathed all food and came near the gates of death.  Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them from their distress.  He sent His word and healed them; He rescued them from the Pit.  Let them give thanks to the Lord for His faithful love and His wonderful works for all humanity.

Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and announce His works with shouts of joy.

— Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 (HCSB)

From "O Brother, Where art Thou?"

From "O Brother, Where art Thou?"

One of my favorite movie scenes is in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?  Everett, Pete and Delmar are hiding in a barn owned by Delmar’s cousin.  Yet, Delmar’s cousin decides the reward money is worth more than family, and he calls the police.  The police have arrived and have them surrounded.  The police are shooting at the barn.  They set the barn on fire.  Everett is looking out of the window, and is describing the situation in which they have found themselves–“a tight spot.”  Over and over again, all Everett can think to say is that they are in “a tight spot.”

A tight spot.

Have you ever found yourself there?

Hiding in a barn.  It’s supposed to be safe.  After all, it is owned by kin-folk.  But, blood isn’t always as thick as the dollar bill, and, so you are betrayed.

A tight spot.

The enemy closes in.  They shoot at you.  They light the barn on fire.

Like our friends, Everett, Peter and Delmar, we are surrounded on all sides–sometimes as our text says (and as was the case with our friends) by our own foolishness.

A tight spot.

No clear way out, and the situation is getting worse.

A bit like eleven disciples found themselves on “Silent Saturday.”  That most dismal of days parked between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

It’s hopeless.  The One who they thought and believed would be the Messiah is dead.  He’s in a tomb.  They’re in hiding.  Locked in a room.  Waiting for that moment when the soldiers will bang on the door and arrest them as well.  I imagine at some point Peter looks around at John, James, Simon, Matthew and the others and proclaims as Everett did, “We’re in a tight spot.”

Like Everett, Peter and Delmar, the Disciples have no idea how this situation will all work out.  All they know is right now.  And right now, they’re in a tight spot.

Right now, it’s Friday.

BUT