Kingdom of God

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

 

#Advent14 — …and this is the Kingdom…

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord to glorify himself. They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places; they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past.

Isaiah 61:1-4 (CEB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

We bring good news to those who are poor. Sometimes, good news comes in the form of food. Sometimes as money. Sometimes as a bed in our basement. Sometimes as a meal around our table.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

Our family has a dear grandmotherly friend, Jeanne is her name. Even at 92 years old, she is involved in many ministries in and around Edmond. One is a prison ministry. They collect freshly baked cookies and take them to the prisons. Something small and sweet to say, “You are loved.”

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

In the past three years, we have met hundreds of men and women and boys and girls who proclaim the message of the Gospel. In some of the darkest corners of the world, they stand and share that the Lord's favor–unmeasurable grace–has come. In jungles, and rain forests, and deserts, and big cities, they proclaim that the Kingdom has come, and is coming, and is yet to come.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

Over the past couple of weeks, I spent several days meeting with Pastors and relief organizations who are working–and in some cases living–among those who have been displaced by war in Syria and Iraq. I watched as a Priest hugged children who had lost everything they have ever known and are living in a 150 square foot room (made from blankets strung over wire) with their parents and three, four, and five siblings. Yet, as this Priest hugged these children their faces would light up and the love of Jesus would flood their hearts.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

Aaron, Pastor Steve, Jeanne, these countless workers and this dear Priest are the “Oaks of Righteousness” of whom the Prophet speaks.

The Prophet ends this section with talk of rebuilding and restoring and renewing. The truth is that as the Kingdom of God is proclaimed, things are renewed to the original design that God had for them. Things are made new–brought back to how God created it in the first place. And we, you and I as Kingdom Citizens first, get to partner alongside God in the restoration of His beautiful creation.

And, it is very good.

…and this is the Kingdom of God.

 

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.

 

Advent14 — Prepare The Way!

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

A voice of one crying out:

Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

A voice was saying, “Cry out!”

Another said, “What should I cry out?”

“All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”

Zion, herald of good news, go up on a high mountain. Jerusalem, herald of good news, raise your voice loudly. Raise it, do not be afraid! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with strength, and His power establishes His rule. His reward is with Him, and His gifts accompany Him. He protects His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in the fold of His garment. He gently leads those that are nursing.

— Isaiah 40:1-11 (HCSB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

This is one of my favorite prophecies regarding the coming Messiah. Israel has been in exile. They are in a land not their own. Living in captivity. Hoping and praying for rescue. And, the message comes. Your time in captivity is over.

But, the message goes on. And, gets even better.

Not only is your time in captivity over, but things are about to get a whole lot better! Rescue is coming. Renewal is on it's way!

That doesn't mean that it's time to just sit back and relax. No! It's time to get up and make things ready! Prepare the road through the wilderness! The King is coming!

I've come to see these verses as more than just a prophecy that later is used to describe John the Baptist. I'm coming to see these verses as the message for each of us. It is what we as Kingdom citizens do. We prepare the way for the King.

When we feed the hungry, the way is prepared. When we shelter the homeless, the way is prepared. When we drill a water well in a village and stop water-borne illnesses in their tracks, the way is prepared. When we sit with the one who is grieving, the ay is prepared. When we love the unloveable, the way is prepared. When we lay down tools of destruction and pick up tools of construction, the way is prepared.

Prepare the way!

And, the King comes. The mountains are brought low. The hills are flattened. The rough terrain is smoothed. The uneven ground is made level. The Kingdom comes.

When the King comes, the mountains of depression are turned to fields of joy. When the King comes, the hills of bitterness are turned to strips of love. When the King comes, the rough terrain of grief is turned to joy in resurrection. When the King comes, the unevenness of fear becomes the foundation of faith.

When the King comes.

So, climb high up onto the mountain and shout. Shimmy down into the pit and proclaim. Stand tall on the hillside and let it ring out.

Shout it from every street corner in Ferguson. Proclaim it in every refugee camp in Turkey and Iraq and Jordan and Lebanon. Yell it out from every tall hill in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Let it ring out loudly from every corner of the globe!

Prepare the way! Feed the hungry. Comfort the widows. Speak peace to the conflicts. Shelter the homeless. Father the orphan. Prepare the way!

Prepare the way for the King!

 

Advent14 — The Eschatology of Advent

A reading from the Gospel of Mark.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Mark 13:28-31 (ESV)

The Word of the Lord.

I've often struggled to understand why during the first week of Advent we read scriptures that have been interpreted in modern times to relate to the end times. It has always seemed odd to me that we enter into this season of waiting for the birth of a baby–The Baby–and this week of hope with Scriptures about the end of it all.

I read a tweet from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove the other day that gave me a new perspective on the selection of eschatological scriptures for this first week of Advent.

And, there it began to make more sense for me. Our eschatology matters not just for the now and later, but for the past as well.

On this blog on Tuesday, I mentioned how Advent is like this epic novel that we're reading for the second or third or fourth or twelfth time. We know the ending. We know the beginning. But, we find ourselves somewhere in the middle. Somewhere between the beginning and the ending. Straining to remember how the story will resolve, yet waiting patiently to find out.

Advent is a lot like that. We know that Messiah will come. Yet, we force ourselves to stand between the knowledge of that coming and the actuality of that coming.

And into that mix, we add a further and deeper knowledge. The knowledge that Messiah doesn't just show up once in the story. Yet, He returns.

And, we remember that our eschatology really does matter. It matters not just for the future, but also for today.

And, so in this season of hoping for the Messiah, we hope for the Messiah to return again. To bring to its fullness the Kingdom that was introduced in a manager in Bethlehem. A Kingdom that seeks not to destroy planets and people, but rather it is a Kingdom that seeks to renew people to their original God-given intentions. It is a Kingdom that restores relationships.

As citizens of that Kingdom, we work now to bring that restoration and renewal to the people and places around us. We seek to restore broken relationships. We seek to feed those who are hungry. We seek to bring health and healing to the sick. We seek to bring peace to the war-torn and war-weary. We seek to bring life.

Our eschatology matters. Someday, King Jesus will return. And when He does the Kingdom will no longer be a place where we sit in tension between the now and the not yet. When He returns, it will all be made right. It will be renewed. It will be restored. It will be resurrected.

So, here in this first week of Advent, we long for the Messiah to come. And, we long for the Messiah to come again.

We wait.

And, in our waiting, we bring the Kingdom to every place go and to every person we meet. Every interaction brings a little more light. The darkness gets a tiny bit less dark.

Until…

 

 

Advent14 — The Epic Novel

A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

If only You would rip open the heavens and come down to earth–its heights and depths would quake the moment You appear, like kindling when it just begins to catch fire, or like water that's about to boil.

If only You would come like that so that all who deny or hate You would know who You are and be terrified of your grandeur.

We remember that long ago You did amazing things for us that we had never dreamed You'd do. You came down, and the mountains shook at Your presence. Nothing like that had ever happened before–no eye had ever seen and no ear had ever heard such wonders, but You did them then for the sake of Your people, for those who trusted in You. You meet whoever tries with sincerity of purpose to do what You want–to do justice and follow in Your ways.

But You became so angry when we rebelled and committed all sorts of wrongs; we have continued in our sins for a long time. So how can we be saved? We are all messed up like a person compromised with impurity; even all our right efforts are like soiled rags. We're drying up like a leaf in autumn and are blown away by wrongdoing.

And it's so sad because no one calls out to You or even bothers to approach You anymore. You've been absent from us too long; You left us to dissolve away in the acrid power of our sins.

Still, Eternal One, You are our Father. We are just clay, and You are the potter. We are the product of Your creative action, shaped and formed into something of worth. Don't be so angry anymore, O Eternal; don't always remember our wrongs.

Please, look around and see that we are all Your people.

Isaiah 64:1-9 (The Voice)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Advent.

The waiting game begins.

It begins in a yearning for help. A yearning for rescue. A yearning for something new and better. A yearning for something other than.

Yet, it also begins with a memory. The memory of Advent past. The memory of a King and a Kingdom and a promise to set all things right.

Between the two we now stand. Remembering the times past where the mountains trembled. Yet, longing for them to tremble again.

It's all a bit like an epic novel that you've read before. You know how it will end. You know the story. You know in the end all the loose threads of the story will merge into one beautiful tapestry. Yet, you begin the novel again.

“Once upon a time…”

And, as you near the middle of the book, you are caught between knowing the promise of hope will be fulfilled and the actual fulfillment of the promise.

A good novel will draw you in. It will make you feel and think and believe that you are the main character. You are Shasta riding into battle at Anvard. You are Bilbo discovering the secret of the ring. You are Harry running toward a wall in Kings Cross Station.

Here we find ourselves. Along with Isaiah, we are in the middle of an epic story. Somewhere between. Not quite at the end, yet knowing the end. Not quite at the beginning, but remembering the beginning.

Longing.

Hoping.

Waiting.

Remembering.

And, the story is not yet finished. The Author continues to add pages. And, we continue to live the plot and the twists and the turns. Like clay in the hands of the Potter, we yield to the Author. And, we walk out the story longing for the fulfillment of the promise.

So, now, we begin our walk to Christmas. In our walk, we yearn for a fulfilled Kingdom. Yet, we know that the King has come. And, somewhere in between we find ourselves. Confused by the hurts and pains and death and illnesses of this place. And, from somewhere off the page, we hear the Author whispering, “Trust me.”

This isn't to say that the Author writes into the story all the pain and suffering and hurt and confusion and murder and suicide and hurricanes and floods–becuase He doesn't. But, it is to say that while these things happen, they don't catch the Author by surprise.

The Author wields the pen, and from within the midst of all the mess of the world, He writes a story of life–life to the fullest. He writes a story of missing things found and broken things fixed. He writes a story of Kingdom come.

And Kingdom that has come.

And Kingdom that is yet to come.

So, here we stand on the precipice of Christmas. Not yet there, but not so far away. From that precipice, we can see the Kingdom. We can see the joy and the peace and the life and the fulfilled promise.

And, that is what gives us the ability to hope.

 

Advent14 — The Waiting Begins

Yesterday, in churches and homes all over the globe, a candle was lit. The first of four. The beginning of a new year in the church calendar. The beginning of Advent.

Advent. A word that simply means coming. A word that is packed full of meaning and is wrapped up in hope, joy, peace, and love. A word that brings us to that place between knowing that the Messiah has come and waiting for the Messiah to come.

It is that brief period of the church calendar where we position ourselves with an oppressed people longing for rescue. We–purposely–find ourselves between Malachi and Matthew. Wondering if things will ever be better. Knowing that for centuries “better” has been prophectically pronounced.

The King is coming!

Prophets of old have told us. Our parents have passed it on to us. The King. He is indeed coming.

At any moment now.

And, yet.

We’re a captive people. Captive in our own land. Captive in our own homes. Captive in a world that couldn’t care less that we stand in anticipation of rescue. In fact, we are captive in a world that mocks our anticipation.

And, we wait.

The Prophets once told us that this King would be called Immanuel.

Immanuel. God with us.

And, yet, we wonder if God could ever be with us. How, into this mess of a world, could God come?

Death. Some of it to disease or accident. Some at the hands of another.

Illness. Some curable. Some not.

War. Some in the name of money or resource. Some in the name of the very God we hope will come near. Some of it even considered just and right.

Hunger. Some due to famine. Some due to stinginess of those who have more than enough. Some due to neglect.

And, into this world, we wonder how God could come. And, yet, He does.

We learned over the weekend that a group of gunmen stormed a residence in Central Asian nation and opened fire on three South Africans who were there to help provide education to the children of the nation. A father and two teenaged children gunned down, and then the house burned. The mother, a doctor, was at the hospital bringing healing to the hurting–some of whom may even have been in support of the gunmen. For Warner, Jean-Pierre, and Rode, they rest tonight in the arms of loving–and near–God. For Hannelle, questions and fear and no rest. Yet, still in the arms of a loving–and near–God.

Three lives given–given so that others–strangers–might have an opportunity to a life of fullness.

One life remaining–longing for God to come near.

It is there in the tension that we long for the Messiah. We yearn for the Kingdom where lion and lamb will lie side-by-side. We hope for the place where weapons of death–guns, and knives, and drones, and tanks, and missles, and planes–are beaten into things that bring life–plows, and shovels, and hoes, and rakes.

And, we wait for God to come near.

We’re hearing confirmation of the rumors that the World Food Progamme lacks the $60+million dollars necessary to continue to provide aid for refugees who have fled the conflict in Iraq and Syria. And, so, more than one-and-a-half million people are forced to wonder from where they will receive bread and milk. Hundreds of thousands of children sit on the brink of starvation. Rumor has it that it’s not just this United Nations program that is lacking funding, but it is also many Non-Governmental Agencies–some even faith-based–that lack funding.

We are also aware that some of the food, coal, blankets, tents, clothes that should have found it’s way to these displaced peoples didn’t. Whether stolen, sold, or otherwise, the situation is dire.

And, we wait for God to come near.

And, God does indeed come near.

He comes near in the birth of a baby. In the unlikliest of places. To the unlikliest of parents. Immanuel. God with us.

And, God does indeed come near.

At the hands of everyone who has answered the call to give more than they keep. The call to go where no one else will. The call to love the unloved–and the unloveable. The call to feed the hungry. The call to clothe the naked. In every answered call, God comes near.

And, God calls us to come near, and to be near. To be near the wife and mother who mourn. And, also, to be near the gunmen and their families. To be near the millions who are without a home or a country or a meal. And, also, to be near to those who have driven them from their homes and countries and meals.

Advent.

So, yesterday, we lit a candle. A flicker of light in the darkness. A candle that will be joined by another and another and another. And, then, by the candle of the Christ-child. And, then, by your candle–and mine.

Until, the room grows bright, and we are pushed out into the world to proclaim that the King has come. And, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

Kuş14 – Photo Journal 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Book Review: Strangers At My Door – Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Strangers At My Door by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Strangers At My Door by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Every once-in-a-while a volume comes along that allows you to peer into the lives of others. A volume that acts as both a window and a looking glass. Allowing you to see into lives and situations while forcing you to look at yourself. A volume that forces you to gasp at the overwhelming experiences of the author and their story while knowing that grace is–simply–greater than.

Strangers At My Door by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (@wilsonhartgrove) is one of those volumes.

Jonathan tells the stories of people for whom he has opened the door. In the process of telling these stories, he opens the rooftop of his home and allows us to peer into the situation. He forces us to see that to which we often keep our eyes closed.

When someone knocks on Jonathan’s door, they are not the people you would normally find knocking on your door. These are people who often have no other door on which they can knock. They are drunk or high or fresh out of prison. They are hungry or homeless. They are in need.

And, Jonathan opens the door. Welcoming them as if they were Jesus himself knocking. Bringing to each one the Kingdom of Heaven.

And, in Strangers At My Door, he allows us to welcome them as well.

There’s a beautiful and tragic story that led Jonathan and his wife, Leah, to start Rutba House–a hospitality house in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina. It is, as Jonathan describes, the Good Samaritan story. The enemy being the bearer of life and healing. The one who should hate being the very one who shows love.

Over the past several years, Rutba House has welcomed the stranger. They’ve welcomed those who needed to be welcomed. Those who needed to know that Jesus loved them. Those who needed.

Yet, in welcoming those who needed the most, Jonathan has found that he has been healed. That life has been given to him. He has come to learn that grace is greater than.

On page 163, Jonathan concludes a tragic story with this sentence:

But I do know that, here in the midst of the mess that we’ve made of this world, grace happens.

Grace happens.

Strangers At My Door is a collection of stories about grace happening. It is a collection of stories about the Kingdom coming in the lives of individuals. It is the story of how the Kingdom has come—through some very unlikely carriers—to Jonathan and Leah and their friends at Rutba House.

Grace happens.

As I peered into the window of Rutba House and watched these stories unfold, I found myself staring into a mirror. At some point in the midst of each story, I found myself asking “Would I welcome this person?”

Would I be Jesus to that one?

Would I open the door?

Would I allow grace to happen?

As Jonathan relates to us the stories of the knocks at his door, he reminds us that “being saved” is a process. He reminds us that the Kingdom doesn’t come all at once. Rather it comes in fits-and-starts. It comes bit-by-bit. Piece-by-piece. Story-by-story.

He reminds us that God usually chooses to drop in and walk through our problems with us. He doesn’t usually yank us out of them. He reminds us that if we look closely enough in the messiest of messes, we can see the Kingdom.

Grace does not come near to fix our problems, but to open our eyes to the possibility of beauty in the midst of problems.

— Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in Strangers At My Door.

 


 

  • FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgroves’s book Strangers At My Door from Blogging for Books for this review.
731951: Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected GuestsBy Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove / Convergent Books

Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” But what would your life be like if you really took him at his word? Using the power of story, Wilson-Hartgrove paints a vivid picture of the amazing things that happened when he welcomed drug dealers, criminals, and other colorful characters to share his table. Softcover.

The Kingdom In A World Of Pain

#Ukraine

#Iraq

#Syria

#Ebola

#Suicide

#Gaza

#Ferguson

Just a few of the “hot spots” in the news this morning. It's hard to see the hurt and pain and suffering around us. We struggle to understand how or why.

Or when.

When will the Kingdom finally come in all of it's glory and splendor and peace and comfort.

And lions laying down with lambs.

We proclaim it every Sunday. That great mystery of the faith. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

We exclaim that He is Risen. He is King. He is Ruler.

Yet.

Kyrie Elieson (Lord, have mercy.)

How do we reconcile those truths with the realities of the world around us?

How can we proclaim that the Kingdom has already come when it's quite clear that it hasn't?

There's the tension we live between. This knowledge that Jesus has come. And, with His coming the Kingdom has come. Yet, also, knowing that the fullness of the Kingdom lies in wait. Not yet here. But not so far away. But not all that close. But coming.

Last weekend, we were in Bella Vista, Arkansas with our friends at Highlands Church. In one of the workshops on prayer someone asked about this tension. How to do we reconcile the pain and suffering with the triumph of a Risen King? How do we pray?

At that time, my answer was we simply pray, “Your Kingdom come.” And, then, we work to bring His Kingdom. We stand in solidarity with the poor, and suffering, and marginalized, and hurting, and grieving, and cast out.

We drill water wells in places where people are dying of water-borne illnesses.

We nurse those sick with Ebola back to health.

We give families in Las Flores, Belmopan, Belize sacks of beans and rice and flour and sugar.

We go into the darkest places and proclaim that the King has come and is coming and will come.

And, we pray.

Your Kingdom Come.

When John's disciples came to Jesus in Matthew 11 and asked if He was the Messiah, Jesus didn't offer platitudes or speeches or definitions. He simply said, “The blind can now see. The deaf can now hear. The lame can now walk. The dead live again.”

And, yet, others remain blind, and deaf, and lame, and dead.

Tension.

Stretched somewhere between Kingdom has come and Kingdom will come.

It's easy–too easy–for Christians to offer words of comfort. “It'll be ok.” “Jesus is with you.” “The world is not my home.” “I'll fly away.”

And, while words of comfort are needed, words of comfort don't stop the bullets or the Ebola or the rockets or the bombs or the suicide.

Last Sunday, our Associate Pastor, Andy Nelms (@anelms), talked about anxiety and the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus in the midst of pain and suffering (you can watch the recording on our church's website). He made a statement that has stuck with me throughout the week.

God doesn't take our anxiety away. Rather, He repurposes it for His Kingdom.

In the midst of our pain, He doesn't airlift us out and make everything instantly better. Rather, He parachutes in and walks alongside us through it. He stands in solidarity with us in our pain and in our suffering and in the ugly of our life and turns it into a means of testimony to His goodness and mercy and grace and faithfulness.

And He calls us to the do the same. Stand alongside those who are hurting. Hold those who are in pain. Cry with them. Laugh with those who are rejoicing. Dance with those who can now walk.

Photos can be to us what parables were to Jesus. A way of illustrating the truths of the Kingdom by painting an image that sticks in the mind of the reader. Something that pops back into our mind's eye when we hear the phrase “Kingdom of God”.

And, in a timing that can only be God, as I was writing this post a friend posted a picture on Facebook of her two girls walking to school together this morning. It's the first day of a new school year. The older has been there and done that. Second grade. For the younger, this is the first time. Kindergarten.

They're walking down the sidewalk hand-in-hand. Older and younger. Old hat and new fears. Peace and anxiety. And, even in the old hat of it all, there lies an element of the unknown. What will be different? Will my friends be there? And, yet, they walk. Hand-in-hand.

Hand-in-hand.

Like the Kingdom of God.

Those of us who can walking with those of us who can't.

Hand-in-hand.

Everytime we recieve a revelation of the goodness or love or faithfulness or gentleness or mercy of God, we are obligated to share that with others. It's the way of the Kingdom. Giving away what you have.

I've been asked a couple of times in the past few weeks what our response as Christians should be to the challenges of the world around us. I really think it's quite simple. We should grab the hand of the hurting and walk with them. Step-by-step.

Like a second-grader walking to school hand-in-hand with her kindergartener sister.

For, that is what the Kingdom is like.

Our friends walking to school on their first day. Photo courtesy of their Mom.

Our friends walking to school on their first day. Photo courtesy of their Mom.