Erbil International Airport

#Advent15: Somewhere Between Here and There

We’re on the plane now. According to my watch, we’re probably about halfway.

It’s strange knowing that when the wheels of this plane touch the runway, I will have to redefine–again–the concept of safety. Yet, I also know that this is the right place at the right time with the right people.

Safety. This is a word that I have come to define and redefine a number of times in the course of the last four years. A word that I have spent many occasions discussing–arguing–with God about. That day on that plane was one of those occasions.

Vicar Andrew White says that the Kingdom life is a risky one. That it’s a life where we shouldn’t urge one another to take care, but rather to take risks.

Risk. Risks are a bit like faith. You step out into the unknown. Trusting that God knows what He’s doing in calling you out there. But, to take a risk means that your definition of safety can’t be one grounded in fear.

Fear. It’s real. It’s also not the opposite of faith. Faith and fear carry the same definition: a belief in something unknown. The difference is what you do with it. Faith is pressing forward in spite of that which is unknown. Fear is isolating yourself against that thing that is unknown.

Isolation. Hiding from that which is unknown. A citizen of the Kingdom who lives in isolation will NEVER bring about the purposes of the Kingdom. They will only ever seek out their own survival. They will only ever take care. They will never take risks.

The Kingdom life is a risky life.

I somehow think it’s appropriate that I’m on this trip during Advent. So many people longing for rescue and redemption and renewal. So many people yearning for something in which they can hope. And, the truth of it all is that there is hope. Yet, proclaiming hope means that the one proclaiming it must take risks.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. We proclaim hope not to the hopeful, but to the hopeless. And, they are hopeless because they are in the middle of the situations against which our definitions of safety often keep us isolated.

For us to proclaim hope means that we must step outside of our isolation. We cannot proclaim hope unless we abandon fear and step out in faith.

The United Nations tells us that 1 in 123 people on the earth today are living a refugees. They have fled home and gone to somewhere else–somewhere deemed to be “more safe.” In order to proclaim hope to these millions of people, we must step out of our “safety”–our isolation–and step into this risky Kingdom Life.

Advent means coming. God coming. Coming into the midst of war and famine and pain and hurt and struggle. God coming to be with us. To dwell. To tabernacle.

And, in His coming, He invites us to come along. To see what He sees. To hear what He hears.

Immanuel. God is with us. In the middle. He has come. He is coming. He will come again. Into our pain. Into our suffering. Into our hopelessness.

And, He calls to us to board the plane. To be somewhere between here and there. Leaving behind our isolation. Leaving behind our fear. Moving forward in faith.

The opposite of fear is Love–not faith. “Perfect love,” the beloved Apostle writes, “drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

Perfect love moves us out of isolation and into the middle of the hopelessness to proclaim hope.

Perfect love moves us out of fear and into faith.

Perfect love moves us out of our definitions of safety and into God’s definitions of safety.

“The name of the LORD,” the Proverbs tells us, “is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

Safety. It can either be based in fear or in faith. If it drives you into isolation, then it’s based in fear and isn’t God’s definition of safety. If it drives you to take Kingdom risks, then it’s based in faith and is God’s definition of safety.

So, we take risks.

Not long after that line was written the wheels of the Airbus 321 touched the runway. I had arrived in a place that I never dreamt I would be. I didn’t know what the next week would bring. I didn’t know what I would encounter. I only knew that I was in the right place at the right time with the right people.

“Don’t take care,” the dear Vicar says, “Take risks.”

Erbil International Airport

Erbil International Airport

[All block quotes are taken directly from my journal entry from 3 December 2014.]

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.

 

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.

 

Love them?!

One of the teachers of the Law of Moses came up while Jesus and the Sadducees were arguing. When he heard Jesus give a good answer, he asked him, “What is the most important commandment?”  Jesus answered, “The most important one says: `People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’  The second most important commandment says: `Love others as much as you love yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these.” — Mark 12:28-31 (CEV)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This seems like a command I can follow.  Even when I fail, I can at least know that I desire to love in this way and I can continue to make every effort to love Him and to let His grace perfect me and to transform me into His likeness.

Things that make the Lord easy to love:

  1. He is only one God.  It’s easy to focus on one.
  2. He loves me with a love I’ve never known before.
  3. He is perfect
  4. I want to be like Him, possessing His character–His graciousness, His compassion, His love and faithfulness and wisdom.

Love others as much as you love yourself.

Knowing I need to follow this command makes me want to pout like a selfish child.  I don’t have the same desire or make the same effort with this command as I do with the command to love God.

Things that make others difficult to love:

  1. There are an unlimited number of “others.”  This command would be hard enough to follow if it said to love all Josephs as much as you love yourself.  Then at least I could narrow it down and focus on the Josephs.  But the command is “others.”  “Others” is everyone who is not me.  That’s just hard to wrap my head around.
  2. Not all “others” love me.  In fact, most “others” have the same unsanctified opinion of me as I have of them.  It’s the “others” in my life who have hurt me and taken advantage of me and lied to me and who are intimidating and scary.
  3. “Others are completely imperfect.  See #2.  They hurt, they lie, they break their promises.  And have you ever noticed?  Simply one of the most intimidating things about “others” is that they can be the unknown ones.
  4. They so often bring out the worst in me.  If it weren’t for the “others,” I wouldn’t lose my temper or hold grudges or have distrust or evil thoughts.
  5. But perhaps the thing that makes loving all those “others” as much as I love myself the most difficult is that it threatens my life of excess.  Although my lifestyle may be one that the average middle class American may not consider excessive, when it compares with the lifestyles in many places of the world, I know that I have more than I need.  And to love “others”as much as I love myself would mean to share my time and my things and my food and my house and and my shower with the overwhelming number of “others” — anyone who is not me.

So Father, please reveal to me Your heart for the “others.”  Please help me to see them as Your beloved creation who are made in Your image.  Show me how I too am an “other” that a follower of Jesus decided to love as much as they loved themselves.  Teach me to love with Your love.  I have so much growth and maturity that needs to take place.  Pour out Your spirit of repentance on me and plant in me a desire to love the one in front of me, whoever they may be and wherever I may be.  Help me to reveal Your Father’s heart to those along my path.  Give me an understanding that I can’t love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength if I do not love Your body and those made in Your image as much as I love myself.  Thank you for wanting to see me grow and become more like You.  You are a great, mighty, and good God and Father.  I praise Your glorious name.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen.