Following Jesus: Fear and Forgiveness

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

— John 20:19-23 (CEB)

Easter night. By now, the Disciples have heard the stories of the women who had gone early that morning to the tomb a hundred times. The men who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem, and have told the others their stories.

“Jesus is risen,” was the resounding message.

Yet, fear was still the motivating factor for the disciples. They were locked in a room. Waiting for the Romans to come for them. Surely, they would be next.

There has to be a million questions running through the minds of the disciples at this point. Surely, this Jesus was more than just a man, but he was Messiah. And, Messiah meant the restoration of Israel. But, Rome is still in charge.

Jesus, they are not yet realizing, didn’t come to overthrow a political entity. It wasn’t about a land or even a particular type of people. Rather, Jesus had come to institute a new Kingdom. A Kingdom that wasn’t dependent on land or borders.

“Peace,” he proclaims to his followers. And, that is what he proclaims to us.

Peace. Not an absence of conflict, but rather a process where crooked is made straight, missing is found, and broken is repaired.

Fear had caused these followers to lock themselves into a room. Yet, Jesus comes in, proclaims peace, and then sends them out. Sends them out even though they were still afraid.

Fear is not sin. Fear is a natural human reaction when life is in danger. The problem arises when we decide to order our lives from the place of fear–when we decide that the right response is to lock ourselves in our rooms. However, Jesus doesn’t call us to lock ourselves in our rooms.

Or behind huge walls.

Or behind a giant military complex.

Or behind the doors of beautiful sanctuaries.

wpid-Photo-1-Şub-2013-0233.jpgNo, Jesus sends us out into the very world from which we try to insulate ourselves. He breathes on us the power of the Holy Spirit. A power that is to be used to forgive those who need forgiveness. To forgive even the Roman soldiers who hammered the nails. To forgive even the religious leaders who lodged false accusations.

The christian faith is not intended to be lived out on Sunday mornings in padded pews. Christian faith is lived out in the highways and the byways. It is lived out in the homeless shelters and the corporate offices. It is lived out in the “safety” of the west and the “risk” of the east.

To follow Jesus is to leave the locked room of safety behind. To follow Jesus is to go into every man’s world. It is to proclaim, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that our fear has been turned into forgiveness.

Be careful!

As I’ve laid awake jet-lagged at 4:00am for the last two hours tonight, I’ve been reflecting on how much I was told to be careful as I left the comforts of America for Turkey (which, by the way, holds its own but different sets of comfort for us). “Be careful.” What does that even mean? The two words are care and full. What does a life full of care look like?

My favorite book says to love your neighbor (cross-cultural context) as yourself. My Big Brother has told me that our Dad has such a close eye on us that he even knows how many hairs are on our heads. In fact, Dad is so watchful of all things, He even knows when a sparrow, which is sold at a rate of five for $0.02, falls. Because my Dad loves, values, and cares for me so much, I don’t have to worry about myself. Dad would much rather me have my eyes on Him—seeing what He’s seeing, doing what He’s doing, saying what He’s saying—than worrying about what I’m going to eat, drink, or wear. He’s going to feed, water, and dress me. He actually loves doing that kind of stuff so much so that He makes sure all the flowers in the field are dressed with the most beautiful petals and leaves too. That’s just who He is.

So knowing all this, I really don’t need to be full of care for myself. However, I still agree with those who tell me to be careful if that means living a life full of care. My Book is teaching me to use my food to give the hungry a meal, to use my water to give the thirsty a drink, to use my home to invite in the stranger, to use my clothes to dress the naked, to use my time to care for the sick and to visit the imprisoned. This seems to be the right and appropriate focus of care.

So yes, I will try to be careful. It’s a more difficult road to take, a more narrow road, but it’s the road I want to travel on. The easy way out would be to live care-free, not caring about the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners. That’s the easy way out because I can be care-free in my own strength. It doesn’t take work. I hate to admit it, but the easy way out comes pretty naturally for me.

But I can’t bring good news to the poor and healing to the broken and freedom for the captives and light for the prisoners living in darkness in my own strength. To live that way, I need to remain in Jesus with Jesus remaining in me. I need to live with His anointing and His spirit on me. And that’s possible because of how much He loves me, and how much He loves all those He has sent me to love and care for with His grace, His compassion, and His love.

Dreaming and imagining with God tonight of living life carefully!

 

#Lent14 — The Path That God Walked

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Psalms.

You said to me, “I will point out the road that you should follow.  I will be your teacher and watch over you.  Don’t be stupid like horses and mules that must be led with ropes to make them obey.”

All kinds of troubles will strike the wicked, but your kindness shields those who trust you, LORD.  And so your good people should celebrate and shout.

— Psalm 32:8-11 (CEV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Over the past few months, I’ve been meditating on the idea of the Ancient Path.  It all started in about October of last year when in my reading I read again the sixth chapter of Jeremiah and came across this verse:

This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”  — Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve learned in discussing this verse (and others from the Old Testament that talk about the “way” or the “path”) is that in the Hebrew there’s an idea of the ancient path being the “path that God has already walked.”

Think about that.

The path that God has already walked.

There comes a point in each of our lives where we are faced with a decision to make.  In those moments, we must seek out which is the right path.  Which is the path that holds the way that enables us to further the Kingdom.  Which is the path that God has already walked.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the principle of community development that says that God is already in the place to which He has called you.  He’s already there—long before you get there.  And He will remain there—long after you leave.  Yet, remember, if He’s already there, that means He’s already walked the path to get there.  He blazed the trail.  And, now, He calls to you to walk along it.

Stand at the crossroads and look.  Ask for the ancient path—the path that God has already walked.  Walk down that path.  And, there, you will find rest for your soul.

As you stand in the place between two decisions, ask God to show you the path which He has walked, and walk down it.

There is a peace that comes from knowing that you’re on the path that God has already walked.  It’s a peace that says, “No matter what comes up, I know that God has already walked past it.”  He’s already taken care of the briers and the sharp rocks and the fallen trees.  He knows what’s on it.  AND, can be trusted to help you walk down it.  Trusted to show you the next step to take.

“By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.” — Psalm 119:105 (MSG)

As you walk down the path, with God’s Word leading you step-by-step there is an additional promise to remember.  The prophet Isaiah reminds us that as we walk that there will be a voice BEHIND us saying “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21(NIV))

So, walk securely down the path that God has already walked.  His Word guiding your steps.  His Voice behind you whispering in your ear.  

Walk on.

A trail at Haupoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

A trail at Haupoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

 

Lent 2013: The Empty Tomb Awaits

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 Gospel of Luke.

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

— Luke 13:31-35 (NIV)

Today's text is a tough one with which to deal. There are a lot of different things going on in it.

First, there's this whole Pharisees (not the best of friends with Jesus) warning Jesus of Herod's intent to kill Jesus. Could this be Herod feeding the Pharisees a line in order to keep Jesus from coming into Jerusalem and “raising a ruckus?” Or, could it be that the Pharisees were just curious what Jesus' intentions were? Or, maybe these particular Pharisees liked Jesus and truly wanted to see Him continue in His mission?

Then, Jesus calls Herod a “fox.” Now, I've never been called a fox, nor have I ever called someone else a fox, but I can imagine that it's not a compliment. Maybe, He's accusing the Pharisees of being a pawn in Herod's chess game to attempt to lure Jesus.

Jesus makes a bold statement: “no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem.” He continues on with a lament over this city. He says how He longs to gather the children under his wings, but they weren't willing for that to be. Then He ends this discourse with a quote from the Psalms (Psalm 118:36).

So, what to do with all this? How does it impact us living 2,000 years later and Jerusalem still being an unsettled place?

Jesus is on the journey to Jerusalem. He's not yet entered the city for that last time, but He is well on the way. He, undoubtedly knows that entering Jerusalem is going to end with death. He surely can see the cross in the distance.

Yet, He continues on His way. Marching between the manger and the cross–a place we often find ourselves.

We know what God has given us to do. We know the task He has set before us. And, we have accepted that call–our manger moment.

We're on the journey. Solidly walking in all we know that God has said. Yet, at times all we can see ahead is a cross. No matter how hard we try to imagine the chicks gathering under the wing, we can't see fulfillment of that promise we've been marching toward. We only see the cross.

Yet, beyond the cross is another great event. Beyond the cross….

We're in a country where the average length of service for full-time workers is 18 months. It's not that they didn't have a manger moment, and knew that this was where God wanted them to be. No, it's simply that it's hard here. Very little fruit for a whole lot of work. The cross looms large in their vision.

Even those workers who have resolutely set their face toward this land and have stayed are tired. They've had moments of success–Peter and James agreeing to follow, 5000 being fed, Lazarus raised. Yet, at times all they can see is the cross.

Yet, just on the other side of the cross is a tomb. And it's empty. The promise is fulfilled.

I have often heard preachers say that Jesus had one sole thought on His mind while He was here–“He came for the cross!” But, I submit to you something different.

He came for the empty tomb! The victory was in the empty tomb. Death thought it had won–again. Just like it had done in Eden. But, Jesus didn't stay dead. And death didn't win.

In this moment, as we stand near the city gates, the Pharisees have come to warn us of impending doom. The cross looms in the distance. We know what God has asked us to do. And, we've obediently followed.

The cross–hardship, no fruit to our work, tiredness, people at home asking why you're even there in the first place–ever before us.

I am convinced that in that great conversation when God asked His Son to be the Rescuer the cross wasn't the focus of their conversation. I'm convinced that Jesus knew the cross was coming, but that He further knew the empty tomb was the end goal. It is the empty tomb that moves one from death to life.

So, to those of you working hard in between your own manger and empty tomb, don't give up at the looming shadow of the cross. Keep resolute in what God has said. Keep on the journey.

The empty tomb awaits!

 

Lent 2013: Guest Post – Neal Locke

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.

Rev. Neal Locke
Rev. Neal Locke

We are honored to once again have Rev. Neal Locke guest blogging for us. Neal and I met 15 years ago as students at Oral Roberts University. I am thankful that all these years later I can still call him my friend. (And, can say that we both successfully graduated.)

Neal, his wife, Amy, and three children, Grady, Abby, and Jonah live in El Paso, Texas, where Neal is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

A reading from the book of Genesis.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.’

— Genesis 15:17-20

The “pieces” referred to in this passage are pieces of animals sliced in half—not an appealing thought to our modern sensibilities, but part of an important ritual in antiquity. The ritual would go something like this: Two powerful and wealthy men (as displayed by their ability to sacrifice several large and expensive animals) would make promises to one another. The sliced, equal halves of the animals represented the equal status and commitment of the men making the promise. It is also possible that the cleaved animals served as a veiled threat of the fate awaiting anyone who broke such a promise. The two men would then pass through the animals, representing a shared and irrevocable journey.

But something is missing in this ritual as performed in Genesis 15:17-20. And that something is Abram. This is a completely one-sided covenant, for it would be impossible for God and Abram to make a covenant together as equals. Instead, God makes the journey through the halved animals on his own, as a “smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch.” This is the first of many times in the Bible that God manifests himself as fire (burning bush, pillar of fire, pentecost, etc.). It is a reminder to us today that God’s covenant to us, his people, is not something that we can earn, or to which we can even contribute anything of worth. Our salvation is something God undertakes alone, for our benefit.

The promise is certainly a good one. God promises Abram descendants and land—two things that an elderly nomad would have no right to expect or even hope for apart from God’s grace. But this promise is perhaps not without cost. Earlier in the chapter, in verse 12, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.” We are not told exactly what terrified Abram in his sleep. Perhaps it was a vision of the future in which his offspring would be aliens, slaves and oppressed. But when I look at the land which God promises Abram—land in the Middle East that has seen tremendous bloodshed and violence throughout recorded history right down to the present day—I cannot help but wondering if this is the terrifying vision Abram sees.

God’s promises are good, and God is faithful to keep them, but sometimes the road is long and fraught with seemingly insurmountable enemies. Again, we must remember the nature of the covenant: God does not ask us to surmount the insurmountable. That’s his job. Abram’s job was simply to be obedient, and bring the animals for the sacrifice. When we are obedient to God’s calling, when we sacrifice our time, talents, and resources to answer his call, God goes before us as a flaming torch to guide our way.

 

Lent 2012: 6.2 — Yes, Lord!

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, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.  Then I said, ‘Here I am–it is written about me in the scroll–I have come to do your will, my God.”

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”–though they were offered in accordance with the law.  Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.”  He sets side the first to establish the second.  And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

— Hebrews 10:4-10 (NIV)

“Here I am.  I have come to do your will, O God.” – Jesus, Hebrews 10:7

“I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.” – Mary the mother of Jesus, Luke 1:38

Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.  Disciples James and John, Matthew 4:21-22

Noah did everything just as God commanded him.  – Genesis 6:22

The LORD has said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  So Abram left, as the LORD had told him.  – Genesis 12:1,4

So I prophesied as I was commanded.  – Ezekiel the prophet, Ezekiel 37:7

And if I perish, I perish.  – Queen Esther, Esther 4:16

God’s salvation story is full of real people who said, “Yes, Lord” to God’s purpose.  The Father’s purpose for His Son, Jesus, was to be the ultimate sacrifice that would redeem His people to be adopted as sons and daughters.  Jesus’ obedience is the only way that we have been made holy.  God required the perfect Lamb of God to be slain, and Jesus, that Lamb of God, said, “I have come to do Your will.”

The Father’s will is still being carried out by those who listen and are saying, “Yes, Lord.  Here I am.  I desire to do Your will, O my God.”  And He faithfully leads us, step by step of obedience each time we say, “Yes, Lord.”  What is the Father requiring of you today?  I’m not talking about receiving a 5-10 year projected plan from God with all the steps laid out for you from the beginning.  Ha!  He leads us by steps, and we follow with obedience.  Listen and watch for your step He will light for you.  And then give a wholehearted and obedient, “Yes, Lord.”  And may His glory come with His Kingdom and may His will be done on earth as it is in heaven!  Through your “Yes, Lord!”