#Lent14 — Only Two Kingdoms

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

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life.  Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!  Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.  Focusing on the self if the opposite of focusing on God.  Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God.  That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.  And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.  Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about.  But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms.  It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?  When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life.  With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

Romans 8:6-11 (MSG)

This is the Word of The Lord.

In this life, we are faced with a choice.  We can choose to live our lives with the goal of fulfilling our own desires, or we can choose to live our lives yielding our desires to the desires of God.  It’s a choice.

In today’s text, Paul confronts us with this choice.  He presents for us the facts of each way of life.  If we live based on our own selfish desires and ambitions, then it’s a dead-end.  We become self-absorbed and we ignore God.  Yet, on the other hand, if we live our life by the Spirit of Christ, then we live a life of power and purpose and fullness.

It’s really quite simple.  We either choose to live our lives to better ourselves or our position in life, or we live our life to make God’s name great.  It’s either about us or Him.

There are only two kingdoms.

We either live in the kingdom of self-advancement, self-achievement, and self-preservation.  Or, we live in the kingdom of God-Advancement.  We either live for ourselves.  Or, we life for God.

Which is it with you?

Christ didn’t come to earth and die on the cross to make live better.  He didn’t die to modify our behavior.  Rather, He came to transform our ENTIRE lives.  He came to shift us into a completely different direction.  He didn’t come to make things easier or make us more successful.  Instead, He came to redeem us unto Himself so that we might partner with Him in the Greatest Story of all time—His story.

And, so, we live differently—not succumbing to our own selfish desires or plans, but rather yielding to God’s desires and plans for us.  The reality of a life lived yielded to God’s plans and desires is a life of fullness.  A life of Shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken.  A life where the crooked places are made straight and the steep places are made level.  Where what’s broken is fixed and what’s missing is found.

It’s a life lived in the Kingdom.

Where are you living?

Ramana, Baku, Azerbaijan

Ramana, Baku, Azerbaijan

#Lent14 — The Kingdom And The Storm

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 Gospel of John.

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question.  You’re looking for someone to blame.  There is no such cause-effect here.  Look instead for what God can do.  We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines.  When night falls, the workday is over.  For as long as I am in the world, there is plant of light.  I am the world’s Light.”

He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”).  The man went and washed—and saw.

John 9:1-7 (MSG)

This is the Word of The Lord.

What do you do when you come across something bad?  When you look around you and see pain or suffering?

In our text for today, the Disciples are faced with this situation.  They’ve come across a blind man.  In First Century Israel (and in a large part of the world today), someone being blind (or lame or deaf or dumb or having a deformity) was believed to indicate that someone had sinned.  There was obviously some reason that God was punishing that person.  Either for something that they had done or something their ancestors had done.

Even in Twenty-First Century America, we find this logic.  Major tornado strikes a town, and many begin to ask why God sent the tornado.  Hurricane hits the Gulf Coast.  And, we find a reason to blame God.  Obviously, there was sin on the coast, and God hates sin.

The fact of the matter is that the world is fallen.  And, a fallen world will be plagued with “not good” stuff.  Hurricanes, tornados, mudslides, floods, etc.  When mankind disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they fell and brought the world down with them.

Yet, it didn’t end with the fall.  We come to today’s story.  Jesus has come.  The Son of God came to bring life—and life in abundance (John 10:10).  Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.

Here and now.

One person at a time.

When the Disciples encounter this blind man, they questioned Jesus with the question that society and culture and even religion had taught them to ask: “Who sinned?

And in Jesus’ response we learn something about the character and nature of God.

“You’re asking the wrong question.  You’re looking for someone to blame.  There is no such cause-effect here.  Look instead for what God can do.”

There’s not a cause-and-effect to the man being blind from birth.  There’s not a sin that caused it.  Jesus comes along and introduces the blind man to the Kingdom of God.  He removes the curse of the fall, and restores sight.

Because, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

As we look at the world around us, and we see issues of natural disasters or issues from birth, do we look at them through the eyes of the Disciples or the eyes of Jesus?

Do we ask “who sinned?” or do we proclaim, “Kingdom come?”

Do we bring the Kingdom?

The Kingdom of Heaven comes little by little.  It comes even in the midst of disaster.  Every time a blanket is handed to a cold and wet tornado survivor, the Kingdom comes.  With every bottle of water handed to a person removing debris from their flooded home, the Kingdom comes.  With every meal served to a hungry relief worker in a hurricane zone, the Kingdom comes.

We must remember, though, that God doesn’t send the hurricane to bring the Kingdom.  God sends the relief workers to bring the Kingdom.  God doesn’t cause the tornado to spin so that Kingdom will—eventually—come.  No, God sends His people into the aftermath of the tornado to bring the Kingdom.

The other night, we had dinner with a couple who had survived the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri in May 2011.  As they related their story of the storm and the aftermath, I was struck by the beauty of the Body of Christ.  See, in Joplin, churches had been working together for years to make a better community.  They had been doing community cleanup and relief work long before the tornado made it necessary.  So, when the tornado did come, and the thousands of volunteers descended on the city, they found that the churches in Joplin already had an infrastructure in place to assist with disasters—even though that infrastructure wasn’t designed as disaster response.

God didn’t send the storm to bring the Kingdom to Joplin.  No, the Kingdom was already in Joplin.  It had arrived there when the Body of Christ took a step in unity to work together to correct problems that were there.  So, when the storm did come, the Kingdom was there to serve.

The blind man in our text didn’t need someone to figure out why he was blind.  Rather, he needed someone to help him see.

The people of Joplin didn’t need someone to figure out why the tornado came.  Rather, they needed someone to help them shovel debris.

The people around you who are hurting don’t need someone to explain their pain.  Rather they need someone to hold their hand and walk through the pain with them.

For us who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, it’s critical that we understand that.  It’s critical that we understand that our role is not to explain suffering or pain.  Rather, our role is to endure the suffering and pain with those who are hurting.  Our role is to “strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’” (Isaiah 35:3-4).

Are you bringing the Kingdom?

Tornado Damage in Joplin, Missouri

Tornado Damage in Joplin, Missouri

#Lent14 — Light

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

A reading from the Epistle to the Ephesians.

You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.  Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth.  Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness.  Instead, you should reveal truth about them.  It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret.  But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light.  Everything that is revealed by the light is light.  Therefore, it says, “Wake up, sleeper!  Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:8-14 (CEB)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Often, as I read Ephesians, I’m struck with the similarities that Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus has to John’s gospel written from Ephesus.  One of these similarities is this theme of light/dark.

John begins his Gospel (John 1:1-18) with a discussion of light and dark.  He draws a contrast between the light of God (a theme he carries on throughout the Gospel) and the dark of the world.  How the light brings order to chaotic (dark) situations.  How even in the midst of the darkest darkness, light can come.  And, when light comes darkness leaves—every time.

Paul, in today’s text, also draws these same images.  He talks about how we were once in darkness.  We lived in the kingdom of the world.  We yielded only to our flesh.  Yet, now that we have become Followers of the Way we are no longer in darkness.  Rather, we are to live as children of light.

He talks about the fruit produced by light—goodness, justice and truth.  When we walk in the light, we produce this fruit.  We produce the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).

Yet, this imagery of light and dark wasn’t a new concept with either Paul or John.  Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, also talked about our lives using this language:

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.  God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?  I’m putting you on a light stand.  Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light-stand—shine!  Keep open house; be generous with your lives.  By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 (MSG)

Be light.  Shine the goodness of God into the darkness.  Shine His justice.  Shine His truth!

Bring out the God-colors in the world!

#Lent14 — Walking In The Path Of Life

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.

The LORD is my Shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.  He renews my strength.  He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.  Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.  Your rod and staff protect and comfort me.  You prepare a feast before me in the presence of my enemies.  You honor me by anointing my head with oil.  My cup overflows with blessings.  Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 23 (NLT)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Today’s post originally ran on February 9, 2012.

Our feet take steps.  That’s what they were designed for.  The steps we take compose our path.  Because of the reputation that God has in heaven, because of the fullness of His character, because of the supreme authority that He carries, because of His rank of King of kings and Lord of lords, and because we are His representatives, He guides us in paths of righteousness, so that we have a legal right-standing with God through the blood of Jesus and thereby have a right relationship with God (Psalm 23:3).  We’ve all had guides before that we’ve followed and guides that we’ve ignored while we went and did our own thing.  “Our own thing” is what I’ve been talking with God about today.  My own thing.  My own path.  My own choices.

I can choose to say, “Yes” to God and walk on the path that He has lit for me.  For He — His Word, Jesus — is a light for my feet and a lamp on my path (Psalm 119:105).  He doesn’t tell me where we’re going along the way, but He’s lit enough of my path for me to know where to put my feet down next, and He’s told me to simply follow Him.  He has told me that His path is one of life (Psalm 16:11).

Or, I can choose to ignore God as my guide.  I can choose not to spend the time in His Word with His Word, Jesus, to gain the light I need for my path.  I can let worry or doubt or pride convince me to put my feet down at another place along the way.

No matter which choice I make, I have a lamp to guide me.  The lamp that guides the righteous is Jesus, the Word of God.  The lamp that guides the wicked — haughty eyes and an arrogant heart — is sin (Proverbs 21:4).  So, I can choose light as my lamp or darkness as my lamp.  Those are my two choices, and I don’t have a third choice.  There is the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness.  There is not a Kingdom of “My Own.”  Why is that?  Why can’t I make my own little kingdom somewhere between the light and darkness.  Why can’t I sit on the fence?

I don’t own myself (1 Corinthians 6:19).  I never have owned myself.  I was a slave to sin (Romans 6:6) before the gift of God’s righteous act given through His eternal grace.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave His life as a sacrifice in order to purchase with His blood men and women for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9).  I was owned by the Kingdom of Darkness before Christ redeemed me with His precious blood allowing me to enter the Kingdom of Light.  The blood of Jesus has set me free from sin, and I have become a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:18).  I have become a slave to God, the benefit I reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life, for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:22-23).

When we leave the path of darkness and came into the path of righteousness, in order to fully receive all that God has for us, we must get rid of everything that possessed and influenced us from the Kingdom of Darkness.  The way that we do this is to die to sin (Romans 6:2), for when we are baptized into Christ Jesus, we are baptized into His death (Romans 6:3).  Our determined purpose is to fully know Christ, progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly, that we may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection, and that we may so share in His sufferings as to be continually transformed in spirit into His likeness even to His death in the hope that we may attain to the resurrection that lifts us out from among the dead even while in the body (Philippians 3:10-11).  If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection (Romans 6:5).

So will we count ourselves dead to sin to be alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)?  Rather than offering the parts of our body to sin as instruments of wickedness, we will offer ourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life.  We will offer the parts of our body to Him as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:13).  In Christ, we are a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

Therefore, why would we want to go back to the path of darkness by choosing to ignore God and choosing not to spend time with Jesus, our lamp on our path?  Let’s continue in the path of righteousness.  Let’s continue saying, “Yes” to God as His Word lights our path.  Let’s continue to follow Him with simple childlike faith, knowing that He leads us in life.

A Shepherd in Antalya Province, Turkey.

A Shepherd in Antalya Province, Turkey.

Lent 2013: Stop being Self-Confident

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 Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians.

Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God's fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ. But just experiencing God's wonder and grace didn't seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

The same thing could happen to us. We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did. And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did—”First the people partied, then they threw a dance.” We must not be sexually promiscuous—they paid for that, remember, with 23,000 deaths in one day! We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes. We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them.

These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don't repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.

— 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (MSG)

Paul strikes us with a great truth that we often read past. We like the whole “God won't give me more than I can bear” stuff, but we miss a much more important–foundational truth. A truth that runs contrary to a worldview with which most of us were raised.

“Forget about self-confidence,” Paul says, “It's useless. Cultivate God confidence.”

We are raised–at least in America–with the thought that “we can do it.” Countless volumes have been written to help us get enough self-confidence to make it happen. To win. To succeed. To just do it.

Self-confidence, Paul tells us, is useless. It doesn't work. It doesn't help us succeed.

Prior to this painful declaration, Paul explains a deep truth to the church at Corinth. He walks the church quickly through the Israelite story. In doing this, he makes the case that no amount of self-confidence in the world was going to get these people from Egypt to Canaan. They needed something else. They needed God-Confidence.

He goes even further to say to the church at Corinth–and to us–that we're in the same boat. Trials and tempatations are going to come, and if you are reliant on your own self-confidence, they will be more than you can handle. But, if you have cultivated God-Confidence, then you can handle them.

We have done at least a few generations (my generation and later) of young people a great disservice. We've planted within them an idea that they can make it on their own. All you need is hard work, ingenuity, and self-confidence. But, Paul, smacks that idea in the face.

One day I was in a Barnes and Nobles and stumbled upon a book called “The Complete Idiots Guide to Ventriloquism”. Quickly, I snapped a photo and posted it on FaceBook with the caption, “I guess Ventriloquism for Dummies” was already taken. But, now, it makes me wonder if we haven't taken this “building of self-confidence” to a whole new–and unhealthy–level.

Paul, would argue we have. We don't need self-confidence. Self-confidence won't help us. We need a complete and utter dependency on God. We need to admit that we can do nothing of our own accord. If we are going to succeed–in the Kingdom (the only place success matters)–then we must realize that our success is dependent totally on God.

We MUST develop a confidence in His abilities. We must understand that outside of Him our own self-confidence (the opposite of God-Confidence, and therefore, a part of the kingdom of darkness) is never going to lead us to success.

Relying on our own self-confidence will cause us to truly have more than we can handle. But, relying on God, we can handle anything. Why? Becuase, it's Him and not me.

God-Confidence is that one thing that will cause to remember that “God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.”

 

Walking in Path of Life

A trail at Haupoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

A trail at Haupoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

Our feet take steps.  That’s what they were designed for.  The steps we take compose our path.  Because of the reputation that God has in heaven, because of the fullness of His character, because of the supreme authority that He carries, because of His rank of King of kings and Lord of lords, and because we are His representatives, He guides us in paths of righteousness, so that we have a legal right-standing with God through the blood of Jesus and thereby have a right relationship with God (Psalm 23:3).  We’ve all had guides before that we’ve followed and guides that we’ve ignored while we went and did our own thing.  “Our own thing” is what I’ve been talking with God about today.  My own thing.  My own path.  My own choices.

I can choose to say, “Yes” to God and walk on the path that He has lit for me.  For He — His Word, Jesus — is a light for my feet and a lamp on my path (Psalm 119:105).  He doesn’t tell me where we’re going along the way, but He’s lit enough of my path for me to know where to put my feet down next, and He’s told me to simply follow Him.  He has told me that His path is one of life (Psalm 16:11).

Or I can choose to ignore God as my guide.  I can choose not to spend the time in His Word with His Word, Jesus, to gain the light I need for my path.  I can let worry or doubt or pride convince me to put my feet down at another place along the way.

No matter which choice I make, I have a lamp to guide me.  The lamp that guides the righteous is Jesus, the Word of God.  The lamp that guides the wicked — haughty eyes and an arrogant heart — is sin (Proverbs 21:4).  So I can choose light as my lamp or darkness as my lamp.  Those are my two choices, and I don’t have a third choice.  There is the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness.  There is not a Kingdom of “My Own.”  Why is that?  Why can’t I make my own little kingdom somewhere between the light and darkness.  Why can’t I sit on the fence?

I don’t own myself (1 Corinthians 6:19).  I never have owned myself.  I was a slave to sin (Romans 6:6) before the gift of God’s righteous act given through His eternal grace.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave His life as a sacrifice in order to purchase with His blood men and women for God from every tribe and language and people and nation (Revelation 5:9).  I was owned by the Kingdom of Darkness before Christ redeemed me with His precious blood allowing me to enter the Kingdom of Light.  The blood of Jesus has set me free from sin, and I have become a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:18).  I have become a slave to God, the benefit I reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life, for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:22-23).

When we leave the path of darkness and came into the path of righteousness, in order to fully receive all that God has for us, we must get rid of everything that possessed and influenced us from the Kingdom of Darkness.  The way that we do this is to die to sin (Romans 6:2), for when we are baptized into Christ Jesus, we are baptized into His death (Romans 6:3).  Our determined purpose is to fully know Christ, progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly, that we may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection, and that we may so share in His sufferings as to be continually transformed in spirit into His likeness even to His death in the hope that we may attain to the resurrection that lifts us out from among the dead even while in the body (Philippians 3:10-11, Amplified).  If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection (Romans 6:5).

So will we count ourselves dead to sin to be alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)?  Rather than offering the parts of our body to sin as instruments of wickedness, we will offer ourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life.  We will offer the parts of our body to Him as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:13).  In Christ, we are a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

Therefore, why would we want to go back to the path of darkness by choosing to ignore God and choosing not to spend time with Jesus, our lamp on our path?  Let’s continue in the path of righteousness.  Let’s continue saying, “Yes” to God as His Word lights our path.  Let’s continue to follow Him with simple childlike faith, knowing that He leads us in life.