Refugee Camp

#Advent16 — The Olivet Discourse

A Reading from the Gospel According to Matthew:

“But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

“The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

“The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have bene there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.”

Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Today’s Advent reading has us looking beyond the manger, past the cross, beyond the Ascension and even beyond today. It has us looking for the King to return in fullness. It takes us to the top of the Mount of Olives into one of Jesus’ most often quoted (and most often misunderstood) discourses—The Olivet Discourse.

Let’s begin here: The Olivet Discourse was not given for us to speculate about who is in and who is out, or about dates and times, or even to scare us into living right. Jesus’ purpose in this discourse is to encourage His Followers that even in the midst of the ugliness and mess of the world (after all, He is largely predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and ultimately Israel as they knew it), He is still the King. Further, He seeks to use this encouragement for us to live our lives to bring His Kingdom even in the middle of these messes and uglinesses. He challenges us to align our lives with Him and His Kingdom. So that when He returns in the fulfillment of His Kingdom, we will see it and know it and embrace it.

When we read these “end-times” passages in the scriptures, it is important that we remember four key points as we read.

First, Jesus wins. He is the King. He is the One whose coming was foretold from the beginning of time itself. He is the one who sets all things right. He is the One who will return to bring heaven (in all of it’s splendor and glory) to earth.

Second, suffering and pain are still present in the world. Jesus came to set all things right, but not all things are yet set right. We, as His followers, are called to continue this partner with Him i this work of setting things right. Yet, because not all things are set right, there is still pain. There is still suffering. Death still happens. Divorces still occur. Far too many children still get cancer. Too many elderly people face dementia. These things still happen.

Let me pause here. I will be the first to admit that I have no good answers to the problem of suffering. I don’t.

Refugee Camp

Refugee Camp

I live in a land where there are more than 3 million people who have fled their own homeland due to war and violence. I see them in town begging for bread. I seem them on the bow of the coast guard boats that enter the harbor below our front window after they’ve been rescued from the cold waters where their makeshift boats sank as they sought a new and better life in Europe.

I don’t know why a friend has to watch as his parents suffer with dementia.

I have no explanation for why dear friends had to sit helplessly through surgery after surgery and then ultimately bury their five-year-old son.

I struggle to understand cancer.

I don’t have answers for these questions.

But, here’s what I do know. We are called to do something about pain and suffering. We are called to cry with those who are crying. We’re not called to offer up hollow platitudes about “God being in charge” or “God wanting another angel.” We’re called to suffer with those who suffer. To cry with those who cry. To listen to those who need to yell and scream and cuss. To sit silently and hold a hand. To mourn with those who mourn.

Suffering and pain are as real today as they were when Jesus sat on that mountain and delivered the discourse from which today’s text is drawn. I don’t know why he didn’t heal every sick person that crossed his path. But, I do know that when his friend Lazarus was in the grave, before he raised him from the dead, Jesus stood alongside his friends and neighbors and wept.

Third, evil is real. Even though Christ has come. Even though the Kingdom has begun. Even though for two thousand years men and women have worked tirelessly to bring more and more of the Kingdom to bear. Evil still exists. Evil is still a reality with which we must deal.

Fourth, we must struggle against evil. We are called to stand in opposition to the things that are not as they should be. We stand in opposition to people being mistreated—even if it is by their own government. When children go to bed hungry, we stand in opposition by bringing food. When cities are overran by evil people, we do all we can to share the overwhelming love of Jesus—even at the risk of our own life.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

And, that is what Kingdom people have done for centuries.

When the ancient Romans used the horrible practice of exposure as a means of birth control, it was the Kingdom people who took these unwanted babies and gave them new life.

When a lady was told to change seats in a bus simply because of her skin color, it was the Kingdom people who peacefully protested until she was allowed to sit wherever she wanted.

When young girls and boys are kidnapped and sold for sex, it is the Kingdom people who find them and rescue them.

When poor people were left out in the streets to die alone, it was Kingdom people who took them in and cleaned them and nursed them and loved them and then buried them.

When millions were being taken away from their homes and interned in camps, it was Kingdom people who hid them from the authorities.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

We work to bring the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed into its fulfillment. Knowing that there will come a day, when Jesus will return and say “Well done, you good and faithful servant” to those who have feed the hungry, and sheltered the homeless, and spent time with the widow, and fathered the orphan.

#Advent16 — Ascending to the New Jerusalem

A Reading from the Psalms:

Pray that Jerusalem has peace: “Let those who love you have rest. Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications.” For the sake of my family and friends, I say, “Peace be with you, Jerusalem.” For the sake of the Lord our God’s house I will pray for your good.

Psalm 122:6-9 (CEB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

In ancient times, there were a collection of Psalms that the people of Israel would pray as they journeyed to Jerusalem for their yearly sacrifices. This particular Psalm is one of those. As the people of Israel would walk toward the Holy City they would pray these Psalms together. They would remember the goodness of God in times past while they yearned for an eternal King to come and rule over them with peace and rest.

For us, Advent is a bit like this ascension to Jerusalem. We remember that a new kind of King has been promised from time hence. The Prophets proclaimed that this King would come. And throughout Advent we march closer to this quiet cave in a small city. In that cave lies a newborn Baby—a new King—who himself is the gate to the new Jerusalem.

“I am the Way” that baby would later say. The way to life. The way to life lived to the full.

And, so, we march toward this New Jerusalem.

Advent is the season of waiting. But, our waiting is an active waiting. We call to memory the prophetic words of ages past. We dream prophetically about the King and His Kingdom to come. And, we walk excitedly toward that manger in that cave in that lowly city in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

And, when we arrive at the manger we find that the real work of faith has just begun. With fear and trembling, we work to bring about the fulfillment of this new Kingdom. We work the work of shalom. We work to make that which is crooked straight. We work so that that which is lost might be found. We welcome this new Kingdom, and work to bring it to it’s fulfilled state.

We ascend into the New Jerusalem, as the New Jerusalem descends upon the earth.

We work to bring the Kingdom to fulfillment, as the Kingdom comes in fulfillment.

One step at a time.

#Advent16 – A New King

A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

There’s a day coming when the mountain of GOD’s House will be The Mountain—solid, towering over all other mountains. All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it. They’ll say, “Come, let’s climb GOD’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.”

Zion’s the source of revelation. GOD’s Message comes from Jerusalem. He’ll settle things fairly between nations. He’ll make things right between many peoples. They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore.

Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God.

Isaiah 2:2-5 (The Message)

This is the Word of the Lord.

I heard it said the other day, that the church calendar is oriented so that the last Sunday of the church year (which occurred last week) announces that Christ is indeed King. All of Sundays in the church year point us toward this one Sunday. It struck me that Christ the King Sunday (this last Sunday in the church year) is followed by the first of the four Sundays that we call Advent. So, we end the church year proclaiming that this man—Jesus—is indeed the Christ. He is indeed the world’s one true King. From there, we reenter the cycle of the church calendar.

We enter at Advent.

Advent.

Longing.

Waiting.

Hoping.

Yearning.

Listening as the Scriptures proclaim to us that a new kind of King—and Kingdom—is on the way. It will upset the empires of the world. It will change everything about the way we do things. It will change everything about the way we live.

“There is a day coming,” the prophet tells us.

A day where all nations will long to enter His Kingdom and find out how life was meant to work. Where all nations will learn to “live the way we were made.”

But, a new Kingdom requires a new King. And in this season of Advent—these 28 long nights of longing—we yearn for that new King to come. Because only a new King can usher in a new Kingdom. Only a new King can truly change the way that our lives are arranged and governed.

Only a new King.

Mosaic of Christ the King in the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey.

Mosaic of Christ the King in the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey.

This new King rules with justice—settling things fairly between nations. The new King changes the dynamics of power. Not favoring one group over another. Justice. All are truly created equal in the eyes of this new King. No one is less than. No one is better than.

This new King makes things right between peoples. He teaches us to forgive as we have been forgiven. To lay aside the things that weigh us down about another. To not wait to be apologized to before we offer forgiveness. He even goes a step further and urges us to go beyond what is required. To serve others before we serve ourselves. He teaches us that life is better when lived in a way to orients us to serve and not to be served.

This new King positions us to turn the tools of destruction and death into tools of construction and life. He challenges the empire to lay aside it’s weapons and seek first to build up. Take the things that cause pain and use them to bring healing. Take the things of despair and turn them into things of hope.

There will be no need to play war any longer.

See, when we seek to serve before being served…

…when we seek to bring life instead of death…

…to build schools instead of air bases…

…to bring bread instead of bombs….

…to provide for equal education opportunities for all…

…to pay equal wages regardless of gender or skin color…

…to insure that all have equal access to clean water, and shelter, and food, and healthcare…

…the world works better.

It works in the way of the Kingdom. The way that the new King desires it to work.

The message of the new King is there is good news even for the poor. There is healing for the broken. There is liberty for the captives. There is redemption for the prisoner. There is favor available for all. There is comfort for those in mourning. There is joy even in sorrow. There is a rebuilding of ruins.

That is the good news that the new King brings. That is the Gospel of the Kingdom!

And, that is the message of the King that is coming. In just a few short nights, we will announce the arrival of this King. We will proclaim that He is here. And, we will begin the walk to proclaiming again that this man, Jesus, is indeed the Christ. And, in His being the Christ, He is the King of Kings. He is the world’s one true King! And of his reign there will be no end.

Photo of the Week – 24 November 2016

Last week we had to make a trip up to Izmir to the US Consulate to renew some of our family’s passports. This journey involved a dolmus (a minibus), a train, and a few kilometers of walking. Thankfully, a dear friend of ours was also in Izmir for the day, and meet us at the train station walked through the process with us and drove us home when it was all said and done.

After our appointment with the Consular Agent, we met back up with our friend at a coffee shop. As we left the coffee shop to head back to his car, we passed a building that looked like a church. There was a wall with a gate around the building, but the gate was open. We noticed a security guard standing there, and asked if we might be able to go in and take a look around. We were told we could.

We learned that we had stumbled upon the Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. This beautiful cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Izmir. It was an amazingly beautiful building and an oasis of peace in the midst of a loud and busy city.

On a day of meeting with ambassadors of a government, entering this chuch reminded me of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. It reminded me of how we are ambassadors of the King of Kings. How the church is called to be outposts of the Kingdom in the midst of foreign territory. How we are to proclaim the Gospel (Good News) of the Kingdom in every place and time.

Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Izmir, Turkey

Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Izmir, Turkey

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV)

 

Photo of the Week – 16 May

We've been remiss for the past several months as we've travelled around the US at keeping up with the Photo of the Week. So, throughout the month of October, we will be catching up with a post each day. Enjoy the look into our lives!

This week was the Turkish Süper Lig (the primary soccer league) championship game. The game ended about 930pm and it would seem that most of the town flooded into the streets afterwards. People were cheering and driving around honking their horns. The kids woke up, and struggled to get back to sleep.

The good news is that Caleb and my team, Beşiktaş, won! We picked this team in the winter of 2014, when some friends gave Caleb a Beşiktaş scarf.

When I took my walk the next morning, this huge banner had been hung from one of the buildings on the main road.

Beşiktaş banner

Beşiktaş!

 

Photo of the Week – 9 May

We’ve been remiss for the past several months as we’ve travelled around the US at keeping up with the Photo of the Week. So, throughout the month of October, we will be catching up with a post each day. Enjoy the look into our lives!

On Sunday, 8 May, we joined the local church in Kuşadası for “Church at the Beach.” This event happens a few times throughout the summer, and includes worship, teaching, lunch, swimming, and Baptisms!

This particular Sunday seven individuals were baptized! It was an amazing day of welcoming new brothers and sisters into the Kingdom. And, God, had a special welcome for them as well.

Even though there had been no rain and there were no clouds in the sky, when the first new believer went under the water a rainbow appeared as a perfect ring around the sun. It remained in place until the last of those being baptized came up out of the water!!

Rainbow around the Sun

A baptism rainbow around the sun.

 

 

Photo of the Week – 2 May

We’ve been remiss for the past several months as we’ve travelled around the US at keeping up with the Photo of the Week. So, throughout the month of October, we will be catching up with a post each day. Enjoy the look into our lives!

This first photo is of a fun vending machine in a park in Kuşadası where the kids like to play, and I like to grab a cup of çay.

Popcorn Vending Machine

A popcorn vending machine!

 

The Very Good Gospel

Book Review: The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper

The Very Good Gospel

The Very Good Gospel

Read this book.

Seriously.

In her new book, The Very Good Gospel, Lisa Sharon Harper (Twitter, Website) presents us with a fresh approach to the Gospel. She takes us back to the beginning—to the creation poems in Genesis—and paints us a picture of a world as God intended it to be. She shows us how relationships were created to be in harmony, and when they are God declares it to be VERY GOOD.

Enter the snake. The apple. The deception. The “I will make a better god than you, God.” And, relationships are no longer in harmony. Death and destruction and suffering and pain and hurt enters the picture.

The remainder of the Scriptures, Harper points out, are all about bringing these relationships back into the order of God’s original intent. Salvation isn’t just about getting a ticket to heaven, but is about restoring the relationships of creation back to their proper place. Redeeming the brokenness, and from it recreating something new and beautiful.

This is one of the most important books of our day. We need to recapture the depth and beauty of God’s original intentions and design for His creation—that which He declared in no uncertain terms to be VERY GOOD.

Harper helps us to understand the old axiom, “If it’s not good news to the poor then it’s not Gospel.” She paints for us a picture of life as Jesus intended. A life of serving one another without expectation for return. A life of living for the other and not for the self.

Every person who claims to follow Jesus should take time to read this volume. They need to let the truths in it sink deep into their marrow. They need to let it effect the way that they live and move and have their being.

Here’s a short promo video that explores some of the themes in the book.

 

—————

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Blogging for Books book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Life is Better at the Beach

Book Review: Life is Better at the Beach by Christina Vinson

Life is Better at the Beach

Life is Better at the Beach

I chose to review this new volume from Christina Vinson and Thomas Nelson Publishers for two reasons. First, my mother is a huge fan of the beach. She truly believes—as the title of the book suggests—that life is better at the beach. Second, we live at the beach.

This is a beautifully done volume. Superb photos, easy to read fonts, and the beach. The author takes us on a vacation of sorts. She connects life at the beach with lessons drawn from scripture. The book is a series of short devotional-type articles centered around particular “Beach Rules”. These rules range from “Wake up Smiling” to “Nap Often” and “Make Memories”.

I read this volume while our family was on vacation. While we weren’t at the beach, it is easy to see how this would be a great companion to a porch overlooking the crashing waves. The devotionals are easy-to-read, yet are full of deep wisdom. The photos are appealing to the eyes.

Take this volume with you on your next vacation!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Book Review: Jesus Called by Ray Johnston

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back is the latest volume from author Ray Johnston. In this book, Johnston outlines for us the state of the American church, and prophetically urges us to think  and act differently as modern-day followers of Jesus. He begins with one of the better overviews of the various worldviews that are impacting the church today. He also presents us with the counter-cultural view that Jesus taught.

The primary argument that Johnston makes in the book is that Christians are willing to follow Jesus up until the point of it changing their worldviews. He says:

One of the main problems undermining American Christianity is this: people become Christians, join the church, put Christian bumper stickers on their cars–but stop short of letting Jesus make a fundamental change in their foundational beliefs, their worldviews. Their lives don’t reflect the values taught and lived by the Jesus they claim to follow. — Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 58).

This is an important point. Until we are willing to relinquish our worldview and embrace the Kingdom Worldview that Jesus taught, we will never be able to follow Jesus with “all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.”

The remainder of the book is a call for the American Christian to release those things that have become a part of our faith that are more American than Christian. Johnston calls us to examine the church, and realign it with the call of Jesus to “Follow Him.” He does a great job at presenting the reality that Jesus’ call to us is not an easy one to follow. That there is great sacrifice required from us.

Finally, he presents us with ways to walk out the call of Christ. He gives us practical ways to reject the cultural demands around us, and accept the counter-cultural life to which Jesus calls us. Near the end of the book, Johnston talks about sharing our faith with others. Good news is never meant to be kept to oneself. It is intended to be shared.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). He didn’t say, “You will be my prosecuting attorney.” “You will be my defender.” “You will be my slick salesperson.” He simply said, “You get to be a witness of really great news.” – Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 313)


 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”