A Season of Advent

My second (only to Holy Week) favorite time of the church calendar is Advent. The idea of anticipating the coming of Emmanuel is such a wonderful time of reflection of who we are and how we fit into this grand story.

Emmanuel. God with us.

As I sit in a hospital room in Ocean Springs, Mississippi with my Dad, who is fighting an epic battle, I can’t help but think about the concept of Advent.

Waiting with hope for that which we know is to come.

Life, it would seem at this point, is a series of Advent moments. Series of moments where we wait with eager hope and expectation for that which we know will come.

As Christ-followers, we know how the story ends. We know that Kingdom will come. We know what the end of the day will bring. Yet, spaced between now and then are periods of Advent. Moments of walking between reality that is and reality that is to come.

Some of these moments are moments that bring immense joy. Others, however, bring sadness. Yet, through all of these moments, because Emmanuel has come, we have hope. We have peace. We have the knowledge that though all may be darkness now, Light has indeed come.

Emmanuel. God with us.

No matter how the circumstances may end up, Emmanuel has come. Hope is here. And in the end, God is working all things together for good.

I don’t know what you may be facing in your life. Yet, I can offer you this hope. In the bleakest of moments, Emmanuel has come. God is with us.

Small Potatoes

I’ve been studying Psalm 76 today.  What a cool passage!  It is thought to have been written following the Israelites defeat of Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13-37).  Throughout the Psalm, YHWH is praised for being the shield and protector of His people!

Verses 8 and 9 of this Psalm really jumped out at me:

From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth. Selah.  — Psalm 76:8-9 (ESV)

The word humble is the Hebrew word for meek.  It is defined as one who is depressed in mind or circumstance.

When God establishes judgement, he saves those who are depressed in mind or circumstance.

Reminds me a little of something Jesus said on the Mount:

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. — Matthew 5:5 (ESV)

In the moment of being depressed in mind or circumstance, you are blessed.

Or, to put it in Eugene Peterson’s words:

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are–no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. — Matthew 5:5 (The Message)

See, when we allow God to be the judge, then the focus changes.  All too often, we get wrapped up in our “light and momentary afflictions” and fail to see the hand of God working to turn them into “an eternal glory”.  (2 Corinthians 4:17)

So, when you are downcast…

When you are depressed in mind or circumstance…

When you are at the end of your rope…

Stop and be content with just who you are.

Allow God to work.

Allow God to establish judgment and cause you to inherit the earth.

So we’re not giving up.  How could we!  Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace.  These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us.  There’s far more here than meets the eye.  The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow.  But the things we can’t see last forever. — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (The Message)

Dealing With “It”

How do you “Deal with it?”

When the world is closing in on you, and you truly have no remote idea of what comes next.

When the only news you can see is bad.

When life gives you proverbial (or real) lemons.

When the doctors have given up hope.

When you just can’t catch a break.

How do you deal with it?

I woke up early this morning to pray about this very topic. As you all know, my Dad has been fighting cancer now for a couple of years. Two major surgeries. Spots on the liver. Swelling. Kidney malfunction. A kink in the colon. It’s been a tough fight. At times it’s been unbelievably hard for him, as well as the family.

How do you deal with it?

How do you find strength?

I think as Christians, it is easy for us to say to one another, “Praise anyway”, but when the rubber hits the road how do you do that? How do you say, “God, I don’t get it, but I trust You and I praise You and in whatever happens You’re God, and I’m not.”

How do you say, “God, don’t you see how bad this hurts” and “God, You’re in control” in the same breath?

There, my friends, is where being grounded in the Word of God becomes essential.

The Pslams are always good for a bit of perspective in this regard.

I’ve written previously on my personal blog about Psalm 13. David has reached a point of utter despair. A place where God has surely stopped listening.

BUT

He praises anyway.

He says, “In spite of the circumstances, You are God. I am not. So, I will continue to trust. I will continue to praise.”

Because through it all, He is an unfailing God.

All too often, we think that God must work within the parameters which we set for Him. In doing so, we miss the miracles in the way He is working. We miss the peace that He longs to give. Instead we walk in the anxiety. We walk in the short-sightedness.

I get why we do it. No one likes pain and suffering. No one likes to be in the place of utter and complete desperation and dependency. We’re taught in our American culture that we are to be pillars of strength. That no matter what happens we can overcome it. That we have the ability. We have the power.

We’ve created a culture that ultimately says, “I don’t need You, God. I am strong enough. I am smart enough.”

It’s all hogwash.

We don’t have the strength.

We don’t have the smarts.

We have to come to the point in our lives where the absolute best we can do is fall on our face and say, “You are God. I am not. Therefore, I will worship You anyway. I will praise You in spite of the circumstance.”

Only after we have hit that place, can we, like Job, truly say: “You give and take away. Blessed be the name of YHWH.”

And, its only in that place of utter desperation that can say, “Led me out of my personal drama and make me a part of Your story.”

I don’t know what the next 6 hours, 6 days, 6 months, or 6 years hold in store. What I do know, though, is that no matter what they hold, I, like David, will say, “You, soul, bless the Lord”. And despite the circumstance, I will CHOOSE to say, “Blessed be the name of YHWH!”

Searching for a Home

We’ve been in Edmond now for 3 Sundays. We have been on a hunt for a church which we can call home. This process is difficult at best.

Searching for that place where we can plug in and be fed, while being able to give away that which we possess of the Kingdom is hard to do. Yet, as we go on this search, we approach it as we do everything else. We approach it with a prayer:

“Father, show us where You are working, and how we can join in.”

We don’t want a place where we can just sit. We want place where we can learn, and where we can teach. Where we can serve. Where we know our children are able to grow in the Kingdom, yet are also are free to share what they possess of the Kingdom. We want a place where the heartbeat of the church (from top-down) is to bring the Light to dark places. Where no one is afraid of being “hands and feet”, or of what that means the face of the congregation will be.

We aren’t interested in “seeker-sensitivity” or “cultural relevancy”. We are interested in Kingdom truth. We are interested in knowing God and making Him known.

Please pray with us as we continue on this journey. Pray that we may clearly know where the Father is working, and that we may join in with that work.

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

We promised a couple of weeks ago that we would update you on our housing situation. Unfortunately, life has decided to get a bit in the way, and this update is a couple of weeks late. Our apologies for that delay.

As you all remember from earlier posts, we had our house on the market. We listed it on June 6. By July 16 we had about 10 showings. Yet, it seemed that no one wanted to buy it.

Needless to say, we were a little bit frustrated, and went into the “God you told us” mode. During prayer times regarding the house random answers seemed to keep popping up.

For Steph, it was a single word: “wait”. Nothing else. Just wait.

For me, it was the name of a fellow missions couple who are in school in Little Rock. No explanation. Just their names. Which prompted me to question God on multiple fronts. They don’t want to buy a house. They don’t need to buy a house. They are here temporarily.

It didn’t make sense.

Yet, we stayed the course. Kept the house on the market and kept praying and trusting for God to take care of it.

We had come to a point where we had decided to just “occupy” until God moved. We were planning a weekly small group, converting a room into a prayer room, and having nights of worship.

Then….

We were in Colorado preparing to head to Edmond for a couple of days before continuing on to Kansas City. It was a Monday evening.

Steph’s phone rang.

She saw on the caller-id that it was the wife of the couple who’s names I kept getting in prayer about the house. Steph chuckled to herself and answered the phone.

She asked if we still owned our home. We did.

She asked if we would even remotely consider renting it.

We had – early on – contemplated that option, but wrote it off quickly. We didn’t want to be landlords to strangers.

Yet, something about this just seemed right.

We agreed to give them and answer the next afternoon (we would be enroute to Edmond). We convened an email conversation with our advisory team.

After much prayer and conversation, it seemed clear to us that God was ordaining this. Little did we know how much.

Steph and I headed into Little Rock the next day. We had dinner with the couple.

We learned that God had indeed been working in the silence.

They had been looking for a new place to live for a month or more prior. Everything was falling through. Random circumstances (involving cats and missing application forms) kept stopping them from renting various places.

In their prayer time, they kept getting our names.

God working in the silence. Preparing the road. Preparing us. Preparing them.

So, we agreed to rent them the house. They moved in a week later.

We have relocated to Edmond, Oklahoma. We moved everything there, and have settled into a beautiful, peaceful country setting with Steph’s parents. We will be basing from there when we are not on the road.

We are incredibly grateful to our advisory board, our missionary friends living in their new house, Steph’s parents, and our Father God who works even in the silence.

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.

“A huge army is coming to fight against you.” – message to Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:2

Right now the army we’re facing is the cancer battling Michael’s dad.  The force of the cancer is tearing down the defenses in Garey’s body.  We all experience different pictures of the army at different points in our life.  The picture of the army in your life may look like a lost job, a falsified smear of your reputation, the death of a loved one, a miscarriage, a financial struggle, sickness, unfaithfulness, depression, fear, loneliness, anxiety.  How do we overcome the army when there is no sign of or reason for hope?

In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat is given a message that a vast army is unexpectedly coming against him.  Jehoshaphat’s response is to ask God for advice and to proclaim a fast (a period of abstaining from food for a spiritual purpose) for all of Judah, uniting his kingdom in seeking help from YHWH (the written name of God in the Bible).  As people came to the temple at Jerusalem to seek YHWH, Jehoshaphat stood among them and made statements that reveal an authentic walk in humility and the fear of YHWH.

“You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.”

“Power and might are in your hands, and no one can withstand You.”

“We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.”

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

Can we admit these things in our own lives?  Can we declare that YHWH our God rules over all His people including us.  Do we believe that power and might are in His hands and that no one, no cancer, no lie, no threat, no sickness, no struggle, no loss, no despair can withstand Him?  Do we admit that we can’t handle the battle on our own–that the strength of technology or medical intervention or money or fame or our own vengeance is not effective against the force of the army fighting against us?

Jehoshaphat knew God enough to know these things.  And this is what happened:

The Spirit of YHWH came upon a Levite and gave him a message for the king to “not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army.  For the battle is not yours, but God’s.”  The Spirit then gave instructions of where to find their enemy, to take up their positions, stand firm, and NOT FIGHT!  That’s right.  “Stand firm and see the deliverance YHWH will give you…Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Go out to face them tomorrow, and YHWH will be with you.”

Therefore Jehoshaphat led his people in worship again (the first time by declaring a fast and uniting to seek God) by bowing with his face to the ground.  And all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before YHWH.  Then some people stood up and praised YHWH with a very loud voice!

The next morning they left for the place the Spirit of God had instructed for them to go.  Jehoshaphat encouraged the people, appointed men to sing to YHWH and to praise and thank Him for showing His holiness.  AS THEY BEGAN TO SING, YHWH set ambushes against the army who was invading Judah, and the army was defeated!!  The attacking army began to attack amongst each other until they had destroyed one another!  When the men of Judah came to see the army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped!  Not only had God destroyed the opposing army, but then Jehoshaphat and his men went out and carried off their plunder–equipment, clothing, and valuable articles!

After this incredible battle that they were able to witness YHWH fight for them, Jehoshaphat led all his men joyfully back to Jerusalem where they went into the temple with harps and lutes and trumpets to praise YHWH for his magnificent power shown among them!

This story just keeps getting better!  This victory brought the fear of God upon all the kingdoms of the countries, and Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was at peace, for God had given him rest on every side!

So what action will you take with the battle facing you?  As for me, I will declare that God reigns!  Power and might are in His hand, and no one — not even cancer — can withstand my God!  I will admit that we don’t have the strength or power to face the cancer that is attacking Garey.  I will admit that I do not know what to do, but MY EYES WILL REMAIN UPON MY GOD!

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and His rule.” – Jesus, Matthew 5:3 (The Message)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. – Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)

 

Witnessing God At Work Through 6-Year Old Eyes

This weekend we are in Kansas City, MO.

On Saturday night, we attended the worship service at the International House of Prayer. This service is scheduled for 4 hours with a 2 hour prayer room open afterward. It was a phenomenal time of worship, prayer and teaching!

This morning we worshiped with our friends at the Kansas City Boiler Room. We have been looking forward to spending time with these folks for several months, and are so thankful that it has finally come to fruition.

There are a few pages of things that I could talk about regarding these two services, but I want to focus on my daughter, Emily.

During the service at IHOP, we witnessed several people receive physical healing. Emily was so in awe of seeing how the Holy Spirit can move. This was the first time she had ever seen someone immediately healed. She commented to us how it was so amazing to see God heal people. She was nearly in tears when talking about it.

During worship at the Boiler Room service this morning, Emily began to copy 1 Peter 2:9 into her journal. A few minutes later, Adam Cox (one of the leads at the Boiler Room) asked for people to come up and talk about what God was giving to them. One gentleman got up and said that God had given him 1 Peter 2:9. The next girl in line said that God had also given her 1 Peter 2:9. Emily was pretty amazed again to see how God was moving.

What God revealed to me through this is the importance of teaching our children at young ages that the Holy Spirit is real and moves today. The Holy Spirit isn’t on a Sabbatical. He’s on the move even now. Working miracles for those who need them.

As Emily slept during the late night worship at IHOP last night, I thought about a passage Of Scripture that I read every 4 days. It’s from Joel 2.

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:28-32 ESV)

What an awesome and mighty God we serve!!!!

Lord, please continue to reveal Your awesomeness to me and my family! May my children never cease to see Your mighty hand at work!

Silent, yet Working

What an awesome day we had yesterday!

We spent the day in a Walk Thru The Bible New Testament Seminar. We learned a fairly large amount about the New Testament. How it all fits together chronologically. Perhaps the most striking thing we learned was the state of the world a the time of Christ’s birth.

Between the closing of the Old Testament (the Prophet Malachi) and the beginning of the New Testament (the coming of John the Baptist) is a period of time known as The 400-Years of Silence. It’s considered “silent” because God had stopped talking in His usual manner (prophets, kings, etc).

Yet….

We can’t count God’s silence as inactivity. Even in His silence, God continues to maneuver things around in the background.

Between the period of Malachi and Matthew we find God preparing the world for the Messiah. He’s doing this through the advent of three kingdoms and their contributions to society.

First came Greece and their contribution of a single language. This allowed for communication to flow more smoothly.

Second came Israel and their contribution of hope for a coming Messiah. This prepared the hearts of the people.

Lastly came Rome and their contribution of roads. This allowed the Gospel to be widely-spread after the resurrection.

What a beautiful image of God working in His silence.

Is God being silent in your life now?

If so, then remain joyfully and confidently expectant in God’s goodness (the definition of Hope). God is working in the background. Maneuvering things into place. Making ready the path for The Messiah–Emmanuel, God WITH us.

Resting our way to the Inheritance

Heaven and Earth were finished, down to the last detail. By the seventh day God had finished his work. On the seventh day he rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. — Genesis 2:1-3 (The Message)
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work-not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day. — Exodus 20:8-11 (The Message)
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” — Mark 2:27-28 (NLT)
“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day. Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. Then the Lord will be your delight. I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob. I, the Lord, have spoken!” — Isaiah 58:13-14 (NLT)
One thing that I find super-cool about our “job” (I have a hard time using that word, since what we do feels so little like work) is that we get to visit lots of churches, hear different pastors, and experience worship services in many venues and styles.

This past Sunday was no exception. We attended the Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, OK.

We enjoyed worshiping with this body of believers, and were thrilled to see their emphasis on discipleship (since that is what Christ called us all to do). Yet, the thing that stuck out most to us was the “Office Hours” posted on the door.

They went like this:

Monday: 9a – 5p
Tuesday: 9a – 5p
Wednesday: 10a – 7p
Thursday: 9a – 5p
Friday: SABBATH

SABBATH

As a posted office hour!

Awesome!!!

That resonated with us in a big way.

Sabbath is critical to a successful life.

Rest.

Taking a break from labor.

Taking a break to just rest.

It’s important.

So important, in fact, that when God finished creating the world, He rested.

God.

The great Creator.

The I AM.

Took a break to rest.

As we embarked on this adventure, our Mentor told us to rest. Take one day out of every seven and rest (not always the same day of the week, rather one of each seven).

So, we did.

The first Sabbath that we took, we slept in.

Even the kids.

When we got up, we ate breakfast.

Then, we napped.

We woke up and ate lunch.

Then, we napped some more.

We slept more in that 24 hours than we had ever slept in a 24 hour period before.

We didn’t feel any more tired going into it than we ever did. What we didn’t realize is how tired we were.

The funny thing about Sabbath is how much more productive we are after we Sabbath. It seems counter-intuitive. We’re taught that if we take a break, then we will fall behind. Yet, honoring the Sabbath makes the opposite happen. When you are rested, you are more productive.

Sabbath means NO WORK.

None.

Don’t clean the house, mow the yard, cook a meal, wash the laundry, answer the email, answer the phone, etc. Don’t do it.

Just rest.

Sit outside and enjoy the weather.

Spend time together as a family enjoying each other.

Just don’t work.

Isaiah 58 teaches us that when we take time to honor the Sabbath, the Lord takes time to honor us. Sabbath actually becomes a condition of the promised inheritance. In other words, you can’t work your way to be honored with the inheritance.

You have to REST YOUR WAY to it.

So, to the staff of Acts 2 UMC, thank you for setting an example for the believers. Thank you for honoring God through the Sabbath.

Psalm 13

My prayer time began this morning with meditation and prayer on Psalm 13.  There are several people I know that are going through various trials/tribulations/illnesses/confusions/etc, and I prayed this Psalm over them.

I find it challenging, yet settling.

It settles us into a place of trust and comfort.

A place where we stop the fret.

A place where God’s unfailing Love supercedes our fleeting heartaches.

A place of peace.

Of comfort.

Of mercy.

Of grace.

This came out of that time of meditation.

In YOUR love I trust

I must.

Trusting in my own

Abilities

is, quite simply,

disastrous.

But, YOUR love,

YOUR love

Secure

Providing

Encapsulating

Unfailing.

In my own strength

days are dark

jobs are things to dread

life sucks.

But, in YOUR love…

all is surpassed

I am overwhelmed

with

Grace

Mercy

Love.

Never fearing the dawn

the day

the mail

the phone

But trusting.

Wholly.

Completely.

Unendingly.

IN

YOUR

UNFAILING

LOVE.