Bringing Heaven to Earth

Book Review: Bringing Heaven to Earth by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment

Bringing Heaven to Earth

Bringing Heaven to Earth

One of the largest theological shifts that I have undergone is how I view heaven. For many years, I viewed heaven as place that comes after “now”. It’s somewhere off in the future. When I die, or when Jesus blows His trumpet, I’ll leave this place (which isn’t good) and will find myself in heaven.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve begun to shift in my thinking of heaven. Leaving behind the idea that it’s just a “after now” place. I’ve become more and more cognizant that when Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, He isn’t referring to something in the distant future. Rather, He is talking about here and now and there and not yet.

I’ve been waiting for a volume that would help me solidify this theological shift, and that would provide me with a resource to recommend to people who are in a similar place. After reading the forthcoming (due out on 5 May 2015) volume from Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment called Bringing Heaven to Earth, I believe that I have found that resource.

Ross and Storment present a strong and beautiful argument for the idea that heaven is here and now. Using the foundation of Scripture and supported by the tradition of the church, they show that while heaven is a fulfilled reality when “God calls us home” it is also a reality to be lived out between now and then.

Jesus came to give us new life—now. Our live is to be wrapped up in living with God—now. We yearn and long for a time when all is perfect and complete, yet we can’t just sit and wait for it. We are called to bring it into the reality of life now.

God’s great plan isn’t to burn up the creation that He called “very good.” Rather, His plan is redeem and restore and recreate it. His plan is to return it to the state of “very good.” And, He calls us—you and me—to live lives that help to restore and redeem and renew.

Ross and Storment say it this way:

The ultimate Christian hope is not to fly off as disembodied beings to another place. Our hope is that God is going to redeem and restore the world, and you and me along with it.

We live to introduce the world to a new way—a new Kingdom. We live our lives in a way that people see that we’re not a part of the systems of the world. Rather, we have a new—renewed—identity, and a new citizenship. Our citizenship, as the Apostle Paul says, is not of this world. It is beyond. And, while God’s Kingdom is not complete—the world still needs an immense amount of redeeming—it is coming.

Slowly by slowly.

Step by step.

Person by person.

And, it’s not an elite Kingdom to which only a few are invited. No! It is open to all. And, with each accepted invitation to the Kingdom, it grows. A little bit more of the world is redeemed.

With every orphan who finds a home—the Kingdom comes.

With every rundown house that is rebuilt—the Kingdom comes.

With every hungry mouth that is fed—the Kingdom comes.

With every beautiful painting painted—the Kingdom comes.

With every saint who passes on and realizes the fullness of being with God—the Kingdom comes.

And where the Kingdom is, we find heaven. For “heaven,” Ross and Storment tell us, “is where things are as God intends.”

Jesus singled out every category of person that had been shunned by the elite of society, including the religious leaders and experts in the Law. In doing so, Jesus there open the doors of God’s Kingdom as wide as possible. Everyone, everywhere, is invited into God’s Kingdom.

And, with each accepted invitation is accepted, a little more Heaven comes to Earth.

——
FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment’s book Bringing Heaven to Earth from Blogging for Books for this review.

426703: Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don"t Have to Wait for  Eternity to Live the Good News Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don’t Have to Wait for Eternity to Live the Good News
By Josh Ross & Jonathan Storment / WaterBrook PressMuch has been written about our future eternal home. But what if Jesus is more interested in bringing heaven to earth rather than the other way around? Offering a corrective to the church’s emphasis on the afterlife, Ross and Storment call us to work for God’s kingdom by overcoming injustice, poverty, lack of opportunity, and more. 224 pages, softcover from Waterbrook.
The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

Book Review: The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis

In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis plots a course for the church as it navigates the changing culture brought on by urbanization and globalization. As these forces have grown in strength, the church has been faced with challenges of evangelization in these new paradigms. Pope Francis lays out a fresh plan for the work of the people to bring the Gospel to the whole world.

Pope Francis urges his readers—and the church at large—to walk out their faith in divine love. Allowing the love of God to guide and direct them to transform the world around them. He urges all of us to live as if heaven is both a now and a not yet place.

We are reminded in this volume that “missions” is a task assigned to all believers. No one is exempt from the Great Commission. We all have a part to play in bringing the gospel to every corner of the world. Everyone who calls themselves “Christian” has been commissioned by Christ to “go” and “make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) No one has been excluded from the going or the making.

Pope Francis also gives us a new way to think about evangelization. He begins Chapter Four by defining “to evangelize.” He defines it as making “the Kingdom of God present in our world.” He goes on to discuss practical ways how we are to be bringing the Kingdom into each corner of the world wherein we live and work. Later in Chapter Four, he reminds us that the Kingdom is “already present and growing in our midst” and that it “engages us at every level of our being.”

The Joy of the Gospel is a great read for persons of any faith tradition. All will benefit from the truths presented by Pope Francis. This volume will provide fresh ways of viewing the task of the Great Commission to which all Christ-Followers are called.

Page 128 of The Joy of the Gospel

Page 128 of The Joy of the Gospel

You can read the first chapter of The Joy of the Gospel by clicking here.

—–

FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis from Blogging for Books for this review.

419537: The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudium The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii GaudiumBy Pope Francis / ImageThis special edition of Pope Francis’s popular message of hope explores themes that are important for believers in the twenty-first century. Examining the many obstacles to faith and what can be done to overcome those hurdles, he emphasizes the importance of service to God and all his creation. Profound in its insight, The Joy of the Gospel is a call to action to live a life motivated by divine love and, in turn, to experience heaven on earth. Foreword by Robert Barron; Afterword by James Martin, SJ.

LENT15 – Beloved Dust and Perfect Love

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the day on which we begin our slow and reflective journey to the cross and the tomb beyond. We begin that journey with the reminder of death. Yet, we hold closely to the hope of resurrection, for Lent doesn't end at the cross. It ends at an empty tomb with the joys of Easter, because, after all, we are Resurrection People.

I've been thinking a lot for the past several weeks about pain and suffering and the ugliness of the world around us. It's really quite easy to do. Simply turn on the news for five minutes and you will hear of the latest atrocity. Yet, for me this is all a little closer to home than a story on the evening news.

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with several Pastors who are serving among refugee populations in Turkey and Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). Throughout our time together, I heard story after story after story that makes one sad to be in the same race with those committing the atrocities. And that is something that we are forced to face head-on in Lent–we do share a race with them.

So, last night, as we stood with hundreds of other people in a Colorado Springs high-school auditorium with our friend, Pastor Glenn and his congregation (New Life Downtown), we embraced our shared humanity. We stood and asked for mercy and grace and peace and forgiveness not just for our sins, yet also for the sins of humanity. We were reminded anew that from common dust we come, and to common dust we will return. All of us.

In that moment of having the ashes applied to my forehead, and hearing the words, “Remember you are dust. Beloved dust.” I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I felt (both spiritually and tangibly) what can only be called healing. Restoration of life. I was reminded–deep in my bones–that Perfect Love drives out Fear. I was reminded that no matter the level of fear, Perfect Love drives it out. And, the cross is the ultimate expression of Perfect Love.

So, while the conflicts rage on, we stand in a different understanding. We stand on different ground. And, we know that only Perfect Love will drive out fear. We stand in opposites.

We remember those words that Paul wrote to the Church in Rome reminding them of how Jesus-Followers are to treat their enemies:

Bless those who persecute you: bless and do not curse.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

…as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14,17,18-21 (NIV)

As the conflicts rage on, we–as Kingdom citizens first–are called to respond to these conflicts differently. It's an upside-down Kingdom in which we live. We have a King who calls us not to physical fights for freedom, but rather to Love and Bless and Serve. And, in our loving and blessing and serving, we bring the Kingdom into darkness.

We are not called to bring the military might of our physical nations to fight our battles. Rather, we are called to bring the might of the Gospel. We're called to bless and do not curse. We're called to rise above the physical fray and love our enemies–as we would love ourselves. And, we are called to do this NO MATTER HOW BAD OUR ENEMIES MAY BE.

“Peter,” Jesus said, “put your sword away!” (John 18:11 NIV) And, to us he says the same. Reminding us that we are called to fight our battles in a different way. We are called to fight as citizens of the Kingdom. And, in the Kingdom, we fight with love and blessing and honor and food and water and clothes and tents.

As I stood and received the ashen cross on my forehead last night, I was reminded of the state of the world. We are all dust. Beloved dust. Dust into which has been breathed the breath of God Himself. God's breath breathed into all of mankind. God's breath bringing life to all.

We are all beloved dust. Dust loved by the King of all Kings. Dust invited to be a part of a Kingdom that supersedes all earthly kingdoms. Dust invited to be a part of a Kingdom that doesn't look like–or act like–earthly kingdoms.

We fight battles with the Gospel. We don't fight battles with the sword. We bring the gospel. We bring Perfect Love. And in the bringing of Perfect Love, fear is cast aside. In the bringing of Perfect Love, hatred is cast aside. In the bringing of Perfect Love, the need for the sword is cast aside. In the bringing of Perfect Love, the King comes.

And the Kingdom comes.

And God's will is done.

On earth.

As it is in heaven.

From A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd

From A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd

 

Life With A Capital L

Book Review: Life with a Capital L by Matt Heard

At some point in each of our lives, we search for a way to live life to its fullest. For many, this search takes them to the heights of successful business careers, or sports contracts. For some, it takes them to the nursery of their children, or the classroom in the middle school. Yet, for many, the surface of a rich and full life is only ever barely scratched.

Sure, physical needs are met. There’s a roof that covers the family. There’s a car that saves us from walking to work. There’s food on the table. There’s shoes on the feet. But, those things are but a small part of life lived to the fullest.

In his new book, Life With A Capital L, Matt Heard, presents us with an alternative to a life of superficial fulfillment. He takes us to the words of Jesus:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. — John 10:10 (NIV).

Heard reminds us that Jesus’ words in John 10 aren’t meant to be taken in a way that would lead us into an understanding that full life equates to lots of stuff. Nor is a full life one of a super-spirituality that’s not of any earthly use. Rather, Jesus’ intention for us is to life our lives as spiritual beings who fully embrace our humanity.

Jesus is not about making us superspiritual but fully human. He’s not only interested in our spirituality but our humanity as well. For some of us, this helps explain why we aren’t interested in cultivating a spiritual journey that’s irrelevant to the rest of our lives. For others of us–haunted by the guilt of failed spiritual disciplines–we’re intrigued.

Jesus comes that we might live full of life. That we will enjoy our lives, and also live them as representatives of a new Kingdom–embracing both the humanity and the spirituality of life. Throughout the book, Heard provides us with examples of people who have learned the beauty of this embrace. People who have learned to walk with Jesus in the everydayness of life.

Heard also presents us with ten experiences that come from the fullness of life. Practical things that happen when we fully embrace both the humanity and the spirituality of life. Freedom. Worship. Beauty. Brokenness.

In the last couple of chapters, Heard talks to us about two subjects that need to be talked about more in our spiritual settings: Brokenness and Heaven. Life is hard. It’s messy. People hurt us. We hurt people. We are all broken in some way or another. Yet, Jesus comes to mend this brokenness. Not to airlift us out of it all, but to walk through it with us. To walk through it as one who understands it. I found two statements in the chapter on Brokenness to be some of the most beautiful in the book:

In the echo of explosions along our journey, it’s temptin to forget that LIfe with a Capital L actually unfolds in the midst of the land of the shadow of death. It’s a place where broken hopes and shattered dreams happen more often than we could ever be comfortable with.

And…

Nothing will be left on the editing room floor of my journey. He’ll ultimately redeem it all, wresting beauty from the ashes for my good and his glory.

…Wrestling beauty from the ashes.  Thank God, that is the truth of a life lived to fullness. Salvation doesn’t fix all of the hurt and pain and brokenness upfront. It’s a process.

Like the Kingdom.

Life is lived out one step at a time.

Slowly by slowly.

Until that blessed day when all is redeemed and all is made new and all is filled to the fullness.

—–

FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Matt Heard’s book Life With a Capital L from Blogging for Books for this review.

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424464: Life with a Capital L: Embracing Your God-Given Humanity Life with a Capital L: Embracing Your God-Given HumanityBy Matt Heard / Multnomah Books

What is it that you long for? Dream about? Hunger after? We all desire more than just the endurance of our daily routines. But often we feel limited and stuck – like we’re merely existing instead of living. That’s not the way it was meant to be. God intends the humanity in each of us to be deeply experienced, lavishly enjoyed, and exuberantly celebrated. In fact this is what the gospel is all about.

In Life with a Capital L Matt Heard escorts us on a journey of discovery: that Jesus didn’t come to save us from our humanity – Christ instead yearns to restore it to what God originally intended. He then explores ten key areas where everyday life can become extraordinary Life. Life with a Capital L is the Life you are longing for. Now.

Kuş14 – Photo Journal 4 (Food)

One of questions that we're most frequently asked in the States is: “What do you eat when you travel?” Over the course of this trip, we've taken quite a few photos of food. So, we thought for this edition of the Kuş14 Photo Journal it would be fun to talk about food.

Since (on this trip) we have our own kitchen, we don't eat out very often. This means that every Tuesday we head to the local street market (Salı Pazar) and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. We average 16.4 kilos (36.1 pounds) of fruits and vegetables each week at a cost of about $14.50!

Our Kitchen

Our Kitchen

A typical Salı Pazar haul

A typical Salı Pazar haul

All these fruits and vegetables are supplemented by a steady supply of rice, lentils (green and red), olives (Michael and the kids have eaten over 7 kilos (15 pounds) worth), and bread.

Kırmızı Mercimek

Kırmızı Mercim

Steph has learned to make all our favorite Turkish dishes: Mercımek Çorba (Red Lentil Soup), Gözleme (thin flat bread (Lavaş) stuffed with potatoes and cheese and grilled), İmam Bayıldı (“Fainting” Imam — eggplant covered with tomato), Ezo Gelin (a red lentil soup with bulgur and mint), Fakes (a Greek green lentil soup), Kuru Fasulye (white beans boiled in a tomato base and served over rice), and Pilav (rice cooked with small pasta).

İmam Bayıldı

İmam Bayıldı

Every meal that we eat at home is served with a side of red pepper, tomato, and cucumber. Caleb would eat his weight in tomato and cucumber if we'd let him, and Emily loves the peppers.

Side dish

Side dish

We've also discovered an unique fruit called Dağ Çilek. The literal translation is Mountain Strawberry. They taste a bit like a super soft peach, but have a spiky texture that pokes your mouth as you eat them.

Dağ Çilek

Dağ Çilek

We eat out on most Sunday's. There is a great restaurant near the hotel where the church meets called Saray (pronounced Suh-rye and means Palace). They have great Pide (think boat shaped pizza without red sauce), and Adana Kebap (lamb). They also serve a great Turkish dessert called Künefe. It's cheese rolled in wheat and then baked and covered with honey water and ground pistachio.

Künefe

Künefe

Finally, Caleb discovered the Köfte Ekmek. Köfte is a flattened and grilled meatball that is one of my favorite dishes in Turkey.

Caleb and his Köfte

Caleb and his Köfte

 

 

#Advent14 — In The Midst

A reading from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians.

Celebrate always, pray constantly, and give thanks to God no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. This is God’s will for all of you in Jesus the Anointed. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t downplay prophecies. Take a close look at everything, test it, then cling to what is good. Put away every form of evil.

So now, may the God of peace make you His own completely and set you apart from the rest. May your spirit, soul, and body be preserved, kept intact and wholly free from any sort of blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus the Anointed. For the God who calls you is faithful, and He can be trusted to make it so.

— 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (VOICE)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Somewhere between the promise of rescue and the actual rescue, we will find ourselves in circumstances where life really sucks. That place where grief is pressing in. Where hurt and pain are rampant. Where it seems impossible to imagine a Rescuer is even on the way at all.

In times like these it's easy to wonder about God. What is He up to? Why can't all things just work together for good now and not someday? Where is the comfort and peace and life and love?

Wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Famines. Death.

We learned over the weekend of the death of a dear saint. We didn't know Sheila well, but we did know that her life was one of incredible devotion and service and love. She lived at the YWAM (Youth With a Mission) facility in Colorado Springs. She loved the children on that campus and they loved her. Yet, over the weekend she passed from this life to the next. Passed from living life in the in-between and into the fulfillment of the Kingdom. The very Kingdom that she had labored throughout her life to bring to earth.

Now, Sheila sits with that great cloud of witnesses and cheers on those children that she loved. And, we mourn, yet we mourn with hope. We mourn not as a people for whom death is a finale, but rather we mourn as a people for whom death is just another beginning–Easter People.

Yet, Easter is just another Sunday without Advent. Without the hope and the waiting and the manger and the angels and the wise men and the shepherds and a humble young girl and an obedient husband, there is no reason to grieve with hope.

For Paul and these Thessalonian believers, pain and war and persecution and struggle was a reality of life. These believers needed to hear that in the midst there was ability and reason for rejoicing and prayer and thanksgiving. They needed to hear that there was a reason to trust the prophecies of renewal and resurrection. They needed to know that Jesus would return to bring the fulfillment of His Kingdom, yet they also needed to know that His coming might not be next Thursday as they had penciled onto their calendars.

And, we need to know that as well. For Sheila, the fulfillment came last Saturday. For you and I, it might come tomorrow or next Thursday or in 10, 15, 25, or 50 years. Between now and then, life will suck at times. Yet, rest in hope and assurance that even in those moments where life is at its ugliest, the Messiah stands by. Ready, not to airlift us out of the problem, but rather to parachute in–Emmanuel. God with us. In the midst. In the in-between.

So, to my dear friends at YWAM-Colorado Springs, I know that life is hard right now. Yet, I also know that life will get better and then hard again. I know that even in the midst, Emmanuel will step in. Not to remove us from the problems and pain and grief, but rather to walk alongside us through it.

I know that the God who called you, and Sheila, is faithful and He can be trusted to make it so.

Rest in Peace and Joy, Sheila. I enjoyed our brief conversations while I watered those plants that were too high up for you to reach. I loved watching you talk to our children. Enjoy the Kingdom!!

 

#Advent14 — God, Do It Again!

A reading from the Psalms.

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—”God was wonderful to them!” God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Psalm 126 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Exiles. Those for whom home is not where they are, but a place they most desperately want to be. Somewhere between the place of their dreams and the place of their hopes.

Not quite here.

Not quite there.

As someone who has never been forcibly removed from my home, I can’t even begin to imagine the indescribable joy that must come from returning to a place that once seemed so far away. Trapped in a foreign land. Trapped under rules and regulations that make you only slightly more free than a prisoner.

When we pull in the driveway of our home in Edmond after a few months overseas, my heart skips a beat or two. My own bed. The familiarity of smells and sights and sounds. The view of pasture and neighbors–not too close–press into my eyes.

Even more sweet than that, is that first service when we are back home at Acts 2 UMC. The worship band sounds better than they ever have. The message refreshes and brings deep wells of life. And, communion–the family dinner–is the most precious moment of all.

Until last week, that was the closest that I could come to imagining the joy of the exiles returning home. And, then, I met a pregnant lady living in the basement of a church. She, and her family, are Christian refugees from the conflict in Iraq. She has a six-year old and a three-year old. She pointed to her six-year old daughter and said through the translator, “When I was pregnant with her, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she pointed at the three-year-old son and said, “When I was pregnant with him, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she smiled and said, “Now, I’m pregnant again. And, fleeing again.” As I fought back tears, I hugged the daughter and kissed the son on the forehead.

And then she said the most unexpected thing, “I’ve never known joy until I came here to this church. I am home.”

As I read today’s scripture, I kept thinking about this precious lady and her beautiful children. I thought about her statement. While I know that she’ sound a place of safety and peace in the midst of the conflict, I also know that she is stuck somewhere between the dream of home and reality of home. And, I wondered how much joy would be in this woman’s heart and in her family when she really does return home.

And, so we pray, for this family and the millions of other refugees around the globe. These modern day exiles. We pray that they will return home. That they will no longer be trapped between the now and the not yet. We pray for peace–not the absent of conflict–but the presence of Emmanuel–God with us.

Even in midst of the conflict, we pray that more and more of these exiles will be able to say like this dear lady, “I feel like I am home.”

Our prayer for them all resounds, “God, do it again!”

 

#Advent14 — …and this is the Kingdom…

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord to glorify himself. They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places; they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past.

Isaiah 61:1-4 (CEB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

We bring good news to those who are poor. Sometimes, good news comes in the form of food. Sometimes as money. Sometimes as a bed in our basement. Sometimes as a meal around our table.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

Our family has a dear grandmotherly friend, Jeanne is her name. Even at 92 years old, she is involved in many ministries in and around Edmond. One is a prison ministry. They collect freshly baked cookies and take them to the prisons. Something small and sweet to say, “You are loved.”

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

In the past three years, we have met hundreds of men and women and boys and girls who proclaim the message of the Gospel. In some of the darkest corners of the world, they stand and share that the Lord's favor–unmeasurable grace–has come. In jungles, and rain forests, and deserts, and big cities, they proclaim that the Kingdom has come, and is coming, and is yet to come.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

Over the past couple of weeks, I spent several days meeting with Pastors and relief organizations who are working–and in some cases living–among those who have been displaced by war in Syria and Iraq. I watched as a Priest hugged children who had lost everything they have ever known and are living in a 150 square foot room (made from blankets strung over wire) with their parents and three, four, and five siblings. Yet, as this Priest hugged these children their faces would light up and the love of Jesus would flood their hearts.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

Aaron, Pastor Steve, Jeanne, these countless workers and this dear Priest are the “Oaks of Righteousness” of whom the Prophet speaks.

The Prophet ends this section with talk of rebuilding and restoring and renewing. The truth is that as the Kingdom of God is proclaimed, things are renewed to the original design that God had for them. Things are made new–brought back to how God created it in the first place. And we, you and I as Kingdom Citizens first, get to partner alongside God in the restoration of His beautiful creation.

And, it is very good.

…and this is the Kingdom of God.

 

Kuş14 – Photo Journal 3

A couple of weeks ago, we took a day to visit some friends who are staying up in İzmir. While it was a very long day, it was a very fun day.

We began the day early with a train ride from Selçuk to İzmir. The train wound through villages and valleys and olive groves and mandarin orchards. We saw villagers huddled around a fire drinking çay before heading into the orchards to pick mandarins. The train was quite crowded, and we stood for most of the hour journey. Well, all of us stood except Caleb who ended up on the lap of a Turkish grandmother.

The Train Station at Selçuk

After spending the morning in prayer and worship and then having lunch with a group of friends, we took the Metro to Ancient Smyrna. Ancient Smyrna is the location of one of the seven churches to which John addresses a letter in the Revelation (Revelation 2:8-11). While excavations are ongoing, most of the city is not yet uncovered. In fact, most of the ancient city lies beneath the bustling modern city of İzmir. Nevertheless, what is uncovered is fun to walk through. Here are a couple of photos from our time exploring.

Emily and Caleb with an ancient lion.
Emily in Smyrna
The family at Smyrna

 

Advent14 — Come, Lord Jesus!

A reading from the Gospel of Mark.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.”

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8 (CEB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

John the Baptist is one of my favorite men in the Bible. I've written about him in other places on this blog. He's one of these people who loom much larger than life. He towers above other characters.

Camel hair.

Locusts.

Leather belt.

Wild honey.

And, proclaiming a message unlike any ever heard: “Prepare the way!”

Last year, when we were in Central Asia, we were privileged to witness the baptism of a new indigenous believer. It was amazing to know and see one more person entering into the Kingdom. Beginning that walk that leads from the cross to eternity. Beginning his new life in heaven now, yet also anticipating a life that goes on for eternity.

Occasionally, when I take communion, especially in creative access nations, I think of this man and his baptism. I think of how communion is that family dinner that spans time and space. Together with all the saints. Those who have come before and those who are yet to come.

And, John comes to prepare the way. He comes to proclaim that the time is now ripe for Messiah. Like a herald in a medieval castle. He comes to proclaim that all things are ready. The King is coming.

We look at the world today, and hear it screaming out in pain. The UN tells us that millions of Syrians are refugees or internally displaced peoples. Another couple of million have fled from Iraq to Kurdistan. Children are without education or even the possibility of education. An entire generation stands in the balance.

Men and women and boys and girls in so many places on the planet cry out for rescue.

For redemption.

For a new kingdom.

For a home.

And, Jesus stands at the ready. Yet, he wants you and I to partner with him in bringing Advent–hope, peace, joy, and love–to these people.

We bring Advent with every prayer we pray for them.

We bring Advent with every dollar we give.

We bring Advent with every worker we send.

We bring Advent with every water well we drill.

We bring Advent with every preschooler and mother we teach.

Somedays, it seems that the road to the manger will never end. It seems that we will always be stuck between a promise of redemption and actual redemption. We stop at places along the path and stand in sacred silence with nothing to say except “Come, Lord Jesus.”

The hope of Advent is that the Messiah is on the way. He brings with him peace, and joy, and love. He comes to bring justice–the setting right of all things

And, so, we cry out, “Come! Lord Jesus!”