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Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

#Advent16 — It is Christ

A reading from the Psalms.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD.

Psalm 146:5-10 (NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

God made everything. Therefore, everything belongs to God. And, God takes care of His creation.

The great philosopher/theologian Dallas Willard once said:

“God, who created the universe, has no problem invading it.”

God invades His creation to bring restoration to His creation.

God isn’t interested in destroying that which He lovingly created. God is interested in caring for it and restoring it back to it’s original design.

God cares for the oppressed. He feed the hungry. He frees the prisoner. He makes the blind to see. He lifts up those who are pressed down. He loves the righteous. He watches over the immigrant. He is the Father to the fatherless. He is the spouse to the widow. He frustrates those who are wicked.

And, He invaded His creation. In the form of a baby. In a manger. In a stable. In a backwater town.

Immanuel.

God. In the middle. Of everything.

A God who is so loving that He’s not willing for any to perish. Yet, yearns for all to come to know Him.

Personally and intimately.

Yet, with fear and trembling.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote:

“The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature.”

All exists so that God through Christ and through His creation might be glorified.

And, so, into the mess of the world the Christ child was born. And, lived. And, taught. And, died. And, rose again.

And it is He who heals the brokenness of the world around us.

“It is Christ who remakes all things more marvelously than creation, this is the reason for hope.” — Pope Francis

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

Lent 2013: Tonight, We Hope

We sit here in Central Asia in the final hours of Lent. We've journeyed now through the season. We've seen Jesus heal the sick, raise the dead, and ride into Jerusalem.

Then came today.

We caught up with Him in Gethsamene last night. Anguished. Broken.

And, then. One of our own. One not all that different than me. Betrays Him. Calls Him Rabbi, and then kisses Him.

We listened through the side hallway as the Sanheddrin, then Pilate put Him on trial. Such a sham of justice. No witnesses. No corroborating evidence.

We were in the crowd. People all around us yelling, “Crucify Him.”

We fell to our knees in stunned silence as we heard the verdict. “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty. … “Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find him not guilty.” (John 19:4, 6 (NLT))

We followed along behind as they forced Him to carry His own cross. Afraid He would die before reaching Skull Hill, they forced a stranger named Simon to help Him.

And there on that Hill, we watched as He was nailed to that cross.

We heard His words.

We watched Him die.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea came and buried Him. They were disciples, but had stayed that way in secret. Now, they aren't hiding it.

And now, we sit in silence. Wondering what's next. Trying to have hope. We watched Him raise Lazarus. We heard Him talk about resurrection.

Maybe?

Hope?

Hope that this death–like Lazarus'–isn't an end. Hope that this death is but a beginning. Hope of His–and our–resurrection.

Hope. Joyful and confident expectancy in God's goodness.

The same Hope that brought us to the manager. In awe that the fulfillment of the greatest promise in history had finally come. Is this Him? After all these years? Has Emmanuel finally come?

The same hope that brought us into Jerusalem following Him riding a donkey less than a week ago. Is this Him? Our glorious King? Is this the day that His kingdom will be established?

The same hope that brought us to the tomb of His friend, Lazarus. The same hope that watched as Lazarus hobbled out of that tomb.

And, now, at the mouth of another tomb, we wait in silent hope.

And, we light the candle.

We pray.

We hope.

We wait.

Huddled in a quiet and dark place. Hoping that the knock at the door is a friend and not a foe. Could we be the next to die? Will they round the rest of us up now? These same questions are being asked right now in a very real sense by people all over the world.

And, silently. We wait. We pray.

We hope in silence that the morning will release us from the tension of living between the now and the not yet.

Suspended between the death of the promise–that promise that only a few months ago we celebrated by the lighting of this candle–and the hope of a new promise. A new kingdom. A new life.

And in that suspended place, we sit in silence. In darkness. In hope.

We hope in our silence that the morning will bring us news of God's unfailing love.

But, for tonight we mourn.

We remember.

We reflect.

We hope.

 

Lent 2013: Just a bunch of Pharisees and Sadducees

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

— Luke 15:1, 2 (NIV)

Scandalous.

At least that's what the religious leaders thought. This man, Jesus, eats–is relational–with sinners. The vilest of vile people are invited to dine with this so-called Rabbi.

These people that Jesus was hanging out with were not individuals that would be in the best liked category. Prostitutes. Tax collectors. Outcasts. Lepers. The blind. Throughout the gospel narrative Jesus positions himself in such a way to be either at dinner with these people, or being interrupted by them.

And, when we examine these stories through our 21st Century Christianity lenses, we often look at these Pharisees and Sadducees and can't imagine how they could be so dense to diss Jesus. What must they have been thinking to make fun of Jesus for going to those outcasts of society.

But, don't we do the same?

On Sunday, we were at church here in Central Asia and watched as a couple from a very Muslim nation (that sits to the east of the Middle East) joined with that fellowship. They are from a nation where we see immense growth in the church, but where Christians are regularly persecuted. Yet, Jesus is there, and is dining with the outcasts. But still, elements of the Christian community in the West want their own nation to go to war with the nation of these new Church members.

Suddenly, the Pharisees and Sadducees don't look all that ridiculous to us.

Or, we do things like count the number of Christians–those who believe that Jesus is indeed the only way to God–in a particular nation, and exclude those who don't fit an “evangelical” definition. We assume that since they don't see this relationship with God in the same way that we do that they are somehow less Christian–or not Christian at all. We've become just as exclusive as the Pharisees and Sadducees.

As an example of this, Rick Warren, caught some flack yesterday for calling on his Twitter followers to fast and pray for Conclave–the selection of a new Pope. Why? Why is it ok for us to call for prayer and fasting for a national leader, but not for a Christian leader?

We're ok when Jesus acts–or asks His followers to act–in a way that fits into our worldview, but when they do something with which we're not comfortable, or consider “unsafe”, then what do we do? Do we–like Nicodemus–come to Jesus by night? Hidden beneath an invisibility cloak so as not to be seen by our friends?

What happens when we walk into a congregation and our fellow believers are worshipping differently than we do? Do we consider them to be less Godly than we?

As I've read the Gospels, I've come to believe that the problem with the religious folk of Jesus' time wasn't their traditions per se, but was that they worshipped their tradition more than their God. Their method of worship had become an idol.

Within each of us lies this same tendency. This belief that our particular arm of the Body of Christ is somehow better than the other arm. That our liturgy–or lack thereof–is better than their liturgy–or lack thereof. That our bass guitar is better than their absence of a bass guitar. That our nationality is better than someone else's nationality. That our temporal safety matters more than someone else's eternal safety–and completeness of life.

The Kingdom doesn't just come to those whom we think it should come. The Kingdom is for all–every tribe, every language. It isn't just for those who would not make us uncomfortable in our church.

Sometimes (oftentimes?) when we read a passage like this one, we like to go to the “Jesus redeemed a wretch like me” place in our heads. We think, Jesus came not for the Pharisees and Sadducees, but for the outcasts, And, thank God, He did. Yet, He also came for the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Nicodemus' and the Joseph of Arimatheas. He came for the Herod's and the Caesars. He also came to redeem the wretch like me who belittles another Christian for not fitting into my mold of what Christian should look like.

Let me challenge you. Take a moment and ask God to show you how you define–not that dictionary definition in your head, but the one you would never say outloud but would live out one in your heart–“outcast”. Is it homeless? Prostitute? Drug addict? Mentally or physically challenged? Orphaned? Muslim? Black? White? Hindu? Anyone not western evangelical?

Then, take some time to ask God to give you HIS HEART for those whom you consider to be “outcast”.

Finally, do as Jesus did. Welcome sinners and eat with them. Let your life be a light to them. Let it shine that they might see the way into the Kingdom.

 

Merry Christmas

We pause a moment this morning to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Here's the telling of the Christmas story from our favorite children's book: The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you have kids, or if your don't, then this book is a must-have.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!!!

Emmanuel has come!

You can purchase The Jesus Storybook Bible through our affiliate link to ChristianBook.com below.

708257: The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name
By Sally Lloyd-Jones / Zonderkidz

Every story whispers his name.

A Bible like no other, The Jesus Storybook Bible invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God's great story of salvation–and at the center of their own story too!

The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of all is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. From Noah, to Moses, to the great King David–every story points to him. He is the missing piece to the puzzle–the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle.

The Jesus Storybook Bible makes an excellent gift at Christmas, when we all remember that he is the puzzle piece that makes all the other pieces in our lives fit.

Recommended for ages 4 to 8.

 

Lent 2012: 3.4 — A Call to Come and Die

Throughout Advent, we posted blogs each week based on the Lectionary Readings for the previous Sunday. It was truly an awesome experience to travel through Advent with the universal church by praying, meditating, and responding to those texts. We loved it so much, we thought we’d do it again throughout Lent.

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

— Mark 8:31-38 (NIV)

 

Following Christ is a call to come and die. God has chosen us and adopted us as His sons and daughters bearing His name. We must die to our flesh, our pride, our desires, and our will. When we die to ourselves, Christ fully lives through us (Galatians 2:20). We adopt His character, His will, His desires, and live as Jesus, bringing glory to His name. Look at Jesus’ prayer in John 12:27-28. Though His heart was troubled, He did not pray, “Father, save me from this hour.” He knew the Father’s will and His purpose. He prayed, “Father, glorify Your name!” Even though it meant Christ must lay down His life. He laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11,15). He laid down His life for His friends (John 15:13).

Let’s examine our lives. Which areas of our lives are we trying to save? In other words, we will follow Christ unless He asks what of us? What do we own and lay claim of? What will we not relinquish?

And Jesus said to all, “If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also]. – Luke 9:23 (Amplified Bible)