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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)

 

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.

 

Being the Church

This past Sunday a group of us (most of us actually) from our school decided to do something different for church.  We headed to a beautiful area in Colorado Springs called Red Rock Canyon.  Our order of service went like this:

  • Worship by reading aloud the Psalms of Ascent
  • Prayer for people needing/wanting prayer
  • Message from one of our own: Dan Blanton
  • Prayer for healing
  • Communion
  • Lunch
  • 2.5 Hour Hike

It was a fantastic time of worship and prayer and communion.  It’s the image of communion that I most like–dinner with friends.  And so, we didn’t go to church.  We were the church.

Here are a few pictures from our time together.

Dan bringing a message on God's love.

Dan bringing a message on God's love.

Our Church

Our Church

Our Family

Our Family

Our friends, fellow students, and breakfast partners, Don and Barb Roome

Our friends, fellow students, and breakfast partners, Don and Barb

Caleb and his new best-friend, Jacob

Caleb and his new best-friend, Jacob

Steph climbs the quarry steps

Steph climbs the quarry steps

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." -- Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." -- Psalm 19:1 (NIV)

Children are the Church of Today

This week in our Crossroads Discipleship Training School, we have Paul Hawkins teaching on the Character and Nature of God. Within his teaching today he made the following statement:

We have to stop viewing children as the church of tomorrow. They are part of the church today!

Often, within the church, children are looked at as the “church of tomorrow”. Yet, because children haven’t had time to have their spirit-man totally desensitized to the voice of God, God can often speak to and through them more easily than many adults. Thus, it is important that we not view children as the “church of tomorrow,” rather we make them a part of the church today. We need to teach them to cultivate their abilities to hear and obey the voice of God.

The Psalmist points out that out of the praise of children and infants, God establishes strongholds against the enemy (Psalm 8:2).

In Joel 2:28-32, we find sons, daughters and young men specifically mentioned as a part of those on whom God will pour out His Spirit.

Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 18 that they should become as little children. Children have a keen ability to hear the voice of God and to trust His word (they haven’t been taught to do otherwise). Jesus wants us all to be able to hear God’s voice and then obey what He says. The challenge then is that we must (as Nathan Kilbourne pointed out in our final Lenten blog) unlearn all the things we “know” about God, and move from a knowledge of God and into a relationship with God.

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.