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#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 — The Waiting Begins

Yesterday, in churches and homes all over the globe, a candle was lit. The first of four. The beginning of a new year in the church calendar. The beginning of Advent.

Advent. A word that simply means coming. A word that is packed full of meaning and is wrapped up in hope, joy, peace, and love. A word that brings us to that place between knowing that the Messiah has come and waiting for the Messiah to come.

It is that brief period of the church calendar where we position ourselves with an oppressed people longing for rescue. We–purposely–find ourselves between Malachi and Matthew. Wondering if things will ever be better. Knowing that for centuries “better” has been prophectically pronounced.

The King is coming!

Prophets of old have told us. Our parents have passed it on to us. The King. He is indeed coming.

At any moment now.

And, yet.

We’re a captive people. Captive in our own land. Captive in our own homes. Captive in a world that couldn’t care less that we stand in anticipation of rescue. In fact, we are captive in a world that mocks our anticipation.

And, we wait.

The Prophets once told us that this King would be called Immanuel.

Immanuel. God with us.

And, yet, we wonder if God could ever be with us. How, into this mess of a world, could God come?

Death. Some of it to disease or accident. Some at the hands of another.

Illness. Some curable. Some not.

War. Some in the name of money or resource. Some in the name of the very God we hope will come near. Some of it even considered just and right.

Hunger. Some due to famine. Some due to stinginess of those who have more than enough. Some due to neglect.

And, into this world, we wonder how God could come. And, yet, He does.

We learned over the weekend that a group of gunmen stormed a residence in Central Asian nation and opened fire on three South Africans who were there to help provide education to the children of the nation. A father and two teenaged children gunned down, and then the house burned. The mother, a doctor, was at the hospital bringing healing to the hurting–some of whom may even have been in support of the gunmen. For Warner, Jean-Pierre, and Rode, they rest tonight in the arms of loving–and near–God. For Hannelle, questions and fear and no rest. Yet, still in the arms of a loving–and near–God.

Three lives given–given so that others–strangers–might have an opportunity to a life of fullness.

One life remaining–longing for God to come near.

It is there in the tension that we long for the Messiah. We yearn for the Kingdom where lion and lamb will lie side-by-side. We hope for the place where weapons of death–guns, and knives, and drones, and tanks, and missles, and planes–are beaten into things that bring life–plows, and shovels, and hoes, and rakes.

And, we wait for God to come near.

We’re hearing confirmation of the rumors that the World Food Progamme lacks the $60+million dollars necessary to continue to provide aid for refugees who have fled the conflict in Iraq and Syria. And, so, more than one-and-a-half million people are forced to wonder from where they will receive bread and milk. Hundreds of thousands of children sit on the brink of starvation. Rumor has it that it’s not just this United Nations program that is lacking funding, but it is also many Non-Governmental Agencies–some even faith-based–that lack funding.

We are also aware that some of the food, coal, blankets, tents, clothes that should have found it’s way to these displaced peoples didn’t. Whether stolen, sold, or otherwise, the situation is dire.

And, we wait for God to come near.

And, God does indeed come near.

He comes near in the birth of a baby. In the unlikliest of places. To the unlikliest of parents. Immanuel. God with us.

And, God does indeed come near.

At the hands of everyone who has answered the call to give more than they keep. The call to go where no one else will. The call to love the unloved–and the unloveable. The call to feed the hungry. The call to clothe the naked. In every answered call, God comes near.

And, God calls us to come near, and to be near. To be near the wife and mother who mourn. And, also, to be near the gunmen and their families. To be near the millions who are without a home or a country or a meal. And, also, to be near to those who have driven them from their homes and countries and meals.

Advent.

So, yesterday, we lit a candle. A flicker of light in the darkness. A candle that will be joined by another and another and another. And, then, by the candle of the Christ-child. And, then, by your candle–and mine.

Until, the room grows bright, and we are pushed out into the world to proclaim that the King has come. And, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

#Advent13: When Up is Down and Left is Right

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

Then a shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him–a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.  His delight will be in the fear of the LORD.  He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, He will not execute justice by what He hears with His ears, but He will judge the poor righteously and execute justice for the oppressed of the land.  He will strike the land with discipline from His mouth, and He will kill the wicked with a command from His lips.  Righteousness will be a belt around His waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat.  The calf, the young lion, and the fatling will be together, and a child will lead them.  The cow and the bear will graze, their young ones will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  An infant will play beside the cobra’s pit, and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den.  None will harm or destroy another on My entire holy mouton, for the land will be as full of the knowledge of the LORD as the sea is filled with water.

— Isaiah 11:1-9 (HCSB)

The Word of God for the people of God.

Whoa.  Did you read that?  Seriously, don’t run through the text today.  Go back and read it again.  Slowly.

And, one more time.

Here is Isaiah, writing to a people who are about to head to exile.  All that is left of the glorious kingdom of David is compared to a stump.  What was one a glorious oak or linden or pine is now just a stump.

Yet, here Isaiah gives the people a picture of life after exile.  He gives hope.  A Messiah is coming.  He will set things right.  He will begin as a sprout out of a stump, and will grow.  He will grow into the King of new Kingdom.

A Kingdom where what’s up becomes down and what’s left becomes right.

A Kingdom where the last become first.

A Kingdom where men sell everything they have to buy a field with a treasure buried in it.

A Kingdom where a minuscule bit of faith alters the course of history.

Isaiah paints for us a picture of paradise.  A picture of a place where lions and lambs play together.  A place where cows and bears run together.

A place where justice—God’s definition, not ours—is the rule of the land.

A place where the poor aren’t left in (or pushed deeper into) their poverty.

A place where the oppressed are set free.

A place where we judge one another through the lens of what the Father says about them.

A place where we hear not the latest gossip related to people, rather we hear the Father singing over them.

A place where what is missing is found and what is broken is repaired.

This is the Kingdom.

And, it is both now and not yet.

See, when the King—the Messiah, Immanuel, Jesus—comes into our life things change.  We move into a new Kingdom.  We act differently.  We treat everyone (whether they are in the Kingdom or not) with honor.  We seek to serve rather than be served.  We ensure that needs are shared and met.  We don’t wait for people to help themselves before we ask to help them.  We make the ground level for everyone.

We seek peace.

Shalom.

Nothing missing and nothing broken.

That’s The Way of the Kingdom.

That’s The Way of the King.

As we make our way through Advent, let’s seek to live differently.  Let’s seek to walk out The Way of the Kingdom.