Posts

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.

#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!”

 

#Advent13: What’s in a Name? — Mark Foster

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!

Rev. Mark Foster

Rev. Mark Foster

Today, we are excited to once again have a special guest post from Rev. Mark Foster. Pastor Mark is the Founding Pastor of Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. He married his wife Chantelle in August 1991. They have two sons, John Mark and Noah. Pastor Mark is led by the Spirit and is passionate about seeing people come to know Jesus. We met Pastor Mark in October of last year when we began to attend Acts 2 UMC. We are blessed to call him our Pastor, and are honored that he has written today’s guest post.

A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son; They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).

Then Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby. He named the baby Jesus.

— Matthew 1:18-25 (The Message)

The Word of God for the people of God.

​Sometimes what you see or experience is so great, beyond description, beyond expectation, that one name simply won’t do. The baby gets two names. The first is “Jesus” – the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua which means “Jehova is salvation.” Another way of putting it is that Jesus means “The Lord saves.” Or you might even say that the angel commands Joseph to name the baby “Savior” because “He will save!” The New Revised Standard Version puts it, that Joseph being a “righteous man” which can also be translated as a “just” man had planned to dismiss her (Mary) quietly. “But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (emphasis mine).

The angel is direct. One, do not be afraid. This is the normal conversation starter between heavenly beings and mortals. We need this instruction daily. Joseph had reason to be afraid. While the Law of Moses required capital punishment in cases like these (Deuteronomy 22:23-27), by this time in Jewish history, the penalty was rarely death. Rather, it would be a severe, humiliating, public penalty. In Joseph’s circles, to be described as “righteous” meant that one did the right thing at the right time and was a follower of every detail of God’s law. Yet, the Spirit is at work with “just” Joseph so that he is already going beyond the letter of the law and acting out of love and mercy on Mary’s behalf.

​The second command from the heavenly messenger is that it is Joseph’s responsibility to name the baby. “You shall name the child, accepting him as your own and adopting him into the Davidic line as an authentic ‘son of David.’” Joseph names him Jesus. This places Jesus in line with the prophecy. Remember that this is not something that by law Joseph would have to do. The voice of God through the angel leads Joseph to name the baby Jesus. This naming reflects the great story line of Moses and Joshua where they save God’s people from Egypt and guided them into the promised land through the Red Sea and the Jordan River.

Jesus too will save HIS people from their sins. But who are Jesus’ people? One might think that it is the Jewish people, but as the plot develops in the gospels, Jesus’ people are ALL people. “For God so love the world (kosmos)” moving beyond any border, culture, race, or time! This turns out to be a point of great conflict that will ultimately lead to Jesus’ death. Jesus’ life was one of inclusion with the poor, with a Samaritan woman, with prostitutes, with tax-collectors, with lepers, and with as many other categories as the religious leaders of the time decided were “on the outs with God.” Simply put, they would say, “he eats with sinners.” When the rest of the religious leaders of the time were running from the hurting and broken of the world so as not be made unclean, Jesus was running to them. He washed them and made them clean.

Ironically, the mother of our Lord and Savior certainly would have been thought of in the category of “sinner” by the religious folks of her time. Mary was an unwed pregnant teenager who in her culture would also be an adulterer due to her status as betrothed. Interestingly, Matthew describes Joseph becoming aware of Mary’s pregnancy, yet not knowing of its divine source. This “in between time” of seeing trouble, but not yet seeing divine action, presence, or proclamation represents the hardest times of life.

​Perhaps this is why Jesus also receives a symbolic name, “Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Never again do we need to wonder, “Where is God in this?” The answer is in every place, in every time of trouble, even when we can’t see it, even when we don’t feel it, and even when we forget it; the truth of Jesus remains that he is “Emmanuel – God with us!” In our feast days of celebration, at the weddings where water turns to wine, at the graves of those we love like Lazarus, in the wilderness, in the garden, when we are on trial, betrayed, denied, beaten, whipped, bruised, alone; we find that we are never alone because everywhere, beyond the end of time, we have received the gift of Emmanuel – God with us that neither life nor death nor anything on the earth, above the earth, or beneath the earth can take away. I am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is what the church claims this Christmas Eve. Tonight, light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not and cannot overcome it. Tonight, God is with us. Let the angels sing, the saints rejoice, the demons shudder, for the Lord of Life is alive and well. Jesus “God saves” is with us!

#Advent13: Guest Post – Nathan Kilbourne

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!

We are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, has agreed once again to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Senior Pastor at Vilonia United Methodist Church in Vilonia, Arkansas. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

Reverends Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

Reverends Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”

— Isaiah 7:10-16

The Word of God for the people of God.

Disappointed. I’m certain that is what Ahaz felt when he received the word from Isaiah regarding a child being born named Emmanuel. Ahaz was looking for a little bit more reassurance. He feared the Assyrian kingdom at his doorstep and the power it may be able wield over the Davidic Kingdom. This kingdom had already been compared to a stump by the prophet Isaiah, not a flourishing tree. Even then, a shoot growing from the stump is only assurance that the kingdom has a chance at survival. Who wants survival? Isn’t it best to be powerful? Isn’t it better to have large armies to be able to fend off enemies? A stump and shoot? A child named Emmanuel? What good is this? How does this calm fears and alleviate anxiety?

It is easy for us to overlook the significance of the promised presence of God when facing the giants in our lives. We look for miraculous signs in the midst of overshadowing pressures and problems. We seek calmed storms and straight paths; yet, the winds continue to blow and the paths are rocky. However, during this season, we are reminded that sometimes, what we need is reassurance that God is still looking out for us. Yes, though the powers of Assyrians, Herods, and the like seem to be winning a child will be born named Emmanuel, God with us.

Though we do not get exactly what we want, God is still Emmanuel, who reveals himself in ways we might not expect, for example, in a child. In looking for the miraculous, outstanding, world altering movements of God, we may miss that God just might show up in the vulnerability of a child and in the promise of that life will continue. Sometimes God simply gives us enough to sustain us in the storms and Ahaz missed the message of Isaiah. Though it seemed insignificant compared to the insurmountable evils surrounding him, Isaiah was providing a message of hope, a message that God will continue to be with his people. Isaiah provided a glimmer of light, but Ahaz missed it.

At times, just a glimmering of hope can help us weather the storms of life. As preacher Peter Gomes once remarked, “We are able to bear this present darkness because we believe in the coming dawn…a dawn in which the shadows and shades of night are seen for what they are and are not.” Even when it is only a glimmer of hope, such can be enough to bear the present darkness.

During this Christmas season, as we await again the coming of Jesus the Messiah, let us not forget that often God shows up in seemingly insignificant ways that we might easily overlook. God shows up in Bethlehem, an insignificant place, to Mary and Joseph, insignificant people, placed in a manger, an insignificant place, and brings hope. God may show up in your life in a seemingly insignificant way. Yet, God can take what is insignificant and make it significant. Pay close attention, even the crumbs which fall from the table of God are enough.

 

#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.

#Advent13: Swords, Plows, and Kingdoms

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.

This is a vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house will be the highest of all–the most important place on earth.  It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.  People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God.  There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.”  For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem.  The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes.  They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

— Isaiah 2:1-5 (NLT)

The Word of God for the people of God.

In the midst of a nation that is about to be attacked, then occupied, and finally exiled, we find a prophet.  Yet, this message isn’t a message of war.  It’s one of peace.  It’s one that speaks to something bigger than the reality of the situation.

And, it is this passage that we find us kicking off #Advent13.

The world is a much different place than 2800 years ago when Isaiah was penning these words, yet some realities remain.  Much of the world is in war, occupation, or exile.  Millions of people around the globe go to bed every night wondering if they will die during the night by gunshot, bomb, or some other senseless attack.

Yet, we hear the voice of Isaiah calling us to beat our swords and spears (or our guns and drones as they would be better recognized in modern times) to plowshares and pruning hooks.

We often read this passage and think that Isaiah is talking about some grandiose world-wide absence of war.  While that is a part of what he is prophesying, there is a much larger message to be heard.  It is a message of peace in the now.

It is the message of the Kingdom of God.

It is the message of shalom–nothing missing, nothing broken.

Shalom.  That word that we often just translate as “peace” means so much more than that.  Shalom is not the absence of conflict.  Shalom is the knowledge that even in the midst of our conflict (be it within us or external to us), God is working to ensure that that which is broken will be repair and that which is missing will be found.

And, in this passage, we hear Isaiah’s admonition to be bringers of Shalom.  To cease the warring (both within our own self and also within the world).

To cease the struggle.

To cease the battle.

To cease the “must win” attitudes.

To settle into the Kingdom reality of nothing missing and nothing broken.

It is in this place of shalom–Kingdom–that the Lord’s mountain–Kingdom–rises up and beckons for the nations (read people-groups) to come.

And, so we begin our walk to Christmas.  Knowing that in just a few short nights, the King will be born.  And, this promise of peace…

…this promise of shalom…

…this promise of nothing missing…

…this promise of nothing broken…

…this promise of Messiah…

…this promise of Immanuel–God WITH us…

…will come to be.

This promise will move from being words proclaimed by a prophet to words walked out by a King.

AND, by His followers.

See, here’s where we often miss Isaiah’s point.  We view this prophecy as an “end of the world” kind of thing.  We interpret it to be specific to a plot of land along the Mediterranean Sea.  And, in doing so, we miss the blessing.  We miss the beauty of the Kingdom.

While the Kingdom does indeed have an element of “not yet” to it, it also is a Kingdom of now.  A Kingdom lived into by all of the followers of the King.

So, as we walk to the manager, let’s not get so wrapped up in the “not yet” that we miss the beauty of the “now”.  Let’s not miss the beauty of the ability for us to beat swords and spears into plows and pruning hooks now.

And, as we walk, we proclaim that the KING is coming.  And, when the KING comes, so does the KINGDOM!

Walk with us to the mountain–KINGDOM–of the LORD!

A Drone in Central Asia.

A Drone in Central Asia.

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Confident and Joyful Expectation

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

John spoke to the crowds coming to be baptized by him. He said, “You are like a nest of poisonous snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming of God’s anger? Produce fruit that shows you have turned away from your sins. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children for Abraham even from these stones. The ax is already lying at the roots of the trees. All the trees that don’t produce good fruit will be cut down. They will be thrown into the fire.”

“Then what should we do?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “If you have extra clothes, you should share with those who have none. And if you have extra food, you should do the same.”

Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” John told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

John replied, “Don’t force people to give you money. Don’t bring false charges against people. Be happy with your pay.”

The people were waiting. They were expecting something. They were all wondering in their hearts if John might be the Christ.

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But One who is more powerful than I am will come. I’m not good enough to untie the straps of his snadals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His pitchfork is in his hand to toss the straw away from his threshing floor. He will gather the wheat into his storeroom. But he will burn up the husks with fire that can’t be put out.”

John said many other things to warn the people. He also preached the good news to them.

— Luke 3:7-18 (NIRV)

“What should we do?”

The question of the ages. We’ve heard what you said, and now we want to know, “What should we do?”

And, then, John prepares the path for the coming Messiah. He gives them an answer that leads to a great sacrifice.

Give.

You can’t wear two coats at the same time, so give one away.

Don’t cheat people out of money.

Don’t bring false charges.

Don’t live your life for yourself.

Here’s the voice in the wilderness, the son of Zecariah–the faithful servant–preparing the path for the coming Messiah. The King is coming, he would say, and when He comes so does the Kingdom.

Proclaiming the message of the Kingdom to a people expecting–hoping–for something. Hoping for rescue.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God.

Hope. Knowing that God is for you and in that knowing anticipating that God will act out of His goodness–His Character and Nature.

And, out of that place of Hope, the people wonder, “Is John the Messiah?”

That crazy man? Wearing camel skin? Gnawing on grasshoppers? Him? Messiah? Could it be?

But, John, almost reading their minds, tells them in no uncertain terms, “I’m not the Messiah. I’m not even worthy of untying His sandals.”

I wonder what the people were thinking after that. Here they are in a place of extreme hope. A place of confidently and joyfully expecting the goodness of God–the Messiah. A place of hoping that their rescue was nigh.

John, continues on with his message–the good news. The news that while he wasn’t the Messiah, He was indeed coming soon.

Here we are, two thousand years later, proclaiming that same good news. The King has come, and, with Him, He has brought Kingdom.

Yet, we live in the place of tension. We live in that same place of hope. That place between the now and the not yet. We live in confident and joyful expectation of the goodness of God.

We live in the place of hope that God is walking through the valley of the shadow of death with us. We’re not walking alone. We walk with Emmanuel. Because, we know, that God is truly with us. And, as the song says, “If our God is with us, then what can stand against us?”

 

Caleb at the Ancient Walls of Constantinople

Caleb at the Ancient Walls of Constantinople

 

Advent 2012: Preparing the Path: God’s Sunrise Breaking Through

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emmanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, what he swore to our father Abraham–a clean rescue from the enemy camp, so we can worship him without a care in the world, made holy before him as long as we live.”

“And you, my child, ‘Prophet of the Highest,’ will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

— Luke 1:67-79 (The Message)

Leading into Zacariah’s prophecy, we get the story of the birth of John the Baptist. An angel appears to Zacariah and tells him that his wife will have a baby. But, he and his wife, Elizabeth, aren’t exactly young. In fact, we’re told they were “quite old.”

Zachariah was a priest. He knows the history of the Jewish people. He knows one story in particular – Abraham and Sarah.

Angel appears.

Says, “You’re going to be a pop. Congratulations.”

Zachariah laughs.

Outloud.

Just like Sarah did.

Here is a priest. A man who has taught hundreds of Jewish children their history. And he laughs at a story–an epic story central to his people’s history–that he’s heard before.

This story shows hope.

Once again, we see God choosing the unlikely to become the molder of history.

An old man.

An old woman.

A baby.

The foreteller of the Messiah.

God removing people from their personal dramas to make them a part of His story.

The angel tells Zachariah that his lack of belief–belief of a story he’s known all his life–would result in his mouth being shut until the baby is born.  Maybe, when we fail to believe in the promises of God, He would prefer that we just keep our mouth shut.

Contrast Elizabeth’s response. She “relishes” in the fact that she is pregnant. Fortunately for her, Zachariah couldn’t talk. He couldn’t be the wet-blanket that he would have undoubtedly been if he had been able to speak. He couldn’t derail the joy of God as we so often do when we hear a promise of God that will remove us from our own dramas.

Then the baby is born.

“Name him John”, Elizabeth says.

Counter-cultural.

No one in the family is named John.

No significance.

But, Zacariah, speaks.

“Name him John.”

God likes to work counter-culturally.

God often takes us from what’s comfortable when He uses us in His story. He doesn’t remove us from the drama, rather He walks with us through the drama.

Zachariah then prophesies. He says that this boy, John, would foretell the coming of the Messiah.

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Then he makes a profound statement: “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

Because God has chosen to have mercy on us once again, He will break through our darkness with His beautiful sunrise.

The beauty of Emmanuel is that Emmanuel is right now. God is with us in the right now.

Emmanuel doesn’t airlift us out of our situations, rather he parachutes in to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” with us. In the midst of our darkness, He breaks in with His sunrise.

When Job is in deepest despair, God speaks out of the storm.

When Elijah is hiding in a cave, God breaks in with a still, small voice.

When His people were in slavery, God burns a bush to get Moses’ attention.

When we are struggling with addictions, God’s sunrise brings us comfort and strength.

When we are experiencing death, God’s sunrise brings us hope of new life.

In the middle of our darkness – our personal drama – God’s sunrise, Emmanuel, breaks in and moves us into His story.

 

Tea With A Stranger

One of the most beautiful phrases in all of Scripture (at least in my reading) is “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” (Luke 24:28)

The story preceding this phrase is a wonderful scene. Two men. Walking down a road. Downtrodden. Confused. Hurt. Insulted. Struggling to cope with what has become their reality.

Their Messiah, or at least the One they thought was their Messiah, is dead. Hope crushed. Dreams dashed.

It’s the ending that no one ever dreamt would come. This Man was supposed to be the Rescuer. He was supposed to be the one who would make all things right again. Who would, as John said, bring light into darkness [John 1].

But, tragedy strikes. And these two men are left to deal with it. And all they can think to do is walk home.

On their journey, they are face-to-face with a stranger. Together they walk and talk, and when they reach their destination, they–in true “warm culture” fashion–invite the stranger to stay.

“Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”

Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.”

Glasses of Çay in Central Asia

Glasses of Çay in Central Asia

Or, as they would say in modern-day Central Asia, “Come in for çay (tea).”

Not a question. A statement.

Not a suggestion. A presumption.

The risk with this invitation is it’s ability to be life-altering. Intently, these men have listened as this Stranger has talked to them about the goings-on in Jerusalem. Intently, they have listened as He explained centuries worth of prophecies and Rabbinical thought. And, now, they ask Him to stay for dinner. Perhaps it is so that He can tell more stories. Share more thoughts.

But….

What these men didn’t know was they were inviting Jesus–the Messiah–to stay with them.

And, then, it happens. Reality itself changes. Their Messiah is alive and in the same room with them. Hope restored. Dreams renewed. Life revealed.

What a story. A simple walk and an unexpected dinner guest, changes everything about their present reality.

And, here we are today, some in dark reality, some in hopelessness, some in confusion, some in just moments of tiredness. And, there He is, the Stranger walking next to you. Wanting to talk with you about that reality.

Will you invite Him in for a cup of çay?