#Lent14 — The Kingdom And The Storm

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Gospel of John.

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question.  You’re looking for someone to blame.  There is no such cause-effect here.  Look instead for what God can do.  We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines.  When night falls, the workday is over.  For as long as I am in the world, there is plant of light.  I am the world’s Light.”

He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”).  The man went and washed—and saw.

John 9:1-7 (MSG)

This is the Word of The Lord.

What do you do when you come across something bad?  When you look around you and see pain or suffering?

In our text for today, the Disciples are faced with this situation.  They’ve come across a blind man.  In First Century Israel (and in a large part of the world today), someone being blind (or lame or deaf or dumb or having a deformity) was believed to indicate that someone had sinned.  There was obviously some reason that God was punishing that person.  Either for something that they had done or something their ancestors had done.

Even in Twenty-First Century America, we find this logic.  Major tornado strikes a town, and many begin to ask why God sent the tornado.  Hurricane hits the Gulf Coast.  And, we find a reason to blame God.  Obviously, there was sin on the coast, and God hates sin.

The fact of the matter is that the world is fallen.  And, a fallen world will be plagued with “not good” stuff.  Hurricanes, tornados, mudslides, floods, etc.  When mankind disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they fell and brought the world down with them.

Yet, it didn’t end with the fall.  We come to today’s story.  Jesus has come.  The Son of God came to bring life—and life in abundance (John 10:10).  Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.

Here and now.

One person at a time.

When the Disciples encounter this blind man, they questioned Jesus with the question that society and culture and even religion had taught them to ask: “Who sinned?

And in Jesus’ response we learn something about the character and nature of God.

“You’re asking the wrong question.  You’re looking for someone to blame.  There is no such cause-effect here.  Look instead for what God can do.”

There’s not a cause-and-effect to the man being blind from birth.  There’s not a sin that caused it.  Jesus comes along and introduces the blind man to the Kingdom of God.  He removes the curse of the fall, and restores sight.

Because, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

As we look at the world around us, and we see issues of natural disasters or issues from birth, do we look at them through the eyes of the Disciples or the eyes of Jesus?

Do we ask “who sinned?” or do we proclaim, “Kingdom come?”

Do we bring the Kingdom?

The Kingdom of Heaven comes little by little.  It comes even in the midst of disaster.  Every time a blanket is handed to a cold and wet tornado survivor, the Kingdom comes.  With every bottle of water handed to a person removing debris from their flooded home, the Kingdom comes.  With every meal served to a hungry relief worker in a hurricane zone, the Kingdom comes.

We must remember, though, that God doesn’t send the hurricane to bring the Kingdom.  God sends the relief workers to bring the Kingdom.  God doesn’t cause the tornado to spin so that Kingdom will—eventually—come.  No, God sends His people into the aftermath of the tornado to bring the Kingdom.

The other night, we had dinner with a couple who had survived the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri in May 2011.  As they related their story of the storm and the aftermath, I was struck by the beauty of the Body of Christ.  See, in Joplin, churches had been working together for years to make a better community.  They had been doing community cleanup and relief work long before the tornado made it necessary.  So, when the tornado did come, and the thousands of volunteers descended on the city, they found that the churches in Joplin already had an infrastructure in place to assist with disasters—even though that infrastructure wasn’t designed as disaster response.

God didn’t send the storm to bring the Kingdom to Joplin.  No, the Kingdom was already in Joplin.  It had arrived there when the Body of Christ took a step in unity to work together to correct problems that were there.  So, when the storm did come, the Kingdom was there to serve.

The blind man in our text didn’t need someone to figure out why he was blind.  Rather, he needed someone to help him see.

The people of Joplin didn’t need someone to figure out why the tornado came.  Rather, they needed someone to help them shovel debris.

The people around you who are hurting don’t need someone to explain their pain.  Rather they need someone to hold their hand and walk through the pain with them.

For us who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, it’s critical that we understand that.  It’s critical that we understand that our role is not to explain suffering or pain.  Rather, our role is to endure the suffering and pain with those who are hurting.  Our role is to “strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’” (Isaiah 35:3-4).

Are you bringing the Kingdom?

Tornado Damage in Joplin, Missouri

Tornado Damage in Joplin, Missouri

#Advent13: An Ancient Path

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.

The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wastelands. The desert will sing and shout for joy; it will be as beautiful as the Lebanon Mountains and as fertile as the fields of Carmel and Sharon. Everyone will see the LORD’s splendor, see his greatness and power.

Give strength to the hands that are tired and to knees that tremble with weakness. Tell everyone who is discouraged, “Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue, coming to punish your enemies.”

The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy. Streams of water will flow through the desert; the burning sand will become a lake, and dry land will be filled with springs. Where jackals used to live, marsh grass and reeds will grow.

There will be a highway there, called “The Road of Holiness.” No sinner will ever travel that road; no fools will mislead those who follow it. No lions will be there; no fierce animals will pass that way. Those whom the LORD has rescued will travel home by that road. They will reach Jerusalem with gladness, singing and shouting for joy. They will be happy forever, forever free from sorrow and grief.

— Isaiah 35:1-10  (GNT)

The Word of God for the people of God.

Isaiah is writing to a people in exile.  These are a people who have been through it—and most of it of their own accord.  They failed to follow God. They were exiled from the land that was promised them—a land that they never fully occupied.  And, now, on the banks of the Euphrates they wonder how to sing the praises of God (Psalm 137).  The Prophet—the same one who told them they were headed for exile—tells them that a road is being paved on which they will head home.

Isaiah’s prophecy doesn’t just hold hope—confident and joyful expectation in God’s goodness—for the Israelites waiting rescue from the grasp of their captors.  It holds hope for us.

As we travel throughout the world and talk to front-line workers, one of the—almost unanimous—prevailing themes that comes out of those discussions is that they are tired.  The are worn out.  The work is hard.  It’s long.  It’s often without immediate fruit.

One of the things that God has challenged us to do in our ministry to the “give strength to the hands that are tired.”  To speak courage to them.  To remind them of Who is on the throne of the Kingdom in which they live.

On more than one occasion as we have sought out the word of the Lord for where we were to go, this passage has been a part of that word.  A reminder of the call with which God has challenged us.  Go.  Give strength.  Speak courage.

And, that’s what we do.  Our “mission” is to speak life.  To impart blessing.  To pray over.  To give courage.

One of the most important things that you can do for us—and for our friends in the nations—is pray that we readily recognize the “Road of Holiness”—the ancient path.

In another of the exile prophecies, Jeremiah (6:16), tells the people to “stand at the crossroads and look.  Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is.  Walk in it, and you will live in peace.”  Pray that we will always know which is the ancient path. That we may be able to stand alongside the workers in the nations and help them see the ancient path.  That we may strengthen them as they walk along the path.

It is the ancient path that we walk between the first lighting of the Advent Candles and the lighting of the Christ Candle.  It is the ancient path that leads us from the now to the not yet.  It is the ancient path that takes us from our home in Edmond into the nations and back again.  It is the ancient path that leads us all into the nations—be it physically, in prayer, through finance, or inviting the nations to us.

Strengthen the hands that are tired.  Give strength the the legs that are weak.  Speak courage.  Speak blessings—impartations of life that call one into their God-given destiny.

And, in this, we see the Kingdom come.  We see the now move closer to the not yet.  We see God’s desires accomplished in the nations.

An Ancient Road, Perge, Turkey

An Ancient Road, Perge, Turkey

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Father’s Song

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 Prophet Zephaniah

Sing, daughter of Zion!  Shout, Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem.  Yahweh has taken away your judgments.  He has thrown out your enemy.  The King of Israel, Yahweh, is in the midst of you.  You will not be afraid anymore.  In that day,, it will be said to Jerusalem, “Don’t be afraid, Zion.  Don’t let your hands be weak.”  Yahweh, your God is in the midst of you, a mighty one who will save.  He will rejoice over you with joy.  He will calm you in his love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.  I will remove those who grieve about the appointed feasts from you.  They are a burden and a reproach to you.  Behold, at that time I will deal with all those who afflict you, and I will save those who are lame, and gather those who were driven away.  I will give them praise and honor, whose shame ha been in all the earth.  At that time I will bring you in, and at that time I will gather you; for I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says Yahweh.

— Zephaniah 3:14-20 (WEB)

As I was reading this passage that reveals our gracious and compassionate Father God, several other passages that say the same thing came to my mind:

Ezekiel 37:21-28 (WEB)

Say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, where they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all; neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, now with any of their transgressions; but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, in which they have sinned, an will cleanse them:  so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.  My servant David shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my ordinances, and observe my statues, and do them.  They shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob my servant, in which your fathers lived; and they shall dwell therein, they, and their children, and their children’s children, forever: and David my servant shall be their prince for ever.  Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.  My tent also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  The nations shall know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in their midst forevermore.

Psalm 126 (WEB)

When Yahweh brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.

They they said among the nations, “Yahweh has done great things for them.”

Yahweh has done great things for us, and we are glad.

Restore our fortunes again, Yahweh, like the streams in the Negev.

Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.

He who goes out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, will certainly come again with joy, carrying his sheaves.

Isaiah 35 (WEB)

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad.  The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose.

It will blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing.  Lebanon’s glory Lebanon will be given to it, the excellence of Carmel and Sharon.  They will see Yahweh’s glory, the excellence of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

Tell those who have a fearful heart, “Be strong.  Don’t be afraid.  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution.  He will come and save you.

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.

Then the lame man will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing; for waters will break out in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.  Grass with reeds and rushes will be in the habitation of jackals, where they lay.

A highway will be there, a road, and it will be called The Holy Way.

The unclean shall not pass over it, but it will be for those who walk in the Way.  Wicked fools will not go there.

No lion will be there, nor will any ravenous animal go up on it.  They will not be found there; but the redeemed will walk there.

The Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return, and come with singing to Zion; and everlasting joy will be on their heads.

They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

Luke 15:20-24 (WEB)

“He arose, and came to his father.  But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.  The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him.  Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate; for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again.  He was lost, and is found.’  They began to celebrate.”

Revelation 21:3-7 (WEB)

I heard a loud voice out of heaven saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling place is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away from them every tear form their eyes.  Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more.  The first things have passed away.”

He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things news.”  He said, “Write, for these words of God are faithful and true.”  He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give freely to him who is thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes, I will give him these things.  I will be his God, and he will be my son.”

This theme of our Father God–who desires us, though we have sinned and fallen short; who redeems us, though we neither deserve it nor can repay Him for the sacrifice freely given; who adopts us, though we were orphans–weaves itself throughout the scriptures and gives testimony to who He is. He loves us with an unconditional love, and the longing in His heart is that we will turn our faces toward Him that He might receive us into His arms, His kingdom, His family, His abundant life. It is only because of His grace that we are saved, for we could never work hard enough or be worthy to receive His salvation – His adoption. But He is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth (Psalm 86:15).

Father God is rejoicing over us with singing, and in His joy, we are able to sing with Him, shout, be glad, and rejoice with all our heart for He loves us, and we are His children!

View from Golden Ponds, Longmont, Colorado

View from Golden Ponds, Longmont, Colorado