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#Advent16 — Flowers in The Desert

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

The desert and dry land will become happy;
the desert will be glad and will produce flowers.
Like a flower, it will have many blooms.
It will show its happiness, as if it were shouting for joy.
It will be beautiful like the forest of Lebanon,
as beautiful as the hill of Carmel and the Plain of Sharon.
Everyone will see the glory of the LORD
and the splendor of our God.
Make the weak hands strong
and the weak knees steady.
Say to people who are frightened,
“Be strong. Don’t be afraid.
Look, your God will come,
and he will punish your enemies.
He will make them pay for the wrongs they did,
but he will save you.”

Then the blind people will see again,
and the deaf will hear.
Crippled people will jump like deer,
and those who can’t talk now will shout with joy.
Water will flow in the desert,
and streams will flow in the dry land.
The burning desert will have pools of water,
and the dry ground will have springs.
Where wild dogs once lived,
grass and water plants will grow.
A road will be there;
this highway will be called “The Road to Being Holy.”
Evil people will not be allowed to walk on that road;
only good people will walk on it.
No fools will go on it.
No lions will be there,
nor will dangerous animals be on that road.
They will not be found there.
That road will be for the people God saves;
the people the LORD has freed will return there.
They will enter Jerusalem with joy,
and their happiness will last forever.
Their gladness and joy will fill them completely,
and sorrow and sadness will go far away.

Isaiah 35:1-10 (NCV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

I must admit that I was somewhat tempted to post the reading for today without comment. Just let the text stand on its own. This text is among the most beautiful pictures of life in the Kingdom of Heaven in the whole of the Scripture. It paints for us a picture of life. It paints a picture of life lived to the fullest (see John 10:10).

Yet, as I read and reread the text for today, I found myself thinking of things that are not like the Kingdom of Heaven. I found myself thinking of things that are—like us—waiting for Christmas. Things that are longing for Messiah. Things that are groaning for a new King.

This text is a prophecy from Isaiah. Speaking to a people who are in exile. A people needing to be rescued from their captivity.

We see a fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus. In our Gospel reading for this week (Matthew 11:2-11, to be posted on Wednesday), we read about John the Baptizer’s disciples coming to Jesus to find out if he is indeed the one who had been promised—the one who would set all things right. Jesus doesn’t give a direct answer. He merely tells them to look around and see. Take account of those lives that have been changed. The blind that could now see. The lame that could now walk. The deaf that could now hear. The dead that were now living again.

“The Kingdom,” Jesus tells us, “is near.”

Right here.

Right now.

What I find frustrating about this passage, and the passage in Matthew 11 is that there were still blind people and deaf people and lame people and dead people. There were still poor that had not heard the good news of Jesus. The Kingdom had come. But, not in it’s fullness. Pain and suffering and hurt and sadness still existed even as Jesus is telling John’s disciples to look around them.

And, it still exists today.

Last Saturday evening, in the city of İstanbul, there was a football match (soccer match for my American readers). Beşiktaş was taking on Bursaspor. About two hours after the match (which Beşiktaş won 2-1), two bombs were detonated. One a car bomb, the other a suicide bomber. 38 people were killed. 155 others were injured.

Pain. Suffering. Destruction.

Still exists today.

And, in these dark moments, it’s hard to see, and harder to say that the Kingdom of Heaven is here.

But, it is.

And, it is not.

See, the Kingdom of Heaven is one of the great mysteries of our faith. It arrived in resounding glory on an evening in a sleepy little village in a land controlled by an occupying force.

A baby.

A manger.

A mother.

A father.

A star.

A shepherd.

An angel proclaiming, “Salaam alaikum!”

Peace be upon you!

But, that was not the end of the story. Go into all the world and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, this Baby—now a Man raised from the dead—would tell His followers.

Go and proclaim that there will someday be streams in the desert. Flowers in the desolation. Pain and suffering will be replaced by life lived to the fullest.

On the front page of one of the Turkish newspapers this morning was a photo of a black wrought iron fence. At the base of this fence there were bright red roses being laid. Honoring the memory of those who were slain outside that football stadium in Istanbul.

Yet it reminded me of this passage. Flowers in the desert, the prophet called them. Even in a land where the majority of the people know nothing about the Kingdom of Heaven, there are still places to look and see that the Kingdom is here.

Now.

And, there is even more to remind us that it is a long way from its fulfillment.

Flowers

Flowers

That is what Advent is about. A stark reminder to us that even though we ended the Liturgical Year a few short weeks ago by proclaiming that Christ is the King, we begin it by waiting for the King to come. We ended the year by enthroning the new King in His Kingdom. And we being it by wondering when he new King and his Kingdom will come.

In the desert, a flower will bloom.

And then another.

And another.

And another.

Until the day comes when the desert is full of flowers.

Life With A Capital L

Book Review: Life with a Capital L by Matt Heard

At some point in each of our lives, we search for a way to live life to its fullest. For many, this search takes them to the heights of successful business careers, or sports contracts. For some, it takes them to the nursery of their children, or the classroom in the middle school. Yet, for many, the surface of a rich and full life is only ever barely scratched.

Sure, physical needs are met. There’s a roof that covers the family. There’s a car that saves us from walking to work. There’s food on the table. There’s shoes on the feet. But, those things are but a small part of life lived to the fullest.

In his new book, Life With A Capital L, Matt Heard, presents us with an alternative to a life of superficial fulfillment. He takes us to the words of Jesus:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. — John 10:10 (NIV).

Heard reminds us that Jesus’ words in John 10 aren’t meant to be taken in a way that would lead us into an understanding that full life equates to lots of stuff. Nor is a full life one of a super-spirituality that’s not of any earthly use. Rather, Jesus’ intention for us is to life our lives as spiritual beings who fully embrace our humanity.

Jesus is not about making us superspiritual but fully human. He’s not only interested in our spirituality but our humanity as well. For some of us, this helps explain why we aren’t interested in cultivating a spiritual journey that’s irrelevant to the rest of our lives. For others of us–haunted by the guilt of failed spiritual disciplines–we’re intrigued.

Jesus comes that we might live full of life. That we will enjoy our lives, and also live them as representatives of a new Kingdom–embracing both the humanity and the spirituality of life. Throughout the book, Heard provides us with examples of people who have learned the beauty of this embrace. People who have learned to walk with Jesus in the everydayness of life.

Heard also presents us with ten experiences that come from the fullness of life. Practical things that happen when we fully embrace both the humanity and the spirituality of life. Freedom. Worship. Beauty. Brokenness.

In the last couple of chapters, Heard talks to us about two subjects that need to be talked about more in our spiritual settings: Brokenness and Heaven. Life is hard. It’s messy. People hurt us. We hurt people. We are all broken in some way or another. Yet, Jesus comes to mend this brokenness. Not to airlift us out of it all, but to walk through it with us. To walk through it as one who understands it. I found two statements in the chapter on Brokenness to be some of the most beautiful in the book:

In the echo of explosions along our journey, it’s temptin to forget that LIfe with a Capital L actually unfolds in the midst of the land of the shadow of death. It’s a place where broken hopes and shattered dreams happen more often than we could ever be comfortable with.

And…

Nothing will be left on the editing room floor of my journey. He’ll ultimately redeem it all, wresting beauty from the ashes for my good and his glory.

…Wrestling beauty from the ashes.  Thank God, that is the truth of a life lived to fullness. Salvation doesn’t fix all of the hurt and pain and brokenness upfront. It’s a process.

Like the Kingdom.

Life is lived out one step at a time.

Slowly by slowly.

Until that blessed day when all is redeemed and all is made new and all is filled to the fullness.

—–

FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Matt Heard’s book Life With a Capital L from Blogging for Books for this review.

—-

424464: Life with a Capital L: Embracing Your God-Given Humanity Life with a Capital L: Embracing Your God-Given HumanityBy Matt Heard / Multnomah Books

What is it that you long for? Dream about? Hunger after? We all desire more than just the endurance of our daily routines. But often we feel limited and stuck – like we’re merely existing instead of living. That’s not the way it was meant to be. God intends the humanity in each of us to be deeply experienced, lavishly enjoyed, and exuberantly celebrated. In fact this is what the gospel is all about.

In Life with a Capital L Matt Heard escorts us on a journey of discovery: that Jesus didn’t come to save us from our humanity – Christ instead yearns to restore it to what God originally intended. He then explores ten key areas where everyday life can become extraordinary Life. Life with a Capital L is the Life you are longing for. Now.

#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

#Lent14 — Agreeing And Acting On The Promise

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 Epistle to the Romans.

God promised Abraham and his descendants that he would give them the world.  This promise wasn’t made because Abraham had obeyed a law, but because his faith in God made him acceptable.

If Abraham and his descendants were given this promise because they had obeyed a law, then faith would mean nothing, and the promise would be worthless.  God becomes angry when his Law is broken.  But where there isn’t a law, it cannot be broken.  Everything depends on having faith in God, so that God’s promise is assured by his gift of undeserved grace.  This promise isn’t only for Abraham’s descendants who have the Law.  It is for all who are Abraham’s descendants because they have faith, just as he did.  Abraham is the ancestor of us all.

The Scriptures say that Abraham would become the ancestor of many nations.  This promise was made to Abraham because he had faith in God, who raises the dead to life and creates new things.

God promised Abraham a lot of descendants.  And when it all seemed hopeless, Abraham still had faith in God and became the ancestor of many nations.  Abraham’s faith never became weak, not even when he was nearly 100 years old.  He knew he was almost dead and that his wife Sarah could not have children.

But Abraham never doubted or questioned God’s promise.  His faith made him strong, and he gave all the credit to God.  Abraham was certain that God could do what he had promised.  So God accepted him, just as we read in the Scriptures.  But these words were not written only for Abraham.  They were written for us, since we will also be accepted because of our faith in God, who raised our Lord Jesus to life.  God gave Jesus to die for our sins, and he raised him to life, so that we would be made acceptable to God.

Romans 4:13-25 (CEV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Today’s post originally ran on March 7, 2012.

Today’s text takes us back to the story of Abraham.  God has given Abraham a promise.  He’s promised Abraham a son–more than that even.  Sons that number as many as the grains of sand or stars in the sky.  And, Abraham trusts the promise.

Despite the odds.

He’s old.  His wife is old.  They’re childless.  The promise seems all but impossible.  So many things stacked against the promise.

Yet, when God makes a promise, and their are impossible situations, there we find grace.  “God’s promise is assured by his gift of undeserved grace” (verse 16).

In his epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:20), Paul reminds us that “all the promises of God find their yes in him.  That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”  We utter our Amen–our wholehearted agreement and willingness to act on it–to His promises.

God’s promises are conditional.  He promises, we add our Amen–our agreement and action.  His promise to Abraham was conditional upon Abraham’s obedience to leave Ur and possess the land of Canaan.  God’s promise to Israel is conditional on their obedience to worship Him and Him alone (something they have never in their history been able to do, because they have tried within their own power and not with His power).

God has made a promise to each of us.  It is a promise for rescue.  It is a promise for a life is that more than sufficient (John 10:10).  Yet, it is up to us to walk in that promise.  To allow Him to be Father.  To allow Him to have the last word in our lives.

What has God promised you?

Have you said “Yes” and “Amen”?  Have you agreed and acted upon that promise?

#Lent14 — Co-Creating

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 Book of Genesis.

The Lord God put the man in the Garden of Eden. He put him there to work its ground and to take care of it.

The Lord God gave the man a command. He said, “You can eat the fruit of any tree that is in the garden. But you must not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you do, you can be sure that you will die.”

The serpent was more clever than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. The serpent said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat the fruit of any tree that is in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We can eat the fruit of the trees that are in the garden. But God did say, ‘You must not eat the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden. Do not even touch it. If you do, you will die.'”

“You can be sure that you won’t die,” the serpent said to the woman. “God knows that when you eat the fruit of that tree, you will know things you have never known before. You will be able to tell the difference between good and evil. You will be like God.”

The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good to eat. It was also pleasing to look at. And it would make a person wise. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. And he ate it.

Then both of them knew things they had never known before. They realized they were naked. So they sewed fig leaves together and made clothes for themselves.

— Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 (NIRV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

We know this story so well.  God says one thing, Satan questions what He said.  And we are left to choose sides.  Do we go with what we know God said, or with what the enemy wants us to think He said?

Somewhere between the promise of God and the fulfillment of that promise lies the enemy. For Adam and Eve, the promise was a life lived in constant community with the Creator.  And, even more than that, a life lived co-creating with the Creator.

God’s original intent for His creation was to have someone with whom He could co-create.  The first thing He commanded man to do was name the creation–help Him in creation.  Co-create with Him.

And, that command still stands.  We are invited to co-create with Him.  To stand alongside the Creator and dream the dreams worthy of creating.

But, the enemy wants to do anything it can to stop us from living out our call.  To cut us off from relationship with the Creator.  The enemy longs to stop us from creating with God.  He longs to steal from us the promise that God has given us.

One of the principles of community development is to remember that God is already in the place to which we have come to work.  He was there long before we arrived.  He will be there long after we leave.  Yet, for a time, He chooses to ask us to partner with Him to bring His Kingdom to that place.  He asks us to stand alongside Him and be his hands and feet.

In this process, we are standing somewhere between a promise and fulfillment of the promise.  And the enemy looks for ways to throw us off our game.  To move our focus from the relationship that comes from working WITH God and onto some ill-framed requirement to work FOR God.  While, I expect the enemy to be most delighted when we just stop working altogether, I think it’s happy when it can convince us that working FOR God is more important than being in relationship WITH God.

When we begin working FOR God instead of WITH God, we lose the key element in this whole thing.  We lose the relationship that comes from being with Him.  Our work begins to feel like work and not at all like relationship.  This isn’t to say that working with God is easy.  It isn’t.  But, it is the most rewarding thing you can do!  Imagine, co-creating!  Dreaming big–no, God-sized–dreams, and then seeing them come to fruition.

That’s the life to which each of us are called.  To stand alongside the Creator.  In relationship—which is the definition of righteousness (to be in right legal and relational standing with God)–with Him.  We were created to co-create.

When Jesus came and died and rose again, He did so for the purpose of setting us back on the road to Eden.  He did to place us back in relationship with the Creator.  So that we could once again stand in the place of co-creating.  That we could dream big and work WITH God to bring those dreams into fruition.

He came so that we could help to bring the Kingdom to earth now.  Salvation isn’t just about going to heaven SOMEDAY.  It’s about living in heaven TODAY.  It’s about having a life that is full beyond overflowing (John 10:10).  It’s about living our every day lives in a way that we see the Kingdom come in every situation.

Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden.  But, that is just the beginning of the story.

Caleb and his Legos

Caleb and his Legos

 

Advent 2012: Preparing the Path: Sacrifice

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 Malachi

The Lord who rules over all says, “I will send my messenger. He will prepare my way for me. Then suddenly the Lord you are looking for will come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant will come. He is the one you long for.”

But who can live through the day when he comes? Who will be left standing when he appears? He will be like a fire that makes things pure. He will be like soap that makes things clean. He will act like one who makes silver pure. And he will purify the Levites, just as gold and silver are purified with fire.

Then the Lord's people will bring proper offerings. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to him. It will be as it was in days and years gone by.

— Malachi 3:1-4 (NIRV)

As pure as gold. As clear as glass. As shiny as a new nickel. Purified. Clean.

When the Israelites were given the laws regarding animals that could be sacrificed they were told that those animals had to be pure. They had to be without blemish. They had to be the one that would have won blue ribbons at the fair. The ones that pedigrees would be made from. They had to be perfect.

There's a story in the Gospels of a man who comes to Jesus. He's lived a pretty good life. He tells Jesus that He's done everything that the law said. What was left for him to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus told him to sell everything he owned and follow Jesus.

Give up his pedigree. Give up his blue ribbons. Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with his God (Micah 6:8).

Jesus told the man to purify himself of those things that stood in the way of walking with his God.

The Prophet Malachi tells us that after purification, then the Lord's people will bring proper offerings. Paul, in Romans 12, gives us a New Testament understanding of what these proper offerings entail:

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life–your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life–and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

— Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)

Place your everyday, ordinary life on the altar as an offering. Living your life–every aspect of it–for the One who came and brought life–abundant life (John 10:10)–to you.

In this Advent season, what are you holding back that keeps you from being that offering? If you had come to Jesus as the Rich Young Ruler did, then what is it that Jesus would have told you to leave behind?

Sports?

Career?

Bigger house?

Jaguar XJ6 Convertible?

What would your response be?

Like the Rich Young Ruler would you leave downtrodden? Or, would you respond as Peter did and leave the nets, boats, and the catch of fish–all 157 of them–on the shore?

Sacrifice.

The idea here is to live your life–the life that God has called you to–for something bigger then yourself. Live your life for the furthering of the Kingdom–in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the world.

So, lay down your entire life, let God redeem it (how beautiful is it to know that EVERYTHING is redeemable), and then pick it back up. Live it for Him and Him alone. Every area of your life. Live it for Him.

And onward we march to the manger.

Lent 2012: 7.2 — Kingdom Come

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.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of this disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell them, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and thew their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest!”

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everthing, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

— Mark 11:1-11 (NIV)

Our Lenten journey is drawing to a close. Jesus has come to Jerusalem–that place that he had resolutely set out for (Luke 9:51). He has entered the city.

Through a back gate on a donkey.

Place yourself, for a moment, into the sandels of those who had followed Jesus on this journey. For three years, they have listened to parables, seen the hungry feed, seen the blind given sight, seen the deaf made able to hear, and have even seen the dead raised. And, now, the Messiah–the Rescuer–is ready to enter Jerusalem.

Messiah has come to overthrow the kingdom occupying our land–the land we were promised and told to posses.

And he’s asking for a donkey to ride.

In those days, the king would ride into the city on a horse. He would ride through the main gate of the city. People would proclaim his kingship as he rode.

As one of those who had followed, you have to be thinking that this is it. Jesus is subverting the Roman king, by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and coming in through the back door. Smart. Sneaking in under the radar, but illustrating to everyone around that He is the King.

Yet, even though Jesus has spent three years teaching us about His Kingdom.

That wholly and holy other than Kingdom.

That “where what God wants done is done” (Dallas Willard) Kingdom.

That now but not yet Kingdom.

They still didn’t get it. They’re ready for war. Bring on the guards, we’ll take them! The King is here with us–on a donkey.

As Jesus turned to leave the Temple that night, these Disciples had to be thinking, “Ok, this was just a survey trip. Show the people that the true King has come, look at what we’re up against, and then tomorrow we attack.”

Yet, on the morrow, there was no attack. There was a withered fig tree and a cleansing of the temple. But, no war. No bringing in the Kingdom.

Because the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t come by force.

It comes when God’s people are doing God’s work with God’s grace and God’s power.

It comes when God’s people humble themselves and pray and seek God’s face and turn from their evil ways (2 Chronicles 7:14).

It comes when we say “not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36).

As we journey through this final week of Lent. This week of Passion. Let us not forget that Jesus didn’t come to rescue Israel from the Romans.

Rather, He came to Rescue us from the Kingdom of Darkness.

He came to make sons and daughters out of orphans.

He came that we “may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).” (John 10:10 (AMP))

Lent 2012: 7.1 — Give Thanks! The Lord is Good!

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.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”

— Psalm 118:1-2 (NIV)

Give thanks!!  The Lord is good!  His mercy and faithful loving-kindness endure forever!  This is the overarching message of Psalm 118.  Something changes in our minds, wills, and emotions when we choose (because it is a choice!) to remember the goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and loving-kindness of our God and Savior.  I love John’s relationship with Jesus, which comes across so distinctly in his gospel and epistles — if you love Jesus, you will obey Him; if you love Jesus, you will love others.  Our love for Jesus is shown through our obedience to him and our love for others.  How much easier it is to trust Him enough to obey Him when we are remembering his goodness and faithful love!

Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.  I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.

— Psalm 118:19-21 (NIV)

In John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”  As we remain in Jesus — entering through the gate that is Himself — we receive righteousness, and upon that understanding and knowledge (not only head knowledge, but a knowledge deep in our spirits), our hearts are overflowing with thanksgiving.  He is the gate in which we enter relationship with Father God.  His sacrifice of laying down His life to receive the punishment for sin that we deserved is the only we we may enter into relationship with Father God.  Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.

— Psalm 118:22-24 (NIV)

Just as John had a unique knowledge of the interweaving of loving Jesus, obeying Him, and loving others, Peter seems to have a special kind of grasp on this cornerstone concept as he speaks of it in both Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7.  (I wonder if this analogy had such significance for Peter, because of what Jesus did in John 1:42 when instead of calling him Simon, Jesus calls him Cephas–which is translated Peter and means “rock or stone.”)  Peter explains this prophetic word from the other side of Jesus’ death and resurrection by saying that Jesus was rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him.  The very ones whose debt Jesus was paying for with His own life, were the ones who were rejecting Him.  Even Peter rejected Him, yet Jesus received him back with an everlasting love and forgiveness.  Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

LORD, save us!  LORD, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.  From the house of the LORD we bless you.  The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

–Psalm 118:25-27 (NIV)

Hosanna!!  It means “Save us now, we pray!”  We see this cry for salvation in this psalm together with more prophecy of God’s rescue plan through Jesus.  This prophecy is realized as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving branches and shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Is the kingdom of God established in our whole heart, or do we have a divided heart with shaded fragments?  Let’s repent for any area of our heart in which we’ve not allowed the King to reign.  Let’s invite Him to ride into those places as we cry, “Hosanna!  Bring salvation and wholeness.  Let your light shine on us and in us!  I offer myself to you wholly and unreservedly.”

You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

–Psalm 118:28-29 (NIV)

Not only is YHWH the one, true God.  He is my God!  We say it directly to Him, “You are my God!”  I love the way the psalmist goes back and forth from speaking of God to speaking to Him — He is good!  I will give you thanks!  You have become my salvation!  The LORD has done this!  LORD, save us!  The LORD is God.  You are my God!

When we have an attitude of praise and thanksgiving, it is natural for us to both tell others of His goodness and to be in communication with Him, telling Him directly and personally of our love for Him and our thanks to Him.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!

LORD, my God, Your love endures forever!

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)

 

 

Lent 2012: 3.3 — Agreeing and Acting on the Promise

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.

God promised Abraham and his descendants that he would give them the world.  This promise wasn’t made because Abraham had obeyed a law, but because his faith in God made him acceptable.

If Abraham and his descendants were given this promise because they had obeyed a law, then faith would mean nothing, and the promise would be worthless.  God becomes angry when his Law is broken.  But where there isn’t a law, it cannot be broken.  Everything depends on having faith in God, so that God’s promise is assured by his gift of undeserved grace.  This promise isn’t only for Abraham’s descendants who have the Law.  It is for all who are Abraham’s descendants because they have faith, just as he did.  Abraham is the ancestor of us all.

The Scriptures say that Abraham would become the ancestor of many nations.  This promise was made to Abraham because he had faith in God, who raises the dead to life and creates new things.

God promised Abraham a lot of descendants.  And when it all seemed hopeless, Abraham still had faith in God and became the ancestor of many nations.  Abraham’s faith never became weak, not even when he was nearly 100 years old.  He knew he was almost dead and that his wife Sarah could not have children.

But Abraham never doubted or questioned God’s promise.  His faith made him strong, and he gave all the credit to God.  Abraham was certain that God could do what he had promised.  So God accepted him, just as we read in the Scriptures.  But these words were not written only for Abraham.  They were written for us, since we will also be accepted because of our faith in God, who raised our Lord Jesus to life.  God gave Jesus to die for our sins, and he raised him to life, so that we would be made acceptable to God.

–Romans 4:13-25 (CEV)

Today’s text takes us back to the story of Abraham.  God has given Abraham a promise.  He’s promised Abraham a son–more than that even.  Sons that number as many as the grains of sand or stars in the sky.  And, Abraham trusts the promise.

Despite the odds.

He’s old.  His wife is old.  They’re childless.  The promise seems all but impossible.  So many things stacked against the promise.

Yet, when God makes a promise, and their are impossible situations, there we find grace.  “God’s promise is assured by his gift of undeserved grace” (verse 16).

In his epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:20), Paul reminds us that “all the promises of God find their yes in him.  That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”  We utter our Amen–our wholehearted agreement and willingness to act on it–to His promises.

God’s promises are conditional.  He promises, we add our Amen–our agreement and action.  His promise to Abraham was conditional upon Abraham’s obedience to leave Ur and possess the land of Canaan.  God’s promise to Israel is conditional on their obedience to worship Him and Him alone (something they have never in their history been able to do, because they have tried within their own power and not with His power).

God has made a promise to each of us.  It is a promise for rescue.  It is a promise for a life is that more than sufficient (John 10:10).  Yet, it is up to us to walk in that promise.  To allow Him to be Father.  To allow Him to have the last word in our lives.

What has God promised you?

Have you said “Yes” and “Amen”?  Have you agreed and acted upon that promise?