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Fresco of John The Baptizer from the Saklı Kilesesi (Hidden Church) in Göreme, Turkey

#Advent16 — The Crazy Uncle

A reading from the Gospel of Matthew.

Later, John the Baptizer appeared in the desert of Judea. His message was, “Turn to God and change the way you think and act, because the kingdom of heaven is near.” Isaiah the prophet spoke about this man when he said,

“A voice cries out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord! Make his paths straight!”

John wore clothes made from camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey.

Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole Jordan Valley went to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized, he said to them, “You poisonous snakes! Who showed you how to flee from God’s coming anger? Do those things that prove you have turned to God and have changed the way you think and act. Don’t think you can say, ‘Abraham is our ancestor.’ I can guarantee that God can raise up descendants for Abraham from these stones. The ax is now ready to cut the roots of the trees. Any tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. I baptize you with water so that you will change the way you think and act. But the one who comes after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clean up his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into a barn, but he will burn the husks in a fire that can never be put out.”

Matthew 3:1-12 (GW)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Fresco of John The Baptizer from the Saklı Kilesesi (Hidden Church) in Göreme, Turkey

Fresco of John The Baptizer from the Saklı Kilesesi (Hidden Church) in Göreme, Turkey

I love John the Baptizer. I have this image of him that’s like this strange uncle that the family is just a little bit nervous to take out in public. He’s just a little bit unfiltered. Willing to say anything regardless of how appropriate it might or might not be. He’s not afraid to rub folks the wrong way. He’s the kind of a guy who could land himself (and everyone associated with him) in hot water without a lot of effort. This is my image of John the Baptizer.

Wild hair.

Strange clothes.

Raspy voice.

And, this is the guy that God calls on to be the forerunner of Jesus.

Some people were attracted to John because they liked his message of change and hope. The Messiah—who had been the subject of prophecies for centuries—was on his way. They knew that John had a part to play in this story.

Some people were coming out simply because they were curious what he was going to do next. What will he say? What will he eat?

Others were not happy with him or his message. They didn’t like the way he spoke to or about them.

And, yet, John kept proclaiming the message.

THE KINGDOM IS VERY NEAR! He would say. Or yell.

He especially rubbed the religious authorities of his time the wrong way. Prophets are like that. John wasn’t afraid to call out the things that were in opposition to the Kingdom of God. He wasn’t afraid to point out the things that were roadblocks in the “Way of the Lord.” So, the Pharisees and Sadducees caught the brunt of his rage.

And, later, King Herod himself would hear about this man John.

John, like Kingdom people of today, stood in opposition to the things that weren’t as God wanted them to be. He wasn’t afraid to proclaim to the nations what wasn’t right. He wasn’t afraid to call out the religious officials who had blocked people’s access to God and the Temple through heavy rules and financial desires.

In this Advent season, we are faced with an important question. Are we willing to stand in the way of those who wish to act in opposition to the Kingdom of Heaven?

John prepared the way for the Messiah by calling out the religious and governmental authorities for keeping people on the outside.

Are we willing to do the same?

One more thought about the crazy uncle analogy…

In these days, it is important for us to be the crazy uncle. It is important that we not silence our voices in the face of things that are in opposition to God’s Kingdom. It is important that we speak up for the poor and the hungry and the immigrant and the refugee and the orphan and the widow. It is important that we become just a little bit unhinged at injustice and work to right that which is wrong. That’s a part of being a forerunner of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Advent14 — Come, Lord Jesus!

A reading from the Gospel of Mark.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah:

Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.”

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8 (CEB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

John the Baptist is one of my favorite men in the Bible. I've written about him in other places on this blog. He's one of these people who loom much larger than life. He towers above other characters.

Camel hair.

Locusts.

Leather belt.

Wild honey.

And, proclaiming a message unlike any ever heard: “Prepare the way!”

Last year, when we were in Central Asia, we were privileged to witness the baptism of a new indigenous believer. It was amazing to know and see one more person entering into the Kingdom. Beginning that walk that leads from the cross to eternity. Beginning his new life in heaven now, yet also anticipating a life that goes on for eternity.

Occasionally, when I take communion, especially in creative access nations, I think of this man and his baptism. I think of how communion is that family dinner that spans time and space. Together with all the saints. Those who have come before and those who are yet to come.

And, John comes to prepare the way. He comes to proclaim that the time is now ripe for Messiah. Like a herald in a medieval castle. He comes to proclaim that all things are ready. The King is coming.

We look at the world today, and hear it screaming out in pain. The UN tells us that millions of Syrians are refugees or internally displaced peoples. Another couple of million have fled from Iraq to Kurdistan. Children are without education or even the possibility of education. An entire generation stands in the balance.

Men and women and boys and girls in so many places on the planet cry out for rescue.

For redemption.

For a new kingdom.

For a home.

And, Jesus stands at the ready. Yet, he wants you and I to partner with him in bringing Advent–hope, peace, joy, and love–to these people.

We bring Advent with every prayer we pray for them.

We bring Advent with every dollar we give.

We bring Advent with every worker we send.

We bring Advent with every water well we drill.

We bring Advent with every preschooler and mother we teach.

Somedays, it seems that the road to the manger will never end. It seems that we will always be stuck between a promise of redemption and actual redemption. We stop at places along the path and stand in sacred silence with nothing to say except “Come, Lord Jesus.”

The hope of Advent is that the Messiah is on the way. He brings with him peace, and joy, and love. He comes to bring justice–the setting right of all things

And, so, we cry out, “Come! Lord Jesus!”

 

Advent14 — Prepare The Way!

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

A voice of one crying out:

Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

A voice was saying, “Cry out!”

Another said, “What should I cry out?”

“All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever.”

Zion, herald of good news, go up on a high mountain. Jerusalem, herald of good news, raise your voice loudly. Raise it, do not be afraid! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with strength, and His power establishes His rule. His reward is with Him, and His gifts accompany Him. He protects His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in the fold of His garment. He gently leads those that are nursing.

— Isaiah 40:1-11 (HCSB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

This is one of my favorite prophecies regarding the coming Messiah. Israel has been in exile. They are in a land not their own. Living in captivity. Hoping and praying for rescue. And, the message comes. Your time in captivity is over.

But, the message goes on. And, gets even better.

Not only is your time in captivity over, but things are about to get a whole lot better! Rescue is coming. Renewal is on it's way!

That doesn't mean that it's time to just sit back and relax. No! It's time to get up and make things ready! Prepare the road through the wilderness! The King is coming!

I've come to see these verses as more than just a prophecy that later is used to describe John the Baptist. I'm coming to see these verses as the message for each of us. It is what we as Kingdom citizens do. We prepare the way for the King.

When we feed the hungry, the way is prepared. When we shelter the homeless, the way is prepared. When we drill a water well in a village and stop water-borne illnesses in their tracks, the way is prepared. When we sit with the one who is grieving, the ay is prepared. When we love the unloveable, the way is prepared. When we lay down tools of destruction and pick up tools of construction, the way is prepared.

Prepare the way!

And, the King comes. The mountains are brought low. The hills are flattened. The rough terrain is smoothed. The uneven ground is made level. The Kingdom comes.

When the King comes, the mountains of depression are turned to fields of joy. When the King comes, the hills of bitterness are turned to strips of love. When the King comes, the rough terrain of grief is turned to joy in resurrection. When the King comes, the unevenness of fear becomes the foundation of faith.

When the King comes.

So, climb high up onto the mountain and shout. Shimmy down into the pit and proclaim. Stand tall on the hillside and let it ring out.

Shout it from every street corner in Ferguson. Proclaim it in every refugee camp in Turkey and Iraq and Jordan and Lebanon. Yell it out from every tall hill in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Let it ring out loudly from every corner of the globe!

Prepare the way! Feed the hungry. Comfort the widows. Speak peace to the conflicts. Shelter the homeless. Father the orphan. Prepare the way!

Prepare the way for the King!

 

#Lent14 — What Was Once Is Not Any Longer

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.

You know the story of how Adam landed us in this dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death.  That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses.  So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses.  Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God.  But Adam, who got us into this, also point ahead to the One who will get us out of it.

Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin.  If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do!  There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift.  The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence.  If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us all into this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it.  But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life!  One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.

Romans 5:12-19 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

One man.  

One command.

One disobedience.

That’s all it took for all mankind to be tossed head-long into the “dead-end abyss of separation from God.”

BUT!

Sometimes, that’s the best word in the English language.  A simple word that takes everything that was said before and flips it onto it’s head.  A word that makes the crooked places straight and the missing things whole.  A word that says, what once was isn’t any longer.

BUT!

One Man.

One Death.

One Resurrection.

That’s all it took for mankind to be pulled out of the separation and placed into a “life-gift.”  Yet, not just life, but “wildly extravagant” life.  Life that is recreated through the “grand setting-everything-right.”

What was once is not any longer.

Broken?  Fixed.

Missing?  Found.

Crooked?  Straightened.

Those who were alone are now with family.

Those who were oppressed are now free.

Those who were sick are now healthy.

Those who were dead are now alive.

I love the story of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:2-14.  He sends his men to Jesus with the command to find out if Jesus is the Messiah.

“Are you the One?”  they asked Jesus.

Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: The blind, see, the lame, walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.” (Matthew 11:4-6 (MSG))

What was once is not any longer.

Life is different.

The King has come!

And, when the King comes, so does His Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God.  Where what’s broken is fixed and what’s missing is found—Shalom.  Where things are put back into the original order in which God intended them to be.  Where life is given abundant and full.

The Kingdom has come, because the King has come!

What was once is not any longer.

Life has come and is coming.  There is a part of the Kingdom is that is still in a not yet.  People—even Kingdom people—still have broken things in their lives.  They still hurt.  Sickness still exists.  How do we reconcile the fullness of the Kingdom with the emptiness that we often find?  It’s such a frustrating thing to see Kingdom People suffer.

Even now, I think of people all over the world—people in the Kingdom—who are going through the battles of life.  Who still live in places of brokenness or illness.  Even this week, I have found myself in a place of screaming out for those people.  Wanting to change their circumstances, but can’t.

Yet, I still know.  Kingdom has come for them.  Yet, the fullness of the Kingdom remains to be.  And, that is where we all live.  Somewhere in between the two.  Somewhere between knowing that Shalom is God’s desire for us, and living fully in Shalom.  And, yet, even in that place of the in-between, we see enough of the Kingdom coming into lives and situations to know—and proclaim—that Kingdom has come.  And, with each step taken in the journey of life, Kingdom comes and grows.  Ever expanding.  Ever encompassing more and more of our life and situations.

What was once is not any longer.

Signal Hill Trail, Mount Magazine State Park, Arkansas

Signal Hill Trail, Mount Magazine State Park, Arkansas

#Advent13: Even In The Mess

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 Gospel According to Matthew.

John, meanwhile, had been locked up in prison.  When he got wind of what Jesus was doing, he sent his own disciples to ask, “Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?”

Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.  Is this what you were expecting?  Then count yourselves most blessed!”

When John’s disciples left to report, Jesus started talking to the crowd about John.  “What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild?  A weekend camper?  Hardly.  What then?  A sheik in silk pajamas?  Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot.  What then?  A prophet?  That’s right, a prophet!  Probably the best prophet you’ll ever hear.  He is the prophet that Malachi announced when he wrote, ‘I’m sending my prophet ahead of you, to make the road smooth for you.’”

“Let me tell you what’s going on here: No one in history surpasses John the Baptizer; but in the Kingdom he prepared you for, the lowliest person is ahead of him.  For a long time now people have tried to force themselves into God’s Kingdom.  But if you read the books of the Prophets and God’s Law closely, you will see them culminate in John, teaming up with him in preparing the way for the Messiah of the Kingdom.  Looked at in this way, John is the ‘Elijah’ you’ve all been expecting to arrive and introduce the Messiah.”

— Matthew 11:2-14 (The Message)

The Word of God for the people of God.

We looked briefly at this story in yesterday’s post.  Jesus, defining for John’s disciples, the Kingdom of Heaven merely by pointing out what’s happening around them.

Notice, Jesus doesn’t say that Rome—their oppressors—are leaving.  Jesus doesn’t say that they all suddenly have food to eat, clothes to wear, and roofs to protect them.  Jesus doesn’t say that their external circumstances have changed.  

Instead, Jesus points to the things that—despite the external circumstances—have changed.  The lives that were one way and are now another.  Things that had been broken have been fixed.  Things that were missing have been found.

As we mentioned yesterday, it is critical that we understand that the gifts of Advent—hope, peace, joy, and love—are not contingent on the circumstances of which we find ourselves in the midst.  The mess of life does not change the impact of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom comes even in the messiest of messes.  The Kingdom of God can break in no matter the depth of pain that you might be walking through.  

For the early first century Jews, it looked impossible for the Messiah—the One whom they had been hoping for over a millennia would come—to arrive on the scene.  They were oppressed.  They were downtrodden.  Their very cultural identity was—again—at stake.  They were taxed unfair.  They could be forced to labor at the mere whim of a soldier.  They could be arrested for merely talking about how new leadership might make things better.  

And, it was into this mess that John the Baptist was born and began his work.

People had heard the things that John was teaching in the wilderness.  So, they went to see him.  Unsure of what to expect, but surely not expecting camel hair clothes and locust snacks.  Nevertheless, they came.  And in their coming, they learned that the Kingdom was at hand.  They learned that the culmination of thousands of years of prophecies and laws was nearly here.

The Messiah was coming.  Hope was soon to be fulfilled.  

And, then comes Jesus.  Water turned to wine.  Blind people see.  Deaf people her.  Fishermen become followers.  

More important than those miraculous signs of the Kingdom (for the miraculous follows the Kingdom) was the message that He preached.  His message wasn’t merely a message of rescue from hell.  Rather, it was a message of wholeness.  It was a message of completeness.  It was the invitation to begin now to live in the Kingdom.

The Gospel that Jesus preached was the Gospel of the Kingdom.  It was the Good News that Shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken—had come.  

Yet, we must remember that Shalom can exist even when things around us are broken.  It can thrive even when things are missing.  Why?  Because, shalom has nothing to do with the external things that surround it.  Rather it has everything to do with the transformation of our lives.  

And, so, John’s disciples come into the room wondering what they would find.  I wonder if they felt similar feelings to when they went into the wilderness to hear John’s message.  They enter the room.  They ask their question.  

Jesus responds.

They understand.

Kingdom has come.  External circumstances are still pretty bleak.  John is still in prison (soon to be beheaded).  Yet, they understand.

Kingdom has come.

And, now, we’re left with a similar charge as that which John—and his disciples—had.  First, go and proclaim that the Kingdom is near at hand.  Prepare the way for the King to enter into the messes of the world.  Second, go and see how the Kingdom is changing lives in the midst of even the ugliest of situations.

Kingdom has come.  Kingdom is coming.

Drilling a water well in Guatemala with Living Water

Drilling a water well in Guatemala with Living Water

#Advent13: God’s Kingdom Is Here!

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 Gospel According to Matthew.

While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy: “Thunder in the desert!
 Prepare for God’s arrival!
 Make the road smooth and straight!”

John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.

When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.

“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

— Matthew 3:1-12 (The Message)

The Word of God for the people of God.

“God’s Kingdom is here!”

That was the cry that rang out from the river. That man was back. You know him. The one who wears the funny clothes and eats strange things. Yes, that man.

“God’s Kingdom is here!”

I know. We are still under occupation from a foreign army. I know. The soldiers forced me to do their bidding as well. No. The insurrections haven’t worked. We are still in darkness.

“God’s Kingdom is here!”

The that crazy man started talking about someone who was coming. A main character. He is going to give us the Holy Spirit. He is going to give us a Kingdom Life in exchange for our life.

“God’s Kingdom is here!”

He said that the one who was to come was going to show us truth. He was going to replace the things that weren’t true with that which was. It sounded a lot like Shalom. It sounded like the things missing were going to be found and the things broken were going to be fixed.

“God’s Kingdom is here!”

From the inside out, the One who is to come is going to change us. To make us whole. To make us complete. He is going to show the religious the path of righteousness–right legal and relational standing with God.

“God’s Kingdom is here!”

All That’s Left

(Photo courtesy of Mission InfoBank)

Syria. It's a nation that has dominated the news cycles for the past few days, and has been a recurring fixture in the media for the past couple of years. I'm not even going to begin to try to rehash or explain what's going on there. Many others have done a good job doing that already (for instance, this piece from the Washington Post).

What's a Christ-Follower to do in the face of so much chaos?

Brian Zahnd does a fantastic job of helping us try to find an answer to this question by inviting us into his inner monologue.

And we would be remiss to have a conversation regarding the Middle East and a Jesus-Followers response to it without hearing from Carl Madearis. In this post from the other day, he urges us to ask, “Who would Jesus bomb?”

What do we do when we don't even know where to start?

I'm grateful for friends like the great folks over at 24-7 Prayer who help us by giving us some suggestions for how to pray into the situation.

And for Jesus-Followers like Rachel Held Evans who posted this beautiful piece on her blog this evening. As I read it, I kept coming back to something that's been hounding me for the past few months now.

What do we pray, when we don't know what to pray?

Lately, I've found myself in that position more often than not. As I see the hurts and struggles of people close to me and of those that I've never met, I find myself without words to even pray.

So, what now?

Even in writing this post, I've found myself trying to find the right thing to say and the right way to say it. As I said on my FaceBook page last night, I struggle to put my thoughts into words:

“Weighing what I want to say with what is prudent for me to say with what God wants me to say.

“Knowing that my words won't change the situation, yet feeling compelled to use my words to spark prayer, contemplation, and love from those who believe that God longs to bless, redeem, and bring shalom–nothing missing, nothing broken–to the situation.

“Finding it hard to bring hope–confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God–in the midst of despair.”

Here is what I know: God is good. God is not the author of confusion or chaos, rather God is the Creator of Orderly Order. God's desire is for people to be blessed–not for their own benefit, but rather so that they can bless others. God longs for His Kingdom to be established on earth as it is in heaven.

His Kingdom–that place where what God wants done is done as Dallas Willard described it.

His Kingdom–where in the midst of chaos, we see orderly order emerge as John the Gospel Writer described it.

His Kingdom–where the life of God is made accessible to man, and they enter its enjoyment here on earth as Andrew Murray described it.

His Kingdom–where His shalom becomes our reality.

I'm coming to learn that all I can pray is the prayer that our Savior taught us: “Your Kingdom come.”

As I search for words to pray in regards to the situation in Syria, I'm left there. I'm left with nothing other than the words of Jesus. To pray anything else would be to pray my opinion. It would be to pray out of my own understanding. Instead, I have no cry other than “Your Kingdom come.”

It's a cry for mercy.

It's a cry for grace.

It's a cry for hope.

It's a cry for justice.

It's a cry for Shalom.

It's a cry for that which is missing to be found.

It's a cry for that which is broken to be repaired.

There's a beautiful passage in the story of the birth of John the Baptist (the one who proclaimed that the King was coming and in His coming was bringing the Kingdom–much like we are called to do as followers of The Way). It's in the prophetic prayer that Zechariah prays over John the Baptist at his circumcision. In that prayer are these words:

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God's Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace. — Luke 1:78-79 (The Message)

And, so, all that's left is for us to pray. “Your Kingdom Come.” May Your sunrise break in upon the people of Syria. May it shine on those in darkness. May it bring life to those in the shadow of death. May it show the way–one foot at a time–down the path of peace.

YOUR KINGDOM COME!

 

Zechariah: 3. Kingdom Family

As Advent–the journey to Christmas, and ultimately Easter–began, I began a journey of my own. For sometime, I felt that God was leading me to concentrate my reading and study on the Gospel narrative. To go back to the basics of what Jesus said and did. Strip out the third party, and just stay on the story of Jesus.

Today's reading brought me to the story of Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and foretelling the birth of John. I've read this story many times and have even written about it previously on this blog, but a couple of new things stood out to me in today's reading. The day before yesterday, we looked at the prayer–and subsequent answer–of Zechariah. Yesterday, we turned our attention to the angel's command regarding John. Today, in our final post in this short series, we will look at the message of John.

Our text is from the Luke 1:5-25 (NIV) (emphases mine):

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of The Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of The Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He wil be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of The Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to The Lord their God. And he will go on before The Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

 

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Fatherhood.

The statistics on orphans are staggering. UNICEF statistics from 2009 tells us that 153 million children have lost at least one parent, and of these, 17.8 million have lost both parents. 119 million have lost their father.

In other words, 136 million children in the world today have no father.

To be perfectly honest, I have no way of wrapping my mind around this number. Yet, to add to this heartache, there are millions of other children in the world today whose father's are still alive, but are absent from their lives.

Fatherhood.

We have several friends who are in the process of adoption right now. Each of their stories are unique, but share the common thread of being a living image of what God has done for each of us.

One family, who lives internationally, is adopting a child from neither America nor the country in which they live.

Another, adopting a child from their own state.

We also have friends who work internationally with orphans. Yet, in addition to being parent-less these orphans also have disabilities of various types.

Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.

The message of the Kingdom is exhibited in these people. Set the orphans in families.

See, here's the deal, we are all orphans. Each of us has been separated from our Father. Father created us to be in relationship–family–with Him. Yet, we elected to turn from that relationship.

But, rescue has come.

And that was John's message. The King was coming. Messiah was near. Father was setting redemption in place.

And, so, as our friends have done in the physical, God is doing in the spiritual. He's calling us back to family. Calling us to join this family Kingdom.

Before I finish, I would be remiss to not offer you an opportunity to assist with these earthly representations of the Kingdom principle of adoption. If you would like to be a part of the adoption journey of our various friends, then please contact us at giving@ledbytheword.com and we will get you in touch with them.

If you would like to assist the ministry mentioned, then please visit our friends at Kimmy's House.

I am thankful that we are family!

Children in Central Asia

Children in Central Asia

 

Zechariah: 2. Nazarite Vow

As Advent–the journey to Christmas, and ultimately Easter–began, I began a journey of my own. For sometime, I felt that God was leading me to concentrate my reading and study on the Gospel narrative. To go back to the basics of what Jesus said and did. Strip out the third party, and just stay on the story of Jesus.

Today's reading brought me to the story of Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and foretelling the birth of John. I've read this story many times and have even written about it previously on this blog, but a couple of new things stood out to me in today's reading. Yesterday, we looked at the prayer–and subsequent answer–of Zechariah. Today, we turn our attention to the angel's command regarding John.

Our text is from the Luke 1:5-25 (NIV) (emphases mine):

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of The Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of The Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He wil be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of The Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to The Lord their God. And he will go on before The Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

The angel tells Zechariah that John is never to drink wine or fermented drink. Tradition has often interpreted this to mean that John was a Nazarite from birth. While, we don't know for sure if John was a Nazarite or not, we do know that this command set John apart from others.

At the end of my Nazarite Vow

The 40+ days associated with my Nazarite Vow were formative for the life we now lead as a family. It was during this period that God began to birth within us a heart for the nations. It was during this period that we saw God miraculously pay off a $18,000 student loan. It was during this period that we saw God provide $1,500 for Stephanie and I to take our first international missions trip together to Mexico (pictures here).Throughout the period of Lent in 2011, I took a Nazarite vow. For six weeks, I didn't touch any dead thing, didn't touch the fruit of the vine (in any form), and didn't cut my hair. It was quite an experience that I wrote about on my personal blog. If you want to read more, you can go here.

Yet, it was also immediately after this time that we found out my job was being eliminated.

As I read this account of Zechariah's prayer and answer, I often take a pause at reading the command that John would be a Nazarite. Prior taking this vow myself, I had no idea what that even really meant. Yet, walking through 40 days of learning what was and wasn't “acceptable” lends a new appreciation for what was John's normal life.

John had been set apart for a great cause from birth. The Nazarite Vow was his constant reminder of that.

I remember from my own time as a Nazarite the feelings/thoughts that occured when I would come across something related to the vow.

Everytime my kids would eat a grape or raisin, I would be reminded of my vow.

Everytime I wanted to put on a pair of shoes and couldn't due to them being made of leather, I would be reminded of my vow.

Everytime I looked in a mirror, I would be reminded of my vow.

I would be reminded that I had been set apart.

And, now, while no longer a Nazarite, I still have reminders of being set apart for something.

Suitcases.

Every purchase being measured to make sure it will fit in the suitcase and wouldn't put us overweight.

Every gift for our children being calculated to determine if it had pratical advantage, or if it would fit in their backpack.

And, from that knowledge of being set apart, we know that God is ever calling us closer to Him. Calling us to become more intertwined in relationship. Calling us to be more dependent. Calling us to be more set apart.

So, John, the Nazarite from birth, set apart at the command of God to his father, knew with every passing moment that God had called him.

And, today, God calls us. He calls me. He calls you.

Will you answer?

 

Zechariah: 1. Persistent Prayer

As Advent–the journey to Christmas, and ultimately Easter–began, I began a journey of my own. For sometime, I felt that God was leading me to concentrate my reading and study on the Gospel narrative. To go back to the basics of what Jesus said and did. Strip out the third party, and just stay on the story of Jesus.

Today's reading brought me to the story of Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and foretelling the birth of John. I've read this story many times and have even written about it previously on this blog, but a couple of new things stood out to me in today's reading. We'll examine these things over the next three days.

Our text is from the Luke 1:5-25 (NIV) (emphases mine):

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of The Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of The Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He wil be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of The Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to The Lord their God. And he will go on before The Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

 

 

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

The first observation that I had was that it was Zechariah who had been praying for a son. What we don't know from this verse is whether or not Elizabeth was in on this prayer of her husband. Could Zechariah have been praying secretly for a son? Could he have been quietly praying in the other room while Elizabeth was cooking dinner?

This brings back memories of our own journey back to Jesus.

Jesus had brought Stephanie back to Himself in the fall of 2009. But, it was another 6 months or so before I answered the call to “cast our nets on the other side.” During that time, Stephanie would quietly and secretly pray in the other room, while I worked or studied or read. When she would hear me coming, her secret prayers would look at lot like laundry folding.

Yet, after months of faithful prayers, I answered Jesus' call to re-enter relationship with Him.

The text is silent on whether or not Zechariah and Elizabeth were in agreement on this whole “baby-in-our-old-age” thing, yet we do know that she hid out for five months and was grateful that her “disgrace” had been taken away.

The other thing that we don't know from the text is how long Zechariah (and Elizabeth?) had been praying for a son, yet it would be safe (culturally) to assume that it had been for a long time. Luke makes it a point to tell us that they are old. It is likely a safe assumption that the prayer for a child was one prayed many times over the course of many years.

I think about three sets of friends who have walked this same journey as Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Wanting children.

Praying for children.

Yet, not having children.

Until, one day, God answers.

I don't know why God waited to answer in either the case of Zechariah or our friends. While I don't understand it–and wish that He wouldn't delay–He has a timing that is far superior to our timing. In the case of John, He waited until the time was fulfilled for Jesus to be born. He had a purpose for John–just as He has a purpose for each one of the children of our three friends, our own children, us and you.

And, so, Zechariah prayed.

His prayer was answered.

John was born.

For what are you praying? Don't give up on your prayers!

 

Emily as a baby

Emily as a baby

Caleb as a baby

Caleb as a baby