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Photo of the Week – 24 November 2016

Last week we had to make a trip up to Izmir to the US Consulate to renew some of our family’s passports. This journey involved a dolmus (a minibus), a train, and a few kilometers of walking. Thankfully, a dear friend of ours was also in Izmir for the day, and meet us at the train station walked through the process with us and drove us home when it was all said and done.

After our appointment with the Consular Agent, we met back up with our friend at a coffee shop. As we left the coffee shop to head back to his car, we passed a building that looked like a church. There was a wall with a gate around the building, but the gate was open. We noticed a security guard standing there, and asked if we might be able to go in and take a look around. We were told we could.

We learned that we had stumbled upon the Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. This beautiful cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Izmir. It was an amazingly beautiful building and an oasis of peace in the midst of a loud and busy city.

On a day of meeting with ambassadors of a government, entering this chuch reminded me of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. It reminded me of how we are ambassadors of the King of Kings. How the church is called to be outposts of the Kingdom in the midst of foreign territory. How we are to proclaim the Gospel (Good News) of the Kingdom in every place and time.

Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Izmir, Turkey

Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Izmir, Turkey

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV)

 

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

Following Jesus: 153

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.”

John 21:1-11 ESV

“I’m going fishing,” Peter said.

This was more than a statement about a weekend getaway. This was Peter-code for “I’m done.”

What do you do when your plans and dreams and hopes die?

This is the question that Peter and the others are confronted with. Even though Jesus had been raised. Even though hope was alive again. Even though he had already seen Jesus in the Upper Room. Peter goes fishing.

And, truth be told, I totally understand where he’s coming from. When things aren’t lining up the way that I think they should, I often want to escape into what I knew before. Like Peter, there are days where I feel out of my element. I know business. I don’t know cross-cultural living. I know Project Management. I don’t know how to handle getting only one-thing-per-day accomplished.

The disciples aren’t yet sure what to think about this whole death and resurrection thing. They don’t know how to process that. They just know that the ideas that they had about Jesus’ Kingdom weren’t lining up with their plans.

Jesus’ plan for His Kingdom wasn’t lining up with the disciples plan for His Kingdom.

And, so, Peter responds in the only way that makes sense to him. “I’m going fishing,” he said. The underlying message in this statement is “I don’t know what to do with this, so I’m going back to what I know–fishing

How do you respond when Jesus’ plans for His Kingdom doesn’t line up with your plan?

In my mind, the Kingdom should come rapidly. Immediate fixes to the world’s problems. Rapid results. Yet, Jesus doesn’t work that way. He healed the blind beggar, and probably passed five others along the way. He raised Lazarus, but probably walked past ten tombs to get to Lazarus’. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand the now but not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven. And, frankly, sometimes that bothers me.

My plans for His Kingdom doesn’t always line up with His plan for His Kingdom.

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

And, I just want to go “fishing”.

Thankfully, Jesus understood Peter’s fishing trip. And, Jesus understands our fishing trips.

Jesus’ response was to meet Peter where he was. Jesus shows up on the shore after a night of unsuccessful fishing (Peter must be really disappointed at this point), and asks what is probably the hardest question that Peter ever had to answer: “How’d the fishing go?”

This question is much harder than the three questions that follow later in this chapter. This is the moment where Peter must decide if he is a fisherman or a fisher of men. For Peter to admit that the nets were in fact empty is to admit defeat. It is to relinquish his pride.

It is to let go of his kingdom in hopes of embracing a new one.

And, to make matters worse, this isn’t the first time that Peter has been asked this question. Some years earlier, when Jesus first called Peter to follow him, this same story happens. In this moment, Peter has to know that this is not just another Galilean standing on the shore.

Peter answers, “It was the worse night of fishing in my life.” And, maybe under his breath he adds “except for that one time, a few years ago.”

This interaction is instructive for us. Jesus speaks to us in ways that we know to listen for him. He wants us to hear the message, and he isn’t going to hide the message. If we’re used to hearing Jesus in a certain way, He’s not going to suddenly change it up on us. Jesus speaks to us in ways that we will hear.

So, Peter follows Jesus’ suggestion. “Go deeper and try the other side.”

Just like before.

And, just like before, they catch more fish than they can handle. 153 to be exact.

When you relinquish your plan for His Kingdom, and embrace His Plan for His Kingdom, the fishing gets better. It still won’t all make sense, but it will be memorable.

John, now an old man, writes the story and remembers exactly the number of fish that were caught.

153.

 

#Lent14 — Light

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 Ephesians.

You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.  Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth.  Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness.  Instead, you should reveal truth about them.  It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret.  But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light.  Everything that is revealed by the light is light.  Therefore, it says, “Wake up, sleeper!  Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:8-14 (CEB)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Often, as I read Ephesians, I’m struck with the similarities that Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus has to John’s gospel written from Ephesus.  One of these similarities is this theme of light/dark.

John begins his Gospel (John 1:1-18) with a discussion of light and dark.  He draws a contrast between the light of God (a theme he carries on throughout the Gospel) and the dark of the world.  How the light brings order to chaotic (dark) situations.  How even in the midst of the darkest darkness, light can come.  And, when light comes darkness leaves—every time.

Paul, in today’s text, also draws these same images.  He talks about how we were once in darkness.  We lived in the kingdom of the world.  We yielded only to our flesh.  Yet, now that we have become Followers of the Way we are no longer in darkness.  Rather, we are to live as children of light.

He talks about the fruit produced by light—goodness, justice and truth.  When we walk in the light, we produce this fruit.  We produce the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).

Yet, this imagery of light and dark wasn’t a new concept with either Paul or John.  Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, also talked about our lives using this language:

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.  God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?  I’m putting you on a light stand.  Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light-stand—shine!  Keep open house; be generous with your lives.  By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 (MSG)

Be light.  Shine the goodness of God into the darkness.  Shine His justice.  Shine His truth!

Bring out the God-colors in the world!

#CA13 — Seeing God in The Culture

Nets on the Dock in Kaleiçi, Antalya, Turkey

Nets on the Dock in Kaleiçi, Antalya, Turkey

One weekend after church, we took a walkabout in Kaleiçi. As we walked throughout the harbor, I snapped the above photo. It reminded me of a story that bookends the Gospels and is a key story in the progression of our ending up on the field full-time.
The story is of when Jesus called Peter, James and John. In the early part of the Gospel narrative these guys have been out fishing. This was their livelihood. Undoubtedly, they were pretty good at it.

Jesus comes and asks if they can take him in their boat out a little bit from the shore. They agree to do so. Jesus delivers a message. Then he tells them, “Go deep and let your nets down.”

They let Jesus know that they fished all night and didn’t catch anything. I imagine they also told him about how you don’t fish in the daytime. Probably about how they were tired from fishing all night and had agreed to take him out to deliver his message from a better acoustical vantage point in hopes that they would get a little cash out of him. That would certainly help make up for the failed fishing the night before.

But, in the end, they agree to go fishing. In deep water. Where fish aren’t. Because the Rabbi said to.

And they catch fish. Loads of them.

As they return to shore Jesus says, “Follow me. You can catch way more than fish.” They left everything to follow.

For three years.

And, then.

Tragedy.

Peter looks at his two buddies–business partners once again–and says, “I’m going fishing.”

Now, this isn’t a “Hey, it’s Saturday, let’s see if the fish are biting” kind of “Let’s go fishing.” This is a “Hey, the guy we’ve followed around the past three years isn’t hanging out with us anymore, and I have a wife to feed” kind of “Let’s go fishing.”

So, they go. And the first night out they stink. They’re horrible. They head back to shore and see a man standing there.

“Catch anything?”

“No!” They cry. (I imagine a little muttering under their breath here too.)

“Go deeper, throw the nets to the other side, and see what happens.”

Now, these guys aren’t catching on that this has happened once before. So, out they go. Down go the nets and wham 153 fish later they’re headed back to shore.

Still clueless.

Until, Peter finally recognizes the Master. And, he jumps in the water and swims back. And says again, “Yea. I’ll follow you.”

And they left the nets, and the boats, and the fish, and followed.

The Port at Kaleici, Antalya, Turkey

The Port at Kaleiçi, Antalya, Turkey

Quiet(ly Working) Weekend

We had a reasonably quiet weekend.  Steph and Emily are both sick, so we basically locked ourselves in our room and “vegged”.  I was able to get caught up on a bunch of reading, which was nice.  Here are some things I read and learned:

Finished Lucky: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People by Glenn Packiam.  You should read this book.  Not just because Glenn pastors the church we attend here in Colorado Springs, but rather because it presents a beautiful (and easily understandable) look at the Beatitudes and the Kingdom of God.  It is well-written and packed with truth.

I read about a third of The Sermon on the Mount by John Wesley.  This volume is a collection of Wesley’s sermons and commentaries on Matthew 5, 6 and 7 (aka The Sermon on the Mount).  As with most of Wesley’s sermons, these aren’t for the faint of heart.  Sermons in Wesley’s era were much deeper than a lot of the sermons we hear today.  Yet, these are loaded with deep truth of God’s Word and His Kingdom.  Well worth the read (keep a dictionary handy).

I read the Psalms.  I can’t even begin to tell you the beauty that I find in these chapters.  Wow.  I am convinced that it is impossible to walk away from a reading of the Psalms and say, “That was a waste of time.”

I read Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.  This quartet of books by the Apostle Paul make up my second favorite book in the Bible (Job is first).  While the overall thematic ideas are the same between the four, Paul tweaks each one just enough to give you the nuggets of truth in different ways.  At the heart, though, is a recognition that grace supersedes all else.  And through that grace we are made to be the Righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.  In Ephesians, we get this incredible cosmic view of God followed by a “this is then how we should live” section.  Finally, Paul says, “You can’t do that on your own, so let me tell you how to walk in the Spirit.”  Even though God is BIG, He is still relational and wants to walk through your day with you.  Beautiful.

I read First, Second and Third John in five translations.  I love John’s epistles.  John gives us a view of the love of God unlike any other view in the Scripture.  Written toward the end of John’s life, he has come to understand what Jesus was trying to teach back in the Sermon on the Mount.  Love must be central.  All else is noise unless there is love (1 Corinthians 13).  John came to a deep understanding of this revelation and then said, “Here, church, live this.”   Throughout his letters to the four churches (Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, and Colosse), Paul prays that they may have a deeper revelation of that love.  To Ephesus he writes, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and huh and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).  The Love of God.

Finally, I caught up on the news from around the world (by specifically reading media out of about 7 geographical regions, 4 other areas with socio-political situations currently percolating, 2 other areas that God is talking to us about).  The world is a hurting and broken place.  It’s chaotic.  It’s confusion.  It’s darkness.  Yet, we know the Light!  We know the Bringer of Orderly Order!  And we look for Kingdom to come in those situations.  We pray.  We hope.  We give.  We work.

So, how do I sum up what I learned this weekend?

  • God is a big God with big plans, dreams, goals, and visions.
  • God is not just “some god” who chooses to take an inactive role in the universe.  Rather, He is constantly working (ofttimes quietly) to set up His Kingdom.  Yet, He needs His people (you know, “those called by His name…” (2 Chronicles 7:14)) to be active through prayer, giving, and service in order to bring that Kingdom to pass.
  • Jesus came to show the world that the law wasn’t just a set of rules to follow.  Rather, at the heart was a Heart.  A big Heart.  A Father’s Heart.  The law was written because people didn’t love, honor, and serve one another.  So, Jesus sits on a mountainside and tells a multitude that there’s more than just not murdering, or not seeking vengeance, or worrying about tomorrow.  That more, as Paul and John teach us, is that there is a Father.  That Father loves us beyond our comprehension.  And, as a response to that love, we should love others beyond comprehension.
  • No matter how dark a particular situation may be (I’m thinking of North Korea and some things I learned about it earlier in the week), God is at work in the background.  He’s preparing.  Piece by piece.  Poco y poco.  Bringing it all together.  The darkest hour is just before dawn.
  • Finally, keep praying.  Prayer unlocks things.  Prayer changes things.  Prayer positions things.  As Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”  (Acts 2 prayer class, that should sound a lot like John 1.)

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!