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Refugee Camp

#Advent16 — The Olivet Discourse

A Reading from the Gospel According to Matthew:

“But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

“The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away.

“The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have bene there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up.”

Matthew 24:36-44 (The Message)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Today’s Advent reading has us looking beyond the manger, past the cross, beyond the Ascension and even beyond today. It has us looking for the King to return in fullness. It takes us to the top of the Mount of Olives into one of Jesus’ most often quoted (and most often misunderstood) discourses—The Olivet Discourse.

Let’s begin here: The Olivet Discourse was not given for us to speculate about who is in and who is out, or about dates and times, or even to scare us into living right. Jesus’ purpose in this discourse is to encourage His Followers that even in the midst of the ugliness and mess of the world (after all, He is largely predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and ultimately Israel as they knew it), He is still the King. Further, He seeks to use this encouragement for us to live our lives to bring His Kingdom even in the middle of these messes and uglinesses. He challenges us to align our lives with Him and His Kingdom. So that when He returns in the fulfillment of His Kingdom, we will see it and know it and embrace it.

When we read these “end-times” passages in the scriptures, it is important that we remember four key points as we read.

First, Jesus wins. He is the King. He is the One whose coming was foretold from the beginning of time itself. He is the one who sets all things right. He is the One who will return to bring heaven (in all of it’s splendor and glory) to earth.

Second, suffering and pain are still present in the world. Jesus came to set all things right, but not all things are yet set right. We, as His followers, are called to continue this partner with Him i this work of setting things right. Yet, because not all things are set right, there is still pain. There is still suffering. Death still happens. Divorces still occur. Far too many children still get cancer. Too many elderly people face dementia. These things still happen.

Let me pause here. I will be the first to admit that I have no good answers to the problem of suffering. I don’t.

Refugee Camp

Refugee Camp

I live in a land where there are more than 3 million people who have fled their own homeland due to war and violence. I see them in town begging for bread. I seem them on the bow of the coast guard boats that enter the harbor below our front window after they’ve been rescued from the cold waters where their makeshift boats sank as they sought a new and better life in Europe.

I don’t know why a friend has to watch as his parents suffer with dementia.

I have no explanation for why dear friends had to sit helplessly through surgery after surgery and then ultimately bury their five-year-old son.

I struggle to understand cancer.

I don’t have answers for these questions.

But, here’s what I do know. We are called to do something about pain and suffering. We are called to cry with those who are crying. We’re not called to offer up hollow platitudes about “God being in charge” or “God wanting another angel.” We’re called to suffer with those who suffer. To cry with those who cry. To listen to those who need to yell and scream and cuss. To sit silently and hold a hand. To mourn with those who mourn.

Suffering and pain are as real today as they were when Jesus sat on that mountain and delivered the discourse from which today’s text is drawn. I don’t know why he didn’t heal every sick person that crossed his path. But, I do know that when his friend Lazarus was in the grave, before he raised him from the dead, Jesus stood alongside his friends and neighbors and wept.

Third, evil is real. Even though Christ has come. Even though the Kingdom has begun. Even though for two thousand years men and women have worked tirelessly to bring more and more of the Kingdom to bear. Evil still exists. Evil is still a reality with which we must deal.

Fourth, we must struggle against evil. We are called to stand in opposition to the things that are not as they should be. We stand in opposition to people being mistreated—even if it is by their own government. When children go to bed hungry, we stand in opposition by bringing food. When cities are overran by evil people, we do all we can to share the overwhelming love of Jesus—even at the risk of our own life.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

And, that is what Kingdom people have done for centuries.

When the ancient Romans used the horrible practice of exposure as a means of birth control, it was the Kingdom people who took these unwanted babies and gave them new life.

When a lady was told to change seats in a bus simply because of her skin color, it was the Kingdom people who peacefully protested until she was allowed to sit wherever she wanted.

When young girls and boys are kidnapped and sold for sex, it is the Kingdom people who find them and rescue them.

When poor people were left out in the streets to die alone, it was Kingdom people who took them in and cleaned them and nursed them and loved them and then buried them.

When millions were being taken away from their homes and interned in camps, it was Kingdom people who hid them from the authorities.

That’s what Kingdom people do.

We work to bring the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed into its fulfillment. Knowing that there will come a day, when Jesus will return and say “Well done, you good and faithful servant” to those who have feed the hungry, and sheltered the homeless, and spent time with the widow, and fathered the orphan.

#Advent16 – A New King

A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

There’s a day coming when the mountain of GOD’s House will be The Mountain—solid, towering over all other mountains. All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it. They’ll say, “Come, let’s climb GOD’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.”

Zion’s the source of revelation. GOD’s Message comes from Jerusalem. He’ll settle things fairly between nations. He’ll make things right between many peoples. They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore.

Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God.

Isaiah 2:2-5 (The Message)

This is the Word of the Lord.

I heard it said the other day, that the church calendar is oriented so that the last Sunday of the church year (which occurred last week) announces that Christ is indeed King. All of Sundays in the church year point us toward this one Sunday. It struck me that Christ the King Sunday (this last Sunday in the church year) is followed by the first of the four Sundays that we call Advent. So, we end the church year proclaiming that this man—Jesus—is indeed the Christ. He is indeed the world’s one true King. From there, we reenter the cycle of the church calendar.

We enter at Advent.

Advent.

Longing.

Waiting.

Hoping.

Yearning.

Listening as the Scriptures proclaim to us that a new kind of King—and Kingdom—is on the way. It will upset the empires of the world. It will change everything about the way we do things. It will change everything about the way we live.

“There is a day coming,” the prophet tells us.

A day where all nations will long to enter His Kingdom and find out how life was meant to work. Where all nations will learn to “live the way we were made.”

But, a new Kingdom requires a new King. And in this season of Advent—these 28 long nights of longing—we yearn for that new King to come. Because only a new King can usher in a new Kingdom. Only a new King can truly change the way that our lives are arranged and governed.

Only a new King.

Mosaic of Christ the King in the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey.

Mosaic of Christ the King in the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey.

This new King rules with justice—settling things fairly between nations. The new King changes the dynamics of power. Not favoring one group over another. Justice. All are truly created equal in the eyes of this new King. No one is less than. No one is better than.

This new King makes things right between peoples. He teaches us to forgive as we have been forgiven. To lay aside the things that weigh us down about another. To not wait to be apologized to before we offer forgiveness. He even goes a step further and urges us to go beyond what is required. To serve others before we serve ourselves. He teaches us that life is better when lived in a way to orients us to serve and not to be served.

This new King positions us to turn the tools of destruction and death into tools of construction and life. He challenges the empire to lay aside it’s weapons and seek first to build up. Take the things that cause pain and use them to bring healing. Take the things of despair and turn them into things of hope.

There will be no need to play war any longer.

See, when we seek to serve before being served…

…when we seek to bring life instead of death…

…to build schools instead of air bases…

…to bring bread instead of bombs….

…to provide for equal education opportunities for all…

…to pay equal wages regardless of gender or skin color…

…to insure that all have equal access to clean water, and shelter, and food, and healthcare…

…the world works better.

It works in the way of the Kingdom. The way that the new King desires it to work.

The message of the new King is there is good news even for the poor. There is healing for the broken. There is liberty for the captives. There is redemption for the prisoner. There is favor available for all. There is comfort for those in mourning. There is joy even in sorrow. There is a rebuilding of ruins.

That is the good news that the new King brings. That is the Gospel of the Kingdom!

And, that is the message of the King that is coming. In just a few short nights, we will announce the arrival of this King. We will proclaim that He is here. And, we will begin the walk to proclaiming again that this man, Jesus, is indeed the Christ. And, in His being the Christ, He is the King of Kings. He is the world’s one true King! And of his reign there will be no end.

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)

 

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Book Review: Jesus Called by Ray Johnston

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back is the latest volume from author Ray Johnston. In this book, Johnston outlines for us the state of the American church, and prophetically urges us to think  and act differently as modern-day followers of Jesus. He begins with one of the better overviews of the various worldviews that are impacting the church today. He also presents us with the counter-cultural view that Jesus taught.

The primary argument that Johnston makes in the book is that Christians are willing to follow Jesus up until the point of it changing their worldviews. He says:

One of the main problems undermining American Christianity is this: people become Christians, join the church, put Christian bumper stickers on their cars–but stop short of letting Jesus make a fundamental change in their foundational beliefs, their worldviews. Their lives don’t reflect the values taught and lived by the Jesus they claim to follow. — Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 58).

This is an important point. Until we are willing to relinquish our worldview and embrace the Kingdom Worldview that Jesus taught, we will never be able to follow Jesus with “all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.”

The remainder of the book is a call for the American Christian to release those things that have become a part of our faith that are more American than Christian. Johnston calls us to examine the church, and realign it with the call of Jesus to “Follow Him.” He does a great job at presenting the reality that Jesus’ call to us is not an easy one to follow. That there is great sacrifice required from us.

Finally, he presents us with ways to walk out the call of Christ. He gives us practical ways to reject the cultural demands around us, and accept the counter-cultural life to which Jesus calls us. Near the end of the book, Johnston talks about sharing our faith with others. Good news is never meant to be kept to oneself. It is intended to be shared.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). He didn’t say, “You will be my prosecuting attorney.” “You will be my defender.” “You will be my slick salesperson.” He simply said, “You get to be a witness of really great news.” – Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 313)


 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Erbil International Airport

#Advent15: Somewhere Between Here and There

We’re on the plane now. According to my watch, we’re probably about halfway.

It’s strange knowing that when the wheels of this plane touch the runway, I will have to redefine–again–the concept of safety. Yet, I also know that this is the right place at the right time with the right people.

Safety. This is a word that I have come to define and redefine a number of times in the course of the last four years. A word that I have spent many occasions discussing–arguing–with God about. That day on that plane was one of those occasions.

Vicar Andrew White says that the Kingdom life is a risky one. That it’s a life where we shouldn’t urge one another to take care, but rather to take risks.

Risk. Risks are a bit like faith. You step out into the unknown. Trusting that God knows what He’s doing in calling you out there. But, to take a risk means that your definition of safety can’t be one grounded in fear.

Fear. It’s real. It’s also not the opposite of faith. Faith and fear carry the same definition: a belief in something unknown. The difference is what you do with it. Faith is pressing forward in spite of that which is unknown. Fear is isolating yourself against that thing that is unknown.

Isolation. Hiding from that which is unknown. A citizen of the Kingdom who lives in isolation will NEVER bring about the purposes of the Kingdom. They will only ever seek out their own survival. They will only ever take care. They will never take risks.

The Kingdom life is a risky life.

I somehow think it’s appropriate that I’m on this trip during Advent. So many people longing for rescue and redemption and renewal. So many people yearning for something in which they can hope. And, the truth of it all is that there is hope. Yet, proclaiming hope means that the one proclaiming it must take risks.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. We proclaim hope not to the hopeful, but to the hopeless. And, they are hopeless because they are in the middle of the situations against which our definitions of safety often keep us isolated.

For us to proclaim hope means that we must step outside of our isolation. We cannot proclaim hope unless we abandon fear and step out in faith.

The United Nations tells us that 1 in 123 people on the earth today are living a refugees. They have fled home and gone to somewhere else–somewhere deemed to be “more safe.” In order to proclaim hope to these millions of people, we must step out of our “safety”–our isolation–and step into this risky Kingdom Life.

Advent means coming. God coming. Coming into the midst of war and famine and pain and hurt and struggle. God coming to be with us. To dwell. To tabernacle.

And, in His coming, He invites us to come along. To see what He sees. To hear what He hears.

Immanuel. God is with us. In the middle. He has come. He is coming. He will come again. Into our pain. Into our suffering. Into our hopelessness.

And, He calls to us to board the plane. To be somewhere between here and there. Leaving behind our isolation. Leaving behind our fear. Moving forward in faith.

The opposite of fear is Love–not faith. “Perfect love,” the beloved Apostle writes, “drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

Perfect love moves us out of isolation and into the middle of the hopelessness to proclaim hope.

Perfect love moves us out of fear and into faith.

Perfect love moves us out of our definitions of safety and into God’s definitions of safety.

“The name of the LORD,” the Proverbs tells us, “is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

Safety. It can either be based in fear or in faith. If it drives you into isolation, then it’s based in fear and isn’t God’s definition of safety. If it drives you to take Kingdom risks, then it’s based in faith and is God’s definition of safety.

So, we take risks.

Not long after that line was written the wheels of the Airbus 321 touched the runway. I had arrived in a place that I never dreamt I would be. I didn’t know what the next week would bring. I didn’t know what I would encounter. I only knew that I was in the right place at the right time with the right people.

“Don’t take care,” the dear Vicar says, “Take risks.”

Erbil International Airport

Erbil International Airport

[All block quotes are taken directly from my journal entry from 3 December 2014.]

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

Book Review: Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

What if I told you that the world is not in a hopeless state?

What if I told you that there are many similarities between the state of the world today and the state of the world at the beginning of church history?

What if I told you we’re not living in post-Christian times, but rather we are living in neo-pagan times?

What if I told you that in the early days of the Church there were seven major revolutions in thinking and action that took place? And, we are moving into a period of history where the Church must again revolutionize the world?

In their new book, Seven Revolutions, Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea give us a window into the early days of the Church. They examine the history of the Roman Empire, and the writings of the Church Fathers and highlight seven areas where the Church—through active example—changed the very course of history.

Our Christian faith should change the world around us. That’s what it means to walk out the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now. It means that those things that are not as they should be are brought—through our example—back into the order of creation. Where there is brokenness and hurt and pain and suffering, we are to actively bring wholeness and health and healing and life. We are to speak into every area of society and be bringers of the Kingdom into them.

The authors find that the early church brought revolution into the way the Empire thought about the person, the home, work, religion, community, death, and the state. They show us ways in which the early church was counter-cultural even though being so was to bring persecution and death. The early church stood firm in the face of injustice and unrighteousness, and worked to affect change in these arenas.

For instance, in regards to the revolution of community, the authors conclude:

In affirming selfless giving and affirming the poor as worthy of charity (love), the Church rejected the ancient world’s assumption that poverty was the fault of the poor. The Church corrected that world view, providing new perspectives: that there is no hierarchy of humanity; that some people are not more worthy of respect than others, and that a person’s prosperity (or lack thereof) is not a demonstration of their worth.

The authors make a case for calling the culture of modern-day west (led by the United States) neo-pagan instead of post-christian. They illustrate (carefully and with distinction) that the United States isn’t Rome, but has characteristics that are similar to those of the Roman Empire in the early days of Christianity. From that foundation, they build a case for how the Church could again bring about revolution—a shifting from the Empire of Man to the Kingdom of Heaven. They look to the traditions of the Church—the writings of the Church Fathers and the actions of the early Christians—to define terms:

Therefore, when we speak of traditional Christian values, this is what we mean. We mean the protection of human life, which includes support for marriage and the family (as opposed to the apparent conviction of many of our celebrities that marriage is optional); and we mean the protection of human dignity and freedom, which includes ensuring the safety of those most vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and destitution. And these values, which were built over the centuries via divine revelation and historic Christian consensus, must not be marginalized. Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. It is also the freedom of religious expression—the freedom to speak and live the faith.

The Church should not co-opt to the ways of the Empire. We are called to stand in contrast to the Empire. We are called, as were the Old Testament Prophets, to call out those things that are not in-line with the Kingdom of Heaven. We are called to highlight those things that don’t look like God’s perfect creation. And, we are called to disciple everyone into the ways of the Kingdom.

Jesus Christ came and offered an alternative to empire. We call it the Kingdom of God, but that phrase in Greek could just as well be translated “empire of God.” Jesus brought us God’s empire and preached it as the Good News—over against the Roman Empire (or any other empire).

—–

FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea’s book Seven Revolutions from Blogging for Books for this review.

Bringing Heaven to Earth

Book Review: Bringing Heaven to Earth by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment

Bringing Heaven to Earth

Bringing Heaven to Earth

One of the largest theological shifts that I have undergone is how I view heaven. For many years, I viewed heaven as place that comes after “now”. It’s somewhere off in the future. When I die, or when Jesus blows His trumpet, I’ll leave this place (which isn’t good) and will find myself in heaven.

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve begun to shift in my thinking of heaven. Leaving behind the idea that it’s just a “after now” place. I’ve become more and more cognizant that when Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, He isn’t referring to something in the distant future. Rather, He is talking about here and now and there and not yet.

I’ve been waiting for a volume that would help me solidify this theological shift, and that would provide me with a resource to recommend to people who are in a similar place. After reading the forthcoming (due out on 5 May 2015) volume from Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment called Bringing Heaven to Earth, I believe that I have found that resource.

Ross and Storment present a strong and beautiful argument for the idea that heaven is here and now. Using the foundation of Scripture and supported by the tradition of the church, they show that while heaven is a fulfilled reality when “God calls us home” it is also a reality to be lived out between now and then.

Jesus came to give us new life—now. Our live is to be wrapped up in living with God—now. We yearn and long for a time when all is perfect and complete, yet we can’t just sit and wait for it. We are called to bring it into the reality of life now.

God’s great plan isn’t to burn up the creation that He called “very good.” Rather, His plan is redeem and restore and recreate it. His plan is to return it to the state of “very good.” And, He calls us—you and me—to live lives that help to restore and redeem and renew.

Ross and Storment say it this way:

The ultimate Christian hope is not to fly off as disembodied beings to another place. Our hope is that God is going to redeem and restore the world, and you and me along with it.

We live to introduce the world to a new way—a new Kingdom. We live our lives in a way that people see that we’re not a part of the systems of the world. Rather, we have a new—renewed—identity, and a new citizenship. Our citizenship, as the Apostle Paul says, is not of this world. It is beyond. And, while God’s Kingdom is not complete—the world still needs an immense amount of redeeming—it is coming.

Slowly by slowly.

Step by step.

Person by person.

And, it’s not an elite Kingdom to which only a few are invited. No! It is open to all. And, with each accepted invitation to the Kingdom, it grows. A little bit more of the world is redeemed.

With every orphan who finds a home—the Kingdom comes.

With every rundown house that is rebuilt—the Kingdom comes.

With every hungry mouth that is fed—the Kingdom comes.

With every beautiful painting painted—the Kingdom comes.

With every saint who passes on and realizes the fullness of being with God—the Kingdom comes.

And where the Kingdom is, we find heaven. For “heaven,” Ross and Storment tell us, “is where things are as God intends.”

Jesus singled out every category of person that had been shunned by the elite of society, including the religious leaders and experts in the Law. In doing so, Jesus there open the doors of God’s Kingdom as wide as possible. Everyone, everywhere, is invited into God’s Kingdom.

And, with each accepted invitation is accepted, a little more Heaven comes to Earth.

——
FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment’s book Bringing Heaven to Earth from Blogging for Books for this review.

426703: Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don"t Have to Wait for  Eternity to Live the Good News Bringing Heaven to Earth: You Don’t Have to Wait for Eternity to Live the Good News
By Josh Ross & Jonathan Storment / WaterBrook PressMuch has been written about our future eternal home. But what if Jesus is more interested in bringing heaven to earth rather than the other way around? Offering a corrective to the church’s emphasis on the afterlife, Ross and Storment call us to work for God’s kingdom by overcoming injustice, poverty, lack of opportunity, and more. 224 pages, softcover from Waterbrook.

LENT15 – Beloved Dust and Perfect Love

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the day on which we begin our slow and reflective journey to the cross and the tomb beyond. We begin that journey with the reminder of death. Yet, we hold closely to the hope of resurrection, for Lent doesn't end at the cross. It ends at an empty tomb with the joys of Easter, because, after all, we are Resurrection People.

I've been thinking a lot for the past several weeks about pain and suffering and the ugliness of the world around us. It's really quite easy to do. Simply turn on the news for five minutes and you will hear of the latest atrocity. Yet, for me this is all a little closer to home than a story on the evening news.

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to meet with several Pastors who are serving among refugee populations in Turkey and Kurdistan (Northern Iraq). Throughout our time together, I heard story after story after story that makes one sad to be in the same race with those committing the atrocities. And that is something that we are forced to face head-on in Lent–we do share a race with them.

So, last night, as we stood with hundreds of other people in a Colorado Springs high-school auditorium with our friend, Pastor Glenn and his congregation (New Life Downtown), we embraced our shared humanity. We stood and asked for mercy and grace and peace and forgiveness not just for our sins, yet also for the sins of humanity. We were reminded anew that from common dust we come, and to common dust we will return. All of us.

In that moment of having the ashes applied to my forehead, and hearing the words, “Remember you are dust. Beloved dust.” I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I felt (both spiritually and tangibly) what can only be called healing. Restoration of life. I was reminded–deep in my bones–that Perfect Love drives out Fear. I was reminded that no matter the level of fear, Perfect Love drives it out. And, the cross is the ultimate expression of Perfect Love.

So, while the conflicts rage on, we stand in a different understanding. We stand on different ground. And, we know that only Perfect Love will drive out fear. We stand in opposites.

We remember those words that Paul wrote to the Church in Rome reminding them of how Jesus-Followers are to treat their enemies:

Bless those who persecute you: bless and do not curse.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

…as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14,17,18-21 (NIV)

As the conflicts rage on, we–as Kingdom citizens first–are called to respond to these conflicts differently. It's an upside-down Kingdom in which we live. We have a King who calls us not to physical fights for freedom, but rather to Love and Bless and Serve. And, in our loving and blessing and serving, we bring the Kingdom into darkness.

We are not called to bring the military might of our physical nations to fight our battles. Rather, we are called to bring the might of the Gospel. We're called to bless and do not curse. We're called to rise above the physical fray and love our enemies–as we would love ourselves. And, we are called to do this NO MATTER HOW BAD OUR ENEMIES MAY BE.

“Peter,” Jesus said, “put your sword away!” (John 18:11 NIV) And, to us he says the same. Reminding us that we are called to fight our battles in a different way. We are called to fight as citizens of the Kingdom. And, in the Kingdom, we fight with love and blessing and honor and food and water and clothes and tents.

As I stood and received the ashen cross on my forehead last night, I was reminded of the state of the world. We are all dust. Beloved dust. Dust into which has been breathed the breath of God Himself. God's breath breathed into all of mankind. God's breath bringing life to all.

We are all beloved dust. Dust loved by the King of all Kings. Dust invited to be a part of a Kingdom that supersedes all earthly kingdoms. Dust invited to be a part of a Kingdom that doesn't look like–or act like–earthly kingdoms.

We fight battles with the Gospel. We don't fight battles with the sword. We bring the gospel. We bring Perfect Love. And in the bringing of Perfect Love, fear is cast aside. In the bringing of Perfect Love, hatred is cast aside. In the bringing of Perfect Love, the need for the sword is cast aside. In the bringing of Perfect Love, the King comes.

And the Kingdom comes.

And God's will is done.

On earth.

As it is in heaven.

From A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd

From A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd

 

#Advent14 — …and this is the Kingdom…

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement. They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord to glorify himself. They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places; they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past.

Isaiah 61:1-4 (CEB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

We bring good news to those who are poor. Sometimes, good news comes in the form of food. Sometimes as money. Sometimes as a bed in our basement. Sometimes as a meal around our table.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

Our family has a dear grandmotherly friend, Jeanne is her name. Even at 92 years old, she is involved in many ministries in and around Edmond. One is a prison ministry. They collect freshly baked cookies and take them to the prisons. Something small and sweet to say, “You are loved.”

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

In the past three years, we have met hundreds of men and women and boys and girls who proclaim the message of the Gospel. In some of the darkest corners of the world, they stand and share that the Lord's favor–unmeasurable grace–has come. In jungles, and rain forests, and deserts, and big cities, they proclaim that the Kingdom has come, and is coming, and is yet to come.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

Over the past couple of weeks, I spent several days meeting with Pastors and relief organizations who are working–and in some cases living–among those who have been displaced by war in Syria and Iraq. I watched as a Priest hugged children who had lost everything they have ever known and are living in a 150 square foot room (made from blankets strung over wire) with their parents and three, four, and five siblings. Yet, as this Priest hugged these children their faces would light up and the love of Jesus would flood their hearts.

…and this is the Kingdom of God…

Aaron, Pastor Steve, Jeanne, these countless workers and this dear Priest are the “Oaks of Righteousness” of whom the Prophet speaks.

The Prophet ends this section with talk of rebuilding and restoring and renewing. The truth is that as the Kingdom of God is proclaimed, things are renewed to the original design that God had for them. Things are made new–brought back to how God created it in the first place. And we, you and I as Kingdom Citizens first, get to partner alongside God in the restoration of His beautiful creation.

And, it is very good.

…and this is the Kingdom of God.

 

Advent14 — Bounty and Blessing

A reading from the Psalms.

I can’t wait to hear what he’ll say. God’s about to pronounce his people well, The holy people he loves so much, so they’ll never again live like fools. See how close his salvation is to those who fear him? Our country is home base for Glory!

Love and Truth meet in the street, Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss! Truth sprouts green from the ground, Right Living pours down from the skies! Oh yes! God gives Goodness and Beauty; our land responds with Bounty and Blessing. Right Living strides out before him, and clears a path for his passage.

Psalm 85:8-13 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

How we live matters. Living a life that is built on the principles of the Kingdom will be a life that proclaims the Kingdom. It will be a life that shines light into darkness. It will be a life that spreads life and the desire to live similarly to others.

In the New Testament, we call that discipleship. Teaching–by example–how to live Kingdom life. Teaching–by example–even those who are not yet citizens of the Kingdom.

When we live based on the principles of the Kingdom, we change the world around us. People will see and choose to live differently. They will ask questions. They will wonder what makes you different.

Living based on Kingdom principles will even impact the environment–the physical world around us. We will be concerned with the beauty of a place. Not to make it into a show, but to make open the throat of the the environment to proclaim the goodness of God. Because God's goodness is not intended to only impact you and me. It is intended to impact every element of creation.

Advent isn't a time of waiting for just us Followers of the Messiah. It is for a time where all the world waits in breathless anticipation of something better than. Something other than. For a lot of the world, advent–this season of waiting–isn't just a month long. For parts of the world, it is a season that has gone on for millennia. Waiting for the other than. Waiting for the better than.

Let's be honest. The world isn't in the greatest of shape. Wars. Rumors of wars. Earthquakes. Famines. Over utilized farm and ranch land. Sickness. Disease. Floods. It's a mess.

And it's into this mess that God desires to proclaim goodness and beauty, and the land responds with bounty and blessing.

Remember the other day when I said that eschatology matters. Here's why. If our eschatology is one that says, “it's all gonna burn up anyway,” then our lifestyle will walk out with that belief as our foundation. We will work to keep people from burning up, but we won't work to keep the planet from burning up. We're only walking out half of the story. We will live as if Heaven will be only a place for those who die, and not a place to be walked out today.

God's intention is that people should life full lives. Lives where all they need is provided. Where life is full of joy and peace and goodness. Yet, He also intends for the land to be full of bounty and blessing.

I met a rancher in Nebraska a few months ago that understands this. He understands the importance of caring for the land. The importance of proclaiming the beauty and goodness of God. And, the land has responded with bounty and blessing. He has a ranch that has won awards for it's ability to produce strong and healthy cattle, but not at the expense of creation. He conserves the land. Plants trees. Manages the water consumption. And, in the lean years, his ranch continues to produce. After spending time with this friend, the phrase, “the Kingdom of God is like” rang through my ears. And, the land has responded. Beauty and goodness. Bounty and blessing.

As citizens of this new Kingdom that was ushered in from a manger in Bethlehem so long ago, we should live out a life that proclaims God's goodness and beauty. And in so doing, the people will be blessed, the culture will change, and the land will respond with bounty and blessing.

Yet, first, we must embrace the Kingdom Life. The “with God now” life as Dallas Willard calls it. We live life with God now. Waiting, yes, for the Kingdom to be completed in it's fullness. Yet, knowing that when the Christ child came, He brought with Him the Kingdom. Because, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

Here.

Now.

But also, not yet.

And, in between, we wait. In between, we live out our lives as Kingdom citizens first. Kingdom citizens above any other citizenship.

And we proclaim the goodness and beauty of our God. And, even the land responds with bounty and blessing.