Posts

"House with garden for sale by owner."

#Advent16 — Missed it?

A reading from the Gospel According to Matthew.

John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”

Matthew 11:2-6 (NLT)

This is the Word of the Lord.

This passage is among my favorites in the entirety of Scripture, and is one that I talk about often. In fact, I mentioned it in Monday’s post.

John the Baptist is in prison.

Jesus is not. He’s out doing Jesus things.

John is quite confused.

The Messiah that the Jews were in search of was a military leader. He was the One who was going to once-and-for-all liberate the Jewish people from their oppressors. Hittites, Philistines, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and now Romans had all been in control of this tiny nation for the majority of its history. The Messiah was going to change all of that. He was going to raise up an army, plot a military strategy unequaled in history, and make his nation great again.

But, that wasn’t happening.

And, John was in prison.

John. The forerunner of the Messiah.

John. The voice in the wilderness proclaiming that Messiah was here.

But, the One he thought was the Messiah wasn’t acting like he thought Messiah should ask.

Had he missed it?

There.

Isn’t that the question that we all come to time and time again: “Have we missed it?”

Those of you who read our newsletter know that we’re changing cities. Moving a bit further inland, closer to the rail and the airport, and into the city where another John (the Apostle) is buried. We knew that this was going to be happening in the month of December. We were expecting. Hoping. Trusting that by 15 December we would have a lease signed on a new apartment, and would be packing the old one up.

Well, hello 15 December.

We’ve been searching since 1 December. We’ve looked at about 12 different places. Some, we knew as soon as the door opened that it wasn’t the place. Some, we thought we might could make it work, but it would be challenging. One was perfect, but the owner elected not to rent to us.

We will see more places today.

"House with garden for sale by owner."

“House with garden for sale by owner.”

The other day, at the prompting of a friend, we went to a house for sale and inquired with the neighbor about it. “Would they be willing to rent?” We asked. We are waiting for that answer now, and if they do rent it, we would probably take it. It would be a dream come true kind of place.

There’s another place that we’ve been asking to see for a week now. “I must talk to the owner, who is s a farmer and is in the fields.” Still waiting.

More than one time in the past two weeks I have stopped and asked, “Have we missed it?”

John, in prison and in desperation, sends his people to see Jesus.

“Are you the Messiah?”

If not, we need to rethink our strategy. If so, then when is this army going to be built. The Romans are terrible. They’re destroying the country. They’re stealing our gold. They’re terrorizing our neighborhoods.

We need a rescuer. We need the Messiah!

Jesus does what Jesus usually does—He answers without answering.

Look around you and see what’s happening. That’s was Jesus’ answer. Look around and see.

Look around.

Jesus points out that there are blind people who can now see. Lame people who can now walk. Good News is being preached to the poor. Even the dead are raised.

Look around.

A moment of honesty here. If I am one of John’s disciples I would be tempted to respond something like, “But, Jesus, my friend’s 5 year old son is dead.”

Or, “But, Jesus, a young man who I really like is in a hospital bed with a heart thing.”

Or, “But, Jesus, a man who loves you a ton is still in prison.”

Or, “But, Jesus, I’m still looking for a place to live.”

We’ve talked about this before on the blog. I struggle with the now but not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven. I really want Jesus to just fix all the problems all at once. I want him to heal all the sick. Raise all the dead. Rescue all the oppressed. Conquer poverty. And, find me a house.

Now would be good. But, that isn’t Jesus’ way. And it frustrates me.

Have we missed it?

“Go tell John,” Jesus says, “what you see.” In other words, stop thinking that I’m about to raise up and army and go kick some Roman butt. That’s not the way this works.

Jesus comes not to restore our Kingdoms. Jesus comes to institute his Kingdom.

And, then, leaves it with us to keep that institution going. He leaves it to us to keep bringing healing to those who need healing. He leaves it to us to keep bringing life in the face of death. He leaves it to us to conquer poverty.

His Kingdom does not lead us to overthrow governments. It leads us to operate within them to make life better for all.

So, yeah, we miss it when we put Jesus in the place of some militarily minded government leader. And, we miss it when we think that Jesus will set all things right—right now. And, we miss it when our response to the crises in the world is “Jesus is coming back soon, so you better get ready.”

Advent is all about waiting. It’s all about longing. It’s all about wondering. It’s all about something that will happen soon—someday.

The other night, I was on the phone with a trusted friend. We were talking about the housing struggle. He told me in a not-really-joking way that our housing search was a bit like Advent. Waiting for the right thing. Waiting for the promised place. The appointed time.

Advent is all about waiting.

In the meantime, we go and tell what Jesus is doing. We proclaim a Messiah that is very different than what we think he should be.

So, no, we haven’t missed it when we keep proclaiming good news to the poor. Or, bring healing  to the sick. Or, bread to the hungry. Or, blankets to the cold.

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

#Advent16 — It is Christ

A reading from the Psalms.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD.

Psalm 146:5-10 (NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

God made everything. Therefore, everything belongs to God. And, God takes care of His creation.

The great philosopher/theologian Dallas Willard once said:

“God, who created the universe, has no problem invading it.”

God invades His creation to bring restoration to His creation.

God isn’t interested in destroying that which He lovingly created. God is interested in caring for it and restoring it back to it’s original design.

God cares for the oppressed. He feed the hungry. He frees the prisoner. He makes the blind to see. He lifts up those who are pressed down. He loves the righteous. He watches over the immigrant. He is the Father to the fatherless. He is the spouse to the widow. He frustrates those who are wicked.

And, He invaded His creation. In the form of a baby. In a manger. In a stable. In a backwater town.

Immanuel.

God. In the middle. Of everything.

A God who is so loving that He’s not willing for any to perish. Yet, yearns for all to come to know Him.

Personally and intimately.

Yet, with fear and trembling.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote:

“The history of salvation is not a small event, on a poor planet, in the immensity of the universe. It is not a minimal thing which happens by chance on a lost planet. It is the motive for everything, the motive for creation. Everything is created so that this story can exist, the encounter between God and his creature.”

All exists so that God through Christ and through His creation might be glorified.

And, so, into the mess of the world the Christ child was born. And, lived. And, taught. And, died. And, rose again.

And it is He who heals the brokenness of the world around us.

“It is Christ who remakes all things more marvelously than creation, this is the reason for hope.” — Pope Francis

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

Sunset over the Selçuk Fortress, Selçuk, Turkey.

#Advent16 — Flowers in The Desert

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

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

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

Isaiah 35:1-10 (NCV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

Right here.

Right now.

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

And, it still exists today.

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

Pain. Suffering. Destruction.

Still exists today.

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

But, it is.

And, it is not.

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

A baby.

A manger.

A mother.

A father.

A star.

A shepherd.

An angel proclaiming, “Salaam alaikum!”

Peace be upon you!

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

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

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

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

Now.

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

Flowers

Flowers

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

In the desert, a flower will bloom.

And then another.

And another.

And another.

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

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.

Elizabeth sleeping in Emily's arms.

#Advent16 – Relationships

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch.

The life-giving Spirit of GOD will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, the Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-GOD.

Fear-of-GOD will be all his joy and delight.

He won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay. He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice. His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked. Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

The wolf will romp wth the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid.

Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend to them.

Cow and bear will graze in the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.

Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.

The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

On that day, Jesse’s Root will be raised high, posted as a rallying banner for the peoples. The nations will all come to him. His headquarters will be glorious.

Isaiah 11:1-10 (The Message)

This is the word of the Lord.

This is perhaps my favorite of the Advent passages in the lectionary cycles. The Prophet paints for us two beautiful images. The first is all about how the King that is to come will judge. The second is all about the beautiful Kingdom that will slowly-by-slowly come into being.

He will judge rightly. Not based on hearsay. Not based on wealth. Not based on power or strength. But, based solely on the wisdom and understanding that comes from the Fear of the Lord.

He will build righteousness—a legal and relational right-standing with God. The restoration of relationship destroyed by the fall. Man places back into right-standing with God, with neighbors, with himself, and with creation. All things working in tandem as originally designed by the Creator.

Wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, calf and lion, cow and bear all living and working together in harmony.

Little children taking the lead in caring for the creation.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ teaching on entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. “Be like the child,” he said. Be fascinated with the Kingdom of Heaven as a little child is fascinated by animals.

Elizabeth sleeping in Emily's arms.

Elizabeth sleeping in Emily’s arms.

Elizabeth, my 18-month old, love animals. Dogs and cats and lions and bears and donkeys and any other animal that she can see. Last night, when I put her to bed she said, “Hav hav”—the sound that dogs make in Turkish. I handed her the plush dog. She then said, “Ayı”—the Turkish word for bear. So, I handed her the stuffed bear. She put one under each arm and went to sleep.

Today, as I read this passage, I think of that image. A little child fascinated by creation. Two animals that could hurt her. Resting peacefully together under a fuzzy blanket on a chilly Turkish evening.

And, the Prophet says, “This. This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.” Wild and ferocious animals. Animals that zoologists will tell us are natural enemies. Lying down together with a little child.

The fulfilled Kingdom of Heaven—that place that Jesus initiated with his birth—is a place where all things are restored to original design and intent. All things are made new again. All things are brought back to Eden.

Because all relationships are made right. Man is placed back into right-standing with his Creator. People are in right-standing with one another. The relationship with ourself is made right. And, mankind is taking care of the creation around him.

So much of modern teaching—especially in the evangelical world—is focused on only the relationship between and and God. We ignore things like psychological care for oneself, and right-treatment of one another, and caring for creation. We focus on “getting right with God,” but fail to talk about what that means for all of the other relationships of which we are a part.

Yet, all relationships are in need of being set right. The Kingdom of Heaven is about setting all things right. It is about restoring all things to original design. So, we must work through restoring broken relationships with our neighbors, and ourselves, and with creation.

When we walk out the Kingdom of Heaven, we learn to take care of ourselves. We set healthy boundaries. We sabbath. We know when we’ve eaten too much and slept not enough, and we change these things.

When we walk out the Kingdom of Heaven, we learn to love our neighbor as ourselves. And, we learn that our neighbor is often the one most unlike us. The muslim. The immigrant. The stranger. The homeless. The hurting. And, we care for them as we do for ourselves. We meet their needs without question. We love them.

When we walk out the Kingdom of Heaven, we learn to care for the physical world around us. We reduce our carbon footprints to ensure that our children, and their children have the resources they need. We reduce deforestation. We pick up litter. We invest more in alternate energy than in energy sources that damage creation—and the people who inhabit it.

This is the Kingdom of Heaven that the Prophet dreams about. This is the Kingdom of Heaven in all its fullness.

Relationships restored.

Relationships made right.

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.

 

Following Jesus: Fear and Forgiveness

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

— John 20:19-23 (CEB)

Easter night. By now, the Disciples have heard the stories of the women who had gone early that morning to the tomb a hundred times. The men who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem, and have told the others their stories.

“Jesus is risen,” was the resounding message.

Yet, fear was still the motivating factor for the disciples. They were locked in a room. Waiting for the Romans to come for them. Surely, they would be next.

There has to be a million questions running through the minds of the disciples at this point. Surely, this Jesus was more than just a man, but he was Messiah. And, Messiah meant the restoration of Israel. But, Rome is still in charge.

Jesus, they are not yet realizing, didn’t come to overthrow a political entity. It wasn’t about a land or even a particular type of people. Rather, Jesus had come to institute a new Kingdom. A Kingdom that wasn’t dependent on land or borders.

“Peace,” he proclaims to his followers. And, that is what he proclaims to us.

Peace. Not an absence of conflict, but rather a process where crooked is made straight, missing is found, and broken is repaired.

Fear had caused these followers to lock themselves into a room. Yet, Jesus comes in, proclaims peace, and then sends them out. Sends them out even though they were still afraid.

Fear is not sin. Fear is a natural human reaction when life is in danger. The problem arises when we decide to order our lives from the place of fear–when we decide that the right response is to lock ourselves in our rooms. However, Jesus doesn’t call us to lock ourselves in our rooms.

Or behind huge walls.

Or behind a giant military complex.

Or behind the doors of beautiful sanctuaries.

wpid-Photo-1-Şub-2013-0233.jpgNo, Jesus sends us out into the very world from which we try to insulate ourselves. He breathes on us the power of the Holy Spirit. A power that is to be used to forgive those who need forgiveness. To forgive even the Roman soldiers who hammered the nails. To forgive even the religious leaders who lodged false accusations.

The christian faith is not intended to be lived out on Sunday mornings in padded pews. Christian faith is lived out in the highways and the byways. It is lived out in the homeless shelters and the corporate offices. It is lived out in the “safety” of the west and the “risk” of the east.

To follow Jesus is to leave the locked room of safety behind. To follow Jesus is to go into every man’s world. It is to proclaim, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that our fear has been turned into forgiveness.

#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.

 

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!