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Syrians in Turkey

#Advent15: The Faces of Jesus

I’ve seen lots of faces.

Faces full of fear.

Faces full of joy.

Faces full of anxiety.

Faces full of grace.

Faces full of hopelessness.

Faces full of hope.

And, in many of these faces, I find myself looking into the eyes that belong to a different face.

The face of a baby.

The face of a King.

If you want to know what Jesus looks like, then I urge you to talk to a refugee.

Talk to one who has been forced to leave everything behind. To travel a great distance. To go hungry. To go without shelter, or a bed, or warmth.

It’s not hard to see Jesus, when you stand in the midst of a refugee encampment.

He’s all over the place.

In the face of the young child. Too young to know what’s happening, but old enough to know that life isn’t what it was just a few short weeks ago.

In the face of the old man. Weather-worn from years of farming or shepherding or bread making or bazaar trading. Old enough to know that the world is painful, yet longing to return to the comfort and peace of his own living room.

In the face of the young mother. Caught somewhere between joy and euphoria at the new baby in her arms and the fear of it dying for lack of proper nutrition.

In the face of the teenaged boy. Ready to take on the world, but afraid of what might lie ahead. Hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears.

In the face of those who serve these precious people. Hands and feet forsaking home and family. Leaving behind comfort. Leaving behind safety.

As Jesus was preparing to die, he told his disciples about the judgement (Matthew 25:31-46). Nations, he said, would be gathered together. Some would be sent to his right hand, and others to his left. Sheep and goats. To those the right, he would grant an inheritance of the Kingdom fulfilled. To those on the left, no inheritance.

The difference? How they treated the hungry and the poor and the destitute and the refugee and the immigrant and the thirsty and the naked.

Those who had met the needs, given the inheritance of the Kingdom.

Those who had not met the needs, cast away forever.

Both groups called Jesus Lord. But, only one group had taken the time to see his face.

And, the judgment isn’t against individuals. It’s against nations.

Jesus-followers should take pause when those who claim Jesus try to keep those in need at bay.

“When I was hungry,” Jesus said, “you fed me.”

Will you feed him?

Will you welcome him?

Will you look at the faces and see his face?

A Syrian Man

A Syrian Man

The Citadel of Erbil

#Advent15: A Car Bomb and a Coming King

One year ago today, I stood on holy ground.

I was in the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan Autonomous Region of Iraq. I had gone to Kurdistan to see first-hand the situation on the front-lines of the work among refugees that had fled from Mosul, Sinjar, Kirkuk, and other parts of Iraq and Syria.

In our orientation to the city, our host had taken us to a site where two weeks before a car bomb had gone off and a number of people had been killed. I stood in silence–fighting back tears–as we listened to one of the guards tell us about the car, and the bomb, and his friend who had died in the attack. I watched as he knelt down on the pavement and pointed to a small piece of metal. “There’s part of the bomb,” he said.

It was in that moment that I knew I was standing on holy ground. Ground where people had had their lives stolen from them.

I whispered a prayer.

The only prayer that I could find to pray in that moment.

Kyrie eleison. God, have mercy.

The Citadel of Erbil

The Citadel of Erbil

As we walked solemnly back to our car, along the foundations of the Citadel of Erbil, I took in the sights and sounds around me. Life still going on. People still shopping in the bazaar. Taking photographs beside the fountains.

It’s a bit like Advent.

We wait and hope for a better King.

A better Kingdom.

Redemption.

Restoration.

And, while we wait, life goes on around us. Millions not knowing that this King has already come. That this King has set in place His Kingdom. And, that–someday–the Kingdom will be full and beautiful and glorious and nothing will be missing and nothing will be broken.

War will cease. Devices used to bring destruction will be turned into tools to bring life. Lions and lambs will lie together in the cool grass.

And, yet, the message of Advent is that we’re still not in a fulfilled Kingdom. We long for it. We hope for it. We pray for it. We yearn for it.

And, we work towards it. What if the Prophet Isaiah wasn’t just dreaming when he said that swords would be beaten into plowshares? What if he meant for us to do the beating?

It is between these two things that we are stuck. The promise of a new Kingdom, and the birth of the new King. Somewhere, we find ourselves in the middle of it all.

How do we balance between the two? Between the yearning for fullness of the Kingdom and the pain of living in a world of not yet. A world of pain and struggle and illness and war and car bombs.

I left that crater in the road knowing that I had stood on holy ground. Sacred space. I had been face-to-face with mortality and fear and death. But, I got to walk away.

I don’t understand why some of us get to walk away and why others don’t. I don’t understand why some of us get to go on with our trading in the bazaar and taking photos at the fountains. I don’t understand.

But, I know that Advent is here. The hoping. The waiting. The longing. The King is coming.

As I sat in the hotel that evening, I searched for words to put to my feelings and thoughts. I looked for something to say. But, was left with nothing but “Come, Lord Jesus,” and that old Leonard Cohen chorus, “Hallelujah.”

And, it is with those words that John ends his Revelation. The Beast of the Empire has been defeated. The King of Kings and His new Kingdom are fully realized. And, John writes:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! — Revelation 22:20 (ESV)

Together with John and with the guard in Erbil and with the families and friends of those killed that day and with all the saints and angels we proclaim: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

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.

 

Advent14 — The Eschatology of Advent

A reading from the Gospel of Mark.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Mark 13:28-31 (ESV)

The Word of the Lord.

I've often struggled to understand why during the first week of Advent we read scriptures that have been interpreted in modern times to relate to the end times. It has always seemed odd to me that we enter into this season of waiting for the birth of a baby–The Baby–and this week of hope with Scriptures about the end of it all.

I read a tweet from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove the other day that gave me a new perspective on the selection of eschatological scriptures for this first week of Advent.

And, there it began to make more sense for me. Our eschatology matters not just for the now and later, but for the past as well.

On this blog on Tuesday, I mentioned how Advent is like this epic novel that we're reading for the second or third or fourth or twelfth time. We know the ending. We know the beginning. But, we find ourselves somewhere in the middle. Somewhere between the beginning and the ending. Straining to remember how the story will resolve, yet waiting patiently to find out.

Advent is a lot like that. We know that Messiah will come. Yet, we force ourselves to stand between the knowledge of that coming and the actuality of that coming.

And into that mix, we add a further and deeper knowledge. The knowledge that Messiah doesn't just show up once in the story. Yet, He returns.

And, we remember that our eschatology really does matter. It matters not just for the future, but also for today.

And, so in this season of hoping for the Messiah, we hope for the Messiah to return again. To bring to its fullness the Kingdom that was introduced in a manager in Bethlehem. A Kingdom that seeks not to destroy planets and people, but rather it is a Kingdom that seeks to renew people to their original God-given intentions. It is a Kingdom that restores relationships.

As citizens of that Kingdom, we work now to bring that restoration and renewal to the people and places around us. We seek to restore broken relationships. We seek to feed those who are hungry. We seek to bring health and healing to the sick. We seek to bring peace to the war-torn and war-weary. We seek to bring life.

Our eschatology matters. Someday, King Jesus will return. And when He does the Kingdom will no longer be a place where we sit in tension between the now and the not yet. When He returns, it will all be made right. It will be renewed. It will be restored. It will be resurrected.

So, here in this first week of Advent, we long for the Messiah to come. And, we long for the Messiah to come again.

We wait.

And, in our waiting, we bring the Kingdom to every place go and to every person we meet. Every interaction brings a little more light. The darkness gets a tiny bit less dark.

Until…

 

 

Advent14 — The Waiting Begins

Yesterday, in churches and homes all over the globe, a candle was lit. The first of four. The beginning of a new year in the church calendar. The beginning of Advent.

Advent. A word that simply means coming. A word that is packed full of meaning and is wrapped up in hope, joy, peace, and love. A word that brings us to that place between knowing that the Messiah has come and waiting for the Messiah to come.

It is that brief period of the church calendar where we position ourselves with an oppressed people longing for rescue. We–purposely–find ourselves between Malachi and Matthew. Wondering if things will ever be better. Knowing that for centuries “better” has been prophectically pronounced.

The King is coming!

Prophets of old have told us. Our parents have passed it on to us. The King. He is indeed coming.

At any moment now.

And, yet.

We’re a captive people. Captive in our own land. Captive in our own homes. Captive in a world that couldn’t care less that we stand in anticipation of rescue. In fact, we are captive in a world that mocks our anticipation.

And, we wait.

The Prophets once told us that this King would be called Immanuel.

Immanuel. God with us.

And, yet, we wonder if God could ever be with us. How, into this mess of a world, could God come?

Death. Some of it to disease or accident. Some at the hands of another.

Illness. Some curable. Some not.

War. Some in the name of money or resource. Some in the name of the very God we hope will come near. Some of it even considered just and right.

Hunger. Some due to famine. Some due to stinginess of those who have more than enough. Some due to neglect.

And, into this world, we wonder how God could come. And, yet, He does.

We learned over the weekend that a group of gunmen stormed a residence in Central Asian nation and opened fire on three South Africans who were there to help provide education to the children of the nation. A father and two teenaged children gunned down, and then the house burned. The mother, a doctor, was at the hospital bringing healing to the hurting–some of whom may even have been in support of the gunmen. For Warner, Jean-Pierre, and Rode, they rest tonight in the arms of loving–and near–God. For Hannelle, questions and fear and no rest. Yet, still in the arms of a loving–and near–God.

Three lives given–given so that others–strangers–might have an opportunity to a life of fullness.

One life remaining–longing for God to come near.

It is there in the tension that we long for the Messiah. We yearn for the Kingdom where lion and lamb will lie side-by-side. We hope for the place where weapons of death–guns, and knives, and drones, and tanks, and missles, and planes–are beaten into things that bring life–plows, and shovels, and hoes, and rakes.

And, we wait for God to come near.

We’re hearing confirmation of the rumors that the World Food Progamme lacks the $60+million dollars necessary to continue to provide aid for refugees who have fled the conflict in Iraq and Syria. And, so, more than one-and-a-half million people are forced to wonder from where they will receive bread and milk. Hundreds of thousands of children sit on the brink of starvation. Rumor has it that it’s not just this United Nations program that is lacking funding, but it is also many Non-Governmental Agencies–some even faith-based–that lack funding.

We are also aware that some of the food, coal, blankets, tents, clothes that should have found it’s way to these displaced peoples didn’t. Whether stolen, sold, or otherwise, the situation is dire.

And, we wait for God to come near.

And, God does indeed come near.

He comes near in the birth of a baby. In the unlikliest of places. To the unlikliest of parents. Immanuel. God with us.

And, God does indeed come near.

At the hands of everyone who has answered the call to give more than they keep. The call to go where no one else will. The call to love the unloved–and the unloveable. The call to feed the hungry. The call to clothe the naked. In every answered call, God comes near.

And, God calls us to come near, and to be near. To be near the wife and mother who mourn. And, also, to be near the gunmen and their families. To be near the millions who are without a home or a country or a meal. And, also, to be near to those who have driven them from their homes and countries and meals.

Advent.

So, yesterday, we lit a candle. A flicker of light in the darkness. A candle that will be joined by another and another and another. And, then, by the candle of the Christ-child. And, then, by your candle–and mine.

Until, the room grows bright, and we are pushed out into the world to proclaim that the King has come. And, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

The Kingdom In A World Of Pain

#Ukraine

#Iraq

#Syria

#Ebola

#Suicide

#Gaza

#Ferguson

Just a few of the “hot spots” in the news this morning. It's hard to see the hurt and pain and suffering around us. We struggle to understand how or why.

Or when.

When will the Kingdom finally come in all of it's glory and splendor and peace and comfort.

And lions laying down with lambs.

We proclaim it every Sunday. That great mystery of the faith. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

We exclaim that He is Risen. He is King. He is Ruler.

Yet.

Kyrie Elieson (Lord, have mercy.)

How do we reconcile those truths with the realities of the world around us?

How can we proclaim that the Kingdom has already come when it's quite clear that it hasn't?

There's the tension we live between. This knowledge that Jesus has come. And, with His coming the Kingdom has come. Yet, also, knowing that the fullness of the Kingdom lies in wait. Not yet here. But not so far away. But not all that close. But coming.

Last weekend, we were in Bella Vista, Arkansas with our friends at Highlands Church. In one of the workshops on prayer someone asked about this tension. How to do we reconcile the pain and suffering with the triumph of a Risen King? How do we pray?

At that time, my answer was we simply pray, “Your Kingdom come.” And, then, we work to bring His Kingdom. We stand in solidarity with the poor, and suffering, and marginalized, and hurting, and grieving, and cast out.

We drill water wells in places where people are dying of water-borne illnesses.

We nurse those sick with Ebola back to health.

We give families in Las Flores, Belmopan, Belize sacks of beans and rice and flour and sugar.

We go into the darkest places and proclaim that the King has come and is coming and will come.

And, we pray.

Your Kingdom Come.

When John's disciples came to Jesus in Matthew 11 and asked if He was the Messiah, Jesus didn't offer platitudes or speeches or definitions. He simply said, “The blind can now see. The deaf can now hear. The lame can now walk. The dead live again.”

And, yet, others remain blind, and deaf, and lame, and dead.

Tension.

Stretched somewhere between Kingdom has come and Kingdom will come.

It's easy–too easy–for Christians to offer words of comfort. “It'll be ok.” “Jesus is with you.” “The world is not my home.” “I'll fly away.”

And, while words of comfort are needed, words of comfort don't stop the bullets or the Ebola or the rockets or the bombs or the suicide.

Last Sunday, our Associate Pastor, Andy Nelms (@anelms), talked about anxiety and the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus in the midst of pain and suffering (you can watch the recording on our church's website). He made a statement that has stuck with me throughout the week.

God doesn't take our anxiety away. Rather, He repurposes it for His Kingdom.

In the midst of our pain, He doesn't airlift us out and make everything instantly better. Rather, He parachutes in and walks alongside us through it. He stands in solidarity with us in our pain and in our suffering and in the ugly of our life and turns it into a means of testimony to His goodness and mercy and grace and faithfulness.

And He calls us to the do the same. Stand alongside those who are hurting. Hold those who are in pain. Cry with them. Laugh with those who are rejoicing. Dance with those who can now walk.

Photos can be to us what parables were to Jesus. A way of illustrating the truths of the Kingdom by painting an image that sticks in the mind of the reader. Something that pops back into our mind's eye when we hear the phrase “Kingdom of God”.

And, in a timing that can only be God, as I was writing this post a friend posted a picture on Facebook of her two girls walking to school together this morning. It's the first day of a new school year. The older has been there and done that. Second grade. For the younger, this is the first time. Kindergarten.

They're walking down the sidewalk hand-in-hand. Older and younger. Old hat and new fears. Peace and anxiety. And, even in the old hat of it all, there lies an element of the unknown. What will be different? Will my friends be there? And, yet, they walk. Hand-in-hand.

Hand-in-hand.

Like the Kingdom of God.

Those of us who can walking with those of us who can't.

Hand-in-hand.

Everytime we recieve a revelation of the goodness or love or faithfulness or gentleness or mercy of God, we are obligated to share that with others. It's the way of the Kingdom. Giving away what you have.

I've been asked a couple of times in the past few weeks what our response as Christians should be to the challenges of the world around us. I really think it's quite simple. We should grab the hand of the hurting and walk with them. Step-by-step.

Like a second-grader walking to school hand-in-hand with her kindergartener sister.

For, that is what the Kingdom is like.

Our friends walking to school on their first day. Photo courtesy of their Mom.

Our friends walking to school on their first day. Photo courtesy of their Mom.

 

 

When We Were On Fire by Addie ZIerman

Book Review: When We Were On Fire – Addie Zierman

When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman

When We Were On Fire by Addie Zierman

In her book, When We Were On Fire, Addie  Zierman (@addiezierman on Twitter and on her blog) leads us on a journey.  It’s a journey that many of us have walked in some way or another.  A journey that takes our faith from something passed down to something passed up to something passed on.  It’s a journey that in the beginning we think should be clean and straightforward, but ends up being the messiest mess of our lives.

As I read When We Were On Fire, I found myself reliving moments of my past.  Rediscovering broken pieces of my own faith journey that have (either unknowingly or willingly) been swept under rugs where they have waited for years to be tripped over.  While Addie’s journey and my journey are very different, the underlying threads of faith, radical lifestyle, and standing alone at flagpoles in the rain are quite similar.  Also similar are the resulting crises of faith that bring us to the raw bottom of who we are as fallen and broken people. Yet, these crises serve to be that point from which—through God’s mercy, grace, and love—we piece back together some of the broken pieces and cast out some of the others.  The challenge, of course, lies in knowing which to keep and which to toss.  In knowing which parts of our broken lives get put in the rubbermaid tub in the basement and which get burned in our best friend’s fireplace.

Addie sums up (on page 212) her faith journey this way:

“…the real work of faith has nothing to do with saying the right words.  It has to do with redefining them, chipping away at the calcified outer crust until you find the simple truth at the heart of it all.  Jesus.

For a period of about ten years, I struggled to reconcile the faith of my formative years—and its brokenness—with reality.  I struggled to understand that God wasn’t just sitting around waiting for me to screw up so He could send some major disaster—personal or otherwise—to smack me—and whomever else might be nearby—around a bit.  I struggled to see God as something more than just One who sends judgment after judgment.  I wanted God to be a God of love and a God of peace and a God of comfort.  Yet, those things ran counter to what I had heard for years from the pulpit. I wanted salvation to be more than just a “Get Out of Hell Free” card.  I wanted it to have an—unforced (but not struggle-free)—impact on my life now.  I wanted the real work of faith to be a simple truth.

Yet, I didn’t see that.  I didn’t understand the reality of salvation, or Kingdom, or God’s character.  I didn’t understand that when God created mankind He didn’t say “It is good.”  Rather, He said, “It is VERY good.”  Instead, I saw that the fall made everything not good at all.  And, consequently, made everything subject to God’s—destructive and final—judgement.

The way I understood it was that if we were broken people, it was because we hadn’t “let go and let God” do His work (something that Addie works through in her memoir).  Which, really, amounted to a lot of work on our part.  Grace, we were told, meant that we couldn’t “earn” our salvation.  Yet, it also meant, that we had to do a whole lot of work to keep God happy with us.  We always remained saved, but judgement was coming.  You wanted to be standing on the right side of the aisle when it did.

So, for years, I hid out in the corner and let God get even more unhappy with me.

Or, so I thought.

What I’ve come to discover is that He was NEVER unhappy with me.  Rather, He was constantly seeking me out.  Searching for me.  He knew right where I was.  Yet, He chose to search.  And, He was constantly building highways that would lead me back to Him.  Sometimes, I would walk a few steps down that highway before veering off onto some other road.  And, He, in His grace, would simply build yet another highway.  Until, the day came, when I realized that He loved me.  Even in my brokenness.  Even in my messiness.  He truly was happy with me.  I was created in His image.  And, His response to that was “It’s VERY good.”

What I’ve come to learn about that road back to faith (which doesn’t really ever end) is that God paves it in front of us, and that step-by-step we walk down it.  Each step is an opportunity for us to pick up a broken piece of our life and ask God what we should do with it.  Does it go back in its place?  Does it go into the rubbermaid tub?  Does it go to the fireplace?

And, then, we take another step.

I should warn you that Addie uses some words in her book that one wouldn’t hear in their Sunday morning church service.  Words that we tell our children never to use.  Yet, sometimes, those are the words that best describe the pieces of our past.  Those are the words that best explain the brokenness.  Sometimes, those are the only words that we have left to say.  And, then after they are said, God can begin His work of redeeming and restoring.

That’s the hard part about our faith journeys.  They’re messy.  They’re ugly.  They require us to be humble and real and broken and in pain.  Yet, they also are healing.  They are life-giving.  They are shalom—that beautiful gift of Grace that fixes what’s broken and finds what’s missing.

Shortly after I finished When We Were On Fire, I posted to Facebook a couple of initial thoughts.  Here they are:

What happens when we stop using our faith to mask our brokenness and instead allow it to clear away the pieces of brokenness to reveal something beautiful hidden beneath it?

It’s not a pretty process.  It’s messy.  But, it’s redemptive and restorative.  It is salvation.  The Kingdom coming.  One. Step. At. A. Time.

It also takes a community.  It requires us to stop viewing faith as an individualistic concept and being to learn the beauty of walking out faith with others who are also broken and sorting through their brokenness in their own messy ways.

And, that’s where we are.  We are all broken.  We are all in different places of sorting out our brokenness.  No two stories are the same.  But, the Storyteller is.  And, He really really really loves us.  And, in His love and grace and mercy, He walks through the process with us—at our pace.  Ever reminding us that He has said, “It is VERY good.”  Something He can say, because He sees the original intent and design, and knows that as long as we are walking through the process, He can redeem the brokenness and restore us—bit by bit—to that original intent and design.

And, therein lies the gist of Addie’s book.  Faith born.  Faith grown.  Faith slipping.  Faith lost.  Faith found.  Faith in process of being found again.  And again.  And again.  Learning day-by-day to trust the Storyteller.  Learning moment-by-moment that some pieces will never quite fit again and others shouldn’t.  Learning that the old cliches of our youth don’t quite ring as true as we once thought.  Learning that faith can never be defined in a cliche, but rather must be lived into—one broken piece at a time.

Pg 212 from When We Were On Fire

Pg 212 from When We Were On Fire


  • FTC (16 CFR, Part 255) Disclaimer: I received my copy of Addie Zierman’s book When We Were On Fire from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

425456: When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over
By Addie Zierman / Convergent Books
When We Were on Fire is a funny, heartbreaking story of untangling oneself from cliche in search of a faith worth embracing. It’s a story for anyone who has ever felt alone in a crowded church. For the cynic. The doubter. The former Jesus freak struggling with the complexity of life.It’s a story about the slow work of returning to love, Jesus, and (perhaps toughest of all) His imperfect followers. And in the end, it’s about what lasts when nothing else seems worth keeping.

Resurrection Diaries: Thomas

Dinner was awfully different tonight.  The food was the same: lamb, flatbread, cucumbers, olives.  But, what a strange occurrence.

We were in the main room of the house.  The table had been laid out as always.  All of us in our usual seats.  For fear of someone wandering in, we had the doors locked.  Still not sure what the authorities—Jewish or Roman—are thinking about us.

As we talked about the events of the last few days, and wondering if the stories of our friends having seen Jesus were really true, Thomas made the most outrageous statement.

“I’ll believe it when I see it.  When I can push my finger through the holes in his hands and feet, and can shove my hand into his side, then—and only then—will I believe it.”

Well, finally, someone said what most of us were thinking.

And, then, Jesus showed up.  In the room.  With us.  Door was still locked—I checked it myself.  But, there stood Jesus.

“Hey, Thomas,” he said.  “Come over here, put your hand here.”  He pulled back his robe to reveal the spot where they had shoved the spear into His side.

Thomas did, and then let out a holler unlike any I’d ever heard.

“It’s Him!”

“Really, guys, it’s HIM!”

———

Aren’t we all a bit like Thomas?

Others had seen Jesus.  The women, some of the men, Cleopas and his friend had seen Jesus.  Eyewitnesses to the resurrection.  Yet, Thomas isn’t so sure.

Maybe it was a vision.  Maybe a dream.  Maybe a hallucination.  But, actually Jesus?  Not sure.

He challenges the others.  Maybe they’re even growing a bit tired of Thomas’ verbal doubts.  And, then, Jesus shows up.

Can you hear the laughter of the others?  “See, Thomas, we told you!  We told you that He was alive!  You didn’t believe us, but I guess you do now!”

But, I can relate to Thomas.  At some point in all of our lives, we will doubt.  We’ll doubt the trustworthiness of God.  We’ll doubt the promises.  We’ll stand on the edge of the road, looking at the empty—but blood-stained—cross where our dreams were killed, and there we will doubt.  We’ll be forced to admit that our hopes and dreams are dead, and our prayers will go unanswered.

And, then, into the room, walks Jesus.  Smiling.  Laughing.  Comforting.  And, gently scolding.  Jesus.

In that moment, our doubts are erased.  Our fears are calmed.  Our hope is restored.  The trustworthiness of our God is proved.

Yet, doubt isn’t a good thing.  It’s a real thing, but it’s not good.  Doubt says that our God isn’t big enough to overcome our problem.  To doubt is to deny the goodness and grace of God.  It’s to deny the very resurrection.  To doubt is to say, “God, You can’t handle this.”

To doubt is to make you the lord of your life.  It’s worshiping at the altar of self.  It’s idolatry.

So, what do we do?

I’m reminded of the story of the Israelites.  Time and time and time and time again throughout the Old Testament, God’s chosen people are given the command: “REMEMBER.”  Read the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and count the number of times this command is given.  Read the Psalms and see how often remembering is a part of the worship of the Israelite people.  Read the Proverbs and see the wisdom in remembering.

Remember!

This command isn’t meant to be taken in a philosophical, “Yep, God is good all the time” kind of way.  It’s a command to write down what God has done for you.  It’s a command to write them down.  To recite them to your family.  To teach them to your children.  To talk about them on your way to school and work and church and Wal-Mart.  To listen as your children recite them back to you.

“Hey, Dad, remember that time that God…”

Remembering only works when you are an active participant in the process of remembering.  You have to say it out loud.  You have to repeat it.  You have to write the story.  You have to tweet the good news.

You have to be aware of the miracle.  Don’t write things off to coincidence.  Quit calling it fate.   Stop ignoring the miracle within the mundane.  God is working.  He is moving.  He cares about the big things and the little things.

A couple of years ago, we were in Colorado Springs doing our Discipleship Training School with Youth With A Mission.  One particular Tuesday, I was craving a hamburger.  I could almost taste the meat and the cheese and the mustard and the pickle.  I remember driving my friends crazy because I kept talking about how good a hamburger would taste.  The next day at lunch, we had hamburgers.  Now, I had no idea what was on the menu.  I just knew that the day before I told God that hamburgers sounded really good.  I could call that a coincidence.  But, to do so would be to assume that God doesn’t care about hamburgers, and He doesn’t care about me.  So, to this day, we talk about the day that God cared enough to provide hamburgers.  And, friends, these weren’t just frozen patties.  These were hand-crafted, flame-broiled, with bacon, thick and juicy hamburgers.

Because, God cares about my wanting hamburgers, and He cares about Thomas’ doubts.  He cares enough to provide hamburgers, so I can trust Him with things like airfare, and my kid’s health, and beds to sleep in.

And, so, we remember.  We write it down.  We talk about it.  We rehearse it.  We tell each other the story.  And, we remember the goodness of God.

Thomas, we are told from Church tradition, travelled to India.  It is believed that he baptized several people in the town of Muziris, India, and served as a missionary to the people of India.  He is known as the Patron Saint of India.

Thomas’ response to seeing the wounds of Jesus was to proclaim boldly that he was no longer the lord of his life.  Instead, he trusted God’s goodness to restore and renew and resurrect.  And, he went about the rest of his life proclaiming that message of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

You can read the full story of Jesus revealing Himself to Thomas in John 20:19-29.