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Book Review: Encountering Truth by Pope Francis

Encountering Truth by Pope FrancisIt’s easy to forget that long before Pope Francis was the Pope, he was a Parish Priest. As a Parish Priest, he delivered messages on a daily basis. Yet, as Pope, we only know about he big messages he delivers: Easter, Christmas, World Youth Day, etc.

The new volume from Pope Francis, Encountering Truth, is a collection of 186 homilies delivered by Pope Francis at the morning Mass held in the chapel at Saint Martha’s in the Vatican. These homilies draw from the daily Scriptures, and are a wealth of wisdom from the Holy Father.

Each homily was transcribed by Radio Vatican and are presented as summations with direct quotes.

These messages run the gamut of Christian life. He discusses topics that range from love, to forgiveness, to prayer, and to work. They are messages that give hope and life for the day ahead (remember these are homilies from morning mass). And, they are messages that disciple and encourage and strengthen and spur us to walking out the life of Christ in the day-to-day.

For instance, in Number 28, Pope Francis delivers a message about how just societies do not exploit workers, and ensures that all have access to work. “Work gives us dignity,” the Pope says. He continues, “Not to pay what is right, not to give work, because I am looking only at the bottom line, at the company bottom line; I’m looking only at what I can gain. That goes against God!”

This volume is an excellent read. It can be read straight through as a normal book. It can be used for day-to-day devotions (one homily each morning or evening). It can also be a great resource or commentary on specific passages. (Although, it does lack an index of Scripture References.)

The real beauty of this volume is that it gives a great insight into the heart of Pope Francis. It strips away the media bias, and just goes to his words. What does the text say to him. What is God saying to him in his meditation on the Scriptures. As you read through this volume, you feel the heart and soul of Pope Francis, and he shifts from a larger-than-life leader of the Catholic Church to a Parish Priest.

There is a great responsibility for us, the baptized: to proclaim Christ, to carry the Church forward, this fruitful maternity of the Church. Being Christian does not mean making a career in an office, to become a Christian lawyer or doctor. No. Being Christian is a gift that moves us forward with the power of the Spirit in the proclamation of Jesus Christ.

— Pope Francis, Homily dated 17 April 2013.

If you’d like to read the first chapter, you can do so by clicking here.


903018: Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Every Day Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Every Day
By Pope Francis / ImageEncountering Truth is a collection of highlights from homilies given by Pope Francis in the little Vatican chapel of Saint Martha from March 2013 to May 2014. Along with summaries by Radio Vaticana (who recorded and transcribed the homilies) and commentary by Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, these reflections provide moments of inspiration, simplicity, and a glimpse into the papal world very few ever get to experience.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. 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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

#Advent14 — God, Do It Again!

A reading from the Psalms.

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—”God was wonderful to them!” God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Psalm 126 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Exiles. Those for whom home is not where they are, but a place they most desperately want to be. Somewhere between the place of their dreams and the place of their hopes.

Not quite here.

Not quite there.

As someone who has never been forcibly removed from my home, I can’t even begin to imagine the indescribable joy that must come from returning to a place that once seemed so far away. Trapped in a foreign land. Trapped under rules and regulations that make you only slightly more free than a prisoner.

When we pull in the driveway of our home in Edmond after a few months overseas, my heart skips a beat or two. My own bed. The familiarity of smells and sights and sounds. The view of pasture and neighbors–not too close–press into my eyes.

Even more sweet than that, is that first service when we are back home at Acts 2 UMC. The worship band sounds better than they ever have. The message refreshes and brings deep wells of life. And, communion–the family dinner–is the most precious moment of all.

Until last week, that was the closest that I could come to imagining the joy of the exiles returning home. And, then, I met a pregnant lady living in the basement of a church. She, and her family, are Christian refugees from the conflict in Iraq. She has a six-year old and a three-year old. She pointed to her six-year old daughter and said through the translator, “When I was pregnant with her, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she pointed at the three-year-old son and said, “When I was pregnant with him, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she smiled and said, “Now, I’m pregnant again. And, fleeing again.” As I fought back tears, I hugged the daughter and kissed the son on the forehead.

And then she said the most unexpected thing, “I’ve never known joy until I came here to this church. I am home.”

As I read today’s scripture, I kept thinking about this precious lady and her beautiful children. I thought about her statement. While I know that she’ sound a place of safety and peace in the midst of the conflict, I also know that she is stuck somewhere between the dream of home and reality of home. And, I wondered how much joy would be in this woman’s heart and in her family when she really does return home.

And, so we pray, for this family and the millions of other refugees around the globe. These modern day exiles. We pray that they will return home. That they will no longer be trapped between the now and the not yet. We pray for peace–not the absent of conflict–but the presence of Emmanuel–God with us.

Even in midst of the conflict, we pray that more and more of these exiles will be able to say like this dear lady, “I feel like I am home.”

Our prayer for them all resounds, “God, do it again!”

 

Advent14 – Hoping for the Finale

A reading from Paul's letter to the Corinthians.

Every time I think of you—and I think of you often!—I thank God for your lives of free and open access to God, given by Jesus. There’s no end to what has happened in you—it’s beyond speech, beyond knowledge. The evidence of Christ has been clearly verified in your lives.

Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.

— 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 (The Message)

This is the Word of the Lord.

What encouraging words that Paul writes to the believers at Corinth! He reminds them of who they are now that they are citizens of the Kingdom. All things that they need, they have access to through Jesus. And, they wait expectantly.

Hope–confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God.

Knowing that God is good and because He is good, He will act good. He will do good things. He will meet the needs of His children. And, we expect Him to do this. We expect it with confidence and joy.

That doesn't mean that life will be nothing but roses and sunshine. There will be hard times. There will be pain. There will be suffering.

But!

We wait expectantly with confidence and joy for the Finale. For that moment that the Kingdom comes in fullness and all that was once wrong is made right.

And, until then, God walks alongside us. Not airlifting us out of problems and struggles, but parachuting in to walk alongside. He understands suffering. He understands pain. And, He knows the process. So, pain, suffering, hurt, death will happen. And, in the midst of it, the Kingdom comes, and will come, and is coming, and has come.

As we walk the path that leads us from here to a manger in Bethlehem, we yearn for that moment when all pain and suffering stops. When death is no more. When lions and lamb play together. When all swords (or drones and tanks and bombers and nuclear devices) are beat into plowshares. We yearn for that Baby King to immediately make things right. Instead, He enters the world quiet and unassuming. He grows up and then commands us to be Light and Salt and to bring the Kingdom with us as we go.

Until that day.

That day for which we hope.

 

Advent14 — The Epic Novel

A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

If only You would rip open the heavens and come down to earth–its heights and depths would quake the moment You appear, like kindling when it just begins to catch fire, or like water that's about to boil.

If only You would come like that so that all who deny or hate You would know who You are and be terrified of your grandeur.

We remember that long ago You did amazing things for us that we had never dreamed You'd do. You came down, and the mountains shook at Your presence. Nothing like that had ever happened before–no eye had ever seen and no ear had ever heard such wonders, but You did them then for the sake of Your people, for those who trusted in You. You meet whoever tries with sincerity of purpose to do what You want–to do justice and follow in Your ways.

But You became so angry when we rebelled and committed all sorts of wrongs; we have continued in our sins for a long time. So how can we be saved? We are all messed up like a person compromised with impurity; even all our right efforts are like soiled rags. We're drying up like a leaf in autumn and are blown away by wrongdoing.

And it's so sad because no one calls out to You or even bothers to approach You anymore. You've been absent from us too long; You left us to dissolve away in the acrid power of our sins.

Still, Eternal One, You are our Father. We are just clay, and You are the potter. We are the product of Your creative action, shaped and formed into something of worth. Don't be so angry anymore, O Eternal; don't always remember our wrongs.

Please, look around and see that we are all Your people.

Isaiah 64:1-9 (The Voice)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Advent.

The waiting game begins.

It begins in a yearning for help. A yearning for rescue. A yearning for something new and better. A yearning for something other than.

Yet, it also begins with a memory. The memory of Advent past. The memory of a King and a Kingdom and a promise to set all things right.

Between the two we now stand. Remembering the times past where the mountains trembled. Yet, longing for them to tremble again.

It's all a bit like an epic novel that you've read before. You know how it will end. You know the story. You know in the end all the loose threads of the story will merge into one beautiful tapestry. Yet, you begin the novel again.

“Once upon a time…”

And, as you near the middle of the book, you are caught between knowing the promise of hope will be fulfilled and the actual fulfillment of the promise.

A good novel will draw you in. It will make you feel and think and believe that you are the main character. You are Shasta riding into battle at Anvard. You are Bilbo discovering the secret of the ring. You are Harry running toward a wall in Kings Cross Station.

Here we find ourselves. Along with Isaiah, we are in the middle of an epic story. Somewhere between. Not quite at the end, yet knowing the end. Not quite at the beginning, but remembering the beginning.

Longing.

Hoping.

Waiting.

Remembering.

And, the story is not yet finished. The Author continues to add pages. And, we continue to live the plot and the twists and the turns. Like clay in the hands of the Potter, we yield to the Author. And, we walk out the story longing for the fulfillment of the promise.

So, now, we begin our walk to Christmas. In our walk, we yearn for a fulfilled Kingdom. Yet, we know that the King has come. And, somewhere in between we find ourselves. Confused by the hurts and pains and death and illnesses of this place. And, from somewhere off the page, we hear the Author whispering, “Trust me.”

This isn't to say that the Author writes into the story all the pain and suffering and hurt and confusion and murder and suicide and hurricanes and floods–becuase He doesn't. But, it is to say that while these things happen, they don't catch the Author by surprise.

The Author wields the pen, and from within the midst of all the mess of the world, He writes a story of life–life to the fullest. He writes a story of missing things found and broken things fixed. He writes a story of Kingdom come.

And Kingdom that has come.

And Kingdom that is yet to come.

So, here we stand on the precipice of Christmas. Not yet there, but not so far away. From that precipice, we can see the Kingdom. We can see the joy and the peace and the life and the fulfilled promise.

And, that is what gives us the ability to hope.

 

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.

#Lent14: Dinner With Jesus — Neal Locke

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

In this week’s #Lent14 posts, we are departing from the Lectionary and are turning instead to events during the life of Jesus that involved Dinner Parties.  As we travel in Central Asia, one of the things that we are continually struck by is the amount of life that happens around the dinner table.  In fact, in one Central Asian nation, we were told, “If I invite you for tea, we’re friends.  Yet, when I invite you for food, we become family.”  This week we are joined by four dear friends and pastors to our ministry who have agreed to offer a meditation for us.

We are honored to once again have Rev. Neal Locke guest blogging for us. Neal and I met 15 years ago as students at Oral Roberts University. I am thankful that all these years later I can still call him my friend. (And, can say that we both successfully graduated.)

Neal, his wife, Amy, and three children, Grady, Abby, and Jonah live in El Paso, Texas, where Neal is the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

Rev. Neal Locke

Rev. Neal Locke

A Reading from the Gospel of John

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.

John 2:1-12 (NRSV)

The Word of the Lord.

I have always been a bit envious of Jesus when reading about his first miracle.  The first time I attempted to convert water into a fermented beverage, it took me an entire day of hard work followed by three long weeks of waiting, checking, fretting, adjusting, more hard work (bottling) before finally ending up with a batch of homebrewed beer.  It was reasonably decent, but certainly nothing to summon the bridegroom about.  My first batch was five gallons.  Jesus made about 150.  His work took a matter of minutes. Mine took almost a month.  Even after five years of homebrewing, I am only just beginning to have the understanding and control over the brewing process required to “get it right” every time.  Jesus got it right on his first (and possibly only) attempt.  So forget walking on water or raising the dead–the very first miracle of Jesus is the one that impresses me the most.

But I think there is another miracle at work just under the surface of this story–one that shows up in my own brewing experiences, too:  It’s the miracle of community.  You see, whenever I brew, I typically invite over some friends. Ostensibly, this is because more hands makes the work easier.  But the truth is, I could do it all myself–it’s just more fun with friends and it’s a good excuse to get together.  Brewing involves periods of intense activity (measuring, grinding, mixing, lifting, pouring, cleaning) and a lot of watching and waiting in between.  Those in between times are great for kicking back and talking, catching up on each others’ lives, debating the finer points of NFL quarterback stats, or even going philosophical on the greater questions of life, death, and raising children.  Meanwhile, the brewing goes on, and serves as the larger end we are all working toward–a product that, when finished, we can all enjoy and be proud of.

There is a science to brewing beer, and I’m sure there are plenty of chemists and physicists who can explain the process in the minutest detail.  I’m not one of them.  To me, it’s all pretty miraculous that I simply throw together the right ingredients, follow some time-honored steps that brewers have used for thousands of years, and fermentation happens!  Even those who can explain what happens did not themselves generate the laws of physics and chemistry, so I like to think that God is ultimately part of the brewing process…and it is therefore miraculous (even when it isn’t instantaneous).  The same can be said of the community that brews alongside the beer:  You throw a bunch of people with different personalities, opinions and life circumstances together in my garage for a purpose almost completely unrelated to any of them, and community happens!  I’m sure a psychologist could explain what’s going on and why this works, but even so, it is miraculous.

Given the connections, then, between the miracle of fermentation and miracle of community, I think there are some things we can observe and learn from Jesus in this passage:

1. Be intentional.   Miracles are not spontaneous.  Jesus is reluctant (here and elsewhere in the gospels) to perform a miracle, and would have likely been just as happy to just go on his way without one.  But his mother is insistent, and knows that without Jesus’ intervention, things won’t come together.  Likewise, good beer (or any beverage for that matter) doesn’t appear in my refrigerator just because I like to drink it.  I have to be intentional about either making it or taking the time to find it somewhere else.  Good community is the same way:  it doesn’t “just happen.”  We have to make space for it, cultivate it, and seek it out.  In other words, we have to be intentional about it.

2. Use what you’ve got.   Homebrewers are notorious for re-purposing common household items in order to avoid buying expensive equipment.  Jesus looks around for something to make wine in, sees some large stone jars (which are essentially 1st century Jewish bathtubs!) and says to himself, “Yeah, that’ll do.”  The wine has run out, but there’s plenty of water:  “Yeah, that’ll do.”  While we have to be intentional about community, we don’t have to make it elaborate or overly complicated.  Community forms best around simple things:  food, drink, kitchens, garages, books, games, nature, and even inflatable leather balls.

3. Follow the process.  Since we’re already in the realm of miracles, I’ve always wondered why Jesus didn’t just blink his eyes and have the wine instantly appear in people’s cups.  Why go through the whole ritual of having the servants fill the jars? Why use water? Why summon the steward to taste it when he already knew it was perfect?  None of these things were, strictly speaking, necessary.  But by creating a process, Jesus involved others in the miracle.  He also gave us some things to think about:  There is some pretty deep symbolism and foreshadowing in transforming water (think baptism) into wine (think crucifixion).  Likewise, I could just go to the store to buy beer, but in adopting a process I involve other people. I learn more about what I’m brewing/drinking, and develop more appreciation for the final result.  Community, too, works best when we follow a process:  That’s why our rites and rituals (like worship, communion, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and pot-luck luncheons) are so important.  They involve us with other people, and give us opportunity to contemplate the symbols that draw us deeper in thought and faith.

4. Trust in God for the rest.  In brewing, I am intentional about the process. I use the best ingredients and equipment I’ve got on hand.  But ultimately, I rely on God (the author of chemistry and physics) to make the real magic happen.  Mary shows great faith in her son when she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  She doesn’t ask Jesus if it might be possible for him to help in some way–she knows exactly where human ability ends (“they have no wine”) and where divine ability begins (“do whatever he tells you”).  To put it simply, there are things we must do ourselves (see 1-3) and there are things we must place in God’s hands.  Knowing the difference between the two is important. Community ultimately is a heavenly gift.  So no matter how intentional we are about it, no matter what resources or process we use to facilitate it, when the magic happens we give thanks to God.

#Lent14 — Resurrection People

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Gospel of John.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him…

John 11:1-45 (ESV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Today’s blog comes in video form.

#Lent14 — Resurrection People from Led By The Word on Vimeo.

#Lent14 — Only Two Kingdoms

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent  seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life.  Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God!  Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.  Focusing on the self if the opposite of focusing on God.  Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God.  That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.  And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him.  Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about.  But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms.  It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?  When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life.  With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

Romans 8:6-11 (MSG)

This is the Word of The Lord.

In this life, we are faced with a choice.  We can choose to live our lives with the goal of fulfilling our own desires, or we can choose to live our lives yielding our desires to the desires of God.  It’s a choice.

In today’s text, Paul confronts us with this choice.  He presents for us the facts of each way of life.  If we live based on our own selfish desires and ambitions, then it’s a dead-end.  We become self-absorbed and we ignore God.  Yet, on the other hand, if we live our life by the Spirit of Christ, then we live a life of power and purpose and fullness.

It’s really quite simple.  We either choose to live our lives to better ourselves or our position in life, or we live our life to make God’s name great.  It’s either about us or Him.

There are only two kingdoms.

We either live in the kingdom of self-advancement, self-achievement, and self-preservation.  Or, we live in the kingdom of God-Advancement.  We either live for ourselves.  Or, we life for God.

Which is it with you?

Christ didn’t come to earth and die on the cross to make live better.  He didn’t die to modify our behavior.  Rather, He came to transform our ENTIRE lives.  He came to shift us into a completely different direction.  He didn’t come to make things easier or make us more successful.  Instead, He came to redeem us unto Himself so that we might partner with Him in the Greatest Story of all time—His story.

And, so, we live differently—not succumbing to our own selfish desires or plans, but rather yielding to God’s desires and plans for us.  The reality of a life lived yielded to God’s plans and desires is a life of fullness.  A life of Shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken.  A life where the crooked places are made straight and the steep places are made level.  Where what’s broken is fixed and what’s missing is found.

It’s a life lived in the Kingdom.

Where are you living?

Ramana, Baku, Azerbaijan

Ramana, Baku, Azerbaijan

#Lent14 — Learning to Like the Wait

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts.  In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom.  We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Psalms.

Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; Lord, hear my voice.  Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the LORD, my who being waits, and in his word I put my hope.  I wait for the LORD more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.  He himself will redeem Israel form all their sins.

Psalm 130 (NIV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

As the wheels of the 737 in which we were riding touched the ground in Guatemala, my wife began to hum a melody that I’d never heard before.  As we deplaned, she told me that she had just written a song based on today’s scripture text.  Little did she know that in the village where we would be drilling a well with Living Water and a team from Acts 2 United Methodist Church just a day-and-a-half later, villagers had been praying and fasting for three years for clean water.

Waiting.  More than watchmen wait for the morning.

We learned a lot about waiting while we were in Guatemala.  Listening to the stories of how for three years they prayed that a team would come and drill a well for them.  Watching the joy on the faces of the villagers as they worked alongside the “Gringos” who had come to help them.

Like watchmen wait for the morning, these villagers waited for help.  They waited for “God’s sunrise to break in among” them (Luke 1:78).

Waiting is a tough place in which to be.  It’s that place between a promise and fulfillment.  It’s that place that lies somewhere in between.  It’s a place where God asks us to keep trusting Him.    But, that’s hard.

It’s in the waiting that long to be doing.  I don’t want to wait.  I don’t want to be like those villagers in Guatemala.  Stuck in a seemingly never ending cycle without resolution.

These past few months have been season of waiting for us.  I spend the first part of this season resting.  Something that we needed.  We went to doctor’s appointments and dentist appointments.  We walked through some health issues.

But, then, the waiting became frustrating.  We weren’t doing.  And, I hated it.  I didn’t want to be not doing.  Then, I learned something about waiting.  I learned that it doesn’t mean that God has “benched” you.  I learned that it didn’t mean God was upset with the way you were doing things.  I learned that it simply meant that God had something better for me.

I learned that the something better that He had was learning to trust Him in the waiting.  God wants us to trust Him in the doing, but also in the not doing.

Most importantly, I learned that in the season of not-waiting life wasn’t about doing.  Rather, life—in both the waiting and the not waiting—was about BEING.  It is all about being with God in the in-between.

And, so, if nothing else in the season of waiting which we have been in, I’ve learned the beauty of waiting.  I’ve learned how to stop doing and start being.  I’ve learned how rest and refreshing comes in those seasons.  I’ve learned to embrace the wait.  I’ve learned that I can’t survive the seasons of sowing or harvesting without the seasons of waiting to sow or waiting to harvest.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that I can trust even in the waiting.

This is what an answered prayer looks like.

This is what an answered prayer looks like.

#Lent14 — 3 Years Ago

As we have done in previous Lent and Advent seasons, we are again blogging our way through the Lenten Lectionary Texts. In this season, our prayer is that we will bless and inspire you in your walk between the Now and Not-Yet of the Kingdom. We pray that our meditations will be life-giving to you in your journey.

A reading from the Prophet Ezekiel.

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O LORD GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the LORD GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they vied and stood on their feet an exceedingly great army.

Ezekiel 37:1-10 (ESV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

A few years ago, we were given a book called Red Moon Rising by Pete Greig (@petegreig). This book chronicles the journey that Pete and his friends embarked on about 12 years ago to learn how to pray. For us, as for many many others, this book proved to be a turning point in our prayer life. A part of the story that Pete tells talks about today’s text. The Valley of Dry Bones. From this story, the slogan “UC BONES IC AN ARMY” emerged with then 24-7 Prayer community.

For us, as it has been for many others, Red Moon Rising was transformative in our view of prayer and in how we prayed. We began to pray more boldly and more simply. Our prayers shifted from asking God to bless what we were doing and toward asking God to show us where we could join in His working.

On a practical level, Red Moon Rising was a catalyst to launching us into a season of 24/7 prayer with the church (Asbury United Methodist in Little Rock, Arkansas) in which we were serving at the time. From Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday of 2011, a group of congregants signed up for hours throughout the day and night to sit in a travel trailer (aka The Trailernacle) in the parking lot and pray.

It was in that Trailernacle that God began to speak to us about the road that laid ahead. It was in that little trailer that He began to beckon us to walk with Him down the Ancient Path.

A strange, yet profound, phrase was the beginning of that walk for us. It was late one night, and as I stood in front of the map of the world and prayed, I heard in my spirit, “Keep your suitcase packed.”

It was in that prayer room that I challenged God to help us pay off $18,000 in student loans. By Easter Sunday, they were paid in full.

It was in that room that we began to pray, “Show us where You are already at work, and let us join in.”

And, He did.

Three years later, we’re in Edmond, Oklahoma. We’ve spent five months in Central Asia since then. We’ve spent a week in Guatemala. We’ve spent two weeks in Mexico. We’ve travelled tens of thousands of miles around the US. We’re about to travel a few more thousand miles around the southwest. We’re scheduled to go to Estonia and Belize this year. And, we’re planning for an 18-month tour of the 10/40 Window.

Since we walked out of the Trailernacle in the wee hours of Easter Sunday morning three years ago, we’ve met friends all over the world. Friends working in some of the darkest of dark lands. Friends who have given up everything to follow after Jesus. Friends who have said, “Yes, I’ll walk the Ancient Path with you.”

And, so, here in Edmond we sit. Amazed at the faithfulness and goodness of God over the last three years. Knowing that it’s merely the beginning of a long journey. A journey that will take to only places that God knows.

I challenge you. Shift the way you pray. Stop praying for God to bless your plans or your work. Start praying for Him to show you where He’s already at work, and asking Him how you can join in.

The "Trailernacle"

The 'Trailernacle'

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