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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

 

#Lent14: Dinner With Jesus — Mark Foster

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.

Today, we are excited to once again have a special guest post from Rev. Mark Foster. Pastor Mark is the Founding Pastor of Acts 2 United Methodist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. He married his wife Chantelle in August 1991. They have two sons, John Mark and Noah. Pastor Mark is led by the Spirit and is passionate about seeing people come to know Jesus. We met Pastor Mark in October of last year when we began to attend Acts 2 UMC. We are blessed to have him as both a Pastor and a friend, and are honored that he has written today’s guest post.

Rev. Mark Foster

Rev. Mark Foster

UNTIL JESUS

Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death…

Luke 22:1-2 (NRSV)

Passover is the quintessential story of Judaism. Israel’s identity is tied to the covenant of land as promised by God. To get to this promised-land, Moses would need to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt to the land which was promised. However, the ruler of Egypt would not let them go until plague after plague decimated everything the Egyptians loved and held dear.

The final plague was a spirit of death that killed the first born of the Egyptians but “Passed Over” the homes of faithful Israelites who had followed the Lord’s instruction to paint their doorposts red with the blood of a spotless lamb. Each year, the families would gather and remember God’s faithfulness. In America, our Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey would be similar remembering God’s provision to the pilgrims. Passover was the same story every year on the same month in the spring for the same people for roughly 1300 years. It was and is the story of how God saved the Jews over and against the Egyptians, ultimately drowning both the Egyptian charioteers and their horses in the Red Sea. And that was Passover, until Jesus… Those two words, “until Jesus” are perhaps the most powerful words in anyone’s life.

I was lost… I had no hope… Despair had overtaken me… Life was meaningless… My addiction had me by the neck… Anger ruled my home… My appetites left me eternally hungry, cold, and lonely… Unforgiveness was killing me… Death had won… until Jesus.

These words were and are so powerful in fact, that it threatened and threatens anyone who made or makes the rules, enforced or enforces proper behavior, was or is responsible for fairness and the Roman way or American way. Until Jesus, might made right. Until Jesus, tax collectors, prostitutes, and children were clearly outsiders. What do you do with someone who blesses, sets free, and welcomes those you have just cursed, imprisoned, and sent away? You kill him.

Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.

Luke 22:3-6 (NRSV)

So what do you do when someone is out to kill you? You prepare Thanksgiving Dinner with your family and closest friends. You invite the betrayer to dinner, bless those around you, thank God for the meal and God’s faithfulness, and do the dirty work of washing feet.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John…

…they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Luke 22:7-8, 13 19 (NRSV)

For more than one thousand years, the wording describing the Passover meal was about bitter herbs, salt water, and unleavened bread… until Jesus. Now Jesus was speaking about “my body.” Jesus was breaking from the traditional language used at the meal each year since the time of Moses.

 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luke 22:20 (NRSV)

The disciples were confused at this point. The covenant was not new, but dated back to the 19th Dynasty about 1350-1200 B.C. And, the blood was of a lamb, not human! The blood Passover covenant was understood as between God and God’s chosen people the Jews… until Jesus. What had been an animal sacrifice to save one people, Jesus changed to His sacrifice for ALL people. All people. Even betrayers?

But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.

Luke 22:21 (NRSV)

Rev. Adam Hamilton points out that for Judas to dip his hand in the bowl with Jesus at the table (as the scriptures indicate) would have seated Judas both in a place of honor at the table and closest to our Lord reclining intimately next to him. This is how Jesus treats those who would do him harm. He blesses. The world had not seen anything like this…until Jesus.

Later, Judas leaves and betrays, Peter protests and denies, the rest run and hide.

The women weep and mourn. Blood and water flow, breath stops, the tomb is sealed. The world shakes, goes dark, and waits. And waits. And waits. Until Jesus… on the road to Emmaus…

… was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:30-35 (NRSV)

It was just another day and another stranger on the road, another meal, another loaf of bread… until Jesus.

#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: Dinner With Jesus — Charla Gwartney

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.

Our guest blogger today is our dear friend, Charla Gwartney.  Rev. Gwartney is currently serving as Senior Pastor at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Her family is a great blessing to her…husband, Kurt and daughter, Elizabeth.

Rev. Charla Gwartney with husband, Curt, and daughter Elizabeth

Rev. Charla Gwartney with husband, Kurt, and daughter Elizabeth

A Reading from the Gospel of John

There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12:2-8 (NRSV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Anything can happen at the table. Have you noticed that? When people want to really visit, they go to a coffee shop to sit at a table together. When people know the conversation will be difficult, they go to dinner hoping the conversation will be less charged with conflict. When people want to celebrate, they invite people to the table where conversation often leads far into the night and where glasses are raised in toast after toast. I have seen relationships mended around a table. I’ve also seen words flow too freely and feelings get hurt around a table. I’ve seen life-changing announcements made around a table. And, I’ve experienced the everyday ordinary stuff of life become holy around a table. I’m telling you, anything can happen at the table.

What happens around the table in John 12:2-8, however, is absolutely the most extraordinary table event I’ve ever known about, save what happens around the table of the last supper. Lazarus and his two sisters invite Jesus to their home for dinner. In the preceding chapter, we find the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and learn that Jesus loves this family very much. They were important friends and followers. So, an invitation from this family would have been received with joy. Jesus knew that dinner here would include laughter, love and true fellowship. After all, Lazarus had just been raised from the dead and there would be lots to celebrate.

As the story begins in verse two, all feels normal. Lazarus was around the table with Jesus and Martha was serving. So far, this is exactly what we would expect. The men would enjoy a meal together around the table and the women would be gathered in the kitchen preparing and serving the food. But, where is Mary? She enters in verse three and turns this table scene upside down. The scripture says she took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard. Did you know that nard had to be imported from the Himalayas? Who knows what this family was saving this stuff for, but it had to have been one of their greatest treasures – to be doled out one little bit a at a time. It probably was being saved for their family burials and had been brought out when Lazarus was thought to be dead.

Mary takes it all, every last bit of it, and anoints Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair. This is an act of over-the-top extravagance and the scripture tells you that by stating that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. Oh yes, the women would’ve known about this too, even from another room. For just a moment, take a breath and imagine how shocking this whole scene would be. Mary isn’t supposed to be anywhere near this table. She is supposed to be serving with the other women. And, she sure isn’t supposed to be squandering the family treasure on someone who isn’t even dead yet. I would imagine that every single person around that dinner table is absolutely speechless, their jaws are hanging open to the floor. And then, the aroma hangs in the air so thick they can think of nothing else. Even if they had wanted to lighten the mood – change the subject – there can be none of that. They can still smell the evidence of Mary’s actions!

I’m hunching on this. I have absolutely no evidence to support it. But, I’m hunching Jesus was just as shocked as every other man around that table when Mary walked into the room. I think, though, when Jesus saw her face, he saw a love that must have said even more than the nard. She couldn’t help herself. She risked a public shaming (which she did indeed receive in verse five). She risked her family’s disappointment realizing their treasure was gone. She risked Jesus’ rejection – he didn’t have to respond the way he did in verse seven. But, I’ll say it again, she couldn’t help herself.

This love that can push us to risk everything – that is extraordinary. I wonder, when is the last time you saw that kind of love around a table? I think the table draws out the best in us. I know it drew out the best in Mary. I’m so grateful she threw caution to the wind and showed me what it means to love with abandon. I wonder if Jesus thought about this kind of love when he shared that last meal with his disciples in the next chapter…when he washed their feet? I’m hunching he still remembered the smell of sweet perfume as he washed those dirty feet and reminded them, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” I’ll say it again…anything can happen at the table.

#Lent14: Dinner With Jesus — Nathan Kilbourne

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.

Today, we are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne (@pastornate84), has agreed once again to write for us. Pastor Nathan and his wife Pastor Lynn are incredible pastors, people, and friends. In addition to serving on the Advisory Board of Led By The Word, Rev. Kilbourne serves as the Senior Pastor at Vilonia United Methodist Church in Vilonia, Arkansas. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

Pastors Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

Pastors Nathan and Lynn Kilbourne

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” They did so and made them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.

Luke 9:12-17 (NRSV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

My wife and I love to host people for dinner.  We love having people over to enjoy fellowship and food.  One of the things we enjoy doing is making the things we love to eat.  Sounds a bit selfish I know, but oh well, no one has ever complained!  So, I love to smoke meats.  My wife loves to make desserts. Neither of us eat a lot of either though we love it, inviting people over gives us an excuse to cook what we love for the people we love.

For these events, I will make my favorite barbeque and homemade bbq sauces.  Lynn will make her favorite dessert.  Ok, let’s be honest our favorite desserts!  Then we will make side dishes (usually at least 3).  And, on occasion, instead of buying drinks, I’ll make homemade lemonade!  However, inevitably, no matter how much we have planned and prepared.  No matter how many side dishes and pounds of meat we have purchased and made, we will ask one another, “Do you think we have enough for the 8-10 people we are hosting?”  It never fails; we always wonder if there will be enough!  On occasion, I’ve been known to be so worried about it, I go and buy another 8 pound pork shoulder or spiral ham just to make sure!  Of course, as you have probably guessed, by the time the meal is over, there is plenty of food.

It is always dumbfounding the scarcity which controls our minds as we prepare to host others at our home.  Rarely do I trust our estimation and forget how many days after the fact I end up having to eat leftovers.  There is some internal fear which is hard to override.  No one ever wants to host people and run out of food.  And yet, the fear moves from running out to hoarding very quickly.  Scarcity quickly takes control of our minds to the point of over preparation and wastefulness.  “There is not enough,” we think.  We need more! And before we know it, we have way too much.  It is hard for us to believe and comprehend there is already an abundance of food and there will be plenty for everyone.

We find this notion of scarcity within our Scripture passage as well.  The disciples are having a hard time believing that five loves and two fish are going to feed 5000 people.  I can’t blame them.  I would have a hard time believing it myself!  The imminent scarcity of food over rules their capacity to trust the Lord.  How striking is it in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus has already fed thousands of people once and still the disciples are uncertain whether not he can do this again!  They can’t seem to trust the superabundance of God’s grace in light of the reality of scarcity.  As author Samuel Wells says in his book God’s Companions, “There are those who cannot comprehend the world into which he [Jesus] is inviting them.  The disciples, endlessly, fail the test of imagination.”  Their imagination is just too small; God’s gifts are just too great for the minds to comprehend.  If I were a disciple, I would probably start walking around the crowd and start apologizing to everyone I met because I would be certain there would be people going hungry that night!

And yet, the Gospels are a testimony to the superabundance of God. In fact all of Scripture is a testimony to Gods abundance gifts of grace.  Look at the story of Eden, Adam and Eve can’t trust that the Garden will fully satisfy!  To live in the kingdom of God is to trust that there is always enough.  While there are some who can’t comprehend, there are others which simply want to set their face against this idea.  Such an idea may mean a reordering of their priorities.  Take for instance the anointing of Jesus at Bethany.  The Pharisees see only a wasteful act, rather than the abundance of love.  Scarcity, stemming from a lack of trust and faith, can quickly lead to denial of others, division, overindulgence, hoarding, wastefulness, and judgment.

But, “God has given us everything we need to love him. (Samuel Wells, God’s Companions).”  Are we willing to trust these gifts rather than to seek to control them? Holy Week is a stark reminder of the inability to trust God’s abundance gifts.  At times, it is difficult to trust God has given us everything we need to love him.  Circumstances, fear, hurt, pain, stress, and anguish push us into the world where there is not enough.  In turn, love of neighbor, generosity, patience, gentleness all take a back seat.  But during this Holy Week, we are invited once again into the superabundant grace of God who creates a world through the Crucified and Risen One which proclaims in the Kingdom of God there is always enough!  May it be our prayer that God expands our imaginations where we are prevented from trusting that to be the case and that we are able to relinquish control and repent of the times when we have acted counter to God’s abundance.  May we trust the One whom always gives us plenty to love God and love our neighbor.

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12013X: God"s Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics God’s Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics
By Samuel Wells / Wiley-Blackwell

#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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927662: Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer Is Awakening a Generation Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer Is Awakening a GenerationBy Pete Greig & Dave Roberts / Relevant Books* A growing army of trained warriors awaits orders. They’re not in war-torn countries—they’re in rooms and churches worldwide, exploring the power of prayer and mission! Learn about the 24/7 prayer movement, its history, objective, and role in the days ahead. Highlighting important themes and featuring personal testimonies, it’s a dramatic call to enlist! 255 pages, softcover from Relevant Books.

#Lent14 — The Kingdom And The Storm

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.

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question.  You’re looking for someone to blame.  There is no such cause-effect here.  Look instead for what God can do.  We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines.  When night falls, the workday is over.  For as long as I am in the world, there is plant of light.  I am the world’s Light.”

He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”).  The man went and washed—and saw.

John 9:1-7 (MSG)

This is the Word of The Lord.

What do you do when you come across something bad?  When you look around you and see pain or suffering?

In our text for today, the Disciples are faced with this situation.  They’ve come across a blind man.  In First Century Israel (and in a large part of the world today), someone being blind (or lame or deaf or dumb or having a deformity) was believed to indicate that someone had sinned.  There was obviously some reason that God was punishing that person.  Either for something that they had done or something their ancestors had done.

Even in Twenty-First Century America, we find this logic.  Major tornado strikes a town, and many begin to ask why God sent the tornado.  Hurricane hits the Gulf Coast.  And, we find a reason to blame God.  Obviously, there was sin on the coast, and God hates sin.

The fact of the matter is that the world is fallen.  And, a fallen world will be plagued with “not good” stuff.  Hurricanes, tornados, mudslides, floods, etc.  When mankind disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they fell and brought the world down with them.

Yet, it didn’t end with the fall.  We come to today’s story.  Jesus has come.  The Son of God came to bring life—and life in abundance (John 10:10).  Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.

Here and now.

One person at a time.

When the Disciples encounter this blind man, they questioned Jesus with the question that society and culture and even religion had taught them to ask: “Who sinned?

And in Jesus’ response we learn something about the character and nature of God.

“You’re asking the wrong question.  You’re looking for someone to blame.  There is no such cause-effect here.  Look instead for what God can do.”

There’s not a cause-and-effect to the man being blind from birth.  There’s not a sin that caused it.  Jesus comes along and introduces the blind man to the Kingdom of God.  He removes the curse of the fall, and restores sight.

Because, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

As we look at the world around us, and we see issues of natural disasters or issues from birth, do we look at them through the eyes of the Disciples or the eyes of Jesus?

Do we ask “who sinned?” or do we proclaim, “Kingdom come?”

Do we bring the Kingdom?

The Kingdom of Heaven comes little by little.  It comes even in the midst of disaster.  Every time a blanket is handed to a cold and wet tornado survivor, the Kingdom comes.  With every bottle of water handed to a person removing debris from their flooded home, the Kingdom comes.  With every meal served to a hungry relief worker in a hurricane zone, the Kingdom comes.

We must remember, though, that God doesn’t send the hurricane to bring the Kingdom.  God sends the relief workers to bring the Kingdom.  God doesn’t cause the tornado to spin so that Kingdom will—eventually—come.  No, God sends His people into the aftermath of the tornado to bring the Kingdom.

The other night, we had dinner with a couple who had survived the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri in May 2011.  As they related their story of the storm and the aftermath, I was struck by the beauty of the Body of Christ.  See, in Joplin, churches had been working together for years to make a better community.  They had been doing community cleanup and relief work long before the tornado made it necessary.  So, when the tornado did come, and the thousands of volunteers descended on the city, they found that the churches in Joplin already had an infrastructure in place to assist with disasters—even though that infrastructure wasn’t designed as disaster response.

God didn’t send the storm to bring the Kingdom to Joplin.  No, the Kingdom was already in Joplin.  It had arrived there when the Body of Christ took a step in unity to work together to correct problems that were there.  So, when the storm did come, the Kingdom was there to serve.

The blind man in our text didn’t need someone to figure out why he was blind.  Rather, he needed someone to help him see.

The people of Joplin didn’t need someone to figure out why the tornado came.  Rather, they needed someone to help them shovel debris.

The people around you who are hurting don’t need someone to explain their pain.  Rather they need someone to hold their hand and walk through the pain with them.

For us who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, it’s critical that we understand that.  It’s critical that we understand that our role is not to explain suffering or pain.  Rather, our role is to endure the suffering and pain with those who are hurting.  Our role is to “strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’” (Isaiah 35:3-4).

Are you bringing the Kingdom?

Tornado Damage in Joplin, Missouri

Tornado Damage in Joplin, Missouri