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#Advent16 — We believe

A reading from the Epistle to the Romans.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Romans 15:5-9a (NIV)

This is the Word of the Lord.

These words from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans are among my favorites in the Canon of Scripture. Paul is writing to a church that is struggling. They are experiencing persecution at every turn. They need encouragement. They need to endure. They need to unify.

But, Paul isn’t admonishing them to unify against the Romans. He’s not rallying them to march in the streets and protest against the authorities. While there is a time and place for that, this isn’t it.

Paul’s message is to operate with one voice and one mind. He understands that in order for people to be attracted to the Christian faith, they need to see something different from the people who call themselves Christian. They need to see a group of people who can come together in one place and in one accord.

Unity brings glory to God.

Disunity does not.

When we operate as individual silos of believers—my church, your church, that denomination, those people—we don’t bring glory to God. That doesn’t build the Kingdom of Heaven. When we build walls between other groups of believers, we build our own little kingdoms. When we can’t operate with other believers, we build barriers that block people from coming to know Jesus.

Unity requires that we accept one another. It requires us to welcome those who are not like us. It requires us to hear voices that don’t sound like ours. It requires us to cast aside our nationalistic ideals, and hold firm to Kingdom ideals. Unity is hard work.

Unity changes the world. People are attracted to unity. When the Body of Christ can stand up and operate together, the world will see that we are His Disciples. That’s how they will know we are His followers.

“We believe,” the Creed says. We. Not I. We. Because our faith is a community faith. We do this thing together. We believe.

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

#Advent16 — Revolution!

A Reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Another reason for right living is this: you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for the coming of the Lord is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is far gone, the day of his return will soon be here. So quit the evil deeds of darkness and put on the armor of right living, as we who live in the daylight should! Be decent and true in everything you do so that all can approve your behavior. Don’t spend your time in wild parties and getting drunk or in adultery and lust or fighting and jealousy. But ask the Lord Jesus Christ to help you live as your should, and don’t make plans to enjoy evil.

— Romans 13:11-14 (TLB)

This is the Word of the Lord.

When Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, he did so with great urgency. See, the early Church believed that Jesus was coming back—next Tuesday. It was so close they could almost taste it.

Almost two thousand years have passed since then. The darkness is still pressing in. The hour is still late. And, we still await the return of our King.

But, we shouldn’t let two thousand years of waiting stop us from changing our lives or the world around us. We should continue to live as if the time is short. We should continue to live as if the King’s return is scheduled for next Tuesday.

What does that mean?

What does it mean to live as light in a place of darkness?

Paul’s words to the church at Rome were more than just an admonition to live right in order to be on Christ’s good side when he returns. This admonition goes far beyond that.

Paul is telling these believers in Rome—the ultimate of ungodly empires—that it was time to change the culture in which they lived. It was time to bring light into a dark place. It was time to do things differently than those around them did.

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

Seven Revolutions by Mike Aquilina and James Papendrea

I read a great book last year called Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again by Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea. (An affiliate link to purchase the book is at the end of this post.) In it the authors highlighted seven areas where the early Church changed the culture around them. Seven areas where they lived as light in the darkness of empire. Each of these seven areas have a modern-day equivalent. In other words, we Kingdom People need to continue to live as light in darkness.

Empires still exist. Darkness still surrounds us. And, we are still called to walk in and carry the light in the midst of it. To change the world.

That’s what Kingdom People do. They stand up to the empire of man, and bring in the Kingdom of God. Where there is injustice, they bring justice. Where there is fear, they bring love. Where there is conflict, they bring peace.

Sometimes, we do this through active engagement. Standing alongside people who are being forced from their homelands. Opening their homes to orphans, widows, and immigrants. Intervening in conflict by bringing medicine and food.

Sometimes, we do this through passive engagement. Living our lives in a way that is contrary to the culture around us. This is what Paul is talking to the Roman Church about in our text. “Quit the evil deeds of darkness,” Paul writes.

Don’t watch or read pornography.

Don’t cheat on your wife.

Don’t get drunk.

Don’t fight.

Don’t go to wild parties.

Don’t be jealous of your neighbor.

Change the culture by not participating in the culture. Where the culture isn’t in line with the Kingdom of God, don’t be a part of it. Do the opposite.

For we Kingdom People, “everyone else is doing it” is not a valid reason. We must weigh everything we do against the values of the Kingdom. We must live to bring about revolution in the empire of man. To stand firm in the face of that which is not in-line when Jesus and His Kingdom.

Let me leave you with a quote that I came across today by Bishop Robert Barron:

“I don’t think we’ll understand Advent correctly until we see it as a preparation for revolution.”


Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again
By Mike Aquilina & James Papandrea / Image

In Seven Revolutions, authors Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea examine the practices of the early Church – a body of Christians living in the Roman Empire – and show how the lessons learned can apply to Christians living in the United States today. Through expert storytelling and historical insight, the authors show just how revolutionary Christians were against the backdrop of ancient Rome, and just how revolutionary we can be today.

#Lent14 — Light

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 Ephesians.

You were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light.  Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth.  Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness.  Instead, you should reveal truth about them.  It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret.  But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light.  Everything that is revealed by the light is light.  Therefore, it says, “Wake up, sleeper!  Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Ephesians 5:8-14 (CEB)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Often, as I read Ephesians, I’m struck with the similarities that Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus has to John’s gospel written from Ephesus.  One of these similarities is this theme of light/dark.

John begins his Gospel (John 1:1-18) with a discussion of light and dark.  He draws a contrast between the light of God (a theme he carries on throughout the Gospel) and the dark of the world.  How the light brings order to chaotic (dark) situations.  How even in the midst of the darkest darkness, light can come.  And, when light comes darkness leaves—every time.

Paul, in today’s text, also draws these same images.  He talks about how we were once in darkness.  We lived in the kingdom of the world.  We yielded only to our flesh.  Yet, now that we have become Followers of the Way we are no longer in darkness.  Rather, we are to live as children of light.

He talks about the fruit produced by light—goodness, justice and truth.  When we walk in the light, we produce this fruit.  We produce the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).

Yet, this imagery of light and dark wasn’t a new concept with either Paul or John.  Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, also talked about our lives using this language:

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.  God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?  I’m putting you on a light stand.  Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light-stand—shine!  Keep open house; be generous with your lives.  By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 (MSG)

Be light.  Shine the goodness of God into the darkness.  Shine His justice.  Shine His truth!

Bring out the God-colors in the world!

#Lent14 — Agreeing And Acting On The Promise

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.

God promised Abraham and his descendants that he would give them the world.  This promise wasn’t made because Abraham had obeyed a law, but because his faith in God made him acceptable.

If Abraham and his descendants were given this promise because they had obeyed a law, then faith would mean nothing, and the promise would be worthless.  God becomes angry when his Law is broken.  But where there isn’t a law, it cannot be broken.  Everything depends on having faith in God, so that God’s promise is assured by his gift of undeserved grace.  This promise isn’t only for Abraham’s descendants who have the Law.  It is for all who are Abraham’s descendants because they have faith, just as he did.  Abraham is the ancestor of us all.

The Scriptures say that Abraham would become the ancestor of many nations.  This promise was made to Abraham because he had faith in God, who raises the dead to life and creates new things.

God promised Abraham a lot of descendants.  And when it all seemed hopeless, Abraham still had faith in God and became the ancestor of many nations.  Abraham’s faith never became weak, not even when he was nearly 100 years old.  He knew he was almost dead and that his wife Sarah could not have children.

But Abraham never doubted or questioned God’s promise.  His faith made him strong, and he gave all the credit to God.  Abraham was certain that God could do what he had promised.  So God accepted him, just as we read in the Scriptures.  But these words were not written only for Abraham.  They were written for us, since we will also be accepted because of our faith in God, who raised our Lord Jesus to life.  God gave Jesus to die for our sins, and he raised him to life, so that we would be made acceptable to God.

Romans 4:13-25 (CEV)

This is the Word of The Lord.

Today’s post originally ran on March 7, 2012.

Today’s text takes us back to the story of Abraham.  God has given Abraham a promise.  He’s promised Abraham a son–more than that even.  Sons that number as many as the grains of sand or stars in the sky.  And, Abraham trusts the promise.

Despite the odds.

He’s old.  His wife is old.  They’re childless.  The promise seems all but impossible.  So many things stacked against the promise.

Yet, when God makes a promise, and their are impossible situations, there we find grace.  “God’s promise is assured by his gift of undeserved grace” (verse 16).

In his epistle to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:20), Paul reminds us that “all the promises of God find their yes in him.  That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”  We utter our Amen–our wholehearted agreement and willingness to act on it–to His promises.

God’s promises are conditional.  He promises, we add our Amen–our agreement and action.  His promise to Abraham was conditional upon Abraham’s obedience to leave Ur and possess the land of Canaan.  God’s promise to Israel is conditional on their obedience to worship Him and Him alone (something they have never in their history been able to do, because they have tried within their own power and not with His power).

God has made a promise to each of us.  It is a promise for rescue.  It is a promise for a life is that more than sufficient (John 10:10).  Yet, it is up to us to walk in that promise.  To allow Him to be Father.  To allow Him to have the last word in our lives.

What has God promised you?

Have you said “Yes” and “Amen”?  Have you agreed and acted upon that promise?

Lent 2013: Guest Post – Rev. Nathan Kilbourne

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

Reverends Neal and Lynn Kilbourne

Reverends Neal and Lynn Kilbourne

We are thrilled that our friend, Reverend Nathan Kilbourne, 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 Associate Pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, AR. He is a graduate of the Duke Divinity School.

A reading from Paul's epistle to the church at Philippi.

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

— Philippians 3:1-14 (NIV)

It is easy to boast in our achievements. When we were kids, I’m sure we all have uttered the words, “Hey mom, watch this! Hey dad, look at what I did.” We starve for attention. We want people to notice who we are and what we can do. We hold up our accolades and our abilities hoping people might congratulate us or pat us on the back.

After all, we are taught and learn in our world that what is important is setting ourselves up over and above everyone else. What matters most is how we rank against others. For instance, we have all had to take tests like the ACT or SAT. Such measure our competency; and yet, the competency level is often displayed as to how one performed in comparison with others. You ranked higher than 55% of the student population in your language skills. Bell curves mark our distance from others. While I’m not launching an onset against our grading systems in America, I find it enlightening as to the kind of attitude it creates among us. We find ourselves battling (or succumbing to) feelings of superiority or inferiority based on how we perform. We are measured over and against one another and learn to hold our achievements high so that all can see.

Lent is however is a time of relinquishment. It is a time in which we lay down our crowns. We shed our achievements. And we put aside own gains. Why? Because all such achievements, all such gifts, all such ability is only possible through grace. Moreover, all those things which we hold as important or meaningful, in the end, lack substance or ability to sustain.

Paul certainly held all the accolades. He was an accomplished individual. He had all the reasons to be confident as he tells us. He had followed all the Jewish laws. He dotted every “i” and crossed every “t.” He was a zealous individual when it came to his religious studies. Paul was so good that he eventually became a Pharisee, a well respected teacher and keeper of the Jewish faith. Even more so, he was known as a great defender of the faith, persecuting dissenters known as Christians. Paul was a well accomplished, zealous individual, striving by his own great power and strength.

And yet, when Paul encountered the presence and grace of Christ he realized all such things were rubbish, meaningless, when compared with knowing God in Christ Jesus who relinquished all that others might live. Such is counter intuitive to a world built on accolades and achievements, a life built on self-fulfillment and self-aggrandizement. Paul came to the realization that righteousness, of which he was so zealous, came as a gift of God. It wasn’t by his own efforts that such was achieved. Rather, life itself was a gift and the path of righteousness was not one built on achieving at the expense of others but learning to live a life of relinquishment. Resurrection comes through sacrifice and surrender.

The goal to which we strive as believers is to know Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). In other words, it is to live in the path of Jesus, who though he was in form of God, considered it nothing, and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2). Our goal is about taking the grace given to us in Christ and putting it to work in us. It is about inhabiting a different way of life counter to the life of achievements and accolades. Indeed it is a striving, a movement, a goal. But it is a goal different than the goals we have learned to hold up and to show off. Instead, we show off not ourselves, but the power of God working in us to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves. May this Lenten season be one full of knowing Christ, and the surpassing knowledge of his grace, and may we be willing to relinquish those things which do not reflect the Spirit of Christ.

 

Standing with a Cosmic God

Today, we're diverting from our Lenten lectionary series. I wanted to share with you some thoughts on a reading we were required to meditate on as a team here in Central Asia. Our reading is from Paul's epistle to the church at Ephesus.

This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God's way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

— Ephesians 3:7-10 (MSG)

Paul finds himself in an interesting place. He's in prison. He doesn't know what's coming down the road. Yet, here he is writing to a church that is being shepherded by John–the Disciple whom Jesus loved. Like John does in his gospel, Paul begins his letter in a cosmic way. He presents the church with a cosmic God–a giant, big, consuming God.

“My task,” says Paul, “is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along.”

No small feat. Especially for this one who only the paragraph before called himself the “least qualified of all available Christians.” Yet, Paul has come to an understanding of something very important. He has reached an understanding of the beauty of Sonship. God, the great Father, called this lost unlikely ragamuffin Saul. Changed his name to Paul. Taught him to be a son. Then, released him to be a father to churches all over Asia Minor. It is out of this place of Sonship that Paul moves into the ability to present such a cosmic view of God–His Father.

And here, in this passage, Paul makes an epic claim. A claim so big that we often read right past it. He says this:

Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

What?!? God's great epic of redemption is being made known through us messed up–but redeemed–ragamuffins to even the angels? These same angels who sit around the throne of God and worship 24/7?

In between their angelic glimpses of the glory of God, they're chattering away about this epic plan that God worked out from the dawn of time. Not because they've watched it transpire over the course of the millennia, but rather because these–unlikely–followers of the Messiah are making the glory of God known in the nations.

As Paul continues through this epistle, he moves from this cosmic view of God into lessons on how we should live in light of this cosmic knowledge. How do we treat one another, live with our spouses, raise our children, and walk out life as a Messiah follower. Finally, he warns us–and then prepares us–about the spiritual battle in which this cosmic epic is embroiled. “Stand,” he says, “and when you can't stand anymore keep standing.”

But, the message is clear, don't stand alone. Stand with the cosmic forces of God. Stand with the fellow ragamuffins who follow–clumsily–this strong God who invited us into the epic.

The kids in Ancient Ephesus

The kids in Ancient Ephesus

 

Lent 2013: Stop being Self-Confident

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians.

Remember our history, friends, and be warned. All our ancestors were led by the providential Cloud and taken miraculously through the Sea. They went through the waters, in a baptism like ours, as Moses led them from enslaving death to salvation life. They all ate and drank identical food and drink, meals provided daily by God. They drank from the Rock, God's fountain for them that stayed with them wherever they were. And the Rock was Christ. But just experiencing God's wonder and grace didn't seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

The same thing could happen to us. We must be on guard so that we never get caught up in wanting our own way as they did. And we must not turn our religion into a circus as they did—”First the people partied, then they threw a dance.” We must not be sexually promiscuous—they paid for that, remember, with 23,000 deaths in one day! We must never try to get Christ to serve us instead of us serving him; they tried it, and God launched an epidemic of poisonous snakes. We must be careful not to stir up discontent; discontent destroyed them.

These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don't repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.

— 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (MSG)

Paul strikes us with a great truth that we often read past. We like the whole “God won't give me more than I can bear” stuff, but we miss a much more important–foundational truth. A truth that runs contrary to a worldview with which most of us were raised.

“Forget about self-confidence,” Paul says, “It's useless. Cultivate God confidence.”

We are raised–at least in America–with the thought that “we can do it.” Countless volumes have been written to help us get enough self-confidence to make it happen. To win. To succeed. To just do it.

Self-confidence, Paul tells us, is useless. It doesn't work. It doesn't help us succeed.

Prior to this painful declaration, Paul explains a deep truth to the church at Corinth. He walks the church quickly through the Israelite story. In doing this, he makes the case that no amount of self-confidence in the world was going to get these people from Egypt to Canaan. They needed something else. They needed God-Confidence.

He goes even further to say to the church at Corinth–and to us–that we're in the same boat. Trials and tempatations are going to come, and if you are reliant on your own self-confidence, they will be more than you can handle. But, if you have cultivated God-Confidence, then you can handle them.

We have done at least a few generations (my generation and later) of young people a great disservice. We've planted within them an idea that they can make it on their own. All you need is hard work, ingenuity, and self-confidence. But, Paul, smacks that idea in the face.

One day I was in a Barnes and Nobles and stumbled upon a book called “The Complete Idiots Guide to Ventriloquism”. Quickly, I snapped a photo and posted it on FaceBook with the caption, “I guess Ventriloquism for Dummies” was already taken. But, now, it makes me wonder if we haven't taken this “building of self-confidence” to a whole new–and unhealthy–level.

Paul, would argue we have. We don't need self-confidence. Self-confidence won't help us. We need a complete and utter dependency on God. We need to admit that we can do nothing of our own accord. If we are going to succeed–in the Kingdom (the only place success matters)–then we must realize that our success is dependent totally on God.

We MUST develop a confidence in His abilities. We must understand that outside of Him our own self-confidence (the opposite of God-Confidence, and therefore, a part of the kingdom of darkness) is never going to lead us to success.

Relying on our own self-confidence will cause us to truly have more than we can handle. But, relying on God, we can handle anything. Why? Becuase, it's Him and not me.

God-Confidence is that one thing that will cause to remember that “God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.”

 

Lent 2013: Keep Track

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from Paul's epistle to the church at Philippi.

Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I've warned you of them many times; sadly, I'm having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ's Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.

But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven! We're waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He'll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

— Philippians 3:17-21 (MSG)

Paul, writing to the church he helped plant at Philippi, has come to an important point in his life. He has come to the understanding that living as a citizen of “high heaven” isn't an easy thing to do. It is going to require sacrifice.

He offers an admonition to the church. He says to “keep track of those you see running this same course.” In other words, you aren't in this fight alone, nor do you have to be.

We're spending this week in conversations about the majority religion in Central Asia. The person leading our conversations is a believer who was the first in their family to make a decision to follow İsa. As they told their story, they made this comment: “When I came to decide to follow, I thought I was the only person in my country who had made this decision.” (Today in that nation only 2.75% of the population are Jesus Followers. Then it was only a few tenths of a percent.) They continued, “I was so happy to learn that I wasn't the only one.”

Following Jesus is hard. So, Paul admonishes us to find others who are following and join them in the journey.

In other words, community.

Or, family.

Or, Kingdom.

Yesterday morning, we heard a report of a person (in the area we are now in) who made a decision over the weekend to become a follower of İsa. Not a decision made lightly. It took many months of conversations–discipling. Yet, after hours of hearing the Gospel, they committed to follow. They laid down their nets, left the fish, left the boats, and followed.

And, here, Paul would say to them, partner with others who follow. And, Paul, would tell us the same thing.

For us, these partners are you who read this blog, those who pray daily for us, and those who give to send us to come to the nations.

It is the team of people who we have working with us here, and the team we'll join in another location at the end of April.

It is you who email, Skype, Facebook, and tweet us encouragement.

It is the individuals who have guest written for us this week, and who will guest write for us in coming weeks–these individuals who we have asked to Pastor (Shepherd) us.

It is those who when Stephanie and I were children poured into us the stories of God's work in the world.

It is MJP and the board of Get The Word Out! who cover us as we go.

So, to each of you, we say thank you. We couldn't do it without you. We wouldn't do it without you.

And, with Paul, we admonish you. Connect. Be community. Be family. Be the Kingdom. Don't do it alone.

Skyping with folks back home.

Skyping with folks back home.

 

Lent 2013: “Bootie”ful Feet

As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We're honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.

A reading from Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

— Romans 10:8-15 (NLT)

The day before we left Edmond to come to Central Asia, we were told we had a gift waiting for us at our home church–Acts 2. So, happily, I drove over to pick it up. It was four pair of hand crocheted booties. There was a pair for each of us. For so many reasons (cold concrete floors, you don't wear shoes inside house–to name a couple) this was one of the most practical gifts we've been given.

These booties were carefully crocheted for us by a member of our home church. Her name is Jeannie. She is a very active 89 year old lady. She teaches writing classes, Sunday School, crochets booties, and blesses everyone she is in contact with in ways one could only imagine.

The first time–and every time since–that we have put on our booties, we've whispered a prayer for Jeannie.

There's something important to notice in the Scripture reading. The whole thing about beautiful feet doesn't apply to just the one who is preaching the gospel. It applies also to those who make it possible for the “preacher” to go–the “Senders”.

“Senders” are not just those who make it financially possible for us to go to the nations.

“Senders” are those who pray for us.

“Senders” are our parents and family members who release us to go.

“Senders” are the pastors (some of whom will be writing for us in this season) in churches around the US who pastor us as we go.

“Senders” are our amazing board of directors who cover us and give us direction.

“Senders” are those who email us notes of encouragement.

“Senders” are those who Skype/iMessage/Facebook/Tweet us.

And, yes, “senders” are those who make booties that keep our feet warm.

My booties

My booties

 

Advent 2012: Preparing the Path: Beyond the Circumstances

As we did throughout Advent 2011 and Lent 2012, we are blogging our way through the Advent 2012 Lectionary Readings. We love this time of year, and sharing with you in this way. Our overarching theme during this season is “Preparing the Path” and our prayer is that as we march together toward the manger, we will prepare the way for Emfmanuel.

A reading from the Paul’s epistle to the Philippians

I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.  God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.

— Philippians 1:3-11 (NIV)

I want to live a life so confident in God’s goodness, wisdom, and power that even if I were in prison, I would continue to press on in the work of God’s kingdom. That’s the confidence in God that Paul shows in Philippians. I see so many glimpses of Paul’s uncompromising trust in the nature and character of God through these verses.

  1. He believes that prayer moves the heart of God. If he didn’t believe in the power of prayer, he wouldn’t be continually praying.
  2. He trusts in God’s justice. He does not show frustration in his circumstance of being in chains for Christ, nor does he succumb to a spirit of self-pity and despair.
  3. He uses the time as an opportunity to be praying, thanksgiving, writing, discipling believers, encouraging, making plans, remembering the goodness of God, and rejoicing!

Let’s allow this Word of God to transform us today–not allowing our circumstance to be the be all and end all. Rather, let’s not allow our circumstance to influence our behavior at all. Let’s be so wrapped up in who God is, that our actions are those which we would want others to imitate (Philippians 3:17, 4:9)!

Studying the Word at the Church in Ephesus

Studying the Word at the Church in Ephesus