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Photo of the Week – 24 November 2016

Last week we had to make a trip up to Izmir to the US Consulate to renew some of our family’s passports. This journey involved a dolmus (a minibus), a train, and a few kilometers of walking. Thankfully, a dear friend of ours was also in Izmir for the day, and meet us at the train station walked through the process with us and drove us home when it was all said and done.

After our appointment with the Consular Agent, we met back up with our friend at a coffee shop. As we left the coffee shop to head back to his car, we passed a building that looked like a church. There was a wall with a gate around the building, but the gate was open. We noticed a security guard standing there, and asked if we might be able to go in and take a look around. We were told we could.

We learned that we had stumbled upon the Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. This beautiful cathedral is the seat of the Archdiocese of Izmir. It was an amazingly beautiful building and an oasis of peace in the midst of a loud and busy city.

On a day of meeting with ambassadors of a government, entering this chuch reminded me of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. It reminded me of how we are ambassadors of the King of Kings. How the church is called to be outposts of the Kingdom in the midst of foreign territory. How we are to proclaim the Gospel (Good News) of the Kingdom in every place and time.

Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Izmir, Turkey

Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, Izmir, Turkey

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV)

 

Following Jesus: Fear and Forgiveness

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

— John 20:19-23 (CEB)

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

“Jesus is risen,” was the resounding message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or behind huge walls.

Or behind a giant military complex.

Or behind the doors of beautiful sanctuaries.

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

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

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

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

 

#Advent13: The Peace of Jerusalem

As we have done in years past, we are again blogging our way through the Advent Lectionary readings.  We love this season as it allows us to take time to slow ourselves down and walk between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It is time for us to live in full knowledge of the “Now” of the Kingdom without rushing the “Not Yet” of the Kingdom.  Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.  Our prayer is that these posts will serve as devotional meditations to focus your heart and mind on the imminent coming of our King!

Rev. Neal Locke

Rev. Neal Locke

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.

A reading from the Psalms.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.  Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”

For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”

For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,  I will seek your good.

— Psalm 122:6-9 (NRSV)

The Word of God for the people of God.

The etymology of the name Jerusalem is shrouded in the dim mysteries of the ancient past, and will likely never be fully uncovered or agreed upon by scholars. But regardless of its true origins, a Hebrew psalmist in the time of David (such as the author of Psalm 122) would have certainly recognized in the latter half of the name the root שלם (SLM), from which we get the Hebrew word shalom. Incidentally, this is also the root for سلام (salaam) – the Arabic word for peace. Whether the occurrence of these letters in the name is coincidental or not is irrelevant—in the craft of skilled poets, words become more than their origins or parts, so we find in Psalm 122 a prayer for Jerusalem that “peace may be within you.” And indeed it is.

When we think of cities, ancient or modern, the word “peaceful” is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. Cities are full of people and buildings, bustling with commerce and activity. Cities are noisy, busy, restless and chaotic. How could Jerusalem in the time of David have been any different? How could it possibly have been a place of peace? Honestly, I’m not sure it ever was. Few cities have been sacked, besieged, invaded, captured, recaptured, destroyed and rebuilt as many times as the city of Jerusalem. Today it is still claimed by and fought over by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike. In Psalm 122:7, the reference to “walls” and “towers” are an indication that even then, Jerusalem was a city built for war, not for peace.

I believe that Psalm 122 is not an acknowledgment of Jerusalem’s past or present reality, but rather a cry of the heart, a desire for how things might be: “May they prosper who love you. May peace be within your walls; may security be within your towers.” The last two lines of Psalm 122 are also a call to move from prayer to personal action: “For the sake of my relatives and friends, I will say, peace be within you. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

Like Jerusalem, all cities (no matter how busy or chaotic) carry within them the roots of peace, including our own. This peace may not be embedded in the city’s name, but certainly peace is embedded in the hopes and aspirations of those who dwell within it. This peace begins when we pray for our city, pray for the people and buildings and institutions inside it. Equally important, peace begins when we rise from our prayers and begin to work alongside those people and institutions, always seeking the good of the city for the sake of the Lord our God.  

Standing At The Manger

Our waiting is nearly over. Our four week march is nearly at its end. We find ourselves only a few short hours from the manger.

Angel choirs are in final dress rehearsals.

Shepherds are waiting in the wings.

Rooms are filled in Bethlehem.

And a stable–full of animals–awaits a King.

Emmanuel is quite nearly with us.

In just a few hours, we will know once and for all that Messiah has come. Just as prophets and priests have foretold for centuries. The proclamation will ring out from that angel choir to those shepherds–the least of these–that in Bethlehem–that most unlikely of places–a Messiah has come.

And, He is named Emmanuel.

God is with us.

On this night before the dawn, we stand at the edge of a new beginning. As we stand here, we think of the many who have been waiting for this moment. Preparing all their lives for this moment.

And, our minds turn to those who most need Emmanuel in this moment.

We think of spouses and children who for the first time will not have that significant other or beloved parent to stand in this place with them.

We think of parents whose children rest on a precipice of their own–lingering somewhere between heaven and earth. Somewhere between the now and the not yet. Hovering silently in the hand of a Creator who loves as only a Father can.

We think of parents who have in this very season of Advent buried their children. Children killed in wars, or in senseless tragedies. And, we think of children who have buried their parents.

We think of families who for one reason or another must be apart from one another on this evening.

We think of those huddling in corners of homes–as such as they might be–in Gaza, Israel, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir. Not knowing if morning will bring the dawn of a new day.

We think of those in the darkest of dark lands–North Korea–who have never known anything other than longing.

And, yet, somehow–together–we all stand at the edge of a manger and gaze in longingly.

For, it is this night of nights that will change everything.

Messiah will come.

Emmanuel will be reality.

And, as we stand here, we know that on the other end of the story stands a cross. And, further beyond, an empty tomb.

And, there in that quiet manger will lie the Embodiment of that which we’ve thought about as we waited through these four candle-lengths of Advent: Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.

It is only the cross–and the empty tomb beyond it–that changes the despair of separation, sickness, fear, hatred, sadness, and confusion.

Even at Advent–and its culmination that we experience tonight–we know that we are people who hope. We know that we are people at peace. We know that we are people filled with joy. We know that we are people who love.

Because, we are Easter People.

And, this is the tension in which we live. We are people who pause to wait quietly for Emmanuel all the while knowing that not only will Emmanuel come, but that He has indeed already come–and will come again. And in this tension, we struggle to understand–so many un-understandable things–while we lean back on the promise that as Easter people we live not only from Christmas to Easter, but we live all the year round with the knowledge of faith’s great mystery–Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ lives again.

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

Mary and the Christ Child -- AyaSofya, İstanbul

So, we pause–in the midst of our struggles and lack of understanding–to breathe deep in the presence of a Baby that will change everything. We bow silently at the side of a manger–a roughly hewn stone–and here we lay at the feet of this Child all of our hopes, dreams, fears and needs. And, at this manger, we know that all things will be made new.

Because, we are Easter People.

Christ has come.

Emmanuel.

With us now. With us then. With us forevermore.

So, breathe deep, my friends.

Light all five candles.

Listen quietly as the angels begin their proclamation.

Our waiting is over.

 

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Choose Peace

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 Emmanuel.

A reading from Paul’s epistle to the Church at Philippi.

Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

— Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)

Life delivers countless experiences that have every potential to be a breeding ground for anxiety, stress, and worry. We’ve all given it, and don’t we sometimes even justify our anxiety or worry as being the responsible thing to do? Or just as bad, we sometimes believe it is the only action we can take.

Anxiety is not God’s way.

When situations develop that could arouse anxiety, we are to choose not to be anxious. As children of a Father, God, and King whose arm is never too short, He is to be the one we go to first. He desires to be remembered, thanked, inquired of, petitioned.

This world is full of parents who have not been there for their child, who are so deficient of love themselves that they cannot possibly give love, who are so busy and preoccupied that they do not make the time to respond to the needs and desires of their child. Perhaps you have been in such a place as a child and because of wounds and hurts from wordly parents or people in the place of parental authority, you project that image onto Father God.

Please allow me to speak the word of truth into your spirit. I ask you to let this word of God – to let Jesus Himself – into the wounds of your heart and allow Him to begin a healing process in you that He will carry on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, these may forget, yet I will not forget you! Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. — Isaiah 49:15, 16 (WEB)

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close. — Psalms 27:10 (NLT)

But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. — Isaiah 43:1 (NIV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. — Ephesians 1:3-6 (NASB)

But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth. — Psalms 86:15 (HCSB)

This is who our Father is. So we have no need to be anxious. Our Father God loves us and cares for us and will never forget us. And once we begin to rely on our Father’s love and faithfulness, we are guarded by His peace. Imagine a loyal guard – strong and armored – who is dedicated to keep watch over the door of your mind and your heart. Keep that image in your mind as the day unfolds, and remember to [choose to] be anxious about nothing. I bless you with the peace of God.

Caleb Sleeping

Caleb Sleeping

 

Advent 2012: Preparing the Path: God’s Sunrise Breaking Through

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 Emmanuel.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke.

Then Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, “Blessed by the Lord, the God of Israel; he came and set his people free. He set the power of salvation in the center of our lives, and in the very house of David his servant, just as he promised long ago through the preaching of his holy prophets: Deliverance from our enemies and every hateful hand; Mercy to our fathers, as he remembers to do what he said he’d do, what he swore to our father Abraham–a clean rescue from the enemy camp, so we can worship him without a care in the world, made holy before him as long as we live.”

“And you, my child, ‘Prophet of the Highest,’ will go ahead of the Master to prepare his ways, present the offer of salvation to his people, the forgiveness of their sins. Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

— Luke 1:67-79 (The Message)

Leading into Zacariah’s prophecy, we get the story of the birth of John the Baptist. An angel appears to Zacariah and tells him that his wife will have a baby. But, he and his wife, Elizabeth, aren’t exactly young. In fact, we’re told they were “quite old.”

Zachariah was a priest. He knows the history of the Jewish people. He knows one story in particular – Abraham and Sarah.

Angel appears.

Says, “You’re going to be a pop. Congratulations.”

Zachariah laughs.

Outloud.

Just like Sarah did.

Here is a priest. A man who has taught hundreds of Jewish children their history. And he laughs at a story–an epic story central to his people’s history–that he’s heard before.

This story shows hope.

Once again, we see God choosing the unlikely to become the molder of history.

An old man.

An old woman.

A baby.

The foreteller of the Messiah.

God removing people from their personal dramas to make them a part of His story.

The angel tells Zachariah that his lack of belief–belief of a story he’s known all his life–would result in his mouth being shut until the baby is born.  Maybe, when we fail to believe in the promises of God, He would prefer that we just keep our mouth shut.

Contrast Elizabeth’s response. She “relishes” in the fact that she is pregnant. Fortunately for her, Zachariah couldn’t talk. He couldn’t be the wet-blanket that he would have undoubtedly been if he had been able to speak. He couldn’t derail the joy of God as we so often do when we hear a promise of God that will remove us from our own dramas.

Then the baby is born.

“Name him John”, Elizabeth says.

Counter-cultural.

No one in the family is named John.

No significance.

But, Zacariah, speaks.

“Name him John.”

God likes to work counter-culturally.

God often takes us from what’s comfortable when He uses us in His story. He doesn’t remove us from the drama, rather He walks with us through the drama.

Zachariah then prophesies. He says that this boy, John, would foretell the coming of the Messiah.

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Early Morning view across the Mamaras Sea

Then he makes a profound statement: “Through the heartfelt mercies of our God, God’s Sunrise will break in upon us, shining on those in the darkness, those sitting in the shadow of death, then showing us the way, one foot at a time, down the path of peace.”

Because God has chosen to have mercy on us once again, He will break through our darkness with His beautiful sunrise.

The beauty of Emmanuel is that Emmanuel is right now. God is with us in the right now.

Emmanuel doesn’t airlift us out of our situations, rather he parachutes in to walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” with us. In the midst of our darkness, He breaks in with His sunrise.

When Job is in deepest despair, God speaks out of the storm.

When Elijah is hiding in a cave, God breaks in with a still, small voice.

When His people were in slavery, God burns a bush to get Moses’ attention.

When we are struggling with addictions, God’s sunrise brings us comfort and strength.

When we are experiencing death, God’s sunrise brings us hope of new life.

In the middle of our darkness – our personal drama – God’s sunrise, Emmanuel, breaks in and moves us into His story.

 

Advent 2011: 3.5 — In a Great Chasm

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

Week 3: A reading from the Gospel of John.

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth: “I am not the Messiah.”

They pressed him, “Who, then? Elijah?” “I am not.” “The Prophet?” “No.”

Exasperated, they said, “Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something-anything!-about yourself.”

“I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.”

Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: “If you’re neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?”

John answered, “I only baptize using water. A person you don’t recognize has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I’m not even worthy to hold his coat for him.”

These conversations took place in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing at the time.

— John 1:6-8, 19-28 (MSG)

Today’s reading brings us back to our Wild Man in the Wilderness. We encounter John the Baptist again. Yet, instead of Mark’s presentation of him as a Wild Man, we get a more subdued–almost politicianesque–character.

The religious leaders of the time come to John the Baptist with the intent of determining who he is. People from all over are flocking to him. The religious leaders are nervous. Who is this guy? Or probably more likely, “How much of a threat is this guy?”

What I find interesting here is that these religious leaders are the ones who know the prophecies. A few quick questions beginning with, “Were you born in Bethlehem?” (Micah 5:2) should (at least in theory) clear it all up for them. Yet, they they take a more direct approach: “Are you the Messiah?” While these leaders would have known the prophecies, they would also have, no doubt, known what had happened some 28 years prior.

We have a mad man ruling over Isreal. Herod. His power, he thinks, is contracting. He’s hearing rumors from three wise men that a new king has been born in Israel. So, he commits one of the most atrocious acts in history.

“Are you the Messiah?” they ask.

“No,” John says, “but let me tell you a little bit about him.”

John the Baptist bringing the message of that which is to be, but is not yet.

As we close this week of Guadete, we find ourselves in not all that different a place as John the Baptist. We again find that we are in that same great chasm in which people have found themselves for centuries–firmly between the promise and the fulfillment.

We know that Messiah has been promised, yet we await His coming.

We know the tragedy has occurred, yet we await the rescue.

We know that hell has broken loose, yet we await heaven’s entrance.

We know that a new King has been born, yet await the Kingdom.

And, in this great chasm, we rejoice.

We rejoice in the hope for that which is to come. We rejoice in the peace that will be.

But, for now, we wait.

Three Lit Candles

Two candles remain to be lit. On Sunday, we will light the candle of love. And, with its lighting, we will begin the mad rush to that most blessed of days. This time next week, we will quite nearly be to Bethlehem. We will be trying to find a place for two weary travelers to rest.

It would seem that the more we add to our calendars, to do lists and lives we become more like the innkeepers and less like the travelers.

And so, I would caution us against the mad rush. Let us stop and with all of creation take that deep breath. Let us take a breath of hope. Let us take a breath of peace. Let us take a breath of joy. Let us take a breath of love.

Then, as we light our final candle, and we begin the celebration of the birth of a Servant-King, let us again rejoice because our hope has been fulfilled. Let us rejoice because our peace has come. Let us rejoice because love has found hands and feet.

Advent 2011: 3.1 — Dancing in the Ashes

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 3: A reading from the Prophet Isaiah

The Spirit of the Lord and King is on me. The Lord has anointed me to tell the good news to poor people. He has sent me to comfort those whose hearts have been broken. He has sent me to announce freedom for those who have been captured. He wants me to set prisoners free from their dark prisons. He has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free. He wants me to announce the day when he will pay his enemies back. Our God has sent me to comfort all those who are sad.

He wants me to help those in Zion who are filled with sorrow. I will put beautiful crowns on their heads in place of ashes. I will anoint them with oil to give them gladness instead of sorrow. I will give them a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness. They will be like the oak trees that are strong and straight. The Lord himself will plant them in the land. That will show how glorious he is. They will rebuild the places that were destroyed long ago. They will repair the buildings that have been broken down for many years. They will make the destroyed cities like new again. They have been broken down for a very long time.

The Lord says, “I love those who do what is right. I hate it when people steal and do other sinful things. So I will be faithful to those who do what is right. And I will bless them. I will make a covenant with them that will last forever.

Their children after them will be famous among the nations. Their families will be praised by people everywhere. All those who see them will agree that I have blessed them.” The people of Jerusalem will say, “We take great delight in the Lord. We are joyful because we belong to our God. He has dressed us with salvation as if it were our clothes. He has put robes of godliness on us. We are like a groom who is dressed up for his wedding. We are like a bride who decorates herself with her jewels. The soil makes the young plant come up. A garden causes seeds to grow. In the same way, the Lord and King will make godliness grow. And all of the nations will praise him.”

— Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (NIRV)

We’ve made it to week three of Advent. The week of Gaudete. The “pink” week. The week of rejoicing.

We’ve established hope. We’ve experienced peace. And, now, we rejoice.

Joy while living between the yesterday and the tomorrow. Joy in the midst of sorrow. Joy that brings healing.

Joy.

As has been the case each week throughout Advent, we begin the week with the Prophet Isaiah. I’ve often imagined Isaiah as this cantankerous old fella who had a long grey beard and said things in a really gruff sounding pirate voice. Now, I have no idea if my imagination is close to reality or not, but, I urge you, re-read the passage with that in mind.

Now, that you’re back.

In this passage, Isaiah (as he does in many other passages) brings hope to a group of downcast people. He reminds the people of God about who their God is.

He draws a beautiful picture. He turns ashes into crowns. Ashes of mourning turned into crowns of rejoicing. Ashes of death turned into crowns of life.

Life.

I think about Job. As he sits and hears servant after servant telling him the tragedy that is unfolding in his life, he responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and reflecting upon who God is.

I think of Mordecai. As he learns that Haman has suckered King Xerxes into what will amount to genocide, Mordecai responds by putting on sackcloth, covering his head in ashes, and praying for deliverance.

I think of Jacob. As he hears the lie that Joseph is dead, he puts on sackcloth, covers his head in ashes, and cries.

Ashes.

Dad's Coffee Mug -- Used 35 years and washed only a handful of times.

I think of the day we held my Dad’s memorial. An urn filled with ashes and surrounded by flowers and flanked by a coffee mug and a plaque commemorating the Marine Corps naming him an Honorary Gunnery Sergeant. A crowd of people–all of them, in their own way, family.

Some reflecting upon who in that moment and that context is God.

Some praying for deliverance from the emptiness they felt.

All in deep sadness.

Yet, Isaiah offers hope. Isaiah offers peace. Isaiah offers joy.

Joy in that which is not yet, but is soon to be.

Messiah is coming.

He’s quite nearly here.

And when He comes, He will bring a spirit of praise that will replace the spirit of sadness.

When He comes, He will set His people free from their darkness and downcast spirit, and set them about rebuilding the City of Peace.

He will set them about dancing in the ashes.

He will set them about joy.

As we light the Gaudete candle, let us remember that His Light breaks into our darkness. It breaks into our sadness. It breaks into our sorrow.

And, like the mythical Phoenix, we are risen up out of the ashes to dance again.

Advent 2011: 2.4 — And so it Begins

Throughout this Advent season, my goal is to take each of the four Lectionary readings for each week and write a meditation about each one. Largely my motivation for this is simply that I love the season of Advent, yet there’s also a little bit of hoping that by blogging through this season, I can use it as a means to grieve the recent passing of my Dad.

WEEK 2: A reading from the Gospel of Mark

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

— Mark 1:1-8 (ESV)

Rio Papigochi, Huapoca, Chihuahua, Mexico

And so it begins.

The beginning of the gospel — the Good News of the Messiah.

Mark’s rendition of the story seems to have the most abrupt of beginnings.  No angels, no Mary and Joseph, no manger, no shepherds, no wise men, no Bethlehem.  Rather, we begin in the wilderness with a wild man.

The beginning of the Good News.

Not a new beginning of the God story.  Rather a turning point on the continuum.  Prior to this beginning, we find Priests making atonement for the sins of the people by slaughtering lambs–as symbolic for what is to come as they are real.  Yet, John, the son of a Priest, comes in from the wild declaring that salvation is coming.

A wild man declaring that Peace has come.

A wild man introducing world to the embodiment of Peace.

A wild man heralding the coming of the King and His Kingdom.

There have been two themes as we’ve traveled along our Advent journey this week.  Peace and Preparation.

Preparing the way for the King who brings Peace beyond all understanding.  The King who prepares our lives for the glory that is to come.  The King who, in His absence, leaves us with the ultimate in Peace–His very presence, the Holy Spirit.

And so it begins.

A wild man declaring to the world that the King who is to come will bring Peace in the person of the Holy Spirit.

As the Messiah prepares the way for His coming crucifixion He reaffirms John’s statement.  He tells His disciples: “I will not leave you orphans.” (John 14:18, WEB)  He promises that He will send a Comforter (the word orphan literally means comfortless).  He promises that He will send Peace.

And so it begins.

The ministry of a humble Carpenter, destined to be King.

And so it begins.

The comfort that is only found in the Peace of the Holy Spirit.