Posts

#Advent14 — God, Do It Again!

A reading from the Psalms.

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

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

Psalm 126 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

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

Not quite here.

Not quite there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lent 2013: “God, Do It Again!”

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 the Psalms.

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

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

— Psalm 126:1-6 (MSG)

God was good to us.

God is good to us.

God will be good to us.

As I write this, it is late evening. The last call to prayer of the day should ring out from the nearby Mosque by the time I'm finishing writing and editing this post. I sit in our team hotel surrounded by my family. Our fantastic teammates are in their rooms scattered throughout the hotel.

We are so honored to be here with these folks. They hail from three countries: the US, Canada, and Australia. They are diverse. They range in ages from fourteen months to seventy. Married couples, families, and singles.

As we worship each morning, I often will look around the room and just be amazed at what God has brought together in this team.

And, in those times of worship and prayer, we pray as the Psalmist did:

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

We walk through the streets of this city and see the faces of countless people. People who have quite possibly never heard the name, İsa (Jesus). People who only know God as He is presented in the Qur'an–distant and moody.

Yet, this is the same port from which Paul and Barnabas set sail for Antioch in Acts 14:25. Once upon a time, this was a land that understood who İsa was. It was a land where God was relational.

And, so, we pray: “God, do it again.”

And around this hotel people who answered the call to head into the harvest prepare for bed on a Tuesday evening.

Yet, we are but a few here temporarily. Many others across this nation go to bed tonight in homes they rent or own. In major cities and small villages. They sleep.

Wondering.

Praying.

Hoping.

That tomorrow the people of this rich and beautiful land “will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.”

They pray for breakthrough to come.

So, tonight (today for you reading this) we pray for their strength. We pray for their encouragement. We pray that they will not grow weary in well doing.

And, we pray–as İsa asked us–that “The Lord of the harvest would send forth laborers into His harvest.”

Praying for one of the laborers in the harvest.

Praying for one of the laborers in the harvest.

 

Advent 2012: Preparing The Path: Father’s Song

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 Prophet Zephaniah

Sing, daughter of Zion!  Shout, Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem.  Yahweh has taken away your judgments.  He has thrown out your enemy.  The King of Israel, Yahweh, is in the midst of you.  You will not be afraid anymore.  In that day,, it will be said to Jerusalem, “Don’t be afraid, Zion.  Don’t let your hands be weak.”  Yahweh, your God is in the midst of you, a mighty one who will save.  He will rejoice over you with joy.  He will calm you in his love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.  I will remove those who grieve about the appointed feasts from you.  They are a burden and a reproach to you.  Behold, at that time I will deal with all those who afflict you, and I will save those who are lame, and gather those who were driven away.  I will give them praise and honor, whose shame ha been in all the earth.  At that time I will bring you in, and at that time I will gather you; for I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says Yahweh.

— Zephaniah 3:14-20 (WEB)

As I was reading this passage that reveals our gracious and compassionate Father God, several other passages that say the same thing came to my mind:

Ezekiel 37:21-28 (WEB)

Say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, where they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all; neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, now with any of their transgressions; but I will save them out of all their dwelling places, in which they have sinned, an will cleanse them:  so shall they be my people, and I will be their God.  My servant David shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my ordinances, and observe my statues, and do them.  They shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob my servant, in which your fathers lived; and they shall dwell therein, they, and their children, and their children’s children, forever: and David my servant shall be their prince for ever.  Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.  My tent also shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  The nations shall know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in their midst forevermore.

Psalm 126 (WEB)

When Yahweh brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.

They they said among the nations, “Yahweh has done great things for them.”

Yahweh has done great things for us, and we are glad.

Restore our fortunes again, Yahweh, like the streams in the Negev.

Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.

He who goes out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, will certainly come again with joy, carrying his sheaves.

Isaiah 35 (WEB)

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad.  The desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose.

It will blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing.  Lebanon’s glory Lebanon will be given to it, the excellence of Carmel and Sharon.  They will see Yahweh’s glory, the excellence of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

Tell those who have a fearful heart, “Be strong.  Don’t be afraid.  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution.  He will come and save you.

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.

Then the lame man will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing; for waters will break out in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.  Grass with reeds and rushes will be in the habitation of jackals, where they lay.

A highway will be there, a road, and it will be called The Holy Way.

The unclean shall not pass over it, but it will be for those who walk in the Way.  Wicked fools will not go there.

No lion will be there, nor will any ravenous animal go up on it.  They will not be found there; but the redeemed will walk there.

The Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return, and come with singing to Zion; and everlasting joy will be on their heads.

They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

Luke 15:20-24 (WEB)

“He arose, and came to his father.  But while he was still far off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.  The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, and put it on him.  Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat, and celebrate; for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again.  He was lost, and is found.’  They began to celebrate.”

Revelation 21:3-7 (WEB)

I heard a loud voice out of heaven saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling place is with people, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away from them every tear form their eyes.  Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more.  The first things have passed away.”

He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things news.”  He said, “Write, for these words of God are faithful and true.”  He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give freely to him who is thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  He who overcomes, I will give him these things.  I will be his God, and he will be my son.”

This theme of our Father God–who desires us, though we have sinned and fallen short; who redeems us, though we neither deserve it nor can repay Him for the sacrifice freely given; who adopts us, though we were orphans–weaves itself throughout the scriptures and gives testimony to who He is. He loves us with an unconditional love, and the longing in His heart is that we will turn our faces toward Him that He might receive us into His arms, His kingdom, His family, His abundant life. It is only because of His grace that we are saved, for we could never work hard enough or be worthy to receive His salvation – His adoption. But He is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth (Psalm 86:15).

Father God is rejoicing over us with singing, and in His joy, we are able to sing with Him, shout, be glad, and rejoice with all our heart for He loves us, and we are His children!

View from Golden Ponds, Longmont, Colorado

View from Golden Ponds, Longmont, Colorado

Advent 2011: 3.2 — Joy in Returning Home

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.

Today, Stephanie submits an entry.

WEEK 3: A reading (recited by Emily) from the Psalms (chapter 126, NIV2011)

Israel has returned home. Again. Not by their own effort or will, but by God’s grace and purpose. Israel had turned away and been taken captive by the desires of their flesh. From that place of sin, they wept out of their desire for closeness with their God. They showed their sorrow for transgressing — for breaking the relationship — against YHWH.

We too, turn from God to pursue the desires of our flesh, thus breaking our relationship with Father God. As we turn and chase after the sin that He warns us about–the sin that will hurt us– we drift further from the voice of God who is constant and faithful. God’s voice of love and of discipline grow more and more faint as we continue down the path of sin. Notice that God doesn’t change. He doesn’t stop speaking. We are the ones who have left His presence and thus are no longer in the range of His voice. After all, if we’re living in disobedience, isn’t it more comfortable that we can’t hear the Father’s rebuke?

But then, our sin catches up with us, and as we look upon ourselves, we see the chains that we have allowed to entangle us. We find ourselves captured. Upon coming to our senses, we long for the voice and comfort and closeness of Father God again. We weep with sorrow for breaking our relationship with a faithful and loving Father. We lose our pride, and we humble our hearts with repentance — a turning to God. We invite Him, again, to be Lord of our whole self again. To come into our messy lives with the filth that has built up and stained our hearts. And we ask for His blood that washes away all our sins and makes us clean…that makes us righteous again–on right terms face to face with God and right living side by side with God.

And because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy brings us back to Zion. To His holy mountain. To His presence. And our mouths our filled with laughter!

FREEDOM!!!!

No more chains of captivity bringing us down! No more distance from the Father! No more silence!

Not because of what we have done, but because of who our Father is!

Our tongues are filled with songs of joy!!

People start talking about the great things God has done for us, and you know what? It’s true!! He has done great things for us! Receiving us back, loving us, forgiving us, redeeming us! Yes! those are great things, and yes! He has done it for us! Praise Him!

Our fortune of sonship has been restored! The tears of yesterday have been turned into songs of joy! The sacrifice and humility it took to turn back to God — to repent — has been rewarded with the honor of being brought back into His presence! This is true life! This is something to sing and laugh and praise God for!

Shout, laugh, and sing for JOY!!!