Feb 15, 2010

Welcome In The Name Of Jesus

Thank you for stopping by. I hope that you find some spiritual nourishment from reading this blog. I share the manna I receive from God. Feel free to poke around and read older posts. I post my own thoughts, thoughts from others throughout the ages that have nourished me, and Scripture too.

I am going to begin a Lenten fast from blogging (a few days early). I have given of myself on the blog and in other ways and now I need a time of refreshment, a time to commune with God for a little over forty days that I might be transformed (see yesterday's post).

I plan to meditate on some things during Lent, like Jesus' temptations in the wilderness and Moses' time in the wilderness. If you have a moment would you pray that God would fill me with himself? I'll do the same for you although I might not know who you are.

I am thankful for the worldwide body of Christ, and for those who might not be in Christ, yet visit this site.
I pray you may find Christ, he is Faithful and True, the reason for and the satisfaction of our existence.

Until the Monday after Easter!

In Christ,

Feb 14, 2010

The Transforming Nature of Communion With God

Saints are not born, they are made. In Exodus 34, Moses came down from the mountain and his face shown with the glory of God. He had been on Mt. Sinai fellowshipping with and listening to God for 40 days and 40 nights. Initially, Moses didn’t know that his face was glowing. It wasn’t until others told him that he realized it.
Isn’t it true that sometimes we can see the life of a person on his or her face? If a person is worried or upset, happy or sad, it shows on their face and in their mannerisms. Moses spent a lot of time with God in prayer, in speaking with him, in worshiping him. And whenever he spent 40 days and nights with God—a long time with God—it showed on his face. But, it also showed in his life. In Numbers 12:3, it says that Moses was the most humble man on the earth. Full of humility. The dictionary says that being humble means that we have a modest opinion or estimate of our own importance or rank. The opposite of humility is pride. Even though Moses was the leader of a nation, he was humble. Yet, Moses wasn’t always that way, before he spent 80 years of his life in the desert wilderness, he killed an Egyptian when he saw the Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave. When he knew that word of his murderous act got out, he fled into the desert, knowing that if he were to stick around in Egypt that Pharaoh would have him killed.

God used Moses 40 years in the desert to humble him and to show Moses who he was. Then he sent Moses back to Egypt to deliver the Hebrews. Guess where God sent Moses and the Hebrews? Back to the desert—and he kept them their forty years after the Israelites sinned against him. My point is that Moses didn’t start out humble, didn’t start out a saint. He became a saint after spending a lot of time with God in the wilderness (80 years total) and through much suffering.

If we commune with God, if we spend time with God, people around us are going to know it. Spending time with God, seeing God, puts right our inside worlds, our minds and hearts (Eugene Peterson paraphrase of Matthew 5:8 in the Message). When our inside worlds, our minds and hearts are put right, the glory of God, the light of Christ, bursts forth from our pores. Beauty and goodness and the gifts of the spirit shine forth, patience and kindness too, not rudeness and irritability and a sour disposition, not envy and anger and worry.

Oh, I am not saying that we won’t sin or that we won’t be angry and envious or worried at times—we are still quite imperfect even on our best days. But what I am saying is that such ungodly things will not characterize us.

Just to be clear. We need to spend time with God and love him. It’s possible for two people to spend time in the same house and not really connect, not love each other. In fact, it is possible to be in the same house and abuse each other. Similarly, it is possible to spend time around God and betray him, like Judas did. We can be in church every week and hear God speak through the word, through music, through communion, in prayer, and in fellowship and still not really connect to God. We can spend years around God and not connect with him. I have a suspicion that hell will be full of people who hung around God, sat in churches and Sunday school classes year after year, full of people who knew their Bibles inside and out and didn’t connect with him, didn’t obey him, even preachers. If we are really communing with God, connecting with him, we will obey him. We’ll take to heart what he says and do it. In John 14:23-24 Jesus says, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” If we love him, commune with him, demonstrate that love through obedience, as I said, people can’t help but notice. Like Moses, our lives and faces will shine, and we won’t even know it. Communion with God transforms us.

It is sad to say and quite evident that many of us in the church don’t commune with God. Even unbelievers shake their heads and wonder. Even unbelievers know that spending time with Jesus is supposed to make us different. When we are no different than they are, when they don’t see the glory of God radiating from us, they conclude that this whole God thing, this Jesus thing, is a sham. Let us be careful then, let us commune with God and be transformed.

One more thing.

Communion with God and loving obedience to God not only transform us, but allow us to see his glory in this life. In Luke 9, we see Peter, James, and John, climbing a mountain with Jesus to pray. As Jesus was praying, the glory of God, transformed him so that he dazzled. Moses and Elijah appeared with him in conversation. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible puts verse 32, “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.”

Loving and obeying God, communing with him, will allow us to see his glory and wonder in this life. We will see his fingerprints and work everywhere even in the mundane ordinary days of our lives. Communing with God opens our eyes and keeps us awake so that we can see.

And as we commune with him, as we are awake and see his glory, that communion and glory will transform us into saints.

Feb 13, 2010

You Are Blessed When . . .

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought. You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat. You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for. You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family. You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

a paraphrase of Matthew 5: 3-12 (Eugene Peterson's paraphrase the Message Bible)

Feb 12, 2010

The Trouble With Epiphanies - Ben L'Heureux

About hospitality Dennis Okholm says, "what I find most irritating about practicing Benedictine hospitality when it comes to receiving the guest is the timing of the guest's appearance. In the spirit of Benedictine hospitalilty I used to make a simple request each morning: 'Lord, send someone today whom I can serve.' But inevitably this someone would show up five minutes before I had to deliver a lecture . . . or before I was dashing off to lunch with a growling stomach. It got to the point that I could not pray this prayer with sincerity--unless I was in greater control of my encounters with guests. And that is precisely the point: the stranger at our 'gate' is as unpredictable in his appearance as Christ. To top it off, this stranger is often the kid who irritates me most, yet the one whom I must envision as Christ. That often takes not only patience but a lot of envisioning."

Okholm goes on to share this poem (I posted it once before within a text of a homily. But it is so good, I wanted to share it once more).

Christ came into my room
and stood there
and I was bored to death.
I had work to do.
I wouldn't have minded
if he'd been crippled
or something--I do well
with cripples--but he
just stood there, all face,
with that d--ned guitar.
I didn't ask him to sit down:
he'd have stayed all day.
(Let's be honest. You
can be crucified just so often;
then you've had it. I mean
you're useless; no good
to God, let alone
to anybody else.) So I said
to him after a while''
well, what's up? What do you want?
And he laughed, stupid,
said he was just passing by
and thought he'd say hello.
Great, I said, hello.
So he left.
And I was do d--ned mad
I couldn't even listen
to the radio. I went
and got some coffee.
The trouble with Christ is
he always comes at the wrong time.

Feb 11, 2010

Grateful Indebtedness

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20

Last night I finished watching the movie Ben-Hur for the first time. Watching it, I was reminded of the goodness and beauty of God. God is continually moving me and others from death to life. As eternal life bubbles forth within me, as God is in the process of redeeming me and all of his children, and all of creation, his goodness manifests itself even in a fallen world. At the end of the movie, I found myself ovewhelmed with thanksgiving and praise and remembering yet again my debt to God--a debt that I cannot pay. His sacrifice on my part, on our part, should engender eternal gratitude, if we could but glimpse even a few of the implications of the cross and resurrection--if we could but glimpse even a few of the implications of his life within us. Last night I did again.

When we meditate on all he has done and continues to do for us, on the gifts he has given us (even creation), we are compelled to lay our lives down for him just as he did for us. We are compelled to adore him. Any kind of anemic Christianity that is manifest in our lives or in the world is due to our blindness. It is because we do not see. For truly, if we gaze upon him--meditate on him and his goodness and his wonderful works--on his name, we will truly see and understand that his attributes and love defy the imagination. We can only comprehend little but the little we comprehend overwhelms us.

I am thankful to you O Christ becasue you loved me and gave yourself for me. May I be a joyful bondservant. I ask you that I might serve others, but how can I serve others if I do not serve you first? It is you who call the shots, not me. May I learn to obey you and in so doing serve others.

Dear reader, may we meditate on God's love and beauty and grace. It will create in us a sense of grateful indebtedness that compels us to humbly serve him with every ounce of our being.

Feb 10, 2010

Who Do You Say I Am? Making A Trade

Here is part of a sermon my husband, Shawn Graves, gave last year (he is not a pastor, but has those gifts).

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Not a mere prophet, mind you. Not even a mere great prophet. Rather, the Christ, the Messiah, the very Son of the Living God.)

It was Peter who said it.

Peter confessed, and he was blessed. Profoundly.

Jesus wholeheartedly affirmed Peter’s daringly bold and flat-out counter-cultural confession, citing its divine origins. And then Jesus said something like this to him: “Peter, upon you I will build my church.” Or, in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke: “Kefa, upon kefa I will build my church.” Sure, it’s still Jesus’ church, still Jesus’ kingdom people, and sure, it’s still Jesus who is doing the building, gathering all of the people into the kingdom. But still—still!—it would be through Peter’s leadership and Peter’s authority that this would all be done! He would be Jesus’ Right Hand Man (Right?), and, consequently, at least have a share in Jesus the King’s Glory (Right?). Jesus himself had just said so (didn’t he?).

That was all a few weeks ago.

And then things got weird. Bizarre, really. Unacceptably bizarre.

Jesus started talking about suffering. And death.

But not just any kind of suffering! Not just any kind of death! Not, for example, the suffering that comes with a natural disease and not the death associated with that disease.

No. Jesus’ suffering and dying from natural causes would be bad enough. But this was worse: Jesus started talking incessantly about being tortured and even murdered! By the current authorities, the religious establishment, no less!

In short: Jesus started talking a lot about losing. And losing badly.

This kind of talk had to stop now. And it was Peter—the just-days-ago-promised-Right-Hand-Man-share-in-the-Beautiful-Glory-of-the-Conquering-King-Jesus—Peter who would see to it that it stopped.

So Jesus had to be confronted. Or maybe counseled? It wasn’t clear—maybe Jesus had just lost his nerve, his edge, his faith in his Father. Or maybe Jesus simply forgot how winsome he could be (when he wanted to be), how easily he had accumulated thousands of followers (and fed them!), folks who would chase him all over the region.

Whatever the case may be, Jesus had to stop talking this way. Someone had to stand in the way of Jesus’ newfound drive toward suffering, death, and defeat. And Peter—Kefa, the Rock—would be the one to do it.

“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Peter the Rock probably took this to be his first act as Jesus the King’s new Right Hand Man: a bold reprimand/talking to in order to get the ship back on course.)

Just weeks ago, things were great, remarkable, glorious even!

Then things got weird, bizarre, unacceptably bizarre. A reprimand/confrontation seemed in order.

And now—post-reprimand/confrontation—things get positively turned upside down for Peter.

Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

Jesus had a message for Peter:

Peter, who just weeks ago had divinely-inspired confessions about Jesus coming from his lips, now speaks the very words of Satan.

Peter, who just weeks ago put out of his mind mans’ conceptions of Jesus as mere prophet ready for the Prophet Hall of Fame, now has in mind the things of men.

Peter, who just weeks ago was proclaimed to be the very rock upon which Jesus would build his church, now is proclaimed to be the rock that Jesus trips over while on his mission. (Just weeks ago Jesus had said “Kefa, upon this kefa I will build my church.” Now Jesus says “Kefa, you are the kefa I trip over.”)

But Jesus didn’t just have a message for Peter. He had a message for all of his followers, too. In fact, he had a message for anyone even thinking about being his follower. And my guess is that all of us fall somewhere into those categories. So Jesus has a message for us. For me. And for you.

That message is about that tragic, soul-killing, all-too-ordinary trade we heard about earlier:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

What indeed? What can a man, woman, teenager, or child give in exchange for his or her soul? As it turns out, just about anything. Peter here may have been looking to trade his soul away for the shot at being the Right-Hand-Man-of-the-Government-Squashing-King-Jesus. Soul for Glory, Sweet Glory. We, on the other hand, trade away our souls so that the “right” people like us, so that we make it in with the “right” crowd, whether it’s classmates or the boss or the woman down the street. We trade away our souls to feed that bitterness and anger we have toward that parent, that ex-friend, that neighbor, that colleague. We trade away our souls to stoke the fire of pride and arrogance, to adopt that stance of superiority over that smelly, lonely kid who sits by himself at lunch, that socially awkward, not-too-bright classmate, that family member or neighbor with “all those problems”. We trade away our souls for just about anything: and that’s the tragic, soul-killing, all-too-ordinary trade that just never seems to make the headlines.

So what are we to do? Stop making any trades at all? Keep our souls to ourselves, so to speak? No, that’s not the way. In fact, that’s not even possible. Trades are inevitable, forced. We all must trade away our souls for something.

No, what we must do is make the right trade. We must give away our soul for the right thing. And what is that right thing? What are we to trade away our souls for?

Quite simply: An electric chair and a spot behind Jesus.

Recall what Jesus said:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

I know, Jesus didn’t say anything about an electric chair here, but he might as well have. That’s basically what the cross is: one way—a brutal, sickening way—of carrying out the death penalty. And so is the electric chair. (Instead of a cross on the wall behind me, imagine instead an electric chair.) Jesus is telling would-be-followers to strap on their electric chairs, because if you’re going to follow Him, you need to die. You need to get out of the way. You and your plans, goals, visions, wants, rights, life-saving techniques, strategies—all of it needs to go. Scratch that—all of it needs to die.

But there’s a problem. All of those things have a not-so-funny way of coming back to life. And quickly. “I thought I got rid of that bitterness and anger. Why do I feel it again?” “What am I doing feeling smug and arrogant, like I’m better than that kid?” Sure, they can all be killed. But they can all come back to life again. One death is not enough. This is why we read in Luke 9: 23:

Then Jesus said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Daily. We need to climb into our electric chairs daily. Getting into our electric chairs needs to be an ordinary thing for us. It needs to be routine. We are to be dead men walking.

So get your electric chair. And get behind Jesus. Not in front of him, face to face with him, confronting him, reprimanding him, as Peter did. That’s not the posture of a follower. Get behind him.

So that’s the trade we are all to make. That’s the trade Jesus would have for us: souls for electric chairs and a spot behind Jesus.

But there’s another problem here: Far from sounding like the right trade for us to make—souls for electric chairs and a spot behind Jesus—this sounds like just another tragic trade, not much different from those soul-killing, all-too-ordinary-trades Jesus warned us about. They all end in death!


But that’s just it! While trading our souls away for bitterness, anger, arrogance, superiority, status, popularity, and the rest does end in death, trading our souls away for electric chairs and a spot behind Jesus doesn’t.

Recall what Jesus said to you:

Whoever loses his life for me will find it.

Finding your life. Did you hear that? Finding your life. That’s what trading your soul for an electric chair and a spot behind Jesus results in: life. No wonder Jesus said, speaking of his followers:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

No wonder Jesus could say to Martha while they both grieved the death of their loved one, Lazarus, who was a Jesus follower:

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (John 11:25-26)

That question was for Martha—but it’s still for us today. Do you believe this? Enough of those tragic, soul-killing trades we so easily make each day. May we all make that truly life-giving trade. May we all trade away our souls today for an electric chair and a spot behind Jesus.

Feb 9, 2010

World Christianity

10-12 inches of snow have blanketed the landscape around me. I peer out of my home office window and see that it is steadily falling. The little branches of the bush outside of my window are icicles with snow on top. Students are ecstatic because class has been canceled. I live on and work on a university campus. That's why I know about the students. In fact, I can hear them outside in the lounge and they're playing ping-pong and pool--gabbing about how much homework they have to do and how glad they are that classes are canceled so they can do it. As I returned home, I saw two guys off to the hills with their plastic blue sleds. They're taking full advantage of the snow and canceled classes. Now, my 2 1/2 year-old daughter is napping. So, I can post.

(I started this post earlier today and then had to stop. It is now nearly midnight).

This morning I heard a speaker discuss what we've known to be happening. Christianity has turned global and has turned away from its Western center. The new centers of Christian influence are now Africa, Latin America, and Asia. While orthodox doctrines remain the same, western theology will not dominate. It is a global Christianity of which North America is a part. Unfortunately, North Americans have been slow to embrace this reality and slow to appreciate the contributions made by non-western theologians.

I have studied this to some extent and I have a few thoughts on it. Those of us in the west cannot be arrogant or conceited enough to think that our way of doing things is the best. No. We have to converse with our brothers and sisters throughout the world about following Christ. This doesn't mean that we can't discern and can't disagree. But it does mean that our voice is not the sole nor loudest nor domineering voice in the conversation of what it means to follow Christ (Here again, I don't mean the basic tenets of the faith). But we have enjoyed such a status for so long that we think our way is the only way and the best way. And I imagine so do others from other countries and nations.

But the point is, we cannot marginalize our non-western brothers and sisters by ignoring them. We have to think of world Christianity, global Christianity--listen to and ponder the words and ideas and theology of non-Western brothers and sisters, just like they've done with us. We are not superior to them, neither are they to us.

I think of one of my favorite verses in Scripture: "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each of us" (Acts 17:26-27).

I was born in the latter half of the twentieth century and now live in the first half of the twenty-first. It is no historical accident that I was born at this time. I was born in the U.S. God determined that I was to be born in this time and place to be a disiciple, to bring honor to his name. And it is the same with you, wherever you are, whoever you are around. God has put us around certain people at this point in history in the country we live in so that we might seek him. Are you pointing others to him with your life and words no matter where you are? Whether it be in an isolated place, in the country, in the city or even in academia?

Paul was speaking on Mars Hill in Athens when he said this. He was in the midst of the people--proclaiming through words the gospel, the truth of the God who created us and who saves us. He was telling them how they could move from life to death.

Which reminds me of one last thought before I try and sleep. We are ever moving towards life or death wherever we are. Do our thoughts, our decisions, our behavior indicate that we are moving towards life? If so, those around us will see the life of Christ in us. We radiate God's life, God's light (Like Moses did  after spending time with God in the wilderness mountain top . . . God is light, in him there is no darkness at all) without even trying. But if our thoughts are darkness and we do not deal with them, that will become evident to those around us because it will be what is in our souls.

My prayer is that I would never bring shame to God's name. And I sit in wide-eyed wonder, awed, that he has appointed me to live in this time and place that I might find him and passionately and lovingly direct others to him.

Maybe you will get a sense of that mystery and beauty too and remember that he has placed all of us throughout the earth in different times to know him and make him known.

Feb 8, 2010

C.S. Lewis On Leaving It To God

Lewis says, "Now we in a sense, cannot discover our failure to keep God's law except by trying our very hardest (and then failing). Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time we shall succeed in being completely good. Thus, in one sense, the road back to God is a road of moral effort, or trying harder and harder. But in another sense it is not trying that is ever going to bring us home. All this trying leads to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, 'You must do this, I can't.'"

Lewis goes on to say, "It is the change from being confident in our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God. I know the words 'leave it to God' can be misunderstood but they must stay for the moment. The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is that he puts all his trust in Christ: trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which he carried out from his birth to crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiences."

Lewis continues, " . . . handing everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust him means, of course, trying to do all He says. There would be no sense in saying that you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has  begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you . . . . A serious moral effort is the only thing that will bring you to the point where you throw in the sponge. Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair at that point: and out of that Faith in Him good actions must inevitably come."

In the Chapter Christian Behavior from Mere Christianity pp. 128-129.

Good things to ponder from Lewis. We need more people like him in this age!

Feb 7, 2010

The Structure of Faith - Isaiah's Vision

This is the good Reverend Robert Arbogast's (pastor of Olentangy Christian Reformed Church) sermon from January 24, 2010. I sat captivated as I listened. I realize that listening and reading are two different things. But may you be blessed as you read this word from one of God's  wise and humble servants. I post it with permission. To read more of his sermons go to: http://www.ohiocrc.org/sermons

Isaiah 11:1-9

Pity the people of Israel. Once again, there was trouble. Assyria threatened, and destruction loomed. But the LORD’s prophet delivered these hope-filled words.

A branch will sprout from Jesse’s stump, a shoot from his roots will bear fruit. The spirit of the LORDwill rest on him — a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of purpose and strength, a spirit of knowledge and reverence for the LORD. And he will savor reverence for the LORD. He will not govern by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear. He will govern the needy with justice and make fair decisions for earth’s poor. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and kill the wicked with the breath of his lips. Justice and faithfulness will wrap him with strength. The wolf will live with the young ram, the leopard will lie down with the young goat. And a little child will lead the bull-calf and the young lion and the fatling together. The cow and the bear will share pasture, their young will lie down together. And the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play near the cobra’s hole, the weaned child will reach its hand into the snake’s den. They will do no harm or injury anywhere on my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Faith begins by acknowledging the mess we’re in. A whole collection of words can be gathered together, each of them partially describing that mess. Words like brokenness, alienation, and misery; evil, corruption, and enmity; ruin, despair, and depravity. Perhaps the best word, though, for the mess we’re in is exile. We’re away from home, far away. Not by choice, but by unavoidable necessity. Now, we’ve done our best to settle in where we are. We’ve managed to get comfortable with life and all its ups and downs. If not comfortable, then at least accustomed to it all. But there’s another place, and we know it. Somewhere else. Somewhere we would rather be. Somewhere we’re meant to be. But we’re not there now. In fact, we don’t remember ever being there. And we don’t belong there either, not any more. We’re in exile. We’re in a refugee camp. We’re in Guantanamo. More than anything, we want to go home. Faith is about how we go home.

The way home is Jesus Christ. He is the way. Now, it’s not easy to go home. Palestinian exiles have been living in camps for decades. For many, life in the camps is the only life they’ve ever known. There’s never been much hope of a home-going. Arguments and battles and protests and negotiations and resolutions have accomplished nothing. Except perhaps to reveal how impossible the problem is to solve.

It’s not easy to go home. And so, when Cyrus ended Judah’s exile and said, “Go home!” only a few went. The journey was difficult, the prospects uncertain. The exiles who did return found no milk and honey waiting for them, only hard work and a doubtful future, with the home they had returned to in ruins. No, it’s not easy to go home. We can’t get ourselves back to the garden. Never mind the journey, the garden itself isn’t there anymore. Left untended for so long, it has become a tangled mess of weeds. It’s not easy to go home. For us it seems impossible. To go home, the entire human exile needs to be undone. Nations need to find better ways to live and work together. Human institutions and organizations need to put the common good first. Agreements made need to become agreements kept.

But what hope to we have for any of that? What hope do we have, when the Supreme Court can’t tell a corporation or a union from a person? And when it confuses free speech with artificially-amplified speech? You can speak all you want. But if I buy a 1.21 Giga Watt sound system to amplify my voice, no one will hear a word you say. And that’s what we get when the court declares that money is speech. I can’t imagine that opening the floodgates wide for even more money to pour into our politics . . . . Does no one believe Scripture any more, that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil? And we all love money far too much. Individuals, corporations, unions, political parties, all of us. And if somehow we did manage to keep our own love for money in check, then there’s the love that money has for us. Money loves to own us. And it will own us. And it will seek to ruin us. Or don’t we believe Scripture anymore? As if our politics, and our feeble attempts to build a better world through politics — as if our politics weren’t messed up enough, what will this injection of even more money do? And it’s not just politics. It’s any way and every way we imagine that we’ll build a better world, that we’ll end our eternal exile and make our way home at last. No, we don’t have a way to do that. The way is Jesus Christ.

The problem, the roots beneath our human exile, is the “powers and principalities.” Those are mysterious-sounding Bible words for sin, for our own corrupt nature, and for the devil and evil spiritual forces — realities against which we are nearly powerless.

But Jesus has disarmed those powers. He has faced them and faced them down. He has pursued them all the way into the darkness, into the darkness of death. And he has emerged in life, victorious. Through this victory, Jesus is undoing, and will completely undo, brokenness, alienation, and misery; evil, corruption, and enmity; ruin, despair, and depravity. In a word, Jesus ends our exile. As Paul puts it, through Jesus God is ending our primary exile, namely our exile from God himself, and when this exile is ended, every other exile ends along with it. Through Jesus, God is reconciling everything to himself, and all things that are truly reconciled to God are reconciled to one another. That is the end of exile.

This is the vision of Isaiah the prophet, and it’s huge. The prophet’s vision is a vision of divine intervention. The God of the prophet is not the deist’s god: remote, unconcerned, unaffected by creation’s plight. No, the God of the prophet acts on the world’s stage. In this case, God will send his Spirit to David’s house, the royal house, send his Spirit upon the one who rises from the ruins of Jesse’s lineage. It will be a spirit to restore all that human sin and exile have lost. A spirit of wisdom and understanding, to discern what is right and good. A spirit of purpose and strength, to meld proper intention with the ability to carry it out. A spirit of knowledge and reverence for the LORD, to ground everything in the fundamental human relationship with God. One like this, this sort of leader, arises only due to the action of God. It’s certainly not the outcome of a military coup or a revolution or even a democratic election. Only the action of God. So the prophet’s vision is a vision of divine intervention. At the same time, it’s also a vision of justice. Even when we human beings agree on the goal, we never agree on a just and fair and effective way to achieve it. But this leader, anointed by a spirit from God, will not be distracted by what comes first to his senses, by the loudest, most effectively-amplified voice or by the most striking visuals. No. Nothing will turn this leader aside from justice and fair-dealing and integrity. A leader uncorrupted by the process . . . Imagine that! It’s a vision of justice.

The prophet’s vision is also a vision of reconciliation. The entire creation will be reconciled: wolf and leopard and lion and lamb and little child. “Nature, red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson), with all its rending and tearing of flesh, will give way to an unimaginable peace and harmony. Unimaginable because we only know wolves and leopards and lions through their teeth. But the dream is of complete reconciliation between all creatures. Even between human beings and the rest of creation, with which we too often find ourselves at odds. But that will all be in the past. Because, finally, the prophet’s vision is of an entire world rightly related to God. “The earth will be filled with knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” As the waters cover the sea. Cover the sea? The waters are the sea. The waters are no veneer over top of the sea. They are the sea, totally, down to the depths. And so “the earth will be filled with knowledge of the LORD” not as a veneer, a thin skin on top. But all the way through, God will be known. Known not only with the mind, but also with the heart and with the spirit.

And not known as in merely recognized or acknowledged. But experienced and loved. This knowledge is intimacy, intimacy with God as wide and as deep as the earth. As I said, the prophet’s vision is huge. So, in a broken world, where every structure of power and influence is twisted . . . Do I need to say this again? Every person, every family, every people, every nation, every business, every school, every art, every prison, every farm, every factory, every neighborhood, every army, every political party, every church, every emergency relief agency is corrupt, a blend of both good and evil in varying degree.

Faith begins by recognizing this. Then faith moves on. Faith is about how we go home, about how we return from exile. Not so much return to the place we belong, as return to the One to whom we belong, return to God. Which is to say, faith is about Jesus Christ. He is the world’s true hope, for justice and fair-dealing, for reconciliation and peace. We’re waiting for him to complete what he has begun. Meanwhile — this is important — we, too, have the Spirit. And so we do what we can in this world to anticipate what’s coming, to give life here now the shape of things to come. And while we’re busy with that, we use our free speech to declare his praise.

Feb 6, 2010

Who is Wise?

These are the beautiful and insightful words of Eugene Peterson in his book, Where Your Treasure Is: Psalms That Summon You From Self to Community ~ p. 125

The opposite of foolish in Scripture is wise. Wise refers to skill in living. It does not mean, primarily, the person who knows the right answers to things, but one who has developed the right responses (relationships) to persons, to God. The wise understand how the world works; know about patience and love, listening and grace, adoration and beauty; know that other people are awesome creatures to be respected and befriended, especially the ones that I cannot get anything out of; know that the earth is a marvelously intricate gift to be cared for and enjoyed; know that God is an ever-present center, a never-diminishing reality, an all-encompassing love; and know that there is no living being that does not reach out gladly and responsively to him and the nation/kingdom/community in which he has placed us.

The wise know that there is only one cure for a fool. Prayer that is as passionate for the salvation of others as it is for myself: "O that deliverance for Israel would come out of Zion!" Prayer that is convinced that there is no wellness until everyone is restored to a place of blessing: "When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people." And prayer that sees the community as a place not of acquisition, but of celebration: "Jacob shall rejoice, Israel shall be glad" (Psalm 14:7).

Feb 5, 2010

Are We Surprised by Violence? - Reposting from 2008

"How blessed are those who make peace, because it is they who will be called God's children!

Matthew 5:9

Daily I wince at the evil and violence swirling around me. Innocent children abused, sexually trafficked -- never having the chance at innocence. Right now, an untold number of children men and women are being abused or murdered. I don't know how God can look upon all the the abuse and violence that is happening all over the world at this very moment and every moment of time. Yet there is a real distance between me and the violence. What I mean is, I would never committ such heinous crimes, would I?

We shake our heads at the violence that we see. We turn off the news or refuse to read the papers (or internet) because we just can't take it anymore. However, the violence that occurs in the world is just a larger scale or magnification of what happens in our souls and homes.

Large scale violence and murder begins in the soul of individuals. It is rooted in bitterness, hatred and indifference. We see this in families. Spouses no longer care about each other or family. They kill each other with their words. Families are fractured. Students slander each other in school. Elders and deacons and the so-called righteous don't even think twice about slandering a fellow brother or sister. In fact, the internet is full of believers who have published slander against other believers. It's all there on the internet for the world to see.

And we wonder why there is so much violence? It's in the family of God. It's in our souls. We shouldn't shake our heads at the violence swirling about us without being horrified at the violence in our own souls. Do we wish an end to violence? Then we must overcome evil with good by overcoming the violence and seeds of violence buried in our souls. Only then will we be called the children of God, not hypocrites.

Only when there is peace in our own souls can we be happy (blessed) peacemakers.

Feb 4, 2010

Nouwen On The Grateful Life

"True spiritual gratitude embraces all of our past, the good as well as the bad events, the joyful as well as the sorrowful moments. From the place where we stand, everything that took place brought us to this place, and we want to remember all of it as part of God's guidance. That does not mean that all that happened in the past was good, but it does mean that even the bad didn't happen outside the loving presence of God. Jesus' own suffering was brought upon him by the forces of darkness. Still he speaks of his suffering and death as his way to glory. It is very hard to keep bringing all of our past under the light of gratitude. There are so many things about which we feel guilt and shame, so many things we simply wish had never happened. But each time we have the courage to look at "the all of it" and to look at it as God looks at it, our guilt becomes happy guilt and our shame a happy shame because they have brought us to a deeper recognition of God's mercy, a stronger conviction of God's guidance, and a more radical commitment to a life in God's service."

~ From Here and Now  pp. 108-109


I have a post on Her.meneutic's blog related to what I wrote yesterday.
Click here to read: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/

Thank you.

Feb 3, 2010

I Will Not Share My Glory

I thought I would post something I wrote several years ago. I may have posted a while ago...but I thought it was worthwhile and that it'll be a nice addendum to a blog post I have elsewhere.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that come from wisdom." James 3:13

The humble are indeed the most wise. Why? Because they have a proper understanding of both God and themselves. Their fear of God compels them to spread his fame rather than their own. Often they are overlooked because they do not call attention to themselves.

Are we seeking celebrity status in the Christian culture or are we content to be inconspicuously placed mirrors reflecting his glory? Who do others see when we minister? More of us or more of Jesus? Are we unknowningly redirecting the glory he deserves to ourselves? We must not let our charisma or natural talent blur his reflection in our  lives. Instead, we demonstrate our wisdom when we curb our tendency toward self-promotion so that in all aspects of our lives he has preeminence.

Let us examine ourselves to determine the motives behind our actions. Is there any hint of applause-seeking in the good deeds done in the sight of others? Do we, like Annanias and Sapphira, desire that others validate our righteousness (Acts 5:1-10). Do we desire that we, our ministries, or churches, become the next Christian superstars? Let's be honest. We must confess that such accolade-seeking is rampant in the Christian culture.

All of us have lacked, and some of us still lack the humilty that comes from wisdom. God demands that we be honest, that we have "truth in the inner most parts" (Psalm 51:6). If we primarily seek celebrity, unbelievers will sense this and put no more stock in God than we do. Even they can figure out if we are using God as a means to elevate our selves. Often believers are the ones more easily hood-winked.

We must remember that the Lord is a jealous God who refuses to share his glory with anyone else, including his children (Isaiah 48:11).

Feb 2, 2010

How Do We Respond When Forced To Trust? How Do We Respond To Other's Bad News?

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." Luke 22:42

One of the things that wrankles me and that I desperately do not want to be guilty of is offering a trite Christian platitude when someone is suffering or when someone has received bad news. I don't want to be like Job's friends, although I am sure I have been guilty of that.

Today I learned of another friend who lost his job. His wife is one of my best friends. I tried to offer a word of hope through e-mail, but I know the rug has been pulled out from under them and they are flying through the air uncertain of when and how they will land and scared that they might be injured in the process. Is offering a word of hope trite and inconsiderate? Not necessarily. It depends what is said, how it is said, and when it is said.

I've been poor by American standards most of my life. I know what it is like not to have food, not to have heat, and receive nothing for Christmas. Believe me, I know even then I was rich compared to most of the world. But it seemed like the continual crises my family endured were crises of not having money.

And so most of my life, I've been on my knees crying out to God for financial provision. And boy has he pulled some doozies of provision. I mean whoppers. Does that mean that I always had Christmas gifts and was never cold in the dead of winter? No. But God financially provided through others and once even through my own mistake with the IRS, a mistake that was to me and Shawn's advantage, a mistake that the IRS caught on our taxes. I guess we overpaid (I had filled out the form). The fact that someone at the IRS did their job and refunded us the money a few days before we had to move, when we were sweating bullets and trying to trust God and figure out how we were going to pay for gas to drive up to New York, wondering how we were going to have groceries for the first few weeks since I didn't have a job and Shawn's university stipend wouldn't kick in for a month, was amazing. It was God. He provided the money we needed to move to New York after we had put down all our money for a deposit and our first month's rent. And I could go on. Really, I could recount his wonderous provisions, the list continues to grow.

I'd like to say to my friend, God is going to show you he is trustworthy through this. I am not sure that now is the time though. Because is that really what she wants to hear? It's only in looking back that I recount God's faithfulness. It was hard for me to trust in the midst of difficulties. Sometimes I did better than others. But God was definitely faithful.

Honestly, how often do we want to learn such lessons of trust? We'd rather that God left our spouses with us, that our children didn't die, that we didn't lose the job, that our child did not rebel, that our family member  was not mentally ill. Of course! Jesus sweat tears of blood and asked the Father to remove the cup of the cross from him. But in the end, he bowed to the Father's will. And I don't think God allows these things merely to teach us lessons. We have a supernatural enemy. And suffeirng and difficulty are part of the fall, the problem of evil, painful and seemingly illogical.

No God doesn't allow evil and suffering just to teach us a lesson. I am not sure why he does. His ways are inexplicable. But somehow, he can use our tragedy and pain to form us. He forms us in the wilderness.