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From Control to Kingdom

We are a few weeks into Lent, almost. Have you been able to put your finger on what you would like to move away from and what you would like to move toward? Lately I have been reading the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5 over and over. I like reading Matthew 5:1-12 in the Message translation. I’ve found that these teaching of Jesus can help us identify what we want to move away from and what we want to move toward.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matt 5:3)

Really? Jesus begins there. Who wants to be at the end of their rope? I know I don’t. I like having things figured out. I like knowing what is going to happen and when. The end of the rope does not feel good. So why does Jesus say we are blessed when we are at the end of our rope?

My friend Doug Barrem is 79 years old going on 59. He has a sharp mind and has taken good care of his body over the years. He is wise beyond his years, and that is saying something.  Recently he was reading Matthew 5 and saw something new in Jesus’ teaching. He showed me that each one of the “Your blessed…” is an invitation to lose something or order to gain something. Matthew 5:3, according to Doug, is an invitation to loose power in order to gain the Kingdom.

I think I hear what Jesus was saying, along with my friend Doug. The more we release control and power, there more room there is for God to be who he is in our lives. Maybe that is something to move away from, control and power. Jesus teaches as we move away from control and power we naturally moved toward the Kingdom.

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From a Good Idea Toward Action

In my last post I pointed out that I noticed something new in the story of the father and two son’s in the Gospel of Luke. The statement, “He got the the point,” stood out. It happened to me again this morning as I kept reading that same story.

“Then he came to his senses and cried aloud, ‘Why, dozens of my father’s hired men have got more food than they can eat and here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go back to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have done wrong in the sight of Heaven and in your eyes. I don’t deserve to be called your son any more. Please take me on as one of your hired men.”’ (Luke 15:18)

The son had an idea, an ah ha of sorts. As I imagine the posture of this young man, desperate and out of options, feeling at the end of himself I wonder if he ran scenarios through his head the way I do. I often think, ok this isn’t working, I wonder if this would. Surely if I do this it will help the situation. Rarely does it help. Returning to this story with this son it seems like of the the things he came up with was, “Oh I’ve got it! I will get up and go back to my father… that’s what I’ll do. I’ll prepare a speech and go, that’s a great idea!”

Here is the new learning for me this morning, it’s in the following verse. Jesus, as the narrator of the story says this about the son, “So he got up and went to his father.” There it is, action. True repentence: re-evaluation that leads to action. The son didn’t just come up with the idea to go to the father, or consider it enough that he knew what would be best for him at the moment, to go to the father. No, this son actually got up and went to the father.

Chances are if you are reading this blog you know how the story ends, you know the fathers reaction. It’s remarkable to say the least. You and I have access to that same reaction, that same love as we move from time with the Father being a good idea toward physically, actually getting up and going to the Father. We are his sons and daughters after all.

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Have You Gotten To The Point?

Jesus tells a story in Luke 15 about two sons. It might be familiar to you. One of the sons decides to move away from one thing in his life and move toward another. This one decision changes the course of this son’s life.

After demanding his inheritance from his Father, something that would have been implausible in the Jewish culture, the son leaves home and spends all of his money on wild living. After his money runs out, the son eventually gets hired on with a pig farmer, possibly the most humiliating job for a Jewish son. Check out Jesus’ words as he tells the next part of the story, “He got to the point of longing to stuff himself with the food the pigs were eating and not a soul gave him anything.” (v16)

From privilege and wealth to poverty and pig slop. Young Literal Translation translates Jesus’ words this way, “And having come to himself…” I like to think that this young man comes to the end of himself and realizes something has to change. He gets to the point where life is not working the way he planned, so he decides to return to his father. He moves away from doing life on his own, and moves toward home, not knowing what is waiting for him there.

Have you gotten to the point? Is what you are doing in your life working? Are you trying to do life on your own? The son in this story  longs to stuff himself with pig slop, but he knows that, even in his deep hunger, the food will not satisfy. Only one thing curbs our longing, and it’s actually not a thing at all; it’s a return to the Father.

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Only Two Primary Relationships

I believe there are only two primary relationships for each person on earth. Every other relationship is secondary. Want to guess what they are before you keep reading? In my 43 years of life I am now more convinced than ever that the two primary relationships in a persons life are relationship with Creator, and relationship with self.

The word primary suggests that something is important and worthy of time and attention. If these two relationships are, in fact, the two primary relationships in life, do they get the attention they deserve? Think about it. We have access to an ongoing growing relationship with the one who created us! In fact, the deepest intimacy that we can experience as a human being is being (that’s not a mistake use of the word being twice, we aren’t human doings) in relationship with God the Father. Jesus himself considered his relationship with God the Father as primary and so can we.

On to the second primary relationship in our lives, relationship with ourselves. Developing a growing relationship with ourselves may sound selfish at first glance, but let’s unpack it. Brene’ Brown says this about love: “Love is not something that we give or get, it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them. We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.” (Men, Women and Worthiness)

Jesus said it this way, “… love your neighbor as yourself”, implying that a person will love and care for his or herself first before he or she attempts to care for anyone else. So, as the Lenten season begins you might consider asking yourself how you are doing in these two primary relationships in your life. Maybe what you want to move away from is making other relationships (or things) primary, and move toward these two relationships with God and yourself.

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Moving Away/ Moving Toward: Ash Wed

You may have seen my post yesterday with the invitation during the next six weeks of Lent to ask yourself two questions:

What do I want to move away from? What do I want to move toward?

As mentioned, these two questions were asked of me and a few friends last fall, and the practical action of moving away and moving toward has had noticeable impact. Tina Sellers, who lead us through these two questions on a couples weekend, provides a little more clarity “What thoughts, actions, beliefs, habits inhibit you from giving and receiving love the way you would like?” (move away) Tina went on to say, “What do you want to be more of, grow more into, believe about yourself? (moving toward)

Here are a few examples:

I want to move away from worry. I want to move toward believing that God has me.

I want to move away from screens. I want to move toward face-to-face relationships.

I want to move away from being stoic. I want to move toward allowing myself to feel.

I want to move away from distraction. I want to move toward being present wherever I am.

In asking these two questions of myself it was helpful to take 30 minutes with each question over two days, ask the Lord and write out what came to mind. The season of Lent is a great opportunity to ask these questions of yourself. You might be surprised by the impact this can have in your own life.

 

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Advent Week 4: God loves his body

On this final week of advent I am interested in the body of Jesus. “8pound, 6-ounce, newborn infant Jesus, don’t even know a word yet…”(Talledega Nights) Yeah, that Jesus. Baby Jesus grew up to be a man in a body. Why did God choose to come in the form of a human in the skin of a body? I came across something this morning that I had never noticed before.

33 “No one takes a lamp and puts it in a cupboard or under a bucket, but on a lamp-stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 34The lamp of your body is your eye. When your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light, but when your eye is evil, your whole body is full of darkness. 35So be very careful that your light never becomes darkness. 36For if your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in shadow, it will all be radiant—it will be like having a bright lamp to give you light.” (Luke 11:33-36)

In order to get a better grasp on the gravity of Jesus’ words about the physical body, it may be helpful to look at his teaching in this order:

vs. 34 – Your whole body is full of light

vs. 35 – so be very careful that your light never becomes darkness

vs. 33 – don’t put it (your body) in a cupboard or under a bucket, but (put your body)on a lampstand SO THAT others who come in (spouse, children, extended family, friends, everyone you encounter) can see the light! (Others get to experience the Gospel by us putting our bodies on a lampstand)

Now this is where is gets really good, at least for me:

vs 34(a) – the lamp of your body is your eye (what you see when you look at your body in the mirror)

vs 34 (b) – when your eye is sound (ἁπλοῦς) – this greek word can be translated as “not complicated or confused”, so when your eye is not complicated or confused about what it is seeing in the mirror then “your whole body is full of light”

vs 34 (c) – when your eye is evil (believes the lies the evil one tells you about your own body) your whole body is full of darkness

Therefore…

IF your whole body is full of light (you believe the truth that your body is created by God, that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and that your body is worth caring about)

AND

IF you are willing to put “no part of it in the shadow” (v36)

The PROMISE:

IT WILL ALL (your whole body) BE RADIANT! This is how God the Father viewed Jesus as he came into the world, and how the Father viewed him the whole time Jesus walked around in his body. This is how God the Father views you and me too.

Jesus understood this reality about his body well. So did David…

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well. (Ps 139:13-14)

 

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Advent Week 2: Names Carry Identity

Names carry an identity of who we are. During the first week of Advent I mentioned that our pastor and friend Jack Brace and Moses Ndahiro (Rwandan friend) taught on Luke 1 to kick off the Advent season. One of the things they reminded us of is the honor, as a parent, of getting to name a child. Names are especially important in the African culture. Ndahiro kept repeating three things over and over about the impact of names, especially names with Biblical meaning:

(Each time the name is said) 1The parents would remember the truth about their child. 2That the child would always remember who they are. 3That others who proclaim their name would be proclaiming the Gospel

In Luke 1:39 the Angel Gabriel tells Mary what she is going to name her child. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” Not only did Mary not know she was going to be pregnant, she didn’t even get to name the kid! Apparently that was ok with her, especially since her sons name meant, “God saves.” I guess it’s hard to argue with that one.

I’ve mentioned before that our first daughter’s names came from the Lord. In the spirit of being a gentleman Anna chose if we were going to find out what we were having with our first child. Once she got pregnant the second time it was my turn to choose! I like to be surprised so we opted not to find out what we were having. This made it a little difficult to come up with a name for our second child. Since the Lord had been so clear about our first daughters’ name, I was confident that He would do the same with our second child. I was kayaking with my buddy Ryan when my wife was 7 months pregnant with our second. I didn’t set out from shore that day with the intent that I would get the name, but God spoke clearly to me just as we finishing a long day of paddling. What I heard was, “You are having a son and his name will be Elijah.” I know, this could sound a little creepy, but I am telling the truth. Once we got all of the gear out of our kayak and set up camp I headed off to a clearing with my Bible to remind myself of the biblical meaning of Elijah’s name.

After reorienting myself with the story of Elijah from 1 Kings on the paddling trip I was excited to name our second child Elijah, which means The Lord He is God! Elijah’s belief is in the Biblical story is remarkable! Over and over again he is asked to believe that the Lord is God and is in control. Elijah’s belief in action is such a wonderful model of how we can live and walk through life. Mary was asked to do the same in her conversation with Gabriel and she too believed.

After my kayak trip, with excitement about Elijah’s name, there was now only one hurdle to climb, which was similar with our daughter. I had to go home and tell Anna what happened. I agree it was a stretch, after all, we still hadn’t found out the gender and there was no plan to find out until the child breathed a first breath. Over the next two months Anna and I got more comfortable with the belief that we were having a son. We didn’t have any girl names in mind when we made our way for her to deliver the child. I was proud and my faith increased even more as I heard those words, “It’s a boy.”

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Advent: What is your response?

Even though our family had a rough start to Advent, I am settling in and excited about this season. My friend and pastor Jack Brace inspired us Sunday when he preached at Bethany Community Church. He and our church partner from Rwanda taught together about a few key moments in Zachariah (John the Baptist’s dad) and Mary’s life. Specifically, Jack pointed out that the angel Gabriel visited both Zechariah and Mary. Check out their different responses:

Zechariah first response was tarassō. It’s a Greek word that is used 17 times in the New Testament. It is translated best as taking away someone’s calmness of mind. So Zechariah first response to Gabriel’s visit was that his calmness of mind was taken away. His second response is what he actually said the Gabriel. Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Luke 1:18) Do you see it? Zechariah’s response was unbelief. How can I be sure of this is basically saying, I can’t believe this is happening. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words.

Ok, now look at Mary’s response to Gabriel’s visit:

Mary’s first response is diatarassō. It’s a Greek word that is used exactly 1 time in the New Testament . Yeah, once. It is best translated as greatly troubled. So Mary’s first response to Gabriel’s visit was that she was greatly troubled, yet in wonder of what this might be. Her second response is what she actually said the Gabriel . “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) Mary responds with belief!!! What, seriously, look at it. “How WILL this be…” (so I geeked out on the Greek more than our pastor did here in this blog), but Jack made this statement that has been with me all week:

“Mary response is, ‘I can’t understand how this is happening, but I accept that it is happening.’”

Boom! If that could become our response to whatever comes at us this Advent season, we move a little further down the path to living the full life God has for us.

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Advent…Not the Perfect Start

Ok, full truth…Advent snuck up on us this year. I am usually pretty calculated. I think I became accustomed to the late Advent start the past few years, but as it were. Here we go.

Despite not realizing it was Advent until we got to church yesterday, we still managed to participate in our family Advent rituals at home, namely the kids playing with the nativity scene, a few Christmas songs and the lighting of the first Advent candle. By the way, how many names can be given to the first candle of Advent, or any of the candles for that matter?

Names for the 4 candles depending on which faith tradition is naming them:

Promise, Light, Love, Hope

Hope, Peace, Joy, Love

Prophecy, Bethlehem, Shepherd, Angel

Hope, Preparation, Joy, Love

Prophecy, Way, Joy, Peace

Expectation, John the Baptist, Mary, Magi

Waiting for the Shepherd, Waiting for Forgiveness, Waiting for Joy, Waiting for the Son

There is a lot of use of the word “waiting” in the last naming. I guess that is a good thing since Advent is the season of waiting.

This scene describes the kick off of Advent pretty well for our family…

   

The Nativity “team” is a little out of sorts. Animals on their side or upside down, stoic camel, Jesus out of the turned over manger and nowhere to be seen, a wise man in the distance staying away from the chaos…at least Gabriel the Angel is overseeing the confusion.

With Anna finishing her first quarter of grad school studying for finals, kids coming off of 9 days with no school and dad fighting off his tendency to control the outcome of this important kickoff to the Advent season, we appreciated that the Nativity “team” didn’t have it all together either. So, despite our less than ideal beginning, we are doing Advent anyway. I am planning my usual few post a week during the season, and look forward to learning along the way.

Our plan this year for Advent readings:

First Sunday of Advent Luke 1: 5-25 (did this one on the fly and it worked out)

Second Sunday of Advent Luke 1:26-38

Third Sunday of Advent Luke 1:39-56

Fourth Sunday of Advent Luke 1:67-80

Fifth Sunday of Advent (Christmas Day! Luke 2:1-24)

Perfect starts to anything are way overrated.

 

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Talk about Thanksgiving…We are Loved!

On the eve of Thanksgiving there is not much more to be grateful for than the reality that we are loved!

This idea of being God’s beloved is not new to me. I was first introduced to the “theory” of being God’s beloved through a friend who gave me a cassette tape by Henry Nouwen titled, Solitude, Community, Ministry. I remember driving around twenty years ago listening to that tape over and over. I still pull it out sometimes, track down a cassette player, and hear his words again and again. “Who am I? I am the beloved. That’s the voice Jesus heard when he came out of the Jordan River: ‘You are my beloved; on you my favor rests.’ And Jesus says to you and to me that we are loved by the Father as he is loved.” If this is true, how is it so easy to get caught up in wanting our deepest needs to be met by people or things?

What I continue to realize more and more is that God’s invitation is an invitation into intimacy. Real intimacy, true intimacy, crazy intimacy! It’s an invitation to become fully vulnerable, fully known, fully exposed. That is scary to even write, much less live, but it is the model of God. And not only is the offer to be intimate with Himself, but to be fully vulnerable, fully known, fully exposed with a few others as well. In Moving From Solitude to Community to Ministry Henry Nouwen says,

“God has become so vulnerable, so little, so dependent in a manger and on a cross and is begging us, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ That’s where ministry starts, because your freedom is anchored in claiming your belovedness. That allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.”

Practically speaking, as we begin to lean into the offer of intimacy, true intimacy with God, it changes the way we walk into each situation of the day. All of the subconscious questions that most of us ask when we enter a room or take on “the next thing” are already answered. “Will I be accepted?” “Noticed?” “Does my presence here make any difference?” Does anyone care that I am here?” “Will I be true to my conviction?” “Am I loved?” “Am I known?” “Am I understood?” All of these questions are already answered by the only One who has authority to truly answer them. But if we don’t get the question(s) answered from God then we will keep asking others to answer them for us. There only question worth asking is “Am I Loved?” and the answer is unequivocally YES!