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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!

 

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God’s Primary Message

As a follower of Jesus I am familiar with the parable of the 4 soils, maybe a little too familiar. In reading through the book of Luke I came to this parable and my first instinct was to skip it and go to the next chapter. I’m glad I didn’t because I saw something I about the seed that I have missed over the years.

Luke 8:9-15

 “This is what the parable means. The seed is the message of God.” Ok stop there, if the seed is the message, then what is the message? What is God’s primary message?

God’s primary message is love, specifically that we are loved by him, that’s the message. So if that is true, and it is, then why not replace “the message of God” with what his message actually is, and listen to Jesus’ teaching through that voice?

Soil # 1: “The seed sown by the roadside represents those who hear the message (that they are loved), and then the devil comes and takes it away from their hearts so that they cannot believe (the message that they are loved) and be saved.”

Soil #2: “That sown on the rock represents those who accept the message (that they are loved) with great delight when they hear it, but have no real root. They believe (that they are loved) for a little while but when the time of temptation comes, they lose faith.”

Soil #3: “And the seed sown among the thorns represents the people who hear the message (that they are loved) and go on their way, and with the worries and riches and pleasures of living, the life is choked out of them, and in the end they produce nothing.”

Soil #4: “But the seed sown on good soil means those who hear the message (that they are loved) and accept (that they are loved) with a good and honest heart, and go on steadily producing a good crop.

There are plenty of good commentaries out there that can address each of the soils, I’m not going there. What I see here is that our part is not to try to figure out which “soil” we are, or even be concerned with fruit for that matter. According to Jesus in this parable, our part is to accept with a good and honest heart the truth that we are loved. To keep leaning into this the reality that we are loved allowing it to impact our day. As we learn to live into God’s primary message more and more we will find ourselves producing a really good crop.

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Generously Cancelled, Generously Treated

“Once upon a time, there were two men in debt to the same money-lender. One owed him fifty pounds and the other five. And since they were unable to pay, he generously cancelled both of their debts. Now, which one of them do you suppose will love him more?”“Well,” returned Simon, “I suppose it will be the one who has been more generously treated,”

Do you feel generously treated?

This once upon a time story is a response to a man named Simon that asked a much different question of Jesus. This scene  from Luke 7 is a dinner at Simon’s house, Jesus as a guest, other men at the table. A “bad woman” who is most likely a prostitute, walks into the house, massages Jesus dirty feet, uses her tears to wash his feet, kisses them, anoints his feet with perfume and them dries them with her hair. What!? Yeah, that was Simon’s response too. This can’t be happening! He’s gotta be thinking that on a lot of levels, this cannot be allowed. To use Simon’s own words, “If this man (Jesus) were really a prophet, he would know who this woman is and what sort of a person is touching him. He would have realized that she is a bad woman.”

Jesus’ kind, but accurate response to Simon, “I came into your house but you provided no water to wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. There was no warmth in your greeting, but she, from the moment I came in, has not stopped covering my feet with kisses. You gave me no oil for my head, but she has put perfume on my feet.”

I read this story and, to be completely honest, a lot of me wants to be Simon. It’s a lot easier and less risky to be Simon. To appear to have it all together, to follow the Law, to “host” Jesus. However, a closer look at Simon reveals that he offered Jesus (and I’m assuming other guests that came to dinner), no water-no warmth-no oil. In contrast, the woman who had no business being in the room is the one that Jesus singled out. And what is it that he said to her, what is the one thing he said? “It is your faith that has saved you. Go in Peace.” Faith is simply belief, so what did she believe? What did she believe about herself and Jesus that caused her to walk into a room full of men, some of whom she may or may not have slept with, single out Jesus and begin to do all those intimate things to his feet?

It’s her belief that she was loved that saved her. This “bad woman” responded to the love of Jesus with, “so much love” because she believed (had faith) that she was loved by Jesus. Simon, the Pharisee, must not have believed he was loved and forgiven. Otherwise, he would have instinctively provided water, warmth and oil. A person who believes that they are loved by Jesus responds with “so much love.”

I want to become more like the “bad woman” who has had her debts generously cancelled, the one who has been more generously treated. God is so generous! We have all been generously treated, whether we believe it or not. God has so much love for us, and we get to respond with so much love toward him and others we encounter today.

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Gnawing on Jesus

No one really “makes time” to eat, it’s just what we do. We make skip a meal (or two) because we got up late and rushed into the day, then think we don’t have time to grab lunch because things are too hectic, but eventually at some point during the day we eat.

Jesus loved to eat with friends and new companions. He was even accused of eating and drinking with the wrong crowd on a number of occasions. As Jesus gets further and further into his time hanging out with the disciples he makes a statement that often gets overlooked:

“He who keeps on eating my flesh and drinking my blood, in me is continually abiding and I in him.” (John 6:54)

The actual word used here for eating is τρώγω, which is best translated from the Greek as gnawing, “He who keeps on gnawing…” Gnawing takes time and is not in a hurry. We have a dog and she gnaws for a while on a bone, takes a break then goes back for more, she loves it!

If we look at verse 54 in the NIV we can easily miss Jesus teaching, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…” In this standard translation his message sounds past tense. It sounds like something we can do occasionally, like we occasionally eat broccoli, but that was not Jesus teaching that day. He was telling the crowd that in order to have eternal life we have to gnaw on him.

“Unless you do eat (gnaw on) the body of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you are not really living at all.” (v.53) Are you living?

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Believing “Into” Jesus

There are only a few stories that all 4 Gospels writers tell, the feeding of the 5000 is among them. After the story, we get a unique perspective from Jesus’ best friend John,

“Believe me,” replied Jesus, “you are looking for me now not because you saw my signs but because you ate that food and had all you wanted. You should not work for the food which does not last, but for the food which lasts on into eternal life. This is the food the Son of Man will give you, and he is the one who bears the stamp of God the Father.” (John 6:26-27)

Jesus’ statement, “You ate that food and had all you wanted…” sounds like he is getting onto the people for coming back for a simple provision of food, for missing the bigger offer, for believing “small”. Jesus is indicating that the people are coming back for another light meal. He sensed they were timidly asking for “just a little more Jesus and we will leave you alone… If it’s not too much trouble Jesus we will be over here…if you have time.” Sound familiar?

Jesus overlooks the small thinking and continues,

29 “The work of God for you,’ replied Jesus, ‘is to believe in the one whom he has sent to you.’”

This phrase “the work” occurs 150 times in the Hebrew and Greek texts. The first time we see “the work” is in Gen 2:2 “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” God was obviously doing the work that, “lasts on into eternal life” (above), and any Jewish male raised in that culture would have been very aware of the work. So when Jesus uses this phrase he is connecting the listeners that day all the way back to the beginning of the story. That was the work then (for God) and this is the work now.

Jesus uses a phrase right after the word believe that is only fully understood in the Greek, εἰς (into). Believe into. This is a much different idea than believing in something. To believe in is to buy into a concept or accept something as factual. To believe into is to commit to someone not knowing what the outcome will be. “I am with you Jesus and I believe that life with you is the only way to go.” Believing into is going “all in” without any guarantee of how things are going to go in this relationship with Jesus. It involves commitment, risk and trust in the person not certain outcomes.

So, are we believing big or believing small? Do we believe in, or into Jesus? The promise is eternal life (which is not some time in the future but includes today) for those who believe big and believe into himself. I want that…I want Him.

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Learning to Know

In today’s culture we have to learn to know. We often think we know, but we don’t. We don’t know. We have to learn to know, and we have to be committed to the learning in order to experience real knowing. Learning to know takes time. Learning to know requires that we get out of our own heads, and our own version of the way we see life.

Many Greek words don’t translate well into English. The word γινώσκω is among them. In English the word γινώσκω is translated know, or to know. This is a dangerous translation in a society that highly values knowledge. We already know, I mean come on. And if we don’t actually know we at least want to be perceived as knowing. Think about it. Someone begins to explain something and our minds quickly go into response mode. We either think, (or respond with) I already know this, or we prepare our statement back to them in our minds while they are telling us something they know.

But real knowing takes time and requires surrender. I requires giving up what we think we know about ourselves, others or God in order to actually learn to know the truth. Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) The only way to know is to learn to know…

 

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Unbelief Has Power Too

In Luke 10 Jesus makes it pretty clear that there will be serious consequences for any family or town that does not believe. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.” (v.5) Jesus then takes it a step further, “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ 10But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you.”

Not quite sure what that says to us today living in homes, cities and towns, but it doesn’t sound too good.   Jesus seems to be saying to his disciples that if people in a home or town or city do not believe, then they will be left to do life on their own, apart from God. I drove by a church a few weeks ago that had the scripture on their reader board,

“Bless’ed is the country whose God is the Lord” My thought: Great verse, not encouraging.

Unfortunately that verse does not describe the United States, not even close. I’m afraid if Jesus or His followers were to enter our towns today He would seldom be welcomed. Oh wait, he does visit.  He’s here, are we welcoming?

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“Do you believe…”

If there is a pinnacle question in the 4 Gospels, it is revealed in Matthew 9. Jesus has just come off of a pretty good run of healings that he attributes to belief. “As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’ When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘It shall be done to you according to your faith.’”(27-29)

Do you believe that I am able to do this? This is the question that stopped me in my tracks ten years ago in a car ride with my friend Stu. That is a primary question that you and I are being asked every single day, throughout the day. I literally think about this question or some variation of it each day. Actually, it’s not so much a question as it is a statement, often said out loud by me, directed to Jesus. I have the same response as the two blind men, “Yes, Lord.” As I encounter a situation, a relationship, the stress of the day, something that I didn’t expect, my response is, “I believe that You can do this.” Nothing in me at the time may feel like this is possible, whatever this is in the moment, but I still proclaim belief. The two blind men that day had no reason to believe Jesus would heal them, but they believed anyway and Jesus honored their belief.

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What Does It Mean To Pray?

What is prayer? When I was a boy I thought I knew what prayer was. Each night as I laid my head down on the pillow I would begin to list all of the people that were closest to me. I would ask the Lord to bless them and then slowly drift off to sleep. I was careful not to miss a night because I was afraid of what would happen to these people if I did not pray for them. I saw to it that they were protected by my prayers and believed that without me these friends and family members would be in a rough place.

Over the years my understanding of prayer has changed. While I still believe in petitioning to the Lord on behalf of family and friends, I have come to adopt a definition of prayer that I first learned from Henry Nouwen: Being with God and God alone. As I have considered a lifestyle of prayer, I have had to honestly ask myself if there was space for that in my life.   After all, this was Jesus’ model of prayer, and if I was seeking to pattern my life after Him, then I had to begin to create space in my life for God to get at me. If Jesus often spent time in solitude, I believe that He is asking us to do that as well.

The most significant thing that we can do in our time with the Lord is listen to His voice. What??? Come on??? What does that even mean, listen to His voice?   Beginning to develop the discipline of listening did not come easy for me. In the early days I would get distracted by a thousand different things. I was annoyed, impatient, and constantly looked at my watch to see when the pain was going to end. Slowly, as I returned to this place of listening I began to hear the voice of the Lord. Sometimes through Scripture or a book I was reading, sometimes through journaling, and sometimes in the still calmness that overcame me in the moment. Somewhere along the way of consistently showing up to listen the Lord over the past fifteen years, He has given me the ability to hear Him. He gives direction for my day, wisdom in decisions, discernment in the moment, and assurance that I am loved by Him.

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The Lord Will Provide

My oldest daughter turned 10 last week, what?! Without trying to sound too spiritual or freaky, her name came from the Lord. I was in a seminar one evening when my wife was pregnant, and the teacher was sharing about the story of Abraham and Isaac. What stood out to me in the story that day is that it took place on Mt. Moriah. The speaker finished the telling of the story by saying, “Abraham called the name of that place, The Lord will provide. In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” (Gen 22:14) As that section of teaching came to a close I heard from the Lord, “This is to be your daughter’s name.” You can imagine the scene at home later that night with my wife. First of all, Moriah wasn’t on the short list of names we were considering. Second, how was I supposed to tell Anna that the Lord told me our daughter’s name? I went home, gave Anna the play-by-play and she responded very graciously, “If that is what the Lord told you then Moriah it is.”

Moriah means, “the Lord will provide.” This week I wrote this to my little girl in her 10th birthday card.

MORIAH:

  • it’s who you are in so many ways! I don’t know if we have ever told you, but your Mom and I had a hard time getting pregnant. It took almost three years and we wondered if we were going to need to adopt. Then one day we found out your Mom was pregnant and we were so thrilled!!! The Lord provided you as our first daughter.
  • Twenty years ago your Mom and I both left our jobs that we were doing, she was selling shoes to athletes and I was working for a business counting money. The Lord told us both to leave our jobs and work with teenagers. We went to work for Young Life and He has provided the money we need to live every day since. Your name is a reminder of how God always takes care of our family.
  • Your name teaches you and us to put our relationship with God first above everything else. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son because he loved God most. God the Father was willing to sacrifice Jesus on the cross because he loved YOU MOST!

Did you know Moriah that you are God’s favorite! He is your true Father and he loves you so much. I get to love you too and be your Dad here on earth. I get to provide for you and teach you, but most of all I get to point you to your real Father. You are loved Moriah, so so loved by Him and by me. You are His daughter and you are my daughter and I get to love you along with Him. I love it and I love you!

Happy Birthday Sweet Girl.

Love,

You Dad