As you carry on in life…

As you carry on in life…

Navigating relationships. Making a way in this world. Facing struggles. Celebrating triumphs. Dealing with pain. Laughter. Mourning. Clarity. Confusion. Changing seasons. Making plans. Chasing dreams. Suddenly getting older. Simply facing the workday.

Remember,

God is with you.

God is for you.

God is working for your good.

All things are possible to the one who believes.

 

Isaiah 9:1-7

May we believe; steadfast, unmovable. May we reimagine the world through how things can be. May we have hope (and with that joy and peace). May we live it now, it’s not just for a life to come, but live it now prophetically. May we be people who have seen a great light, who in turn become a light.

Isaiah 9:1-7

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.

Walking the Road

Walking the road
Away from
towards what?
In company
but alone
Whatever pleases
flashes of regret
Confident
confused

Called to
Turn a quick look
what was seen?
what was felt?
Ignore
walking the road

Flashes that draw
quick looks back
Now stopped
turned around

Running to you
arms open wide
Steps toward
quickened
Embraced, recovered, restored
Home

The Least of These

Individualism is an idol of the American, modern society. It is at odds with loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said loving your neighbor is just like the greatest command of loving God with everything you have. Jesus puts others squarely in front of you.

Others. We have to see. Actually, truly see. Get outside of my individualistic way of seeing things and really see. Get outside of what is simply best and comfortable for me.

Matthew 25:31-46. The hungry. The thirsty. The stranger. The naked. The sick. The prisoner. Whatever you do for the least of these you did for me. Whatever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for me. Jesus said that. In other words, love your neighbor as yourself. Don’t just see them, really see them. You cannot really see until you put your politics down. You cannot truly see until you dig deep to rid yourself of prejudices. You cannot really see until you put aside and rid yourself of your fears and insecurities. For a lot of us, our direct neighbors are not among those who are described in the above passage. But if you look hard enough, or simply watch the news (for instance the current refugee crisis in Syria), it is evident the needs that are there. And once you really see, what are you to do?

Matthew 11:2-6. When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

The prophets, in critique of their own people, were constantly reminding of the dangers and sins of idolatry and injustice. Idolatry: other gods, becoming mixed in their hearts. Not following God and serving him only. Injustice: lacking in how they did not treat the poor, the widow, and the orphan as commanded. To the point of not just improper care for them, but actually oppressing them. Jesus announced the kingdom of God in deeds and in words. He was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. He is what they pointed to. He restated the warning of idolatry and injustice in his answer to the question of what the greatest command is. Love God. Love neighbor. In these things there will be no idolatry and no injustice. Right relationship with God, right relationship (& actions) with others.

When John the Baptist, in prison, wanted to know if Jesus was the awaited Messiah, Jesus responds with the miraculous (signs of the Kingdom, things that swirl around the Kingdom) and specifically that the good news is being preached to the poor. This is an echo of Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” In the synagogue, Jesus read this text and said it was fulfilled in their hearing (Luke 4:14-21). But why the emphasis on the poor? Did Jesus not also bring the good news to the rich, the well to do? Did he not interact with the rich ruler? Did he not interact with the religious leaders who were mostly of the upper class? Yes, but…

The poor are the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner. The poor are the marginalized. The poor are often oppressed. The poor are not the ones invited. The poor are often the ignored. The poor are looked down upon. But this is where we find Jesus. This is where he proclaimed the good news. This is a sign of the Kingdom as much as the signs of the miraculous. The gospel reaches to the farthest corners of the marginalized and the oppressed.

Where people are marginalized, Jesus is there. Where people are oppressed, Jesus is there. Where people are left out and not invited, Jesus is there. Where people are ignored, Jesus is there. Where people are looked down upon, Jesus is there. He invites them to the Kingdom, to the great banquet, to seats of honor.

A while ago my daughter came home from church and asked a question. She had misunderstood something that had been said by the speaker concerning the cost of the temple of Solomon and God’s dwelling there. She asked me if the speaker meant that God doesn’t dwell, or go to, where the poor are. I told her it is the exact opposite. As a matter of fact, he is often in the last place where we think he would be. Sometimes we get the idea that Jesus is bottled up within our church buildings where the presence of God is because there are two or more gathered in his name. But if we really look outside our church doors, we may be surprised to find Jesus at work among those where we think he would never be.

And if Jesus is there at work among the oppressed, the marginalized, the outcast, the ignored, the looked down upon- so should we be.

The Way

Acts 24:14 “However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way…

The Christian life involves re-understanding our entire lives and the whole world in light of God’s revelation.” Eugene Peterson

This is Christianity in a nutshell. This is the Way. What is interesting about the early believers in Jesus Christ being called the Way- believing that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)- is that Christianity is really and truly a journey. A journey of being on the way, the narrow road. It is a journey of re-thinking and re-understanding our lives based on Jesus Christ, the revelation of God. That is repentance. Repentance is not just the forgiveness of sins, but also following the ways of Jesus. Repentance is realizing you need forgiveness but also knowing there is a different way of being human, something God intends that you can become. Jesus is the way to the Father, but he also shows us the way to be. In both of these, we are on the way. This is what it means to say that Jesus is Lord of your life. He is Lord, and you must follow him and begin to live life accordingly. He challenges all other lords- things that demand our attention and allegiance. He challenges with a simple call, “Repent.”

Matthew 4:17 “From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and it is for you! And to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven means that you must begin to live under the lordship of Jesus, the government of the ways of God, on earth right now. Your attention and allegiance are to be to him. In this we find abundant life. This is life as God intends it to be as we wait, longingly, for our Savior to return and bring the Kingdom in it’s finality. This is to be on the way, to be on that journey. Following Jesus and becoming. It is a purposeful life of faith in which you engage with God, allowing him to take the lead step and write your story. It is entirely intentional. Not that you can force things to happen, but you engage with God and allow him to make things happen. When he takes the lead step and begins to write your story, he may wreck, reshape, remove, or add. He will surprise you. He will not always fit into your understanding. He will cause you to turn from the fallen ways and systems of the world. He will cause you to turn from the fallenness in yourself. He will do this while on the journey. In shaping you he can be like the strong wind of a storm or like the quietness of a whisper. But even though he can be like that strong wind, more often than not these things are more subtle than the boom of fireworks. Mostly you will notice your ‘becoming’ as you look back while on the journey. He will take you somewhere.

Jesus says follow me, I am the way, I will make you into… (Mark 8:34, John 14:6, Matthew 4:19)

We believe, confess, repent. We become a Christian. Synonyms such as justified, forgiven, made a new creation, born again, and citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven are enacted.

We then follow. We become Christian. We continue in repentance and sanctification, living as citizens of the Kingdom with lives marked by good deeds. In following we have fellowship fulfilling the relational aspect of creation. In fellowship we become. God changes us. In our becoming we keep on the process of living out of the ashes of our sinfulness. And as we become, good deeds come from our lives. Simply because of change. Intentional and unintentional. In this we are light of the world, salt of the earth. We live each day in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ. We live each day in such a way that we need him. We live each day that if he did not exist, we would be rather absurd. This is the life of faith. All guided by (learning to) loving God and loving neighbor.

We do this in anticipation of the return of Jesus.

We are saved, are being saved, and will be saved. This is belonging to the Way.

Two Questions

Two questions have occupied my thoughts for some time now. Simple questions. Questions that can receive easy, trite, and mechanical responses from the average Christian. But to think them through, based on what Jesus did and said and taught, cause far reaching implications. Even as far as to say that to really think them through you will find yourself at questions that cannot easily be answered (I will venture to say that most of these hard questions have to do with the treatment of human life). Remember, it’s easy to say we believe in Jesus, much harder to truly follow him and live by what he said. So…

How far am I willing to be remade to exemplify the nature of Christ?

How much do I really believe in the life to come?

How far am I willing to be remade to exemplify the nature of Jesus…even if it is entirely counter-cultural? Even if it does not make any logical sense? Even if it is beyond my understanding? Even if it turns out to be different than I have always thought? Even if it is different than the way everyone has always done it? Even if it trumps nationalism? Even if it is surprising? Even if it puts me at a disadvantage?

How far you are willing to go will be guided by the second question: How much do I really believe in the life to come? Our worry is not to gain the whole world now, lest we lose our soul. But rather to live in such a way that we believe in the life to come so much we are willing to lose, if necessary, this world (and lose at the game it plays) as it is now.

For example, maybe a place to start with these questions, and there are certainly many places, can be Matthew 5:3-12- the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Not necessarily an easy place to start, but will get you into the mix of things rather quickly…

Here is a quote attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien (yeah, the Lord of the Rings guy), “Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.” I think that is a good, thought provoking, place to close.

Blessings

A blog post about blessing- but maybe not what you had in mind when coming to read this. Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) with a series of blessings (Matthew 5:3-12). They have been named the Beatitudes. Blessed are you if this is yours or if you come to have this. Accompanied is how to receive that blessing. I believe these are things we need to pay very close attention to. Jesus purposefully reveals them to us. He closes the Sermon on the Mount by saying that if you put into practice “these words of mine”, what he just got through saying, you will be like a wise man that built his house on the rock. Here is how he began “these words of mine”:

You are blessed if the kingdom of heaven is yours.
You are blessed if you are comforted.
You are blessed if you inherit the earth.
You are blessed if you are filled with righteousness.
You are blessed if you are shown mercy.
You are blessed if you see God.
You are blessed if you are called a son of God.
Again, you are blessed if the kingdom of heaven in yours.
You are blessed if great is your reward in heaven. As a matter of fact, you can rejoice and be glad.

When you think of being blessed, do you think of these kind of things? We should. Maybe, just maybe, these are the blessings that are greatest of all. After all, beatitude does mean supreme blessedness. The reason they are called the supreme blessedness throughout church history is because they are the blessings that cause and are the lasting things of all. And how do we receive these blessings?

The kingdom of heaven is yours if you are poor in spirit.
You will be comforted if you mourn.
You will inherit the earth if you are meek.
You will be filled with righteousness if you hunger and thirst after it.
You will be shown mercy if you are merciful.
You will see God if you are pure in heart.
You will be called a son of God if you are a peacemaker.
The kingdom of heaven will be yours if you are persecuted because of righteousness.
Great is your reward in heaven if you are insulted, persecuted, and have false evil things said about you because of Jesus. The same was done to the prophets before you.

Again, how do we receive these blessings? What do these words and phrases mean? That’s found in the searching and the Holy Spirit’s leading. I won’t try to explain them all. But to a point, take them at straight value in what Jesus said, not using the ‘yeah, but’ add ons. Let them mean what they mean.

I want to be blessed, as you do. I want the things that are lasting. I want my house built on the rock. And according to these words of Jesus, I have some things to work on…