Engaging the Journey – Chapter 1

June 17, 2018

 

Preface

This is the first part of what will be a 21`chapter book, “Engaging the Journey,” which will take the content of a 9-month theology discussion conducted by Brooklyn Fellows, which is offered by Resurrection Brooklyn, and puts into an historical context. I am taking advantage of much reading done over the last 40 years and adding that framework to the content of the book.

Chapter 1 – Made for a purpose

 

Anticipating the Journey

You look at the news and wonder where things are headed to. Sometimes you look at your life and wonder the same thing. Where is God? What’s His plan for the world – for the church – for you? Then you pick up the Bible and read the stories and wonder how they all fit together. Then you look at the church – well, churches, there are so many of them – and wonder why it’s so complicated and messy and wonder if anybody’s got it right. And then what about me, my story, my mess? How do I fit into it all that?

Well it is complicated – and the very first hint of how complicated it is starts with the first sentence in the Bible (more on that later), but God has been working through and has been intervening in the lives of many people through the years. It’s through those stories that we can at least begin to understand what the Big Story (the story that helps us make sense of the world) is, and our story is. As we begin to explore those stories we can discover that:

  • we don’t have to figure everything out by ourselves,
  • the stories (the Big Story and ours) are not over yet, they are in process, and
  • we’re invited to join in that process, that journey, and participate with the God of the universe in bringing His story and our story to the end that He has already planned out – or we can just be a spectator and wonder what’s going on.

The fun in the journey comes from realizing that while we don’t have everything figured out, He does. Furthermore, while we can actively participate in the journey, the results are not dependent on us but on Him, who is working through us. As much as we may mess things up, He is able to redeem all our messes and bring us to the destination He has chosen, ultimately restoring us and the rest of creation, making us all into what He had intended from the beginning.

Among all the creatures that God created, we are uniquely made, even if we are not the center of the universe as some people may have thought at one time. Through the pursuit of science, we now have instruments that make it very clear that we are not physically at the center of everything, not that we can prove anyway. We are only specks on a small planet spinning around a star in an apparently random solar system in an apparently random galaxy in a universe we cannot even see the edges of. Although we don’t know where the center is, the universe seems to have been created with us in mind.[1] The properties of the universe, the physical constants, the atomic structures, were all created such that it would support our existence. Interestingly, although we are creatures made of the stuff of the universe, not only can we can study and reflect on the properties of that stuff, we can also study and reflect on, and even reflect, the one who created us.

The Story-Teller God

It is frustrating though, to try to figure out who this Creator is. There is so much of the creation itself that we don’t understand, it “makes sense” that we would not be able to entirely understand the one who created it. So in what seems to be a deliberate pattern, the Creator doesn’t try to explain Himself, rather He does things and then tells us who He is and what He does, such as:

  • The creation of the world and His response to it
  • the first people He created and the messes they made and how He responded,
  • the family he chose to give His laws to, the messes they made, and how He responded

And then, when God came to us in human flesh as Jesus, a man from Nazareth, his basic teaching was in the form of stories. It’s within those stories and through those stories, the stories of God’s interactions with people and the stories told by Jesus, that children as well as adults can intuitively grasp the character of the Creator.[2]

The Intended Destination

God created the universe for his glory, and within that humans were created to experience the true joy of living, to bear the fruit of His nature, to reflect His presence. We are designed to be image-bearers of God himself, stewards of the creation He inserted us into while reflecting the very character of God. God’s initial reaction to creating us was, “It was very good.” His intent was that we would fill and take care of the earth, all the while reflecting His character to each other and to His creation.

He gave us unimaginable delight and freedom, but that very freedom He gave us was joined to a responsibility, a responsibility that was wrongly used and caused immense far-reaching damage – damage we could not possibly undo.[3] Our pride-laden rebellion damaged the relationships between each other, between us and God, between us and the world and even between heaven and earth; but God had a plan from the beginning, a plan which is now underway, to ultimately restore what was lost and undo that damage.[4]

Ultimately, we will be freed from the bondages of sin and death and all the relationships that are now damaged will be restored. In fact, in a time-line that we cannot fully grasp, God waited from the beginnings of mankind until 2000 years ago to defeat the power of sin and death and begin the process of restoring His kingdom on earth. Then He told us that someday, he will complete that process and he will return again in the fullness of his glory and fully restore all things at that time.

Our hope looks at the resurrection of Jesus as a harbinger of the resurrection that awaits all those of us who will be united with Him in our own transformed bodies in the new heavens and the new earth.[5] Furthermore, our hope doesn’t ask for us to simply wait for that time when the Kingdom of God is fully restored, but that we can be part of God’s plan to bring the Kingdom of God into our broken world, and therefore bringing hope to the rest of the world.

The In-between Time

In the meantime, we do not know when that will be, and we find ourselves in the middle, in-between those two times, between the beginning of the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth and the time when it will be fully accomplished. In this in-between time, sometimes we see some signs of God’s restoration – and sometimes we can’t – and it’s hard to figure out what God is doing, especially when there are times that He seems to be absent. In those times, we need to call upon our faith to hold onto the hope that God is still working out His plans. We need to recall all the times that we did see Him at work, and then we also need to remember that getting to the end of the plans that He intends for us may require some pain on our part just as it required pain on His part as well. But in our case, as it was with His, the pain will be overwhelmed with the glory that will be revealed.

Our ultimate destination is not a mere returning to the way we started out, but to the full flourishing of our potential, where God will establish a kingdom of image-bearers released to display God’s character and reflect His glory.[6] With that in mind, we can do more than just hope and more than just sit and wait to arrive at the destination. We can participate with God in bringing His kingdom to earth and bring a little shalom into a broken world that desperately needs it, knowing that the little shalom that God allows us to help bring to the world is just a foretaste of the fullness of the shalom that awaits us in the fully restored earth.

The purpose of this book will be to take a grand overview of God’s story, looking at highlights of that story through the history of the Bible and the history of the church and our current situation so that we can see where we fit in and how we can engage in the journey that God has entered us into and more fully and consciously participate with Him in bringing His kingdom into this world.

Big story – Arc of history

The following sketch lays out the overview of what the Big Story is that we are living in.  As we go through the rest of the chapters, we will be filling in the details about the different parts of the story, but this will give you a sense of where we are going. The sketch is based on the “Big Story” created by James Chuong[7] and was further implemented in an app produced by Intervarsity.[8]

The sample script shown below the sketch gives an idea about how to work your way through sketch.

NOTE: When presenting this to someone else, first draw the 5 circles in the pattern shown and then gradually fill in the extra sketch-work and the titles as you talk your way through the story. As indicated in the sample script below, start with the second circle, then return to the first, second, third, fifth and then the fourth circle.

ArcOfHistory

Sample Script

DAMAGED – Most of us have no problem seeing that the world is messed up – it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, what with the injustice and harm that’s done – the wars, crime, poverty, pollution, etc. – and we ache for better world (draw in “people” and the squiggled lines on circles). Interestingly, when we are hungry it points to the existence of food because that is the way we solve our hunger, and similarly when we are thirsty it points to the existence of water. So, when we feel an ache about the messed-up world it points to better world – that did or will exist. The Christian world view is that not only was there once a better world but that the currently broken world will be restored some day.

GOOD. God designed world for good and he designed us (draw in people) to take care of it. We were also designed to love and serve each other and flourish in human communities. Genesis 1:18-31

DAMAGED. However, we decided that we would run things our own way (draw arrows), chased after our own needs instead of the needs of others or for the planet (draw arrows and the line between people). The consequence was that we damaged the planet and the relationship between ourselves and between us and God.  Isaiah 53:6; Romans 6:23; Isaiah 59:2; Galatians 5:19-20; Romans 1:21-22; Romans 3:23

REDEEMED. The good news is that God loved us too much to leave us that way, so 2000 years ago God sent Jesus (draw in people, the cross and squiggle lines) who taught us a better way to live and then, by his death and resurrection made it possible to restore our relationships with each other and with him and with the planet. By his death and resurrection, he redeemed everything – our relationship with him, with each other and with the planet. John 3:16; Philippians 2:6-7; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:8; Romans 3:25-26

RESTORED. But he wasn’t going to complete everything right then. He let us know that He was going to leave us for a while, that he would return someday and at that point would transform us and all of creation (draw in people and the alpha and omega). At that time, He will fully remove all evil from us and from the world and we will then dwell with him, each other and the world in peace. It’s only something we can do. We don’t have the power ourselves to heal everything ourselves. Revelation 21-22

INBETWEEN. In the meantime though, we are in an in-between time (draw in squiggle lines and people), a waiting time, the time between his first coming when he started this revolution and his second coming when he will fully restore his kingdom. During this time, although he left us with things still broken we can join the revolution he started. We can join Him in the healing process that He has begun. This is possible because, although he left us as a physical individual, he did leave behind his Spirit (draw symbol for Holy Spirit (bird)) which we can receive His power, the through that power (draw arrows) to bring healing to our relationships with Him, with each other and with the planet. He invites us to receive that power by accepting the forgiveness He offers and accepting his rule for our lives. Acts 3:6-7; Matthew 5:14-16; John 20:21-22; Micah 6:8; Luke 4:18-19; Philippians 2:3-4; 1 John 4:10-11; Romans 5:110-11; Mark 1:17; Mark 2:14; John 3:17-18; Galatians 2:20-21; Romans 10:9; 1 John 1:9 Acts 10:43; Acts 1:8; Matthew 5:14-16

 

WHERE ARE YOU?

1 – You think the world is fine. But how do you reconcile that with the suffering in the world?

2 – Are you overwhelmed by the evil in the world or in your heart?

3 – You have some understanding of what Jesus did. Would you like to become a follower of Jesus and engage in his mission to heal the world with his community and with the help of the Holy Spirit?

4 – Are you involved in Jesus’ community and engaged in his mission to bring healing into the worlds?

 

 

[1] Slezak, Michael. “The human universe: Was the cosmos made for us?” New Scientist, “www.newscientist.com/article/mg22630190-400-the-human-universe-was-the-cosmos-made-for-us” 29 April 2015, Accessed 5 May 2018

[2] Cp. Matt 13:10-17 Parables were also designed to conceal the truth from those that God whose hearts have become dull

[3] Romans 8:19-22. The whole universe is groaning, waiting for to be restored

[4] Pursuing God, Heaven and Earth, “www.pursuegod.org/biblical-themes-an-animated-explanation-of-heaven-earth/ “

[5] Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope, Harper Collins, 2008 pp4-5, 18; Rev 21-22

[6] Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope, Harper Collins, 2008

[7] Chuong, James. “The Big Story,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCVcSiUUMhY

[8] Intervarsity. https://store.intervarsity.org/big-story-gospel-presentation-tool.html

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Liturgy of Mobile Devices

November 6, 2017

Most of us struggle in some fashion with the distractions of cell phones/mobile devices. In fact, we can honestly admit that this technology, which has brought us a tsunami of social connectivity, is driving us more than we are driving the technology. Our normal urges for social connection, in a healthy environment, provide the glue to bind us in mutually nurturing relationships, but now, in a changing tecchnological culture which is developing more quickly than our wisdom, we are experiencing advances that are now being used to hijack and manipulate our urges. Furthermore, it is challenging as a society to develop an effective cohesive check on the rapidly developing technologies. So, how do we regain control? How do we change our unhealthy habits?

Usually, we do not just dispose of unhealthy habits, rather we replace the unhealthy ones with new ones. We replace one ritual (or liturgy) with a new one. I am proposing that there are a couple of levels of liturgies that are available for us to replace our unhealthy liturgies.

LITURGY OF THE DAY

While all our days look different from each other’s in many ways, the component of the day that I am looking at right now is the part where we interact with our technology. Various studies, such as the one’s mentioned here (http://www.aish.com/ci/s/Smartphones-Negative-Effects-A-Summary-of-Latest-Comprehensive-Research.html), show the effect of unabated use of cell phones, when we allow ourselves to be slaved to the demands of the device. Part of our task is to realize that we need to confront what has been called the tyranny of the urgent (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6803033-tyranny-of-the-urgent) and thoughtfully consider what things are truly important versus those things we are perceiving as urgent and structure our days appropriately according to our thought out priorities. As we do that, we need to keep in mind the Great Commandments and we also need to humbly consider how we interact with God through the day and confront our perceived need for our control vs. our actual need to recognize God’s control. It is in that context that we may need to let others know that we are not always going to be instantly responding to notifications.

There are a few techniques that are available for cell phone app management. A couple are mentioned in the first article referenced above.

  • Silencing the phone: This can be done in hour before bedtime in order to not have the phone impact our sleep or at other times when we want to focus
  • Putting your cell phone away and out of sight (or in another room) at various times during the day (e.g. mealtimes, while meeting with friends)
  • Controlling your notifications on your apps. This can be done by turning off notification sounds, banners, etc.
  • Putting the notifications with banners on a secondary screen and planning what times of the day you will choose to look at those apps

LITURGY OF THE CALL TO PRAYER

With the liturgy of the day established, we have the context set for the next step. If we are receiving the emails for the daily prayers, we still may have the challenge of handling the very device that is distracting us from what we hold to be important to with things that we are perceiving as urgent. But now if we establish that the email containing the prayer is important compared to what we have perceived as the urgent notifications from the apps, we have the possibility of establishing a liturgy to counteract our old mindset.

There is one technique of managing the mobile device distraction by simply not using it. That is a valid strategy but a purely defensive one. However, we may be able to use the emailed prayer in an offensive strategy, and replace our liturgy of distractedness with a liturgy of focus. To create this new liturgy we can use a centering prayer (https://www.pcusa.org/resource/lectio-and-centering-prayer-conflict/). In the prayer emails sent out by Resurrection Brooklyn, the first two sentences are:

God is near because he loves you. Turn your hearts to him and find new life.

So one option is to use those sentences in our centering prayer. Whatever we decide to use, once we have a prayer set up that we always use then over time we can memorize it and use that prayer anytime, not only when we are intending to open the prayer email but whenever we pick up the phone, causing the phone to now be an object that calls us to prayer instead of being an object that causes distraction.

The Masterpiece

August 31, 2017


We never get life’s canvas blank it always comes filled in
With who we are and where we’re from and all the good and bad
And so provides the place and time in which we get to grow

I cannot show how great a love when everything is easy
I cannot know how far I’d go if i had never journeyed
If every day i had enough and nothing caused me worry

I cannot grow in knowledge if i never have to learn
I cannot grow in strength if I never have to strain
If nothing made me try too hard and never was I troubled

It’s the pull between the light and dark and good and bad we grow in
That shows us who we are right now and who we are becoming
When we choose the paint we add onto the Master’s canvas

The canvas is full of joy and pain and light and somber hues
And scenes of peace and conflict and scenes that are confused
And for every scene in black and white are hundreds gray and blurred 

On this canvas we leave our marks to make it more complete
With marks of joy or sorrow or light or dark or pain
The Master then transforms our marks into his radiant glory 

For it takes the bleak, forbidding, world to reveal His love and peace
And our confusion and despair to show His hope and joy
And on the day when we go home we’ll see His Masterpiece 

Remembering who is in control

August 23, 2017

Zech 4:6 – So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Zech 8:10 – Before that time there were no wages for people or hire for animals. No one could go about their business safely because of their enemies, since I had turned everyone against their neighbor.

I am reading the above passages this week. So now, as I hear the responses to the President’s speeches, I am reminded that the Lord is still in control and orchestrating our affairs. Zechariah was written as Israel was in exile and the Lord was reminding them that there is hope at the end of His discipline – He is able to draw all His people to Himself. Unlike Trump’s claim during the campaign, that he is the answer to all our country’s problems – God is reminding us here that He is the one in control, even if God has ordained Trump’s presidency.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the statements made by the President, it is clear that, despite all our communication tools, there are groups in this country that do not know how to listen to each other. With insulting categorizations, quick responses and blanket statements thrown around, there is precious little communication (listening) actually happening. There are fears and doubts that are not being understood. There is healing of relationships that needs to occur. There is a need to understand that God is more than we can understand and is larger than our biased (whether we acknowledge it or not) agendas.

When “our side” is winning, we can become complacent – not bothering to hear what concerns others my have, and when “our side” is not winning, we can become aggressive – caring more about being heard than listening. In either case, the call is the old prescription, “to love our neighbor as ourself,” whether we don’t want to or need to. And for those of us who consider God to be on “our side,” we need to confess our brokenness, that we have not loved God or neighbor as we should, that we need to ask God how we can be used by Him to help bring healing to the land in which He placed us, and that we need to acknowledge that we need God’s intervention in our own lives as well as in the lives of those we disagree with.

The problems we see are bigger than the President, than Congress, than the Supreme Court, and bigger than the Constitution. The solution to the problems is not ultimately to be found in the laws we make, the culture we make, the schools we build or the walls we build. The problem is all of us – our sin. The solution is love and grace – taking the time to get uncomfortable and listening to those who are different, wrestling together with the messiness of all our situations and acknowledging that the fears and concerns of others are just as real as our own.

That said, the love and grace we need is from God. Once we have fully grasped just how much we ourselves need that love and grace, we can then share that with others in this broken world. Meanwhile we need to patiently wait for the time when He will complete His work in us.

Reconciling the nature of the God in the Old Testament and New Testament

February 23, 2016

murals-losangeles-politics-201289-h

Photo: Flickr.com, Montezuma’s war, Photographer: llpo’s Sojourn

The Old Testament seems full of violence, not just man against man, but violence that God seems to promote and even participate in. This seems so antithetical to the way God seems to be portrayed in the New Testament, there exemplified by Jesus who seemed to focus more on serving and forgiving. How do we make sense of this? I think that there are two issues to be looked at:

1. The initial question comes from the way God initiatiates and commands violence in the Old Testament, particularly against seemingly innocent people, causing many of us to be uncomfortable or confused; how can the God who loves, cares for and nurtures us to the point of dying and suffering for us, be so violent against the people He wants to draw to Himself? Particulary, when the violence seems to be carried out against innocent people, it seems to contradict the sense of fairness and kindness we expect of God.

2. The first question leads to a more fundamental question. How do we reconcile that the God of love and peace in the we are familiar with in the New Testament with the God of wrath and violence we see in the Old Testament – is the nature and character of God the same in both testaments? It is this question we will look at first.

The nature and character of God

One of the first things to do reconcile these two seeming disparate points of view is to be more thorough examination of the revelation of God in both testaments. If we look carefully, we will discover that there is much in common between the two testaments:

The themes of love, grace and mercy run not only through the New Testament but through the Old Testament as well

Ex 34:6-7, Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
Hos 11:8-9, My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
2 Samuel 24:14 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands
Psalm 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Nehemiah 9:31 But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

The themes of justice and wrath run not only through the Old Testament but through the New Testament as well

Luke 3:7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Matt 10:14-15 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
Matt 10:34  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Mark 9:42-48  “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
Luke 18:7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
Romans 9:22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?

Understanding the context of violence

For those of us who are disposed to relate to God as our Father, our Friend, and our Shepherd, we become uncomfortable with the expressions of wrath and violence displayed by God, particularly in the Old Testament. Part of our discomfort is due to our incomplete understanding of God (which we just addressed and partly due to our lack of understanding of the context of the culture in Biblical times.

Violence is found not only in the Old Testament but in the New Testament as well

⦁ Revelation 19:11-21 Heavenly warrior defeats the beast.
⦁ Rev 16:1-21 seven bowls of wrath
⦁ Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

Malachi 2:16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. In this verse, divorce is considered an act of violence. How little do we understand what other violence we commit with any of our sins.
Lex tolionus (Code of Hammurabi) – the concept of “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” is actually a counter-cultural idea that the MAXIMUM penalty for a transgression should be not greater than the transgression itself
Herem – devotion (to destruction)- The destruction of entire cities was necessary to eliminate the gross sins committed by a city. Part of that elimination of a corrupted culture was so that it wouldn’t contaminate the Israelites (as was proven in the later history of Israel, Deut 20:18) as simply a patient and forbearing God executing his delayed judgement. In the dream where God was informing Abraham of the future (Gen 15:12-16) captivity and release of the nation of his descendants, he also informed Abraham that the time of judgements against the Amalekites had not yet come but would come at the time when Abraham’s descendents would return to the Promised Land.

God gives people up to their sins

  • Genesis 18:20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous
  • Pharoah who hardened his heart and then the Lord further hardened the Pharoah’s heart

Throughout scripture, there is a pattern in how judgement is carried out

  • God declares judgement for sin.
  • Warning is giving, and the opportunity to repent and avoid judgement is provided.
  • God’s judgement is carried through.

The deaths of innocents, the children

  • Throughout history, parents have always been the determinators for the welfare of their children – for good or for bad.
  • A declaration of war would have typically provided a warning period with opportunity for women, children and the elderly to flee.
  • The children killed in these episodes lived in a depraved environment with a miserable outlook for the future (a future that they may not have even experienced as a result of the culture of child sacrifice pursued by their parents).
  • Killing by the sword is a more merciful way to die, especially when compared with abandonment and starvation that would have resulted if only the adults were killed.
  • Death is not the end, and we can trust God to do what is right, not least of all with children who are not old enough to know any better

The sovereignty of God and other issues

God’s desire for justice for His children – While we need to be careful about how we ascribe our own feelings to God, there is a scriptural basis for our Heavenly Father’s passion for His childrena and a desire to seek justice on their behalf. Consider how an earthly father would respond if he saw his family being maliciously attacked by people who have no shame and whose intentions are purely evil.

God is God and we need to accept His authority not only when we don’t understand it but when His actions cause us consternation. We have had no voice in why He has chosen us to be His children and not chosen others. His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa 55:8) and we need to have a humble spirit about what we do not understand. Think of the disciples reactions when they were in the boat and saw Jesus command the winds and waves to stop.

References

How could a loving God command acts of violence
Jesus and Old Testament vengeance
Old Testament Killer God

The heart of the Sabbath

February 17, 2016

Are we really ready to trust in God and rest in His provision for us. (John 5: 1-30, also Mark 2)

church-JesusHealing

How God longs for us to come to Him, to be healed from our sin and to rest in His provision for us. In this encounter with the invalid man, Jesus probes not only the heart of that man but also the hearts of the Pharisees and through this passage preserved for us to read – our hearts as well.

To the invalid man, he asks what could seem to be an unnecessary question, “Do you want to be healed?” We are apt to think, of course the man wants to be healed, isn’t that why he is there at the pool? But after all these years of waiting, is it still in his heart to desire healing, or after all this time, has he resigned his heart to never being healed or perhaps he has gotten to the point where he is used to being taken care of and may not want a real change in his life, would he rather be in a place where he would complain about his situation or would he rather be able to take responsibility for his life?

And there is also the question for us: are we ready for God to change us? If God were to heal us of a sickness in our body or our spirit: What vulnerabilities would we feel if the sickness or bitterness or whatever is troubling us is taken away? What changes would have to happen in our lives or what changes would have to happen in our attitudes if we no longer could hide behind our disability? What self-righteousness would we have to let go of to let other people see a change in me? Are we ready to trust Jesus to change us?

It seems that Jesus was also thinking of the Pharisees reactions when He instructed the invalid man to not just “get up and walk”, but to “get up, pick up his pallet and walk”. He knew that when the man would be seen carrying his pallet that the Pharisees would notice and would verbally protest about “working on Sabbath” but in their hearts they would also protest Jesus’ authority which would be validated by the healing. Taking the offense, Jesus further challenged them by not only clarifying His relationship with the Father but by also outrightly accusing them of not believing in Him.

That leaves questions for us: Are we putting our trust more in Scriptures than in the one who gave us the Scriptures? Are we seeking more to know about God or to know God Himself? Are we ready to trust Him, rest in Him and  accept His authority over us?

Grief in the midst of hope

February 11, 2016

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endure; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow Psalm 90:1-10

graves

We are foreigners in a fallen, broken world. It is with faith and hope that we look forward to the time that we go home and are fully healed and unencumbered by our bodies of sin and free of the need of daily penitence. But it is a great privilege we have in this world to not only be a witness of the love and the work of God but to be able to participate with Him in bringing His kingdom into this one. This privilege comes with a burden, though. The great love we receive from our Heavenly Father overflows in our lives as we share that love with all those around us – and that love experiences the pain of loss as our loved ones suffer the inevitable death that awaits all of us. Even though that death is a necessary precursor to our eventual healing and restoration to the God who loves us, it still hurts. It should hurt. It hurts in the same way that God was hurt by our rejection of Him beginning from the time of Adam and Eve and by the rejection experienced when the Son suffered and died and was separated for a time from the Father.

This is the pain we feel when we are separated from our loved ones, whether they leave prematurely or after a long life in this world. And though we look forward to the time when we can be reunited once again, in this world we experience the real loss and the real pain of separation. Even in the midst of hope there is grief. As we wait – we grieve and hope all at the same time.

Sometimes it’s a friend who leaves before us

On Glory’s shore

One more day of wondering of what the day will bring
Will it be a day with crying, some laughter or a song

Will it be a day with grief or sorrow, or overflowing joy
But we cannot worry for there’s never a way to know

And then maybe some tomorrow, I’ll wake on Glory’s shore
With no more tears of sorrow and no more cries of pain

And then one day in Glory, with joy I’ll shake your hand
For precious are the memories of the journeys that we shared

No more beers of sorrow will pour across our lips
No more furrows of worry will crease across our brow

No more silent worries, no more burdens we can’t bear
No more secret heartaches, no more fears we cannot share

For the one who’s shared our journey, shared our sorrows, laughs and joys
Is the one who’s shared His life with us and the one who’s brought us here

Sometimes our children are taken, sometimes very young, sometimes before they are born.

This Child of Ours

This child of ours we give to you
This little one we surrender
This tiny child we offer you
This helpless one so tender
This helpless one so tender

For ours is not to give and take
But merely hold awhile
It’s from your hand that we bring forth
Then return into your hands
Then return into your hands

What we conceive we dearly love
With bitter tears we grieve and lose
But we remember you also grieved
When from your Son you turned away
When from your Son you turned away

And it was yours to give and take
But you let go awhile
And from your Son you turned away
Then returned him to your hands
Then returned him to your hands

And we await the final day
When we shall finally see
The ones we lost beside you
And we shall cease our sorrowing
And we shall cease our sorrowing

It’s only for a little while
That we must bear our pain
The hands that brought us all forth
Shall restore us then in peace
Shall restore us then in peace

Sometimes our spouses are taken from us.

All in eternity

We wait for troubled waters to be finally stilled
We wait for dreams and wishes to be finally filled
We wait for some tomorrow when we shall finally be
All together, all is better in eternity

We had some fun and good times, with laughter as we’d fall
We had some small and big plans, our life was very full
We had our precious moments and memories so warm
Life together is life better, life in eternity

Side by side we labored, shouldered all we could bear
Side by side we wrestled, rested only in our prayer
Side by side encouraging each other as we’d go
Worked together, walked together towards eternity

I’ll miss your lilting smile that brightened up my day
I’ll miss your calming touches that kept me from going astray
I’ll miss your warm embraces, the joy you raised in me
Love together, love is better, love in eternity

Until I go to meet you on that eternal shore
Until I lay my burdens and my labors are no more
Until I greet you once again, my heart will ache for you
All together, all is better, all in eternity

Deeper

The shadows in the valley are deeper
The light of life
Who walked by my side
Is gone

I long for the arms that once held me
That made me feel warm
That comforted me
At night

The pain of my journey o’erwhelms me
Away and at home
I’m feeling alone
Right now

But the one who called you home
One day will call for me
And we’ll all meet beyond the vale
And we’ll walk on the mountain of joy

The death of my beloved goes deeper
It rips through my soul
It causes my heart
To weep

I long to hear the voice that once called me
That made me feel home
That filled my heart
With peace

I’m missing your love and your friendship
The joy of my life
That anchored me through
The storms

But the one who called you home
Will one day call for me
And we’ll all meet beyond the vale
And we’ll walk on the mountain of joy

The light in my life goes deeper
Through pain and death
I shall find my rest
And peace

I look to the day I will hold you
Forever again
Life with you again
In heaven

There’ll be joy to displace all the sadness
The pain and the hurt
The loneliness will
Be gone

But the one who called you home
Will one day call for me
And we’ll all meet beyond the vale
And we’ll walk on the mountain of joy

As our loved ones are at the brink of passing from this life to the next, what do they experience as they draw near to heaven?

The Sweetness of Death

The sweetness of death all around me
The sweet taste of death in the air
Is the sweet breath of Jesus who’s taking me home
And the pain that surrounds me is the pain he will bear

Through the pain of the sorrows around me
The incense of heaven comes near
And reminds me of home and that I’m not alone
And the soft hand of Jesus is drying my tears

As the shadows of heaven enfold me
And the mercy of Jesus draws near
The pains and cares of this world start to fade
While the comfort of heaven overwhelms all my tears

In our room full of shadows we see dark and light
Some things that pain us and some things delight
But as we pass through the portal and out of the night
We’ll see shadows of heaven transform into light

All the people I regarded so lightly
And the friends I have clung to so tightly
I must let them all go but I’ll pray that they’ll know
The God of all Comfort who calls through the night

What would our loved ones say, now that they in the unrestricted presence of Glory.

My Eyes Have Seen the Morning Star

I ran as to win the race of life
I ran to win those who were lost
I ran with patience to the Lord of Lords, the King
I ran, but now I rest my weary bones

My eyes have seen the Morning Star
My ears have heard the Living Word
My hands have touched the nail pierced palms
My soul’s found rest within His arms

The treasure that was in the earthen jar
Is now released from chains of grief and pain
My soul has found Jesus at the journey’s final end
I wait for you to join me with my Friend

My eyes have seen the Morning Star
My ears have heard the Living Word
My hands have touched the nail pierced palms
My soul’s found rest within His arms

The life we shared together did not end
But in a while more we’ll meet my friend
And while you wait gain wisdom and you’ll shine like heaven above
So run, until you rest your weary bones

My eyes have seen the Morning Star
My ears have heard the Living Word
My hands have touched the nail pierced palms
My soul’s found rest within His arms

In the meantime, in this broken, foreign land, let us keep focused on Him who sustains us.

The Flame

When the fortunes and the heartaches that befall us
Burn away and the Lord shall reappear
The real work of our lives will rise triumphant
And the work of the Lord will be complete

When the Flame has burned all things around us
And the fortunes and the heartaches disappear
When the testing of our lives has been completed
Will our flames still be burning bright and clear

As the seasons of this life fly by our window
And the toils of our lives seem but a waste
When discouragement mounts high outside our doorway
We still can have the Hope that gives us peace

When the Flame has burned all things around us
And the fortunes and the heartaches disappear
When the testing of our lives has been completed
Will our flames still be burning bright and clear

When our lives are filled with wealth that falls around us
And the things in our lives are working well
When the blessings in this world come to our doorstep
Let us hold onto the peace that can endure.

When the Flame has burned all things around us
And the fortunes and the heartaches disappear
When the testing of our lives has been completed
Will our flames still be burning bright and clear

There are no obstacles to God’s plans

February 7, 2016

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11Acts 27-28)

the-storm-4
Photo credit: gulfman1 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
 

Back when Paul was in Ephesus, he knew that he must go to Jerusalem and then to Rome, no matter the obstacles. When in Ptolemais, despite receiving ominous news that he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem, he would not be dissuaded from going. In Jerusalem, when he was taken into custody by the Romans, he used the opportunity to appeal his case to Caesar – and get to Rome that way. Then, when being transported to Rome by sea, in circumstances he could not control himself and was subject to the decisions made by the Roman soldiers, God would not be deterred by the decisions that were made and allowed the Romans and all their passengers to survive a storm and shipwreck. On top of that, Paul would even survive being bitten by a viper.

God plans for you – and the world – will not be deterred. We should not get discouraged when circumstances seem against us; not by the stop lights we encounter, not by accidents, not by people opposed to us. We need to understand that our plans might not be His plans – but would we not rather be subject to His plans than ours. If we find ourselves getting  frustrated for any reason, we should keep in mind, that His plans for us will happen anyway – but if our plans are not His plans then we should question our plans.

 

 

 

 

No longer a sacrifice

February 5, 2016

We do not even consider it sacrifice, when give of ourselves to those we love (Acts 21:7-14)

silhouette-father-son
The apostle Paul had it set in his mind and spirit that he was to return to Jerusalem despite danger he would face there – a danger even confirmed by his friends who were warned by the Holy Spirit that the danger was real. However, Paul was driven to do anything that God desired of him. There was no sacrifice that was too great when it came to serving the Lord who loved him. Paul’s response to the pleas for him to stay away from the pending danger in Jerusalem was, ” I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

I wrote the following poem to reflect that kind of spirit – the spirit that hopefully exists in my marriage and family and also in our relationship to God.

Was It Sacrifice

Was it sacrifice to have
More time to spend with you
More time to hear your stories
More time to see you through

Was is sacrifice to see
Your eyes so clear and bright
Your smile brighten up the day
Your face filled with delight

What was it that I gave up
What treasures did I lose
Whatever did I turn away
To have some more of you

Could you call it sacrifice to lose
The things I could not hold
But to gain some treasured moments
And some precious time with you

Was it sacrifice to lose
Some time to be at work
Some time to make more money
Some time to get ahead

Was it sacrifice to spend time
On all our countless walks
On all our countless moments
On all our countless talks

What decisions did I make
What did I decide not to do
When instead of doing other things
Instead I spent time with you

Could you call it sacrifice to lose
the things I could not hold
But to gains some treasured moments
And some precious time with you.

Time with Jesus

January 28, 2016

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschoooled ordinary men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus.” Acts 4:13

jail-cells.jpg
This is a compelling statement. It challenges me to think about how much time have I spent with Jesus, and does it make a noticeable difference in my life. It makes me think about all the different situations that in which the disciples walked with Jesus. The time spent listening to his preaching, seeing people healed, seeing people respond to the call of Jesus. Then there is the thought of what happens when you offer a cup of water to someone , feed the hungry, visit those in prison, heal the sick (Matt 10:37-42). Where do I spend my time? In the end, would we rather be known by our education or by the time we spent with Jesus?


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