Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections on a Year

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. This quote from A Tale of Two Cities doesn't exactly describe this past year, but the highs were high and the lows were low. There have been things that I hope I never have to go through again and things that I hope continue on and on.

The first three months of 2012 brought us the end of a small fellowship of believers we had been leading and the end of what we thought was a close friendship. Those months were especially hard on me. If you want to  get an idea of where I was during that time you can go back and read some of the posts from January to April. It was a dark time that I hope to never experience again.

In April, we began meeting with a group of believers on Sunday nights as part of a church plant. God showed his sense of humor by leading a guy who had no desire to go back to the institutional church to a church that is part of a denomination. As we quickly found out, this group is different. They met on Sunday nights for a meal, and then had a worship service, ending with communion. There were also groups that met during the week for a meal, a Bible study, or just hanging out together. We were welcomed and accepted from the beginning. The biggest draw for me was the mission of the church to benefit our city and to help each other learn to follow Jesus.

The defining moment came pretty quickly. You can read about it here. We had been looking for community, and had tried to create it. Those attempts had been a miserable failure. Now the Father had led us into a community of faith that already existed, and that was truly centered in Jesus Christ and the truth of the Gospel. As the months have gone by, we have grown to love these brothers and sisters and God has given us opportunities to minister to them, and be ministered to.

In May, our son Josh got married. His wife is a beautiful young woman, and is a blessing to us. We have grown to love her as one of the family. Josh was able to land a job at a local architecture firm, and we are rejoicing at God's blessing. As the year continued, there were a couple of dips in the road, but for the most part the journey has been pretty good. God has continued to teach us and bless us, and draw us closer to himself.

When this year began, I had an inkling that God was about to do something in my life. Little did I know what that would mean. I definitely would have done things differently had I been in charge, but then we wouldn't be where we are now. I have been learning that though the Father's mercy may look like something far different, I can trust his goodness and love. I am learning to trust my Abba's love, leaving things in his hands.

It's been an interesting year. There have been some tough times and there have been some good times. The good has definitely outweighed the bad. We are in a good place, and I'm looking forward to how the Father is going to work in me in 2013. To quote another piece of literature:
"The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
and I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And wither then? I cannot say."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

This is the final Weekend Wanderings post of 2012. It's been a good week here in the sunny South. Our daughter flew in from California for a few days to celebrate Christmas and we had a good time with her, our son and daughter in law, and Jan's dad. It's a bit chilly here, but nothing like it has been in the northern part of the country. The college football bowl season is in full swing, and it seems like just about everybody has been invited to a bowl. It's easy to find someone to cheer for.

Here are the links:

Good post from Kansas Bob.
Two Christmases.
Look to the persecuted.
New Year's resolutions?

An iMonk classic.
A challenging post.
Jo Hilder says, "Just love 'em."
Good post on desire and God.

The relationship driven church.
A parable for our times.
Those who dance.
A Christmas Story.

Kim Gottschild on a Christmas tree.
John Frye on Les Miserables.
Daniel Wells on the beauty of Jesus.
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald on a Christian pacifist response to Newtown.

Resting.
A Christmas reflection.
Love is patient.
Keeping it physical.

Have a wonderful week and a blessed new year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Preparation

The crowds have been braved, the traffic endured. Most of us have finished our preparations for Christmas. The food has been bought, and preparations for the dinner have already begun in some homes. Everything is ready for our celebration of the birth of our Savior. We are prepared. Or, are we?

We are ready for the celebrations with our family and friends. We are ready to remember the birth of a baby in a manger who came to save us from our sins. But, are we prepared for the coming of a King who came to establish his kingdom. The Jews in the first century thought they were ready for the Messiah. It turned out that they were ready for someone to ride in on a white horse, smite the heathen Roman dogs, and establish Israel as the most powerful nation in the world. Along comes this man out of Nazareth who claimed to be the promised Messiah, calling people to follow him and give their allegiance to him. The problem was that this king told his followers to love their enemies, not kill them. He taught that leadership came through service, that those who would be great would be those who gave themselves for others. He even said the greatest love was giving our life up for others.

When push came to shove, many of those who followed Jesus turned on him, They were not ready for a kingdom that was upside down, that operated from a completely different set of values than the kingdoms of this world. I wonder how ready we in the twenty first century are for that kingdom. We tend to put our trust in so many other things. We look to politicians, celebrity preachers, family members, or other influential people to give us wisdom. We look at our world as a struggle for power, and want to be sure our side wins. In America, many have confused the kingdom of God with a kingdom of this world. We are quick to seek our way, and strike back at anyone who disagrees with us or does something against us. We are not ready to follow a King who established his kingdom by dying, by loving his enemies enough to lay down his life for them. We are not ready for a the return of this King to finally set all things right.

As we celebrate this Christmas, let us look beyond the manger. Look at the One who came to establish God's rule on this earth, and who will return to fully realize that rule. Follow the King who claims our full allegiance, who calls us love others as he loved us. We can be prepared, not by passively waiting or by gaining power, but by bringing the Kingdom to earth in small ways as we follow Jesus and give ourselves completely to him.

Have a blessed Christmas.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Musings on a Birthday

On the eve of my fifty seventh birthday, I thought I'd sit down and let my thoughts wander onto the page and see what happens. There may be a bit of rambling as I'm just going to type and see what comes out. You have been warned.

Things have changed a lot in the last fifty seven years. We now have computers that fit in the palm of your hand and cars that are rolling computers. We can now see events on the other side of the globe as they happen. We can get information instantly. We can now let thousands of people know our deepest thoughts. Governments can be toppled by folks on computers and smart phones. The map has changed, as nations have disappeared and new ones have taken their place. Some areas of the world have grown richer, while others have sunk deeper into poverty. There are new religions, and new denominations within Christianity. There are small storefront congregations, and mega-churches numbering in the tens of thousands. Groups have arisen that have attempted to return the church to its roots, and others have tried to change it into something new and different. What has not changed is the desire of people everywhere to love and be loved, and the brokenness that makes that difficult, at times impossible.

My own journey has taken me from a little boy who asked Jesus to save me, to a teenager who rebelled against some of the status quo, to a young adult who thought he knew the truth and had all the answers, to an older man who has come to realize that all of life boils down to one thing. Or rather, one person. I have become, in the words of the late Michael Spencer, reduced to Jesus. For me, everything I do, say, or think is to be filtered through the teachings of Jesus Christ. That is not always a fun and easy way to live, as it means dying to myself and letting Jesus live in me. I don't begin to even approach doing it well. Many times I don't do it at all. I'm far too ready to do things the way I want, to fix things the way I think they should. As you would expect, the results are usually pretty disastrous.

As I sit on the cusp of my fifty eighth year, I wish I had learned a lot of things when I was younger, but I am grateful for having learned them. This past year has brought some big changes. Some were negative, some were positive. I'm looking forward to continuing my journey as I try to follow my King closer and closer each day, learning how to live as he wants. Should be interesting.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

World Vision Wednesday

Around the world, there are over 20 million people trapped in slavery, more than at any other time in history. Many of these individuals are children. World Vision is engaged in efforts to fight this evil. To find out how you can help, check this out.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Third Sunday of Advent: Anticipation

Jesus, as Israel waited in anticipation for you to come, so we wait. We anticipate your return to completely set all things right and restore your creation. As we wait, help us to be active as we pray for your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Let that kingdom come in our day-to-day as we follow you, until that day it comes fully. Amen

Weekend Wanderings

My heart is grieving with the people in Connecticut after the senseless destruction of so many lives. I can't begin to understand how something like this happens. We do live in a broken world, and we long for God's kingdom to fully come and this creation to be fully restored.

Here are some of the best of the links:

The Advent Shepherd.
Yard signs.
Good advice.
Thingamatizing Christmas.
Keeping X in Xmas.

If I was Mayan, I'd be worried about this.
Provocative post from Arthur Sido.
Matt Appling asks a good question.
Chaplain Mike on the horizontal Gospel.
Alan Knox on change.

The boundless riches of Christ?
Advent.
Sad, but too often true.
Pastor is not a title.
Maybe the Apocalypse really is upon us.

Is there a war on Advent?
Luke Hassevoort on brokenness.
The 2012 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar.
Symptoms of a bigger problem.
A Christmas story.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Repost: Mary's Song


This was first posted on December 4, 2008.

The other day, I was thinking about the song of Mary in Luke 1. It was actually a pretty subversive thing to say in that day. I was wondering what Mary's song would sound like in the 21st Century.

Who would be the rulers in today's world? Who would be the proud? Who are the rich? Who are the humble and the hungry?

What in our consumer driven culture could the song speak to? What would Mary have to say to the Church?

What does it mean today that the King has come and is coming again? What would happen if those of us who say we follow this King lived as if we really did?

Just some questions rolling around in my head.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

World Vision Wednesday

If you are wondering what to get that person who has everything, you might want to consider giving to a charitable organization in their name. For some ideas, check this out.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Prodigal Son: Becoming the Father

In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen writes that the challenge for him is to become the father. It is a challenge that is full of difficulties. When we look again at the Father in our own stories, we can see how daunting it is.

Our Father is gracious and loving without condition. He gives us many good gifts, but the most important gift he gives is himself. The Father is reckless in giving himself to us. Jesus, who is the image of the Father, gave his very life for us, pouring out his blood for our salvation. We are granted grace and mercy without measure from an eternal, inexhaustible love. There is nothing our Father wouldn't do for our good.

As children of God, we are called to be like him. When I look in a mirror, I see my dad. The eyes, the facial features, the hair (or lack thereof), the voice, all show whose son I am. The same is to be true of those who are children of the heavenly Father. As God is loving and compassionate, so we are to be loving and compassionate. As God is gracious and merciful, so we are to be gracious and merciful. As God gives himself, so we are to give ourselves. You get the idea.

In my late twenties my life changed as I became a father. Even though I was still a son, I was now a person with a child. That brought a change in responsibilities, and a change in perspective. As we mature in Christ, we are to leave both the prodigal and the elder son behind. We are still in need of fathering from God, but our vocation changes. We are now called to be the father. As I look at the father in the story, I see some things that will be true as we become the father. Nouwen states that the three ways to compassionate fatherhood are grief, forgiveness, and generosity.  

We grieve over those who have left home, we grieve over the injustice and abuse in the world, and we grieve over our own weakness. One aspect of grieving is realizing that we cannot save the one who has wandered away. The father in the story didn't go after his son, but he watched and waited for him to return. So it is with us. Many times, all we can do is pray that God will turn the prodigal around. We can not go into the far country and drag them back. All we can do is wait and be ready to welcome them home.

This grieving makes us sensitive to others who are hurting, and the sensitivity leads us to forgive those who wrong us. As the father did, we forgive without question any and all who return. As Jesus said, we forgive, and forgive, and forgive, and forgive, and so on. True forgiveness also reconciles. The father didn't say to the prodigal, "I forgive you, but I think I'll just keep you on as a servant." He accepted him back as his beloved son. No strings attached.

The third way to compassionate fatherhood is generosity. The father spared nothing to celebrate his son's return. He gave the best of everything, including himself. We are called to give ourselves to others in the same way. Yes, we may get hurt. I'm sure the father was hurt when the elder son refused to join the party, and I would guess the younger son wasn't perfect after he was restored. He may well have cause his father more pain. We are to remember the hurt we have caused our Father and the grace he gives us regardless, and do the same for others.

May the Father enable us to be as gracious, loving, and compassionate to others as he is to us.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Second Sunday of Advent: Hope

Taken from The Mosaic Bible:

Advent is a time of hope; the spirit of eager anticipation pervades the senses. Even in the refuge of your own home, the season is inescapable as carolers dismiss the social inhibitions that dominate the other eleven months of the year. But when tragedy, depression, or even loneliness steals your joy, you can almost resent the hope that others have.

When we think our hope unfulfilled, we adjust our expectations. We take on new causes, reconsider our optimism, or sometimes become leery of new endeavors. We can even become angry with God, feeling desolate or abandoned. But even if we lose our hope in God, he will never give up on us.

God doesn't share our limited perspective, and that is one of the reasons that the hope of Advent isn't dependent on how we are feeling. It can be comforting to rely on the one who give us hope, even when the light of that hope doesn't seem to penetrate our temporary darkness.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Prodigal Son: The Father

The story in Luke 15 is popularly named for the prodigal son, but it could be titled, "The Story of the Prodigal Father." Prodigal means recklessly extravagant, and I think that describes the actions of the father in the story. Jesus told this story in response to the criticism that he ate and drank with sinners. It is a picture of God's extravagant love toward repentant sinners.

The father granted the younger son's request, even though it was a slap in the face. As a father, I can begin to imagine the grief he felt as his son rejected him and everything he stood for. Rather than writing the son off as a lost cause, the story seems to indicate that the father was constantly looking for him to return. In spite of his grief he kept hoping. When the prodigal returned, the father saw him coming in the distance and ran to meet him. Imagine this dignified man running out to greet his son. In those days, one who did what the son had done would be met by the village elders if he returned and officially banished. The father was not only overjoyed to see his son, he was also protecting him.

Before the son could get his speech out, his father told the servants to prepare for a huge blowout party. He covered the son's rag's with a luxurious robe, put good sandals on his feet, and a ring on his finger. All of these were things a beloved son would wear, not a servant. There were no words of disapproval or recrimination, only grace and compassion. When the elder brother acted like a jerk and refused to join the party, the father went to him with grace, reminding him that he was also a beloved son. Again, there were no harsh words from the father.

We have the same kind of Father. When we wander away from him, forgetting who we are, he is waiting patiently for us to return. He knows we will return because his Spirit draws us. We are told in Scripture that God's kindness leads us to repentance. He doesn't force us back and hold us against our will. It's grace and love that brings us to him, and it's grace and love that keeps us home. In the same way, when we think we somehow have to perform to cause the Father to love us more, or think our good deeds mean we are better than our brothers, the Father calls us to remember that he loves us because he loves us. He doesn't love us any less when we screw up, and he doesn't love us any more when we do good things.

Sometimes we forget who our Father is, and who we are as his children. God calls us back to him, not as a servant. He calls us back, not as someone who has earned his love. No, the Father calls us to return home, remembering that we are his beloved children. He is ready to welcome us with open arms and celebrate our return.

The Prodigal Son: The Younger Son
The Prodigal Son: The Elder Son

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Prodigal Son: The Elder Son

The first post in this series looked at the main character in the story of the prodigal son; the younger son who had gone off with his inheritance and wasted it, and then came back. This post looks at the older son.

When the prodigal son returned home, there was one person who was conspicuously absent. The elder son was out in the fields, working as he had for years. In contrast to his younger brother, the older son had stayed home, working hard and obeying his father.

When he came in from another hard day's work, the elder brother saw all the lights on in the house, heard the music and laughter, and noticed the activity of the servants. In answer to his questions, a servant replied that the younger son had returned and the father was welcoming him home with a huge party. The older son didn't think this was such a good idea. In fact, he was pretty ticked off and refused to go into the house and join the festivities.

When the father came out to ask his oldest son to join them, he refused. He complained that during all the years he had spent doing everything the father had wanted, being the dutiful son, he had never even received one single goat to have a cookout with his friends. "On top of that, this son of yours has wasted his inheritance on wild parties and whores, and you've killed the fattened calf for him?"

How many of us have, at one or more times in our lives, been upset because grace has been shown to an individual who is a "worse sinner" than we are? (I see that hand. It's mine) We just can't believe that they got away with it! Our attitude is often the same as that of the Americans who rejoiced when Osama Bin-Laden was killed. That so-and-so got what he deserved. We want justice (usually meaning what the other person deserves) when it comes to others, yet many times we would prefer that mercy be shown to us. Sometimes, while the angels in heaven are rejoicing over one sinner who has repented, we are taking a wait and see attitude. After all, we don't want to be played for a fool.

Sometimes we are like the elder brother when we think that because we have been good little boys and girls, God owes us. We wonder why God doesn't answer our requests, because after all, we've been faithful in church, we've served others, we've had faith and claimed that answer, whatever. Then, when God doesn't "come through" for us, we start looking around for answers. Maybe I didn't have enough faith. Maybe I didn't pray hard enough. Maybe I need to search my heart and see if there's a sin I forgot to confess. Or, we begin to doubt the goodness of God toward us. "If God really loves me, why didn't he give me what I want."

Like the prodigal, the elder brother forgot who we was. Even though he had never left the property, he too had left home. He had forgotten the character of his father. The father was obviously a kind, loving, and generous man. He was full of grace and mercy, and wanted the best for his sons. He was quick to forgive, and to let past offenses stay in the past. Interestingly, that sounds a whole lot like our Father. He is slow to anger, and quick to forgive. He doesn't dredge up our past and hold it against us. He loves his children with an everlasting love, and his heart is good to us.

We can not earn the grace of our Father. It is his to give freely, and his alone. We are not to look on others and complain when they don't "get what they deserve." Most of the time we don't know how God is working in another individuals life. To paraphrase Aslan, God is not telling us their story, he is only telling us ours. Judging whether or not a person should receive grace is way above our pay grade. We are called to rejoice when others rejoice. Kind of like the angels.

We have all been the elder brother in some way or another. Our Abba is calling us to join the party.

The Prodigal Son: The Younger Son

Monday, December 3, 2012

Repost: Regrets and Fears

This was originally posted on September 23, 2008.


I recently heard someone praying and this person stated that, "We come to you with hearts full of regret for the past, and with hearts full of fear of the future." This caused me to think of our relationship to God and what should be the fruit of that relationship.

If we belong to the Father, we are his children. We are recipients of his love and grace. While our past is full of sin and mistakes, Jesus has redeemed our past on the cross. He has freed us from our sin and the guilt that comes from it. There are still times that I look and wish that I hadn't done certain things or had done other things differently. The difference between that and a "heart full of regret" is that I realize that there is nothing I can do about most, if not all, of those things; but that Jesus has done something about them. He has forgiven me and has even used some of those things to draw me to himself. So, like the Apostle Paul, I can forget the things behind me, and continue on toward being formed into the image of Christ.

I'll admit that I still struggle with worrying about the future. The Father is teaching me how to rest in his arms and trust him to do what is right and what is best. In Romans 8:15, Paul writes that God has given us a spirit, not of slavery to fear, but of sonship. By this spirit, we call God "Abba". We can trust our Abba completely, as a little child trusts his daddy no matter what. 1 John 4:18 tells us that their is no fear in love, that perfect love drives out fear.

Child of Abba, take heart. There is nothing in your past that has not been redeemed by Jesus. The Father uses everything to make us more like Christ, even the times we've screwed up. There is nothing in your future that you need to fear. God is already there, and there is absolutely nothing that can separate you from his love. Learn to rest in that love and let it cast out fear.

Don't let any person, trial, or circumstance try to convince you that God does not love you with an everlasting love. Don't let anyone tell you that you must do X, Y, or Z in order for God to be pleased with you. He already is.

May you be overwhelmed with Abba's love.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday of Advent

Longing:

Everlasting God,
in whom we live and move and have our being:
You have made us for yourself,
so that our hearts are restless
until they rest in you.
Augustine of Hippo

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

Today is our daughter Jennie's birthday. The time keeps moving by far too quickly. It really doesn't seem like that long ago when I was coaching a tall, lanky high school girl on the basketball court. That girl has been out on her own for a few years now and is making her own way in the world. Jan and I are proud of our "little girl." I don't know how she's getting older. I'm certainly not.

After a couple of weeks, here are the links:

Busy?
It's okay to be sad.
Come and rest.
Eyes on him.
Immersion.

Scot McKnight on embracing mystery.
Zac Hunt on the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Arthur Sido on weakness.
Matt on post culture war America.
Richard Stearns on living as an authentic Christian.

Life!
The grace of the feast.
When God needed us.
Advent is about desire (HT: Scot McKnight).
Really? I hope not.

Alan Knox on the church and player-coaches.
Is the "evangelical disaster" a good thing?
The Internet Monk on preaching grace.
Wish dreams and the church.
Jeff Dunn is spinning the hits.

Imitation.
Alan Knox has a series on the church, the synagogue, and the city gates. Part 1 is here.
Good news.
Learning from strangers.
World's scariest bridges.            

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Prodigal Son: The Younger Son

Today, I'm starting a three part series on the story of the Prodigal Son. The story of the prodigal is a story of God's grace to his wayward children when they come home. It is also a story with a number of layers that speak to us in different ways at different times in our lives. Henri Nouwen wrote a book titled, The Return of the Prodigal Son, based on his reflections on a painting by Rembrandt. My ramblings come largely from reading this book.

The first person we encounter in the story is the younger son. This son comes to his father and asks for his part of the inheritance that would come to him after his father dies. This is more than just a request to get money due him earlier than he would normally receive it. The ones who heard this story would have been outraged at the attitude of the younger son. In effect, he was saying to his father, "I reject you and everything you stand for, your culture, your religion, everything. I wish you were dead!" In a culture where rebellious children could be stoned to death, this was a dangerous and devastating statement for the son to make and for the father to hear. The father however, decided to give his son what he asked for. He handed over the money and said goodbye. As a father, I can imagine the heartbreak he went through as one of his sons turned his back on everything and left.

The younger son went off to a "distant country," where he squandered his inheritance on parties and whores. He was completely deaf to the voice that would have reminded him of his father's love and of what he had been taught. In short, he forgot who he was. I would imagine that most of us can see ourselves in the younger son in some way. Some may have wandered into a life of dissipation and come out of it. Others may have experimented with some things but not gone all the way in. In my own life, I was drawn in to things that were not good for me, although I never wandered completely away. Of course, there are some out there who would consider me a prodigal today.

There is another way to be the younger son, a way that many, many more have fallen into. That is the way of forgetting whose child we are and trying to get our identity from other things or other people. That is the way I most identify with the prodigal. Whether it's from a job, a skill, a style, or a group of people, we try to prove our worth by other things than what our Father says. Our culture says that what is important is how you dress, what job you have, what kind of car you drive, how much money you make, or what group you hang out with. Unfortunately, those things become like the husks the prodigal wished to eat while feeding the pigs. Trying to find our worth and identity in any thing of this world is a futile exercise, leading to emptiness.

Fortunately for the prodigal, he did come to his senses and remember who he was. I can see him slapping himself on the forehead, and saying, "What am I doing here? I'm not a pig farmer! I'm a son of a father who has a lot of money and food! Why am I starving here?" So, after coming to his senses he returned home. He still didn't completely remember who we was though. Or better, he didn't understand completely the kind of person his father was. His plan was to go home and convince his father to give him a job. He didn't believe his father would accept him back as a son. We sometimes also forget who we are dealing with when we go to our Father. We believe the lies that we can't be his child if we do certain things, or that we have to do something to get ourselves back into his good graces. We feel we have to "get right with God." We forget that our Father loves us and always accepts us.

The son returns and finds himself in the midst of a homecoming better than he could have imagined. He can't get his prepared speech out before his father welcomes him back and throws the biggest party the neighborhood has ever seen. So it is when we come to our senses and remember who we are. We are beloved children of the Creator of the universe. He is pleased with us, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to cause his love to decrease, and nothing we can do to increase his love. He holds us in his hands and nothing can pull us out. Period.

Remember who you are. If you've forgotten, your Father is looking for your return so he can lavish his grace and love on you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

World Vision Wednesday

Yesterday was Giving Tuesday. (I know I'm a day late. So sue me. You won't get anything :) ) Even though the "official" day is over, there are still a many ways you can give to those less fortunate during the holiday season. Check out opportunities in your own local area, or go here to find out others ways you can give.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Know Who I Am: Repost

This is a repost from August 1, 2011. This is one of the lessons God has been teaching me more and more this year.


One of the perks of driving a bus part time for a summer camp is being able to go to movies for free and see films that you might not otherwise see. Last Friday, I drove a group to the local cheap seat theater and saw "Kung Fu Panda 2." Since our own children are adults, I probably would not have gone to see this particular movie on my own.

I like it when a popular film or song presents a biblical truth, whether on purpose or not. This was the case in "Kung Fu Panda 2." The main story of the film is the quest of the title character to find out where he came from, all the while saving China from certain destruction. Near the end of the movie, the main character comes back to his adoptive father (who is a goose, in case you haven't seen it). When the goose asks the panda if he found out who he was, the reply is, "I know who I am. I am your son." Since I tend to be somewhat emotional at times, that line caused a catch in my throat. I then thought what a great picture that is of the Christian.

Regardless of the circumstances of the panda's life, he realized that his identity was rooted in the fact that he had been adopted and loved by the goose. Even though he found out the story of how he came to that place, what mattered was the love given him by his father. Those of us who follow Jesus have the same story. No matter where we have been, no matter what stories our lives have told, we have been loved and adopted by the Father. Our backgrounds are as varied as can be, as are the ways we came to faith. What unifies us is that identity as God's children.

As the panda was saving China, he faced terrible odds. After he found out the story of how he had been found by the goose, he was able to triumph. I believe that was the point when he saw his identity bound with the goose, and that gave him the strength he needed. Again, we are the same. When we realize our identity as beloved children of Abba and live in that identity, we can handle the obstacles that come our way. That doesn't mean that we'll be "winners" all the time, but it does mean that no matter what, who we are doesn't change. The fact that we are loved by the Creator of the universe doesn't change. God's good heart for us is the same, whether we are "spiritual" or struggling. We know who we are. We are God's sons and daughters. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

Weekend Wanderings will not appear this week. Our son Josh, and his wife Alicia, had a miscarriage Saturday, and we are grieving with them. Please pray

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Table As Truth

This is the third installment in a series on table fellowship. I approach this subject with a bit of trepidation. Truth can be a touchy subject, as the term has been thrown around by those who believe that "truth" is the way they see things and those who believe that there is no real truth. I also wanted to avoid over spiritualizing the subject. There are a number of valid ways to approach the subject. I hope I have chosen one of them.

Among the definitions of truth in Webster's dictionary are fidelity, constancy, sincerity in action, character, and utterance, and the body of real things. Truth is an important, yet seemingly rare, quality. Even those who believe that truth is relative want to know that they can trust certain people to be honest with them. Unfortunately, there seems to be an increasingly smaller number of folks who can be trusted to have fidelity, constancy, sincerity, and who are real.

One of the things that has become evident to me is the difficulty in being untrue when gathered around a table with family or friends. I guess it is possible to not be real while attending a large banquet or similar gathering, but small gatherings tend to be more intimate and revealing. When around the table, it is hard to fade into the woodwork and disappear. Conversation flows around the table, and the more time we spend with others, sharing food and talking, the more we get to know the real person. The masks come off around the table.

Inviting and accepting invitations to the table has long been a sign of acceptance and caring about the other. It is one way we can show love to others. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, we become real when we are loved and accepted. As we grow into that acceptance and love, we allow others to see who we really are, and we learn to accept them as they are. It is around the family table that children first learn social skills, and it is around the table that adults continue the lesson.

In Year of Plenty, Craig L. Goodwin writes about his family's trip to Thailand:
Our experiences with food in Bangkok reminds me of how a pastor friend from Brazil, Claudio Oliver, helped me understand two unique words used to talk about food in Latin America. He explained to me that "alimento is what nutritionists recommend for you; comida is what your mum makes for you. Comida is what you would call soul food: family together, people talking, warm fresh veggies, sweet potatoes, corn bread, laughing, crying, prayer, thanksgiving, culture, old history, little ones learning who we are through food." 

Let us learn fidelity, constancy, sincerity in action, character, and utterance, and being real around the table as we share food, drink, and conversation.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

This has been a pretty busy week. Jan and I found out that we are going to be grandparents. Josh and Alicia are expecting their first child in July. Basketball continues, as does all the usual stuff of life. I promise that I will get the third post in the series on table fellowship out this next week.

Well, the man who has been president for the last four years will be president for the next four. I still believe that our mission as followers of Jesus has not changed a bit, nor will it change after the elections in any year. Having said that, let's move on the the links of the week:

Good words from Kansas Bob on Ecclesiastes 11:4.
Following Jesus beyond the culture wars.
Dan Edelen on the 2012 elections.
Mercy.

Bonnie May on love and skim milk.
Marketplace ministries.
Jeff Dunn on darkness.
Were some early church elders also bond-slaves?

If anyone wants to pay for Jan and me to go on this, you won't hear us complain. :)
Man overboard!
Remix of Luke 13:4-5.
And all shall be well...

Dan Allen on a disappointing day.
Jon Acuff's election post.
The problem of learning from strangers.
Dining in the valley.

Alan Knox on hospitality.
I believe this is a good thing.
Something good to think about.
American evangelicals and militarism.

Have a wonderful, blessed week.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

The weather has turned colder here in the sunny South. The mornings are chilly, with temperatures in the 30s, but the afternoons are beautiful. This Tuesday is Election Day across the country. However you vote, or not vote, remember that no matter who is elected to office, Jesus is still King.

So much for my political statement for the day. On to the links:

Arthur Sido on living as peacemakers.
A good thing to keep in mind on Tuesday.
Swanny on the "F" word.
Alan Knox links to some good articles on table fellowship.
Hopefully you didn't do this.

Keith Giles on weather reports.
This is pretty cool.
Duh! (HT: iMonk)
Interesting take on Halloween (HT: Jake Belder).
Len on lament.

Government and grace.
Young Americans and libraries (HT: Scot McKnight).
We should all be like this.
Jared Wilson has some good thoughts on the Gospel.
Tilling new creation soil.

Frank Viola has a series on sowing discord. Part 1 is here.
Eric Carpenter reflects.
Working with Daddy.
Romans 8 and the Prodigal.
I agree with Jake.

That's it for this week. I hope you have a great weekend and a blessed week.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Table As Beauty

This is the second post in a series on table fellowship.

Beauty is defined as a pleasing quality associated with harmony, excellence of craftsmanship, a quality that is most effective or gratifying. The table can be characterized by each of these things.

Gathering around a table with friends or family promotes harmony, as food is passed around, stories are shared, and social skills are learned and sharpened. It is at table that real communication happens, and it is there that people get to know each other. Folks who gather around a table on a regular basis tend to be more accepting of each other, and more gracious. One of the ways Jesus showed his identification with the least of these was joining them for meals.

One of the joys of life is sitting down at a table that has been carefully prepared with lovingly crafted dishes. Whether the food is gourmet or "country style," served on fine china or paper plates, the craftsmanship of a well put-together meal is evident. If it's a large banquet, a family meal, or a group of friends at a barbecue, a meal is a thing of beauty if it is done with care and creativity.

Table fellowship can be very effective and immensely gratifying. Breaking bread together was one of the more important aspects of the life of the early church. Gathering at meals was so important that one of the things involved in church discipline was exclusion from the table. In my own experience, the times I have been challenged the most, the times I have felt loved and accepted the most, have been times when I have studied Scripture or just hung out with folks with whom I have just shared a meal, a cup of coffee, or a pint. Those are the times that have been most effective and gratifying in my journey.

It's been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That may be true, but I know that when I am gathering with friends or family around a table, I am in the midst of beauty.

Table As Goodness

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

It's been a while since I've done a weekend links post. The last couple of weekends were crazy busy, but things have settled down a bit. Here in the sunny South we missed the worst of Hurricane Sandy, but we are praying for the folks further north who are expecting to have a rough time the next few days. I wonder if any of the states have alternative ways of voting on Nov. 6, in case the power is still out due to the storms. Hopefully it won't be as bad as that.

On to the links:

Becoming sauce.
Pastor Romney?
Already but not yet.
The unmentionable one anothers.
After pietism.

Jesus loves even Chaplain Mike.
Have you heard about this?
Some good posts on this synchroblog.
Keith Giles has a series on leadership. Part 1 is here.
Len reviews The Art of Neighboring.

Fear.
How not to interpret the Bible.
To be in Christ.
The pastor and politics.
On being wrong.

J.R. Miller has a series on elders. Part 1 is here.
Alan Knox has a series on the "body of Christ" metaphor. Part 1 is here.
Eric Carpenter lives in the tradition belt.
Frank Viola on half-answered prayers.
If you're a leader in a church, please don't buy this (HT: iMonk).

Beautiful (HT: Scot McKnight).
It's time to party.
Sacred times and places.
Caption this.
Get small.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have a blessed week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

World Vision Wednesday

October 16 was World Food Day. Check this page out to see how World Vision is helping to combat child hunger and malnutrition, and how you can help.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Table As Goodness

In our fellowship, three of the things we emphasize are goodness, beauty, and truth. In this series, I want to look at table fellowship using these three ideas. This first post will focus on the table as goodness.

In the beginning chapters of Genesis, the statement was made that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Yes, he had fellowship with his Creator, but there was something missing. God brought Eve to Adam. They were put together for fellowship, for sharing life, and for caring for creation together.

All through Scripture, the theme of the goodness of fellowship is continued. The Hebrew word hesed carries the idea of both kindness and goodness, and many times is used in the context of relationships. Many times this fellowship is around the table. Hospitality was an important part of the Israelites' faith. When God delivered them from bondage in Egypt, he began their journey with a meal. In Deuteronomy 14:22-26, the people were told to take the tithe of their crops for the year and have a family feast at the Tabernacle. If they lived too far away, they were to exchange the tithe for silver and spend it on the makings of a feast at a closer location.

In the New Testament, Jesus came eating and drinking. His first miracle took place at a wedding feast, and he spent enough time at dinner parties that his critics called him a glutton and a drunk. Jesus spoke of the feast to be celebrated in the kingdom of God. The early church was known for many things. Two of these were a devotion to fellowship and a devotion to eating together. What we call the Lord's Supper today was just a part of a full meal the church ate together. In the epistles, we are told to practice hospitality. No matter what the enemies of the early church said, they had to admit that the followers of Jesus loved others. One of the ways they loved was by welcoming others to the table.

God said that it was not good for us to be alone. It's good for us to have fellowship with others, to share our lives with others, and to help and encourage others. One of the best places to do these things is the table. Whether it's a cup of coffee and dessert, a pint in a pub, or a full meal, spending time with people around a table is a good thing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Back From Break

I'm back from my short blogging break. I have a few ideas in mind, so hopefully I can make some sense of them and write something worth reading. One of those is a series on table fellowship. Another is a series on the parable of the prodigal son.

In the meantime, here is something originally posted for the November elections in 2008:

1 Corinthians 13 for the Election


If I speak with a silver tongue and can sway hundreds, but have not love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all polls,
and if I have a faith that can move political mountains, but have not love,
I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the national committee
and surrender my time to run a phone bank, but have not love,
I gain nothing.

Love is patient with those of the other party.
It is not jealous of opponent's fund raising,
it does not boast of its candidate, it is not proud.

It does not rudely argue political points, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered when others disagree, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in negative campaigns
but rejoices in the truth.

It always protects the reputation of Christ, always trusts God is in control,
always hopes for the best, always perseveres in living as a disciple of Jesus.

Love never fails. But where there are campaign promises,
they will be broken;
where there are silver tongued orators,
they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge of how to govern,
it will pass away.

For we have partial knowledge and we govern with that knowledge,
but when the True King comes, imperfect government will disappear.

When I was a partisan, I talked like a partisan,
I thought like a partisan,I reasoned like a partisan.

When I recognized who the True King is,
I put partisan ways behind me.

Now we see but a poor reflection;
then we shall see face to face.

Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.

But the greatest of these is love.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Break Time

I'm taking a bit of a break from blogging. Life has intruded, and made it difficult to find the time to write or even think about what to write. Nothing bad, just very, very busy. Things should slow down here in a while, and I'll be back.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Repost: Mustard Seeds

This was first published on June 4, 2009.

In the Gospels, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to a mustard plant. I had always understood that story as meaning that the Kingdom starts out small, but then grows into something great to which everyone will eventually pledge allegiance (this all would happen during the future millennial kingdom). Evidently, Jesus had something different in mind.


To the Jews of the first century, mustard was a managed weed. It could be useful, but needed to be tightly controlled. Evidently it was against Jewish law to plant mustard in a garden. If managed well it grew into a large shrub, but not anything we would call a tree. The Jewish concept of the Kingdom of God was something that was big and powerful, like the cedar tree. It was something that would come with a bang, and everyone would know it was here. When Messiah came, he would restore the throne of David to its former glory. Israel would take its rightful place as the premier nation. Jesus turned that upside down. He stated that the kingdom would be something that started small and worked its way along like a mustard plant, like a weed that grew in places where it was unexpected, and unwanted. It would be a large shrub, not a majestic cedar. The common fowls would flock to it, not the majestic birds like the eagle.

The Kingdom of God is not out there in front. It is not found in human glory or national pride. Many times it is invisible, as it works its way through society. It is found in unexpected places, inside the four walls of a church, and outside where people live their lives. Too often we miss it. Regardless of how small the kingdom may appear, it is powerful. It breaks down barriers as it works into the cracks. It flavors life for its subjects and those they encounter. It cannot be contained in our neat little gardens, sometimes it can't even be found there.

The Kingdom of God is open to all who wish to enter, even those who are at the bottom of the ladder. Many who are looking for a kingdom that arrives with power and glory may stand in danger of missing the true King. As Jesus told Pilate, his kingdom is not of this world.

Follow this King and enter his kingdom. Be part of the mustard plant.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Come As You Are, Bring What You Can

A few weeks ago a friend was talking with us about how she felt a little self conscious about bringing food to dinners and other gatherings because she didn't cook, and because she didn't shop at the same grocery stores as a lot of the other people. It's an understandable feeling. In today's culture we are bombarded with the message that what you wear, what car you drive, where you shop, and what you eat determines your worth. Unfortunately, this can even be the case within the church. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul addresses the problem of some eating the food that they had brought without sharing with those who had none, and getting drunk while others had nothing to drink. There were evidently wealthy individuals in the church who refused to share with those who were less well off. James writes about Christians who were showing favoritism to rich folks (possibly to get their tithes? :) ), while treating the poor among them like dirt.

Apparently, the early church hadn't moved far from the attitude of the Pharisees and those who gave and attended dinners to enhance their social standing. Of course, we here in the enlightened 21st century have moved beyond such attitudes, right? Right? *crickets* In a post titled, Accepting a Seat At the Table, Craig at Throwing Bricks writes this:

 It’s strange but I often find Christians who are hesitant to fellowship with other followers of Christ who don’t share their particular set of doctrinal beliefs, political affiliations, worship preferences, social / economic status, race, age or perceived level of maturity.  They are more concerned with being proved right than being with Jesus.  It’s as though we are still abiding by the old rules of table fellowship.  I have some old friends that border on fundamentalism and though we all believe in Jesus and strive to follow his teachings we remain distant due to certain interpretations of scripture.  What gets me is that I have no problem calling them brother and sister but I’m not sure they would reciprocate that sentiment and it sucks.

Evidently, accepting others is an ongoing problem in the church. Sometimes we reject others due to different interpretations of Scripture, sometimes because of social standing. We still seem to have a hard time accepting those whom Jesus has already accepted. Craig also writes:

Jesus didn’t discriminate based on any of these factors but rather invited anyone to come.  To respond to Jesus’ invitation and accept a seat at the table is to accept Jesus himself and everyone else at the table regardless of personal differences.

Our Rabbi, the one we are called to follow, invited everyone to come and accepted all who came. Should we do less. 

To finish the story, I assured our friend that I knew that the folks in her group wouldn't care where her food came from, who had cooked it, or what bag she carried it in. She is fortunate because she is part of a community of faith that loves her for who she is, not for any standard of "worth" the culture might try to put on her.   

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

After a few days of almost Indian Summer type temperatures, fall has returned to the sunny South. I spent the day yesterday at the local camp and retreat center where Jan and I work from time to time. They needed someone to fill in at the high ropes course zip line and to drive the bus to pick up a couple of groups of kayackers. I love being on the island where the camp is located. To me, it's one of those thin places where the presence of God is palpable.

I've gotten behind in my blog reading this week, so the selection of links will be a bit shorter. I hope you enjoy.

A funny from Eric Carpenter.
Kansas Bob on friends.
It's time to party!
M. Morford on fall.
How much does God give us?

The harder life.
Alan Knox on learning to trust.
Arthur Sido asks a very good question.
Donald Trump and the Gospel.
Good reminder for all of us.

I hope you have a blessed week!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

World Vision Wednesday

"Mabvuto was forced to drop out of school because he had nothing to wear but tattered clothes and routinely suffered from preventable illness. Access to basic clothing and medication could make a world of difference for children like him."

Check this out to find out more.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekend Wanderings Correction

Thanks to Sara for catching a mistaken link in yesterday's post. The link to Dan Edelen's post on a characteristic of great Christians was to another post. The correct link is here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

Fall is making its presence felt here in the sunny South. It has been sunny and cool during the day, and at night it's cool enough to sleep with some cover. My volleyball team started off with three wins in a row, then played like a different team and lost the next one. I guess that's too be expected when dealing with eighth grade girls. It's okay. Coaching is still the best part of my work day. There's just over a month left in the election season. I, for one, will be glad when I don't have to read or watch any more of the political ads for a while.

On to the links:

Good question.
The Merry Monk has a fable for the candidates.
Innocent or relevant?
Zack Hunt on the new Joel Osteen book.
When truth can be a lie.

Think you're having a bad day?
Living community.
Arthur Sido on church and tax breaks.
Vessel.
iMonk classic.

Doctrinal differences.
Brant Hansen on Rich Mullins.
Lessons learned in the chemo lab.
Dan Edelen on a characteristic of great Christians.
God hidden.

Keith Giles on sacrificial love.
Seven habits of a lifeless church.
Richard Brand on a married Jesus.
The family of God in Ephesians.
Were there early Christian soldiers?

Have a blessed week!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Peace

Today is International Peace Day. All over the world, people are thinking about peace, talking about peace, and working for peace. One of the goals of the day is that there be a day where there is no fighting anywhere in the world. Sort of a global cease fire. In the school where I work, students and teachers were asked what "peace" meant to them. Most of the answers including things like not fighting, no conflict, or treating others kindly. It is all of those things, but peace is also so much more. There is something which underlies all of those ideas. It is the idea of shalom.

The Hebrew word shalom means peace. It is also used as a greeting and a farewell. Shalom means more than just "peace," more than just the absences of conflict. The word means wholeness, health, completeness, rest, and harmony. It is a concept that most don't really understand because there is so little wholeness, health, rest or harmony in the world. Every day there is news of conflict somewhere in the world, or crimes committed against property or persons. Much of what passes for political speech is nothing more than arguing and trying to prove how evil the other side is. Even in churches, there is not the shalom  that should be there.

Jesus is described in Scripture as the Sar shalom, Prince of Peace. It is in Jesus that true shalom is found. He is the one who brings wholeness, who gives health. It is Jesus who completes us, who gives us rest. Only Jesus brings harmony as he reconciles us with God, and reconciles us with each other. Unfortunately, the world looks at those who claim to follow the Prince of Peace and sees division, arguing and fighting, and sometimes hatred. This should not be. We are told in 1 Peter 3:15 to be always ready to give an answer to those who want to know about the hope we have in us. I believe that means more than just telling people how they can go to heaven when they die. A large part of that hope is the shalom that we have in Jesus. We have something that the world is desperate for. Our problem is that we don't realize what we have. We don't realize that in Christ we are whole, we are complete, we are at rest, we are reconciled. If we can grasp that truth and let the Spirit form Christ in us, we can live in shalom. We can live in a way that is truly counter-cultural. We can exhibit the kind of hope that causes others to ask.

"May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace." (Numbers 6:24-26 NLT)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

World Vision Wednesday

On September 29, the Global Festival will be held in Central Park in New York City. A number of artists will be performing, including Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Foo Fighters, the Black Keys, and Band of Horses. World Vision is partnering with globalcitizen.org to increase awareness of  the issues of global poverty and things that can be done to help the least of these.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Repost: The Presence of God

Sorry there was no Weekend Wanderings post this week. The weekend turned out to be crazy busy. This post was first published January 26, 2009. I hope you enjoy it.

Have you ever been in a church service and heard someone pray and thank God for the chance to come into his house and worship in his presence? Or maybe you've prayed that yourself? I have. Or maybe you've sung the hymn, "In the Garden." You know, the one that talks about meeting Jesus in a particular place at a particular time and then going out on your own into the world outside the "garden." I think songs like "In the Garden," and prayers that speak of "coming into" God's presence have unwittingly helped foster a dualistic way of looking at the world.

Growing up, I was always taught that it was important to have a time and place set aside to "meet with God", to spend some time reading the Bible and praying in order to be able to face the challenges of the day. We were told that first thing in the morning was the best. On top of that we should attend church services on Sunday morning and Sunday night to be prepared for the week ahead, and also show up on Wednesday night in order to refresh your faith for the second half of the week. Behind it all was the idea that if you weren't in church three or more times a week and having your own devotional time, you weren't spending enough time with God.

Don't misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that setting aside a regular amount of time to read Scripture and pray is a bad thing. I am NOT saying that a time of corporate worship and instruction is a bad thing. I AM saying that we fall short of the life that Jesus came to give us when we act as if those are the only times we are in the presence of God.

I see this in the theology that teaches that salvation is only spiritual and guarantees that one day we will escape this old world of sin and misery and go to our home in heaven. I believe that if we see heaven as "somewhere beyond the blue", it makes sense to believe that God isn't really with us in our day-to-day, and that it is essential that we go to church a lot and carve out a special time to "meet" with God. While folks may protest that they don't believe that, I think the evidence in their lives shows that they really do. Having said that, I know that there are people who use the words of this theology because that is what they grew up with, yet live as if they are always in the presence of God.

If we believe that God fills all of creation and that he is not limited to a particular place, then we can realize that heaven is all around us and that God is making all things new right now, and will finally restore his creation when Jesus returns. If we really believe that, then while we may set aside a certain time and place to focus on the Father, we will live in our day-to-day aware that we are continually in God's presence and don't have to rely on whether or not we had our "devotions" that morning. We have the Spirit in us to guide us and reveal to us what God wants us to know and do.

Yes, we need to read and know the Bible. Yes, we need to pray. But we should never think that a certain time of the day or day of the week is the only time we are in God's presence. As the Psalmist asked, where can we go where God is not there?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Larger Story

This past summer, when the wildfires hit Colorado, John Eldredge and a friend were having a meal together. They were discussing the fires and the possibility of being directly affected. They talked about what they thought Jesus was saying through everything. They both said, "Trust the Larger Story."

This is a good thing to do throughout life in general. We live in a world that is broken, and we deal with broken people. Not only that, we are broken ourselves. Stuff happens in our day-to-day lives and all around the world. Not a day goes by that we don't hear or read about tragedy and death. Sometimes we are the ones experiencing those things. We get sick, jobs are lost, friends disappoint. Sometimes we just struggle with living. But, that is not the whole story.

The story is not about us. We are not the heroes. We are living in God's story, the story of a Kingdom and the restoration of all creation. It is a much larger story that spans eternity. We are in that story, and we all have a part to play, whether big or small. It is that story that gives us hope and encouragement.. The thing we need to do is take our eyes off ourselves and focus on Jesus and what he is doing. That's the hard part. We tend to be so wrapped up in what is happening to us in that moment that we forget that there is more going on than what we can see with our limited vision.

A few weeks ago, Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum wrote a good post about Romans 8:28. In this post he spoke of the good for which God works all things, and the fact that the things that happen to us don't always seem to fit into this verse. Dan asks,

"What if the Creator's intention for 'those who love God' isn't primarily for the individual crushed by circumstance? What if the 'those' consists of the greater mass of Christendom?"

 What if the intention is for the overall good of the Kingdom? The early church believed that the Kingdom spread through their suffering, just as it had been inaugurated in Jesus' suffering on the cross and his resurrection. Believers who have suffered for Christ through the centuries have understood this. Here in the West we have a hard time grasping this concept. Our vision of our faith is extremely personal.

Remember that the Larger Story began long before any of us arrived, and it will continue to be played out long after this life is over. It is a story that is about the Creator and the love he has for his creation. That story will come to its climax. Perhaps then, we will look back at our part in the play and say, "Now I understand."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

World Vision Wednesday

Many times, public school teachers have to spend their own money on supplies and instructional materials. In the 2009-2010 school year, teachers spent more than $1.33 billion dollars out of there own pockets. World Vision has teacher resource centers across the United States that help teachers lower their costs as they provide supplies for students who can't afford them. To find out more check out this link.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

Welcome to another edition of Weekend Wanderings! After a stormy week here in the sunny South, with rain causing the Democrats to move their stadium party indoors, the sun is shining again and there is a preview of fall in the air. Of course, those of us who live around here know that summer weather is not really  gone. It's just hiding for awhile, waiting to jump out when we least expect it.

Here are the links:

A defense of faith.
Eric Carpenter on James.
The Thread.
Jeff Dunn on doing nothing.
Safety or peace?

Alan Knox on children's games (sort of).
Feeling dumb. acting smart.
Jay Moore on missional living.
Dear God.
Scot McKnight on Peter.

Call us back.
Aly Lewis on semantics.
Christianity dying of old age?
Stephen Prothero on God in political platforms (HT: iMonk).
The dangerous business of change.

Matt on political parties and beer.
Apple pie.
Dan White, Jr. on missional marinating (HT: Scot McKnight).
Stay superficial, my friends.
Struggles.

Have a blessed week!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

We All Need Abishai

Many of us who grew up in the church have become disillusioned with the stuff that has been piled on the gospel of Jesus. Some of us have been hurt by others, others have left when the questions they had were dismissed as irrelevant or evil. Some became fed up with the organization and institution that had replaced simple gatherings of God's people. Many of us were looking for a community of faith where we could be devoted to Jesus and other believers.

Some have found a home in liturgical churches, while some have formed "organic" churches. Others continue to wander in the post-church wilderness. I was one of those for a while earlier this year. I was burnt out on the whole idea of church, and was hoping that I would find community with other followers of Jesus somewhere, somehow. I didn't know what form that community would take, and I was open to just about anything. Except church. I just wasn't ready to go back.

As it turns out, God led us to a community of faith in what some would call a traditional church. In the last few months, the Father has taught me a number of things. One of those things is that I need to spend time with others who love me, pray for me, challenge me, and allow me to do the same. I've also seen that I need this more than just an hour or two once a week. I need folks with whom I can share life. Jeff Dunn, over at  internetmonk, has written a post that does a very good job of explaining how those of us who have gone back into church-world feel.

In the post, Dunn writes of the time David was about to be killed by a giant by the name of Ishbi-Benob. David was older and was exhausted by the battle. This was a giant that David was not able to slay. Think about it. The mighty warrior-king of Israel, the slayer of ten thousands, was not strong enough at this time in his life. Fortunately, one of David's men, Abishai came to the rescue and killed the giant. David had to depend on another to save his life. I'm sure this was humbling for David. I know it would be for me.

Like Jeff Dunn, Jan and I gather with this church because there is first of all a love for Jesus that is evident. The other reason is the community that we have with the people. We have felt loved and accepted from the first day we visited. We gather together on Sunday, and at various times throughout the week. We realize that our relationships will get messy and difficult from time to time, but we hope in the Gospel to bring us through the mess and into deeper relationships. We need folks around us who can be Abishai to us, and to whom we can be the same. There are things I disagree with, but to me, the essentials are there.

If you are one of those who is still wandering, search for those who can be Abishai to you, whether it's in a "traditional" church, or just a group that shares life in Jesus together.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Repost: Be Blessed?

This was originally posted on August 27, 2008.


The sign guy has another one up. This one reads, "Be blessed. Stay in his favor."

I grew up hearing messages along that line. If you want God to bless you, you had to make sure that you did things that would keep you on his good side. I remember making sure I had confessed any and all sins that I could think of before I would pray for something really big that I wanted from God. I always "searched my heart" before Communion to make sure I was "right with God" so I wouldn't get sick or die. I lived in a carrot and stick relationship with God. The carrot was his blessing if I lived right, and the stick was missing blessings or being punished if I didn't. Even through my teen years when I got involved in things that I shouldn't have, I still held on to the idea of getting "things squared away with God" before I wanted him to bless me in some way.

One of the biggest things the Father has taught me over the years is that he loves and blesses me because he wants to, because I am his child. I am in God's favor because I am in Christ. I did nothing to earn his favor, and I can do nothing to lessen it either. I sin, but my Abba Father loves me far beyond what I can understand. My performance doesn't cause God to love me more or less. I am accepted as a son by the One who is over all, and therefore I want to do those things that are compatible with my standing. I want to do those things that bring glory to my Father and that advance his Kingdom. I don't do those things because I think that doing them will keep me in God's favor and bring his blessing down.

I am through with a performance based religion that keeps its followers in fear that they might knowingly or unknowingly do something that is going to cause God to take his hand off them. I am through with a religion that acts as if God can be manipulated to give favor by man's actions.

I embrace a grace that loves me no matter what, that has already given me God's favor, and that is forming me into the image of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Weekend Wanderings

This was the first full week of school, and it was very busy. That explains why there are no other posts for this past week. Once I get used to the different schedule, there will be more posts for your reading pleasure. Hurricane Isaac has come and gone from the Gulf Coast, leaving behind a mess from the tremendous amount of rain it dropped. Continue to pray for the folks affected. The Republicans have had their convention, and the Democrats are getting ready to meet in the town just up the road from us. I'm glad I don't work there, as the traffic is expected to be a mess.

On to the links:

Kansas Bob on friends.
Dan Edelen on delusion.
Scot McKnight on leadership.
Arthur Sido on following Christ in the midst of persecution.

Jesus, faith, and a universe of fear.
The trans-congregational church.
Too wonderful for us.
Andy Stager on being an upper room.

Learning to read the Bible (HT: Jake Belder).
Learning to let go.
Good question from Alan Knox.
Good words from Mark Davidson.

Good series from Keith Giles. The link is to Part 1.
Good post from Jon Acuff.
Lisa Dye writes a challenging post.
So, pray the hurricane away from the Republican convention so it hits the poor folks who are still recovering from Katrina?

I wonder how long this guy kept his job?
Into the cross hairs.
Five myths.
Mercy vs. sacrifice part 1.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have a blessed week.

Weekend Wanderings

It's been a while since I've posted a links post. A lot has been going on in the world, and a lot has been going on in my own life (...