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.            

Fear

Franklin Roosevelt famously said, "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," as he tried to encourage the American people...