Not a Word: Refusing the Answer of Indifference

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And behold, a Canaanite Woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon. But he did not answer her a word”  – Matthew 15: 22 – 23 

Most of us aren’t used to hearing much when we pray, but we might expect more of a response if we were coming before Jesus in the flesh. This wasn’t exactly the experience of a certain Canaanite woman in Matthew’s gospel though. When she came before Jesus, desperately asking Him to help her daughter, He pretty much ignored her.

From the details we are given we can safely assume that Jesus heard her but for some reason chose not to acknowledge her. She must have kept crying out, much to the frustration of the disciples, until Jesus finally acknowledged her. Silence is discouraging but how much more being told your not going to be helped because of something you have no control over (mainly because your not Jewish)? At this point many would have turned around in defeat but this woman refused to be denied. 

With her most desperate request seemingly brushed off by Jesus she knelt down and likening herself to a dog, proceeded to beg (Matt 15:25 -27).Talk about dogged determination! Had Jesus been like other men the response she heard might have been something like: “Oh just go away woman! Stop begging! Don’t you know when to quit?” But Jesus was not like other men and this was exactly what she was counting on! To her importunity Jesus responded,“O woman, great is your faith!” Instantly her daughter was healed (Matthew 15:28). To others this woman was pathetic at best, more likely an annoyance and an embarrassment, but to Jesus she was a woman of great faith! Praise God for the second opinion!

It wasn’t just that this woman believed Jesus was able to heal her daughter, she believed He was willing and because she believed this she wouldn’t take no for answer! What have you been asking Jesus for? Has it felt like your desperation has been met with indifference? Don’t confuse His silence with indifference (see Ps 50:21, 2 Peter 3:9). Today is the day to sign back up and believe that He will answer! Keep asking and refuse to to be denied.

“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”. – John 14:13

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A Short Protest to Foot Washing

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imagesCan you imagine what it must have felt like to sit there and let Him do it? How could this be? They must have looked at each other with a confused awe. It just didn’t seem right. One by one, they looked down at their feet to see their Lord and Teacher girded with the servant’s towel and basin wiping the dirt from their feet. How could the High and Lofty one of Heaven kneel before the feet of sinful men?

One of them finally voiced the protest they were all thinking but none dared confess aloud: “You shall never wash my feet!” This wasn’t the first protest Simon son of John, better known as Peter the rugged fisherman from Galilee, had made to Jesus and His kindness (Luke 5:8). Perhaps by now though Peter had learned his lesson for when Jesus told him if He didn’t wash him he’d have no share with Him, he very quickly changed his response.

I often find myself coming back to this story in John 13. I imagine myself there next to the twelve feeling the water splash at my feet. I try to hear the tone in Jesus’ voice as He tells me I am clean. I don’t understand the implications of what He is doing, though he tells me I soon will, and as I protest the fact that He serves me I quickly realize that He isn’t take no for an answer. I am His and He must wash me.

As I finally give into letting Him love me in this way, I turn from my imaginings to the vantage point of knowing the whole story and I remember an even more scandalous event than foot washing. The next day the same hands that held basin and towel would be nailed to a crossbeam. Thursday He washed men’s feet, Friday He bled, suffered, and died so that men with dirty feet and rebellious hearts could be reconciled to God their Maker. It is because of this scandalous event that even on my worst days I can proclaim with confidence that I am His and His desire is for me (Song 7:10). “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”- John 13:9

Don’t Leave Me Alone God

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Bob Sorge was a senior pastor and worship leader in upstate NY when he suddenly suffered a life-changing vocal injury in 1992 that left his voice completely depleted of strength. He is able to whisper for about an hour each day before the pain prevents him from speaking. Through his personal suffering and trials, the Lord has used him to minister to countless people in the body of Christ in the years since his injury. He has become a successful author of many books and travels around the world sharing the message the Lord has given him. To buy his books, download free resources, or learn more about Bob’s ministry, visit http://www.bobsorge.com.

This video he shares a little of his story, it’s a very powerful story and beautiful video. Hope you are as moved and encouraged by it as I was by it.

Surprised by Weakness

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In my twenties I was a recent convert to Christianity. I spent most of my teenage years so depressed and hopeless, that when I finally came to the realization that God was real it was like breathing fresh air after a lifetime of exhaust fumes. I was finally alive and dreaming big! There was no doubt in my mind I was going to do great things for God. 

I imagined that by the time I was thirty I would be achieving heroic feats for God. “Of course it was gonna happen” I’d assure others and myself after all God had called me. I didn’t give much thought to what would be required of me or what it would look like to do great things for God if they weren’t happening in a stadium, but despite all my youthful zeal I was sincere. 

Ten years later, life is much different than I imagined. I’ve had my share of let downs and plenty of occasions to discover that I was not as strong as I thought I was. Often I’ve been surprised by my weakness, but I have to remember this is not new information to Jesus. Knowing full well my weaknesses and the challenges that I would face, He still called me (see John 15:16).

Now in my thirties, I still dream of doing great things for God only now the dream isn’t necessarily of stadiums. I dream of being faithful to Jesus. I dream of loving Him in the small and mundane. I dream of walking before Him with integrity regardless of who is watching or how big the impact I’m having seems to be. Perhaps in another decade I will think differently about my weaknesses and maybe even graduate from a few of them. Either way I hope that when someone looks at my life they will see how awesome the Man is who called me out of darkness, weak as I am, to proclaim His excellencies. I exists for Him and if my weaknesses help display His greatness (see 2 Cor 12:9)  than no matter what it looks like I’m all in.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9 

Trouble in the House of Mercy

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In John 5, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast. On his way into the city Jesus came to a pool by the Sheep Gate called Bethesda. By the pool lay many sickly people “in anxious hope of a miraculous cure”*. When the water was troubled, an act attributed by some to an angel, it was believed that whoever made it into the water first would be healed. We don’t know if this ever actually happened or if it was just a story that was told to help quarantine the undesirable.

When Jesus arrived on the scene He met a man who had been disabled for 38 years. Somehow this man made it to Bethesda, he too hoped to find escape from his sickness when the water was stirred. Perhaps a relative carried him or he begged his way, but whoever helped him get there didn’t stick around. He told Jesus he had no one to help him in the water when it was stirred and to make things worse even when he did manage to crawl to the water’s edge another would step in before he could.

How many times was his desperate reach crushed by the sight of another splashing into the water before him? Can you imagine being close enough to see others healed yet never close enough to be healed yourself?

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So Many Choices, Still One Thing Necessary

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We live in a day where options abound. For instance, compared to just 10 years ago, the range of products available in a typical North American supermarket has increased by 55 percent.

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With so many options people are finding themselves victims of a new phenomenon the academics are calling: Option Overload. This is the technical term for what happens to you when your trying to pick out a tube of toothpaste at the grocery store. We’ve all been there. You read the boxes: one promises whiter teeth, another tarter control, and another both but it doesn’t have fluoride! I need fluoride! I usually resort to “eeny – meeny -miny-moe” and hope for the best (thats if I don’t break down and run back to the toothpaste aisle from the check out line).

Whats worse than picking the wrong toothpaste (god forbid!) is never actually choosing anything and just endlessly entertaining your options! Though this problem is not unique to our generation it certainly typifies it.

We have so much information at our finger tips that we are constantly tossed to and fro by other people’s strong convictions yet rarely arrive at our own. Compound this with the growing moralistic relativism that says that no option is right or wrong and it’s a wonder people are making any decisions at all! With no convictions, no values, no moral imperatives can anything be considered important enough to be more than just another option?

Yet even in a world of option overload people are still coming to the conclusion that some things are important enough to be considered more than just another alternative. Opinions abound as to what is important, however there is one who speaks with authority on the subject.

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And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching… Luke 10:38 -42

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary…” (Luke 10:41,42)

To a distracted woman whose anxiety deafened her to the God she sought to serve or to a distracted generation paralyzed by too many options His word is the same: “there is one thing necessary”. (Luke 10:38 – 42)

This one thing is not complicated. Mary, who Jesus pointed out as choosing the good part, simply sat at his feet and listened to his word. Everything flows from this and all that doesn’t fades away. Today may we find the courage to stand against the current of our generation, narrow our options, and choose again the one thing necessary.

Who Owns the Apostolic Copyright?

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For many of us prayer is a very private thing, but God seems to have no problem making the prayer life of his servants public domain.

In my last post I talked about the prayers of men and women that made it into the Bible. In the New Testament the prayers we have come mostly from the apostles. When their prayers, commonly known as the Apostolic Prayers, landed in the pages of Scripture they became fair game for application to churches in cities and nations the apostles would never step foot in.

It’s important to remember that before these prayers were scripture they had specific historical recipients or beneficiaries just like the letters they are found in. Before they were God’s word they were Paul’s prayers, Peter’s prayers, or John’s prayers for believers throughout the Mediterranean World.

In Ephesus the Apostle Paul arrived to find 12 disciples who had never even heard of the Holy Spirit, by the time he left the idol makers had stirred the city into an uproar because the thousands Paul was turning from idols to the living God were threatening the business of pagan worship. (see Acts 19)

Writing later to the Ephesians, Paul wrote down the prayers that he prayed for the Church in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:15-19, Ephesians 3:14-19). Interestingly he did not pray that demonic principalities would crumble or that more pagans would get saved, but rather that those who had come to believe in God (the church) would know their God.

It is stunning to see what God did through Paul, however God wanted us to see not just what Paul did but how Paul prayed. In the New Testament God preserved for us both the histories of revival and the transcripts of prayer. When you consider that God was the author of Paul’s faith it settles any debate over His right to publish his prayers, but the question remains for what purpose did He publish them?

Prayers that Made History

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What happens when your prayers become scripture? At what point do your words go from simply being “your prayers” to becoming as Paul described scripture: “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)? 

These seem like silly questions for us to ask, standing on the other side of the canonization of the bible, but this is exactly what happened to the men and women whose prayers were recorded in the scriptures.

Job’s prayers through suffering, Hannah’s groaning for a son, David’s songs and poems, Solomon’s request for wisdom, Daniel’s intercession for Israel, Jesus’s prayers, the prayers of the apostles, and even the prayers of the saints yet to be prayed written down in advance in the book of Revelation. (See Job 1:211 Sam 1:11Ps 143:12 Chron 1:7-11Dan 9:4Lk 23:34Eph 1:16-19Rev 6:10)

It’s amazing when you think about just how many prayers were recorded in the bible. Sometimes I forget that before they were “Bible”, these were prayers of fallible people like me. Remembering this makes me reconsider how important our prayers  are to God. He writes them down in His book! And we wonder if our prayers move him!?

While our prayers won’t make it into the bible, they certainly don’t go unnoticed by God. Right in the pages our bibles we have a witness that God takes our prayers seriously. The prayers of men to God became the words of God to men.

Can you really know what God is like?

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Many people believe that God is the creator of the world. The testimony of creation calls out to all who pass by “there is a God!”. Though many agree with this testimony most stop there. In their minds they imagine God exists but the only standard they have for really knowing anything about Him is their own imagination. When anyone hints that God is other than their imaginings they assert that “no one can know for sure”. However the bible declares that we can know for sure.

Though the Creator God is mysterious He is not distant. He did not just create and walk away, He came close. 

When did he come close you ask? John 1 answers that question and deals a death blow to the errant theology of a distant God: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” God became a man. If you want to know what God is like, you need look no further than the Man who said “whoever has seen me has seen the father”. (John 14:9) The life of Jesus is a treasury of the knowledge of God not because He spoke of God, but because He spoke as God.

Do you need to have children to be a father?

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There are examples of men who haven’t procreated themselves and yet are called fathers. Here are a few of my favorite examples from the bible:

  • Jesus: a single man in his 30‘s with no children. More than any other man he displayed the heart of the father so much so that scripture calls Him “Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Paul: Paul had no physical children but many spiritual children. “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15)
  • Joseph: Jesus’s adoptive father. Scripture calls Joseph a just man who was unwilling to put Mary to shame (Matthew 1:19). When the scandal of the virgin birth surrounded her life Joseph stepped up to the plate and took care of her and the mysterious child in her womb, little did he know that God was entrusting His own Son into his care.

Whats my point? You don’t have to wait to have your own children before you start being an earthly example of what our father in Heaven is like. Go find someone who needs help and give your strength to help see them become them great.

When Dad is Not a Sojourner

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Moments before I was baptized and publicly declared my sojourning. Cranston, RI 2003

“I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue” What an opening line to a psalm! In Psalm 39, David’s restraint in sinful speech results in speech that became scripture as he utters a desperate prayer for perspective: “Oh Lord make me know my end… let me know how fleeting I am!” 

David, like many of us in a difficult season, reached for perspective in his prayers and as he did he brought something very interesting to God’s attention: “I’m a sojourner with you, a guest, like my fathers”. In the midst of an intense season David recalled before God the testimony of his fathers. (Their testimony being that they were pilgrims on the earth seeking a home with God see Hebrews 11:13-16)

I remember so clearly the day I first considered this verse. I thought to myself “that is great for David but my fathers weren’t sojourners.” Unlike David I didn’t have a godly heritage. I had spent a good chunk of my christian life either wishing I had godly dad or mourning the fact that I didn’t. But as this phrase was striking that familiar chord of pain in my soul, I felt the Lord whisper to me: “your children will have a different testimony.” 

I may not have had the walk of faith paved for me by earthly father (though his story is not done yet) but I am paving the way for my children. When my children grow up and their lives get intense I want them to be able to look to my example and find courage. I want them to lift their eyes to God and say to Him like David did “I’m a sojourner with you like my father”. 

Who is writing your history?

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I love history! I find biographies especially inspiring, I love hearing about the lives of great men who have gone before me. History, as my wife (who has a history degree) reminds me often, is very open to interpretation. It’s not necessarily what happened but rather someone’s account of what happened.

However, there is one historian who records with complete impartiality. He not only sees all the actions that have taken place, He knows all the thoughts and intentions of the actors as well. (Rom 2:11, Heb 4:12-13)

The scripture clearly declares that every human being will stand before the Judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) to be repaid for what they did while they were alive. On that day history will finally be accurate affair! The Great Historian will open His book and we will finally hear what He has recorded about our lives. God is the ultimate authority on the subject of human history and His account of your life will trump every other version (Rev 20:12).

Thankfully God is not only an accurate historian but He is also a gracious editor. Even the foulest of sinners can have a noble story if they repent of their sin and turn to Christ (2 Cor 5:15-17, Eph 2:1-10). God loves to hit the delete button on what would have been an otherwise tragic story (Isaiah 43:25) but the great question is not what will be deleted from your story but what will be written? I don’t know about you but I want to have a great story!

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

Five Ways to Improve your Epitaph

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Article - Josiah

1st & 2nd Kings tells the story of the Kings of Israel. It seems clear that in addition to their notable accomplishments the author also wants us to know whether they did what was good or evil in the sight of the Lord. Sadly, in this light, the book of Kings actually contains very few good Kings. Though many were remembered for doing good, there was one glaring exception among them: they neglected to address the idolatry of their nation.

After reading these accounts you get the impression that each king was just doing what his father before him did. Some did a little better and some did a little worse, but hardly any rose above their father’s example.

Then their the kings who did a lot worse than their fathers. King Manasseh (2 Kings 21) is a notable example in this category. He not only did evil in the sight of the Lord, he actually “un did” the small amount of good the kings before him had done by rebuilding the altars to other gods throughout the land.

Then there were the Kings who had a much better testimony than their fathers, in light of their rarity it’s well worth it for us to pay attention to their example.

One such king was Josiah (Hezekiah would be another one). Josiah was was only eight years old when he came to reign as King over Judah and he became one of the few kings remembered for doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord. When you consider that Josiah was the grandson of the notoriously evil King Manasseh and that his father died when he was just a young boy, his testimony becomes even more powerful.

Five Take Away Points from  Josiah Life:

  1. Don’t lose your Bible
  2. Seek understanding of the scriptures with humility and the help of your friends (2 Kings 22:11 – 20)
  3. God takes note and remembers when you set your heart to obey him and don’t make peace with sin. (2 Kings 22: 2, 2 Kings 23:25)
  4. One man’s obedience can change a nation. (2 Kings 23)
  5. Even if you come from a messed up family you can overcome and have a good testimony. ( 2 Kings 21:20, 26, 2 Kings 22:2)

Josiah didn’t inherit an easy situation. Continue reading

Pray expecting nothing in return

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ImageYesterday was the last prayer meeting of the school year for the Harp and Bowl Training Labs. The sentimental tears were on stand by for many for whom this was their last prayer meeting as students. I was so ready to pray for the graduating students and students returning home for the summer but the graduates had another burden on their hearts: Poland.

You could almost feel the disconnect in the room when they started to pray for the church in this Nation. The majority of the students have no vested interest in praying for Poland, most will never go to Poland, and most will never see the fruit of their intercession. Yet they prayed for them. This was how our graduating students chose to spend their last hours as students: giving their strength to intercede for others expecting nothing for themselves in return.

I remember when these students first came to school, the prayers were mostly aimed at our school, our city, our families. Truly these are great things to pray for but there is something about praying for those we don’t necessarily know or already care about.

Jesus said when we give expecting nothing in return we would be called sons of the Most High (Luke 6:35) because this is the way God loves. Our students gave their strength as they prayed for Poland, tomorrow it may be their enemies. Indeed these students have proven themselves worthy graduates of a school that aims to raise up intercessors. Well done my friends.

Many are invited but who will actually come?

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I had a dream recently that it was my wedding day and the majority of the guests were either not there or had little concern that the wedding was about to start. I was confused and sorrowful as I tried to gather people in for the wedding. This was such an important day, where was everybody?!

I can’t describe the joy I felt when I woke that morning to a text from two of my best friends telling me when they were coming in for our wedding. I kept thinking this must be how Jesus feels about those who say yes to His wedding invitation (Revelation 19:9)!

Sarah and I feel so loved by our friends and family in this season. So many are coming to our wedding from so far away and even those who can’t make it are celebrating with us in spirit. Sadly this is not the case for Jesus’ wedding.

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.” Matthew 22:2-3

In this parable, those who received the King’s invitation for His Son’s wedding paid no attention to it. They tossed it aside for preoccupation with their own lives and worse they were angry at the King’s servants who invited them and went so far as killing them (Matt 22:4-8).

If two of my friends coming to our wedding made me feel as excited as I was, I cannot imagine how excited Jesus gets when His friends accept His invitation.  Today I am setting my heart to attend His wedding.  May I be ready for when that glorious day arrives!

Eavesdropping on good conversations

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In chapters 13 through 17 of the gospel of John, we get to listen in on some of the most intimate conversations Jesus ever had with His disciples. John 13:1 states that “Jesus knew that His hour had come”. These were the words of a Man who knew He was about to die.

In John 17, the conversation crescendos as Jesus turns upward to His Father in prayer. As we listen in on this eternal conversation between the Godhead (God praying to God), what we hear should shock us…. He prays for us.

“Father I am praying for them… Holy Father keep them in your name” – John 17:9 -11

Sure He prayed for the disciples but not us…right? Wrong! Listen as the God-man clarifies:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” – John 17:20 

In other words He was praying for us! What a comfort to our souls! Even the most fervent prayers of the church find their origin in this prayer of Jesus. Men may lose heart in prayer but Jesus will never grow weary of asking the Father for us. Jesus is always living to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). Today I am so thankful for the way Jesus’ prayer has been at work in my life and as I look to the future I do so with great hope knowing that the Son of God prays for me.

The Simplicity of Prayer: Offered in Weakness, Ascending in Power

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In Luke 18,  Jesus told a parable to the effect that people ought “always pray and not lose heart.” I think one of the biggest challenges we face in our lives of prayer is just that: not losing heart, not giving up. Often we feel very little when we pray and therefore we assume that our prayers are having very little impact upon God. God however doesn’t evaluate our prayers this way.

We often evaluate by how much we feel, but God evaluates by how much we agree with His heart.

This gives us great confidence in prayer for “if we ask anything according to His will He hears us” (1 John 5:14) Though our prayers feel weak GOD hears them and He acts in response! Do you realize how insanely profound this makes your life? Those weak little prayers you offer up in faith ascend in power before the throne of God Almighty and because we pray God makes wrong things right in the earth!

Just another guy from Nazareth.

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“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….” John 1:14 

No one has ever chosen to be born.  No one ever got to pick their nationality, the family they’d have, or what town they’d grow up in.  We all arrive into this world cast upon the care of our parents without any say in the manner of life we’ll inherit upon our first naked and desperate breaths outside the womb.  We don’t get to chose any of it.  This is true for all of us, except for one.  

Every man has been born, but there is only one man who was given a choice.  This man, called the Word, was in the beginning with God, He was God.  All things were created through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made.  This is the one that chose to born, this is Word that became.  To try and grasp this mystery hurts our minds but thrills our hearts: He took on flesh, God became a man.  There has never been one born like this one, He is fully human and completely God all at the same time.  He was in the beginning with God and yet He has a birthday.  He created all things and yet He has a mother.  

It is worth considering what kind of life the only man who had a say in his birth actually chose to live.  What kind of life would you chose if you were given an option?  My guess is you wouldn’t have chosen the one Jesus did.  He lived in a small town that people said nothing good comes from (John 1:46), He was born into a poor family, He worked with his hands, and He lived in a country under foreign occupation.  Even the circumstances of his birth were mean; He spent His first hours lying in a feeding troth for the beasts because there was no room for his family at the inn.   

What is even more astonishing than how Jesus chose to come into the world, is the fact that He chose to remain there hidden in the mundane of everyday life for 30 years before His true identity as the Son of God was revealed.  Between His meager birth in the Bethlehem manger and the humble proclamation of his cousin John: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” lie 30 years cloaked in silent mystery, the details of his childhood largely absent from the holy scriptures.  But oh how these silent years speak volumes to us about who He is!  God became flesh and dwelt among us, perfectly content to live hidden among us as just another guy from Nazareth.  Humble, Human, Holy.  

Advent Intentions

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I found this book on a friend's book shelf, the title alone ministered to me. I'm calling it the Fire Within of Christmas.

For centuries faithful men and women have set their minds to meditate and their mouths to sing of the events of the life of Christ.  The birth of Jesus was remembered during the season of advent (which means coming) and the death and resurrection of Jesus was remembered during the season of lent.  These times, marked on the church’s calendar each year, were pivotal in keeping the mind and heart of the church constantly thinking upon the life and death of their Savior.

In many christian circles today, Christmas and Easter are celebrated but we don’t really know what to make of the longer seasons of advent and lent.  This christmas season, I’ve made it a point to focus my reading, thinking, and prayers upon the birth of Jesus.  I haven’t gone to the extent of buying an advent wreath and candles or discovered what wassail is all about and how one quaffs it, but I have spent some quality time looking at the birth of Jesus and I have to admit if this is what advent is all about than I’m a huge fan!

John Saward, in his book on the Christmas Mystery “The Cradle of Redeeming Love” speaks about the Christmas celebrations throughout church history:

In the middle ages the festivities of Christmas continued without interruption till Candlemas (Feburary 2nd feast that celebrated the presentation of Jesus at the temple).  Throughout January, holly and ivy decked the halls, wassail was quaffed and carols rang out in praise of the successive mysteries of the infant God. ‘Make we myrth/ For Crystes byrth,/ And syng we Yole tyl Candelmas.’ Only on the second of Feburary, with an eye on the approaching rigors of Lent, did the medieval man dowse the Yuletide log. (p. 30 ignatius press. my parenthesis) 

The Christmas season is a great time of year to intentionally set our minds upon the birth of Christ, and ponder the weightiness and beauty of God revealed in the face of Christ.  Scripture calls the incarnation (God becoming a man) a great mystery (1 Timothy 3:16). The truths within this mystery were not hidden from us but rather hidden for us.  Saints throughout history have born witness to depths of this mystery and to the wisdom of seeking it out.  It was said of St. Francis of Assi that he could not even utter the name Bethlehem without stammering with emotion, like the bleating of sheep.  Oh that this christmas, that tiny one in the manger would be to us a treasure of unspeakable worth.

Reading Suggestions: 

If your looking for suggestions on what exactly to read and study over the advent season here are a few thoughts.  You could read the gospel accounts that speak of Christ’s birth: Matthew 1 & 2, Luke 1 & 2, John 1.  Take your time, ponder, and talk to the Lord about what your reading.  You could also search out what the old testament prophets said about Jesus’ coming, passages like Isaiah 9 & 11 are great starting points. There are also some great reading plans available for the advent season.  Here is one that I’ve been reading this year, it includes daily scripture readings that speak of Jesus’ first and second coming: http://venablefour.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/advent-bible-reading-plan/.

In addition to reading scripture, there are some great devotional books that can aid you gazing upon life and person of Christ.   Here is a link to download a free copy of one of them it’s called “Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ” by John Piper: http://www.desiringgod.org/store/books/seeing-and-savoring-jesus-christ

enjoy!

Oh Henri

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“Solitude is the place where God-with-us can be unpacked and where we connect with the God who is our Origin,…” – Henri Nouwen Clowning in Rome page 26-27. 

David wrote in Psalm 27:14  “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  I’ve been discovering lately that it really does take courage to wait for God… to spend your time in prayer month after month and year after year with seemingly little to show for it. To not lose heart in the waiting takes something more than we have in our human zeal. It takes courage.

In his book “Clowning in Rome” Henri Nouwen compares the large, empty spaces of Cathedrals in the midst of the bustling city of Rome, to our lives of solitude in a busy modern world.  I remember visiting a Cathedral in Ireland. The clamor of the outside street was quickly swallowed up by silence as I passed through it’s dark entry way into the sanctuary.  Inside the towering heights of it’s domed ceiling I held back my words as the ancient stone walls echoed with a weighty history that made my soul tremble.

As tourists we marvel at the architectural feats of these cathedrals, yet they still seem somewhat foolish to our post modern minds.  Our churches are more practical, much more efficient than their ancient forefathers. We have more sound systems, more seats, more offices,  lower ceilings, and less mystery.  But these old cathedrals still stand as witnesses to us and by their extravagant emptiness remind us that there is more to life than people and schedules. They remind us, by their sacred vacancy, that there is indeed an empty space in our lives that not even the most intimate of human relationships can fill.

Prayer too can seem impractical and even dreadful on the surface as we enter through it’s quiet and empty hours and discover our own deep vacancy.  While the vastness of our emptiness is overwhelming, let us remember that it was created by our Maker who longs to fill it with Himself.  So be strong and let your heart take courage …wait for the Lord.  

A poor and needy man after God’s heart

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Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.  Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you- you are my God.  Psalm 86:1-2

The prayer above was written by a man named David, who God called a man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22).  God must have really wanted us to take a good look at David for not only do we have a record of the events of his life, but we also have a detailed record his intimate conversations with God.  These have come down to us in the form of over 70 psalms that apart from being filled with some of the keenest insight into God’s character and emotions also give us a shockingly raw look at how the man after God’s heart prayed.  We would do well to sit next to David in his prayer time and learn from him… so lets do it!  We’ll look at Psalm 86, its called by the compiler of the psalms “a prayer of David”  so it seems like a great place to start.

First thing we notice about David’s prayer in psalm 86 is that he addressed God as one who was poor and needy. The man after God’s heart, whose prayer life was given to us as an example saw himself as poor and needy.  But wasn’t David a King, the sweet psalmist of Israel, a famous and skilled warrior?  Many would have thought David strong, but David saw himself as weak, poor, and completely dependent on God.  Nothing like daily bringing yourself before God in long hours of prayer will make you realize how poor and needy you actually are.  Those who are needy pray and those who pray realize how needy they really are.

The next thing we notice about David’s prayer is that he also addressed God as one who was godly.  What an amazing statement to make before God “I am godly.” Now as much as we know about David’s achievements, the bible is also not shy in recording his failures yet still he states that he was godly.  How can this be?  How did David know that he was godly?  Simply because David knew what God was like!  After making his plea to God for help he states the ground upon which he makes his request “for You, (because you) are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.”   What gave David confidence to declare himself godly was that he knew what God was like.  David knew that even though he was poor and needy, God was generous and merciful.  It was the combination of these two truths: David’s need and God’s generosity that caused David to trust in God and not in himself.  As we discover our need for God it’s meant to bring us to rely on the generous God who loves us in our poverty.

When I read these two statements in David’s prayer it is hard for me to reconcile them because often I view my weakness and need as evidencing a lack of my godliness.  I’ll often think if I was really a man of God I wouldn’t be struggling with x,y, and z.  So as I read this psalm and see David, the man after God’s heart, boldly stating his need for God and confessing that he is “poor” I can’t seem to breeze past it as though its not a shocking insight for me into what it means to be godly.

Admitting that I am weak or in need seems to be one of the hardest things for me to do, but I think the clearest way to know how I really feel about weakness is seen in how  I respond towards other people’s weaknesses.  Often instead of meeting their needs with compassion and patience I meet them with impatience and frustration.  Can anyone relate?  These little revelations are a painful insight into how I actually think God views my weakness.  It’s really hard to walk away from meeting a compassionate and tender God and be harsh towards others in their weakness, if we do we have really missed the point (Matthew 18:21-35).  But even these painful revelations are not meant to send us groveling in the dust, but to cause us to come to Jesus.

Seeing and admitting our need for God opens the door for the revelation of the love of God to penetrate us at the deepest places.  Yes I am poor and needy, but GOD thinks upon me!  I’d rather be poor and needy but have God watching out for me, than “rich and strong” and depending on myself.  More than anything I want to love God and love like God… but if I am ever going to succeed at that I have to let him love me first and not because I am strong or because I try really hard… but because I am his child, poor, needy, undeserving but never the less he still calls me his beloved.  So today lets come like David and let the Holy Spirit woo us into total dependance upon God.  You are my God apart from you I have no good! (psalm 16:2).

The pilgrims hope

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“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” John 14:2

The last few years have felt like a pilgrimage for me. I had never lived anywhere except Rhode Island before moving to Kansas City. Once I arrived I’ve felt the romance of living as missionary quickly fade into the rugged reality of the fasted lifestyle.

Stripped of the comforts that living in my mom’s house with a steady income provided, I discovered the longing for a more permanent dwelling place starting to rise in my heart. The last few months I especially felt it. I was one week away from being forced find another place to live until the hunt for roommates finally proved fruitful. I hope I don’t sound like I am being overdramatic here. I think if we are really honest with ourselves even those among us with a cushier lifestyle can confess that despite our surroundings we still feel the fragility of rest that this side of eternity offers us. In other words we are all pilgrims, and something deep within us knows that this life is but a wilderness on the edge of the land of promise.

The truth is until the day I meet Jesus, when he returns or calls me home, I am pilgrim far from my home. This world is not my home. Even when I do graduate from bachelorhood and find a place on earth I call “my home” and not “my apartment”, I will still be a pilgrim.  But I won’t be sojourning forever. I have a home! I may be a stranger here on this earth but I am citizen of Heaven. So today I look to this city Heavenly country and I remind myself it’s worth the journey, it’s worth waiting for and it’s worth longing for.  I would rather mourn in the wilderness that this world truly is, than be a fool to call this my home. So today, i lift my eyes and look to the city whose builder and maker is God and I cry out with the song of saints past….Maranatha, come Lord Jesus! We want to be with you where you are! (Psalm 27:4, John 17:24)

a face set towards Jerusalem

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“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” Luke 9:51

I like this description of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. His face was set to go to Jerusalem and when we read the gospels it is very clear that Jesus knew
what awaited him there. The cross awaited him there as he told his disciples “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22) Even if the disciples couldn’t grasp it, Jesus knew what would happen in Jerusalem and without hesitation or wavering he was determined to go.

Lets process this for a second, it is not like Jesus didn’t have plenty of chances to rethink his decision on the way to Jerusalem. The gospel accounts are vividly honest about the weaknesses and blunders of the disciples. Peter the outspoken disciple seems to get the most press… he rebuked Jesus, slept during the pre-crucifixion prayer meeting, reacted in violence cutting off a high priest’s ear at Jesus’ arrest, and to top it all off he denied Jesus publicly three times. I don’t know about you, but if I was about to go out of town for a while and entrust my possessions to someone I would be second guessing the decision if any of the guys I was leaving in charge had a track record like Peter and the rest of the disciples, never-mind suffering and dying for them and entrusting my eternal kingdom’s proclamation on earth to them. But this is what Jesus did!

But the question remains, why did he do it? Why so set on the cross? Was it an obligation, a responsibility, a promise he had to keep, a law he had to fullfill? What made him not turn back even when he saw the weakness of the ones he was dying for? Hebrews tells us the answer. Jesus’ face was set toward Jerusalem and the cross, but beyond the cross there was a “joy that was set before him” and it was for this joy that endured even the horrors of the cross (Hebrews 12:2). In other words there was a desire, something he wanted, that motivated him. There was something so dear to his heart that even though it meant paying the highest cost, it was still worth it to Jesus.

There was something Jesus desired more than his own life, something he was willing to risk everything to obtain. What was this desire? Jesus said it himself this way: “Father, I desire that they would be with me where I am.”(John 17:24). Do you see how set Jesus was on going to the cross? More importantly do you see how set he is on you? He wants us with Him where He is, and no matter how much evidence the devil brings against us, no matter how much even our own hearts try to persuade him that we aren’t worth it….He won’t be persuaded, His face is set.

The man that no one could bind

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Its Friday morning 10:55 am, I am sitting at a narrow table facing a wall in the prayer room and I am distracted as all get up. I’ve been here since 8 am and I’m starting to get frustrated because I came here to be focused but my mind keeps wandering wildly in a thousand directions. I’ve been digging into some theological concepts the last couple weeks concerning the identity of God as a Creator who is actively involved with His creation, and while its been a good study the mental focus it demands is making me more aware of how scattered brained I am. So at the moment my heart is really longing to connect with Jesus right now.

So I take a break from being distracted, I mean trying to study and I open my bible and read Mark chapter 5. Its the account of Jesus healing a demon-possessed man in Gerasenes. Mark describes the man like this: “He lived among the tombs. and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had been bound often with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains and pulled the shackles apart, and he broke the chains to pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones” (Mark 5:3-5)

What a sad story. How tormented must this man have been? And when he saw Jesus he wasn’t exactly willing to work with him, rather he cried out:
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