Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

safety

A few weeks ago, my wife sent me a picture our daughter had drawn.   A stick figure that seems wrapped in a straight jacket, that my wife (because she rocks, naturally) asked our daughter to tell her more about.daddycross

Let me pause for a moment to remind the reader: We’ve had our daughter home from the DR Congo for a bit over a year now.  She’s learned a lot, and grown in so many ways.  One of the sources of her growth has been involvement in church activities and lessons.  A focus of our children’s’ ministry here at Moundford Free Methodist Church last year was to teach the kids about faithful followers of Jesus.  People who suffered for the cause of spreading the good news of the Love of Jesus – even when there were sometimes large prices to pay.

So when our daughter explained the picture to mommy, she shared “It’s daddy, and the mean people tied him up.”  My wife asked why, and she said “Because he was telling people about Jesus.”

It may have just been a silly moment of imagination.   But it may have actually been something in the back of her mind/heart for months now – wondering if and when daddy might actually be taken away or hurt because of how he spends his time telling others about the Love of Jesus.  We’ve assured her, thankfully, daddy doesn’t have to worry about this.  My job is safe (although maybe it should seem more threatening to the powers that be at times?) to do.

It made me incredibly thankful, when I allowed it to settle. Hanging from my door lately is a leather cross made by Coptic Christians in Egypt, given to me by a friend back in college.  It reminds me each day as I walk into my office – how thankful I can be to have a place where my life and work is not threatened each day simply because of Jesus.  It causes me to pause and pray for those for whom “safety” means something so far away and unknown.

I’m thankful my daughter (now) doesn’t have to worry about daddy being hurt or killed by “the mean people” who don’t know about the Love of God.  But there are children globally who aren’t free from that worry.  May we lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer even now, and live lives that strive to not take for granted the freedom we have to proclaim the love & peace of Jesus in the unique ways we’re given…

inter-generational…

In so many areas of life/culture, groups of people are divided and set against each other.  By race, understandings, generations, cultures, experiences, etc.  The Church is always to be the place that no matter what your defining characteristics – we are ONE in Christ.  No matter what definitions the world gives you, the foundational characteristic of “Beloved by God, in need of His Grace” is enough to build on for the Kingdom.

Even in the midst of this, there are understandings that improve our ability to serve and work and celebrate life together as one body.  Overloading our accounts and pockets with grace, love, humility, and inviting the Holy Spirit to enable us to live/love like Christ are great places to start.

For years now, our culture seems to LOVE age-specific ministries. It’s great developmentally to focus on Jesus and life experiences in ways that are appropriate and easily assimilated into knowledge & life.  The problem is when we make these the primary focus of doing church well.  We have great kids’ programs for earning important badges.  Next, we have a youth group experience with mountain tops and focusing this highly emotional season of life on Jesus.  Next, we have students who enjoyed youth group so much – they want a similar experience with their peers as “College Age Ministry”.  When that goes well, it seems successful and natural to provide a “Young Adult Ministry”.  At some nebulous point after significant life events like owning a home, moving, getting married, etc…a person might simply quietly acquiesce into a “Regular Adult Class”, but not without first attempting a “(age range) Group”.

Like I said – some of this desire is good, and should be harnessed toward life transformation.  But some of this simply provides a false experience of a Biblically diverse community made from several generations contributing to life together in the name of Jesus.  Church is meant to be inter-generational, not just multi-generational.  It’s not enough to say, “Wow, our church has a lot of (desirable age group here)!”  Is that group integrated & connected with the other generations, self-identifying as a contributing and valued part of the whole?

Thankfully, many have been realizing this – and some never forgot it.  The warning I’ve heard in their writings have been – don’t assume the Love of Jesus will simply wash away the varied (and beautifully important) differences each generation brings to the table.  So in closing, I’ll include a chart here that I created after reading some articles/books on the topic.  I found it an interesting study, as an artist might appreciate the palate of colors available before beginning a new painting technique… (although I’m more of the artists’ admirer, as Jesus holds the brush) ( (Side note: The authors often indicated that any discussion on generational descriptions is an exercise in Fiction. Of course, we cannot say that all (generation) are like this. But as they’ve studied, certain characteristics seemed common, and worth noting.)

Chart1Chart2

Pentecost (a poem)

Dry.

Coughing as I breathe in, chest wheezing, this dusty cloud kicks up when I walk.

When I talk, words fall to the ground without sound.

Cracks invading the pavement, waiting for someone tall to step wrong and fall. Someone saw rain in the distance, just one instance, but that was years ago.

For now, nothing grows. And so, nothing sows. The last leaves turned to ash.  Our of resource, out of cash.  It happened so fast, before we realized we were empty.  The wind blows over another dried up, used to be, has been but isn’t now.

For a split second, seems to bow on purpose, then falls.

Smashing into a million pieces in these parched halls.  The air so dry it’s impossible to sweat – impossible to shed a tear, for fear of losing the last drops of moisture we assume are somewhere deep inside.  We’ve tried to hide.  We’ve lied to hide.  Cause when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Or so we’ve heard.  Not another word.  After all, we’ll get by.  We just need to try.  Try harder.  To really mean it this time.

Sunlight breaks, the cushion shakes and reveals the dust we’ve been breathing.  Our lungs as thirsty as our throats, debris forming coats.  A trembling unsettles our dust.  Frightened, but we must, respond.

The room is shaking, the ground quaking, the clouds fill the sky and darken brightly.

Not a drip.   Not a trickle or a stream. But all in one moment it happens.

Dams break, waves overtake, water makes and snakes its’ way, soaking the day, washing away any traces of ash and dust.  Respond we must, gasping for air and at the same time sinking without a care.

The pipes have burst, rushing like floods from somewhere unseen.  More like a geyser, like the spring from which all springs are sprung – filling our lungs and drowning out all remnants of thirst.

To a land that was cursed – healing and life, New Life. A Spirit poured out, and all creation shouts “Great is the Lamb that was slain!”  “Great is His Name!” The Spirit that came, as God promised it would.

See His blood on the wood…

We receive and are never the same.

Isaiah 44:3

Judas – The Betrayer

You look down on me, I know. You can’t believe I would do what I’ve done. Looking back, I want to tell you – I can’t either. I can’t explain it, but it seems my entire life I’ve been awed with the power of money. I don’t remember a lot growing up, but our family has been through quite a few highs and lows. My father was a religious leader and I was always trying to prove myself to him – to get his praise and attention.

So when the chance came to follow this Jesus, I jumped at it. I just knew he was different from the others who’d come and gone, pretending to be the Messiah. Somehow, I knew this man was different. Something new was happening here. My dad was going to be so proud of his son – at the epicenter of the Messiah rising to power and overturning the Roman rule we’ve been living under for so long.

There was one problem – even though I was handpicked by Jesus to be one of his 12 closest apostles, I was the only Judean. I was called “Judas Iscariot”, which told everyone I was from Kerioth, about 30 miles south of Jerusalem. I thought that would help my position in the ranks – you see, the other 11 were all from Galilee. I was different. I was unique. I was from a city closer to Jerusalem than all of them. Unfortunately, they all knew my hometown was not traditionally a place for faithful Jews. Still, just being one of “The 12” seemed like such an honor, and surely when he rose to his power I would be remembered. I just needed to serve well, and let him see how valuable I was.
I knew my chances for power increased when I was able to secure my spot as the “Group Treasurer” . I would take in donations, make decisions on what supplies we could sell, and make sure we always had the money we needed when traveling. You should have seen the gratitude some people wanted to give us. Sometimes a rich young man, or a powerful servant would be healed or want to give thanks for their masters’ healing. I knew Jesus was a humble guy, and simple as well. He didn’t want to accept gratitude, and didn’t want people to give us more than we needed. Thankfully, he had me in charge of that area. I knew he would eventually need some seed money to secure the provisions and supplies for an uprising worthy of the Son of God. And, of course, if I needed to set aside some of the funds myself, or enjoy some nice things on my own to survive our travels – that would be okay.

One time, Jesus sent us out in pairs to accomplish his ministry with greater impact. He gave us authority over unclean spirits. Imagine – the power to command unclean spirits and heal in the name of Jesus. I won’t tell you which disciple went with me, because I don’t want to get him in trouble. But let’s just say he wasn’t doubting my ability to make use of the gratitude people gave us. Jesus told us as we went out, not to carry any money in our belts, but he didn’t say anything about spending what was given to us while it was still in our hands!
So yes…I may have enjoyed being with Jesus a bit more than some of the other guys. But it only made sense. For so long, we Jews had been taught that life was all about living according to the law, and finally here was the Messiah saying – we didn’t have to worry about the specifics of the law – just the love of God. And boy did I love what following God gave me.

Too much, obviously.

It was my weakness. It was an area I thought I was gifted in – and it became the one area I wasn’t watching carefully. I was so good with numbers. I could tell you what anything was worth, and I could tell you how much it would cost for a group of 13 to manage a journey from Jerusalem to Galilee. I remember overhearing Jesus complimenting my skills of calculation to a fisherman whose boat we had borrowed. He seemed so genuinely glad to have me around. In that moment, I knew I’d secured my spot in power with him when his time came. I remember when that Tax Collector, Zacchaeus had us all over to his house, and apologized for defrauding people of their money. Jesus had me stay after the meal, and help this small man calculate how much he owed each of the people he’d taken from. I was so mad at this pawn of Rome’s power and oppression. He’d taken so much from his own people, all while using his position as servant of Rome to benefit from crushing his own. It was great to see him humbled. You should have heard the story Jesus told, about men who had been entrusted with wealth, and the honor given to the servant who helped multiply what was given to him. As I listened, I knew Jesus would be thankful for all the ways I helped grow our finances. Thankful enough, even, to forgive the small amounts I kept or used for my own.
He should have listened when I complained about the woman, Mary, pouring money all over his feet in the form of perfume. I’d smelled the scent only a few times in my life – this was liquid gold, basically. This was the kind of gift he would usually turn down, and I would accept after he’d walked away on his behalf. Do you know how much money it would’ve gained us? But he didn’t always make sense.

Like not long after that meal, when we arrived at Jerusalem. Word had gotten out that we were coming. That he was coming. You could hear the noise rising while we were still a long way off. So what does Jesus do? He asks us to get him a COLT. An ugly little thing that had never carried more than a basket of grain. He made us look like fools, even as the people cried out “SAVIOR, SAVE US!!” We tried to hold our heads high. We were with him.

But the problem had grown clearer with each passing day. Whenever we’d bring up his plans for power, he’d start talking and teaching us like we were children. Whenever we’d start day dreaming about putting Rome in it’s place, he’d redirect the conversation and try to soften our hearts toward the Roman oppressors.

Three years. Three years of my life I’d given to following this man, investing all that I had in what might happen next. I knew it was time. Everything was ripe for revolution. The crowds were with us. The power and influence in the Kingdom was shifting. But every single time we’d try to mention it, Jesus would try to calm us, change the subject, or start telling stories. I got to the point where I just started walking away. I didn’t need to hear these words. I didn’t need to hear these stories. I needed to see action. I needed to see that God’s Messiah hadn’t grown soft and gutless.

I began to wonder, what if? What if this wasn’t really the Messiah I’d thought he was going to be? What if this was just another false prophet, stirring up the crowds and speaking with authority, only to let us all down all over again?

I began to pay more attention to his stories. He warned against the scribes, saying his followers shouldn’t worry about getting respect, and having the best places in the synagogues or places of honor at banquets. He pointed out a poor widow putting two copper coins into the treasury at the synagogue. He honored her offering as if it were worth more than those who gave gold and silver. As I held onto our groups finances, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t want all of our coins to turn to copper. What was all of this talk about? We should have been looking for wealthy allies, people who could offer us the connections and supplies we needed for the upcoming revolution. Instead – Jesus was praising the gifts and presence of this woman who had nothing to offer us.

I was there, not long after, when he started to prophecy about the destruction of the temple, and the destruction of Jerusalem. I think that’s when it happened. When my heart really began to harden against this man I thought was the key to my future, the key to OUR future. What kind of Messiah would talk about the coming day when the Temple would be destroyed? What kind of Messiah would talk about the destruction of God’s Holy City? He even talked about the Judeans needing to flee into the surrounding mountains, away from the city! Didn’t he know this was God’s Holy Place? This was the place where our salvation and freedom would come from. This was the place where Majesty would be enthroned. This place was OUR HOPE. This place was our very LIFE.

As he continued to teach, I listened less and less. Something about the coming of a “Son of Man”. He was probably confessing we were all still waiting on a Messiah – including him. He seemed to be losing it, and was filled with emotion as he stared at a fig tree nearby. He talked about how you can tell summer is coming, because of the leaves sprouting on the tree. He compared it to knowing about the Kingdom of God, and how we can know it is near because of the signs he’d talked about. That we should be on our guard, and watchful.

Watchful. For what? If he didn’t know when God was planning to set up His Kingdom, it must not be now. It must not be here. It must not be Him. But he was so powerful. He was so different. He was so – Jesus. My heart was torn. I was mad. I was sad. I was breaking apart.

I lost track of the days. He would spend all day teaching in the temple, and come back to the Mount of Olives most nights. Some of us went with him. Sometimes a few of us stayed back. I usually stayed back those days. That’s when it happened…

Some of the higher ups were walking nearby, and I don’t think they realized I was there. They were talking about a secret meeting, and wanting to get rid of Jesus. I made myself remember where they were meeting, and when…..just in case I could connect. This would be the perfect way to see if he was the Messiah or not. If he could be gotten rid of, he was obviously not the man we’d been waiting for.

So as the others were gathering supplies for the passover meal, I knew this was a rare chance to sneak away. I went to the place this meeting was happening. At first they were worried, because they knew I was one who was close to Jesus. But I told them what was on my heart. We had a common goal. If this was just another man, he needed to be quieted. If this was the Messiah, well then – what could we do to stop him? They offered me 30 pieces of silver. Not a lot, but better than being left with nothing if they were going to have him killed anyways. I agreed.

Imagine, then, what happened next. As we gathered for the evening meal, Jesus took off his outer robe, tied a towel around his own waist, and came around washing our feet. A lump rose in my throat. The room was so quiet, as he came to each of us. Simon Peter, obviously, couldn’t keep his mouth shut, and wouldn’t let Jesus do it at first. Then Jesus mentioned we didn’t need to wash our entire bodies, because we were clean…except, he also said – not all of us were clean. I couldn’t tell if he looked at me in the moment, or not. But as the meal continued, it was so hard to pretend anymore. Finally, he paused as he spoke, and warned everyone that one of us would betray him. Of course, everyone responded with gasps, wanting to prove who was the most loyal. I tried to fit right in, in that moment. Then he called me out on the spot. How did he know? He excused me from the table, and I knew – my time was short. If he knew I was involved in something, it wouldn’t be long before he ran. I knew where he was going to be that night, but wasn’t sure about his plans the next days. So I went to find the men who I’d spoken with.

The leaders took me and we went to find a group of guards. Words were flying, accusing Jesus of instigating a political uprising. The guards knew exactly who they were talking about, and it wasn’t hard to convince them Jesus had a large following. They were charged with keeping the peace, and making sure we Jews didn’t attract too much attention from Rome. They knew if this went beyond them, it could be their own lives at stake. So they came with us, as I led them into the garden.

With a kiss of greeting, so I wouldn’t have to say a word, I’d agreed to show which man was Jesus there in the darkness of the garden. As soon as we arrived, I began to question what was about to happen, but if I turned back now it would be my own life at stake. So I walked forward to greet Jesus. I felt the glare of Simon Peter, hand already on his sword, and my eyes began to water as I greeted our rabbi.

I stepped aside, as Jesus with a commanding voice asked them “Whom are you looking for?” They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth”. Then it happened. I can’t explain it, but as Jesus spoke the words “I AM.”, all the fullness of a divine power seemed to overwhelm us, and we dropped to our knees. Still trying to understand what was happening, we heard Jesus ask again, “Whom are you looking for?” The guard responded again, this time bracing for what might happen….”Jesus of Nazareth”. Jesus answered “I told you, I AM. Let these other men go.” That’s when Peter ran forward with his sword drawn. I thought he was coming at me, and quickly dodged out of the way, but his eyes had always been fixed on the high priests’ slave who was reaching out to grab Jesus. He sliced the mans ear off, and that’s when several of us began to run. I was afraid of getting caught up in whatever might happen next.

The next hours were unbearable. I ran until I couldn’t run. I cried. Three years, for this? But the love in his eyes. The grace and kindness, even in those last moments. I wandered back into the city. I could hear crowds chanting, and women crying in the streets. I could hear the religious leaders rallying the people against this rebel. Threats that they needed to silence this man before Rome came to put us all in our place.

But the accusations they made. The horrible picture they painted of who Jesus was. How quick they were able to get everyone to turn against him. I didn’t even care anymore if he was the Messiah. Maybe he wasn’t – because this sure didn’t look like a rise to power. This looked like a path toward prison.

Finally I heard the news. It wasn’t prison – it was a death sentence. I couldn’t believe it. Jesus wasn’t rising to power the way I’d thought he should. But he was definitely a powerful prophet from God. An innocent man. And I had accepted payment to send him to a horrible death by crucifixion. This mans blood would be all over my hands, for the rest of my life. I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to give the money back, but they wouldn’t take it. I threw it on the ground in the temple, and ran.

You know my story. But I want you to know – we are not so different. We all want a savior. There’s a part of us that doubts whether Jesus has what it takes to meet our needs. To meet the needs of our community. To change our world.

I want to assure you – I don’t know everything. But I know the power of that man was divine. I want you to know the Love in those eyes, even in the moment of my betrayal – is the kind of love that can change a world.

I want you to know, if you get a chance to follow Jesus, even if the road ahead looks rough….please – follow Him. Any other path, leads only to death. A death you don’t have to experience – because he already did for you…

“here is your son.”

Shell or Rock?

Moana was a fantastic movie for so many reasons. The chicken made us laugh. The grandma was one we all wish we had. The usual motif about “someone realizing there was something mystically special about themselves all along” – is something many of us hope to discover.

There are roots in there story with amazing truths, if we will notice.

There is a girl who is taught her entire life, that her value comes from her ability to maintain what has always happened. She is expected to make wise decisions, to rule well, and to navigate the difficulties of island life. That someday she will place her stone on the highest mountain, atop the stones of previous leaders, making her contribution the highest point on their island.  But within her stirs a discontent. A “holy” stirring that not only she, but her people, were created to do more than what they’d done yesterday.  That perhaps even, looking far back in their history, they might find stories of a completely different existence altogether.  They were not a people meant to thrive on how well they could perpetuate status quo. They were wired to thrive on creative discovery, and to craft stories of stepping out into the unknowns, in faith that something greater than themselves held their fate and future. That actually, their fate depended on complete change in what was being done. They were facing struggles no resources could be found to solve. The status quo way of maintaining routine was slowly losing its ability to provide life.

So she set out to discover what else could be done. Sacrificially, she launched a new initiative toward becoming vulnerable – not just for her own sake but for a people who were temporarily without any idea of what might happen next.  Collectively, they looked toward tomorrow with hesitancy, but hopeful faith for what could be. Enlight16

It turned out to be exactly what was needed. As she returned to share this new way of life she’d discovered, it was immediately embraced by the people as being their actual story. No longer were they island people, who valued being able to efficiently stay as they were. Connecting to their ancient roots, they were a people “on the move”. Entrusting themselves to something larger, they collectively were reidentified as New Creations.  There is a brief scene where we simply see a shell placed on a stack of rocks. No longer would success be measured by the highest point on an island that was ultimately no source of life.

From now on – they’d become a people who’s measurement for Life had been altogether transformed.

The wisdom here offers us a moment to contemplate as leaders and servants in the Kindgom of God. Are we willing to let go of our chance to place a stone, if it enables others to actually be transformed toward a New Life altogether? Can we trust God to guide us as we launch out together toward a New Land?

There is, after all, a world out there already placing stones upon stones – waiting for followers of Jesus to show them a better way…

 

The Connected Child(ren of God)

Years ago, when we began the journey of adoption, it was surprising to read in “The Connected Child” that we would want our daughter to cry.  Reading the explanation, however, seemed to make perfect sense.  For a child who has never known the safe environment of a loving home and parents who cared for her needs, she has to learn the connected-child-cover-web-198x300instinct to cry out.  Previously, crying gained her nothing, or quite possibly the opposite of affection, and so she may have “unlearned” the behavior.  As our child became connected to us, it would become evident through moments like crying out – knowing she could trust a proper and loving response.

Fast forward several years.  We’ve finally brought home a daughter who is about 5 years old, and not only has she “unlearned” many habits of children who grow up in healthy environments – she’s also acquired many habits of children who grow up in unhealthy environments.  She is loved, for the first time as never before, and brought in to being part of a family. At first, she didn’t understand much of anything.  What did “Father” mean?  What did “Mother” mean?  There are certain things, and certain words, that if you were to examine them in the routine of many normal homes it would be confusing.   But in our context, where we’re attempting to purposefully build the connections most children would naturally develop from birth, they make sense.

Now take a step back.  Think about the Old Testament and the actions or words spoken between God and His people.  A common question among people who don’t want to believe in God, or even those who do but are honest with their doubts – “Why would God command ______?  Why would God do ________?”

I can’t pretend to understand the mind or heart of God completely, but I do understand the heart of a Father who wants to connect with the heart of their child. A child who has never known a Father like this before.  A child who has become so separated from the concept of “family” or “parent”, that it is a completely foreign concept.

So we see God calling out His people from among all others.  We see God rescue His people, only to force them into depending on Him through the wilderness for 40 years. We hear words from God about the wrath He’s capable of, even though ultimately He reveals His heart to be powerfully Loving and full of Grace for humanity. (lol, I realize that sounds bad here.  No worries, we’re not threatening wrath or taking our daughters on 40 year wilderness journeys.)

It’s not the kind of relationship we’d have if we were born aware of Him.  But it’s an adoption that impacts us to the very core of our being, for eternity.  Romans 8:15 reminds us, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

One of the most natural ways to build that connection and bond? Simply to hold our daughter, and to allow her to feel our love. To remind her that we are here, and she is here, and she is ours no matter what happens.  To help her feel safe, and loved, and comforted.  To provide for her needs, and help her to see how depending on us to meet those needs is a trustworthy habit to develop.

In this moment – maybe it’s a good reminder for you and I – if this is what I am aware of, can’t we trust that God knows even better how to move His children into a fully connected relationship with Him?  We can trust in these moments, if we allow ourselves to be held by Him, to listen to His words, and to depend on Him to provide – these are habits worth developing in our own lives.

Even as I continue to pray my daughter would know my love deep in her heart, and not just in behavior – I also pray that my heart would deeply come to know the Love of my Father, not just in my behavior.  I pray that God would use this understanding of His Love – to invite even more children into fuller connection with Him…

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