Come To The Table

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Yesterday we were encouraged to spend some time reflecting on this painting of the Trinity.   It is by the Russian artist Andrei Rublev and is dated to the 15th century.  It is based on the story of Genesis 18 when Abraham is visited by 3 angelic strangers.  This was interpreted by Rublev to be a visitation of the Trinity.  It envisions the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be one of peace, unity, mutual love and humility.  Yesterday, as we reflected on the nature of God’s relationship within the Trinity, we were nudged to remember that in Christ, we are invited into that relationship with God.

This is a little poem I wrote during that reflection. Think of it as God’s invitation to a life with Him around the table of relationship.

Beautiful, Good
Together as one
Joy, love, power
Dances between You

Considering, deciding
Your gaze outward
Creating, redeeming
Sacrifice without reserve

Calling, inviting
A familiar name whispered
Forgiven, loved
Welcomed to the Table

Broken, healed
Together as one
Joy, Love, Power
Dances between us.

Enjoy My Birthday!!!!

Transformed_Pain_Cover_for_KindleMy birthday is on April 1st, but this is no joke.  I thought it would be fun to give a gift to others for my birthday. So, for the next few days, I am giving away my book on Kindle for free!  As one of my subscribers, I want to thank you for reading all my posts.  Feel free to share this offer with others.  The paperback price has been cut by nearly 50%.

Here is the link!

While reading, I hope you are encouraged that your struggles are redeemed by God into a gift that brings life.

If the book is an encouragement, be sure to leave a review on Amazon!  Thanks again for all your support over the years!

Blessings,

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What is Jesus Full Of?

This is the last in a series on John 1:1-18.  To start from the beginning, click HERE.

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And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:14–18, ESV)

A word that grabs my attention appears twice in these verses: “full,” and “fullness.”  These words, are from the same Greek word, “pleireis.”  It speaks of the contents and the completeness of what fills a container.  So a pitcher of milk, filled to the brim. Or, a reservoir that has raised to the tops of its banks.  Why is this so important in these verses?  Because the John uses the word to point us to what can be expected from Christ, and who might expect it.

First, let’s think about the contents of the container.  The Word came and dwelt among us… In simpler terms, Jesus, the Son of God and agent of creation, came to live as a human being.  But he did so, being filled with something.  What is the content of his fullness?  It is “grace and truth.”  Jesus was filled with grace and truth.  These two inseparable elements draw us into the very nature of God himself.  Grace and truth.  Like mercy and justice, compassion and holiness, forgiveness and righteousness, they seem like opposites, but when taken together they form a life-affirming tapestry of beauty and strength.

Now let’s look at the capacity of the container.  If a lake is our source of water and it is filled to the brim with clean, clear water, that is good.  But if it is a lake that is 20 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep, it won’t provide water to many.  So, what is Jesus’ capacity to give this grace and truth?  His capacity is determined by who he is.  His “glory is as of the Son from the Father.”  He comes after John, but “ranks before me, because he was before me.”  “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side…”  Jesus is the Eternal One.  He was with the Father in eternity past.  His capacity for grace and truth is immeasurable.  The stars in the sky, the sand of the sea, and the myriad intentions of the human heart are all held in the palm of his hand.

What does this mean?  In the words of John, from the contents and the capacity of Christ, we all have received “grace upon grace.”  His coming has heaped on us gift upon gift.  He comes, he loves, he serves, he sacrifices, he lives again, he invites, he leads.  He offers truth, grace, mercy, kindness, hope, joy, immortality… the very fullness of life.  And because of his capacity, he gives this to all who receive.  He has enough for everyone to get a full measure!

These opening words of the gospel of John reveal to us that the world begins, continues and ends with the Word.  The Word is He who brings us life.  By coming, living, dying and living again, he offers the grace of God to each and every one.  This is his message.  This is our hope!  Rejoice!  He has come.  He still comes to us today.  He will come again.

My prayer in this series of posts is that Christ is magnified!  My hope is that we get a clear picture that life and light have forever been in Him.  And our only hope for all the goodness God offers us is in the One who came and joined our lives with His life.

Thanks again for the likes, shares and comments!

What Does God Offer In Our Pain?

comfortBlessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–7, ESV)

One night, several months ago, I was alone on a ministry trip.  I sat in my motel room, having had a day of chest pain.  It was one of those times when I had taken my extra shots of nitroglycerin and things had calmed but it wasn’t going away.  I laid alone in my bed, thinking of going to sleep.  I didn’t know how to pray.  I didn’t have the words, or the energy.  But I needed the comfort of God.  I laid there and the words that came out of my mouth were,

“Now I lay me down to sleep. 

     I pray the Lord, my soul to keep.

     If I should die before I wake,

     I pray the Lord, my soul to take.”

I hadn’t prayed this prayer for nearly 50 years.  At once my soul quieted before God.  I was okay with whatever he chose for that night.  I rested him him.  His comforting touch was real.

In Paul’s words above, we can hear God’s invitation to experience His comfort.

  1. His comfort flows from His nature.  “He is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”  If you’ve ever been comforted it’s been from Him.  When we know His comfort, we know something of God’s nature.
  2. Comfort is God’s response to our affliction.  “who comforts us in all our affliction.”  Without affliction, we would never experience the wonder of His comfort.
  3. The experience of affliction and comfort is part of our sharing in the life of Christ.  “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ, we share abundantly in comfort too.”Affliction, when lived through with patient endurance is a life of oneness with Christ.
  4. God comforts us, so we can share comfort with others.  When it comes to love, grace and comfort, we can only give from what we’ve received.  “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort…”

When you find yourself afflicted, allow yourself to sit.  Don’t demand relief, or resolution.  Wait for His comfort.  It may come in a whispered prayer, a verse of Scripture, or the prayer of a friend.  Let him console you.  Let him give you rest that will last through the night.  And in the morning, you will have a gift to give another – the comfort you’ve received from God.

Joy In the Morning

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Note:  This devotional was written for the “Wherever” Devotional book, published for Village Creek Bible Camp in Lansing, IA.  Available Here.  I am posting it today in honor of #AMCawarenessday, and as a reminder to all of us that God has a joy-filled purpose for everything He writes into our story.

Psalm 30:5 (ESV)
5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

“Dad, it’s not good.” I was trying to hear through the fuzzy bluetooth connection, register what was happening and hurtling down the highway at 75 miles per hour. My oldest son called to give an update on the birth of our first granddaughter, Clara Grace. We asked what was wrong and through tears, he said, ”a lot.” Clara was born with arthrogryposis; a name we wouldn’t learn until much later. What it meant was that her arms and legs were bent, her joints were tight and constricted.  At that moment, breathing was the big concern.

     For the next 90 minutes, my wife and I cried, prayed, and hoped. We couldn’t imagine the pain our kids were feeling. My anxiety and pain increased as I anguished and rehearsed what life might hold in the days ahead. At the hospital, we heard the updates, and as a family went into the NICU. I sat in a chair and Andrew handed me his little girl. She seemed half her size. Her legs were bent. Her chin was small.  Her arms gripped her torso, unable to stretch. She was a bundle, all balled-up.

     I held her, afraid and filled with love. I was also filled with a palpable joy. My tears flowed as I told her again and again that she was loved. God loved her and so did we. Where did the joy come from? It didn’t come from empty promises of an easy life. Nor did it come from any knowledge that this would be fixed. It came from getting a glimpse that Clara’s story was part of God’s story of grace and redemption. The joy came from understanding the Author of all things was writing a story that only she could live. And because He’s good, her story would be good.

     The psalmist wrote, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Weeping may hang out in darkness, but something happens in the light of day. It doesn’t fix things. The light of day brings clarity. It helps us see that God’s at work. There is One who is carefully and skillfully crafting a story for us to live with Him. Clara Grace’s name means “clear grace.” That is what the morning brings, a view of God’s clear grace. When we see it we know great joy, even with tears.

     Father, thank you for the joy the morning brings. Thank you for the the windows through which the light of understanding comes. Thank you for the joy the floods my heart.  In every moment of sorrow, or frustration today, help me wait with you for the clarity only You can give.  And in this glimpse fill me with unending joy!  In Christ’s name and for your glory!  Amen.

The Radical Pursuit of Rest, book Review

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The Radical Pursuit of Rest, by John Koessler is more than a how-to.  Though there are practical implications of application for each of us.  John has written a lively, engaging, convicting theology of rest that makes us face the unique dangers of our culture inside and outside the church.  These very dangers keep us from experiencing the greatest blessing of our salvation – true Sabbath rest.

John begins by helping understand how our culture has shaped our view of productivity.  We belong to a busyness culture.  It drives us in our workday and in our worship of Christ.  Because of our bent of valuing productivity above all else, it becomes the measure of our faith.  “Since our devotion to Christ should know no bounds, neither should our activity.  No matter what we are doing now, we should do more.  No matter what we have done in the past, it has not been enough.” p.19
 
The answer is not a self-imposed withdrawal from activity.  As John writes, we don’t need a vacation or new leisure activities, we need a new yoke.  The yoke of Christ is a yoke of rest.  It is given as a gift to the weary (Matthew 11:28-30).
While rest should be pursued by us, John reminds us, it never earned.  It is given and received.  Rest shows up a lot like sleep.  “Sleep comes to me as a surprise, greeting me like a lover who embraces me from behind.  So it is with the rest of Christ (p.32).”
Rest is a gift given to us as we pursue Christ.  John doesn’t say that we shouldn’t reorder our lives, so we can receive this rest.  But neither does he chide us into creating new “restful” activities out of guilt and shame.  Rest isn’t just a better thing to do.  Rest is a gift to live in.
Two chapters really encouraged and challenged me.  One was chapter 4, “False Rest.”  He writes about the difference between true rest and slothfulness.  “Sloth is rest’s dysfunctional relative, he says.”  He quotes Dorothy Sayers, “It [sloth] is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive only because there is nothing it would die for (p.65).”
Sloth destroys our prayer life.  That is understandable because prayer is truly a labor of the soul.  But, sloth will also hide itself in vision, John warns.  We can get so wrapped up in creating vision for the grand and glorious that we stop doing the ordinary work of serving.  We ignore mundane by constantly painting a picture of how we think life and church ought to be.  As one who likes to talk about vision and hopes and dreams and faith, I am convicted that at times, I have ignored the work in front of me in order to rework the vision.  Or more accurately I have spent hours reworking vision, painting a new picture, in order to ignore the work in front me.
A second chapter that confronts me as pastor and church leader, is chapter 6, “Worship as Rest.”  John challenges us to see worship as an act of resting.  We tend to speak of and plan for a worship experience filled with activity, a holy busyness.  Meaningful activity for sure, but certainly not rest.  In my first church, there was a man from the community who only attended Sunday evening service (remember when we had those?).  As a 24 year old pastor, I assumed he had to be at least 100 years old.  Now, as a 54 year old pastor, he probably was closer to 75.  Each Sunday night, after the hymns were sung and I got up to preach, we would settle himself in.  He always sat on the far end of the pew.  He turned at an angle toward the pulpit, wedging his back against the side and back of the pew.  He slid he rear forward to the edge of the bench.  At that point, he folded his arms, lay his chin against his chest so his neck would disappear.  And before I was done with the introduction, he was fast asleep.  Several people in my church apologized to me for him.  And my reply was, “it doesn’t bother me.  He’s sleeping in the arms of Jesus.”  Truth is, it bothered me a bit.
John doesn’t imply that we should all sleep in church.  But we should find worship together as a time that is filled with the rest of Christ.  John quotes theologian Donald Bloesch in saying, “Worship is not simply an attitude that permeates all things Christians do, but an engagement with the sacred in acts of praise and thanksgiving.  Service to our neighbor proceeds from worship, but worship is something much more than service.  It involves an encounter with the Holy that brings us interior peace and salvation (p.102).”  That sounds like real rest to me.
Rather than continue giving away the details of the book, let me encourage you to read it.  Use it personally.  Use it for your church staff.  Use it in your small groups.  Knowing the rest of Christ, by experience, will take a change of thinking.  It will take the courage to reevaluate what we are doing and why.  But after reading the book, I believe you will become aware of your weariness from much of what we do.  You may also discover a new longing to receive what Christ has been trying to give us all along.
On a personal note, I am privileged to count Dr. John Koessler as a friend and colleague.  He is a fellow disciple who is walking the journey we all walk.  He has been there to encourage me as well as give advice in my role as pastor, father and follower.  He is in the right place, preparing future pastors in how to love and serve Christ and His church.  I appreciate how God has gifted in the area of writing and look forward to more from him in the future.

What will Jesus and I talk about?

Have you ever wondered what you will talk about with Jesus, when you see Him?  I think a lot of us have questions we think we’d like answered.  Some of us may feel like we’ll be at a complete loss for words.

Tonight as I sat, thinking about my prayer life and my relationship with God while alone at dinner, this thought came to my mind.  “I hope that when I get to heaven my conversation with God will be a continuation of what my conversation with him is now.  If when I see him, he sees the need to change the subject, I fear I would have been talking to him about the wrong things in the here and now.”

What’s in my heart is that, I want to be in such union with him now, that when I am with him, it is just the next step in our journey together.  Oh, I foresee a glorious, enlightened and transformational step, but a next step, nonetheless.

What do you think?  What do you two converse about now?  Will it be the same?  Why, or why not?

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