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.

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.

Who’s Carrying Whom?

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Sometimes we Christians talk about God like he is a burden to be carried.  We list the things we “have to do for God.”  We have to go to church on Sunday, or we should tithe, or we need to pray.  We can’t just go do what we want to do.  Life as a believer sounds hard and very unattractive.

As I read Isaiah 46 this morning something important hit me.

1 Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock;

these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts.

2 They stoop; they bow down together;

they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity.

Idols have to be carried, but God…

3 Listen tome, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel,

who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried you from the womb;

4 even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you.

I have made , and I will bear;

I will carry and will save.

… but God carries!

God is the one who carries us.  My God is not a burden.  The things I do for God and with God, I am freed to do because He is carrying me.  He has carried me from my mother’s womb.  He will carry me as my  hairs turn gray.  He will carry and save me.

Find joy in being carried by the God who needs no one to carry Him.  If you recognize that He’s carried you, take time to enjoy the ride and give him thanks.

Hey, Christmas! Not So Fast! – Making Christmas Last

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Some years, Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas.  There are a lot of reasons for that.  It might be that the people we usually celebrate with aren’t present.  Family events have kept you from the usual preparation.  Or, it might be as simple as the absence of snow!  Whatever the reason, it seems the holiday is going to come and go, without making it’s impact on us.

It’s okay. Take a breath. Christmas isn’t over on December 25th.  In fact, for most of Christian history, December 25th is when Christmas celebrations began.  The famous song, the 12 Days of Christmas, remind us of this.  The 12 days of Christmas begin December 25th and go through January 5th, which leads to a celebration on January 6th, called Epiphany.  Epiphany is the celebration of the arrival of the Magi (Wisemen).  

Here’s an idea about how to keep Christmas going – not the hectic, frantic, wearisome part – but the meaningful, celebratory, lasting part! Take each day of the 12 days of Christmas and reflect on different aspects of the coming of Christ and his lasting joy.   Below is a daily calendar that will guide you in getting the most out of Christmas!

December 25th – We celebrate on the wonder of the incarnation.
Read:  Luke 2:1-7
Pray:  Pray with a grateful heart for the truth of Christ’s coming to transform your life.
Do:  Sing a carol that celebrates Christ’s coming.  Have one conversation with someone, either in person, or phone, or text, about what Christ’s coming has meant to you this year.

December 26th – We reflect on the needy around us.
Read:  Isaiah 42:1-9
Pray:  Pray for the needy Christ came to save.  Ask God for a heart to see the needs of others that He came to meet.
Do:  Give something away today, that will help others in need (time, food, resources).  Set aside some money to give to the “Benevolent, or Deacons” fund at church this Sunday.

December 27th – We praise God for the revealing Himself as Trinity.
Read:  Matthew 3:13-17; 2 Corinthians 13:14
Pray:  Ask God to help you know Him as Father who loves you, as the Son who redeemed you and prays for you, as the Spirit who empowers and directs you.
Do:  Write a letter to God, specifically the member of the Trinity you least relate to. What do you need to say?

December 28th – We thank God for the Gospels which share the gospel of Christ.
Read: John 20:30-31; 21:24-25
Pray:  Pray for a life that proclaims the gospel of Christ and lives out the grace and truth of Christ.
Do:  Spend time making a list of 3 people God has put into your life to influence toward Christ.  Pray for them.  Think of one simple act of grace you could do for each one in the next week.

December 29th – We remember the Law given by God to remind us of our need.
Read: Galatians 3:23-29
Pray:  Admit to God, the perfection of His law and our inability to do what is required by his righteousness.  Praise Him for meeting us in our need and leading us to new life.
Do:  Think about one tradition, rule, or law you might be depending on to give you favor with God. Make a change in the way you do it.

December 30th – We rejoice that our Savior is Creator God.
Read:  Genesis 1; Colossians 1:15-17
Pray:  Pray for the creation – including people – that God loves.  Pray for the desire of creation to one day experience the redemption and restoration to be complete.
Do: Take a walk and notice creation around you, reflecting on what it reveals to you about God.

December 31st – We praise Christ for fulfilling the Law for us.
Read:  Matthew 5:17-20
Pray:  Give thanks for the fact that Jesus met all the Law’s requirements.
Do:  Make a list of 3 rules you hold onto that might make it hard for others to experience the grace of Christ.

January 1st – We remember the day of Christ’s circumcision and dedication.
Read: Luke 21-40
Pray:  Thank God for the parents of Jesus who saw that He grew up in the covenant of God.  Pray for parents around you who have the responsibility of leading children to Christ.
Do:  Get involved in a regular serving opportunity to families, children or youth.

January 2nd – We humbly come to Christ with our need.
Read:  Matthew 5:2-11
Pray:  Ask God in honesty and humility to help you recognize the inner hunger you have.  Pray for Christ to fulfill that longing that still may feel unmet.
Do: Recount the need that first led you to Christ.  Share it with someone today.  Think about who else might have that need now.  Pray for wisdom to know how you can share Christ in that need.

January 3rd – We renounce the presence of sin in our lives.
Read:  Mark 1:1-8;
Pray:  Thank Christ for his holiness and ask God a desire to live a holy life before Him in the world.
Do:  Write down a sin that remains prevalent in your life.  Do one thing that would make that sin harder for you to participate in: revealing it to an accountability partner, changing a behavior pattern, removing the temptation from your life.

January 4th – We receive the gift of new life in Christ for us and the world.
Read:  John 1:9-18
Pray:  Thank God you are counted as one of his children through faith.
Do:  Write a personal poem, or psalm today, that expresses Christ as the light of the world, and your light.

January 5th – We commit ourselves to a path of faithfulness.
Read:  Hebrews 11:32-40
Pray:  Thank the Spirit of God for helping saints-of-old perservere in the faith.  Pray for strength to be counted as one of the faithful.
Do:  Fast at least one meal today, to remember the call to deny ourselves and follow Christ.  Use the time for prayer, or encouraging another in their faith.

January 6th – We rejoice at the coming of the Magi, which is his revelation to the nations.  Read:  Matthew 2:1-12
Pray:  Asking God to continue making himself known to the nations.  Express your longing for Christ to be reigning King of all the nations.
Do:  Give a gift of conversation, service, time, care to someone from another “nation” than your own.

I’d love to hear some of your ideas about extending the joy of Christmas!  And please comment and share this with others who might want to have the joy of Christmas continue!

The Gift I Didn’t Want

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What do you do with the gift you don’t want?  Sometimes we react to a gift negatively because it wasn’t on our list, or we don’t see a need for it.  We can handle this situation a lot of different ways.  Giving them to charity, returning them, regifting them, selling them online, stashing them away and trashing them are all ways we deal with the unwanted item.

What if we get an unwelcomed gift from God?  This year I got a gift I didn’t want.  The last two and half years have been a long journey dealing with Coronary Artery Disease.  After a bypass and 3 stents, this Christmas I got stent number 4.  I didn’t want it and to be honest, still don’t.  It isn’t that I’m not grateful for all the people God used to save my life once again.  I am.  I just didn’t want it.

So, how do we handle it when we get a gift we don’t want, especially when it’s from God?

1. I have to trust the giver.  I have to remember he knows me and loves me more than anyone else.  And in whatever gift he gives, he only gives it out of this great love and intimate knowledge.

2. I have to realize that the gift may not be THE gift.  My arteries are giving me fits.  Instead of seeing these as a faulty gift.  The gift really is all the love, grace, support, encouragement and strength that God has given me through this.  I live each day more intentionally.  I experience God in new ways.  Through a daily dependence, he has become more real to me. And my arteries provide the opportunity to know and experience all this.

3. I have to remember that no gift is for me alone.  God gives me gifts so I can use them to bless others.  In giving me my gifts, God always has a bigger mission in mind.  He wants my gifts to help others experience the riches of his grace.  Doctors, nurses, others who suffer hard situations, those living in fear of the reality of mortality, are all people I understand and love more than I ever did before.

I may not want the gift.  In fact, if I had my druthers, I’d forego all this.  And one day God may heal me, that’s what I hope for!  But until then, I will trust the giver, I will see the gifts that surround this gift I didn’t want, I will share my gift with others.

Let me just add:  this isn’t a one-time shift in perspective.  It is a journey. 

What gift didn’t you want?
How are you handling it?