I think the Triumphal Entry is one of my favorite events in the gospel narrative. There is so much going on, so many layers, and so much drama. But, as I was reading it this week, I saw a simple principle nestled in among all the layers. Praise is a pathway to peace.
When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Mark 11:7-10, NIV
Regardless of the political environment and expectation surrounding this event, the people acknowledged Jesus as their Messiah, their deliverer, and the one through whom they would experience God’s peace. This caused them to erupt into spontaneous praise.
Praise reveals what our hearts hold true. That sense of fulfillment, even completeness, that fills us as we praise might be the most appropriate definition of God’s shalom (peace). Shalom is wholeness and contentment in God’s presence and providence.
The crowd in this story quickly let their expectation of a warring Messiah rob them of the peace they had tasted when they worshiped Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Even when God betrays our expectations, let’s remember Paul’s encouragement.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28, NIV
The theme for our worship gathering at Valley Life Church this Sunday is First in Mission. As I was thinking about it, I was reminded that as Christians we are to be people of good news. This doesn’t mean that we need to be “shiny, happy people holding hands,” but rather people of hope. This was Jesus’ message when he read the following passage from the scroll in the synagogue.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
(Luke 4:18-19, CEB)
This passage is a message of hope for people who need good news. We receive good news from people who have received good news. We can’t give what we don’t have. So, how do we get the good news? This was Jesus’ first message he preached.
“The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near. Change the way you think and act, and believe the Good News.”
(Mark 1:15, GW)
We receive the good news when we change the way we think and act and realize that God is here, now, working with and for us for our good and God’s glory. It’s this change of perspective that allows God to bring freedom and healing in our lives, which establishes hope in us. It is this hope that we get to, in turn, share as the good news. Jesus’ message of hope from Luke 4 is also the scope of his ministry, which is now our ministry as the body of Christ.
If you have hope, share hope. If you need hope, reach out. I have learned that those who know and love us also have hope to share with us.
By the weather we have been enjoying lately in SF Bay area, it would be hard to know that this Wednesday was the First Day of Fall!
Sunset and fog, Half Moon Bay, CA
I love the equinoxes! They are the two days of the year that are in perfect balance. Equinox means equal night. We get 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. It is also the day when the sun rises and sets due east and due west, respectively.
What, if anything, does this have to do with us?! It is simply a reminder of God’s expansive wisdom, grace, and love. Wisdom within the cycles of balance and reset. Like the Sabbath, God knows we need things to be renewed, so we don’t lose heart. Grace through the truth that, “this too shall pass.” Love, because God created this universe for us to partner with God, and God with us in the gospel promise of making all things new.
The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God. Without a sound or word, silent in the skies, their message reaches out to all the world. Psalm 19:1-4 (TLB)
I pray you take a moment this weekend to pause and receive God’s love letter to you through the beauty of creation.
A few months ago, I was at a Day Retreat organized by Josh Pinkston for the Foursquare pastors in our area. The focus of the retreat was prayer and meditation. Only four of us came. As we gathered, we took prayer requests. Then we dispersed to pray. As I looked over the prayer requests, including my own, they all seemed to embody a Beatitude, which provided a beautiful focus for prayer. Oddly enough, I found some blank notecards in my Bible. For each of the prayer requests I wrote down the Beatitude and a sentence or two of affirmation and encouragement. My prayer request was to be an instrument of God’s peace. This is what I wrote for myself.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
(Matthew 5:9, NIV)
“God’s presence is peaceful, but not comfortable. Peacemakers find themselves in places of conflict and by being present, expressing God’s peace, work to establish the kinship of God.”
In my study of the Beatitudes lately, coming to this one brought back a flood of memories from that Day Retreat. The thing that stood out to me the most that day, and still does, is the idea of the kinship of God. This produced a sort of “if – then” formula in my mind. “If peacemakers are called God’s children, then God must be a God of peace.” This equation can also be flipped. “If God is a God of peace, then God’s children must be peacemakers.” This is where I find my heart. I want to be a peacemaker.
“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” – A. J. Muste
Peacemakers are traditionally defined as, “a person who brings about peace, especially by reconciling adversaries.” I would like to redefine what a peacemaker is as one who creates an environment of peace. Peaceful environments can naturally bring about a resolution to conflict. Otherwise we are left with less than peaceful means by which we try to establish a conflict reduced situation based on contingency and condition. Not exactly peace.
Last weekend, at the VLC Family Camp, getting kids to settle down and go to sleep in the cabin is always a challenge. At one point, our three younger children, who were seriously over tired for a day full of play, all started to melt down. I realized that Autumn and I had become ping-pong balls in the middle of their chaos, so I went over to one end of the room and sat on the floor. A few moments later, Lillian, the youngest, walked over to me sobbing and sat down on my lap. She calmed down and was soon in bed. The tension in the room was deflated, which allowed Autumn to help get the next two kids situated in bed. When we choose to not feed the conflict, the conflict will begin to resolve itself.
One other example that I have come across that demonstrates peace through kinship is Father Gregory Boyle. He is the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, CA. Their purpose is to “provide hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of our community.” The driving philosophy within the organization is “kinship.” Upon entering the Homeboy program, each person begins to understand that the person working next to them are their brother or sister, even if they are formerly from rival gangs. The environment of peace established by Father Greg and his staff empowers this concept of kinship, which translates to changed lives and renewed futures for those who work through this program. Here is a TED talk from Father Greg telling the story of kinship. Make sure you have tissues nearby!
Peace is one of those ideals that humanity strives after for millennia, but striving doesn’t produce peace. Only peace produces peace. Peacemakers don’t make peace; they are peace!
My hope is that people of peace establish environments of peace where the kinship of God can flourish through the act of being peace, a family of peace.
This June (20-28) I am traveling to Antigua, Guatemala, with two eldest children, Lydia and Clayton. This is our third trip together. When we are there, all of our service projects, from start to finish, are done with children in mind. The stoves we install protect children from smoke inhalation and burns. The concrete floors we install protect children from intestinal parasites that infect them through their feet. We also provide children’s clothes and shoes, child sponsorship, and a Vacation Bible School. To do this for just one child is more than worth the cost of going to them! For me, though, these trips are an opportunity for Autumn and I to provide for our children the opportunity to see how children in the two-thirds world live and let them love and serve these children, who, when it comes right down to it, are just like them, beautiful and worthy of every opportunity to grow up happy, healthy, and whole.
Jesus said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.” (Mark 10:14, CEB)
These service trips are sponsored by a Christian non-profit, Now Is The Time Missions, and a church, Valley Life Church. Christians of all stripes regard themselves as the body of Christ, a perpetual extension of the ministry of Jesus Christ. My heart, as well as all I get to serve with in Guatemala, is to be Christ to these children. Since they can’t possibly come to us, we will go to them!
Seeing my children play with these children in the villages we visit is so precious to me! My children are as much of a motivation to go to Guatemala as the children we get to serve.
In order to make this possible for my children and me, we need to raise $1700 each. That’s $5100 for the three of us. This cost is beyond our resources to fund. Would you consider partnering with us? Donating money for us to go not only covers our airfare, food, and lodging, but nearly half of the $1700 goes to funding the service projects that we will be doing. No money goes to either organization sponsoring this service trip. Everyone involved are volunteers and raise their own support, even the directors. This is a very good use of your money!
By donating money to help us cover our fees, we get to be an extension of your ministry to these children. We get to be Christ to them for you. This is an opportunity we don’t take lightly. We deeply appreciate your support!
This last Wednesday, August 28, 2013, marked the the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. For me the most memorable part of the speech is his dream that young children of every color will hold hands and play together. It is a beautiful dream with implications far beyond the issues of racial equality, as important as those are. I would like to apply his dream to the gospel.
“The gospel is so bent towards the outsiders, the very moment we get too secure being gospel insiders we start to resist the gospel itself.” (August 23, 2013)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw that when the children of different races came together to play, they didn’t see one another as outsiders, but rather together as one. The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is a message that God is near. It is a message of relationship and inclusion into the people of God. The Apostle Paul refers to it in Ephesians 6:15 as the “gospel of peace” for which we must be ready to carry with us wherever we go.
We will always be tempted to accentuate our differences to the exclusion of others. May we not resist the gospel in this way, but as agents of the gospel of peace, let’s pursue peace to the inclusion of others, who will then no longer be other.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”Matthew 5:9
Our time in Guatemala was fantastic. My two oldest children had a blast. Even though we were in a completely different culture, we seemed quite comfortable. For some people culture shock happens on the way into a new culture. For others, it happens on the way back to their culture of origin. Our team in Guatemala discussed this the night before we left to come home. This reminder helped me to navigate the cultural differences.
Part of our conversation that evening was on how the new culture affects us. Shawn Smith, our mission director, illustrated this by calling the culture of origin, square, and the new culture, circle. If someone from a square culture spends time in circle culture, he will begin to appreciate some circle ways of doing things. His experiences in the circle culture will change his perspective. He will know that he is not a circle, but he may also feel that he is not quite square anymore either
In our conversation, we coined a word, squircle.
Living as a squircle will have its challenges and benefits, but either way it will be a new normal.
As Christians, we are in some ways a squircle. We have experienced the love of God. We’ve received the grace of new life. We have seen the example of Jesus’ earthly life. We have embraced the hope of the gospel — all things put to rights and all things made new.
These experiences change us. We don’t fit any longer in the world as we know it. We are still in process toward becoming like Jesus. This is the now and not yet of the kingdom of God. We find ourselves in the middle. It’s in this middle place that people of God can make the most difference (granted we don’t wall ourselves in to preserve our “squircleness”).
With all cuteness aside, my prayer is that when we find ourselves in this in between place, we will realize that we are not alone. This is where we find Jesus and his people. Remember, we love God best when we love other well. This can only be done from the middle.
Today, I would like to share a perspective of the gospel I read about recently. It is from the bookNeighbors and Wise Men (p. 171-173). The author,Tony Kriz, tells of his experience of sharing the gospel. Having grown up in the church, he learned to share the good news of Jesus like one would share a piece of chocolate cake with a friend. We possess the piece of cake and are responsible for getting the cake into their hands. Tony later experienced sharing the gospel as one would share a sunset with a friend. Like the sunset, we don’t own the gospel, just like we don’t own God. The good news of Jesus is openly accessible and can be experienced in a variety of ways. Most importantly, it is a shoulder-to-shoulder experience, instead of a face-to-face transaction. It is something we get to experience with our family and friends, and each time is brand new, unique, and vitally alive.
For me, this perspective reminds me that the gospel is not something we take with us and must ensure its preservation. These gospel moments change us, and that is what we carry with us. As we share these “sunsets” with others, we continue to be changed and invite others to do the same.
The most important aspect of this for me is that it dismantles the “us and them” perspective, “I have something you don’t have.” Rather, it opens up the opportunity to share in an experience that is greater than ourselves. Just as God’s love is unfathomable, so it is with the gospel. It just can’t be contained.
I pray that during the Easter weekend, we get to share a few sunsets with family and friends.