While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Luke 2:6-7, CEB
Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in his humble birthplace, may we too care for Jesus by caring for those closest to us. I pray as well that our reflections on the Nativity story will open our hearts, and our guestrooms, for Jesus to be borne into our daily life experiences.
This reminds me of the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
The smile of a child and the laughter of children as they play make the world go around day after day.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” Matthew 21:16, NIV
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.
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!
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
(Matthew 5:6, NIV)
When I’m hungry or thirsty, I usually don’t think of righteousness as something that would satisfy. A cup of coffee and a burrito, maybe! And, what is righteousness, anyway?! As you can see, I’ve been stumped by Jesus’ saying here. The more I thought about it, the more questions I had. • What is righteousness? • What does it mean to be filled or satisfied? • Why does Jesus use biological terms for a
seemingly spiritual activity?
These questions, and more, led me to some surprising conclusions. At least I didn’t see them coming!
The biggest hurdle for me was the aspect of righteousness and how it can be fulfilling. The most common definition I’ve heard in church is “the state of being in proper relationship with God.” This is a fine definition, but it didn’t seem to mesh for me with the idea of hunger and thirst. Hunger and thirst are earthy terms. This definition of righteousness spiritual, positional, and abstract. I felt like I needed a definition of righteousness that had feet to it. Then this passage came to mind.
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8, NKJV)
To be righteous is to do rightly with a view to justice, mercy, and humility. Logically speaking, it just feels good when we do good. It is satisfying feeling we get when we have just helped someone.
What does Jesus mean when he blesses those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness?” When we are hungry, we usually know what we want to eat. We can see it. We know what it tastes like. It’s something that lives inside of us before we even get a chance to do it. We see rightly before we do rightly. We know what it looks like, and we want to see it happen. Seeing the kingdom of God lived out in our world only happens when we see it lived out in us. To quote Josh Pinkston, quoting Jesus, “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
So in wrapping my brain around Jesus’ words here I find that the satisfaction of righteousness is not static, but dynamic. It is alive like our appetites. The more we do rightly the more we are hungry to do it again. This doing comes from seeing what the world could look like when we all do rightly, justly, and filled with mercy and humility. I hope you can see it, just as I long to see it!
I am a task oriented person, and a bit perfectionistic at times as well. It is easy for me to pay more attention to getting something done or getting somewhere than it is being present with those I’m working or traveling with. I’m sure most of you have no idea what I’m talking about!
For about the last month, I’ve been meditating on Jesus’ third statement in the Beatitudes.
Meekness is not weakness. It invokes a spirit of humility, but that’s not all. A definition I’ve been working with lately is “strength that embraces it’s limitations.” At first I approached this definition with the attitude that meekness was the ability to say, “I can’t do everything, but what I can do, I’ll do it well.” But, I began to realize that meekness is also the presence of mind to say, “I don’t need to do everything that I can do well.”
An example that came to mind is that my family and I went on a hike last Saturday. We were at a place that had quite a few trails that led to different points of interest. We didn’t have a map and thought we were going to a specific place, but ended up somewhere else. Since we weren’t exactly sure where we were, we just went back the way we came.
One of my kids said, “Well, this is kind of pointless!” And, he was right. We lacked a spirit of adventure. Our hike turned into a trek from point A to B and then back, instead of enjoying the scenery and the people we were with (our family). It would have been so much more enjoyable if we hiked until we felt we had gone far enough and said, “Let’s see what we can find on the way back!”
Meekness is a complex ideal in regards to wisdom, learning, caring, and being. Meekness can also be simple in its application. It is being true to yourself and those you are with, and enjoying the moments you have together. From there, the potential for fruitful outcomes is endless.
I’ve always wondered why Jesus said that the meek would inherit the earth. I’m realizing that we possess our experiences. We can receive them as an inheritance, not only for ourselves, but also as something we can pass along. Meekness informs how we live our lives so that we can be a blessing to others.
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will lead us into ways of meekness, so that we will inherit an earth that honors God and those we love and that we would be proud to hand down to those who follow us.
I have been reading through and thinking about the Beatitudes, the first act of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:3-12) I am always amazed at how Jesus turns common perceptions on their ear. In this first of eight couplets that make up the Beatitudes, Jesus uses language of commerce to teach about the inclusive nature of the people of God.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:3 NIV)
Jesus starts out with “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Being poor is a reference point to wealth, that is, not having enough. We would most naturally say, “Blessed are the wealthy!” We wouldn’t even add “in spirit.” But Jesus flips the sentiment on us and declares those who understand that they cannot add to the dimension of the Spirit available to us are the ones with whom the blessing of the Spirit can most naturally reside. It is from this position of poverty that makes way for the inclusive nature of the people of God, because we can appreciate people for who they are and not what they have or can buy.
Jesus then says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Kingdoms naturally bring up notions of wealth. Kingdoms are fought over and bought off. Heaven is the one resource that can never be bought or even earned, but due to it’s elusiveness, it is of the upmost value! Jesus affirms that kingdom of heaven belongs to those who understand that there is nothing they can do to acquire it. Kingdoms are comprised of people. People cannot be acquired, only accepted! It is from the place of mutual acceptance that Spirit of God’s love can most freely move.
I pray that as we seek to know Christ more and the love God has for all people, that we too would understand our poverty of spirit and that we love God best when we love others well.
In the traditional Christian calendar, this Sunday is Ascension Sunday, remembering Jesus’ ascension into heaven just prior to Pentecost. Just before his departure, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, which we now know is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ascension created two periods of waiting — one for Pentecost and the other for his return or second coming. The first period was marked with worshiping God through prayer, praise, and serving others. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost empowers us to continue loving God by loving others in this second in between time.
To embrace this second season is to live fully in the present presence of God through the Holy Spirit. God is with us and within us. God’s kingdom is established through us as we live out Jesus’ commandment to love one another.
As we commemorate Jesus’ ascension and look forward to celebrating Pentecost I pray that we are established in the love of God for one another and in the ways God is leading us as a community.
Grace and peace,
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
(Matthew 28:19-20, CEB)
“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13:34, CEB)
Recently I read a number of accounts of restoration and resurrection in the Bible. Surprisingly, none of them were in the Easter story. What I was reminded about, though, is that God has always been in the business of restoring and resurrecting.
The account that stood out to the most was the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. Yes, Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead to make his way to Bethany, but when he got there he fully entered into the situation, listening to and comforting Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Jesus allowed his grief to align with their grief, since he dearly loved this family. It was from this place of empathetic union that formed an environment where healing could flow, even resurrection.
Jesus wasn’t the disaffected physician or the practitioner seeking to simply fix their problem. He loved them on purpose. Yes, he knew that by bringing Lazarus back from death would cause many to believe in him, but that didn’t stop him from loving his friends because they were his friends.
It is interesting that this resurrection story occurs just weeks before the Easter story, and is but one of many instances that Jesus brought people back from death. This speaks to me that resurrection and restoration are vital aspects of the mission of God’s kingdom and are, as Jesus exampled, an outcome of love. As a mission of God’s kingdom, it is also a mission of the people that make up that kingdom.
Looking forward to Easter, the purpose behind our many Easter events is to bring about an environment of love where restoration and resurrection can take place. May this be a vital part of all our preparations and planning. It is only fitting for the people of God’s kingdom.
Grace and peace,
When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled. He asked, “Where have you laid him?”
They replied, “Lord, come and see.”
Jesus began to cry. The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!”