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They Missed It – Do We?

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When Christ arrived on the earth (despite so many prophecies), many at that time missed it. They were looking for a Messiah that would come and set up a kingdom on earth that put the Roman Empire out of business. They believed the kingdom would look more like the earthly kingdoms they had known. But during the years He walked the earth and taught them, He told them in parables and other teachings that it was quite different than they had imagined. Some began to see the truth, but others did not accept this as the true Messiah and King.

When Christ ascended into heaven following his resurrection, He left the disciples to lead and establish his kingdom here on earth. What a challenging task for this group and despite all odds against them, the survival of the church today gives testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit operating in them to bring about just that. But as we await his return, are we missing what it means to live out the kingdom as aliens in a fallen world?

The dictionary tells us what a kingdom is: “a country, state, or territory ruled by a king or queen”. The definition implies governance and political power, but what does that mean now when the King is not present on earth and yet we are to be building the kingdom that is not defined by geographical boundaries or the conventional things we know of kingdoms such as politics?

Eugene Peterson quotes Richard Neuhaus in Reversed Thunder for a description of politics:

“Politics reaches into dimensions of behavior and belief. The authority of government is exercised to maintain order, defined by civic and criminal law (otherwise there is babel). Most political systems ranging from family to empire, combine the elements of government and religion, as the Romans did. American democracy separates them. But combined or separate, the two elements are still there, parallel in their political importance.”

Eugene Peterson quoting Richard Neuhaus

Eugene Peterson further points out the challenge in looking at politics and how the kingdom is defined that is that of Christ’s:

“Politics involves two elements: the exercise of ruling power and the means by which that power is exercised. People love to hear that God is powerful and that he rules; they are not as enthusiastic when they discover the means by which he exercises his ruling power.”

Eugene Peterson

Albert Schweitzer saw what we may miss. The kingdom of God begins and sets forth its power and principles in each of our hearts. It is that simple, that complicated, and that which He most desires us to understand. Without that the kingdom of God He is returning to fully establish will not be ready for what his rule will look like when He reigns fully on earth.

Though we may well participate in the political system of this world and be called to do so as his representative, if the evidence of the Kingdom of God emanating from our hearts does not look like Him we have not understood the mission. We may be called to speak light into darkness, but our life must first reflect Him, before we seek to find words that do.

The challenge each day is to allow Christ to rule in our hearts (even in the attic, closets, and basement) so that we are wholly his and He can use us for his purposes. To do that we must keep straight the use of the word “kingdom” according to his design. We must understand how our words must be used with his wisdom and discernment and reflect Him.

“The political metaphor, “kingdom,” insists on a gospel that includes everything and everyone under the rule of God. God is no religious glow to warm a dark night. Christ is no esoteric truth with which to form a gnostic elite. The Christian faith is an out-in-the-open, strenuous, legislating, conquering totality. God is sovereign: nothing and no one is exempt from his rule.”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

To have the kingdom of God ruling and reigning in our hearts we must attend to what He has told us is most vital – to love Him with all our heart, mind, and spirit and then to love others as He has taught and lived out for us to see. To do so means we must keep the whole of his Word affixed to our hearts so that it becomes engrafted there and guides each moment.

It will NEVER be easy, but what He calls us to He equips us to as we rely on the power, He has entrusted to us.

How Do We Respond to Evil?

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One of the things that likely impacts how you and I respond to evil stems from how we define it. It can be easy in the current culture to call something or someone “evil” because we disagree with it or them or if it or they offend us. We need to consider our label carefully before we bandy it about as true.

Until we are clear on what evil is and its source we will fall prey to its influence and our responses will be tepid, misguided, or absent.

Evil is defined as something that is “morally wrong or bad, immoral or wicked deeds, embodying or associated with the forces of the devil.” It is not an opinion or a preference. Scripture is undoubtedly the best source of clarification of when that label is appropriate.

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Because evil is so reprehensible it would seem we should be able to call it for what it is and confront it for what it is. Yet history shows in every nation and culture we can be slow to do that very thing if it isn’t impacting us directly. It can almost appear we have accepted the inevitable since we know that until the Lord returns and evil is judged once and for all that it will be present on the earth.

We may feel powerless in the face of it despite the power of the Holy Spirit within us if we are God’s children. Perhaps we tremble in fear. The key is whether we seek His counsel and direction at such a time.

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Two recent books I have read have brought evil sharply into focus. One focuses on the brave men and women in the Underground Railroad who risked death, fines, and imprisonment to help American slaves flee to Canada for freedom before the American Civil War. The other looks at men and women who risked similar consequences for trying to protect Jews less than a hundred years later.

Today despite our “instant” access to news we can forget nearly 215 million Christians face high persecution for their faith. We don’t hear much about that on the news and sometimes not in our churches.

When I consider how I might respond to evil I am drawn to the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 as well as others who responded with courage, wisdom, and discernment. Here are quotes from just a few of those who stood against evil:

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William Wilberforce faced evil head on and wrote these words:

“A private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.”

William Wilberforce

Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced difficult choices without compromise when he wrote and spoke. Here is one of numerous examples:

“We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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Elisabeth Elliot in the face of the grievous loss of her husband faced the evil that took him with love and forgiveness. Listen to her wisdom for us:

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”

Elisabeth Elliot

Solzhenitsyn left this powerful challenge to consider in The Gulag Archipelago:

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are replanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

How do we respond to evil?

We start by defining it for what it is and its true source and then seek the Lord for guidance on our response to it when we are faced with it. Above all, we must take into account the words of Isaiah.

Isaiah admonishes us about the need to discern rightly what is evil and what is good:

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”

Isaiah 5:20-21 (ESV)
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What Next?

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It had been such a whirlwind for the followers of Jesus and closest disciples from the day He rode into Jerusalem and palm branches were waving, to the shocking trial and pronouncement He would be crucified. He had talked about so many things, but it had never really connected. Even as the events began to unfold, it seemed surreal. Those days when He was in the tomb, they could barely hope they would see Him again and certainly they wondered if they would be hunted down and crucified now as well.

When they heard the news, He was alive and the tomb was empty, they were stunned and overjoyed. Little by little over 40 days many gained glimpses of Him and marveled at his appearance. Then He was gone with a promise to return and of all things He was leaving them to continue on without his day-to-day teaching.

What next?

They were to be his witnesses, to carry on spreading the words He taught them. Who would believe them? How could they begin to do all He asked of them? Had what they heard finally been ingrafted into their hearts?

What would happen to them if they told the truth? But telling the truth would never be enough. They would need to live it, live life as He had done if they were to be believed as authentic.

Hardest of all, they would need to love the way He loved.

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How could they possibly do that? He demonstrated it every moment in how He touched others, listened to them so that He heard what was beyond the words they said. He looked into their very being no matter how many hours He had been up or teaching. He loved the weak, the children, the aged, and those who were from different tribes than his own family.

And who could forget that last meal in the upper room when He had taken off his garments, wrapped a towel around his waist, picked up a basin and began to wash their feet with the most tender care? He had served them more humbly than all the other times they had been together over these months since He called them.

And He had told them the truth up to the very end though it cost Him everything.

To witness now and tell the truth could get them killed, but how could they not tell the truth of this One who had given them everything including life eternal despite their flawed character and lackluster efforts so far?

Now all these centuries later as the excitement of Easter fades each of us who believes is faced with the same question, the same task. How will we live in the midst of a broken world as He calls us? What will our witness look like? Will others recognize Him in us because of what we say or because of how we live?

“The chief difficulty in maintaining Christian witness is timidity. The life of the world is gaudy, noisy, and assertive. The life of faith is modest, quiet, and unassuming. What can ordinary Christians say that will stand a chance in the brash shouting of money and pleasure and ambition? Or in the wailing laments of boredom and depression and self-pity? In a society in which the thesaurus of metaphor and symbol has been ransacked by cynical advertisers, faithless artists, and indulgent entertainers to condition us to maniacal but brainless devotion to me and now, how can the imagination be renewed so that we can say, honestly and personally, without necessarily raising our voices, who God is and what eternity means?”

Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder

I wonder if we do it best in the ordinary moments of our day when we don’t look for how to share the message of Christ and instead become the message. It can be taking time to smile at the person serving us food or taking our payment and noticing their name, looking him or her in the eye and thanking that person. It can mean listening to that person tells us one more time a story we have already heard without impatience or frustration. It can mean slowing our steps and the pace of our life to notice those on a path of their own.

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The possibilities are endless. Truth will not always mean confronting someone with it. Sometimes it will be living it out so they see it when they have never seen it before. Truth telling may not result in death on a cross, but it will still cost you something because it will require death to our own self-absorption so we can hear the Lord pointing out this or that next little assignment that will show Him to someone else. And that is where we often get stuck. We are far more self-absorbed than we would want to admit and for as much as we want to receive love from others and all that means to us, we are less enthusiastic about the cost we will pay by loving someone else with the same care we desire.

We often say we feel inadequate to live that way, share that way and guess what? We may well be but Paul answers that dilemma for us:

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,”

2 Cor. 3:5 (NASB)

What’s next?

Maybe we need to ask Him.

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God’s Darkest Hour

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As the sun began to set, those who had followed the Lord could not let go of the events of the day. He had clearly told them, but what they had witnessed was beyond their imagination despite His words.

What would it have been like to be one of His disciples on that long, wrenching day at the end of such an incredible week?

I wonder.

Would I have steeled myself against the horror unfolding and clung to His words while still standing at the foot of the cross or would I have been one of those who were not present?

Would I have been overcome by grief and fear of what would happen next or would I have fallen prey to doubt?

So much had happened during this week…

The triumph of Palm Sunday had filled so many with hope and celebration! Then on Monday Jesus had entered the temple courts zealously overturning the tables of the moneychangers who were buying and selling. He was reminding them this place was to be a place of prayer and not one of robbers. A noisy melee broke out in the chaos of doves and money flying everywhere, people scrambling, and reeling at the scene. They had never seen Jesus this way.

Then on Tuesday as the disciples were walking along with Him, He had cursed the fig tree that was not producing fruit. How puzzled they seemed to be at how quickly the tree had withered before their very eyes! Once more He exhorted them if they had faith and believed as they prayed, what they prayed would be done.

How astonishing were those things the disciples witnessed, but now to think He was saying they could do such things was more than they could take in.

From there they went on to the temple courts that He had just cleared the day before and He was confronted by the chief priests and elders about where He had received authority to do what He had done. It was a trap they were setting for Him and He knew it. His wise answer rebuffed them and left them stymied as Jesus then refused to answer them and expose their unbelief. He tried to reach their hearts to the very end.

Then came the Olivet Discourse where He warned the disciples through another story. This time He spoke of the foolish and wise virgins charging them to keep watch. To think this admonition came prior to that long night in the Garden of Gethsemane and yet they had not taken in the meaning for either the future or the present.

How Jesus loved them and longed for His disciples to hear and understand!

I think He does for us as well. How can I possibly judge their behavior when I am not always listening and hesitating to follow if I don’t understand what He has asked of me?

It was on Wednesday that Judas slipped away from the others and made his bargain with the chief priests to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Did his fellow disciples have any clue he might be tempted to do such a thing?

It reminds me that in the “now” those I share the journey of faith with are also tempted even as I can be. How deeply and openly I share my doubts, fears, and temptations may well determine my ability or their ability to withstand it and make all the difference in this walk with Him. That means that I need to be purposeful in my times with those closest to me to help guard their hearts and allow them to guard mine as well.

Thursday was a feast day, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and Jesus directed His disciples where to go in the city and whom to speak with about preparing a place at his house for Jesus and His disciples to celebrate the feast.

When they were gathered there, Jesus broke bread and served wine giving thanks and once more giving them information few could likely grasp. He plainly told them they would not share this meal with Him again until they were together again in His Father’s kingdom.

They sang a hymn and then left for the Mount of Olives to the garden in Gethsemane. As they walked along in the moonlight, what was their conversation? Did they wonder at the interaction between Jesus and Judas? Did they question Judas abruptly leaving them?

Jesus wanted them to be with Him, to watch with Him, and to pray.

He knew and understood what lay before Him and despite His willingness to be obedient to His Father, His heart was in anguish and He asked His Father if there was any other way while still being willing to endure what lay ahead.

As the disciples looked back on that last sweet time with Jesus in the upper room and then their failure to watch with Him as he asked, were their own hearts burdened with guilt and shame for their failure?

The ugly scene of Judas arriving with soldiers to arrest Him angered them. How could he have done such a thing? Yet their own fear caused them to flee the scene. Peter’s curiosity brought him to the courtyard where early in the morning the prophecy Jesus had spoken about his betrayal would come to pass.

It was 6 AM on that Friday that Jesus would stand before Pilate. It had been a long night. He had already suffered much, but within an hour He was sent on to Herod for a decision on what to do with Him. Pilate must have hoped Herod would handle things, but instead he was returned to Pilate where Pilate looked for a way out and offered to release one of the prisoners. The priests had spurred on the crowd and elders who had arranged the betrayal by Judas to choose Barabbas rather than Jesus.

So in the end, as Old Testament prophets had foretold, Jesus was sentenced to death and by 8AM had been led away to Calvary. An hour later the grisly crucifixion had begun with only a handful of those He loved standing nearby to testify to the events. They were the ones who watched the soldiers casting lots for his clothing and heard the insults and mocking railed at Him.

These few would bear witness to the exchange Jesus had with the criminal crucified to one side of Him who was promised paradise. They also heard His words to His mother and the admonition to John to care for her as a son.

By noon that day, darkness covered the scene and at 1PM Jesus cried out to His Father and spoke of His thirst. By 2PM they would hear His final words “It is finished”. At the end of the ninth hour, the soldiers would thrust a spear in His side to assure He was dead. An earthquake would occur and then as sunset approached He was taken from the cross and Joseph of Arimathea offered his own tomb as a burial place.

The sun sank further and further and I might think the disciples’ hearts weighed heavy as it dipped below the horizon.

Was it all over?

What would become of them?

It was God’s darkest hour as He set aside His Son’s life for me, for you, for any who believe in Him.

Good Friday?

Perhaps we for whom He died can say it was good because He gave us the best gift we could have ever received. It was the day He triumphed over evil and gave us the gift of Himself.

He gave us life with Him.

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Photo by Elise Finch

Are We Asleep?

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The Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mt. of Olives gives us poignant images of Jesus as He seeks his Father in anguish and travail as what we know of Holy Week nears the climax at the cross on Good Friday.

The place itself carries so much symbolism. The name of the garden represents an olive mill or olive press. Here, surrounded by olive trees harvested and pressed into oil, the passion of Jesus would begin.

He too would be crushed.

On this night, He would feel the crushing agony He was about to face and would plead with His Father to consider if there was no other way that His will might be accomplished. It was a deep crushing of His heart and spirit that would precede the crushing of His body as He would be beaten and then crucified.

Jesus and his disciples would have walked here after the Passover meal they have shared together. Passover was always at the time of the full moon so the moonlight would have illuminated the path they took. He had already spoken of what was to happen to Him when He had broken bread and poured out the wine, but what did the disciples really understand?

He had invited them to share this night with Him, this elite group who had walked with Him during His three years of ministry. They had heard His teaching, seen His miracles, and enjoyed the intimacy of His company that was theirs alone.

And of course there were the three closest to Him (Peter, James, and John) who even on this night were singled out to go farther with Him into the garden where He would fall on His knees. These three had been chosen to be with Him and observed His transfiguration. They were perhaps His closest companions and now they had been invited into another very sacred moment.

As I read the passage and how the disciples responded to His need and how Peter, James, and John fell asleep, I can feel anguish for Jesus in His loneliness. I confess to feeling very judgmental of the disciples for their failure to watch with Him, pray with Him, be truly with Him.

Jesus had told them He would lay down His life and be taken from them and asked them to watch and pray. We have a similar image when Elijah tells Elisha he will be taken, but Elisha does not depart nor take his eyes from Elijah.

Peter, James, and John, however, have fallen asleep despite the Lord’s attempt to awaken them more than once. Even though He has shared with them that His soul was exceedingly sorrowful even to the point of death, their concern for Him does not keep them alert to minister to Him.

What about this troubles me so much?

I think there is something inside of me that wonders if I too fail to be concerned about His heart, His desire for my companionship. How often do I think about or even consider it?

Perhaps we are more like those disciples than we would desire to admit.

They were tired. They had been with Him ministering day after day doing the business of ministry and caring for the people. Now they fail to care for Him, for His heart, in this dark hour.

Have they been so busy doing the work of ministry they were insensitive to His desire for a relationship with them above all else?

Am I?

Are you?

Can we be caught up in doing so many good things for Him that we have little energy to simply be with Him?

Ultimately, He offered them grace even as He does us, but I am drawn back to the reality that He left off praying and had gone to them. What was He seeking from them, hoping for?

We will never know.

What I am reminded of as I read the passage out of Matthew 26 is this:

I don’t want to be too tired, too weary, too involved with the busyness of life or ministry that when He comes and simply wants to spend time with me that I fall asleep and miss that time He has carved out for me.

This passage isn’t the only passage in scripture that speaks to being available and ready for being with Him. We see it when Mary chooses the best part. We see it in the parable of the foolish virgins when they have no oil and miss the Lord’s appearing.

Lord, help me, help us, to be available to you, to be alert, and to be ready and make time to be with you the priority. You gave us all you had, sparing nothing. Awaken my heart, our hearts, to what you most desire of me, of us.

Are we asleep?

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