Advent: Praying for a Sword Day! By Phil Tiews

… the king sprang suddenly erect.  Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had heard a mortal man achieve before:

Arise, arise Riders of Théoden! 

Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!

Spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,

A sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

Ride now, ride now!  Ride to Gondor!

 Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away.  Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a field of green, but he outpaced it.  After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them… For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them.

This passage from J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy might seem out of place as we approach Christmas, but over the years it has come back powerfully to me as I pray during Advent.  In Advent we are asking for the King to come, and the Bible makes it very clear that when He comes a second time it will be very different than His first coming:

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 
His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 
He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 
And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. 
Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 
And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.                                                                          
Rev 19:11-16

Sounds a lot like the ride of Théoden!  That day will be ‘a sword day, a red day’ and the King of Kings will sweep His enemies before Him.  He will establish His Kingdom and there will be none to oppose Him.  I think this is why we love stories of rescuers arriving in the nick of time to set people free from the attack of evil.  It touches on the Great Story which God has put deep in our hearts, the Hope of the coming of the King to put all things right.

However, as we wait, King Jesus has taught to pray ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven’.  That ‘sword day’ will not come fully and finally until Jesus returns, but right now, every day in small and large ways, incrementally, that day is to be pressed out in the world around us.  We are to ask for, expect, and participate in His Kingdom, His rule, His rescue to break in.  We are not to hunker underground and await His coming, but to pray and be part of His Kingdom coming daily until the day He comes to finish the job.

As I have prayed and thought on this, I realize that for me to live and believe this way, His Kingdom is going to have to come more in my life, too!  I have enemies of fear, of slavery to approval, of unbelief that need to be swept away for me to be a partner is seeing the Lord’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.   Freeing me to witness boldly, to pray for healing, to work for reconciliation, to address wrongdoing.  So this Advent I am praying for the Rider on the White Horse to sweep through my life and rout these enemies so that I can be part of the pressing out of His rule and will now – until the final ‘sword day’.

Bringing the Kingdom Near -- Love Your Neighbor

At the start of his ministry Jesus proclaimed ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’ (Mark 1:14). The Kingdom not being a place but rather the personal rule of God, Jesus was speaking about himself. In him God was extending his personal reign into this broken world which is in rebellion against him. Everywhere Jesus went he proved his point! As he told John the Baptist’s disciples, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Matt 11:5) Along the way demons fled, storms were stilled and bread was multiplied, too! With Jesus’ death and resurrection and the outpouring of his Spirit, you and I are now joined to Christ through faith and together we are his Body in the here and now, ‘the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.’ (Eph 1:23) That means that wherever we are, the Kingdom of God is now at hand, as well.

Through the simple act of obeying the Lord’s commandment to love our neighbors, we are breaking with a world system in rebellion against God and bringing his Kingdom near. Loving our neighbors might involve ‘binding up the brokenhearted’ or ‘preaching the good news to the poor’, but who knows, as we step out into his near Kingdom we might see ‘the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised’, too!

Let’s ask the Lord to show us simple ways to love our neighbors and look with eyes of faith for what he does when his Kingdom draws near.

The 'Small' and the 'One' by Ned Berube

20141203 Small One Berube Blind man

Ed. Note: Ned and his family moved here from Minneapolis to be part of the The Word of God for a few years in the 1980’s.  He returned home where he has pastored a church, led the Assembly of Renewal Churches and a ministry to pastors called Whitewater.  I found this article by him relevant for us and encouraging.  I have never been the pastor of a really big church. Nor the president of a really big organization. I guess I have a big family (6 kids, 6 grandkids), but I work a lot with "small". I also work a lot with "one". And frankly, I'm quite comfortable with small and one, largely because I think the mission of God on earth, particularly in the 3-year ministry of Jesus, has a lot to do with "small" and "one".

It's of great significance to me that Jesus finishes His 3.5 years of incarnational ministry with a grand total of 120 adults. And He has no apparent angst about the need for larger numbers.

Of course, on the day of Pentecost, we add 3,000 people, but that's beside the point!

 I have been reading through the gospel of John out loud with my wife, and I was struck by this verse in chapter 9 regarding the man who had been born blind and healed by Jesus - "Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him, He said 'Do you believe in the Son of Man?'" (John 9:35)  Here is a guy who clearly has been a figure of "no account". Blind since birth. No doubt a beggar and of little social importance. But this verse says, regarding Jesus, "...when He found him...". Think of that for a moment. The incarnate Son of God decides that this non-important, no-account social pariah was worth finding, and goes out of His way to track him down and secure him in his faith.

 And that's just one of many incidents where Jesus connects to the small and the one.

I'm also quite impressed with what I would call the "reverse evangelism" of Jesus, particularly in Luke 14:25 - "Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them, He said 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate is father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Well, honestly, is that any way to treat a potential congregation? He apparently is just never impressed with big numbers.

One more example. Luke 21:1-3 says "As He looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor window putting in her two small copper coins. 'I tell you the truth, He said, 'This poor widow has put in more than all the others.'" My guess is that his disciples were quite taken with the rich folk dumping in their 401Ks and big bills.  But Jesus notices the small and the one, and that's what He talks about.

I have described myself as a "church guy". My favorite section of the week is Sunday morning. I like going to church. And not just well done, powerfully preached, amazingly worshipped, utterly friendly church. I like being in the ordinary, not-so-well-done group of folks that's simply acknowledging God and the work of Jesus. And for that matter, one another. I'm not flying a banner for mediocrity here, but the fact of the matter is that no one church can compete with the excellence of the best church out there, wherever that might be. I think Jesus notices the small, the simple, and the one. And if we don't, we will tend to compare ourselves with the big, the splashy, and the many.

All of this is to say that I am quite content with connecting to the leaders and teams and churches that God has brought into my path. I don't wish it was bigger, or more spiritual, or more gifted. If Jesus were walking this earth, I'm quite sure He would continue to relate to the people nobody else was terribly interested in, and the smaller gatherings that don't seem to have much potential.

One disclaimer to end. I honestly don't think that Jesus despises the big and the many. He's quite good at what He does. My call, apparently, is to the small and the one, and to that end I appeal for your prayers.  God help me to keep the heart of Jesus before me.

Ned

'Set' Up For Success

Grafting

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last...

John 15:16

Sometimes I get uncomfortable with parts of the ‘abiding’ chapter, John 15.  It is all well and good to think of abiding/resting in Jesus, but he also talks about us being ‘appointed’ to bear fruit and showing we are disciples by bearing much fruit.  I can hear this as ‘required’ or ‘demanded’ to bear fruit—and lots of it!  Just a bit of pressure there! 

In the Vineyard

Reading this passage recently, I was struck by the word ’appointed’.  It seemed a bit more empowering than my usual reading of ’required’.  I did a bit of study and the Greek word means ’to place’ and could be translated as ’to plant’ or ‘to set in place’.  Obviously ’appointed’ is a good translation. 

The professor I had for my brief study of Greek wisely told us not to change our theology based on insights gained from just two semesters!  However, given the extended grape vine analogy Jesus is using in the teaching here, I wondered whether you could gain some insight by thinking of ‘set in place’ in terms of ‘grafted in’.  One method of grafting grape vines is to take a bud from a plant and ‘set it’ into a slit in a healthy vine.  It then draws life from the vine and grows and does what it is designed to do—bear fruit. 

Set’ up for success

Such a ’set in’ bud is being ’set up’ for success!  It is placed where it can have access to all it needs to fulfill its destiny of grape-making.  I find it encouraging to think in these terms.  Jesus isn’t establishing a hurdle for us to jump over, but choosing us and then implanting us in himself, the Vine, so that we can have access to all the resources to fulfill our calling/destiny of fruit bearing.

You will notice from the graphic above that after the bud is set in place, it is bound around to keep it there.  What a great reminder that the Vinedresser, the Father, binds us to Jesus in love through the work of the Holy Spirit.

We were made for this.  We have been chosen for this.  We have been set in place for this — that we would bear fruit and so show that we are being conformed to the image of Jesus, the true and fruitful Vine.  

Take 2 -- Joan K. O'Connell

 

Cinematographers film multiple takes.

Writers rework.

Oil painters paint over.

 What about Jesus followers? Are we sensitive to "take 2" options?

The other day, I was visiting with a new mom in her home, bringing by some modest meal fixings, emptying the trash, washing up some dishes: the usual things one does in that setting, minus any offer to pray.

[She is not professing Christian; I felt unsure about praying with her.]

So, when I thought it was time to go, I asked if I could give her a hug, looked her in the eye, compassionately wished her well and took my leave.

Traversing the few steps to the car, I heard that Voice. The One who loves us both encouraged, "Go back and pray with her."

"Really, Lord?," I countered. "But…"

"Go back and ask if you may pray with her, please."

"Ok. I'm going."

Tapping gently on the screen door, I stepped back into the house where this exhausted mommy was stretched out on the couch, resting with her newborn and munching on the fabulous chocolate almonds I'd included with the food offerings.

We had a brief but welcomed time of prayer and blessing.

Obedience by second chances. Thank you, Lord.

 

© 2014, Joan K. O"Connell. All rights reserved.

 

Make disciples? Me? Out of my pay grade!

who_me

We know that Jesus’ last directive to his disciples was ‘Go and make some more’! Whatever else His Body is to be about, it should certainly be making disciples. But most of us, and I include myself here, feel that is is a bit over our head. Yes, SOMEBODY should be making disciples. There must be experts who can be especially devoted to this task, which is good, because we feel inadequate. The idea of forming a completely mature, fully trained, widely experienced disciple is daunting! But fortunately, that is not the task laid on each of us individually. The challenge of raising up disciples who can raise up other disciples is the calling of the whole Body – together. Each of us have a part to play in this: raising our children, maybe working with just one or two people, or maybe just adding to the grow of a fellow disciple is some small way.

Our goal is to create a ‘culture of discipleship’ where we are all looking for how we can pour into others what the Lord has poured into us, not keeping it for ourselves. This is more than knowledge or teaching. It is a sharing of life. As Paul said to the Thessalonians:

We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 1Thess 2:8

Much about living the life of a disciple is ‘caught’ rather than taught as we share our lives with others. Being just a little more intentional about sharing our life with the young, the new in Christ, the spiritually hungry can help them be discipled in the way of Jesus, too. Not so hard.

Where could we start today to join in making discples, the assignment Jesus gave us which His Spirit empowers?

Empowered for the Road

NewPickup_Truck

As we get ready to celebrate Pentecost again this Sunday I am reminded once more that Jesus connects the gift of the Spirit with our participation in his mission. We are familiar with the Acts 1:8 passage, but let’s also remember John 20: 21&22

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

We all love the Spirit’s empowerment for prayer and worship, for hearing God’s word, and experiencing his presence, for guidance and miracles. As we thank him for this many rich gifts, let’s give ourselves again to using them in his mission. We have all seen shiny, perfectly preserved 4-wheel drive pickup trucks which have never left the confines of paved roads and heated garages. How much more fitting it is to see a battered pickup truck which shows the evidence of the hard service for which it was designed and built! Having been equipped with a super charged hemi engine and 4-wheel drive with tremendous torque and towing power, with a crew cab and extended bed, let’s use those gifts in kingdom building and not worry about the paint job or getting a little dirty and dented!

Come Holy Spirit! Vroom, Vroom.

Privilege of Partnership, by Phil Tiews

frog

When I was an undergraduate I had a job in a thoroughbred frog farm at the University of Michigan. You laugh, but we had frogs whose ancestors could be traced back through dozens of generations! They might have looked like ordinary Rana Pipiens but these were strictly blue-blood, or maybe green-blood, amphibians. My role was very small, only a few hours per week, but I had been invited to be part of the team by the foremost ‘frog man’ in the world, the professor directing the lab. You might wonder why bother selectively breeding frogs. It turns out that it is very important for some forms of research, including vital medical and genetic research, to be able to trace the genealogy of test subjects, including frogs. We were not really in the business of making pedigree frogs, but of curing illnesses and advancing the scientific frontier, and I got a chance to be part of it all. Seen in that light, my small and lowly contribution takes on more significance and dignity.

I must confess that there are times when the Christian life feels more like a duty and Christian service a burden. (I realize I may be unique in this, but bear with me!) However, recently I was struck in a fresh way with what a privilege it is to be invited into the Lord’s life and to join him in his life mission—to seek and to save.

He could have just rescued us and put us in a protected place for safekeeping. Instead he says to us, ‘I have need of you. I can use you as my partners in this work I am doing. You bring special qualities to the job, which I have given you for just such an hour and call as this. Come on, let’s go together.’

If there is significance and dignity in helping to breed frogs in order to push forward the boundaries of scientific discovery, how much more in helping to rescue men and women and push forward the boundaries of Kingdom recovery!

This opportunity is for a brief time only. One day soon, one way or another, we will be with the Lord in glory and the time of participation in Jesus’ mission will be over. Let’s recognize our opportunity for partnership now and join with Jesus full heartedly.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long; this day the noise of battle, the next the victor's song. To those who vanquish evil a crown of life shall be; they with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.

Ruined, Rescued, Recruited, Retrieved, by Phil Tiews

stormWaves

St. Patrick’s Day, 1907 off ‘the Lizard’, a mile long reef extending south from the coast of Cornwall, Great Britain, a huge storm was raging. This is the region where the North Atlantic smashes into the English Channel and is notorious for its tides and currents, known as the graveyard of ships. The SS Suevic, 12,000 tons, sailing from Melbourne was just hours away from its destination in Plymouth. The officers couldn’t see the stars to navigate, but they thought they saw the Lizard Lighthouse ten miles off and so in misplaced confidence proceeded full-steam ahead to reach port by next morning. It turned out that they were actually right on the Lizard rocks and crashed onto the reef so hard that they were unable to extricate themselves. The 141 crew and 382 passengers, 60 of them under 3 years old were ruined. Ruined Advent is not simply a run-up to Christmas. It is a time to rehearse the great Biblical truths. Ephesians 2 reminds us that before Jesus came ...

you were dead in your transgressions and sins... we were by nature objects of wrath.

Like those on the Suevic, we were ruined. All our efforts to direct our lives in the face of a hostile environment had only succeeded in driving us on the reef of the justified wrath of God. Our peril was not of accidental drowning, it was the sentence of death for crimes committed.

Rescued When they finally realized they could not save themselves, the Suevic fired distress rockets into the stormy night sky. In every village along the Cornwall coast, there was a chapter of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute. These volunteers, fishermen and tradesmen from the villages of the Lizard, Cadgwith, Coverack & Porthleven saw the rockets, manned their 39-foot open lifeboats and shoved out into the storm. The tide and gale were so strong that they could barely make headway and it was so foggy and dark that after rowing the four miles they located the Suevic by running into the side of it, and tossing a crew member into the sea–the first person that was rescued that night!

The first boats arrived just in time to avert a disaster. The Suevic had launched two of its own lifeboats filled with women and children. There was no way that they could safely negotiate the channel through the rocks to shore, so local men jumped into the boats to guide them. When these inadequate boats tried to return, they were smashed on the rocks.

Over the next 16 hours the four RNLI boats made trip after trip, 15 different crews taking turns in the six-man boats. Hanging from rope ladders as the waves threw the lifeboats up and down against the side of the Suevic, they tossed children and then their mothers into the arms of their comrades in the boats below. By 10 am they had rescued 456 people without a passenger or rescuer being lost. The remaining folks were taken off by a tugboat as the storm subsided.

No RNLI rescuer died that night, but in Advent we remember that our rescue from God’s wrath was more costly. It cost the Rescuer, Jesus, his life, but then...

God...made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions...God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesian 2

Recruited We are indeed seated with Christ in the heavenly realms – but not yet fully! We are also still here in the earthly realm. This is a time to remember what we have been rescued FOR. Jesus, the lifeboat Captain tells us to ‘...go make disciples of all nations…’. He has recruited us to the high honor of joining him in snatching others from ruin. And he is no shore-side commander, for he promises, ‘...I am with you to the close of the age.’ During Advent we remember that this life is not about collecting the most toys or experiences or honors but about being with Jesus as he goes tirelessly back and forth to rescue people from the shipwreck of their lives.

Retrieved The season of lifeboat work will not go on indefinitely. One stormy night on the Sea of Galilee Jesus commanded the storm to ‘Be Still!’ and it was! In Advent we celebrate that one day Jesus will say to the tumult of time and the tempest of demonic assault and the hurricane of human hubris–Be Still! And it will be! One day he will come back and on THAT day he will take us to the Father’s house that we may be with him always.

But this is not that Day. This day is our day to man the lifeboats with our Captain, the Lord Jesus, and push out into the storm and the dark and the fog to respond to the distress flares which are streaming into the night sky from those shipwrecked on life’s reefs.

Marvelous

At the end of December I was reading in Zechariah and ran across this passage: This is what the LORD Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the LORD Almighty. Zech 8:6

The returned exiles of Judah couldn’t believe or even imagine the promises of restoration that God was extending to them. In this passage the Lord is gently chastising them for their unbelief. It may seem marvelous (or impossible!) to them when they look at themselves and their circumstances, but do they think that God, the almighty is stumped? He isn’t doubting whether it can be done. It would not be marvelous for the one who spoke the worlds into existence to speak Israel into restoration.

I experienced this as an urging from the Lord for me – and for us in the The Word of God – as we go into 2014. Let’s look for the Lord to do those things which would be marvelous in our eyes, knowing that nothing is beyond his mighty power and love.

Have a blessed New Year!

Your brother in Christ, Phil Tiews

Christmas in Poem

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)I see a glory in the stable grow
Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length
Give me an ox’s strength.
Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Saviour where I looked for hay;
So may my beast like folly learn at least
The patience of a beast.
Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)
I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;
Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence
Some woolly innocence!”
     C. S. Lewis, Into The Wardrobe

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
     John Donne, Nativity

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity
This is the month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’n's eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
     John Milton, On the Morning Of Christ’s Nativity

Mists And What Cannot Be Shaken

glass_columns

I am reading my way through the New Testament a bit at a time and I have been struck with how often the issue of permanence and impermanence shows up. Hebrews tells us, ‘Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…’ (Heb 12:28) and just a few pages later James reminds us, ‘For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes’ (James 4:14). In his first letter Peter speaks of our imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance and the perishable gold and silver which are unable to ransom us, so Jesus ransoms us with his imperishable blood instead. It goes on and on! Frankly this strikes me as backward. My life reality seems very solid to me. I have aches and pains, I have rock-hard financial realities I have to deal with, I want 25 year warrantees on everything I purchase, there is very concrete pressure all around. Life seems very substantive and its robust buffeting often gets in the way of my more ‘spiritual’ aspirations.

But God reveals to us through his Word that it is I who have it backwards! All these things around me and in me which seem so rugged and stable and impinge on my life so much are in fact to be shaken. They are a mist, they are passing away. The things which now appear to me so ‘spiritual’, that is vague, ephemeral, elusive, are in fact the only solid, permanent, immovable, imperishable things – the unshakeable kingdom which God has given us.

I get the image of shafts of incredibly hard glass that have been driven down into our world. We go struggling along in our solid-seeming-but-really-a-mist world and we bump up against these unseen-but-imperishable kingdom shafts. They are what is ‘really real’, not the mist which consumes our attention. We can choose to step into those shafts of kingdom life in Jesus, but we can’t yet stay in them continuously. They don’t yet fill everywhere. That is why we pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’. Drive more kingdom shafts into this reality. Make the kingdom more contiguous until the day you bring the whole kingdom crashing in at your return!

In the meantime the Lord through his Word tells us not to get too attached or too bent out of shape by the solid-seeming mist. He has us living here for the sake of discipleship (loving ever more Jesus and his kingdom) and mission (helping others to love Jesus and his kingdom). As the Spirit grows us we will be able to discern those invisible kingdom shafts better. They distort and shred the this-world mist around them. Bitterness turns to love, cursing to blessing, addiction to freedom, mourning to rejoicing, judgment to forgiveness, death to life! We begin to see where those kingdom shafts are and where new ones are being driven through the mist into the earth, and can begin to step into them and live there more and more—and bring others with us.

I have a long way to go. This life and its concerns still seem pretty solid to me. The more I bump into those immoveable, unshakeable, eternal shafts of the kingdom, though, the more I want to live there. The more the Spirit is opening my eyes to look for them and point them out to others so that together we can all live more and more in that kingdom which cannot be shaken.

Being an Enemy-lover, by Martha Balmer

I've been thinking lately about how I’m doing as an enemy-lover. I want to share with you something about my process, and I’d like to invite you to consider making a personal examination of your own. In this time of increasing polarization, I’m watching Christians argue heatedly not only with non-Christians but with each other. But my concern here is not with divisive issues. In fact, I don’t believe it is necessary or even desirable for Christians to be in perfect unison as long as they are doggedly attending to their own consciences and loving one another (check out Romans 14). So my concern is with the heart posture that produces my thoughts and influences my language while I’m fighting the good fight.

The starting point—’love your enemies’, really? My process begins with looking seriously at what Jesus said:

I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… (Luke 6:27-28)

I want to take this word seriously because the stories I’d heard and read about Christians who radically and impossibly loved and forgave their persecutors were the very stories that first drew me to Jesus. So I want to pay close attention to whether I’m living it out. I don’t want to be found a hypocrite, and I want to keep my promise to follow Jesus. He did say, after all, that I couldn’t expect to be recognizable as his follower unless I’m loving my enemies:

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them… (Luke 6:32)

Humanly impossible love served as evidence for me that something greater than flesh was at work—evidence that God had broken into the world and was restoring his image and likeness in people, cultivating in them a family resemblance to himself:

Then …you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35b-36)

Do I really have enemies? Still, when I was young I thought that “enemies” was an awfully strong word, and I now realize that I took for granted that it would never really be applicable to any of my relationships. I saw myself as always good and kind to others, and I expected to go through life without enemies. But real life turned out to be a humbling experience in that regard. Not only did some people resent and, yes, even hate me despite my best efforts, but I’ve had to admit that I’m not actually as loving as I used to believe. My own capacity for resentment and vindictiveness, once masked by denial, is now apparent to me.

I was amazed at how the everyday chatter in my head, once I actually began to pay attention to it, betrayed the wickedness lurking in the corners of my heart. “I’m so glad I’m not as clueless as that woman!” “Doesn’t that guy know how to use a turn signal?” And dozens of daily emotional responses to people—at work, in town, in the news—that never surface clearly enough to form a phrase. My heart is a fountain of judgment and contempt, clearly un-Christ like, clearly in violation of Jesus’ command to love.

It was tempting to reason that the people I’ve alluded to—with the possible exception of the one who actually hates me—weren’t really my enemies, and that my inner chatter falls somewhere on a spectrum to which “love your enemies” isn’t strictly applicable. But I had to admit that that wasn’t the approach I saw Jesus take to such questions. (Remember that the one who calls someone “fool” is violating the command against murder!) Nor was it the approach that sat right with the Spirit in my heart.

Accuser or Advocate-who is talking? I began to examine myself more critically. I figured that when I plead technicalities, chances are good I’m listening to the Accuser, not the Advocate. The truth is, the process of wrestling with my heart attitudes in prayer has fully convinced me that, for the purpose of understanding and living out this uniquely Christian command, the true definition of “enemy” is less “someone who is against me” than “someone I am against.”

When a relationship at work became so toxic that I found myself in a constant state of resentment and fear, I began to hear my thoughts in a new way. I was distressed by the vengeful thoughts that came so naturally. Months of dogged prayer gave me some relief from the more overt enmity, but then my flesh found another way to express it as I started petting myself, imagining my “goodness” convicting my enemy before the world.

At that point, I was on to myself. I actually became grateful, realizing that God was using this difficulty and that we were really working toward actual Christ-like enemy-love. Continuing to pay attention to all those inner responses in a normal day revealed that I am actually postured against an awful lot of people.

Loads of ‘enemies’ There are people I find intimidating, people whose lifestyle offends me and people whose opinions are nonsense to me. There are people who behave obnoxiously, people who have committed terrible crimes and people who have merely hurt my feelings. There are people who are against things that I am for and people who are for things I am against. There are people who have wronged my loved ones and people who are just in my way. There are people close to me who are hard to get along with and easy to walk away from. There are people distant from me that my thinking has reduced to mere symbols of their sins, hamstringing my capacity to realize that they are people.

Even the thought, ‘some of these people are Christ’s enemies’, doesn’t work to excuse a posture of enmity. This idea hit home in a new way when I recently observed a Facebook exchange over gun laws. Now, I can admit that Christians of good conscience can come down in different Scripturally legitimate places on the exact meaning of “Thou shalt not kill.” But when someone in the discussion asked the others to imagine what Jesus would have done had he stood between a crazed gunman and 20 kindergartners, some of them said, “There’s no way to know. The situation couldn’t have happened in those days, and there is no way to draw any conclusion.”

That response seemed grounded in defense of the flesh to me. The situation did exist, and Jesus did set us an example. He interposed himself, not just between his friends and Death but also between his enemies and Death, taking the bullet so to speak, and loving everyone on every side exactly as he had enjoined his followers to love, back in Luke 6. And, of course, we know that in terms of their estrangement from God by the sin from which all alike suffer, his friends were his enemies, too. I was his enemy.

No wiggle room So I have no excuse. No wiggle room. My housecleaning must be thorough. My speech, thoughts and actions must be consistent with love, but even more my fundamental desire for my enemy must be mercy and not judgment, because that is, on the one hand, my fundamental desire for myself and, on the other, God’s active desire as well.

Even though I have been candid about my inner life, what I’ve written here has been mostly of a theoretical nature. Where the rubber meets the road, I have needed much more than personal conviction and reflection. The things I have done to help myself change on the inside as well as to behave consistently, are the stuff of another article. Stay tuned….!

Is That A Person of Peace? -- Phil Tiews

Person of Peace

You may well be like me – more committed to the IDEA of evangelism than to actually DOING evangelism. I want to see it happen, but feel most comfortable with others making it happen. Actually, Jesus, the master evangelist, gave his disciples – that includes us – a fairly pain-free strategy for evangelism. I think I can do this! Luke 10: 5-9 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’”

Jesus did not send the disciples to people who most ‘needed to be saved’ or who were the hardest cases they could find. To paraphrase He said, as you go out, bless folks. If you find someone, or a whole town, who responds positively, stick to them. Give them what you’ve got – the good news, healing, the whole works. He goes on to say that if they don’t want to listen to what you have to say, don’t sweat it, move on and keep on the lookout for that ‘Person of Peace’.

God, and only God, does the hard part of evangelism – opening someone’s heart to make it receptive. That really takes the pressure off of you and me to say it just right, to have all the answers, to be sufficiently persuasive. What we need to do is go through our days with our heads up on the lookout for a Person of Peace. Talking with them about the Lord is easy because by definition they are people whose heart the Lord has prepared and they want to hear what we have to say. They are favorably disposed toward us, even willing to buy us a meal!

There is a critical point though. We won’t spot a Person of Peace if we aren’t looking and they won’t receive anything from us if we don’t engage with them. This is way of walking through life as disciples that most of us need to grow in, I know I do. That is why this summer we are opening up the community schedule a bit to allow for time to mix with folks ‘outside the box’ of our normal round of activities. Hopefully we will discover some People of Peace and start on some new Kingdom relationships.

If you have a story to share about how you encountered a Person of Peace, please drop me a line at phil@thewordofGodcommunity.org so that we can encourage one another.

Phil Tiews

He is shaking what can be shaken by Phil Tiews

earthquake

This past February Barb and I got a chance to go to New Zealand, and I have to say it is just as spectacularly beautiful as we has expected. While there we visited the city of Napier. In 1931 it experienced a catastrophic earthquake. The buildings were leveled, the bluff overlooking the town collapsed, the lagoon was lifted out of the sea and a new set of hills emerged. As you can imagine, life in Napier was totally disrupted. Not only were institutions destroyed, but the landmarks and established lines of communication were lost. People sometimes describe what we have been going through for the last several decades as a cultural earthquake, with good reason. Key aspects of life have been shaken, and many are collapsing or damaged. Institutions people relied on and landmarks they used for guidance such as marriage and family are gone. They now seem dangerous to return to. It is small wonder that we see so much disruption in lives and in society.

As it turned out, there was a navy ship in Napier harbor that day. There was no tsunami, so it rode out the earthquake in relative calm. As the choking dust cloud rose and the fires began to sweep through the town, the crew had a choice. They could remain in safety on their orderly ship, shaking their heads over the tragedy, commenting on the faulty building practices which led to so much destruction, and criticizing the rescue efforts … or they could act. Fortunately for the citizens of Napier they came ashore and joined in the saving many folks from the fires and the rubble. The ship’s radios also provided the vital link to help from outside as the means of communication from Napier had been lost.

As we look at the seismic upheaval all around us from the blessed safety of our life in Christ and His Body, what is our response? Let’s be like those sailors and go ashore to do what we can to recue. And let’s communicate with the One who is able to save, even though those in such trouble do not themselves have the means of such communication.

Our God saves — and He uses us!

The Unimaginable Hope of the Tests of God by Sam Williamson

flying-lessons

This is a guest article by Sam Williamson which is really helpful as we deal with trials in our lives. Check out more articles by Sam at his blog Beliefs of the Heart .  

When we think about the tests of God, most of us shudder. Yet I believe that they can be a key to Hope and Joy. Let me explain.

I began flying lessons in 1997. These lessons taught me to take off and land, to navigate using aviation charts, and to communicate with air traffic control.

I particularly liked learning to land.

On my second flight, my instructor Jayne pulled the throttle to idle and announced that my engine had just died. She asked what I was going to do. Throttling her was not an option because I hadn’t yet learned to land. But I was strongly tempted.

Soon a pattern emerged. She’d kill the engine, I’d want to kill her, and we’d practice standard engine-restart procedures, and I’d look for a place to land. Then we would circle down to the landing site until Jayne said we would have made it (or not). Then she’d re-throttle the engine, we’d climb, and we’d review what I had done.

Jayne drilled the engine-out procedures so thoroughly into me that I could have done them in my sleep, though I never tried.

Two Types of Tests.

Jayne taught me to fly through a series of tests. The nature of these tests—repetition and reflection—taught me to fly. Educators call these tests Formative Tests. They are educational methods that train us in the midst of the test, such as my flying instructor’s engine-out surprises.

Each time Jayne killed my engine it was a test, but the test itself trained me to handle emergencies safely and confidently. Formative Tests teach us today how to avoid disqualification tomorrow.

However, when most of us think of tests, we picture Summative Tests. Summative Tests measure how much we have already learned, such as college entrance exams (the ACT or SAT), midterms, and finals.

While Formative Tests are designed to qualify us for the future, one could say that Summative Tests are designed to disqualify us, as in “My SAT score was low so I failed to get into Harvard.”

So what.

Why is this distinction so important? Because understanding the difference between Summative and Formative Tests is the key to joy or despair. It is the difference between midday-sun and midnight-darkness. Frankly, it is the gospel.

Most people consider Christianity to be one large Summative Test, sort of a huge College entrance exam; a big moral test which we repeatedly fail. But it isn’t.

Why do we fear the tests of God? Why do we freak out when we read passages like this, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (1 Peter 4:12)? We fear God’s tests for these reasons:

  • We fear the Failure of tests
  • We fear the Pain of tests
  • We fear the Purpose of tests

The Failure. If God’s tests are Summative (assessing and disqualifying), then yes, we should fear them. But if God is using tests to form us, then we can be at peace—even in the middle of a crisis. When we misunderstand the nature of testing we think God is disqualifying us, when he is actually qualifying us. Through tests he makes us more capable; he dismantles the false self and builds in us our truest calling. He broadens our shoulders and he strengthens our steps. He’s teaching us to fly.

The Pain. When we barely hold our lives together, the mere thought of the burden of a test—adding one more thing—causes pain. We fear our engine-out-plane will hit the ground. But God himself is our flight instructor, sitting in the plane next to us. He is not on the ground giving radio instructions. His exercises develop strength. He is preparing us for something great.

We willingly experience self-inflicted pain to attain our own goals—the pain of exercise to gain health, the pain of dating to find a spouse, the pain of child-rearing to have a family—so why do we fear the pain of God’s tests? Isn’t he always after greater goals than we seek? Isn’t he more careful with our hearts than we are? He is always after something richer than we imagine.

The Purpose. We think we know what we need, and we fear God will get it wrong. God’s tests often go in directions we don’t wish. We want to be a doctor, and God wants to give us peace. We want financial security and God wants to give us joy. God formed our hearts and deepest desires. He created our calling before we were born. He knows what we need, and through his tests he reveals our hearts and our calling. And he is teaching us to land.

When we believe God’s tests as Formative, we experience hope, the pressure is off. We know that God has prepared us for this moment, and we rest knowing God uses this moment to prepare us for the next. It’s okay. Even if we “fail” this time around, God uses today’s experience to prepare us for tomorrow.

Only one test is truly Summative. That test is what we choose to belief. Do we choose to believe his tests are Summative or Formative? If we believe his tests are Summative—and failure is disqualification—then everything rests on our shoulders.

When we believe in our hearts that he has done everything for us—he has already qualified us—then every test is an engine-out exercise.

He’s teaching us to fly.

© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart, Ltd. All rights reserved.

A Scandal to Heaven and Earth, by Phil Tiews

Angels&Shepherdsmilling

There was a moment in this year’s community Christmas pageant [one of the best ever, by the way, thank Rachael Varblow & Amy Campbell] when the shepherds and angels were all milling around the manger trying to get a look at the baby Jesus. The fact that his part was being played by a real baby provided the motivation for these young method actors. As I Iooked at these representatives of heaven and earth jostling and elbowing for position it occurred to me that this might be closer to that moment in Bethlehem than our usual static tableaux. We read in Luke 2 of the ‘great company of the heavenly host’ praising God and of the shepherds going off to see the baby and to our mind’s eye come the serried rows of a choir and an orderly hike ending in a reverent circle of kneeling shepherds. It may not have been so orderly! After 2000 years and untold paintings, Christmas cards, crèche scenes and carols the shock value of Jesus’ birth has largely worn off for us. It is hard to imagine just how thunderstruck those shepherds must have been. Sitting quietly by the fire, swapping stories and gossip when KAZAAM!!! the heaven’s open and God’s glory blasts down on them and from the midst of it an angel shouts out his greeting. He could see the impact he was having because the first thing he says is ‘Don’t be afraid’! When they get over the shock of the first angel, a whole mob of them (biblically known as a ‘great company') belt out their message – and then are gone. As they are recovering their wits the shepherds begin to remember what they were told and then they realize this is all wrong! Hallelujah, the Messiah has come! Angels are proclaiming his arrival – that is as it should be. But what is this about the baby wrapped and lying in a manger, that can’t be right. He is the great king, greater than David. Where is the palace, where are the courtiers, where is the earthly glory? They rush off to see and I imagine that their curiosity and confusion caused them to press in for a really good look and press Mary and Joseph for explanations about who this baby was.

And how about those angels. Maybe they had been rehearsing their part for weeks, but I think that they were as stunned as the shepherds at this development. One moment they are worshipping the Word Who was from the beginning, Who was with God and was God, and the next His glory is cast off and He has come to earth as a squirming bundle of human vulnerability in the straw of a Bethlehem hovel. Shocking! An unimaginable scandal. And why? Because of the non-understandable, gracious love of God for people, people who just a few years later would reject, abandon, and crucify Him. Wouldn’t this ‘blow their celestial minds’? I know this isn’t the way the biblical text reads, but I hear them singing ‘Can you believe our God? His ways are beyond us. Can you understand how great his favor is toward men? His peace is on them! Astounding!!!’

Luke tells us that after they deliver their message the angels left the shepherds and returned to heaven, and so it must be true. But I wonder if some of them took a side trip to Bethlehem on the way back to see what they could not have conceived, the Eternal Word, through whom all things were made, weighing in at about eight pounds and unable to care for himself, wrapped up in some cloth, lying on straw where animals have fed. How many angels can crowd around a manger? What about when shepherds start showing up to shove in for a look, too? Heaven and earth dumbfounded and scandalized by the God whose ways are not our ways, and are as far above our ways as heaven is above the earth.

Today the message of Christmas has become commercialized, trivialized, Hallmark-ized, and even for us Christians, sometimes too familiarized. We can lose our grip on the magnitude of the scandal that the Son was united with human flesh – an overwhelming demonstration of the depth of His gracious love for us, sinners. This message is so scandalous that is it rejected by secularists, by Muslims, by New Agers, by all men – “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. “ John 1:12-13

Merry ‘Eternal Scandal of God’s Love’ Day to you all!

How do we celebrate Advent? By Phil Tiews

We live in the Advent season.  Certainly it is currently the season that many churches observe as Advent, but I mean a more continual state.  Jesus has come, died, risen, ascended and charged us to look for His return, the final Advent.  We join with all the earth in expectation: Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.  Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.  Psalm 98:11-13

Those Advent candles we light this time of year don’t point us toward Bethlehem so much as toward Armageddon & the New Jerusalem!

&

So what are we to do to celebrate this continual Advent?  Definitely sing for joy!  But at His coming in the flesh the King told us what His reign looks like:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

As those on whom the King has bestowed His Spirit, this gives us a pretty good program to follow during this extended Advent while we await His final return.  There is enough preaching, binding, proclaiming, comforting, bestowing, rebuilding, restoring and renewing to keep us busy, I think.  Let’s be about it so the King will find us so doing at His Coming.

Have a fruitful Advent and a blessed Christmas!

Kingdom Infusion – making 'Son tea', by Phil Tiews

Years ago I used to work as a repair man at a local apartment complex. When I first started, the lunchroom talk was often vulgar and profanity-laced. It was pretty uncomfortable for me. On a couple of occasions I said something like ‘I’m not interested’ to an inquiry, but mainly I tried to ignore what was objectionable or change the topic and just be myself. I didn’t preach to anyone. After the guys got to know me and I had been there a while I noticed that the discussion often changed when I came in the room and sometimes someone would apologize to me for a comment – often half-jokingly, but an apology nonetheless. What I was experiencing was not conversion or transferal from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of God, but I would call it an example of the ‘infusion’ of the Kingdom of God. You may have made ‘sun tea’ at some time. You put a tea bag in a jar of water and put it out in the sun. Slowly the tea leaches out into the water and with the solar influence it begins to infuse the whole jar. You can see treads and streams of the tea spreading out in the early stages. Eventually the whole jar is tea!

Sometimes the Lord gives us the calling and opportunity to take a direct ‘Kingdom action’. It could be sharing the Gospel with someone, changing the priorities of our department at work, or ministering in the jail. But I believe the Lord wants to always be ‘infusing’ the environments that we are in for the Kingdom. Paul tells us:

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.     Phil 2:14-16

Part of sharing the Good News is to BE good news. It ought to be good news that Christians are in any situation because we bring with us blessing, encouragement, kindness, helpfulness, respectfulness, joy … life! Often without having to say anything directly, our presence will check people’s baser behavior and call to their mind their better instincts. Our example can model a different way, a life-affirming way.

The Lord told Israel to live thelaws of the way of life He was giving them for this very reason:

Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?    Deut 4:6-8

There is no guarantee that all our efforts will always meet with a positive response – in fact, we are promised that we can expect at least some persecution! However, we live Kingdom life openly because it is who we are in Christ, no matter the response. And often, we will be blessed to be part of the infusion of the Kingdom into situations and environments, a change that is a blessing in and of itself and can pave the way for deeper transformation and eventual Kingdom transfer!