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.

 

Cost of Reproduction

seedsprouting

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  John 12:24

For a kernel of wheat, reproduction is a total commitment!  As Jesus made clear to His disciples, unless it dies, it remains as it is—a single seed.  Ironically, when it dies, it becomes many.   

Drive to multiply

We see the commitment to reproduction demonstrated throughout nature.  Plants devote their energy to producing scores, hundreds, thousands of seeds in a bid to create a few or even one scion.  Animals invest their strength, time, their very lives to producing, protecting, and launching a succeeding generation.  This is powerfully and poetically portrayed in  the documentary March of the Penguins . A ‘must see’ if you haven’t already.

God the multiplier

This drive of nature is much more than a practical necessity.  It reflects the very nature of God.  His first command to Adam and Eve, freshly made in His image, is that they ‘be fruitful and multiply’.  Their fruitfulness was to reflect the Fruitful God, source of all life. 

When God decided to hit the ‘restart’ button on His plan of salvation through the calling of Abram, multiplication was again His goal.  He promised that Abram/Abraham would be the father of descendants as numerous as the stars. 

There were a lot of Jews in the world when Jesus was born among them, but these were not the promised multitude.  It was not those born of blood nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God, through Jesus, that were given the power to become children of God. (John 1:12-13 reordered) The Father is devoted to having children, many children, more numerous than the stars or sands of the sea shore. 

How committed is the Father?  ‘He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all’ (Rom 8:32).  How committed is the Son?  He came … ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt 20:28).

Partners in reproduction

And this is where you and I come in!  As those made in God’s image, filled with Christ’s Spirit, drawn to life in His Body, we are now to share in His sacrificial commitment to reproduction.  Jesus’ instruction to his disciples was to ‘go make disciples of all nations’ (Mt 28:18).  Jesus makes it very clear that this is the top priority.  He says that this is how the ‘… Father is glorified,  that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples’ (Jn 15:8).

Frankly, hearing this I start to get uncomfortable.  All nature points to the costly commitment to reproduction (ask any Mom about that!).  God speaks of and then acts with total commitment to multiply His family.  And then He invites me to join Him sacrificially in the process of reproducing disciples.  But I’m not that committed to it!  Sure, I would like to see more people become children of God.  But am I really willing to be the kernel of wheat falling into the ground and dying for it? 

A preference for leaves

There are other things which tug at me.  Renewal,  cooperation among Christians, growing in character, worship, maybe wisdom, good things all — and, of course if I am honest, pleasing myself!  

Is this not maybe true of much of the Christian church, and even us here in The Word of God?  The costly investment in disciple making is for individuals and ministries what a special call, not so much for ordinary Christians like us.  But are we really reflecting the driving passion of the Father’s heart in this, He ‘who so loved the world that He gave his only Son’ (Jn 3:16)?

Fruitfulness unleashed

The Father fully understands our situation.  He knows that we prefer growing branches and leaves to making the tremendous investment in fruit.  He is the Vinedresser who lovingly prunes us that we may bear fruit.  I see this not as a threat for low performance, but as a promise to conform us to the image and priorities of the Son, empowering us to do what He does — bear fruit/make disciples.

What fruitfulness would be unleashed if you and I and the whole church, were to make the same costly investment in bringing forth the next generation that we see all around us in nature, and supremely in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? 

 

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.

When the going gets tough -- love one another

keep-calm-and-love-one-another-6

John in his brief second letter seems to be writing to a church undergoing some duress.  Exactly what the issues are we have to deduce from the letter, but what strikes me is John’s instruction to the church.  Basically what he has to say is, “when the going gets tough, love one another”.  This is the commandment we had from the beginning, this is the one to stick with when things are unclear or when the pressure is mounting or you don’t know what to do – love one another. As I was discussing this with some brothers and sisters in our Bible study recently, I was struck with how relevant this is for us in The Word of God right now.  We are trying to clarify our vision and move into a more missional direction.  Some things are changing, some things are not, and nothing is flowing with breathtaking power.  In the midst of this do we grow impatient, lose heart, give up?  John tells us what to do – go back to the basics and love one another.

Mother Theresa said “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.”  This is a good corrective for those of us you hunger for inspiring and clear vision.  Don’t wait until you have it.  do the small things before us each day with great love.  As we do so, we participate in the great vision of He who is Love, and I believe our own part will become clearer.

Stay calm and love on!

Do Not Be Afraid To Speak My Word -- John Whiting

Do not be afraid to speak my word.Proclaim it strongly! People need to hear it. Even if people contradict you and oppose you, proclaim my word! My word will be vindicated by events: the humble will be raised up, and the proud will be brought low, and all people will see that Jesus is Lord!

This message came at a time when I'd been reflecting on Exodus 14:13-15. Several points in that passage stood out to me:

"Do not fear!" "Stand your ground!" "You will see the victory the Lord will win for you today." "Tell the Israelites to go forward."

As the apostle Paul wrote, we haven't received a spirit of timidity. God is bold because he knows he has something we need very badly. He knows that no obstacle can stop him, and he wants us to go forward boldly with him on his mission of mercy.

From another perspective, I was struck by the magnitude of the benefits which are provided by life in Christ even in the present "age": -knowing God personally! -receiving and perceiving infinite love -receiving forgiveness -receiving a purpose in life -freedom from: --habitual sins --addictions --fear and anxiety --resentment --pride -family ties in the Body of Christ -a sure hope -peace -joy -healing -spiritual -psychological and emotional -physical -in personal relationships -empowerment to love and to bring blessings to others -and certainly others that I've left off this list.

Spreading the Gospel is a tremendous work of mercy. As the apostle Paul wrote about the Holy Spirit -- who, of course, produces all the benefits cited above -- these benefits are the first fruits of what we'll experience in heaven. People need these things desperately. I think God wants us to keep these things in mind as we consider whether and how to share the Gospel with others. We're not "selling" merely a dry, abstract, legal forgiveness. We're offering real, living personal relationships with tangible, observable benefits in the here and now. The Kingdom of God truly IS "at hand"!

There is no discontinuity between life in heaven and life on earth. We're living in eternity now. The choices we make now and the relationships we form now will endure, with eternal consequences. I think we should keep this in mind as we consider how to evangelize. I think this is the message that we need to proclaim. Christianity is not about "pie in the sky, by and by". What we do to others, we do to Jesus. God is not an "absentee landlord". "In him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The Kingdom of God is at hand!

Your Covenant; Your Corner of the Kingdom, by Patrick O'Connell

I gave a talk at a recent prayer meeting based on a chapter from Mike Breen’s book, Covenant & Kingdom, in which he follows these themes from Genesis to Revelations. He illustrates how these two themes repeatedly draw the believer’s attention to the overarching purpose of the Father to increase our capacity to live as citizens of heaven on earth. The talk (archived on the Word of God website for Feb. 17, 2013) addressed ways that King David’s understanding of Covenant and Kingdom informed his thinking and actions from poet shepherd to protector king. We didn’t have time for some of the ‘Practical Tips’ portion of the talk, so here they are. Try listening to my talk the others in the Covenant & Kingdom series and consider how the Spirit of God may want to use these suggestions for his glory and your benefit as his disciples. Three applications for us as heirs of the Covenant and representatives of the King.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, the covenant promises oneness. We are one with God. He is one with us. Daily we have the privilege of accessing this reality all it takes is time…

  • Time to adore,
  • Time to intercede,
  • Time to meditate:
    • On Creation/ Creator,
    • On Sinful leanings already forgiven,
    • On God’s character expressed in accounts of Jesus words and actions and attitudes…
    • On the whisperings of Spirit to spirit… and as we spend time hearing from God we can record this in a journal of some sort…

Second, we can use the covenant’s promise of shared authority and power to extend the King’s rule…

  • In our lives - By discussing with someone things we’ve been shown about our character vs. God’s character which need to change, and some steps involved in doing so
  • In the lives of others
    • By including them, as led by the Spirit, in our lives
    • By praying for their felt needs
    • Through direct prayer ministry like praying over them for healing or offering unbound prayer.

Thirdly, we can continually seek God for wisdom to know how to join Jesus in his ongoing mission as he addresses the injustices of our day to the orphan, the disabled, the poor, the neighbor in great emotional pain, those enslaved to sin, those enslaved by the sin of others, the widow, the international.

  • To get a hint of which of these (or other) injustices Jesus may be calling you to invest in correcting, just prayerfully read the list while noticing which situations which come to mind cause you the greatest sorrow, pain or anger.

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….!

I Long To Live My Life As An Artist by Sam Williamson

[We reprint this article with permission from Sam Williamson’s blog Beliefs of the Heart because it captures a great sense of what it means to approach our world with a positive, missional vision. ] A friend of mine challenged me to adopt—perhaps embrace—a Transcendent Pursuit for the coming year, something life changing, something I can bring to the world to make a difference.

Then I re-read the first chapter of Genesis. It felt like I was reading it for the first time, and I felt the nudge of God.

 The first thing I noticed was the creative artistry of God. The opening verses do not focus on God’s unparalleled power. Instead they reveal—and almost revel in—the beauty. After each creative act God doesn’t say, “That was powerful;” he says, “This is beautiful” (a better translation than what we are used to).

 Next I noticed that God sees potential where no one else ever could. God hovers over and looks into the chaos and void; he takes the raw materials of darkness and depth, and he creates light, and it is beautiful. As are the oceans and fields and skies.

 After observation and creation, God gives. He gives this unparalleled treasure of creation to man. The opening chapter of the Bible surges with swarming fish, teaming land animals, luscious vegetation, and a sky pregnant with stars.

 And God turns to man and says, “It’s yours. Take it. Care for it. Love it.”

 The opening of the Bible reveals a completely different God than any man has ever created. The opening of the Bible reveals God as an artist, seeing beauty, creating incomparable art, and giving it away. It is a radical image of God.

 I long to live like that artist

 Seeing God as the creator—not merely powerful but a creator of beauty—moved me. It makes me want to be more like him in a selfless giving of light, life, and joy. And then I read the next few verses.

God makes man in his own image. God revels (imagine a reveling God!) in this description of human design: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … God created man in his image … in his own image he made him” (Gen. 1:26-27).

 It is almost as if God needed an editor to say, “Uh, God, you are being redundant.” But God wasn’t writing useless repetition. He was being emphatic. He wanted us to know—he needed us to know—that his image is the blueprint of our design.

 God’s first act is to make us his masterpiece—his literal artistic crown of creation—and his second act is to make us artists as well. He animates his masterpiece, breathing into us a creative force to see beauty, create incomparable art, and give it away.

 When he puts us in the Garden of Eden—asking us to dig the earth, rule creation, and name the animals—God is inviting us to join with him as creative comrades. He enters into partnership with us as we artistically cultivate and nurture this world.

 What is the church meant to be?

 When God gave his creation to mankind, he said, “Subdue it and have dominion.” But these words do not mean to invade earth like a conquering king—God spoke these words before the fall. They don’t mean subjection, they mean cultivation.

 The church—God’s people on earth—are meant to be gardeners, maybe a guild of gardeners. We are here to create the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and nurture. To create an environment of peace and life, joy and light, and hope.

 How do we cultivate each other? We begin to see the unseen. We learn to spot beauty in each other. We become gardening treasure hunters; recognizing the raw materials of gifts and passion in each other and speaking it into life: “I see this in you; it is beautiful.”

 We are called to be an Army of Artists or Guerilla Gardeners. We win the world through the cultivation of a Garden. The church on earth is that collection of artistic gardeners who are cultivating the Garden of Eden, bringing light and beauty.

 The Christian life is joy, light, and creation in comradeship with the creator of all.

 Don’t confuse the Garden shed with the Garden

 Religious groups can frustrate me. I get sick of the same weekly board (or perhaps bored) meeting, or the memo to write, or the program to manage. I say to myself (and sometimes to my wife), “This can’t be God’s plan for his people! There has to be more!”

This week I realized my problem: I’ve been confusing the garden shed with the garden.

God’s people—this guerilla band of gardeners—are here on earth to cultivate His garden. But I’ve been tripping over the spades, hoes, pickaxes, and rakes. They are just tools. They are used to create the garden, but they aren’t the garden.

If my primary experience of God’s people is frustration, it might be time to let go of a gardening tool—that spade of board membership or that pickaxe of the program I manage. All our programs, plans and meetings are simply tools to cultivate the garden.

Sometimes I feel we cannot see the garden for the shed. When the tools are creating blisters, it’s time to lay them down. It’s the garden we are creating, not a tool shed.

Creation and re-creation

When Christ came into the world, scripture says of him that “a bruised reed he will not break … [and yet] he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Is. 42:3).

Christ came to earth as the ultimate guerilla gardener; he brought justice not through violent invasion but through violent gardening, through aggressive art.

After the fall of man—after we rebelled against his creative design—God again hovered over the dark void of the earth and saw what we could be if brought back to life. By sending his son, he again proclaimed, “Let there be light,” and it was beautiful.

I long to live my life like that Artist.

         Sam

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!

Kingdom Come – Now and Not Yet by Phil Tiews

20120223 bandaid

Looking for the KingdomFor a while now we have been focusing on the prayer Jesus taught us, ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’. We have talked about longing for the kingdom, about being agents to bring the kingdom in the spheres where Jesus has placed us. We have prayed for the kingdom to come, joining with brothers and sisters across the County in the special time of the 40 Days of Prayer.

At recent prayer meetings we have prayed with folks for healing, one of the most prominent signs of the kingdom in Jesus’ ministry and part of his instruction to the disciples, ‘he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.’ Luke 9:2. And we have seen some healing – improvements, partial healings, small healings – but not much total, major, clearly miraculous healing. I know this is an uncomfortable area for some of us, it is for me.

We believe God can heal, and we even know of folks He has healed. But praying with folks to be healed raises a ton of issues. Should we pray and then claim? How much faith do we need to have, does the sick person need? How long do we keep at it if nothing happens immediately? What if nothing happens at all?

Issues with Healing We are concerned for the person receiving prayer, will they be disappointed or embittered. We are concerned for God’s reputation, will He be seen as impotent or uncaring. Frankly, we are concerned for ourselves, will we look like fools. Most of us have seen situations where these sorts of concerns have distorted the whole process and it has gone terribly wrong. It is no wonder that the churches often feel more comfortable staying away from healing (and other miracles). It is safer to simply ask God to take care of things, pray ‘thy will be done’ and leave it at that.

Healing, Miracles & Message of the Kingdom But Jesus didn’t leave it at that. He told his disciples to go heal, deliver, even raise the dead along with proclaiming the kingdom. They are inextricably tied up with one another. Healing and miracles are not just to grab attention so can get on to the message. They are part of the message of the kingdom – what it means when the King to reign and put thing right. Word and reality welded together.

This is not the time or place to expound at length about healing and miracles. I hope that we will have a lot more reflection of this as the Lord calls us into a deeper kingdom focus. In the meantime there are a few things that I think we can say which will encourage us as we struggle forward:

 As we pray and work for the kingdom to come, looking for healing and miracles should be part of what we do.

 Not everyone we pray for will be healed or every miracle we ask for come about

 More healing and miracles will come about if we are asking for them than if we do not

 If we approach praying with people for healing and miracles with humility and love, pointing them to the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, people can experienced being loved by God and us whether the prayer is answered as asked or not.

 God will use the tension between healing and miracles we ask for and the level we experience. It will drive us to long more earnestly for the full revelation of His kingdom. It will drive us to remove obstacles and learn how to cooperate with the Spirit more fully. It will drive us to deeper compassion for the suffering of people as we groan with them and all creation for the full coming of the kingdom. Actually, these things are all manifestations of the kingdom, as well!

 As we look for the kingdom to break in, we can do it with thanksgiving and rejoicing. Any taste we get here and now is an appetizer to the full banquet which we can be assured awaits us. Living in thanksgiving and joy is another sign of the kingdom in the midst of a world of complaining and despair.

Interplay of Kingdoms

Time is strange. We tend to think of it as a steady, measurable thing. It ticks by at sixty seconds to the minute, sixty minutes to the hour, and so on. But physicists will tell us that it is more complex and elastic than that. We have experienced this elastic nature of time ourselves. ‘It seems like only yesterday’. ‘This afternoon is taking forever.’ Time drags and whizzes, stretches and contracts.

Jesus declared at the start of his ministry, ’the kingdom of God is at hand’, and later, ‘now is the prince of this world cast out’, and then ‘it is finished’. But we all know that there is still a lot of kingdom of this world and prince of this world and unfinishedness all about us. This has been described as the ‘now and not yet’ of the kingdom. You can probably remember laying an overhead sheet on top of the page from which it is made. Shift it just a bit and you get two images overlapping, both there, very confusing to sort out. What Jesus has declared is true. The old is passing away and the new has come. It is here and now, just not completely here and now. I imagine that Jesus’ voice is still ringing ‘it is fini………..’ and we haven’t quite gotten to the final ‘…ished!’ yet.

You may have been swimming in a lake rather than a swimming pool. If so, you have no doubt had the experience of paddling about and all of the sudden coming on a current of cool water, often clearer and feeling different than the rest of the lake. On a hot day this can not only be surprising but very refreshing! I think of our current kingdom situation as something along those lines. We are swimming in the murky, turbid lake waters. But there is stream of fresh spring water flowing into this lake and as we move around we encounter it and are refreshed. What we want to do it to stay in that current as much as possible. Track its direction and flow. Invite others to swim over and join us in it. Learn to live in the clear, clean, life-giving waters in the midst of the lake which is passing away.