Revelation Meets the Great Commission, Part 1

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday (the link is here if you’re curious). Such opportunities are always exciting for me but come with a dose of nerves as well! But no such opportunity would exist except by the grace of God and the freedoms we enjoy in this country which inspires a hearty ‘thank you’ to Veteran’s that have served, are serving and will serve our country.

Revelation 21:1-7 speaks to a wonderful future for those saved in Christ.

‘And God will wipe away every tear; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, no crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. … Behold I make all things new!”

—Verses 3-5

This section of Revelation contains strong aspects of celebration and of destiny. And even though the Book of Revelation belongs to the genres of the prophetic and the apocalyptic, I believe there’s also a sub-text, or an undercurrent, to this section of Scripture. That sub-text is the sense of invitation. This a great party, who are we going to invite to come to it? And how do we invite them?

Recall that Jesus said, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). What we have freely received is the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9-10). We can’t earn it, or buy it, or barter for it; it is freely given to us through faith because of the accomplished works of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Your'r invitedThis invitational aspect brings two questions to mind. Today, Part 1 will look at the first question, and Part 2 in my next post will look at the second question.

Question 1: “what is the first area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in?” The answer is in the question: the first area is in our lives, in the interior of our souls, the very depths of our being. Another way to phrase this question is asking if the Holy Spirit can move freely in our lives. If not, where are the barriers blocking the Holy Spirit’s movement, how and where are we quenching the Holy Spirit? And why are we quenching His movement?

Question 1, then, is asking us to honestly examine ourselves. But to what standard are we examining ourselves against? The answer is in Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

—Galatians 5:22-23

Granted, we are all works in progress, so it is highly unlikely that we will see all the fruit of the Spirit working in our lives all the time. But we can explore to discover if certain fruit is missing altogether or “ripens” only rarely in our lives. The Holy Spirit will even guide us in this exploration.

Cultivation

A helpful key in this exploration of building the Kingdom in our lives is intentionally cultivating our relationship with God. Any meaningful relationship, whether with a spouse, or a child, or a friend, takes investment, it takes cultivation. Our relationship with God is no different.

One idea to assist in this cultivation is prayer. But maybe more prayer isn’t the answer as opposed to a new approach to prayer. For instance, if we are “laundry-list” pray-ers, that is we foist a list of requests up to God then move on with our day, we can instead shift our approach to a posture of more being with God in silence. Lists are fine, but there’s more to prayer than just that. We need to learn to listen and to be still before God.

Another idea is Scripture reading. Most of us think we need to read more Scripture daily; and maybe some folks do need this. But I think that sometimes a reading regimen places undo stress into our lives or orients us more toward checking off a to-do box on our daily tasks rather than actually absorbing what we are reading. Another approach for consideration is reading less Scripture daily and thinking about It more. Take small sections but think more deeply about them; meditate over them; perhaps even journal about them.

There are several other ideas as well; these two are merely to get our thinking started.

The Point…

The bottom line, though, is the Holy Spirit is attractive and enables us to be invitational people. But without the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are working in our own power and are not in sync with what God is wanting in our lives or the lives of the people around us.

Question 2: what is the second area in our lives to advance the Kingdom in? We’ll explore this question in the next post.   

Flighty Art, Sidewalk Chalk, and Loving Your Neighbor

Hummingbird

Hummingbird at Feeder, photo credit, Caleb.

Hummingbirds fascinate me. They’re so small and yet their wings beat so fast, approximately 80 times per second! I am unceasingly amazed by the rapid thrumming of their wings as they fly past or hover nearby. Leaves will flap back and forth from the downdraft and the little hummers can even fly up, down and backward! And their colors are wild iridescent greens, blues and reds to oranges and even whites.

Hummingbirds are wonderfully crafted pieces of art with wings and large appetites. They are an intentional part of God’s creation (see Genesis 1:20). I can’t fathom that they are any kind of an accident; it’s hard to believe that cosmic accidents would produce such delicate and amazing beauty. And a strictly utilitarian God would, in my imagination anyway, favor drab functionality over exquisite, shimmering beauty. They certainly serve a functionality in God’s over all ecology, but they are unquestionably beautiful as well. I think that’s because God is both/and: He’s both functional and artful. God is the Creator after all, and if we spend time looking at nature, or at telescopic images of space or microscopic images of the molecular world, we’ll recognize that God is indeed artful in incredibly complex and miraculous ways.

Chalk art

Caleb Chalk-art

This brings me to chalk art, even if it’s a Matchbox car highway scraped onto our driveway. Such art exhibits the creative imaginations of children; but they also exhibit our God-given innateness to create beauty ourselves. Art and artists abound. We have flowers, trees, mountains, galaxies, and all kinds of creatures, even ones inhabiting the deepest, darkest depths of our oceans. We also have sculptors, painters, musicians, writers, actors and more; working in all sorts of mediums from oils, to acrylics, to metal, to glass, clay, ceramic, and unlimited bits of tactile art. Yes, art can be used to cast ugly images and ugly aspects of humanity, not unlike some of the hostile artifacts we find in nature such as poisonous bugs, killer weather, and even sunburns. But by and large, most art is in one way or another, beautiful.

So the next time you’re out for a neighborhood stroll and come across a young child creating their art with chalk on the sidewalk, stop and admire it. Let them know you appreciate it and quite possibly fan the flame of a future artist. Doing this you will show love for your neighbor by encouraging the heart of a child. You will also be acknowledging the gift from a wonderfully creative God working in the hearts of the very youngest among us.

What a Ride: Despair and Celebration

Sad_Smile

Yes, 2016 has been an interesting, up and down year. My blog posting has been sporadic at best and my emotions have been stretched from east, to west and back again. But I am returning to a situation in life where I expect to begin posting on a regular basis; and I have a lot of ideas on things to write about. For instance, I want to write about atonement, and about the resurrection, and about Jesus being fully God and fully human, and about sin and whole bunch of other stuff.

But for the moment, I want to respond to a reader that recently asked why I’ve been absent. Well, lots of things have happened in 2016. But it began at the end of 2015.

The Recap

My last post was about the sudden death of a 20 year friend of ours, the oldest son of a wonderful family in Nebraska. Granted, the tragedy affected them more deeply of course, but it still shook us to our cores. Then 2016 began with my mom being rushed to the hospital. Mom, a very dear lady, suffered from advanced dementia and other physical disabilities. She spent much of January in the hospital. This led to her being admitted into hospice care. In the midst of this, my favorite pet ever—BK the cat—suddenly took ill and died. It was weird.

I came home from work on a rainy Thursday night and he ran over to greet me as he usually did. He was a great cat because I could pick him up any old way and he would just purr and head butt me. This particular evening, after his greeting, he all of the sudden lost control of his back legs, began panting furiously and had a wild look in his eye. We wound up at the pet ER where they said he was dying; feline congestive heart failure and his lungs were rapidly filling with fluid. In the process of his agonizing death throes, he bit into my left thumb with such force that I could feel his fangs sinking down into my bone, puncturing everything on the way. Shortly after that, he died. We spent the rest of the evening grieving in the people ER because my thumb was seriously injured. Even today my left thumb is partially disabled with the loss of some motion along with chronic pain and numbness.

About a month later, hospice care left a frantic message on my phone at about 4:30 in the morning; mom had died. No one expected it; sure, we expected she would pass away say in the summer or early fall, but then she suddenly started trending upward. Hospice was thinking she may have to be discharged from their care. But on February 29, she went to bed and at some point thereafter she was ushered into the presence of Jesus. Personally, I think she’s dancing in Heaven!

Then there’s the final semester of grad school. Through all of this and keeping up with my full-time secular job I was also trying to finish grad school on a high note. No easy task when so much of life is being filled with pain and loss. But God brought me and my family through it and last Saturday I was able to walk the platform in commemoration of completion along with about 300 other graduates from Corban University.

But…

So it’s been a challenging year so far. But now I have more “free time” and am looking forward to diving into blogging again (and perhaps more cycling too!). But thanks to God for all his work in my life and in my family, and also a huge thank you to my family and friends, I cannot tell you how much of a blessing you are to me. I can’t describe it because the tears of joy block my view. And thank you, dear reader, for your patience.

My God richly bless you in undeniable ways.

God at 1,000 Feet

God at 1000'

Not even half a mile away from our new home and I’m already climbing a gigantic hill. It goes from 249 feet to 1,000 feet in less than five miles; five very slow miles I might add. Because of other chores that were a higher priority I’m starting my ride in mid-afternoon where the temperature has topped 85 degrees and is expected to reach close to 100.

What am I thinking? I’m thinking about celebrating life, feeling the strain of muscle against pedal, sweat trickling down my neck and back, and catching vistas of vineyards and lavender fields. My lungs ache, my heart pounds, and my legs protest, but my spirit is running free from the shackles of stress, chores and long to-do lists.

Cresting the hill I stop to drink in the view of the lush Willamette Valley: green and brown pastures, towering evergreens and sprawling deciduous trees, manicured orchards, vineyards, and purple patches of lavender wafting a calming fragrance through the breeze. The river winds in long, silver meanders with hawks and a few eagles soaring on thermals high above my head. I take just a minute of pause to snap a picture and thank God that I even get such an experience; yes, world, I am alive and glad for it!

I often recall the short conversation I had with my surgeon on Saturday, January 7, 2012 where she said, just barely 24 hours after operating on my spine for a second time that I may not do the things I used to do. While that statement is true in some respects, especially in running, chronic pain and other things, I still get to ride my bike up big hills that reveal the splendor of a creative and loving God.

So before I begin the terrifying descent I whisper (basically gasp) “thank You, Jesus!” Then I turn my attention to the looming downhill portion of the big climb. I’m not used to such big climbs, which, of course means I’m not used to bombing down such big hills—this brings a totally different type of prayer (but that’s another blog)!  For the moment, though, I celebrate life and praise the God that gave it to me.

To Mary…

Mary_Brown

We miss you, Mary Brown. I can’t add anything beyond all the honest and heart-felt comments shared at today’s memorial service in her honor. However, I am looking forward to when I come home to Heaven; I fully expect to see Mary standing there, hands on her hips (you know what I mean), with her head cocked to one side and that wry smile, “Well, it’s about time!”

That’s what she always said as Caleb and I showed up late to the Food Bank every month—she always had that posture and she always said that phrase; oh, how I miss that phrase!

Mary’s life inspires me to live to a higher level of service (and joy) while I still have breath.

Here’s to Mary!