Monday, September 21, 2015

Ripples


Mark 1:9

In the streets or the synagogue of Nazareth, the news of John’s message of repentance reached the ears of Jesus. The emergence of this voice in the wilderness was Jesus’ trumpet call—the shofar of the Lord—to enter the last season of his ministry and time among us. Yes, the last of his ministry.

Surely the gospel years were not Jesus’ only ministry. He ministered before. The three years recorded in the gospels were the fruition of the previous thirty years. Scripture tells us Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. In those years all the wonderful things we see in Jesus developed. The patience. The wisdom. The understanding. The discernment. The compassion. The insight. When he stepped into public ministry, by the avenue of association and baptism, then came the power and authority. Jesus allowed his Father to do his work in him.

But when Jesus got wind of John's voice he packed up his belongings (what little he had) and kissed his mama goodbye. We don’t know if Jesus traveled alone, or how far he traveled, or if he sent a message to his cousin that he was on his way. Regardless he left Nazareth. He left Galilee. Jesus leaves home, the place he grew into a man.

He left his places of routine, comfort, and familiarity.

Jesus came to John. He walked into the river water. John looked up and recognized Mary’s son. John knew the stories: this cousin caused him to leap in his mama’s womb. Once again John's spirit leaped. He knew this man, and he argued with him.

“Baptized me, John,” Jesus spoke with John’s gaze riveted to his.

“No, Jesus. It is you who should baptize me.” John confessed and dropped his head.

“John.” John looks up into the face of Jesus.

“Baptize me so that all righteousness is fulfilled,” Jesus explained.

John laid his cousin back, buried him in the dark waters of the river. Eddies swirled around and over them both. Jesus came up from that watery grave, his hair streaming, his beard pouring, his tunic plastered to his chest, and his eyes on fire.

John staggered backward in the wake, and just as he regained his balance he saw the anointing rest on Jesus, remaining. He felt Jesus’ squeeze on his shoulder and watched him as he walked back up the bank of the river. And the wind blew, whipped Jesus’ hair and billowed the sleeves of his tunic. John saw the water trail behind Jesus, dripping ripples in the water and John watched until the widening circles touched him. 

And these ripples, of Jesus fulfilling righteousness, have touched us.

If you are reading this post the ripple has reached you, the very ripple caused by Jesus.

Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15 declares to us that Jesus is the exact representation of God. He came to show us who God is. Jesus came that we would have a better understanding, a clearer vision of the Father.

God called us to the same ministry as his Son—a ministry of representation and reconciliation. We are called to help fulfill all righteousness. In Mark 1:8 John tells us John baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Spirit.

The Spirit descends on us, lights on us, and indwells us just as He did Jesus. We can argue like John, protest and hesitate, or we can be baptized (immersed in the Spirit) and enter the rippling ministry of the Good News.

But.

We must be ready to leave home; we must be willing to leave our places of routine, comfort, and familiarity. We must decide to go down into the river. It is there we will be immersed and anointed by the Spirit. Only then we will be prepared and equipped to carry the good news up the bank, into the wilderness, and beyond.


Monday, September 14, 2015

We All Need I.P.A.


Mark 1: 9-11

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus came to be baptized by John. In approximately sixty words (NIV) something utterly new unfolds. As Jesus lifted up out of the water, Heaven tore open (Jesus' presence tears many things) and fresh revelation descended.

What did the voice of the Father say to his Son at that moment? 

1.    You are my Son. Identity. God the Father declared Jesus as the Son. His Son. Here’s who you are, Jesus.

2.    Whom I love. Position. God the Father proclaimed his love for his Son. This love gave Jesus a position that no one could take from him. It marked him with favor, with the relationship, and with a place. 

3.    With you I am well pleased. Affirmation. God the Father affirmed his satisfaction with Jesus. With pleasure, he affirmed Jesus.

Why are these three points important to us?

How are they relevant to us? We are not Jesus. No, we are not, but the same things offered to Jesus are available to us. If we accept these points, if we receive them, and if we embrace them, our lives will be radically different.

In the past two weeks, our grandsons have all had birthdays. We bought presents, had parties, and celebrated them. This third birthday is the first time Elijah and Judah were quite aware that it was their birthday.



Elijah sporting the blue icing on his fish birthday cake!
Tatem's 5th birthday. His geode cake!


Judah and his Aunt Wivvy monkey cake. Photo credit to Ashley Wellman.


When I pray for these little boys, I pray several Scriptures over them. This passage of Mark is one I added recently. I want these little boys to know three things as they grow and develop and become. And for them, or any of us, to know we must have the same three things God the Father gave to Jesus.

Identity.

The boys are learning the connections of family relationships: who is aunt, cousin, uncle, grandfather, and grandmother. Quite often I tell these little boys they are my grandsons. To know this connection helps them to understand their identity. I am their grandmother (I am not the only one who tells them; their grandfathers and parents tell them too). As they learn their familial connections they develop their identity.

We are God’s children. Scripture tells us this repeatedly. We are the adopted children of God. Grafted into his family. We assumed his name. He is our Father. These truths should afford us our identity, not success, wealth, abilities, skills, appearances, or connections.

Position.

I tell the boys ALL the time I love them. I whisper in their ears I love you. I love you. I love you. All  of them. (Atlas just grins.) Right in their ears, as close as I can get. I do this every time we are together. I do this at random times. Their behavior, their performance, or their abilities do not determine the frequency or the intensity of this practice of mine. I declare my love for them because they are mine. My prayer is that my love coupled with their parents, other grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins will give them a sure position. When people know they are truly loved, not tolerated or indulged, but unconditionally loved their position in this life seems to be more stable and solid. The foundation is laid deep.

We are loved by God. Before the foundations of the world were in place, and even while we were far from him, he loved us. Because of this love he sent his Son to whisper this news in our ears over and over and over.  Scripture assures us that this is our position and  NOTHING can separate us from this love.

Affirmation.

The other phrase my grandsons (and my daughters) often hear from me is that I am proud of them. Incredibly proud. In their accomplishments, developments, successes, and endeavors. But even more I am proud of who they are. I am well pleased with the growth of their character, with the sweetness of their spirits.

During this birthday time, all attention centered on these three little boys. That much attention is hard for even a grown-up to handle. But these boys swelled my Noni-heart. At Elijah’s birthday, he did not pass his birthday cards by uninterested. At three years old he opened them and looked at them and listened to his mama or daddy read them. He expressed the same gratitude for the cards as for the gifts. A close friend of the family commented on Elijah’s thoughtfulness. I beamed. His mama cried.

At Judah’s party, Elijah wanted to blow out the candle too (what child doesn’t want to blow out the candle?). Judah shared his candle and his seat with Elijah, and they took turns blowing out the candle. Judah had several helpers when he opened his gifts; there were no declarations of this is mine, nothing of the these are mine attitude.

I am well pleased with my grandsons, but what if they looked at me each time I said this, and they gave me excuses for why I shouldn’t be proud? What if each time I expressed my pleasure in them they attempted to negate this truth with negative things about themselves? I know the negative, I am not a blind grandmother. I have seen my grandsons not share. I have seen them angry because they did not get their way. I have seen them fight over a toy. But these times do not negate my pleasure in them.

God is pleased with us. And this point is the hardest to accept. This truth is hard to swallow down past the buts and exceptions. We do not believe God can be pleased with us. We know our secret sins, the condition of our hearts, and the state of our spirits. How can God be pleased with us? We don’t pray enough. Study enough. Read the Word enough. We are angry and resentful. We are jealous and envious. We are lustful and vengeful. We are ______________________. How can God be pleased with us?  THIS IS HOW:  God is pleased with us because of his Son. Grace affords us this place. Grace. When we shun God's affirmation of us, we deny grace.

Father, I thank you for your word—the relevancy of it for us today. It is not a worn-out, archaic book that no longer applies to the modern age. No, Father, your truth is timeless. You know people. You know us. You know what we need. And Father, we need to know who we are. We need to know we are loved. And we need to know that someone is proud of us, that someone is pleased with us. Father, these are essential needs. Your word tells us that you know what we need before we even ask. Father, I pray you would pour out these gifts, supply these needs for these sweet people today. Father, tell them who they are. Remind them they are loved. Assure them you are proud of them. And wherever there is a lack or unbelief, I pray for you to help. In the name of Jesus. Amen


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Growing Room Book Signing Event!

 
In July WestBow Press released my first book Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places. There have been several milestones since that day. This is one I am looking forward to with great eagerness. Why? Because I get to meet you!
 
Would love to have you join me! Food, fellowship, and fun! There will be giveaways, books for sale, and other surprises.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Just Like John


Mark 1:1-8

So this John came, this unexpected, radical, and fiery man appeared in the wild—burst into the middle of the scene. His voice boomed before the stage lights even flickered. A raw and forthright man who didn’t curry favor or kowtow to anyone. John declared the kingdom of God was on its way. Make preparations. Be ready.
Long ago when a royal entourage approached a city or village, a group traveled ahead to remove the obstacles and barriers. Their job? To open and smooth the road for the king’s arrival. 
Remember our central theme as we move through Mark? Watch Jesus?

Through the walls of their mothers' wombs, John watched Jesus. John was the messenger even in utero; he leaped in excitement and announced the coming arrival of God’s final revelation. God sent John as a forerunner, a harbinger, and a new voice in a culture and to a people who hadn’t heard a “word from the Lord” in over four hundred years. God sent John to prepare the way, to make straight the paths for the Word (Logos) to come. John did the good work God prepared in advance for him to do.
Friends, John understood who he was and who he was not.

He elevated Jesus and proclaimed him above all. John states that he wasn't worthy to untie Jesus' sandals—a slave’s job. John didn’t employ a self-demeaning or self-deprecating or falsely humble attitude. He stated the truth. John told them and us: What I do is temporary and partial, but this One who comes after me will do something eternal and complete in you. I will start something, this preparatory repentance, but he will finish it; the Holy Spirit does the lasting work.
John understood his role, his purpose in the strategy of the kingdom, and he proclaimed the message given to him and it wasn't a pleading or begging message. Repent. Turn. Forgiveness is on its way.

Like John, we need to understand our role, our purpose in the kingdom.
What is our message today? 
Ask the hard questions. Have we made this message about us or him? Are we preparing the way for him or ourselves? Are we removing obstacles so people can find him or are we rolling hurdles onto the highway? Are we telling people with certainty who we are not and who he most certainly is? Are we proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor? Are we telling people about the deep rest of God? About the sweet grace that covers shame? About the blood of Christ that absorbs sin?
If we have been called by God, then each of us should proclaim the imminence of the kingdom and the eminence of Jesus. 

Just like John.



Friday, September 4, 2015

The Good News of Rest


Welcome!
I’m so glad you are here. I wish we were all together in one place so that I could see your faces. Maybe, someday.
(If you are here to engage in scholarly, academic Bible study this is not the right place. I am not a Bible scholar. I love the Word of God, but my perusal and interpretation of it is far from academic. These thoughts are not meant to be not a systematic theological treatise on the Gospel of Mark. But let’s see what the Holy Spirit unfolds for us over the next few weeks.)  

The Good News begins here—not because Mark says so, but because God announced that the good news would come long before He arrived. God proclaimed the reality through Isaiah and Malachi (and too many other places to account for here). Our God is always ahead, always far out in front. He announces the arrival of his plan, foretells and foreshadows. He speaks it long before the bud of fruition even appears. God counts the tomatoes on the vine before the blooms even open. He orchestrates everything so that the circumstances ripen into the fullness of time. He lines up the courses of human history so that ALL things work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
What then is this good news? Oh, surely Friends, we need some. With unceasing and increasing graphicness the news and social media networks display frightening images and report horrific stories. 

On a daily, perhaps hourly, basis we struggle to make sense of it all. And if that wasn’t enough, personally we battle simply to survive, to stay afloat, to stay one paycheck ahead, to … you fill in the blank.

All the while we are dying. Our spirits are devoured and emaciated—rail thin. There’s no meat on our spiritual bones.
Mark knew. And from the beginning he proclaims that the good news of Jesus Christ is coming. Salvation and redemption are on the way.
In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus issues an open, inclusive, and RSVP invitation: Come to me all you who are weary and burdened.

We are all wearied, worn-out from the monotonous work, from the cultural demands, from dysfunctional family relationships, and undoable religious expectations. We all carry some burden—a weight pushing hard between our shoulder blades or sitting on our chests like the proverbial elephant.

Jesus declares the good news. Speaks it plainly and offers it to everyone.

I will give you rest.

Oh, to rest! Don’t we all want rest? Not just sleep, though to sleep in or longer would be bliss. Not just a vacation as lovely as that sounds. And not just a change in the intensity of our schedules even though that's worth a shout of amen. No, the good news is this: Jesus came to offer an invitation into rest. He came to give, not sell, trade, barter, or borrow. He came to give rest, and his rest leads to a decrease and cessation of religious striving, turmoil, pain, isolation, and conflict. 

What is this good news of Jesus that Mark proclaims in the very first sentence? Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, to be the Savior for a world gone awry. He came to unshackle the chains and fetters of sin and to turn hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. He came to make us holy and to make us in the image of his Father.

In the course of Mark, we are going to watch Jesus offer rest in diverse situations. To madmen and lepers and fevered women. To tax collectors and paraplegics.  In every case Jesus knew the kind of rest each person needed. In the people he touched, we see us. In them, we see our own issues, fears, and circumstances.

He is offering the same rest to us.
 
And this is good news!

Father God, we thank you for being far ahead of us. Thank you for plans made not on the spur of the moment, but back at the foundations of the world. We praise you. We need the rest your Son offers. We need our conflicts resolved. We need our turmoil settled. Oh, Father, we so want for the I-do-what-I-don’t-want-to-do pattern to cease. And we long for this religious striving to dissipate. Only in you can we find this rest. Only in you do we enter into this Good News. Father, we accept your invitation. Show us how to come to you. Enable us to come to you in our weariness and lay our burdens into your care so we will find rest for our souls. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Write What You Know ( A New Series)


This past week I started teaching again. Sixteen students enrolled in Genesis Academy’s Oral and Written Expressions course, a class designed to improve writing and speaking skills. Next week, my lesson plans inform me that the topic of the day is What Do I Write About? (Of course, I might begin by telling them that traditionally we don’t end a sentence with a preposition, but that might be a bit much for the first full-blown writing class).
This question seems to be the age-old (insert whiney here, and pretend I didn’t say it) excuse for not writing. Even those of us who blog, journal, write on napkins in restaurants, and have words pressed between two covers of a book whine and complain sometimes. Since the internet launch of my book my writing and word well went dry. The bucket descended, but it came up empty. Only a dark ring moistened the bottom rim where it plunked down in the well.  I realized it was time to remind myself of something I always tell my students: write what you know. I am not sure where I first heard this adage, but this sage advice is often attributed to the salty Mr. Mark Twain.
For weeks this question (I thought I was so far beyond it, not) poked at me. What do I write about now? After exhausting all I have written in the last seven years, how in the world do I begin again? Where, oh where do I start? For weeks, my blog hung in the blogging world—empty and void of anything new.
Sick with aches and pains and fever, I stayed home on the couch today listening to podcasts and reading. I gravitated to Mark—the immediate Gospel. This time I read the account in The Message, which lends a different feel and tone to a familiar text. This familiarity reminded me of what I try to encourage my students to embrace.

Write what you know.

In August of2007 I wrote the following:

All my Christian life I have been taught to read the Scriptures and watch what the other person is doing in an encounter with Jesus. I was encouraged to watch the person and either behave like them or don't behave like them. I should observe and note what they did in a situation with Jesus and either emulate them or dismiss them. Seems simple, right?  If I am supposed to look like Jesus...act like Jesus...be like Jesus why in the world am I watching everyone else? Why am I going to Scripture and noticing and studying others before I look at Jesus? When I started reading the gospels repeatedly, I discovered something. Watching Jesus changes your perspective. Watching others causes you to attempt to change your behavior and your actions. When you watch Jesus, your attitude and the condition of your heart is revealed. Jesus calls you to change inwardly first, and the outward behavior will be the fruit of that change. You cannot truly watch him and remain unmoved.

I am returning to what I know, returning to the familiarity and immediacy of Mark’s account of the good news of Jesus. I am returning to watch him, and I would love for you to join me.  I invite you just to sit down with me (I’ll try to keep the posts short) and with the first installment of the series posting this Friday, September 4. We will watch Jesus together. Invite others to join us. Jesus enjoys the supper table full—the more the merrier.