As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Monday, November 5, 2018

Putting on New Skin

Missional Leadership is about “molting.” Allow me to explain. Too often our ability to effectively engage others, build relationships, and participate in God’s redemptive purposes in new communities is diminished because we are still walking around in old skin. It is the skin of our past experiences, our previous communities, our preconceived ideas. We step into a new space running every new experience through an old set of lenses. Missional Leadership requires the recognition of those limitations and the capacity to faithfully molt that old skin, and put on the new skin of the places in which the Lord plants us.

Seth Major had some old skin. Growing up in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, attending Olivet Nazarene University, and pastoring in a few different communities around Chicago, Seth, originally intending to plant a church in New Lennox, felt the tug of God to step into a new city that he’d never lived, Peoria, Illinois, and join God in his redemptive influence in and throughout that city. But he had to molt. He couldn’t arrive in a new city with an old vision. He couldn’t embrace new people, assessing them through old lenses. He had to put on new skin.

This became the passion of Seth Major. Immediately, he and his wife Tai sought to make Peoria their city. They immediately moved into the community and worked to build relationships. Tai became a teacher at a school in one of the underserved portions of the community. Seth began to spend time with indigenous leaders, soaking up every bit of information or wisdom that they would share. He committed himself to seeking the good of the city and not merely fulfilling his vision. He shared meals, ate local, walked the streets, networked, and committed to partnerships. The Kingdom vision was big enough for Seth that he hasn’t been concerned about the ways others would impact his vision. He continually lays his vision on the altar, asking for a share in God’s purposes.

Throughout this last year, that has landed him in the North Valley of Peoria, partnering with a team of missional leaders to establish a faith community that would be sensitive to the organic needs of that community. Reachway Church exists to foster transformation throughout a community by partnering with their neighbors and other organizations that seek the good of the city.

However, in the recent weeks, as Seth has continued to pull on that new skin, another door for missional leadership began to emerge. One of the key partnerships Seth has engaged is the Dream Center in Peoria. Dream Center Peoria is a remarkable organization that has for nearly two decades sought to engage the issues surrounding homelessness, poverty, and at risk children. Throughout this partnership, Seth has found a team of kindred spirits with whom he could walk with and seek the good of the city. Recently his new skin has come with a new title.

Seth has recently been named the chaplain of Dream Center Peoria, providing spiritual support to both their neighbors and the staff. But wait, how is that going to help him grow his church? That’s not the point. This isn’t about church growth, but the fulfillment of God’s redemptive vision for an entire city. His willingness to step into a community and put on its skin has led him to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the most vulnerable in the city.

Director of Dream Center Peoria, Andy King states, ““Over the last year, we watched this young, passionate and enthusiastic church planter come alongside Dream Center Peoria and serve under someone else’s vision for the City. That spoke volumes to us. For an organization that has been reaching the heart of the City for 16 years or more, we long for local pastors like Seth, who get it! Its a kingdom thing. As we were looking at raising the spiritual pastoral care level for all the people at Dream Center, Seth was the first person I thought of as his heart and passion is firstly for people to know who Jesus is in this City."

Molting has allowed Seth to gain favor in a city at a rate that rarely happens. His humility in laying aside his dreams, his passion for pursuing God’s vision, and his willingness to lock arms with anyone and everyone that has the passion to #lovepeoria, gives credible witness to missional leadership. It’s a reminder that our inability to engage those to whom God sends us is often less about them and more about still wearing old skin. Molt and be missional. Congrats Seth!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

When the Church Loses Its Way

As I’ve been following the recent developments regarding immigration in the United States and the varied responses from both those inside and outside the faith of Christianity, I’m left asking a familiar question, “Why is it so easy for the church to lose its way.”  This question isn’t tied to or rooted in a particular party ideology or political platform, instead it’s rooted in a pastoral angst, whereby, those that give confession to following Jesus often fail to wrestle with deeply meaningful issues in a way that bears witness to a counter-cultural presence. 

As followers of Christ, our presence in this world ought to be one of light, life, justice, hope, and redemption. We are to bear witness to God’s Counter-Cultural Kingdom of God. We are to think, speak, and act in ways that forces the broader world to reckon with its public, political, and prideful (often idolatrously violent or manipulative) postures. 

We are to be different.

In following our public discourse as a church, I’ve discovered what I believe to be four elements that threaten our capacity to bear alternative, faithful witness. This isn’t an exhaustive list nor do I believe I’ve “figured out a solution.”  However, I believe that awareness can illicit conviction which prompts confession, giving space and hope to transformation. 

Here are four of the ways the church loses its way…
Punditry:  We live in a culture fascinated by loud, obnoxious, divisive, seemingly larger than life personalities.  Most of these personalities have built an extensive and sprawling spin zone, where information and news are often filtered through a particular perspective, warped and twisted to pander to mass appeal (a particular mass appeal depending on one’s political stances). These pundits:
·         Privilege voices that reaffirm their stances.
·         Sensationalize every element of a story, preying upon ignorant fears.
·         Presume the historical ignorance of their listeners and followers, shrouding current events in novelty without investigating historical precedent. 
·         Suggest “fairness” in reportage, all the while intentionally spinning the information, moving followers in a predetermined direction.
·         Play the martyr, suggesting that those that disagree with them are evil persecutors of the truth.
When followers of Jesus unthinkingly give credence, support, and authorization to those voices, we contribute to the chaos of a “post-truth” culture where “alternative facts” and “exploitive tactics” set the agenda for public discourse.  We must challenge these voices by staying informed and prayerfully testing all spirits. DISCERNMENT and WISDOM couldn’t be any more important in today’s culture.

Pragmatism: We are pragmatists. This is a philosophically loaded word, but for the purposes of this article, I will suggest that pragmatism asks only “what works” and “what is beneficial to me (or my niche group)” in this particular moment. Pragmatism is absolutely disconnected from any overarching (and especially transcendent) framework that might serve as a filter through which to run our decisions.  We act in the moment for the purpose of the moment. For a pragmatist, might often makes right. Our ability to act is authority enough to do so, when the action is immediately beneficial to those with the power to act.  All decisions are ad hoc and disconnected to a broader and more reflective framework. 

As followers of Christ, pragmatism isn’t an option.  We are rooted in an extended tradition that forces us to reckon not only with “what works and what could we do in the moment,” but instead asks, “In light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the announcement of the Kingdom, how should we be in this world?”  Our decisions impact the evidence of our confession. Followers of Christ play the long game of God’s redemptive reign and make decisions consistent with that long game. Expedience based on pragmatism often fails to recognize the injustices, prejudices, and violent tendencies often implicit in urgency and power.

Populism: Also a loaded word in our culture, I believe populism as I will define it in this article contributes to the corruption of the church. Populism is often defined as concern for the interests of the ordinary person. This alone isn’t a bad thing.  We ought to be concerned with the “ordinary,” refusing to create systems that privilege wealth, intellectual elitism, or status.  However, populism is a concept in today’s culture often corrupted by identity politics.  The “ordinary” are those with whom I belong and my perceived placement on the margins.  We divide ourselves up into marginalized groups based on race, political/moral categories, economic class, or ethnic difference (leading often to a nationalism that creates a supremacy over and above others.)  This populism can lead to a “mob effect” in which voices of dissent are quickly mobbed by public ridicule, social media shaming, and the threats of violence. Voices of dissent are enemies and thereby threats to the well-being of the masses (defined arbitrarily). 

As followers of Christ, we have forgotten that “identity politics” just doesn’t work.  Paul speaks against this in Galatians 3:26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

For those that follow Christ, we’ve entered into a new humanity no longer bound to politics of difference, but bound by mutuality, respect, and love that extends beyond my narrow grouping.  This passion moves beyond the limits of the baptized community into the broader humanity.  Paul also writes in 2 Corinthians 5: 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Polarization: This is the final element I want to suggest is problematic for the church.  We start with the assumption that we are naturally at odds with one another, poised every day for the defensive.  Punditry that plays on our fears, naturally divides us into groupings making conversation nearly impossible.  We are told there are only and ever two sides and it is incumbent upon you to pick a side, plant a flag, and defend your ground. Failure to do this is irresponsible and naïve.  Participation in polarization creates an edge of anger, malice, sarcasm and ultimately leaves us prepared for verbal and physical violence. In a culture where conversations at work, in the home, or on social media feel like playground skirmishes, we are now living in the post-traumatic edginess that is always looking over our shoulder for the next fight.

As followers of Christ, we believe in the shalom of God.  The peace of God, not as a failure to act or an absence of conflict, but as the proactive posture of the people of God that refuse to jump headlong into divisiveness, must be our priority.  This does not mean we don’t act when necessary or cast our lots in divisive situations. It means that we refuse to constantly see and suppose one another as enemies.  It’s a refusal to attribute evil and enemy willy-nilly based only on disagreement.  When standing on divisive issues, it stands vulnerable, sacrificially, with the hopes of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration for all as the priority and hope.  It doesn’t seek to win as much as it does to bear witness to the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. 

It is important that in today’s culture that the church once again embrace its counter cultural identity as the people of God, refusing to wear that identity in arrogance, but as reconciling servant to the world. We must learn to speak, act, converse, and love in ways that bears witness to difference, that bears witness to the Kingdom of God.  Lord help us on our way as the “People of the Way.”

Thursday, February 22, 2018

10 Questions to Ask for a Spiritual Pulse Check:

1.) Am I lingering in the Lord?
If Jesus is the source and wellspring of all that is good, meaningful, and faithful, am I attending to Him well so that He might tend well to my life?  Do I linger, giving him space to speak, lead, convict, love and encourage?  Do I treat my time with Him as an obligation to get through?

2.) Have I found ways to justify my time away from the spring of living water...or replaced it with a distraction?
In John 4, Jesus suggests that He is the Living Water that brings life. Sometimes we wander from the spring of living water, thinking we can do well in the land without it. We give ourselves permission, making up excuses, “I’m too busy.” (etc.)  Have I grown distracted with gaming, social media, and binge-watching, contributing to my time away from grace?

3.) Do I give the Spirit of God space to bridle my tongue keeping me from unkind, unwise, uncaring, and unfaithful words?
Am I rash, abrasive, and ill-tempered with my words? Do I demean, condescend, react unprayerfully, spread gossip, or speak maliciously? Faithfulness in attending to regular rhythms of spiritual formation ensures that when we speak, we’ve done so first giving space to the Spirit to bridle our often unruly tongue.

4.) Do the words I speak and the ways in which I speak them reflect to the Biblical call toward gentleness, peace-making, being full of grace and seasoned with salt?
Out of the mouth flows the thoughts of the heart. A heart surrendered will reflect the Scriptural truth that our words carry power and often create our environments. What type of environment am I creating?

5.) Am I currently prone to breaches in integrity because of exhaustion, frustration, bitterness, or spiritual lethargy?
In the end, all we have is our integrity. I believe that with all my heart. No matter what we’ve accomplished, if that is not consistent with the way in which we’ve faithfully lived our lives, our accomplishments will be overshadowed by our lack of character. There are many sabotage artists to our integrity. Our practices of spiritual formation ensure that we guard against such breaches.

6.) Am I currently harboring the seeds of sin and systematically shutting out voices that might call me, in love, on that sin?
Once we’ve become lax in our spiritual formation, we begin to harbor sin deep in our hearts. We begin to quiet the voice of God, listening instead to the selfish desires of our heart that often speak loudly. Having moved away from the living water, we systematically attempt to remove ourselves from situations in which those that splash around in the living water hang out. We don’t want their voices speaking into our self-justifying actions.

7.) What assumed failure on God’s part has given me reason to take back control of my life and forge my own path?
When we feel let down by God, we often tell ourselves we can do a better job. Without an intimacy of trust in the midst of difficult situations, we will take charge. Those tendencies for control will lead us down paths of self-determination and toward a hardness of heart.

8.) Have I chosen a path of least resistance when faithfulness might have demanded that I stay in the fray and work hard to prevail in this challenge?
When I begin looking for the easy way out, I tend to find that as an alert to my spiritual bankruptcy. The world invites us to live a life on a “path of least resistance.” “It should be easy.” We are told. However, a life shaped by grace and strengthened by God stands in the fray and works in conjunction with the Spirit of God to prevail in the challenges we face.

9.) Am I prone to believe that everyone around me needs to change?
When spiritual formation takes a back seat in our lives, we become increasingly self-deceptive.  We begin to tell ourselves that we are in the right and everyone else is in the wrong. We tell ourselves that if everyone else changes, all would be well. Self-deception is often the set up for our own undoing.  Humble confession, fostered in a spirit of prayer, trusts God to reveal to us our place in our conflict and chaos.

10.) Have I replaced my cross with my banner?
The journey of Jesus is one of sacrifice and self-giving holy love. It is a life lived, giving itself away for the sake of others, on behalf of the Kingdom of God.  It’s the way of the cross.  However, inattention to our spiritual formation will mean we lay down our cross and pick up our selfish banners, making life about me, mine, and getting what I deserve. When I pick up my banner, I’ve stopped following Jesus. 

How’s your pulse?

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Wake Up Call: Women in Ministry and Why I’m Still Part of the Problem

Let me just start off by saying, “I’ve got no problem with women in ministry!”

Resolutely and definitively.

I have no theological qualms with women serving in any role within the leadership of the church. I belong to a denomination that since its founding has ordained women. I am thankful that my tradition affirms the gifts and graces of preaching, shepherding, and leadership without gender distinction. Throughout my ministry, I’ve been surrounded by gifted women preachers and leaders. At the church that I currently serve, we welcome without hesitation the prophetic/pastoral voices of women from the pulpit.  I’ve no problem with women in ministry.

And I thought that was enough…which is why I’m STILL a part of the problem.

Recently I had a wake-up call.  Rachel Held Evans tweeted, “Imagine being a female professor of Hebrew & ANE literature at a seminary & knowing there are male students in your class who (because they read John Piper) consider your expertise worthless due to your gender. 😡”

I happened to see this Tweet just prior to prepping to teach undergraduates at a Christian University. This hit me like a ton of bricks. So, I had to do a little homework. Recently on the @desiringGod page, an interview was posted in which John Piper is heard saying that women should not be seminary professors. Because seminary is for ministry preparation and since only men can prepare for ministry as pastors, women wouldn’t be models for those ministers.

Can I be honest? I had to look hard because I don’t follow anything related to John Piper. About all that John Piper and I have in common theologically is that we both think Jesus is a really big deal. We’d be fairly opposite from one another on several issues, so I just don’t pay attention.

Which is part of the problem.

John Piper has a large following. 466,000 people follow his Twitter Page.  In the Christian world, that’s a big deal. Maybe not Taylor Swift big deal, but at least Brittany Spears big.  Again, he and I are opposites…I’m not a big deal at all. 

When John Piper speaks, Christians listen. And in this case, it would be easy for me as a man to dismiss his voice as irrelevant out of disagreement and move on.  However, to do so would miss the point. Women continually live in the residue of this misguided theological trajectory that continues to deny women their calling to give voice and leadership to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

John Piper is a complementarian. That tradition suggests that the roles of men and women are compliments to one another and those roles are best not confused.  Men are to lead the church.  Women are capable of any number of meaningful roles, but not church leadership.  Drawing from a few proof texts in the Scriptures (I might note my tradition is not a proof-texting tradition), women are to remain quiet in church. Their voice is negated by “biblical mandate” and their position is subordinate to men.

I’m not inclined in this post to go through the biblical witness or theological tradition to which I belong that would enable me to say, “hogwash.” I could point to passages in Joel, the theological trajectory of the book of Acts, the historic-cultural context of patriarchalism of the Ancient World, the problem of Priscilla and Aquila, the ways in which Jesus continued to validate and empower women, the visible witness of anointing when I’ve listened to preachers like Tara Smith, Nina Gunter, Tara Beth Leach, Linsy Stockham, Aeromie Dockins, Danielle Strickland, Beth Moore and been impressed by the cutting edge leadership of people like Carla Sunberg, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Katie Hayes, Rachel Held Evans, Megan Pardue, and Robbie Cansler. Oh, I guess I just did what I said I wouldn’t do.


But for me as a man to simply blow off John Piper and move on would perpetuate the problem. It fails to acknowledge the injustice of such theological traditioning that continues to suppress women under the weight of nominal biblical evidence. It does nothing to name the residue of those theological errors and leaves women walking into classrooms and stepping onto platforms wondering who has already written them off.

I used to think, “They (people like Piper) have a different theological tradition than I do.” I would choose the cowardly means of non-engagement. I would choose the easy way out, “agree to disagree.” But what happens when that with which you disagree becomes an issue of justice and a betrayal of the image of God? What happens when that which you disagree is an attempt to quench the Spirit of God by denying the voice of the Spirit through women?  What if denial of the pulpit plays into the larger cultural story of a society that continues to invalidate women through denial of equal pay, endorses misogyny, and leaves women victim to oppressive encounters with power?

This isn’t something that should be easily blown-off and passed by.  That’s too easy.  Especially for me.  I’m a 6’3, 280lb white, middle-class, protestant, college-educated, veteran, former college-football playing MALE.  I’m the one just about every system in America is designed for.  It’s too easy for me to blow things off and think they don’t matter.

You know why?  Simply because they don’t matter to me.

Well, this matters! I’ve had a wake-up call. Denial of a woman’s voice is an injustice and stands contrary to God’s imago dei. We must, those of us that believe in the equitable voice of the Spirit, call into question those that continue to perpetuate the fallacy of invalidity.  We must empower women in local leadership. We must call on the carpet those churches in our traditions that validate the right of a woman to preach but wouldn’t consider a woman for a lead pastor role because they “wouldn’t be comfortable with that.” We need to ask God to raise up more women church planters, affirming and encouraging (and financially investing) in their apostolic gifts, those who will offer alternative contexts of pastoral leadership and communal equality. 

We need to stand up and speak up. 

WHOOPS!  There I did it. Did you see that, I just projected and got all preachy?

I NEED TO DO THAT! I need to ensure it starts with me. Just because I regularly call women on staff at my church doesn’t mean I’ve adequately validated their space or listened well as they’ve negotiated the residue and outright resistance of those that would seek to tell them they aren’t worthy. I must become a vocal advocate, an empowering leader, a keen listener, and an engaged activist. I can’t blow it off.  It’s too easy and makes me part of the problem. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017


1.) Quit obsessing about your own happiness.  Pursue faithfulness and reap joy.
2.) Quit making excuses for innaction.  Start taking decisive action.
3.) Quit searching for an escape route from difficulty.  Stay "in the fray" and grow as a person.
4.) Quit making things out to be worse than they really are.  Start giving thanks for what you have.
5.) Quit justifying someone's abuse of you.  Take the first steps toward freedom.
6.) Quit trying to convice yourself the grass is greener on the other side of the hill.  Put on your boots "Nancy" and do the hard work for fertilizing and watering your side of the hill.
7.) Quit pretending that you don't know what to do next if you recently stopped the one thing that was helping.  Start doing that one thing again. 
8.) Quit sowing deceit and acting surprised when your life produces the fruit of conflict.  Tell the truth and make peace.
9.) Quit measuring your worth by worldly value.  Start measuring your signficance by consistent virtue.
10.) Quit expecting the people you love to continue to drag you through life.  Stand up.  Put your shoes on.  Lock arms with them and walk this journey alongside of them.
11.) Quit being lazy and lamenting when things don't change.  If you are going to be lazy just name it.  If you want change do something about it.
12.) Quit living selfishly and then whining about being lonely.  Start valuing others above yourself and discover your cup spilling over.
13.) Quit blaming everything and every one for every thing.  Start taking some of the responsibility for your chaos.
14.) Quit allowing fear of failure to steal your purpose.  Trust God's faithfulness and believe that all failure is a lesson waiting to be learned.
15.) Stop believing good things come without sacrrifice.  Count the cost before you covet the prize. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Pastors...Exhaustion is NO JOKE!

Pastor Friends…
It’s THERE!  Right THERE!  In John 4…I’ve never seen it before.  All I’ve ever noticed is her, her problem, her lack, her scarcity.  But today, I saw ours…our problem, our lack – the scarcity in the life of a leader, in the person of Jesus.  It’s there in the words, “Jesus tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well.” 

Exhaustion is no joke.

Think about it.  Just prior to this passage, Jesus had been cajoled by his mother to perform his “ministerial duties” at what he thought was just going to be a party for some friends getting married.  (Ever gone to what you thought was a social event and ended up having to put on your ministerial cap?)  He’d lost his prophetic mind over the injustices of the temple.  (Good thing he didn’t have twitter).  He’d been misunderstood and questioned by a religious authority, someone with “sound theology.”  (Kind of like being stopped after a sermon and asked to explain what exactly you meant).  He’d even gotten caught up in a dispute about numbers (who gets to count which baptisms and who had more).  He’s surrounded by a bunch of followers, most of whom struggled to get him and questioned his rationale…often!  And now…now he’s in a land that I’m sure he didn’t really want to be in.  Samaria cities are not first picks but divine assignments.  And now…he’s sitting in a valley where some of the most important historical events had taken place in the life of his people, in the valley of the remnants of what might have been.

And he’s tired.  Really tired. 

Today I thought…dude that’s tough.  I don’t know if you know this Jesus, you are only 4 chapters into a 21 chapter story.  It’s a little early to be that tired.  You’ve got quite a way to go.

And when we are tired…well let’s be honest.  We isolate.  We grow resentful.  We scroll the internet looking for different jobs.  We secretly envy all the 9 to 5’ers in our churches.  We wallow.  We call into question our worth.  We numb ourselves to the needs around us.  We put our heads down…and hope it will all just go away.  And if one more person comes for some kind of need…we will just…

Oh wait…Hi.  Fancy meeting a girl like you in a place like this.  Are you serious Father?  Can’t you see I’m taking a break here.  Can you cut me some slack?  You send her…right now? 

But what if amidst all the exhausting stuff of life, the fears, the failures, the disputes, the conflicts, the misunderstandings…that God sends someone with genuine need to reawaken you to your purpose and rekindle the fires of mission in your life.  What if she’s not a problem.  What if she’s the Father’s provision?

What if we needed that someone to reignite our belief in the transformative, redemptive power of God?  What if a renewed focus on life change restores the life of the leader?  And what if it happens in the place you didn’t want to be amidst the remnants of what could have been…AND…might still be! 

Jesus, though tired, responds to the call!  Once again!

And you never know.  We know her as the woman at the well.  Orthodox tradition names her St. Photini, one whose faith will inspire others amidst their martyrdom for the sake of the gospel. 

Exhaustion is no joke!  Rest yes!!  But don’t wallow.  Instead allow God to reawaken, rekindle, and reignite your mission and purpose.  Lift up your head.  She/he might be coming through your valley.  And, you just never know what that change might mean!

Keep on, keeping on Pastor!  You are loved.  You are doing great!  Cling to Jesus, the gospel, His purpose as Your mission, lock arms…and let’s finish this race together!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Day 24: Donkeys, Donkeys, and More Donkeys

Episode VI: Introducing the Story of Jesus
Poised for hope, but discouraged by the tardiness of God, they groaned for redemption.  And then, in the most unseemly of places, a promise is made to couple of yet-to-be married peasants.  They were to have a child, and this child was to be the One for whom all of Israel, and all the world longed for.  This Child would be special, the very presence of God in their midst (Emmanuel) and the one who saves (Jesus).  But his birth wouldn’t be the one expected of a great leader, there was no palace or court, no power or wealth.  There was only a cave on the side of a hill, a stable in the town of Bethlehem, among the sheep and donkeys, in a hidden hole under the shadow of Herod’s temple, the Roman Ruler’s Jewish puppet.  This was the hope of Israel?
Little is told of his story until he reaches the age of 30, the age in which Rabbis gather around them students.  This man, Jesus, makes his way throughout the land gathering the most unlikely group of world-changers, men from the working class, violent men, liars and cheats, women of ill repute, beggars, lame, and outcasts.  He calls them!  And they follow, into the uncertainty, into the unknown, into the difficult and disruptive moments, into the conflict and misunderstandings, and they follow.  As Jesus calls, he speaks, and his message is simple, The Kingdom of God has come near.  It is the space of God’s Reign and power.  It is a space in which the righteousness of God is witnessed.  And we only participate as we surrender our lives totally to this Kingdom.

But this wasn’t the Kingdom that many were looking for.  They wanted armies.  They wanted might.  They wanted restored fortunes. They wanted their enemies to suffer.  But Jesus said in His Kingdom, we bless our enemies and pray for them.  In His Kingdom we aren’t measured by what we gather to ourselves but what we’ve given away for others.  Power is determined by our capacity to love others.  His army is a rag-tag bunch of misfits, vagabonds, and ragamuffins.

Wherever Jesus places his feet, whether in Galilee, Samaria, Gentile lands, or Jerusalem, those that witness his work or hear his word are given a glimpse of a redeemed world, a world brought under God’s redemptive designs.  It’s a world where the blind see, the poor hear good news, and those oppressed by the unruly forces of darkness are freed.  It’s a world where the exploited and forgotten are valued, where there are no lost causes, and where those cast down by the judgements and prejudice of others are lifted up.   It’s a world that’s turned upside down, where the greatest are least, and where servanthood is preferred over authority.  In His Kingdom vision, those that for too long had taken for granted their place of “favor” or “election,” those that consider themselves the “in crowd” of God’s people are often left standing outside looking in, where humility trumps position, dependence on grace trumps self-righteousness, and a spirit of mercy is preferred over rule-following.

And so the stage is set, the tension is mounting.  The Kingdom of God has now come into conflict with our Kingdoms, the way we want it.  And at every turn Jesus is pushing, challenging calling into question our stories and assumptions, our attitudes and intentions.  He is piercing the heart and pulling back the veil.  He is displaying faithful living!  He is showing the true sign of holiness.  He is living in perfect harmony with the will of the Father and calling those that follow to do the same.  He is calling into question the agendas of the powerful, the rich, and the hypocrisy of religious leaders.  Followed by the  fringe folks, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and the untouchable lepers, where ever he goes things are shaken up.  There is fervor building.  There is a threat mounting.  This Kingdom of Jesus is not safe for the status quo.

After nearly three years of public ministry, Jesus mounts the back of a donkey and rides into Jerusalem in anticipation of an epic showdown.  The Hope of Redemption would meet the Powers of Oppression.  God in the flesh would meet the gods made by those in flesh.  What would the result of such a confrontation be?

Let’s take another look at Luke 17:
Ok…so today let’s finish out Luke chapter 17.  In reading the story of the Lepers, ask yourself the question, “Is there a difference between being fixed and being made well.”  Jesus seems to “fix” all the lepers, but only the one that returns is declared to having been made well.  Also, Jesus then addresses something the Religious Leaders were struggling with, the Kingdom of God.  Notice how those you’d expect to get it seem to miss it.  What might it mean in your life to believe, “Whoever tried to keep their life will lose it?”

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Day 23: From Rags to Waiting

Episode 5:  Exile through Ezra
Exile is a place of despair, anguish, loss, and hopelessness.  There is a tyranny in the monotony of “more of the same.”  Some give in and give up.  Some acquiesce and find their place among the oppressors.  Others, a few, a small remnant, maintain a faithful hope, an expectant leaning forward into the possibilities of what might be.  Though Exile is a place that taunts us with the weight of nothingness, courage is mustered by some to refuse to give Exile the last word.

After decades in Exile, the people of Israel would again cry out.  Remember, God responds to the suffering.  Through the mouths of the prophets now come words of comfort and prophetic hope, the imaginative, creative, poetic language that evokes the possibilities of newness, a fresh story.  “I will not remain angry forever.” God says.  “I will forgive.” He promises.  “I will prepare a way through the desert, making the crooked road straight, and the hills level.”  “I will lead you home.”  The promise of home.  This is the theme of hope in Exile.  God is a deliverer from oppression and tyranny, the restorer of all good things.  God is able amidst the forces of domination and perversion to cut a highway in the desert.  He alone has this power.  No idol, no god of the foreigners, no promise of prosperity from Babylon, only God can bring Hope from desperate straits.

And deliverance would come, in the most unexpected way.   It will come through the hands of foreign invaders, heathen powers from Persia.  It’s vicious kings, the likes of Cyrus, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, would show favor upon this beat down people.  It is during this time, that resistance stories like Esther are told, stories that point to the unrelenting favor and faithfulness of God in the most precarious of places.  During this time, release from captivity would be granted.  First, Zerubbabel would be sent back with Jews to rebuild the infrastructure of the city and its temple.  Then Nehemiah, a simple servant of the Persian king, will lead back others to do the extraordinary, to rebuild the walls of protection around the city of Jerusalem in just over 50 days, an amazing, God-ordained feat.

Their hopes were to recover their former glory.  They wanted to become the power they once were, to restore the Temple as God’s inhabitance, and the politics of military strength.  Such glory would not be their destiny.  Ezra, a man well versed in the Law, returns to Jerusalem and launches a major religious renewal, reinstituting many of the former practices, rituals, and feasts, and bringing together the portions of the Scriptures in much more authoritative form.  However, they would remain in a precarious position, finding themselves time and time again under the thumb of foreign powers, the Greeks and then the Romans.  During this time, we have little account of God’s activity in the canon of Scripture (though we can find help from the Apocrypha – secondary literature that according to our faith tradition is not authoritative Scripture).  But Israel yearned, they hungered for a redeemer, someone to save and deliver them from the hands of their enemies.  They sought a Messiah! An anointed Ruler…a Chosen Leader from the family and line of David…and so they waited.

Continue on through Luke…you are doing great!
Well, we you’ve officially covered about 2/3’s of a book of the Bible!  That’s awesome.  And then Luke 17.  This one is hefty.  Do me a favor, take your time.  Let’s only look at Luke 17:1-10 for today.  There’s a lot here.  Jesus pushes us to think through the nature of our actions, forgiveness, our faithfulness, and obedience.  He does so in 10 VERSES!!  Sheesh, that’ll get you.  Imagine standing in the crowd…perhaps you’d just deceived someone and in so doing had led them astray.  Then listen to Jesus.  Maybe, someone you knew had recently sought forgiveness for their mistreatment of you, and then listen to Jesus.  Maybe you are used to thinking you deserve praise for all the good you do, then listen to Jesus.  What do you hear?  How are you affected?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Day 22: Seeds of Division Produce Destruction

Episode 4:  Divided Kingdom—Prophets—Into Exile
It was once said by Jesus that a house divided against itself will not stand.  This wasn’t simply a wise statement of a Jewish Rabbi…it was the history of Israel.  After Solomon, his son Rehoboam threatened great misery and oppression on the people of the nation of Israel.  Such threats fell upon hearts eager for deliverance.  Such hearts were ignited by the resistance of Jeroboam, who would return to stand against Rehoboam.  From this internal strife emerges not an undivided nation of God’s calling, but the divided kingdoms of human strife.  Once again, brother stands against brother.  There are now two nations.  There is a nation to the north comprising 10 of the tribes of Israel.  It will be called Israel.  The nation to the South, comprising only two tribes, as faithfulness to a promise made to David, with its capital in Jerusalem, will be called Judah.  This portion of Jewish history is seedy and destructive.  Fulfilling the warning of God, each King leads the Jewish people both in the North and the South into deeper and deeper sin.  These stories can be found in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles.

Their worship of Yahweh is emptied and their ethics of compassion, justice, and mercy for their common man is all but nullified.  God is angered by the rebelliousness and sends prophet after prophet to preach the True Word of God.  It is a word of shock and disruption.  Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and others are called by God to speak truth to power.  They are called to announce God’s Word and Will into the world.  Prophets aren’t fortune tellers.  They are fore-tellers.  They announce the actions of God into a world that remains obstinate and rebellious.  The Word proclaims the judgment of God upon the sin of the people and an invitation to turn from their sins and be healed.

These prophets are rejected.  Their words and warnings were ignored.  With hardened hearts and backs turned toward the grace of God, they find themselves at the mercy of the surrounding nations.  From the North in around 730 to 705 BC, the Assyrian empire will sweep through the Northern Kingdom of Israel, carrying many of its people away into Exile.   According to the story of Scriptures, just prior to Assyria reaching Jerusalem, Hezekiah, King of Judah prays for protection, and God responds.  Assyria turns back and Jerusalem remains safe for the time being.  But in his zeal to show himself as a powerful ruler and powerful nation, he invites ambassadors from Babylon to witness all the wealth from the Kingdom.  When hearing the actions of the King…the prophet Isaiah says, “That’s going to come back and bite us.”

And bite them it did.  Just over a hundred years later, when Babylon had risen to great power and triumphed over surrounding nations, it invades Jerusalem, destroys the Temple, and carries off many of the Jewish people to Babylon.  This is the time of Babylonian exile.  Immediately, Babylon began to instruct the leaders in the way of this new homeland (you can follow this story in the book of Daniel).  It taught its language, its culture and customs, and most importantly its gods.  This is true exile, feeling as though “true home” has been lost.  Identity has been surrendered, the past is feared forgotten and the future is uncertain.  No longer can we simply rely on our stories being passed down from generation.  There may be no pure generation to hand them down to.  Now they must be recorded, written down and collected, preserved and sustained.  It is during this time that many of the books of the Old Testament start to be collected in a series of scrolls.  We also believe it is during this time that Genesis 1 is probably written.  In a land that says, “Our many gods create through bloodshed and violence,” the Jews say, NO!  Yahweh creates!  Yahweh is the one that has the power to simply speak and it is…it is truly a story of light from darkness, of order from chaos.  This is the story of God’s power, a power they hoped and yearned for.

Continuing our Journey through Luke...
Ok...Chapter 16 right?  You still with me.  Now, I want you to take this chapter slow today.  There's a lot here...and some of which should confuse you.  There is a rather odd parable of a man celebrated by Jesus for doing something many of us would have a problem with.  What do you make of that?  What do you do when you struggle to make sense.  And what about the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  How is it that the poor guy gets a name but the rich man doesn't?  Sounds counter-intuitive doesn't it?  Take some time and see where the Lord leads through this portion of Luke.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Day 21: Into the Weeds: Rebellion, Pride, Division

Episode 3: Joshua – Solomon
At the end of Deuteronomy, the future is still open and uncertain.  Moses had died and the land, the promise, was still unclaimed.  Yet the faithfulness of God shatters the fear of the unknown and again God calls.  This time his call falls upon the friend and confidant of Moses, the son of Nun, Joshua.  His task—very simple, “Do not be afraid, but be courageous.  Lead the people into the land.  Meditate on the ways of God day and not turn to the right or the left...but walk straight.  Then your ways will be prosperous.”  Perhaps, the task wasn’t simple, but with God all things are possible.  Joshua’s story is a flurry of action.  Israel recounts the miraculous ways in which God goes before the people making possible their acquiring of land.  Riddled with problematic and head-scratching violence, this portion of the story is one in  which the Israelites  come to understand God as a Warrior that fights on behalf of His people.  A the end of Joshua, we find the people of Israel in possession of the land, a prosperity directly tied to their obedience to God.

But Joshua had watched the people, he knew their hearts.  Just as Moses had addressed the people before he died, so now Joshua stands before the people and issues a challenge.  “Choose today who you are going to follow...the God that brought us up out of Egypt, or the gods that your fathers brought up out of Egypt.”  “Will you follow the one that carries you...or the ones you carry.”  What an important question.  Is humanity to follow the God that sustains, delivers, upholds, protects, and keeps or will humanity follow the work of their hands, the ones that require that we uphold them?”  Joshua declares... “as for me and my house, we will obey the Lord.”  The people also resoundingly declare their allegiance to YHWH, but Joshua doubts their ability to stay true.  Such doubt isn’t unwarranted.  Joshua had wandered 40 years in the desert because of their fear and disobedience.  He had suffered loss because of their sinfulness.  No less than 2 chapters later into the book of Judges, the people had again abandoned their allegiance to YHWH and now each did what seemed good to them.  Again, such a brutally honest story.  Israel reminds us that God, YHWH, is unswervingly faithful, but humanity is rebellious.

As the story moves beyond Joshua something profound is being revealed.  God is a space creator.  He does not coerce the actions of his people.  He refuses to control every decision.  He gives the kind of space to be shocked by faith and also affected by sin.  God makes space for humanity to make a mess of the promise and covenant of God...but—and this is grace...God steps into the mess of humanity and works out His plans despite the mess. That’s the faithfulness, forgiveness, and grace of God at work in this world.   Throughout the story of Judges we see the incessant rebelliousness of the people of Israel and how their sin constantly lands them into one mess after another.  Yet, God raises up men and women, provincial governors called Judges, to execute God’s deliverance and lead the people to faithfulness.  We read the amazing stories of Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and others as they, in very human and imperfect ways, attempt to follow God.  It will be the last Judge however that serves as the transition to the next most determinative moment in the history of Israel.

Born to a barren mother, (it is always amazing how often God’s gift comes to us amidst the barren impossibility of the world’s nothinginess) Samuel was given to God as a special worker from the time of his birth.  God laid a special calling and anointing on Samuel to lead the people, especially in the face of the perversity of the priests.  But the people were tired of leaning on faith.  They were tired of waiting on God’s direction.  They were tired of feeling as though they were vulnerable to their enemies.  They came to Samuel and demanded a King... “so that they might be like every other nation.”  This is the greatest temptation.  Israel surrenders their identity as the chosen nation of God and a peculiar possession and instead desires to be just like everyone else.  Broken by their request Samuel seeks the direction of God.  God concedes.  God makes space.  God gives them a king but warns them that when they accept the power of man over the direction of God they become subjects of man and find themselves once again bound to that man—and this prophecy will be fulfilled in the nation of Israel.

The stories of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel tells us of the rise of the monarchy, first from Saul and then in the person of David.  Through Saul’s disobedience, God has Samuel anoint the most unlikely candidate as King over the people, a pipsqueak shepherd boy, the runt of the litter, David.  It is often vexing how God chooses the most unlikely candidates to fulfill the work of God.  David will become the premier King of Israel, the one claimed by God to be a man after God’s own heart, the one with whom God would make a covenant of continued leadership within the Davidic household.  David will lead them into victory in battle, establish the economy of Isreal.  He will reign over the house of Israel for a total of 40 years.  David will not be without sin...for pride comes before the fall.  He will become an adulterer and he will ignore the provision of God.  But his walk with God is virtuous because David responds with contrition and humility.  Many of our Psalms are the product of David and his court.  They tell poetically of the “reality” of life and the faithfulness of God.  They speak of confession and brokenness, fear and trepidation and yet they continue to turn to God as the source of strength and comfort, power and hope.

Unfortunately...sometimes the apples fall farther from the tree than we would like.  David’s sons are riddled and plagued with sinfulness, envy, and violence.  Absalom attempts to kill his father.  Adonjah takes the throne even before David is dead.  Solomon, well let’s deal with Solomon.  At the end of 2 Samuel and into the book of 1 Kings, David is dying and has to make the decision of who shall rule after him.  He chooses—with a little help from Bathsheba and Nathan—Solomon.  At first Solomon has great possibilities.  God promises Solomon whatever he asks.  Solomon asks for wisdom so that he might lead the people justly.  God grants with abundance.  But with power will come corruption.  Solomon becomes an ambitious leader, constructing palaces and a temple on the backs and oppression of the people.  This temple was to be the “inhabitance” for God, the place in which God would reign and be worshipped.  This temple was to serve as a witness that “We are God’s People!” as if God can live in a temple made by human hands (as the prophets remind us.)  By the end of his reign he had surrendered himself to the foreign gods of his wives and concubines.  Solomon had set up the Kingdom of Israel for what is to come...

It is out of this story that we probably have the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis emerge.  It is a recounting of the Creation does a people tell the story of “how things have come to be as they are.”  In this story, man is nothing but dust, dependent on the forming and fashioning of God...dependent on the life-giving breath of God.  But mankind is not content with his own limitation.  Man has chosen to exceed the Creator/created difference and in an attempt to become like God yields to the lying voice of the enemy.  Humanity sins and hides.  With sin comes shame and guilt, vulnerability is shattered.  Now the brokenness of relationship sets in between humankind and God, between man and woman, and between humanity and the rest of creation.  God banishes humanity from the Garden. Then in act of beautiful grace, God banishes himself from paradise and enters the land East of Eden with sinful humanity.  But the disruption hasn’t reached its fullest point until brother turns on brother and commits violence.  The fall from grace is complete.  The lengths that mankind will go to exercise this perversity is recounted in the Primeval History of the first 11 chapters of Genesis...history beyond history...a faith history...a story of “how we got into the predicament that we live in.”  But these stories constantly tell of a God that is faithful in the abyss, in the darkness, in the flood and in the brokenness of humanity.  The story tells of a God “that remembers” his creation, and brings order in the face of chaos.

Time for a Little Luke 15!
Are you ready to jump in.  This is the famous set of passages in the book of Luke.  We have lost sheep, lost coins, and a wayward son.  However, before you go charging into Luke 15, I want you to slow down a bit and notices the transition between Luke 14 and 15.  Pay attention to the Jesus call to “listen and hear.”  Notice in Luke 15, who is listening?  Who is murmuring?  Who is Jesus really addressing?  Why do you think it matters so much about who is listening?  If Jesus is speaking everyone is hearing right?  Or are they?  Is it possible to be so immersed in our own stuff that we don’t listen or hear even though the Word is speaking?  Dive in.  Find your place.  What do these passages reveal about the heart of God?