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  • HOPE AND UNMET EXPECTATIONS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    The Christian faith speaks into a world marked by suffering.  It also speaks into a world marked with unmet desires.  It speaks into a world marked by working harder—often for little solid gain.  It speaks into both our dark moments and in the triumphant mountain top experience.

    It speaks by confirming the words of Jeremiah by a person embodying the long hoped for longing of Jeremiah: “the LORD is our righteousness (Jer 33:16).”

    However, it is not in my righteousness that I cling to, but the righteousness of Jesus.  And he suffered in the darkness of unmet desires while thriving in righteousness.

    In Luke 13, we read Jesus’ lament,

    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

    Jesus cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22, ”Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

    Jesus experienced unmet expectations and hope in the faithfulness of God.  In fact, we’re told that he rejoices when we rejoice and weeps when we weep.  Jesus offers us remarkable hope, a hope that is tangible.  A hope that has meat on its bones.

    As the Christmas hymn, A Virgin Unspotted, relays this hope:

    A Virgin unspotted the Prophet foretold,

    Should bring forth a Saviour which now we behold,

    To be our Redeemer from Death, Hell and Sin,

    Which Adam’s transgression involved us in.

    Then let us be Merry, put Sorrow away,

    Our Saviour, Christ Jesus, was born on this day.

    As we journey through the remainder of this Advent season, sit through the hope, even if it is too dark to see.  When sorrows hit, remember God experienced our pains.  He experienced our sufferings.  Even in seasons of unmet expectations, there is a glimpse of hope in the one who experienced unrealized expectations.

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  • WHERE IS GOD IN OUR UNMET DESIRES?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Uncategorized

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    I mentioned in a previous post that I read through the vulnerable memoir of New Testament scholar Wesley Hill and finally wrapped it up a couple of weeks ago.  Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflection on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is hauntingly honest and open about the tension between faith and life.

    In his book, Hill confronts his sexual desires and his desire to follow Jesus, even when those two seem to be at odds.  What I found to be so refreshing was Hill’s aim to place his own desires in front of God’s.  He aimed at bringing the whole of his life under the Lordship of Jesus.

    While I do not understand what it would be like to be in his shoes, I do appreciate his perspective on the journey of bearing certain unmet desires in this life.  And the thing is this: no matter how perfect one’s life is on the outside, there is always something missing underneath the façade.  There is always something that does not met all of our desires.  

    In the stillness of the evening or in the stirring of the morning, we are met with the unending call of our unrequited desires: wealth, security, companionship, love, sex, children, to be understood, and self confidence.  For Hill, it is the unmet desire for marital intimacy that he will not taste.  For me, it has been self-confidence and insecurities.  What unmet desire or unfulfilled need has not been filled for you?

    Maybe it’s too painful to say out loud.

    I would love to say that Jesus is the answer, but it’s too simplistic.  After all, Paul had a thorn in his side for years and it was never removed, even after a lot of prayer. This metaphorical thorn stayed with him throughout his ministry, and it very well could stay for a majority of our lives too.  Even Moses himself longed to enter the Promised Land, but he never set foot on the soil of Canaan.  Sometimes desires will be unmet this side of glory.

    One of the beauties of Scripture is that we are assured that our desires will be met one day.  Our desires will be fulfilled on the other side, as we physically look at the face of God and thrive.  For now, we wait with unrequited desires and trust that Jesus will bear our burden as we journey through this life.   For now we wait, because his grace will sustain us through the desert.

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  • THE UNEXPECTED UPSIDE OF WAITING

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    In my previous career, I attended a lot of groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies.  What I found in those momentous events was an abundance of speeches, veggie trays, and watered down fruit punch, yet the hosting parties anticipated the great reveal of what could be and what something will become.  However, rarely do we find people celebrating the murky middle, the time in between the pouring of the foundation and the unveiling of a completed project.  For most of the project, these people just wait.

    Currently, I find myself in a similar situation: I’m waiting.

    Waiting for the birth of our son.  Waiting for the completion of a total loss accident claim with our car insurance company.  Waiting for answers to big career questions that will mean whether or not we move.  Waiting for God to act in pretty sizable ways.

    As I wait, I cannot help but think about the way Jesus must have felt as he waited.  Waited in a womb for 9 months.  Waited to walk.  Waited to potty train.  Waited to take up the family trade of carpentry.  Waited for 30 years to start his public ministry.  Waited through a trial, execution, and burial all while knowing who he was and that he will be seated at the right hand of the Father.

    During this season, I take comfort in the words of Psalm 40,

    I waited and waited and waited for God.

    At last he looked; finally he listened…

    Soften up, God, and intervene;

    hurry and get me some help,

    So those who are trying to kidnap my soul

    will be embarrassed and lose face,

    So anyone who gets a kick out of making me miserable

    will be heckled and disgraced,

    So those who pray for my ruin

    will be booed and jeered without mercy.

    But all who are hunting for you—

    oh, let them sing and be happy.

    Let those who know what you’re all about

    tell the world you’re great and not quitting.

    And me? I’m a mess. I’m nothing and have nothing:

    make something of me.

    You can do it; you’ve got what it takes—

    but God, don’t put it off.

    For me, this is how I feel while in this season of waiting: I sit on the edge of my seat, waiting for God to act, waiting for him to show up and intervene.  But does that always happen?  Is there an unexpected benefit to waiting on God?  Let me tell you about that in my next post.

    What are you waiting on?

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  • SOMETHING TO HOLD ONTO DURING THE DARKEST NIGHT

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    I wanted to share a quote from Biblical scholar D.A. Carson on the all too real topic of suffering:

    In the darkest night of the soul, Christians have something to hold onto that Job never knew.  We know Christ crucified.  Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross.  ‘He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things.’ (Romans 8:32)…When we suffer there will sometimes be mystery.  Will there also be faith?  Yes.  If our attention is focused more on the cross and on the God of the cross than on the suffering itself.

    D.A. Carson

    How Long, O Lord?

    When all is lost, and it looks like God is asleep on the beach somewhere, we still have the cross.  We still see the extent of his love– even when there seems to be radio silence.

    Thanks be to God!

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  • HOW I WANT TO GO THOMAS JEFFERSON ON SUFFERING

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    You know what really bothers me?  All this talk about suffering in the Bible.  How suffering is necessary to conform us into the image of Jesus.  How suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5).  Quite honestly, I want to go all Thomas Jefferson on this and cut these passages out of the Bible.

    Am I the only one here?

    But here’s the thing guys and gals— I believe that the Bible is God’s Word.  No, not in the sense where it was dictated word for word.  No, no, not that way at all.  Instead, it is a revealing of who God is through many authors and genres.  While Jesus definitively reveals who God is (since he’s God in the flesh), the other books of the Bible also paint portraits of God.  And the Bible speaks to suffering in a completely different way from other world religions and worldviews.

    Suffering is not some esoteric debate topic— it’s a very real thing.  We all suffer in life, while some might suffer greater than others, all cannot escape .  However, the way we handle suffering is quite different.

    Christianity is different because God himself suffered.  He knows what it’s like to suffer, both in want and in hurt.  Not only did the God-Man, Jesus the Messiah, suffer a brutal death through crucifixion, he also encountered separation from the Father.*  The Christian faith makes the claim that God understands suffering and he is not indifferent to it.  There is coming a time when wrongs will be righted and a Kingdom of Righteousness will be implemented—when the world is put to rights.

    Until that day, we live in a broken world.  The sunshine and rain alike will fall both on those who follow Jesus and those who reject him.  And for this we wait in profound assurance that God hears our prayers in the middle of suffering.

    _____

    *The second person of the Trinity experienced separation from the first person of the Trinity on the cross.  If we understand that God is Trinitarian (3 in 1 and 1 in 3, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then this separation can be seen as incredibly painful.  The eternal relationship within the  Trinitarian God had an incredible strain, since Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross.

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  • HOW I’M LEARNING TO FOLLOW JESUS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    Have you ever found yourself wandering in the desert?

    Maybe you haven’t found yourself in a literal desert, but at least in a desert-y period of life.  Perhaps it’s in between relationships, jobs, or some other major life event.  Quite honestly, I’m not a big fan of those times.

    I find myself entering into a major transition of life and I quite honestly have so many thoughts swirling around in my head.  Fortunately, the raw nature of the Psalms are helpful to pray through.  And as a former pastor suggested, weekly therapy sessions in the batting cage helps on a different level.

    I have found that following Jesus is difficult under the best of circumstances, so when the bad times hit, it is made even more tough.

    In this season, I’m learning to follow Jesus by preaching to myself.  I’m learning to follow Jesus by writing verses down on a whiteboard, reminding myself of God’s promises to not only preserve, but also to establish me.  While I honestly cannot wait for this season to end, I will come out on the other end clinging to the only certain hope I have– that Jesus is Lord of all.

  • THE PSALM OF SORROW

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Story

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    One of the reasons I love the Psalms is that they capture raw emotions.  Everything from the exuberance of a wedding to the desolate feelings when the proverbial excrement hits the fan.  For me, Psalm 77 is currently my Psalm, as if Asaph penned it just for me.  (Thanks to Tremper Longman III for unpacking this in “Getting Brutally Honest With God” at Christianity Today)

    Psalm 77

    I cry out to God; yes, I shout.

    Oh, that God would listen to me!

    When I was in deep trouble,

    I searched for the Lord.

    All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven,

    but my soul was not comforted.

    I think of God, and I moan,

    overwhelmed with longing for his help.

    You don’t let me sleep.

    I am too distressed even to pray!

    I think of the good old days,

    long since ended,

    when my nights were filled with joyful songs.

    I search my soul and ponder the difference now.

    Has the Lord rejected me forever?

    Will he never again be kind to me?

    Is his unfailing love gone forever?

    Have his promises permanently failed?

    Has God forgotten to be gracious?

    Has he slammed the door on his compassion?

    And I said, “This is my fate;

    the Most High has turned his hand against me.”

    But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;

    I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.

    They are constantly in my thoughts.

    I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.

    O God, your ways are holy.

    Is there any god as mighty as you?

    You are the God of great wonders!

    You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.

    By your strong arm, you redeemed your people,

    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

    When the Red Sea saw you, O God,

    its waters looked and trembled!

    The sea quaked to its very depths.

    The clouds poured down rain;

    the thunder rumbled in the sky.

    Your arrows of lightning flashed.

    Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;

    the lightning lit up the world!

    The earth trembled and shook.

    Your road led through the sea,

    your pathway through the mighty waters—

    a pathway no one knew was there!

    You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,

    with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.

    What is your Psalm?

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  • WHY GOD ACCEPTED THE BLAME

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    One of the beautiful elements of Christian theology is that injustice and evil do not have a final word.  Justice needs to be satisfied and something needs to be done about the genocides, the murders in major cities, and the young girl who died of cancer this morning.  These things should not get the final word.

    Richard John Neuhaus points out in his breathtakingly poignant devotional work Death on a Friday Afternoon that somebody has to be blamed for the pain and hurt in the world (theodicy).  If somebody has to be blamed, then the finger of humanity is pointed directly at God (if there is a God).

    God is guilty.

    God is to be blamed.

    Neuhaus writes,

    “The word ‘theodicy’ means the judgment of God—not God judging us but our judging God.  The philosophical problem of theodicy is that of trying to square God’s ways with our sense of justice.  The assumes that we know what justice is, but the entire story the Bible tells begins with the error of the presumption.  It is the original error of our wanting to name good and evil.  Right from the start Adam tried to put God in the dock, making God responsible for the fall because, after all, God gave him the woman who tempted him to sin.  From the beginning we see the argument building up to humanity’s cry, ‘God is guilty!’—building up to the derelict nailed to the cross.”

    God accepted the verdict we passed on him He accepted what had to be done about what we had done.

    When we look at the bloody, mess of a man on the cross, we see how far God went for you and me—he abided by a sham of a trial and subsequently gets the final word about injustice.

    Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.”

    Jesus gets the final word.  He gets the final word and ensures the final word is rooted in both justice and mercy.  He said, “It is finished” on the cross and in his last words of the Bible (Revelation 22), he said, “Surely I am coming soon.”

    Amen.

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  • GOD DOESN’T STAND STILL WHEN WE COME TO A STANDSTILL

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    When we think of Advent and Christmas, often times we might have a tendency to skip over large chunks of Luke 1.  But the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist needs to be included if we are to see the story of Jesus within the broader narrative of Scripture.

    (If you haven’t read that passage, I would encourage you to do so here.)

    Karl Barth would describe the story of Zechariah, the 9 month mute, in this way and he invites us into the story,

    So now here we stand, simultaneously deaf and mute like Zechariah.  Ah yes, we only want to pretend to be next to him.  In spite of his unbelief, he was still a herald of Advent, one who waited for God.  Otherwise the angel would not have spoken with him.  Nor would he have become the father of John the Baptist.  When everything came to pass which he could not believe and could not express, then he was suddenly able to believe and speak.  For God does not stand still when we come to a standstill , but precedes us with his deeds and only waits so that we can follow.  And so we will accept—even with all that we cannot say, and with all that we have not yet heard—that we are also heralds of Advent.  We will finally believe, and then we will also hear. 

    -Karl Barth, Watch for the Light

    Be encouraged, because God does not stand still when we come to a standstill.

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  • WHAT BELIEVING IN JESUS MEANS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Liturgy

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    Have you ever seen those “Believe” bumper stickers or vague, kitschy church signs about belief and wondered what they meant?  Theologian Karl Barth succinctly unpacks what believing in Jesus means for us today:

    Believing is not something as special and difficult or even unnatural as we often suppose.  Believing means that we listen to, we listen as God’s speech.  What moves us is not just our own concern, but precisely God’s concern.  What causes me worry, that is God’s worry, what gives me joy is God’s joy, what I hope for is God’s hope.  In other words, in all that I am, I am only a party to that which God thinks and does.  In all that I do it is not I, but rather God who is important.  Imagine if everything were brought into this great and proper connection, if we were willing to suffer, be angry, love and rejoice with God, instead of always wanting to make everything our own private affair, as if we were alone.

    Just imagine if we were to adapt everything that gratifies and moves us into the life and movement of God’s Kingdom, so that we personally are, so to speak, taken out of play.  Simply love!  Simply hope!  Simply rejoice!  Simply strive!  But in everything, do it no longer from yourself, but rather from God!  Everything great that is hidden in you can indeed be great only in God.

    Karl Barth, Watch for the Light

    Trusting in Jesus more than just putting something down on your resume, it has real world impact.

    How does believing in Jesus make sense to you?

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