Grace, Favor, and Mercy Bestowed

For the music director; to be accompanied by stringed instruments; a psalm, a song. May God show us his favor and bless us! May he smile on us!

-Psalm 67:1 (NET)
Psalm 67 is an invitation to partake of God’s favor.
The song is a priestly blessing.  We can say this to each other.
“May the Lord bless you!”, and we answer back, “May the Lord bless you!”
Where did this gracious blessing start?  It started with Abraham.  God said to Abe that he would be blessed and the whole world would be blessed through him.

The Lord told Abram, “You are to leave your land, your relatives, and your father’s house and go to the land that I’m going to show you. I’ll make a great nation of your descendants, I’ll bless you, and I’ll make your reputation great, so that you will be a blessing. I’ll bless those who bless you, but I’ll curse the one who curses you, and through you all the people of the earth will be blessed.”

Abraham was as good as dead, yet from this one man came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
-Genesis 12:1-3 and Hebrews 11:12 (ISV)

It is a good guess that this is what Psalm 67 has in mind.

Psalm 67 is a missionary Psalm.  It is about God’s mission to save all people.  The blessing of God on our lives is for saving the world.
Each of us are not saved in a vacuum, but through God’s blessing on other people.  That is what the blessing of God on your life is for.  And the more we realize this and let the blessing work for others, the more we will be blessed.
May God show us favor and bless us.  Other translations say, ‘show mercy’ or, ‘be gracious’.  The Hebrew  carries with it the idea of grace, mercy, favor, and kindness.  And to be blessed by God encapsulates all four of these.

I learned from a faith leader, to sign notes with ‘blessings’.  Blessings means, ‘grace, mercy, favor, and kindness to you’.

May God show us his favor and bless us! May he smile on us!

Disillusionment: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. Together they were discussing everything that had taken place. And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus himself came near and began to walk along with them. But they were prevented from recognizing him.Then he asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged.

-Luke 24:13-17

My favorite movie, growing up, was The Wizard of Oz.  And I was also a big fan of Elton John.

Elton John’s song, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, is about disillusionment.  That’s what The Wizard of Oz is about too.

We think that we need to go on a fantastic journey to find something.  But we find out that we we already have it, right at home.  We go on a journey, and get over our illusions.

In The Wizard of Oz, the key phrase is, “There’s no place like home.”  Dorothy had a dream about finding the answers outside her surroundings.  But, everything she needed, was right at home.

I get the idea that I need to be this to be happy.  And it does not do that.  That’s disillusionment.

We also get into a fantasy about how things are when they aren’t that way and that is an illusion.

People who have ‘stars in their eyes’, are people who are overly optimistic and idealistic and naive about set-backs, suffering, human depravity, perseverance, and real love that is sacrificial.  These folks are in for a rude awakening and disillusionment, when reality set in on them.

When disillusionment comes, it is an opportunity the get in touch with reality and grow in authenticity towards yourself, God and others.

We are supposed to dream.  Dreaming is natural.  We are supposed to have passion and follow it.  We do need to find our destiny.

But this is all natural with the supernatural.  Illusion is not natural or supernatural.  Illusion is not real.

Who I am, what God has made me to be, and where God is taking me is real.  My destiny in God is real.  And my inheritance in God is real.  God’s design for me is real.

Same thing with the church.  God’s design for the church is real and authentic, Jesus shaped you could say.

We get into illusions when we use our imaginations outside of God.  When we think about ourselves, the church, or God; outside of interaction with the living God, we might get into illusions.  Illusions are things that are not real and are not true.  They may be well-intentioned, but not real.

The two guys who were walking on the road to Emmaus were disillusioned.  Things did not turn out, they way they had imagined.  They were discouraged.

Jesus asked them why they were discouraged.  Then he was direct with them, calling them foolish and slow.  He taught them through the Old Testament, about how the Messiah had to suffer before his glorification.

Then he asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged.

The one named Cleopas answered him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked them.

So they said to him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people,and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. But we were hoping that he was the one who was about to redeem Israel. Besides all this, it’s the third daysince these things happened. Moreover, some women from our group astounded us. They arrived early at the tomb, and when they didn’t find his body, they came and reported that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.”

He said to them, “How foolish and slow you are to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.

-Luke 24:17-27
Their illusion was that Jesus would redeem one way, but the reality was that he redeemed Israel another way.  We have a good goal in mind and think we will get there through a certain way, that becomes an illusion.  But there is another way that is the authentic way, without illusion.
An illusion is when we see something that is not there.  We say, “He fooled himself into thinking…”  That’s an illusion.
We fool ourselves into thinking something about someone that is not true.  We think they are good when they are actually bad.  When we find out the truth, we become disillusioned.
We enter into to a relationship.  Maybe a friendship, maybe a romance, maybe a business relationship.  We assume things are all good, but then something not good happens, maybe even a betrayal.  Then we get disillusioned.
This can happen with church.  We have high hopes and together we are engaged in a very nobel purpose.  Then bad things happen and we get disillusioned and don’t want to play anymore.
I was just thinking about all the pastors out there, who suffer failure, and go into disillusionment with the church.
Disillusionment is painful, but it is actually a good thing.  We need to not be illusioned.  We need to be in touch with reality.
Suffering is reality.  Betrayal is reality.  Love and forgiveness is reality.  Broken people is reality.

God has no illusions about us, so he never gets disillusioned about us. We walk with God without illusions.

There is a paradox in that the path is where we find ourselves, but it is at home where we are our authentic selves.

All of life is a journey towards our ultimate home in and with God.  Life is not a time of just waiting for the event, but becoming the person.  Life is about knowing God and knowing who you are.

To think that we are going on a journey to becoming famous or powerful is a misconception and illusion.

Being the person God created you to be and being loved by God and then loving other people, is the simple calling for everyone.  God can choose to elevate us or not, for a short time or for a long time.

Jesus would not allow himself to be lifted up into the illusions that some people had for him.  Think about it.  Jesus lived in the tension that each of us are called to, to be ourselves and to let God elevate us.

Negative disillusionment goes into cynicism and bitter criticism, that has its root in a distrust of self and a feeling of alienation.

Sometimes a rude awakening precedes a breakthrough into authenticity.  It requires humility.  Humility sometimes only comes through humiliation.

Much of the pain of disillusionment is self-inflicted.  We ran with something that really was a lie, it was not true; and we built our reality around it.

People constantly suffered from disillusionment towards Jesus.  He never caused it, but they did it to themselves.  We have Judas and we have the other eleven misunderstanding him.  We have the fact that at the very end of the gospel account, it says that some people, who had seen and heard him, still did not believe.  And then there is the fact that only a portion of the people that saw him, after the resurrection, made it to the room where the day of pentecost happened.

We can be disillusion with the church.  Jesus has no illusions or fantasies about ideal church life, and neither should we.  If we are idealists, we need to let that go, be disillusioned, and be realists, with Jesus; based on love.

Many of us are disillusioned, disappointed, and distrusting of the church right now.  A great dissatisfaction is out there, among people who are unhappy in church, done with church, or have no regular meeting of the church to call home today.

The danger, which is toxic and poisonous is for us to be overly idealistic, perfectionist, and under an illusion that is elitist about what church has to be like.  I think we have to take people where they are and stand between them and our living God.

The bare bones, simple, and foundation of church life is, Christ, you, and I.  One way or another, we will end up eating and talking together, and then praying together, then being grateful together, and serving each other and then spilling out to serve the world around us and welcome them the table, where Christ is among us.

These are some notes and quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his book about Christian community called Life Together.  Bonhoeffer says that God actually hates our idealist illusions about what church life should be.  These are my thoughts mixed in with what Dietrich wrote.

  • A ‘wishful image’ of church life will shatter Christian community, if that is the basis on which it is lived.  Idealism.
    • Serious Christians bring with them their ideas of what Christian community should be, when they enter into it, and are anxious for it to be realized.  One person says, we need to take communion, another says we must worship together, another says we must pray either laying on hands or interceding, and still another says that we should be evangelizing.
      • I have been in several groups where one member came on very strong about how, in order to be an authentic Christian community, we should be engaged in evangelism.  The majority of the community was not interested in that.  There was a tension around this and it would have been better if the group reached a consensus, but instead, the evangelists felt rejected and ‘vetoed’, instead of enfolded and loved.
  • The grace of God is at odds with our dreams often.  Our dreams often are not God’s dreams, not from God.  God is more concerned with our ‘one another’s’ than our success.  
    • Many church planters have started with a dream, encouraged, supported, and cheered on by others.  When things don’t work, when people resist, they have a lot of frustration.  In their disillusionment, they might get angry at the people, and even bitter with themselves and with God.
      • All through this, God is after something bigger and deeper, in grace.  God wants us to really know him and know his love and to know each other and know each other’s love.
  • God’s desire is for us to be disillusioned.  That means to let go of illusions and walk in the real.
    • Disillusionment is good, if it is riding us of our idealism.  Disillusionment is unpleasant and even appears evil, but it is the pathway to authenticity, reality, and durable community.
    • Every idealism is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up.
  • “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.”
  • God hates our wishful dreams, that are really idealistic illusions, because they breed pride and pretense.  
    • Idealists carry a delusional sense of entitlement towards God and fellow Christians, demanding that they get on board with their vision.
      • Their ideal replaces the living Christ as the center of community, with themselves as ‘god’.
        • My vision.
        • My way.
        • I am the builder of it, the creator.
    • When things do not work, they accuse others, God, and themselves.
  • Disillusionment with our brothers or sisters should always drive us the Christ, from whom is the only way that we can live and function together.

(From Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Bonhoeffer; pp. 34-36)

Imposing your control on others, supposedly as a function of leadership, is the essence of spiritual abuse.  I thought of controlling leaders, as I read Bonhoeffer.  When your leadership goes to controlling, you have moved into the dark side.

I am an idealist.  I have gone through disillusionment over and over.  A number of times in my life, I thought that if I believed the word and prayed hard, I would get results.

No dice.  Disillusionment.  Back to reality and authenticity.  Suffering, cross bearing, death, burial, and resurrection.  Living with the risen Christ.

One of the most painful disillusionments for me was my parents divorce.  My ideal for them was shattered and the hurtful brokenness of that was all I could see or feel.  The only way I could see was escape.

I was praying for God to make the pain go away.  And then I got ministry from a beautiful group of  prayer warriors, who ministered Paul’s word from Jesus to me: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

I never really comprehended that verse before that.

Jesus has proven to me, over and over that in my disillusionment, he has grace for me to experience and be transformed by.  And to receive it, I must go low.  “Little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong.  Yes Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.”

When we try to make the case for our ideal, in the midst of shattering brokenness, that is pride, bitterness, and cynicism.  We blame, complain, and judge; having no grace for others, ourselves, or God.  No gratefulness, no forgiveness, and no happiness.  Just anger, control, and narcissism.

Shattered illusions that do not give way to grace, which is had by humility, becomes cynicism.  Cynical people believe that all of us are only motivated by self-interest.  Cynical people project their own brokenness onto the whole world.

The back-story of a cynical person is a broken heart that did not heal right.  They became deceived, they began to believe a lie.  They made a choice to go on the wrong path, in the wrong direction.

And the only way to get back on the right path is to go back to where you made the wrong turn.

The man who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, was not always like that.  He may have once been a faithful shepherd, or a sheepdog.  But he got his heart broken and it did not heal right.

That is how a wolf is born that ends up hurting and destroying sheep in the church.  Disillusionment that did not give way to grace through humility, but stayed proud and went to cynicism.

Judas is an example of bad disillusionment.  Intimate with Jesus, but had a different ideal or ideal of who Jesus should be.  And in his cynicism, he betrayed Jesus.

When he realized his mistake, he again did not find grace, but judged himself and executed himself.  He made these decisions, for which he has responsibility.  Satan was involved with him, looked for and found a road into his life, from which he could tempt Judas to do wrong.

Every disciple is tempted to sin and betray Christ.  In our disillusionment, we can turn to the dark side or just give up.  That way of Christ is the receive grace, in humility.

God knows that we will be tempted to go for fame, fortune, success; or just finding ourselves or our destiny.  Maybe we just want to go to school, find a job, find a spouse, and have kids.  Maybe we just want to pay the bills and have a decent grocery store to go to.

Along the path of life, we need to stay grounded in reality, under no illusions about ourselves.

What happened next, in the story of the two men and Jesus, on the road to Emmaus?

They came near the village where they were going, and he gave the impression that he was going farther.  But they urged him, “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

 It was as he reclined at the table with them that he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.

-Luke 24:28-31

There is something profound here, in when Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them, that at that moment, their eyes were opened.  He is the bread of life and his body was broken for our life.  When we receive his life, broken and raised from the dead, for us; we can see him and become disillusioned.

His life and he as the truth, is our reality.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, sung by Casey Crescenzo:

God Will Restore Your Lost Inheritance

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “since I intend to show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul’s fields, and you will always eat meals at my table.”

-2 Samuel 9:7
Many people have lost inheritances that God is going to restore.  
You have thought about it and you have also worked on coming to terms with it, as your history, your story. 
I believe that God does restore lost inheritances.  God’s kindness and graciousness knows no bounds with his children.  This is illustrated in the story of Mephibosheth, in 2 Samuel 9:

David asked, “Is there anyone remaining from the family of Saul I can show kindness to for Jonathan’s sake?” There was a servant of Saul’s family named Ziba. They summoned him to David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“I am your servant,” he replied.

So the king asked, “Is there anyone left of Saul’s family that I can show the kindness of God to?”

Ziba said to the king, “There is still Jonathan’s son who was injured in both feet.”

The king asked him, “Where is he?”

Ziba answered the king, “You’ll find him in Lo-debar at the house of Machir son of Ammiel.” So King David had him brought from the house of Machir son of Ammiel in Lo-debar.

Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, fell facedown, and paid homage. David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“I am your servant, ” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “since I intend to show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul’s fields, and you will always eat meals at my table.”

Mephibosheth paid homage and said, “What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?”

Then the king summoned Saul’s attendant Ziba and said to him, “I have given to your master’s grandson all that belonged to Saul and his family. You, your sons, and your servants are to work the ground for him, and you are to bring in the crops so your master’s grandson will have food to eat. But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, is always to eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.

Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do all my lord the king commands.”

So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table just like one of the king’s sons. Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. All those living in Ziba’s house were Mephibosheth’s servants. However, Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem because he always ate at the king’s table. His feet had been injured.

This is the greatest illustration of grace in the Old Testament.  Chuck Swindoll said that.

Mephibosheth was about 5 years old, when his dad, Jonathan and his grandpa, Saul; were killed.  At some point, when he was little, he was accidentally dropped and both of his feet became crippled.

He was a special needs kid who also lost his dad and most of (all?) his family.  They died in the tumultuous war.  His grandpa was also in a civil war with David, his dad’s best friend.
It was unknown, in the years that followed his dad’s and grandpa’s deaths, if Mephibosheth was loyal to his grandpa, against David.
Mephibosheth was born into a messy time, with a good dad, but also had a disability, due to an accident.  If things had gone differently, he would still have his dad and be in the royal family.  But the reality was very different.
Misfortune upon misfortune seemed to be Mephibosheth’s fate.  Despite these, he found a wife and now had his own son.  When David summoned him, he might have imagined that this is it, he was about to be executed, since he was Saul’s heir, and his son was about to become fatherless, just like he was.
But that is not what happened.  Instead, David reinstated Saul’s lands to him, ordered a group of people to work that land for him, and gave him a place at his table (the king’s table) permanently.
Reversal of fortune is what we call this.  Probably totally unexpected.  Kindness given, grace bestowed.
In this chapter, we have this word ‘kindness’ three times.  It is in Hebrew, hesed, meaning ‘loyal love’.  This word is also used in Lamentations 3, where Jeremiah talked about just how bad things are, but then remarks that in the middle of this grief, that God is still good, dependable, and worthy of putting our faith in: 

Because of the Lord’s faithful love
we do not perish,
for his mercies never end.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness!

-Lamentations 3:22-23
This is what happened to Mephibosheth, encapsulated in 2 Samuel 9:7:
  • “Don’t be afraid”, David said to him, 
  • “Since I intend to show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan”. 
  • “I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul’s fields”, 
  • “And you will always eat meals at my table”.

Four things, four points of interest to note here.

Don’t be afraid.

    • God wants us to fear not.  Be at peace and be still.  You are not being punished.  What Mephibosheth went through was not punishment, but misfortune.  When God moves in your life, do not be afraid.  God loves you.

God is the kindest person you will ever meet.

    • God is kind and invented the concept.  Whatever you have been through or was taken from you, God’s kindness has you covered.  God has been kind to you and is going to show you his kindness in a big way, when he restores your lost inheritance to you.

God restores what is lost.

    • This is a theme throughout the whole story arc of the Bible.  And this particular story emphasizes that again.  How and when God will restore and in what way, I can not say.  But what I can say is from the Bible, is that God restores.  Expect it and look for it.

To have table fellowship daily is one of the best parts of restoration.

    • This reminds us of Jesus story of the two sons.  The one asked for his inheritance early and squandered it.  When he came home, he realized that being with his father was the greatest reward and that his real inheritance was bigger than he imagined.  And the second son, who stayed home, lived with his dad and took him for granted and did not know how loved he was and what a treasure that sharing life and meals together was.
    Something to think about is that God does not ‘make it go away’, as in putting us in a time machine, or turning the pages back and giving us a different history.  Instead, God redeems the bad things and restores us in relationship to him and restores the inheritance that was taken or jilted from us in misfortune.
    Mephibosheth still had the disability and he still missed his dear dad.  But he was given back his life and got a new living, from David.  And he did not have to fear anymore.
    He was about 5 years old when he lost his dad, and went into seclusion.  He became a nobody.  From royal family to pauper.

    He may have been about 20 years old when David summoned him.  15 years had passed.  Despite the misfortune, he married and had his own little boy.

    He had managed to find some joy perhaps, after so much loss.  How do you think he felt about God?

    God is kind.  God is gracious.  This is a story of God’s kindness and graciousness.

    David loved Jonathan and I imagine he missed him.  I think he never had another friend that he loved so much.

    And David was loyal.  He remembered who loved him before he had power.  He wanted to do something for someone, in the name of his friend, Jonathan.

    God really cares and notices our loyalty to him and to each other.  Loyalty is a big deal.

    Mephibosheth suffered losses that were no fault of his own.  He was in a certain family, and that family suffered losses.

    His dad had been very loyal to David.  Mephibosheth’s inheritance was lost when his dad died.  David gave that inheritance back and gave Mephibosheth a permanent place at his table.

    I believe that God is going to restore our inheritances that were lost.  Because God is kind and gracious.

    And I have seen God do it.

    God is kind.  David illustrates or puts on display God’s kindness.

    The highest type of kindness, that is the kindness of God that we want to emulate, is spontaneous and self-motivated.  God’s kindness or godly kindness in us, is based on who God is.  God in God and God in us.

    We are not kind to people because they earn it or have shown themselves somehow to be good candidates for it.  Kindness is gracious.  We are kind and gracious, because of something internally in ourselves.  It is internal and self motivated.

    God is kind because God is kind.  I am kind because God is kind.  And I want to have God in me, influencing me to be kind.

    This is what Jesus was saying when he said, “Be merciful, because your Father is merciful”.  We, who have experienced God’s mercy are to be merciful to others.

    David echoes God, in his actions towards Mephibosheth, in his kindness.  This is our lifestyle as well, to echo God.

    The best basis for benevolence is the experience of the mercy of God.  Human organizations like charities that come to mind, that are not based on God’s mercy are not the best.

    Some people will be indifferent to your lost inheritance.  They will be content for you to stay in obscurity or in hiding from your destiny.  You might even be ‘blessed’ with friends like Job had, who tried to reason out how Job must have brought his misfortune upon himself.

    Or you might be married to someone who totally does not get you or what God is doing in your life, like Job’s wife, who urged Job to, ‘curse God and die’.  And remember when Sarah was eavesdropping on the Lord speaking to her husband and cracked up, laughing at the absurdness of them having a baby, at their age?  These stories are actually very encouraging, showing that God works with weak people and loves them and puts his faith in them.

    God is kind.  God is kind because God is kind.  And God is kind to us because of who God is.

    David not only reassigns Mephibosheth’s inheritance to him, but gives him a place at the royal dining table.  He is given the inheritance and promoted to a new level of relationship and intimacy with David.

    It is the same for us with God.  God restores our lost inheritance and gives us an intimate relationship with him.  He does not just give us gifts, but ‘he does not leave us as orphans’ and takes us to live with him.

    But wait, there is still more.  The inheritance re-assigned to you comes with provision.  Your inheritance comes fully staffed.

    This is what happened to Mephibosheth.  A crippled man, with a wife and a small child, was not just given a large farm estate.  David also assigned a group of people to work it for him.

    The name Mephibosheth means ‘dispeller of shame’.  Dispel means to make disappear.  Perhaps this was Mephibosheth’s destiny all along.

    There was a lot of shame in being in the family of Saul.  He was very dysfunctional and acted crazy.  Like a rageaholic.

    You might have an inheritance that you lost, that was supposed to come to you, from dysfunctional persons.  Maybe even a rageaholic.  To be raged at or to see someone in your family rage is shameful.

    Growing up, while trying to process and understand what happened with your grandpa, who failed on an epic level, might give you some shame.  If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you might identify with this.

    God heals our shame.  That’s good news.  Jesus came to heal up our shame.

    Mephibosheth does not have to be ashamed anymore, and you won’t either.

    This story also illustrates how God loves the fatherless.  We are all fatherless in a sense and get adopted into God’s family, as His children.  But God particularly loves people who are orphaned.

    He does not love them more, but there is more to love.  Deep wounds, deep healing, from deep love.

    God is huge on covenants.  Covenants are very important.  David made a covenant with Jonathan before Mephibosheth was born, to be loyal to him, no matter what.

    David missed his friend and his heart was tugged by that love and desire to do something loving and kind in his memory.  That is what started the ball rolling that resulted in Mephibosheth getting these blessings.  Covenant love.

    This is illustrated in our lives today when we show kindness to our friends children.  Especially when our friends die and their kids come into some hard times.

    I remember my dad’s best friend, who tried to help me, because he loved my dad so much.  I really had no idea at the time.  But now I realize.

    I was just a young man.  And he loved me, because he deeply loved, and honored my dad.  Wow.

    His name was Gus.  He had a beard.  I first met him when I was very young.  I asked Gus if I could touch his beard.

    Gus loved me and took an interest in me, because he loved my dad.  I had no idea at the time, except I liked him back.  He asked me to dinner one time, when I started working in Los Angeles.  He came and met me at a Sizzler.  He wanted to help me.  He was so kind.

    God is kind.  God remembers.  God takes notice of when we have our inheritance lost.  God restores things to us that were lost.  And God provides for how it will all work.  He does not leave us as orphans.  And he gives us a permanent spot at his dining table, where we can continue getting to know him and his family and ask questions and become known.

    God restores.  God is kind.  God is gracious.  And he dispels our shame.  Just look and you will see.  And it will happen to you.

    Born Free

    For freedom, Christ set us free.  Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.
    -Galatians 5:1

    Christians are born free.  We are freed to be free.  To be a Christian means to be set free.

    We are set free from the bondage to sin and to religion.  When someone becomes a Christian they are set free to be free, in Christ.

    Becoming a Christian is not just about believing the Bible, but about believing in Christ.  Being a Christian is being a person in Christ.

    The freedom that Christians are born into, is freedom of conscience.  Christianity is inside-out.  Christ in you.

    When we participate in the process of someone coming to Christ, to be be born from above, we are all about leading them to him and not to us.  It is wonderful if we are so immersed in Christ that people see Christ in us.  But our goal is never to make disciples after ourselves or our brand, but of Christ himself and let him take this person where he wills.

    The freedom that Christ sets us free to is freedom of conscience.  Jesus works within each one of his followers, enabling them and guiding them to do what is right.

    Disciplemaking is not about converting people to our opinions, but making them disciples of Jesus.  There is no program, but Christ.

    So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.
    -John 8:36

    The Son of God has set us free.  What that means is that I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but the life I now live is by the faithfulness of the Son of God (Gal. 2:20).  The freedom of having been set free is only in the work of the Son of God.

    Outside of what Jesus did on the cross, I do not have freedom.  With centering my life in the cross of Christ and bearing my own cross, I will be selfish and become enslaved again to sin, religion or both.

    Some people say, “I just can’t do that”, or, “It’s too hard”, and live a life of selfish complaining and victimhood, paradoxically, living as slaves in freedom.

    Christianity is lived inside out.  When you look for something on the outside of you to feel better, you are not living in freedom, but are looking for a medication.

    Jesus gives you life from your inside.

    Freedom in Christ is what Christian salvation is.  Galatians 5:1 is a concise statement of what Paul has written in Chapters 1-4.

    The gospel is grace, not ‘Jesus plus’.

    This is what Richard Longenecker wrote about Galatians, in his closing explanation of chapter 5:1-12:

    “Most often Galatians is viewed as the great document of justification by faith.  What Christians all too often fail to realize is that in reality it is a document the sets out a Christ-centered lifestyle— one that stands both in opposition to nomism and libertinism.  Sadly though, applauding justification by faith, Christians frequently renounce their freedom in Christ by espousing either nomism or libertinism and sometimes (like the Galatians) both.  So Paul’s letter to the Galatians, though directly relevant to the Galatian situation, speaks also to our situation today.”  (R. Longenecker, Galatians, p. 245, 1990)


    Every year His parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. When He was 12 years old, they went up according to the custom of the festival.  After those days were over, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents did not know it.  Assuming He was in the traveling party, they went a day’s journey.  Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him.  After three days, they found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.  When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You.”

    “Why were you searching for Me?” He asked them. “Didn’t you know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” But they did not understand what He said to them.

    Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother kept all these things in her heart.

    -Luke 2:41-51
    I am searching for something right now and it is consuming me.  I have been preoccupied with it.  I have let my search stress me out to the point that I have been too anxious about it.
    This story, from Luke chapter two, came to my mind.  In this story, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, after the festival was over; when his mom and dad, family and friends left.  Their group was big enough and Mary and Joseph were trusting enough of Jesus maturity, that when they travelled, they did not need to always have an eye on him.
    I can really identify with them, because my son is eleven years old.  He is right at the age where we do not have to keep an eye on him all the time.  But we are still concerned about where he is and with whom.
    I know exactly what the panic must have felt like for Mary and Joseph.  They were one day’s journey away from Jerusalem, when they realized they lost him.  Talk about losing something or someone special.
    I’m talking about losing your own child.  When I became a parent, the stories of children being abducted struck horror in my heart.  I took it all for granted, before I became the parent of a beautiful little boy.
    When Jesus parents realized he was unaccounted for, they first looked among the whole group that was travelling with them.  Maybe he was there somewhere?  But he was not.
    So, they made their way back to Jerusalem, and looked all over, perhaps retracing their steps.  Then, they got to the temple complex and there he was, seated with the rabbis.  He was so engaged in the discussion that he hardly noticed mom and dad walk up.
    Joseph and Mary perhaps had the chance to hear Jesus words as he dialogued with the teachers and saw the amazement at what he had to say.  Luke does not tell us that they scooped Jesus up or that they said, “Thank God, you are ok!”  Nope.
    Instead, we are told that they rebuked him: “Son, why have you treated us like this?”  Mary was calling him to responsibility.  She is speaking to him, like we might speak to our 15, 16 or 17 year old; because maturity and responsibility came at a younger age in first century Jewish culture.
    We say that someone becomes an adult at age 18 and the truth is that many young people do not even become adults today until their mid-twenties.  And the markers of adulthood are maturity and responsibility.
    In that culture, where Jesus grew up, age twelve was the transition from boyhood to manhood.  He is more mature than our twelve year olds.  He is ready to be a man.
    Have you wondered where he spent the night?  Probably at the place where one of those teachers lived or at the temple.  Have you wondered if those teachers would have asked him about his parents or if he should be going home?
    Whatever those conversations entailed of if they happened at all, there he was.  
    I had scenes in my childhood, when I ventured out of my mom’s sight and she lost me.  My mom was very upset.  I know the phrase, “Where have you been?”, when I was perfectly fine, in my mind, and having an adventure or just enjoying myself with others.
    Mary’s rebuke to Jesus, “Why have you treated us like this”, puts the blame for her anxious turmoil onto the boy.  He neither responds with “Sorry, my bad”, nor, “Don’t talk to me like that”.  
    Instead, he gently turns the issue back to her and reminds her that God, His Father, is the center of his life; even though he is rightly related to his earthly parents.  Jesus is teaching me how to talk to my mom.
    In the same section of scripture, it says that Mary and Joseph were Jesus parents and that he also has The Father as his father.  This is important, because Luke is underscoring that Jesus was human and divine.  He was not delivered, as a baby or a boy, from heaven; but came out of Mary.
    They lost him and were searching, searching, searching for him.  But all along, there he was, at the temple, consumed with his Father’s things.  These are the first words we have of Jesus: “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”
    This is our English language rendering, and in the HCSB that I am using here.  The oldest translation that we are commonly familiar with, the King James, says, “Knew ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?”  But what it literally says is something like, “did ye not know that in the things of my Father it behoveth me to be?’
    That is how we get the idea that Jesus was saying something like, “Didn’t you know that I am all about being consumed by the things of my Father?”  Jesus did not say the word “house”.  House is in our translations  there because the translators would say that it is implied.
    Jesus is saying that they should have known that he would be at the temple, the figurative ‘house of God’, involved in the discourse with people about the things of God.
    The motif of this story, for me is ‘searching’.  We could say that the human perspective was of the parents and their tribe, searching for the lost boy.  Searching equals seeking.  They were seeking the boy while the boy was seeking or involved with the work of  seeking God.
    They were seeking Jesus, all the while Jesus was involved with the pursuit of the things of the Father.  Jesus did not take a detour to an alone place to seek or be with the Father.  Jesus went to or stopped and stayed at the place where people gathered to discuss God things.
    This is where we get the phrase, “I had to be about my Father’s business”.  What is the Father’s business?  It is God’s whole enterprise of loving and saving the people in the world he created.
    Today, I am seeking something or a number of somethings.  And at the same time, Jesus is seeking or all about, as in ‘consumed’ with something.  I believe Jesus cares about what I am searching for, but mainly to the extent that he cares about me.
    He loves me and he is consumed with the Father’s business.  I am searching for something, while he is involved with doing what he sees the Father doing.
    What I am searching for is not bad.  Some people in the world must search for their daily food each day.  Jesus is not too busy discussing theology with the teachers to care about his people.
    He does care and he does understand.  But where we get in trouble is when we stress out in our searching for whatever and I am assuming here that we are searching for something wholesome.  Something we do not want to do is to  stress out and then say to Jesus, “Why did you do this to me?”
    My grandmother never touched alcohol and never went to a 12-step group, but she had the serenity prayer on a plaque, above the kitchen sink.  I grew up, looking at that prayer, and thinking about it.
    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change; courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
    People who blame God and do not accept responsibility and and do not take the initiative are not developing spiritually, and are half-baked and stunted in becoming men and women, and staying childish.
    Another remarkable thing about this story is that it says that Jesus went with them, back to Nazareth, in obedience.  Let that sink in.  He just showed them that he was ready and they did not get it.
    Instead of forcing himself on them, he submitted himself to them.  This should blow our minds and massively teach us something about submission.  God was ready, but they were not ready to let go.
    This is how it is so often with us in our lives.  We think we are waiting on God.  “Why is he taking so long!”, we say.  And all along, God is waiting for us.
    Jesus and history had to wait 18 years.  When he left home at age 30, his family still did not get it.  They had lived with him and did not get him.
    This is very sad in a sense, but should also encourage you, if your family does not get you.
    It is really nice when people get you, understand you, to the best of their human abilities.  But the default position or the case that is most common, is that they won’t get you.  And then there is the whole range of the ones you love actually opposing you.
    When we fast forward to when Jesus is 30 and begins his public ministry, in one of his first times of teaching, they love it, but then say, “Wait a minute, isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  Somehow, many people can’t wrap their heads around ordinary people becoming extraordinary because of God in their lives.  Instead, they want to see extraordinary people as gods.
    The whole ethos of Christianity is that God in Christ comes into you and makes you a person in-Christ, that Christ works through and points to God.
    What does this story from when Jesus was 12 have in it for me and what might it have for you?  I am searching.  I am always searching for something to one extent or another.
    Sometimes my searching overwhelms me and I get stressed out.  I am tired and I need rest.  That is first.
    Then there is the issue where I realize that I am missing God.  I have been praying about my search to God, but maybe not enough because my search has taken me away from God’s presence.  Maybe I need to search a bit less or pray more or perhaps wait on God more?
    What about time out for recreation?  But if my search is desperate, like for food or water or a place to stay when all the places say ‘no vacancy’, I probably do need to pray more and practice God’s presence. 
    It is all grace right?  Not my works that make life happen.  But faith is only real if it is tested and tried.
    The circumstances of life test and try our faith to make it genuine.  Faith involves risk and when we risk we do often fail.  But God loves riskers who fail.
    It is worse to do nothing than to do something that fails.
    I am searching.  Will Jesus follow me in my search and make it work out? I am supposed to be following him.  But I can ask him to grant me success in my search.  I can pray as I consider things and choose things.
    I would rather be with him wherever he is.  When I am searching and he is not with me, that is not his fault.  I left him behind and he never left me.
    Rather than doing a comprehensive search and then getting overwhelmed and saying “Where are you in all this?”, I want to be with him and then put my head on his chest and ask him about it.

    My Grace Is Sufficient For You

    But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.

    -2 Cor. 12:9
    I was asking for the pain to go away.  I wanted the agony I was feeling to be removed.  Instead, this verse was ministered to me.
    What this verse said to me was the opposite answer to my request to have the pain go away.  God was saying that he had grace for me, in the midst of the pain I was experiencing.  He also says in this verse that power, his power in my life, is perfected in my weakness.
    In my pain, God did not go along with my line of thinking which was ‘make the pain go away’ (please).  Instead, God introduced a whole different thought to my situation.  His answer to my request for pain relief was, “My grace is more than enough and my power flows in you when you are weak”.
    Since this word was not what I had in mind or expected, I had to begin to assimilate it.  I felt a bit baffled and reasoned that the Lord was saying that he wanted to give me grace in my pain.  My next thought was, “Okay”, and then, “I wonder how this works”.

    The place where this revelation happened for me was at my school, where three years previous, I had picked up their brochure and on it was this curious quote, by Augustine, that read:

    In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me.

    Sure enough, what they advertised; that I really did not get at first, ended up being my experience.  I was caught by surprise, like a deer in the headlights and a bit blinded to my preconceived ideas of how God should work.  That is how I was dazzled.

    I was also baffled.  “My grace is sufficient”, what does that mean?
    Grace is unmerited favor or God’s empowering presence.  Grace is good, so there must be something good it this.
    Sufficient is not a word that I use.  It means ‘enough’, ‘all you need’, ‘adequate’, ‘plenty’ or ‘more than enough’.  The implication is that God is saying, “Rather than escaping this, my grace is more than enough and all that you need”.
    God says, “My grace is always more than enough, all that you need”.
    I know that I am always in need of grace and am in trouble if I do not rely upon grace.  But today, I am in a third acute time in life when I particularly need this verse ministered to me.  This verse is the answer to my prayer to God today, that says, “This is impossible!”

    Today it seems impossible to have or find a church or a group of people who are also envisioned with the desire for church that I have.  I did not say it is impossible, but that it seems or feels impossible.

    This is more like a horse that won’t drink the water.  For me, this is also like how when I first went back to college, to begin pursuing graduate studies in counseling, I was about twenty-six years old and I was beginning to long for and dream about my future wife.  “Could she be walking here on this campus right now?”, I thought.  And the answer was actually, yes she was.  But we were not to meet for about fourteen years.

    The point of that story is that sometimes the answer or the fulfillment of your dream is right there, close by.  But you or they are not ready.  And God, walking with both of you, is getting you ready for your future.

    The lesson is that we are all in the process of getting ready, being developed, for our future roles, assignments and affiliation communities.  All people in churches are not people who have ‘always known each other’, buy God brings different people together.  Even though the former is active today, God is also doing the latter.

    “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”

    The first time that I heard this verse in my life, and it was not a direct quote, but it was definitely the lesson that God was teaching me, was earlier in my young adult life, when I was in trouble, stuck, trapped and exposed.  I audaciously asked God to rescue me and I even tried to make a deal, saying I would be good if he would rescue me.  And the answer was, “No, but you will serve me”.

    The exact quote was something like, “I am not going to rescue you and you are going to serve me.”  The voice of God that I heard was the Lord, my Lord, who was speaking to me sternly.  I had been through a journey in my Christian life where I had made Jesus my savior, but not my Lord.  That journey shifted that night, and he began to bring me into the revelation that Jesus is Lord and King.

    That night was like lightning came into my darkness, but then I spent the next year assimilating the change in my life, leaving my home, going for long walks and just being with God.

    The second time that I learned the lesson that God’s grace is sufficient, was when I was witnessing my parents going through divorce.  Everything was going good in my life except for this painful thing.  I learned that the grace to walk through the pain, is transmitted by Jesus.  
    Today, the way forward again seems impossible.  People say, “That’s impossible!”, but Jesus says, “There are some things people can not do, but God can do anything.”  
    My thing that seems impossible, is my vision for the church.  
    My vision for church gatherings can be distilled down to: A Jesus Christ centered family reunion where everyone plays a part or has a voice. 
    And sometimes it seems like pretty much everyone in my life, laughs and says, “Ain’t gonna happen”, or “That does not exist”.  I also hear, “That’s not church”, and “We’ve never done it that way before”.
    To take Jesus style and substance of church life and bring it into our culture is a challenge and passion of mine that I dream about and think about and talk about.  And I believe that a lot of people who have stopped attending church services, for a variety of reasons are also looking for this.
    But many of these people are hurt, disillusioned, burned out and feel betrayed and disoriented.  And these ‘negatives’ become their language and they begin living from negativity in regards to Christianity.  They turn off their old friends of family who still attend church services and do not share their fed-up experience.
    And when these exiles meet up with other exiles, they are vulnerable to gathering around negativity rather than the positive message and person of Jesus Christ.  A bunch of people who have felt rejected and run off, but have not processed this through Jesus’ grace are like porcupines that you don’t want to hug or get behind.

    Ouch, I just got barbed again.

    If the conversation is just about the negative, then either people will be turned off with you and not want to talk, or you will attract other negative people and end up having a gripe festival as your gathering.  And it is human nature to not see your own stuff, so you will eventually not want to be around such negative people, not realizing you are one of them.
    How can we gather with the de-churched, un-churched and done with (the old way of) church people?  The answer I believe is to make Jesus Christ the center of our gathering.  Through recognition and cultivation we will gather around him, and not our hurts and ‘tales of woe and intrigue’.
    We don’t deny our pain or erase our history.  But we put Jesus first, who says that all things are possible and to stop looking at how we can not do it and to look to God who can do all things.
    Even if it looks impossible and if people say it can’t be done or that will never work, I believe that we can find out, figure out, and have faith to come into an experience of church life that is in Jesus style, that is patterned out of his life and what he taught and how he functioned.  Even though the church carries his name, I believe that his essence and form, heart and life has become lost, like a lost art.
    But it can be found, because he is alive and he is still building his church.  He lets us build his church our way and he inhabits it to a degree.  But that does not mean he built it or he endorses it; but that he is gracious and loves people who love him, even when they are more religious and less authentic than what is his plan.
    Jesus was continually correcting his first disciples, while loving and caring for them.  And our being corrected or disciplined is part of being loved and belonging.  And another point is that God has a very wide latitude with his people and with his servants who are visible.  We criticize where God sees people who he loves who love him.
    Doing church in a new way:

    • Centered on Jesus Christ through recognition and cultivation. 
    • That is like a family reunion. 
    • Where everyone participates or plays a role.

    Seems impossible; but by God’s grace is possible, if we will be weak and let his power flow.  The Passion Translation puts it this way: “My power finds its full expression through your weakness”, and the CEV says, “My power is strongest when you are weak”.

    I think what this is saying is that instead of seeking to be stronger, in our own strength; that we need to embrace our weakness.  You think this is impossible?  Let yourself be weak, so that God’s strength can bloom out.
    For myself, what I need to do is move forward and live, engaging life and the people in my life and even new people outside the present borders or boundary lines of my life, and share my self with them, in weakness.

    Community comes from communion which means sharing.  The ‘one anothers’ draw a picture of church life centered around Jesus personhood.  Much of what we call ‘church’ is not the communion of the saints, described in the NT.

    There is a way and I believe it is the God prescribed way, to not give up on your dreams or who you are and what you want to be all about and to embrace weakness.  That means gentleness, kindness, humility and love.  This is Jesus style.
    Imagine if the thorn that Paul calls ‘the messenger of Satan’, for you or me, are a person who harasses you in some way that is so bad that they are diabolical and psychopathic.  It would be natural to ask God for help, to deliver you from or remove that person out of your life.  But God says ‘no’, and that his grace (for that) is all you need and his power finds its full expression in your weakness.
    In other words, the challenge, whatever it or who it is, will not be removed.  Instead, the direction for you is to rely on God’s grace and embrace your weakness.  That is God’s direction to me, as best I understand it.
    There have been two ways that I have applied or practiced this in recent times.  One, is to be silent before God for times, holding out my impossible situation; doing the opposite of complaining to people or to God in prayer, and letting grace work.  The second is to engage the impossible situation, person or idea in weakness and let grace work.  
    I learned the former a few years ago.  And it really works.  I am now going to learn that latter.
    In the past, I would argue, debate, harangue or try to cajole.  But today I am learning to be a weak one, relying on his grace to fill out, fill in and create life where things seem impossible.

    This song is a prayer:

    Jesus loves me, this I know
    For the Bible tells me so
    Little ones to him belong
    They are weak but he is strong

    Come Dancing

    My love calls to me:

    Arise, my darling.
    Come away, my beautiful one.
    For now the winter is past;
    the rain has ended and gone away.
    The blossoms appear in the countryside.
    The time of singing has come,
    and the turtledove’s cooing is heard in our land.
    The fig tree ripens its figs;
    the blossoming vines give off their fragrance.
    Arise, my darling.
    Come away, my beautiful one.

    -Song of Songs 2:10-13

    Come dancing.  Have you heard God say that?

    What would that mean?  I think that when we dance, we have stopped being passive and instead activated.  Dancing is moving.

    When I am moving, I can be guided or ‘course corrected’.  The motion of dancing gives me the ability to be guided.  ‘Come dancing’ is similar to, ‘let’s take a walk”, ‘get up and go’, ‘now, run’.

    If someone invites you to dance, they are asking you to join the dance, with them or with others.  The invitation implies the plurality of dancing.  People dance solo or privately all the time, but that is not what this is about.

    In God’s story, shared in the Bible, His people are His wife and His bride.  God has always been like a husband who loves and shares with his bride.  This includes going away with God and letting God love us.

    God would naturally say to us, ‘let me share with you’, ‘let us eat together’, and ‘come dance with me’.

    The life that God has always wanted for His people is a close relationship, like in the old hymn, “He lives”, where it has the words, “He walks with me and talks with me”.  Our God is a relational person who walks with us and talks with us.

    That is the backdrop of God saying, “Come dancing”.  And “Come dancing” is different than “Let’s dance”.  God is perhaps saying that there is a dance already in progress,  and He is inviting us to join in.

    Did you know that the Bible views dancing as wholesome and is commended?

    Did you know that God invented dancing?  Dancing is actually a godly thing to do.
    You may not be a natural dancer.  One of the most awkward things I ever did was take part in an audition for West Side Story.  I soon discovered that this was not my thing.  
    I remember a very popular Christian teacher, who opined about dancing  He said that since it would be awkward to lead someone to Christ, while dancing, we should not dance.  But he was giving an opinion about youth dancing to secular music: it it ok or not ok?  “Not ok”, he said.

    From just listening to this one man, I never knew that there was legitimate, wholesome God-endorsed dancing, in the Bible.  Later, I did discover dancing in the Bible, and I thought that while we read of Jewish people dancing, from time to time, that it must just be cultural; because I never saw dancing in church or in any Christian context.

    Dancing in the Bible is not liturgical.  Liturgy is the high church word that means ‘service’, and that is where we get the descriptive title for formal church gatherings called ‘church services’.  We say, “Are you holding services?”, to people starting a new church; and the idea is commonly held that ‘church’ means ‘services’ at a ‘building’, with people.  So, people + building + service = church, is what is commonly held to be the definition of ‘church’.  Only one third of that equation is correct or New Testament.

    The NT teaches that the people are the church and the the gathering of the church is not about buildings, small or large, nor is it about service or liturgy.  The gathering is about people gathering in Jesus name, for Jesus mission and cause, in his love that we express towards other followers of Jesus, who have also left everything behind for him, to invite people who do not know him to also follow him.

    On the other hand, churches, like synagogues, do have liturgies; ‘things we do when we gather’.

    Liturgy equals ‘what we do’.  “What’s your liturgy, man?”

    An easy example of liturgy or what we say makes a (real) church service, is singing.  It is hard to recall a church meeting without singing.

    Many people, by far the majority in my experience, equate church with singing.  We also equate ‘church’ as being something we go to.  But the NT teaches that the church is something we are.

    Today, many people think that church is something you go to, to sing.

    But, singing is neither what defines or makes a church.  Singing is a liturgical thing we like to do.  And it feels good too.

    Same thing with sanctified dancing.  But some Christians who love to sing, don’t see dancing as appropriate.  Yet, they are both things people like to do to both celebrate and worship.

    If church is not a building or services, then what is church?  Church is intimate fellowship with Jesus and each other, around Jesus.  The communion with Him and his people involves sharing.  Sharing stories, sharing food, sharing life and sharing our stuff and money.

    Church life may include dancing, but it is not part of the liturgy or service, because the duty, liturgy or service of the church that marks or defines the church is loving one another from Jesus love.

    The only liturgy or service direction that we were given is to love one another and serve one another and to go out and tell others about Jesus.

    Dancing has a place in church life, when if is spontaneous or celebratory.  The people danced in Jesus story of the two sons and their father, in Luke chapter 15.

    And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

    “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
    -Luke 15:23-5

    If Jesus had dancing in a story he made up, that was an expression of celebration and spontaneous jubilation; we can take that as an example of when dancing is a good thing.

    In Bible times and today, there has been pagan, cultic and erotic dancing that is not the kind of dancing that believers take part in.  When we suggest that believers can dance in life, or in church, some of us are chagrined, because we think of dancing as worldly.  But the job of the god of the world has always been to corrupt and twist what started off as wholesome.  And redemption means to take those back and put them back to their original function.

    Have you ever thought about angels and dancing?  In the same chapter in Luke where Jesus includes the scene of the people dancing, he also says that when sinners repent, that angels experience joy in God’s presence.  The thread, in Luke 15, that ties the reality of angels experiencing joy, with Jesus story of the returned prodigal, is the joy in heaven and celebration on earth.

    “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.

    “Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’ I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”
    -Luke 15:4-10

    Jesus has music and dancing in his story.  Many Christians are uncomfortable with dancing and especially dancing in church.  Why would people dance in church, they ask.  The answer is Luke 15 and the admonitions to dance in worship in the OT:

    Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and lyre.
    Praise Him with tambourine and dance; praise Him with flute and strings.
    -Psalm 149:3, 150:4

     Music with instruments and dancing, for worship, praise and celebration is from the Bible.  Anyone who would say that instrumental music or dance do not belong in the church, has either not read Luke 15, or they do not see Father God and his family there, of which every church is a part of today.  
    In the Bible, there is wholesome dancing, that is commendable.  Dancing is also a metaphor.
    If God is saying, “Come dancing”, to you; He might be saying, “Let’s go live”.  When we dance, we draw attention to ourselves, because of all the movements.  God might be saying, “Get up and shine”, like the word in Isaiah.
    When you come out to dance, you may be dancing before God, with God or with others.  There is a ‘self-esteem’ lift to dancing, because you are out there and visible and vulnerable.  Others might laugh at you or commend you as you dance.  And when we dance, most of us must let go of our pride, because dancing is humbling.
    Dancing, in its putting us out there, in humility, makes us recipients of grace.
    There has been a time to sit and watch life go by.  But now is the time to get up and dance.
    The voice of the bridegroom summoning you to come, is what empowers you to arise and go.
    Jesus never planned to have us live passive lives.  Jesus never planned to have us be a holy people who are enclaved from the world.  And He never intended for us to be experts but not practitioners.

    Hear God say, “Come dancing”.

    The Journey into Union With God

    I long and yearn for the courts of the Lord;
    My heart and flesh cry out for the living God.

    Even a sparrow finds a home, and a swallow, a nest for herself
    where she places her young— near Your altars,

    Lord of Hosts, my King and my God.
    How happy are those who reside in Your house,
    who praise You continually.

    Happy are the people whose strength is in You,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
    As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
    they make it a source of springwater;
    even the autumn rain will cover it with blessings.
    They go from strength to strength;
    each appears before God in Zion.

    -Psalm 84:2-7
    The center of life is union with God.  We all have all kinds of things we are involved in and all sorts of relationships.  A common misconception is that life is about building things like a family, a business, a ministry, a following, a resume, an education or gaining wisdom, wealth or fame.
    These are really the incidentals to life, that while being good and important, are not the center of life.  The center of life is union with God.  If we do not make union with God the center of our lives, we become off center, misguided, unhappy and discontent.
    Psalms like Psalm 84 are not meant to be nor have the meaning of how wonderful it is to go to church, for Christians.  These songs are not about the longing and desire to get to corporate worship times.  Pieces like this one are prophetic poems about union with God in the life of the believer.
    The courts of the Lord is God’s presence.  The psalmist tell us that in his next refrain: “My heart and flesh cry out for the living God.”  The longing is not for congregational singing nor for contemporary worship, but for union with God who is the center of my life.
    God is my source, my wellspring and my only hope.  That is who and what I long for.  That is who I must have and who I must and need to be with.
    Without God, front and center, in my thoughts and affecting my heart; my life falls apart.  I have an overwhelming desire for God and to be with God.
    Every day, there is an opportunity for all sorts of things to creep into my life and crowd out my relationship with God.  I never lose God, but sometimes these things turn my attention away from God.  And I don’t like that and don’t want that.
    I want God to be front and center in my life, in my thoughts and in how I see, hear and feel life and the people I come into contact with.
    The psalmist looks and sees the birds who have found their homes, in and on the temple of God.  He sees this as a powerful metaphor of living in God’s presence and making that your home where you create your own and give birth and raise your own families.
    Next, the psalmist gives us a picture of how a life of pursuing God works in daily lives.  We are each on a journey, on a road or a pilgrimage to God.  We are all people on our way to heaven.
    That is what life is about, being on our way to God.  Everything that we go through or that happens to us is raw material that is a bridge to union with God.  Since mankind fell, life has been hard; and every hardship is softened and transformed by relationship with God.
    Being a believer has always been an inside job.  We are changed, transformed and live from the inside out.  The strength of the Lord is deposited into our hearts through grace and by faith, resting on God’s steadfast love or faithfulness.  From the strength God provides in a heart under His care, that has begun its journey, the life of the believer is lived.
    The Valley of Baca is the place of weeping.  We all pass through places of sadness. We have losses: disappointments, failures, injustices, seeming silence from God, betrayals, sicknesses, setbacks and loneliness.
    The valley of weeping is part of the journey.  There are three things to know about this place of sadness on our journeys:
    1. It is unavoidable.
    2. Our time there is finite.
    3. We get to take our sorrow and see it transformed, redeemed and recompensed.
    When we encounter sorrow, how we respond is important.  Children do react and respond childishly, but adults need to face troubles in a grown up way.  “God, help me to grow up, before I grow old”, we say.
    Being in denial or sinking into shame are two examples of the wrong way to respond to sorrowful circumstances.  Another destructive one is to get stuck in anger.  
    We can not and should not avoid our valleys of weeping, because they are a place of transformation.  With every sorrow or thing that makes you sorrowful, there is a gift attached.  Where their is sorrow, we get to find wells of living water or springs of nourishment.
    In the same place where we feel the pain of loss or disappointment, God has already provided sustenance and living waters.  A place of springwater is just below the surface in our valley of tears.  We just have to dig down and find it.
    God never blesses us small.  God’s blessings are overflowing and there is always extra.  And that is the picture of autumn rains falling on us in that valley of tears.
    The place of revival or renewal 
    is in our daily routine lives 
    as we meet with God 
    in our circumstances of life 
    that are sometimes sad.  
    The place of revival or renewal is in our daily routine lives as we meet with God in our circumstances of life that are sometimes sad.  God puts a deposit in us at the beginning of our journeys and that deposit accrues interest and our benefactor puts in more deposits along the way.  But we also procure our find compensation that has our names on it, in the midst of the sorrows of our lives.
    Bravery is called for for every adult saint.  We valiantly face our trials, setbacks and failures; and go forward, finding new grace packages in the place where we are lamenting.  And God transforms us into the image of Christ.
    Even in the greatest of losses, that are shocking, God has reviving waters stored up for us.  God takes wrecked lives and transforms, renews, heals and redeems them.  The greater the loss, the greater the work that God has in store to recover us.
    Our hearts are set on the journey of union with God.  We see the birds, raising their families, in and on the temple, as a picture of living our lives in, towards and to God; living lives of worship and service to God.  And then, we embrace the reality of small and large losses and sorrows along the journey and we discover that God has hidden help and sustenance waiting for us, to strengthen us; making us more godly.
    Life is a journey into union with God.  That is the center from which life is lived and sustained.  

    It is a New Day

    A new day will dawn on us from above because our God is loving and merciful.
    He will give light to those who live in the dark and in death’s shadow.
    -Luke 1:78 (God’s Word translation)

    I have noticed that it’s a new day.  I don’t know if you have noticed, but I thought I would mention it.  Something new is happening or ready to happen.
    Change has been in the air for some time.  The atmosphere has been changing and a new time is here.
    Many things have not changed, but it is still a new day.  I still have many of the same problems.  But it is a new day, so the way I am facing those problems is a bit different.
    Not only is it a new day, a new time and a new season; but I am becoming aware that I have changed or been changed.  And as I look around, at the people in my life, it seems they have been changed too.
    In the new day, I believe I can expect new things.  And I do, but I don’t know what they will be.  I have learned that God’s gifts are often different and better than what I would imagine.

    Now is The Time for Words of Grace

    No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.

    -Ephesians 4:29

    We live in a time of corrupt, foul and unwholesome words.  In the world of non-believers, ‘trash-talking’ is commonplace, ‘par for the course’ and ‘normal’.  Believers know better.  And when we do engage in putrid, rotten speech, we apologize.

    We, who are all called to be saints, do the opposite of what the worlds does; with our words.  We speak only words that are good words.  We speak what is good to others, for building them up.
    In this time, in this climate of rotten words, we will speak with words of grace.
    In the world, they tear each other down with their words to one another.  Christians, in contrast, build people up, with their words.
    We see and hear what others need.  Then we speak words to people, that build them up, according to that need.  We are encouragers, blessing givers and word of grace speakers.
    Everything about us is built on grace.  We are saved by grace and we live by grace.  We also speak in gracious ways.
    We speak the language of grace.  We speak gracious words.  We speak words of grace to others, for their building up.
    There is a stark contrast of how a believer in Christ functions and how someone who does not know Christ behaves.
    In this time, in this climate of rotten words, we will speak with words of grace: To one another and to those we meet.

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