Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Entitled To or Entrusted With?

After being greatly challenged by The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, I passed it down to Joshua to read. I loved his summary: "Basically this book is about how we are not really entitled to anything, but that God has entrusted us with everything that we have. The question for us is: what are we going to do with what He has entrusted us with?"

Over the past several years, God has been developing within our family a growing heart for the poor. The past few weeks, we've been listening to a series of messages from David Platt in Birmingham called "Radical." And today, I read the book he wrote by the same name. Similar ideas and life applications as The Hole in our Gospel and just as challenging!

God has been speaking to me and softening my heart through these books, messages and the verses they are based on. Now, instead of resisting the idea of our moving into a relatively poor part of the city of Lanzhou, I am feeling excited about what God has in store for us through our new housing environment. I had been feeling "entitled to" a more comfortable apartment and grudingly asking God, "So just how poor do you want us to live?"

As we are in the process of sorting through what feels like mountains of accumulated stuff in our apartment and filling up boxes to give away, it feels freeing. This morning, CJ (the driving force behind all of our sorting) said, "I just love getting rid of all this stuff!" I am thankful for his motivation and that his attitude has rubbed off on all of us.

We started reading through Matthew this week, and the verse "Freely you have received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8) keeps ringing through my mind. In reality, much of our stuff has been given to us. And now we can pass on what we no longer need. Truly, everything we have is a gift from Him.

Not focusing on what we think God "owes us" but on how He might use what we have produces a feeling of gratitude to replace the feeling of discontent. We have been realizing more and more how much we have been blessed and what a privilege it is to be a blessing to others.

Just like Abraham, we are "blessed to be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Gift

Our courtyard was blanketed with snow in the early morning hours today. It was magical. A gift. Before the arrival of footprints and bike tracks to trample the snow, it was pure, white, untouched, perfect...

As I settled on the couch to read and reflect in a peaceful time of silence, I smiled inside with a secret that I couldn't wait to share with my family. I reentered the kitchen several times to drink in the beauty of the snow while I refilled my mug of tea.

Charly was the first to arise, and hear the news. His eyebrows lifted, and he went to see. "Wow!"

A little while later, Joshua entered and I shared the news with him. His eyebrows lifted just like his Dad's, as he too went to check out the snow from the kitchen. He didn't return right away, so I knew he had gone into Jordan's room. She stumbled across the living room after him (only half awake) so they could both wake up CJ. He was not as eager to get out of bed, but Joshua and Jordan managed to talk him into a snowball fight. The kids have learned that you have to enjoy the snow early here because it does not take long to turn black!

While I watched the kids playing in the snow, something caught my eye down by the trash cans. It looked like a message...

In English letters: LOVE
(the E is already a bit stamped out, but I think you can see it)

I marveled over where the message had come from. When our kids returned home for breakfast, they confirmed that it was not them. A mystery.

I thought back to yesterday afternoon, when just as I entered Home World, the first verse of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" was playing and I passed a row full of stuffed Santa Claus and glittery Christmas decorations. The beautiful music of the real meaning of Christmas seemed so out of place in that commercialized setting. And I wondered if anyone in the store understood the words of the song or if anyone cared. It was to this kind of world that Jesus came. To those who were not looking for Him.

How fitting this morning to see the message in the snow beside the trash cans. It is the message that I long for our trash collector to know as I watch him fill up his wheelbarrow full of trash countless times throughout the day. He was the only one out in the courtyard, long before the sun came up, when I first discovered the snow. I think of him as like the common shepherds who were honored to be the first to hear of the birth of Jesus (from the announcement of angels!).

And Jesus himself came into this world as a helpless baby, amidst the smell of animals. He completely entered into our humanity, in the most humble kind of conditions we can imagine.

And it was one of our neighbors who stamped out the message in the snow. It was a message for me. For our neighbors. For the world. I'm almost sure it must have been a child, with some kind of understanding of what that message means and its connection with the snow and with Christmas. The reason Jesus came was to bring His LOVE to the world.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Light of Heaven

I love the first words spoken by Zechariah, after 9 months of God-ordained silence, when his infant son John the Baptist was presented to the LORD for circumcision:

"Praise the LORD, the God of Israel, because he has visited his people and redeemed them.
He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David,
just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.
Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us.

He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering his sacred covenant with them,
the covenant he gave to our ancestor Abraham.
We have been rescued from our enemies,
so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness forever.

And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the LORD.
You will tell his people how to find salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.

Because of God's tender mercy, the light of heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of perfect peace."
(Luke 1:68-79)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Kind of Kingdom? part 3

The Kingdom of Heaven is a Kingdom that Jesus brought to the earth. It’s the Good News of forgiveness of sins, that Jesus made possible through His death and resurrection.

It requires repentance and becoming humble like a child.

It is a Kingdom for those who recognize their need for a Savior.

And we must have a love for the truth to recognize who Jesus is and to believe what He says.

Jesus said, “I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)

At the core of Jesus’ mission on earth and His teaching was the preaching of the Good News to the poor. And so, He expects the same of His followers.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

Then the King will say to those on the right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:31-36)

Thus, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was prepared for those who love and take care of the needy in the world. Whatever we do for the least, we are doing for Jesus. If we refuse to help the poor and needy, we are refusing to help Jesus and will be counted among the goats, who will receive eternal punishment instead of eternal life. (Matthew 25:44-46)

When Jesus returns, in all His glory, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He will come as judge of the nations, and there will be a new Kingdom of Heaven. Then, Jesus will be given authority, honor, and royal power over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language will obey him.” (Daniel 7:14)

The apostle John began his letter of Revelation with the words:
"This letter is from John to the seven churches in the province of Asia. Grace and peace from the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come; from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness to these things, the first to rise from the dead, and the commander of all the rulers of the world. All praise to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. He has made us his kingdom and his priests who serve before God his Father. Give to him everlasting glory! He rules forever and ever! Amen! " (Revelation 1:4-6)

And at the conclusion of the letter, describing the new heaven and the new earth:
“No temple could be seen in the city, for the LORD Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations of the earth will walk in its light, and the rulers of the world will come and bring their glory to it.” (Revelation 21:22-24)

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let each one who hears them say, “Come.” Let the thirsty ones come—anyone who wants to. Let them come and drink the water of life without charge…He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come LORD Jesus! (Revelation 22:17, 20)

What Kind of Kingdom? part 2

Just before his crucifixion, Jesus was questioned by Pilate, the Roman governor who thought he held power over Jesus’ life. Trying to decide what to do with this man, who seemed innocent enough, yet had raised such anger and hatred from the Jewish leaders, Pilate wanted to know if Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews.

Then Jesus answered, "I am not an earthly king. If I were, my followers would have fought when I was arrested by the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” Pilate replied, “You are a king then?” “You say that I am a king and you are right,” Jesus said. “I was born for that purpose. And I came to bring truth to the world. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true. (John 18:36-37)

Those who love truth will recognize Jesus for who He is. The Messiah. The true King. He came to heal the sick, to bring the Good News of the forgiveness of sin, to lift up the humble, to humble the proud, to obey His Heavenly Father even unto an unthinkable kind of death on the cross. Because of the joy set before Him. To give us life in all its fullness. Many didn’t, and still don’t, recognize Him for who He is.

For this was Jesus’ mission:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19, Jesus reading from Isaiah 61:1-2)

And those receiving blessing in His Kingdom were those whom people didn’t necessarily expect:
“God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.
God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will receive it in full.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3-10)

King Jesus first came to earth as an infant, born in Bethlehem to a girl named Mary. He grew up in Nazareth, and was known as the carpenter’s son (Matthew ). The crowds followed Him when He began to perform miracles, but then he ended up on a cross and was deserted by His followers.

God had given this message to Daniel, “the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing.” (Daniel 9:26) And so it seemed. Until the resurrection. And then it became clear that His death had, in fact, accomplished everything.

What Kind of Kingdom?

“The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed; no one will ever conquer it. It will shatter all these kingdoms into nothingness, but it will stand forever.” (Daniel 2:44) This was the conclusion of Daniel's interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue. (“His Purpose”)

And then later, in Daniel’s own vision, one who “looked like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven…approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and royal power over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

Years before Daniel interpreted the dreams of the king of Babylon and received his own visions of future events, Isaiah had also prophesied about the coming King and His Kingdom: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Clearly, there is power, majesty, authority and eternal rule in the Kingdom of God; along with peace, fairness, and justice.

But a Servant King?

It is easy to see why many misunderstood the Kingdom of God. Even Jesus’ disciples were confused, and argued over who would be greatest in Jesus’ Kingdom. And the mother of James and John once boldly requested that Jesus guarantee her sons places to sit at Jesus’ left and right (Matthew 20:21). What a thing to ask! But it was how she understood the Kingdom, and she wanted her sons to be honored. Can we blame her?

Jesus called a small child over to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I assure you, unless you turn from your sins and become as little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)

Repentance and humility. Becoming like a child. Not looking for a place of honor or position. This is the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus unveiled.

“For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served, but to serve others and to give my life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

During Jesus’ lifetime, Jews were anxiously awaiting their Messiah. Hopefully one who would free them from Roman oppression. Many did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah because he did not match their hopes or expectations in the political arena.

“Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, and I am very pleased with him. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout; he will not raise his voice in public. He will not quench those who are weak, or quench the smallest hope, until he brings full justice with his final victory. And his name will be the hope of all the world.” (Matthew 12:18-21, quoting Isaiah 42:1-4)

On the road to Emmaus, the resurrected Jesus revealed Himself to two of his disciples, who were full of grief over who they had thought Jesus to be (“Welcoming Unmet Expectations”). Jesus opened up the Scriptures to them (Luke 24:27), so that they could understand His true purpose in coming to the earth and know that the prophecies about the Messiah had been fulfilled perfectly and completely through His life and death. As Jesus had hung on the cross, and proclaimed, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), they now understood what he had finished. And this new understanding changed everything!

A short time later, Jesus appeared to a gathering of His followers in Jerusalem.

“When I was with you, I told you that everything written about me by Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must all come true.” Then he opened their minds to understand these many Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again from the dead on the third day. With my authority, take this message of repentance to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who turn to me.’” (Luke 24:44-47)

The Kingdom of God is for the forgiveness of sins for all who turn to Jesus. This is the Good News. The Best News we could ever receive. And it filled the disciples with great joy (Luke 24:52).

Have we experienced this great joy? And does it compel us to take Jesus’ message of repentance, with His authority, to all the nations?

“Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, just as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10)

Friday, December 10, 2010

His Purpose

“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is LORD of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in manmade temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need there is. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand which should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from anyone of us.” (Acts 17:24-27)

“The LORD gave him (Nebuchadnezzar) victory over King Jehoiakim of Judah.” (Daniel 1:2)
Nebuchadnezzar had once thought this great victory was because he was so powerful. He came to learn that the LORD in heaven’s power far exceeded his own. And that any power he had was only because the LORD Almighty had handed it down to him.

Because God gave Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego “an unusual aptitude for learning the literature and science of the time. And God gave Daniel special ability in understanding the meaning of dreams,” (1:17) they stood apart from the other young men who completed the king’s three year training period with them. “In all matters requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, the king found the advice of these young men to be ten times better than that of all the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.” (1:20)

God had a wonderful plan and purpose to use these young men of integrity, who refused to defile themselves with the king’s rich food, who surrendered themselves fully to serve the God of their ancestors while living in the foreign land of Babylon.

After these four young men from the royal tribe of Judah were appointed to the king’s regular staff of advisors (1:19), the LORD gave the king a dream. It was a dream that greatly disturbed him, and he was determined to discover its meaning. To be sure that his wise men would not lie about the meaning of his dream, he commanded that he first be told what his dream was and then be told the meaning. This was impossible, his wise men assured him. But the king would not be swayed and ordered all of his wise men put to death if his request was not fulfilled.

Daniel heard of the critical situation and asked the king for time to interpret his dream. He asked his friends to pray with him that the LORD would show mercy and reveal the dream to Daniel. The LORD was merciful, and “Daniel praised the God of heaven, saying, Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he alone has all wisdom and power. He determines the courses of world events; he removes kings and sets others on the throne. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he himself is surrounded by light. I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors, for you have given me wisdom and strength. You have told me what we asked of you and revealed to us what the king demanded.” (2:20-23)

So Daniel explained to the king both the dream and its meaning. “While your Majesty was sleeping, you dreamed of coming events. The revealer of mysteries has shown you what is going to happen. And it is not because I am wiser than any living person that I know the secret of your dream, but because God wanted you to understand what you were thinking about.” (2:29-30)

Daniel went on to describe the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, made of different materials, that was finally crushed by a rock. He explained, “Your Majesty, you are a king over many kings. The God of heaven has given you sovereignty, power, strength, and honor. He has made you the ruler over all the inhabited world and has put even the animals and birds under your control. You are the head of gold.” (2:37-38)

Daniel interpreted the meaning of the chest and arms, the belly and thighs, and the legs and feet as subsequent kingdoms that would rise after Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. Then a rock would come to shatter all of these kingdoms, when the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed; no one will ever conquer it. It will shatter these kingdoms into nothingness, but it will stand forever.” (2:44)

The king believed and worshipped Daniel. He proclaimed, “Truly, your God is the God of Gods, the LORD over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” (2:47)

As was displayed through Nebuchadnezzar's dream,“God decided beforehand which (nations) should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from anyone of us.” (Acts 17)

God was working out the events of King Nebuchadnezzar’s life so that he, who was once far from God, could be brought near. For that is His purpose for all of the nations. That those from every nation, and tribe, and people and language would seek and find Him. We will all be gathered around the throne, before the Lamb. (Revelation 7:9)

His purpose will be fulfilled.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

No One Can Stop Him

Here was a king whose threats to his subjects included tearing them limb from limb and reducing their houses to piles of rubble (Daniel 2:5, 3:29). Much like the mighty King Sennacherib of Assyria ("What Are you Trusting In?"), no one it seemed could stop King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. His word was law.

If he demanded that his magicians first tell him his dream and then interpret it for him, all of his wise men would be executed if his wish was not fulfilled (2:12).

If anyone did not bow down to the huge golden statue Nebuchadnezzar had made, he would meet his life’s end in the king’s blazing furnace. And, Nebuchadnezzar bellowed at the three seemingly foolish Jews who dared to defy him, “What god will be able to rescue you from my power then?” (3:15)

Nebuchadnezzar had already besieged Jerusalem, defeated King Jehoiakim of Judah, and brought back sacred objects from the Temple of God, placing them in the treasure-house of his god (1:1-2) He had also brought back from Jerusalem some young men from noble families to be trained for the king’s service. (1:3-4)

Little did Nebuchadnezzar know then of the plans that God had to use the convictions, the faith, and the understanding of these young men to reveal Himself, the incomparable King of the universe, to this seemingly powerful king of Bablyon.

God would so humble Nebuchadnezzar that he would decide to send "a message to the people of every race and nation and language throughout the world" (4:1), concluding with:

“I praised and worshipped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He has the power to do as he pleases among the angels of heaven and with those who live on earth. No one can stop him or challenge him, saying, “What do you mean by doing these things?” (4:34-35)

“Now, I , Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true and He is able to humble those who are proud.” (4:37)

Truly, no one can stop Him.
Let us humble ourselves before the Most High, whose rule is everlasting.

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