Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Response to Rob Bell's Controversial New Book:

Acts 4:12
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

Rob Bell is a Pastor and author from Grand Rapids, MI.  He's authored and produced numerous books and DVDs.  I, for one, am a huge fan of his Nooma DVD series.  So, what got this Pastor stuck in a controversy that's gone so far as to label him a "heretic" by some Christians?

In his new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived:

"Bell raises questions about a central tenet for some evangelicals: that only saved Christians will avoid the fiery depths of hell. Bell argues that many people are turned off by overly harsh ideas of God and urges Christians to focus more on improving conditions on Earth than worrying about the afterlife."

The article from the Detroit Free Press explains it further by saying:

'"On the issue of whether Gandhi is in hell, Bell's conclusions are unclear. But he allows for the idea that non-Christians might be able to embrace Jesus after they die, or that they might have experienced Jesus unknowingly.

But overall, "these are areas of speculation, and when people build doctrines and dogmas on speculation, that's not, as a Christian, our calling. And we can cause untold heartache and destruction when we do that."

And so, Bell says, the focus should be to improve "all the hells on Earth right now, from genocide to rape to abuse to financial scams."'

Needless to say, this perspective has many Christians in a rage...and I don't blame them.  One one hand, I'm feeling a bit similar when I think it through...but on the other hand, there is a part of me that understands what he's trying to say.   There is a part of me that has thought these same thoughts- I just didn't have the guts to say them out loud.

You see, I agree with the great need for LOVE to be the central thing on which our lives our based.  Jesus says it Himself.  The two greatest commandments are based on this God and love others.  He's right in saying that so many of us are so caught up in the afterlife...that we forget to live life TODAY.  In the here and now.

There is a phrase that says: "Don't be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good"...and that phrase carries a little truth.  It always breaks my heart to see the "side of the road" Christians with their "REPENT OR GO TO HELL" focused on the afterlife that they are doing more damage then good.  But on the other hand, it's believing in the joy that is to come that should motivate us to live a life of love here and now. 

So at the end of the day here's my conclusion about all of this Rob Bell stuff: It doesn't really matter.

First of all, you and I as Christians should stop being so opinionated, debating every passing thing and having judgments on all things spoken.  Rather...let's focus on our own lives first.  Jesus reminds us to fix our own lives first, before we attempt to speak into the lives of others.   Easier said than done, Jesus.  It's scary getting to the nitty-gritty of who we really are...and so much easier to focus our efforts on others.

Secondly, no matter what our beliefs or speculations- whether or not the "Mahatma Ghandis" are going to end up in heaven or never hurts us to always assume the worst

What I mean by that is that we should never assume the people we know and love are in a relationship with Jesus.  Whether Mormon, or Buddhist, or none of the above...what will it hurt for us to show the love of Jesus?  What will it hurt for us to share the truth that has changed our lives?  The unknown should always cause us to live more passionately rather than sedate us. 

Love should always breed more love.  And that love, no matter our underlying theology, is what really speaks the loudest.  God's Spirit is powerful and alive...and it will do in hearts what we could never do.  That we have to believe. 

So at the end of the day, no matter what your response to this guy and his all that you say and do...make sure you are loving more today than you did yesterday.  Make sure you are sharing Christ more fervently than ever before.  Make sure you are reflecting Jesus to this lost, hurting, and broken world.  Make sure to love. Love.  Love.

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

That, my friends, is the only legitimate response. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is that you, Jesus?

John 4:25-26
 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

I was just reflecting on this passage about Jesus and his conversation with the Samaritan woman.   It struck me when I read the last two verses of the dialogue that all this time this woman was speaking with the Messiah and she didn't have a clue.

Here was the one she had been waiting for, here was the Answer to the questions she had.  Yet, so caught up in the tasks of the day...that Jesus went unnoticed.  Just another day.  Just another list of chores.  Just another man.  

I think about the scriptures and how apt humans are to miss Him.   Looking for fire when He came in the whisper.  Distracted by doubt when the embodiment of Faith was walking right beside them.  Waiting for a miracle, when the Miracle Maker was right there waiting to make their dreams come true.  Listening for His voice, though He had been calling our name the entire time.  

It's easy to miss Him, isn't it?  It's easy to go throughout our day, our weeks...and our lives without ever catching a glimpse of Him when He shows up.  We are so blinded by our own expectations of how He should make Himself known that sometimes we don't even recognize Him in our lives.  It's easy to find ourselves wondering- "Is that you, Jesus?"  

But thankfully, we serve a God who will not allow us to get in the way of His love.  We serve a God who will do whatever it takes in order to teach us to recognize Him.  He is relentless in his pursuit of our hearts - whether it takes the roar of a burning bush...or the sacrifice of His very life...

Take a moment today to look for Him.  Take a moment to recognize His presence in your life.  Take a moment to hear the beautiful words that He declares through all the madness and clutter of our lives: I, who speak to you, am He. 


Monday, March 28, 2011

What Does Jesus Thirst For?

[A gracious thank you to Father Nathan, serving as a Monk at the Community of Saint John, for taking the time to share with us what Jesus is teaching him during this season of Lent]
 And Jesus said, "I thirst."

The thirst of Jesus  as recorded here surely refers to the thirst he suffered as one crucified.  After all, many experts have written on the deep and insatiable thirst a crucified man would undergo.  
However, since Christ did nothing in vain, and the Holy Spirit willed this particular cry of thirst to be written, "For our salvation," (Jn. 20:31), perhaps we need to listen to his thirst from a deeper perspective.

The thirst of Christ on the Cross is prefigured by the other place where he refers to his thirst -- John 4.  In his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, Jesus' thirst, revealed to the Samaritan, is actually a thirst for her Faith, more than for water.  
Jesus thirsts for an opening, the opening of her heart to Him and His salvation, more than for physical water. Indeed, the gift He comes to bring satisfies for a lifetime, whereas the water she comes to draw will leave her thirsty again.  

When he speaks, "I thirst," again, this time from the Cross.  We may legitimately ask, "For what do you thirst, Jesus?"  What will He answer us?  What could He possibly desire upon the Cross more than our salvation, our love, our adoration for His Father?  
To respond to Jesus' thirst means to give Jesus to drink from our own hearts, by offering ourselves as "living sacrifices" (Rom. 12) to God under the upward motion of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, to offer God the "new wine" (Jn. 2) of an adoration "in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4) by the members of His body, fully inflamed by the love of the heart of the Son for the Father (Jn 15), is the glory of the Son.  
May we slake His thirst this Lent and always.  Let us pray!

Father Nathan

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Familiar Enemy:

John 7:5
For even his own brothers did not believe in him. 

There is something to be said about the dangerous reality of this verse.   The truth is, Jesus' own brothers did not grasp the miracle of who He was.  They ate, slept, played and lived together day in and day out.  But eventually, the familiarity of who He was began to set in...and the glory of who He was never birthed in their lives.

I don't know about you, but that's a sobering reality in my life as well.  Sometimes the familiarity trumps the glory. 

It's easy to live my life and get used to the awe and wonder of who Jesus is.  It's easy to take for granted His presence each and every single day, getting so comfortable with that truth that I never take the time to truly soak it in, to truly experience Him.

For me and you, the most dangerous enemy of our passion is familiarity.  It's an enemy whose mission is clear: "Take nothing from your victim, cause him only to take everything for granted."  It's an enemy that sneaks up on us without making a noise, leaving no hint of it's approach.  Leaving no trace that it came, until it has permeated every part of our lives...leaving behind the symptoms of apathy, doubt, and disbelief.

May you never grow so accustomed to your faith that you allow the seeds of familiarity to take root in your heart.  May you learn to wake up every morning and recognize His mercies as new.   May you be refreshed and reacquainted with His glory this season of Lent.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why the Catholics have it Right (this time)...

Matthew 6:16-18
    16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Let me be honest.  This is my first year to participate in Lent.  For me, this season of the year has never been that big-a-deal.  I remember in high school viewing Lent as a thing that "the Catholics" did.  My friends would come into class with some sort of dirt smeared on their foreheads, and then I would know Lent had began.

I mean, I always looked at my Catholic friends and felt sorry for them for all the things they had to do and the particular ways they had to do them.  I was grateful to be a part of a faith with very little "rules and regulations", a faith based on the principles of love and relationship.  And to be honest, I'm still grateful.

But one thing I'm realizing is this: we "evangelicals" have it too easy.  WAY too easy.  We've overcompensated so much in fear of entering into tradition and rituals that we have forgotten that maintaining a relationship with God requires some labor.  We get lost in the privilege of grace and forget that we are called to work out our faith with "fear and trembling".   What I believe that God means by that is this: put a little work into it! 

We tend to put our faith in "cruise-control" mode and neglect the spiritual disciplines that are involved in really experiencing God to the fullest.  

I've been reminded of my tendency to "cruise" through my faith as I've been going through Richard Foster's Book called Celebration of Discipline.  He takes 12 disciplines that have been foundational in the pursuit of our relationship with God and unfolds each one.

Coincidentally, (though there really is no such thing as a coincidence), my chapter on the discipline of Fasting coincides with this season of Lent.  And boy, has it been good.

Through my reading, I've been reminded of my need to work out my faith. 

This fast has been beneficial in so many ways.  But one thing in particular is that it has taught me to clear unnecessary coping mechanisms from my life.  The things I tend to run to when I am stressed, overwhelmed, and bored...are no longer available.

I'm left with me, myself, and my raw emotions.  Nowhere to run.  Nowhere to hide.  Nothing to numb.  I used to say that "oh....I'm just grumpy because I'm hungry....tired....thirsty..." whatever.  But now that these certain things have been purged from my life I come face to face with the reality that I am angry, miserable, and discontent....because of the things I have inside of my heart.  

There are no more excuses.  

In fasting, we come face to face with who we are.  In fasting, the things that have been clogging up our time, attention, and emotion are no longer given the authority to numb us.  In fasting, all of the things we have been trying to hide finally make their way to the surface...

And our gracious God takes His nail-pierced hand, and skims them away.  

This season of Lent is teaching me a lot about myself.  It's allowing me to see myself in a way that I haven't had the ability to see before, when my vision was clouded.  I am sad, silly and ignorant.   But in turn, it's taught me so much about my God.  

He's always known I was this sad, silly, and ignorant...yet, He loves me still.  That is beautiful to me. 

Happy Lent.  

PS. To all my Catholic friends...all my love and respect.  Don't knock the title of this was just to get you reading ;) worked. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Put Your Hands in the Air....

Psalm 63:3-4
3 Because your love is better than life,
   my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
   and in your name I will lift up my hands. 

Last week my husband and I attended a Chris Tomlin concert.  It was an incredible night of worship.  During the concert, speaker Louie Giglio gave an uplifting talk about worship.  The following is my attempt to summarize his words into my own.  

He started off by discussing this concept of "raising your hands" to God during worship.  Some people write it off by saying it's a denominational thing.  "The charismatics raise their hands in church..."

He went on to explain that,'s not a matter of denomination.  It's a "human thing".  Louie gave examples all across the world of people, from Christians to Buddhists to none of the above, raising their hands as an act of being "human".

Sporting events...Concerts...Religious Ceremonies...all across our world, humanity raises it's hands as an act of expressing emotion.  Something inside that can no longer be held in.  Something that needs to be released. 

Louie then went on to explain three reasons why we raise our hands:

1.  Surrender:  The First thing that comes to my mind is the phrase "You're under arrest".  If you think about it, the act of surrender seems to always include hands raised to heaven.  In a sense we are saying, "I give up...I am submitting to you".  How many of us need to raise our hands in surrender?  How many of us have chosen to do things our way time and time again?  It's time to give in.  It's time to surrender.

2.  Celebration: People all over the world lift their hands to celebrate.  From dancing to music concerts to football games.  It's easy to raise our hands for Penn State football...but we shy away from letting our emotions celebrate the love of our God.  It's okay to let it out.  Take some time to celebrate who God is and what He has done in your life.

3.  Desperation:  Maybe you don't feel like you can celebrate.  Maybe your life is at a difficult place right now, and you feel the sting of desperation each and every single day.  You are at the end of your rope with no where else to turn.  You're hoping for a miracle.  Today, raise your hands to God in desperation.  Remind yourself that when all else fails, He is your hope...your last hope.  And those who hope in the Lord will not be let down. 

Don't ever let your "dignity" get in the way of allowing your heart and body to worship the way they were meant to.  No matter where your heart is today...take some time to raise your hands in worship of a God who deserves it. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Spirit of Lent all Year Long:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.

The Gospels give a graphic account of the agony and desperation Jesus felt as he faced going to the cross.  What must have made it incredibly difficult is that he knew everything that was going to happen (John 18:4). 

According to Matthew 26:38 he said to 3 of his closest followers, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  He asked them to “pray and keep watch with me”.  Then he prayed in desperation.  As Luke 22:44 says, “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood.”  

Talk about intense prayer.  In the Matthew account it says he prayed 3 times what is quoted above.  "Not as I will, but as You will".  How incredible.  When faced with the hardest circumstance conceivable he yielded his will to his Father and subjected himself to the worst kind of treatment imaginable—being mocked, beaten, humiliated and then crucified.  All because he loved us so deeply that he was willing to give all of himself up for our redemption.

I don’t mean to dwell on the gruesome, but during this season of Lent I am always gripped with all that Jesus was willing to do- all that was required of him- to provide my redemption.  

Fortunately, the suffering did not have the last word.  Death and the grave couldn’t hold him or keep him.  He rose victorious and triumphant over death and the grave.  All for us.  Consequently, I am delivered from the penalty I would have coming because of my sin.  Because he has overcome, so can I.  I can live victoriously and as a follower of Jesus reap the blessing of a purposeful, substantive, and meaningful life now and at the same time enjoy the hope of eternity to come.

In this season of Lent, I am amazed all over again with all that Jesus was willing to do for me—all that he was willing to give up (his very life)!  

And I am convicted with the need to give up my all for him.  I hope it’s not a cop out, but I don’t usually give up anything in particular during this time.  However. this year I have set a goal of losing 5 lbs.  It seems trivial, but it is something I need to do.  

What I really want to also do is give myself completely up for him all year.  It’s a continual struggle.  If I’m honest, too often I tend to do what I want or try to get my way.  Then I’m reminded of Jesus words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23)  

Thank God for his grace because I fail often.  Yet at the same time I pray continually to keep my heart submitted to him and yielded to his purpose and will.  This is my goal now and always. 

Pastor Omar Zook
Pastor Zook is the Pastor for Pastoral Care at the Evangelical Free Church of Hershey.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lonely Jesus: Lonely You

John 16:32
32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me."

Something about this verse caught my attention.  I think it was the reality of Jesus' words as he looked ahead at the suffering which he was about to take on.  

When looking at the passion of Christ, we tend to focus on the physical suffering that he went through, so much so that we forget the emotional journey that He experienced.  But the emotional turmoil that He took on is an important reality to consider- because there is a component to it that many of us go through each and every single day: 


Jesus understood it.  He not only understood it, he experienced it.  He knew the feeling of being left by his dearest friends.  He felt the pain of being betrayed by the ones He loved.  He lived the reality of being disowned and rejected, and of being left alone.  

The reality of living as a man exposed Jesus to the brokenness of humanity...and in turn, the brokenness of the people He loved the most.  People let Him down...

Maybe you can relate.  Maybe you, too, understand the sting of rejection and the pain of abandonment.  Maybe the word loneliness holds a place in your life that you never imagined it could.  Find comfort in two things.

First, find comfort in the truth that the God of all creation allowed Himself to go through what you are going through.  Find comfort in knowing that when you are hurting, alone, and afraid- he has been there too.  He gets it.  He hurts with you because He has felt what you feel.

Second, find comfort in knowing that when everyone and everything fails and you find yourself all are not.  You will never be.  To the depth that you are able to feel loneliness, He is able to give you companionship.  You are not alone, because your Father God is right by your side.  You may not always feel it, and so it may be hard to believe it, but you must never allow your feelings to dictate your reality.  

"And remember that I am always with you until the end of time."

Reflect on this truth.  Allow it to sink into your heart.  And take heart in the truth that you are never, ever alone. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Moment of Silence:

Psalm 46:10
Be still, and know that I am God. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What Does your Dash Count For?

Luke 13:6-8

 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
   8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

I listened to a sermon online this morning, by a dear friend and Pastor of my former church in Peoria, Illinois.  Pastor King was preaching about this parable in Luke 13- about the fig tree that bore no fruit.

Christians have a tendency to see their faith as "fire insurance".  What I mean by that, is that so many believers are living their lives grounded in the truth that they are "saved" from the wrath of Hell because they have prayed a prayer and asked Jesus into their heart.  But the truth of the matter is, this is only half of the gospel. 

We are truly saved by God's grace, and we are saved by His grace each and every single day.  But this salvation is only the first step.  There has got to be a response on our part to this grace that has been poured out on us, to this God that has exchanged His life for ours.

Pastor King noted a story about a pastor who was performing a funeral.  This pastor noted that on each and every tombstone stands two dates with a dash in the middle.  The date of birth, dash, the date of death.  It's amazing how our whole lives get summed up on one tiny dash on a stone slab, isn't it?

But you see, the dash still counts.  The pastor went on to ask the congregation: what does your dash count for?

What a sobering question, isn't it?  We spend so much time breathing...but so little time really living.  Our God desires more from us than the yes or no question of entering into a relationship with Him.  He asks for our lives.  Every second, every hour, every day.  He asks for our devotion, our obedience, and our service.  He asks for us to be consumed, in every fiber of our being, with Him.

The passage in yesterday's reflection reminded us that if we truly remain in Him, we will bear much fruit.  But too many of us are like the fig tree in Luke 13: bearing no fruit day after day, year after year.  Having no resemblance to who we were intended to be.  Living a life centered around ourselves rather than grounded in Christ. 

The parable above takes a sobering turn as the vineyard tender went to the his master and asked for the fruitless tree to be cut down and gotten rid of!  But the gracious master....said no.  Not yet.  Let me work on it first.  Let me tend to this tree.  Let me help it grow.  Give it more time.

Our God is patient.  Our God is loving.  Our God cares more about our success and fulfillment than we even care about ourselves.  And He continues to work on us.  He chooses to give us a second, third, and forth chance.  Rather than give us justice in what we deserve, He gives us mercy and offers us hope. 

Hope for transformation.
Hope for change.
Hope for restoration. 
Hope for a better life...

I don't know about you, but that is the kind of Love that motivates me to give my all.  That is the kind of love that gets me off of my seat and ready to do whatever God asks of me.  That is the kind of love that brings me to my knees in humble obedience.  That is the kind of love that enters into my heart and begins to run over...into the lives of others- as beautiful fruit. 

God is gracious...but may we never take advantage of such grace.  Christians, may we allow His kindness to lead us to repentance for the way we have lived our lives. May we acknowledge that we have led fruitless seasons in our lives, seasons in which we bore the weeds of selfishness, conceit, and apathy rather than the fruits of love, kindness, and faithfulness.  May we choose to live in such a way that bears His fruit and allows the "Dash" of our lives to reflect Jesus when it is all said and done. 

Thank you God for your grace.  May we never take advantage of your patience.  Help us to respond in a way that reflects your Love in our lives.  Help us to bear much fruit.  

To hear Pastor Kings entire message on Luke 13 (I recommend it!): Click here

Friday, March 18, 2011

Snorting Scripture:

John 15:5
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

This season of Lent has been an important time for me to learn to "remain" in Jesus.  Personally, I find that it's easy to make my way through life not realizing that I have pushed God into a little corner of my heart, going to visit Him during quiet times and Sunday mornings.

I forget the truth of this passage, the truth that I can do nothing apart from Him...until my life spins so out of control that I am desperate for God's hand to touch it I don't want to get to that point before I learn to turn my eyes to Jesus.  

A speaker that I heard yesterday said something that stuck with me.  She spoke of a dear friend who was going through some significant struggles in her life.  She asked her friend "How are you getting through this season in your life without going crazy?"  To which her friend simply replied: "I'm snorting scripture".

And she was.  It sounds kind of funny, but the reality is, if you're going to snort something....Scripture is the way to go.  Practically speaking, this woman was making sure to eat, breath, sleep, live God's word, because she knew it was the only way to remain in Him and allow His word to penetrate her life beyond her struggles.  She read throughout the day and when she didn't have the strength, she had others read it to her. 

This season of your life, whether struggle or victory, may God give you the motivation to soak up His presence and His Word.  May He give you the concentration to say no to distractions and say yes to Him.  May He give you the discipline to continually choose to remain in Him as you seek to find sanity and peace.
"Listen less to your own thoughts and more to God's thoughts."-- François Fénelon

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Better Than Secret Millionaire:

Philippians 2:6-8
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross! 

My husband and I have a new favorite show on ABC called Secret Millionaire In this new series, a Millionaire goes undercover, giving up their time to volunteer in some of the most broken and destitute places in America.

The Millionaire is there with the ultimate intention of finding those in need, and sharing his/her wealth with them.  It's an uplifting program, and it's a challenge to me as a believer to remember the riches that I have in Christ, and all that I have to offer those around me, though I myself may not be a millionaire monetarily.

But ultimately, this show reflected something powerful to me, particularly during this season of Lent.  It reminded me of my Savior, who chose to leave the great riches of His world to come down into mine.  My God, who- though He was God- decided to make himself nothing...just so that I could meet Him.  Just so that I could see Him.  Just so that I could have relationship with Him.

More than all the money in the world, our God has given us Himself...He stepped into our worlds in a beautiful exchange, so that He could ultimately take us to His.  Do you get that?  Have you believed?  Did you receive it?  Do you live in it?

May God remind us today of this precious gift, and may we never grow so accustomed to it that we forget that it cost Him his life...

Take a few minutes to listen to this song and reflect on the beautiful exchange of our God.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Emotional Opiates: On Empathy

[Thank you to Pastor Jonny Rashid, for taking the time to help us reflect on Lent and giving us a glimpse of what God is teaching you and your congregation this season.]

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.

There the LORD issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. He said, “If you listen carefully to the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.”

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.

This passage, when read through a lens of Jesus, powerfully illustrates one concept that is central to Lent, the season of fasting before Christ’s death and resurrection: empathy. During seasons of suffering, when hope is as rare as water for the Israelites, which is like the one we’re embarking on during Lent, when we begin empathizing with ourselves, we can see the hope that Jesus’ resurrection offer us – we can see the hope of life in a season that’s all about death.

Our propensity may be to offer empathy with others during this season and sometimes we do that so poorly that we can’t get passed judging ourselves for it. So before then, let’s try to get to a place where we can empathize with ourselves – empathy typically refers to relating to other people’s pain, but we’ve numbed and desensitized ourselves so much  that sometimes it’s challenging to really see the pain that we are in. We actually need to feel our pain and get self-aware.  In a sense, we need to empathize with ourselves.

Fasting, giving something up for Lent or taking a discipline on, is a good way to get weaker, to experience some suffering so that whatever might be numbing you – whether its substances, TV consumption, sleeping too much, overeating, filling every second of your day with people – can wither away so that you can see what’s really behind it. Getting rid of some of those sedatives, opiates, the antibiotics that numb our pain is a good way to really realize that we are thirsty. 

It took journeying through the desert for three days so that the Israelites could notice that they were indeed thirsty and that the water they were trying to drink was bitter. In their thirst and in the water’s bitterness, they actually saw what was holding them up. 

As they let go of their control and admitted to Moses and to God how thirsty they were, God provided them with wood that made the water drinkable – but through their ability to see their suffering, they could see what was holding them up. They could see that they weren’t following God – that they needed a paradigm shift. And that the paradigm shift led them to a better place, one without suffering.

Getting to a vulnerable place, a place where there is some self-imposed fatigue, hunger, and thirst can help us get out of our normal worlds the ones where we want to remedy all of the suffering that we experience typically in the name of productivity.  

Lent is about slowing down, fasting, going in solitude. Being willing to fast in the desert for 40 days, like Jesus did, and get tempted by the devil – and relying on God through it. It’s about getting freedom from the Egyptians and then signing up for a seemingly aimless trip through the desert and even being tempted to go back to the oppressor. 

We’re reawakening our feeling -- we need to get the stuff out of our system that’s numbing us. The result of fasting and being in suffering isn’t necessarily freedom from pain and suffering – sometimes it will seem like we are experiencing more pain and more suffering – but there’s hope to be had, hope that we can look to. It leads to transformation.

Drinking the bitter water helped the Israelites to see how bitter they were being with themselves and with God, and along with the transformation of the water – there was an internal transformation too. Along with ending up in Elim, an oasis in the desert, they found an oasis in their hearts too. God was with them all along.

And God is with us. Lent is about empathizing with Jesus and his suffering, so that you can more clearly embrace his resurrection. Lent is about suffering so that we know that Jesus suffered too – that Jesus experienced all of the hardships and difficulties that we do and that he was transformed and gave us the same key to transformation. 

As we suffer in the desert this season, we know that Jesus did too, and so we know that we can relate to him and he us. As we fast this season, we’re learning that Jesus is someone that we can relate to, someone that we can have a relationship with. We’re learning too, as we suffer, how He suffered for us. We’re finding hope through our heart through that empathy – empathy for Jesus, for others, and for ourselves.

Jonny Rashid is a pastor at Circle of Hope, a reconciling network of cell congregations in the Philadelphia region called to be a safe place to explore and express God’s love.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's a Party: Tribal Style (On Child like Faith)

Matthew 18:4-5

4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes [a] one child like this in My name welcomes Me.

I had another post in mind for today, but something I saw today totally rocked my world and took the forefront of my thoughts today.  In light of Pastor John King's reflection yesterday, I felt that it was fitting to take today's reflection in this direction. 

You see, I saw a YouTube video this afternoon about missionary Mark Zook and his incredible ministry to the Mouk people of Papa New Guinea.  They were a tribe of men and women living in the jungles of Papa New Guinea, who had absolutely NO exposure to the Bible or it's message.

It's hard to even comprehend this truth, considering that I have six bibles sitting on my shelf, and unlimited access to God's word through the internet, ipod, bible software, etc.  

The Mouk people's reaction to God's word is breathtaking.  It is a child-like faith that ushers them into a place of sheer celebration- celebration like I have never seen before- when presented with the truth of God's word.  It's incredible...and it brought me to tears.   Tears of joy...and tears of shame. 

It's a shame that, we get so accustomed to God's word and His story that it really holds little value in our lives.  I mean, ask your self: When is the last time you celebrated the incredible realization of your salvation?  We are bored by it, uninterested, and apathetic toward the story that changed the destiny of all of mankind.   It's sad, when you think about it- that we could have so much at our fingertips yet still be looking past it...tempted by the material things of this world and the people in it. 

As you watch this video, may you dig deep to find the child-like faith within you...the faith that trusts, the faith that believes, the faith that rejoices with all that is within you at the feet of the Savior who came to this world to change your destiny and save your soul.  

May you learn from the simplicity and genuineness of the Mouk people, who had nothing- but gained everything in the simple acceptance of God's truth.  

Thank you, Jesus...for choosing us.  


Monday, March 14, 2011

Come, Die with Me...

[Honored to introduce our first guest post in our "Daily reflections for Lent" series, written by Pastor John King- Senior Pastor of Riverside Community Church]

Matthew 16:20-25 
 "Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Hearing this, "Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. 'Never, Lord!' he said. 'This shall never happen to you!'"

What Jesus then said in the face of this apparent devotion consistently forces me to define discipleship in terms that I don't think I'd ever get to by my self. The Bible says that "Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.' Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.'"

There were many who would have said yes to Jesus to come dine with me, or come be a part of miracles happening.   But “come die with me”... that brings a different response in most: “Never Lord”.

Yet, the call of Jesus in His passion to win a lost world is often “DIE TO YOURSELF”.

The journey of the Gospel has been written in the blood of people who were willing to say ANY TIME, ANY PLACE, ANY COST.

Most of Christendom will only take the gospel to the safe places of earth. Still a third of the World (the area known as the 10/40 window) lacks real Gospel penetration and gets only a minute percentage of Christian’s resources and probably prayers.

It is said that 87 percent of missions giving goes to the regions of the world that the Gospel has already saturated and hardly any to where the Gospel still needs to go . . .we are willing to go to the safe places and not willing to go where we will need to die to self.

Ask yourself- Where is your safe place?  Are you willing to step outside of it?

God, grant this Lenten season that we will be empowered to say to Jesus “I am willing to take up your cross and willing to die for your cause and the salvation of lost people”. 

John King.
Senior Pastor

Riverside Community Church Peoria IL. 
An Inner City Church with a passion to influence a City toward Jesus.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dandelions: You See Flowers in These Weeds

Create in me a pure heart Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel as though I have very little to offer God.  Particularly so during this season of Lent, where I am deliberately giving of myself in order to connect with Him on a deeper level.  Sometimes I find myself wondering “what do I really have to give?” in the span of an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent God.  

I remember a song from my teenager years by a (then up and coming) horn band called Five Iron Frenzy.  Their songs had some unexpectedly meaningful lyrics.  

One song in particular reminds me that no matter what I have to give Him, it is in the act of giving that God is glorified, rather than in what is being given.  God has the ability to see beautiful flowers even in the weeds that we give Him. 

He has the ability to see past our sinful hearts and our brokenness and find something beautiful.

As you seek to draw closer to Him, may this song bring you some encouragement in knowing that not only is He seeing something beautiful inside you, but He is also creating something beautiful within you.  The words to this song speak more than I could try to explain, so with that said, take some time to meditate upon their meaning. 

In a field of yellow flowers,
underneath the sun,
bluest eyes that spark with lightning,
boy with shoes undone.

He is young,
so full of hope,
reveling in tiny dreams,
filling up his arms with flowers,
right for giving any queen.

Running to her beaming bright,
while cradling his prize.
A flickering of yellow light,
within his mother's eyes.

She holds them to her heart,
keeping them where they'll be safe,
clasped within her very marrow,
dandelions in a vase.

She sees love, where
anyone else would see weeds.
All hope is found.
Here is everything he needs.

Fathomless your endless mercy,
weight I could not lift.
Where do I fit in this puzzle,
what good are these gifts?
Not a martyr or a saint,
scarcely can I struggle through.
All that I have ever wanted
was to give my best to you.

Lord, search my heart,
create in me something clean.
you see flowers in these weeds.

Gently lifting hands to heaven,
softened by the sweetest hush,
a Father sings over his children,
loving them so very much.

More than words could warrant,
deeper than the darkest blue,
more than sacrifice could merit,
Lord, I give my heart to you.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why Japan Matters To Us: On Suffering & Hope

Revelation 21:4
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

I'm sure you've heard by now about the tragedy happening in Japan after the 8.9 magnitude Earthquake that devastated the country on Friday afternoon.  The earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that brought even more death and destruction to the already wounded country. 

Things like this don't always hit home for those of us who live in distant lands, surrounded by comfort and even luxuries.  And when the news finally does sink in, we are left confused, questioning a God who says He cares and who says that He will take care of us.  How can we make sense of the tragedy in our lives in the shadow of an all-powerful, all-loving God?

Either He is lying...or He doesn't really care.  That's what it seems like at times, doesn't it?

Last weekend at church I was really moved by a message addressing this issue.  Long before the devastation in Japan, these questions have been asked by men and women all through history.  Men and women trying to make sense of the pain in our worlds while believing in the power of our God. 

The pastor explained this concept by separating "this age" from "the age to come".  

Some see "this age" as our current world: filled with destruction, death, and pain.  They await the "coming age" when there will be no more tears or sorrow...the day when Jesus will come back to rescue His people.
For these people, life can be very black and white.  They tolerate today, rather than thriving in it, in hopes of a better tomorrow.

Others believe that once Jesus came, "the age to come" had arrived.  That every tear would be immediately wiped from our eyes, and that Jesus would bring healing, success, and prosperity to those who believed.  For these people, discouragement is just around the corner when they are hit with disease, financial difficulty, and persecution.

So how can we make sense of this?  If Jesus is alive and powerful, why do we still suffer?  Whey do we still mourn?  Why is life still filled with hardships and strife?  Why is there still cancer, AIDS, and childhood trauma?

The pastor posed that it is because there is in overlap between "this age" (the time of Jesus entering our world as a baby) and "the age to come" (the second coming of Jesus).  The coming of Jesus DID bring hope, healing and new life.  It broke the chains of death and despair.  People who give their lives to this higher calling are filled with hope and freed from the pain of sin and death.  They are changed.  They are transformed.  I don't just believe this concept...I am living proof.  Jesus has brought hope into my life, freedom from addictions, and a peace that doesn't even make sense.  And I have seen him do the same and more in the lives of those around me.   

But this is not the end of the road.  Though Jesus brought rays of sunshine into the dark clouds of our lives, there is still something even greater that is to come.  There will be a day when these dark clouds dissolve and the face of God will bring the never-ending light of hope into our lives...forever and ever. 

You see my friends, this world is just the appetizer.  It is not meant to fill us because it can't.  But the main course is just around the corner to those who persevere.  There will be joys in this world, but there will also be pain...until the day that "every tear will be wiped away".

God is still alive and at work in our lives...preparing our hearts and the hearts of those around us for the day when He will have the final say.  Press on.  Have hope.  This is not the end of the story. 

As we meditate on the life of Jesus during this season of Lent, we are thankful, God, for the hope that you brought into our world.  We are grateful that you chose to bring your sunshine into our dark lives through the birth of your Son Jesus and through His death.  And we are hopeful, awaiting the day when you will come again, wiping every tear from our eye and bringing an irreplaceable joy.  Amen. 

"And you will never be completely happy on earth simply because you were not made for earth. 

Oh, you will have your moments of joy. You will catch glimpses of light. You will know moments or even days of peace. But they simply do not compare with the happiness that lies ahead....

Those moments are appetizers for the dish that is to come."--Max Lucado

Friday, March 11, 2011

What He Really Want From You...Is You

Hosea 6:6
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

One of my dear readers posed an important question after yesterday's post that I believe resonates with many of us- but maybe we're too afraid to ask.  She wondered, "I don't understand the purpose of giving something up to prove ourselves to God."

In that question lies a very important revelation of who our God really is.  She's right, when you think about it.  What is the point of giving something up during Lent, or any other time in our lives.  What kind of God is this who asks us to prove ourselves to Him.  If God is truly love, than why do we have to jump through all these hoops just to get His attention?

I believe at the heart of this question there is a deep seated fear that lies within all of us- that God would only be interested in us because of what we do for Him.  Within this comes a multitude of fear-based actions...doing, doing, doing, in order to be loved.

But this, my dear brothers and sisters, is not the God we serve.  God reminds us time and time again that though He appreciates what we give Him, what we give is not indicative of His love.  We will not be loved more because we give, and we will not gain His attention because we sacrifice. is in the moments of our offerings that for once....God finally has OUR attention.  For once, our eyes have finally let go of the things of this world that tend to hold us back, and have become fixed on Him. 

This, my friends, is the true meaning of sacrifice.  Learning to let go so that we can be uninhibited in entering God's presence, in connecting with Him, in acknowledging who He is.

For some of us, this may mean "taking up" something rather than "Giving up".  Spending time reading His words.  Opening our heart to Him in prayer.  Talking with Him.  Walking with Him.  Thinking of Him.

But no matter what you choose to do or not do during this season of Lent, remember that there is a God who loves you...waiting for you to enter into His presence and draw closer to His side.  Because at the end of the day, what He really wants from you.

[Join me in daily meditations during this season of Lent.  Be on the lookout for guest posts by some very incredible men and women from all over the globe, from different denominations, all learning to draw closer to the heart of Jesus.]

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Meditations for Lent:

John 12:24
24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

In an attempt to prepare my heart this season of Lent I was reading through John 12 yesterday, contemplating what I was going to "give up".  For many, the season of lent is something that has lost it's meaning through the tradition- giving up things for the sake of giving them up, rather for the sake of drawing closer to God.  

As I was considering what to "give up", I wanted to make sure that I was sacrificing with the right heart- not just to "say" I was participating in lent.  This beautiful verse caught my attention, as it usually does- and took my heart back to the true meaning of this season.  


I don't mean to sound morbid, but really, how do you get around that when reflecting on this season of LentThese days, in preparation for Easter, are centered around the concept of death founded in the crucifixion of our Savior.  Death of the perfect Lamb of God.  Death to the bondage of sin and death.  Death to the prisons of self: Self-centeredness.  Self-hatred.  Selfishness.  Self-absorption.  Self-gratification.  

Death to self, in order to open ourselves up to life in Christ.  

In a tiny way, this season of Lent...this season of "giving up" is one small way to allow the seeds of our SELF to die, so that the life of Jesus may flourish in our own lives.  

So, no matter what you choose to lay down this season of Lent, remember this one thing: "Nothing, how little so ever it be, if it is suffered for God's sake, can pass without merit in the sight of God."- Thomas a Kempis.

As you learn to die daily to self in this season of Lent, may you be filled continually with His life.

Monday, March 7, 2011

There's a Hedge in the Way...

"I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world"- Mother Theresa

Acts 20:35
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'

Yes, I know.  I've been on a "service-kick".  The topic of serving others has been implanted in my brain the past few weeks.  God has really been burning his love for people into my heart, asking me to follow in His steps.  But here's the thing- I don't want this idea of serving to be a phase, a fleeting idea, a momentary fixation.  I want it to be a part of my everyday life.  And that's the hard part.

I was talking to a friend the other day as a group of us were discussing this idea of serving.  She agreed.  She has been wanting to reach out in service to her elderly neighbor for the past few months, but doesn't.  "What's been stopping you" we wondered. 

"There's a hedge in the way".

The idea was hilarious to us at the time...that a simple hedge was preventing her from doing something her heart had been desiring to do...until we saw the picture of the hedge, that is. 

But here's the many of US can say the same thing regarding our lives?  How many of us are not doing what we were created to do because of some sort of obstacle that seems too difficult (or too inconvenient) to overcome?  For us, it may not be a literal hedge...but what about the hedge of time, of fear, of insecurity.  What about the hedge of finances, of career, or of reputation.

Let's be real with ourselves...we, Christians, are afraid to really give of ourselves.  We are afraid to give until it hurts.  We allow the obstacles in our worlds to get in the way of really following Jesus.  But nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little. 

There is something profoundly final in the words of Mother Theresa who regarding this topic says, "I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love".

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's Your Story?

1 Peter 4:10-11
10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 

When God puts something in your heart, it is very difficult to ignore Him.  You can make excuses, and you can even pretend you didn't hear Him, but at the end of the day those who decide to follow His leading find themselves blessed beyond imagination.

God has put the concept of service on my mind the past few weeks.  Being a new mom, I had taken a temporary "sabbatical" from serving others and focused on serving my new baby girl.  To be quite honest, I didn't have the strength, energy, or desire to do much else the first few months of being a mom.  But lately God has slowly been challenging me to take a step of faith and reach out to others in this new stage of my life.

My last post was a challenge for each of us to take a look at the gifts we have been given and put them to use...and as I said before, I can't seem to get this topic off of my mind.  A discussion I had this morning reminded me of a story I had read last year in Donald Miller's Book: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. 

In this book Don talks about his friend's teenage daughter who was making some poor decisions in her life.  Her dad finally realized that his daughter was making these choices in an effort to find purpose and meaning.  He realized that he had not put much effort into helping his daughter create a  "story" for her life, something significant to live for.  And so, she decided to go make up a story of her own "a story of risk and adventure, rebellion and independence". 

This father decided to take the initiative to really give his daughter something to be passionate help her write a good story.  He held a family meeting and presented the idea of raising money to help build an orphanage for needy children through an organization he had researched.  His daughter's face lit up at the prospect of having something meaningful to live for.  They found her taking initiative, raising money, and coming up with brilliant ideas to serve the poor.  She even planned a family trip to Mexico to take part in building the orphanage as a family. 

Soon, she broke up with her loser boyfriend, and began to focus on greater things.  As Don records in his book, "No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her".  

And that's the reality of living our lives the way God intends for us to live them...through His power, we become "heros" in the stories of our lives, living to make this world a better place just as Jesus did.  We take on the identity that He longs for us to have and the purpose that we were made for.

Too many people are walking around, without a significant story to live for- living roles they were never intended to live.  Rebellion and risk look enticing to someone who has nothing better to do.  In my sincere opinion, I believe that 90% of America's youth are going down the wrong path because no one has taken the time to help them write a good story for their lives.  They are bored...looking for an adventure, which is precisely what they were created for. 

God's adventures for our lives and for the lives of those around us are above and beyond what we could ever imagine...if we would only take the time to let Him lead us.   

I'm ready to take my story to the next step...are you?