Heroic: 2 Kings 19:1-37

Enacting change that shakes a certain ethos of a community can be difficult. Change is never easy. When we talk about change, the very subject leads most people to think that they will lose something valuable or that they will be forgotten as the change progresses. Others tend to love the dysfunction of the status quo and will do anything to keep it because they are reaping a temporary benefit from it. And there are also times that forces, spiritual and physical, will surround us and attack us. Change for the good is always being opposed by someone somewhere. But if we are able to stand within the confidence that God is doing something important in the world and for us, we will someday see God make His dream for humans come true.

This is the moment where we return to Hezekiah’s story. Israel is surrounded. Hezekiah is at the brink of losing His mind because of Jerusalem being seized by the most powerful military of His day. This was a military in which Israel stood no chance against. In the middle of this, God uses Isaiah to let the king know that there is something bigger happening here. When it is all said and done, the good will win. Violence will lose to peace. Love will triumph of oppression. Those who know they are powerful will find out that they are actually weak. What makes this story even more amazing is that God himself says that he is going to take care of things and make Assyria run for the hills.

This goes back and forth and we can be certain that the Hezekiah went from despair to faith over and over again. Note that the word is faith and not confidence or certainty. Hezekiah was far from certainty the whole time. There was no rational being that could even remotely fantasize that Israel was going to make it out of this. The story shows us how joining God’s movement will take moments where our fate is balanced between tragedy and success with most of the evidence saying we will have a tragic ending.

What makes this story simply astounding is that the act of God takes time to happen, but when it does happen, it is overnight results. The invincible army of the nation whose god had conquered all other gods and was ready to take the title of God over all gods home was reduced to barely the population of a small village by the God of the small and not so impressive Israel. The god of Assyria had lost to the God of Israel. It’s no small wonder that after all the taunting about how great his god was, the King of Assyria left the camp immediately and went straight back to his palace. Not long after that, he was killed by his owns sons, showing that his god was not protecting him.

As Christians we are not supposed to simply put people in separate categories of us and them, but the reality is that people who are not following seeking good, which comes from God, are in another category based on what they are pursuing. And have you ever noticed that people tend to take on the virtues of the group they are part of? If you hang out with athletes, you will likely try a sport. If you hang out with entrepreneurs, you will likely try to create a new line of business. If you hang out with artists, you likely try to make an work of art (and maybe complain about everyone else selling out). You take on the character of your investments. It’s not necessarily bad. For groups to move forward they have to accept at least a few main goals to chase together. Even some of the greatest movements were formed from groups accepting a common goal. These groups, however, can be either good or bad for humanity. They can choose to end violence, stop hunger, and create things that make people want to do good themselves, but they can also kill millions of people in concentration camps, steal money from weaker people, or do things that cause everyone else want to give up helping each other. Either way, we will reflect the group that we join, or we can change our settings.

What made Assyria bad was that their entire culture wanted power and control and they would stop at nothing to get it. It led them to do terrible things when they conquered other countries, but it also led their King’s own sons to kill him while he was worshipping their god. This god supposedly supported violence and when no one challenged the assumption towards violence, even the royal family was not safe.

Israel was different. Their God was one who wanted to take all of humanity out of violence, oppression, and fear and propel them towards love, peace, and joy. This meant that this people who were brought out of a culture based on violent assumptions were always interacting with figures like Hezekiah who would be led by God to change things for the better. And Hezekiah had to put much work into being a catalyst for change while trying to keep trusting God. Once again, he was not certain, but he had faith. And this God, who brought up this people to change the world, saved them in the end. And note that the ones he lead are not going out and taking over everybody and wiping out whole cities. They are actually praying to God to help them.

There are a few things to pull from this post. First, change takes work, but if it is change that God enacts, then it is worth pursuing because it makes the world better. Also, the values of your group or tribe are very powerful and can shape you if you do not choose to shape the values. Choose carefully which group you try to identify with and be someone who seeks to contribute to the group by allowing God work through your voice. Be open and warm to everyone, including those who want to make the world a terrible place. But always remember that we identify with Jesus who gave his life so that others could have their life made fuller in Him. And finally, remember Hezekiah’s story. It will try your faith to shift a community back to what God created it to be, but that is faith. It’s not when you have the sun shining on your face and the cool breeze hitting you that you learn what faith is. It is when you are in caves of doubt and feel like curling into a fetal position that you learn what faith in an unseen God is. It’s remembering that there is a promise of something better and moving towards it. Heroes are alway remembered for the changes they make in their story and the faith they have in the change they are enacting.

So how is it that you can enact a change in your community? Maybe there is some form of oppression or some assumption that is biblical bad for humanity. Maybe there is a lack of passion for Kingdom and Mission. Either way, once we see what God wants, we have a choice to ignore it or jump into it. We can take a safe status quo if we want, but jumping into God’s plans, though risky, can produce a beautiful movement if we only respond to the good wishes God has for us.


Vision of the Early Church: Community

Inside_of_Saint_AnaniasEveryone wants to chase the vision that has been put in them. It’s part of our design to dream and make that dream happen. A major tragedy in our culture is that we think we are supposed to do this alone. The Western culture teaches that every person has to take on a John Wayne persona, being a self-made man and forcing life to work. Even the great folk duo Simon and Garfunkel said, “I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries.” The problem is that no person is self-made. So much happens in life to everyone and those events always involve other people. Without other people, what would be the purpose of dreaming big and improving things. Life is filled with community. We cannot escape it. We are created for it.

Another truth we alway forget is that we are limited beings, so by nature, we cannot completely do everything on our own. Just think of all the dumb things you have done: ran out of gas, forgot the most important deadline at work, left your cell phone near your three year old. We do dumb things and those things affect the nearby community and at times affect the entire world. The great thing about community is that someone is there to be your safety net. The people in your carpool notice the gas light on your console. The coworker asks how the report is coming. The wife snatches the phone before the kid can make the two hundred dollar amazon purchase. It’s amazing how community can make a better world.

Community can also make a terrible world too. Most history books make it seem like the holocaust just happened out of the blue. The reality was that it took a community experience many years to get to that day. So many events made Germans ripe for the suggestive words of Adolf Hitler. It did not take much for Hitler to gain overwhelming support for the slaughter of millions of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and handicapped people. Community needs a source of life and peace to prophetically negate death and destruction. Without that, the world eventually becomes an agent of death and destruction, the very things God is trying to get rid of.

The Early Church understood this balance between developing community and being influenced by events. The struggle in the book of Acts was between Jewish and Gentile believers. Jews viewed Gentiles like dogs and Gentiles did not see Jews as much better. When Christ kicked down the doors of segregation, people did not know what to do with that at first. It took the leadership of Peter, Paul, and the other Apostles to finally get the two groups eating with each other without a fight breaking out. The Church understood community very well. It was hardwired into their experience, but the events could have very easily been different. Had people not spoken up for the gentile believers against the jewish believers and sometimes vice versa, Christianity would have looked much different today.* But thankfully, the leaders made a better community. Scroll through the book of Acts and look for those moments where it seemed one group of people were complaining against the other. Now look at the creative acts of the Apostles to help bring those groups together in peace. We can thank our founding fathers of the Church, and even more so the Holy Spirit, for giving us one spirit and one love.

If we listen to the Spirit as the great men of the New Testament did, we can find a way to break down barriers in our community. We can start in the Church. There is a song that says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I believe that is unarguably the point of faith in Christ. We have to have love for our fellow believers. If we do that, we can begin to show the same kindness to everyone in the world and build even more communities of love. I hope that every builds community like this around them just as the Early church did. I hope that we find that Christ is loving everyone and is leading us to love everyone.

*I understand that some of Church History revealed a failure on tearing down the barrier between Jew and Gentile, but it proves the point that inclusive community is a must in the Kingdom of God.

Vision of Abraham: Trust

In the last post, we explored finding God’s vision because that vision is better. Today, let’s look at Genesis 12:1-6. Abraham (called Abram early in his story) has it all. Family, stability, the perfect financial setup, and all the possessions he needed to make life work. He has no reason to leave the things that are working out for him. God, however, has bigger dreams for Abraham. God decides to call him away from all he knew was safe and secure.

Although the story does not say it, I’m sure Abraham had some second thoughts as he loaded his family and possessions. He probably at one point wondered, maybe even hoped, that he was losing his mind. At least he would have an excuse not to leave or maybe someone would have been loving enough to stop him.

Our possessions, jobs, friends, families, along with many other things can keep us from desiring God’s dreams. We might be getting advice about what to do or even be scared of leaving something but of the connection to what or who is there. When God places a dream in us, there are many things that can keep us from truly wanting to hear from God. Becoming a wanderer like Abraham is not a move for the normal person because you have to sacrifice something. The faith it takes most would call abnormal. We Christians would call it supernatural, because it is based on something we can’t see. In case you’re not connecting the dots, faith is basically trust. In Hebrews 11:18 Abraham is said to have been considered righteous because of His faith. Being righteous is covenant language. People who were called this were the types of people who were faithful to the relationships that they promise to keep. Abraham understood that this took trust, and lots of it too. If you do not trust someone, what reason would you have to follow someone’s suggestion to pack up and move to an obscure place. I would probably tell him that he’s crazy.

People we trust on a deep level will suggest things that will bring us goodness. How much better is the direction from God, the one who is absolutely righteous and faithful and has the ultimate birds eye view of what is ahead in life. If we would give up trusting in things of the world (the pursuit of money, power, fame, security) and find God’s guidance we would see a life of deeper wealth in relationships, power that cannot come from force, influence of love, and a life of purpose instead of mediocrity.

I think that all of us want the things that I just described that come from God. When people talk about a want to be what they should be, the things of this world usually are not mentioned. They know they are meant for bigger things. So the question is why not chase those things? If we truly trust God, we have to buy into His way of living, not just in religious settings, but in our families, businesses, going out to restaurants, even going out for a drink with a friend. We have to take what is true in the religious setting and make it powerful in our daily lives. Only then will we be able to find relationships, influence, and purpose.

Transfiguration Day

Transfiguration Story in Matthew 17:1-9 is a passage that can spark much debate on its meaning. To sum up, Jesus goes to pray on a mountain with Peter the two brothers to pray. Next thing the disciples know, Jesus is talking to Elijah and Moses. Peter, being the usual outburst of a man, starts planning to build a monument for the event. But God says to be silent and to listen.

I think the concept of silence is very important to this story.

How many times do we try to honor God by doing the first thing that comes to mind?

How often does that form of worship become busy work and leave no room for silent reflection?

The main question is how open are we? Peter had the right desire was in the right place. Many people have this same desire today, but so much of the desire is misguided with loud shows, catchy sermons, and ceremonies of feel-good spirituality. God is asking something else. The temptation to raise monuments and celebrate loudly is strong in us. We are a very ritual based species. But God wants an ear. Too much action can lead to an over bearingly noisy culture that drowns out the Holy Spirit.

How many of us are going here and there for this or that event? Busy living can be filled with school, sports, dances, proms, deadlines, overtimes, Church events, and even our own personal hobbies. For Peter, it was even his outspoken religious zeal. God wants us to spend some time away from that. It’s not bad, but cut out a part of your day just to sit in silent prayer. Don’t say anything. Just listen. Maybe Christ has something for you to hear today.

Check out what writer Ian Michael Cron says on this subject.

Foster on Unanswered Prayer.

If you are struggling with unanswered prayers, Richard Foster offers this word of encouragement from his book on prayer.

“Many times I, too, stand in perplexity at prayers that seem to be ignored. It may encourage us to know that we have a Savior who, in the darkness of Gethsemane, shouldered the weight of unanswered prayer and who, in His moment of greatest agony, shared our confused question: “Why?”

Reflections on Lent (Sunday #3)

One of the brilliant parts of the Church is communion. It is unlike any other meal. Only those who wish to be in the company of the Master come. Some claim to know the Master, but not bother to send a note of thanks, much less come to the great feast. They claim to know the faith and yet they do not commune with the Master or His Children. And so they do not truly know this faith.

It is one of the great symbols among believers that we are believers. Justin Martyr, first century Church Father, said this,

They then earnestly offer common prayers for themselves, and the one who has been illuminated and all others everywhere, that we may be made worthy, having learned the truth, to be found in deed good citizens and keepers of what is commanded, so that we may be saved with eternal salvation. On finishing the prayers we greet each other with a kiss. Then bread and a cup of water and mixed wine are brought  to the president of the brethren and he, taking them, sends up praise and glory to the Father of the universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanksgiving at some length that we have been deemed worthy to receive these things from Him. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving, the whole congregation present assents, saying, “Amen”…those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the consecrated bread and wine and water, and they take it to the absent.

Through the ages of the Church we have been taking this meal together. We have argued about its nature and even the material elements used in it. One thing that must never be denied is the the community which takes part in it or the God who gives it.

Earlier this week, I reflected on this act to those who are fearful or cautious. This reflection is for people who are prideful. Prideful that they are better or their tradition is better than others that share in this same communion. I pray that we do not take that path.

Grace and peace.

Eucharist Prayer

Richard Foster gave an interesting call to those who are concerned with Eucharist. My tradition has failed the tradition of Wesley in that most churches I have been to only meet the minimal quarterly requirements (some do not even meet that). Some have lazy leaders, to whom I say wake up, for the day of the Lord is coming and will act swiftly against you. Some, however, are fearful. They have read 1 Corinthians 11:20-30 and think that they are treating the Lord’s Supper in such a way as to cause “damnation.” They might feel unworthy and want people to feel the immensity of the Supper by having it little. Here is the quote from Foster:

Do not hesitate because you feel unworthy; this Meal is expressly for the unworthy! Come! Eat! Drink! – Foster, Prayer

Some still do no understand it. They find it confusing and troubling. To them I quote C.S. Lewis:

The command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand – Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

And to those who have been burned by the arguments and situations in talks about Communion or situations surrounding Communion, here the words of Saint Maximus the Confessor:

Christ is truly present among us, and his life is truly imparted to us, but how it all works is a holy mystery. – Saint Maximus the Confessor

I pray that my home denomination, Wesleyan, begins taking seriously the Lord’s Supper. We claim to follow Wesley, an Anglican. Anglicans take Communion at least once every week. Take courage and know that the Table is open to those who seek to come to God. Take courage that we are simply called to take part in this. Take courage in that this thing is higher than our understanding, which only means we are participating in something bigger than we can comprehend.

So tear the bread, pour the wine, and say the words.

And let the people take with want, eat with passion, and drink with yearning for the grace and power of our Lord and Savior.

Grace and peace to you all.

Sacramenetal Prayer

This is a very mind altering quote from Richard Foster.

    “Over the centuries an unfortunate and…completely unnecessary division has arisen among Christians. On the one side are those who stress liturgy and sacrament and written prayer. On the other side are those who stress intimacy and informality and spontaneous prayer. And each group looks at the other in pious condescension. It is here that we need the holy conjunction ‘and.’ We need not be forced to choose on over another.” – Richard Foster, “Prayer” pg. 105.

I prayer that God shows us not to be so divided and judgmental.From the Quakers to the Catholics, and from the Baptist to the Anglicans, may you see each other as brothers and contributors to each others spiritual journey.

Prayer, Obama, and the Christian.

I found an interesting post on prayer and Obama recently on the Catalyst blog. I really appreciated the post and the balanced Christian view on how to approach a politician you might have an issue with. It is important since it is an election season to remember that you might disagree with any politician eventually, regardless of party affiliation. It is also important to remember that they might be Christian.

We might be tempted to quote passages about the shortening of the Presidents days, but we are not judges over the hearts of men. However, we do have the Spirit inside us of the Prince of peace. We should pray as Jesus did and as Paul urges us, for benefit of others, even if we disagree with them.

When Paul told Christians in Romans 13 to obey the authorities it was in the presence of a pagan government and an Emperor who called himself a god. There was plenty of disagreement, but the Christian hoped for the good of the ruler. Today is much better. Christians have more freedom to worship and have a president that claims the same faith. He claims to be a brother. Now we have the responsibility to pray not only for a ruler, but a potential brother in Christ.

So let us pray. Pray that god blesses and guides this family. Where he is right, pray for affirmation. Where he is wrong, pray for conviction. Let us also pray for our own hearts and the fallenness that exist within our own hearts. We all have bad ideas, beliefs, and desires that are in need of change. Wish grace and peace to those who you might consider the enemy.

I am not saying to agree all the time, but I am saying to watch the language and make sure that it is building up the president to be better. This is going to be much harder for some (like Catholics) because of the recent mandates on birth control. But God has asked us to be a church of prayer and of goodwill. So let us live out that command.

Grace and peace to you all.

Reflections on Lent (Sunday #2)

It is the second Sunday of Lent. I am being taught of adoration and thankfulness this week through Foster’s thoughts on adoration of God. I also was able to look at the Litany of thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer.

Foster is a Brethren member which is a far cry from the Anglican tradition. The Book of Common Prayer is the Anglican guide to worship, in the worship center and outside of it also. It’s encouraging to see thanksgiving in two opposite traditions.

Pray that God shows us to grow in thankfulness.

Grace and peace.