31 December, 2014

Oh to be Known...Again

Another air tragedy forced me to look back and revisit a post I wrote months ago when Flight 370 went missing...and is still missing.

Asia Flight QZ8501 bothers me in the deep, deep recesses of my heart and mind.  How could another air accident occur?  When will it be found?   I think of the moms and dads, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives who just want to hear a voice, to know an answer, to answer a phone and hear a precious voice.  But to look and not find....to search and be void....to not know and be known.  It is truly heartbreaking and I cannot even began to imagine the pain and grief.

John shares a familiar story.  It's a story of seeking while grieving.  A story of looking for a voice who knows my name, your name, the names on AirAsia Flight QZ8501:

12 Mary had returned to the tomb and was standing outside crying. And as she wept, she stooped and looked in and saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 
13 “Why are you crying?” the angels asked her.“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
14 She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him!
15 “Why are you crying?” he asked her. “Whom are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”
16 “Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him.
“Master!” she exclaimed. John 20:12-16
One word, 'Mary', is all He spoke.  But she knew the voice, she recognized the love and acceptance.  And she knew the voice KNEW her....all of her....and loved her the same.  Oh, that we could turn around today and hear our Lord say our name out loud.  That one word for each of us.  One word that says, yes, I know your name, your whole name, I know where you are in the world, I have come for you, I have found you, I am here, I adore you just as you are in your pain, in your sorrow and in your joy and laughter.  'Mary!', He said.  And she exclaimed, 'Master'.  Oh, to know His voice and be known.  

Also, He was in plain view.  'She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.' He was standing there in plain view but not as she had expected.  

How many times do I look past Jesus standing right in front of me?  I look for what I want to see.  I look for the answer I want.  I can't see past my pain.  But yet, He will always be right in plain view looking differently than what I expect...but always there.  Always waiting to comfort me in my sorrow, to understand my pain, to hold me, to lead me back to Him.  He understands death and dying.   He understands pain....He lived both.

In my world and your world, there are so many who do not yet know His voice, who do not recognize the sweet sound of Him saying their name.  I daresay that many of the people connected to AirAsia Flight QZ8501 are from places in the world who have not heard of this Jesus.  And perhaps many in North America have heard and re-heard but have now stopped hearing.  Let me have ears to hear.  Amidst New Years, Christmas take-down, more food and football I pray I will get out of my protective bubble of a life and realize the world needs this message...He calls your name.  

I believe He was on that flight with the precious people in their fear and in their death....He called each by name.

Rest in peace AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

23 December, 2014

The Light Display

(Crosspost from adventagain.blogspot.com)
When our kids were little we would bundle them up in their Pj's and blankets and go for a ride to
see the Christmas lights.  We would travel street after street to find the biggest display of brightness.  It was fun and exciting.  There were giggles and there was wide-eyed wonder...until one child crossed into the other's space and the arguing began!  Oh the joys of children!  But oh, how the lights did captivate us.
Conversely, years later my sisters and I would do the very same thing with our elderly mother.  We would bundle her up and travel to the BEST Christmas light display in town.  We would ooh and aah and actually we would sing old Christmas songs with Mama.  This is a favorite memory of mine.  My mama loved to sing and even as her mind might stray in her older years she could always sing and remember the words.  She loved the lights and those trips with her girls. A year ago, December 24, a light went out in my world when my Mama died and it became dark...

This month of pre-Christmas, we've been looking at Nicodemus and his journey to find truth and ask his questions.  He came at night, in the dark, seeking.  It seems he was not actually sure what he was seeking but yet he came and he came asking.  Can we leap to the conclusion that he came to talk with Jesus after he tried life in his own way? He was successful, he was highly educated, he was a respected leader but he was still seeking.  It was as though what he had acquired on his own was not enough.  And so it is with us.  You must be reborn, Jesus told Nicodemus.  But how can this be, he asked.  How indeed?  Accept the ReBorn One.

And lastly, Jesus gives us the final key, the final hope...
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: 
Light has come into the world... John 3:16-19a
It's the light.  The Light has come and the Light comes with no condemnation but to save.  To save Nicodemus.  To save me and you.  I don't know what you wrestle with or what old messages play in your head but I know that this Jesus Nicodemus met offered no condemnation but offered only love.  And I know that is what He offers us today.  Those old, dark messages are transformed by the one, true Light.  How can this be, you again ask?  Because we follow the One who leads and loves.

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

9 ... they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
The Magi too realized that light had come into the world.  They saw the light and began to ask their questions while they too were in the dark.  They traveled a long, difficult distance to seek this light.  Who knows the hardships of their journey or the questions and discussions they must have entertained while they traveled but yet...they kept coming.  They kept traveling forward toward the pure, all-knowing, all-loving, non-condemning light.

God never promised us a care-free easy journey.  He's never said life would be easy.  Let's face it: life is hard, holidays are billed as 'Hallmark' moments but few live up to the hype and hope of that illusion. For our families are filled with Nicodemus', me, you - lost, searching, broken people, living in the dark when the Light has arrived.  I've learned that we cannot truly understand light until we have experienced great darkness.

We started this study coming to Jesus at night in the dark and we end with following the Light to Jesus.

A year has passed since our Mama died.  I guess some would say we lost her and that's partially true.  BUT we lost her to the Light.  As I think back to the day of her death I realize that even as we said goodbye to her the Light began to shine in the crack of my heart.  And today, I will keep traveling toward this great Light. O Holy Light, captivate my heart this Christmas.

17 December, 2014

How Can This Be?

(Crosspost from adventagain.blogspot.com)
Last week I did some Christmas shopping.  The store was fully decorated and Christmas music
played.  The store was not too crowded but certainly full enough!  I passed people and noticed their carts were full like mine.  As I went to checkout I had a bit of a wait.  Surprisingly, I was waiting patiently and then begin to notice the decor and commercial, retail world of Christmas.  At checkout my clerk had to leave for a few minutes and I had the opportunity to grow impatient when I noticed a very ornate, broken set of two-foot tall figurines...Mary and Joseph stood with a slight tilt.  They were gold and red and shining.  As I stood there with Sarah, my daughter, I asked aloud, "Do you think this is what He had in mind?".  How can this be?

When Nicodemus was having his conversation with Jesus he asked the question,
“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? John 2:9-12
Again this Christmas season I find myself similar to Nicodemus in some ways.  I am a North American Christ-follower who has learned lessons from the Bible through the teaching of many men and women.  I believe.  I have some knowledge but it's the seeking Jesus in these days of Advent that foil me!  The shops are stocked to overflowing with aisles and aisles of choices. Have you seen the pictures of the Amazon.com warehouses loaded for us Christmas shoppers?  I am hurrying about, running errands, adding a bow, buying that one last gift - repeatedly!  It's too much christmas.  How can this be? From Jesus words I interpret: ' You are a Christ-follower and do you not understand these these things?'

Like Nicodemus, it's in the night when I slow down that I find I come to Him... late in the day and secretly...just me and Him.  He's offered me the Truth and knowledge and guidance and testimony of His life and death and my reborn opportunity.  And yet by my actions I ask over and over, "how can this be?"  How can you truly be the God of the Universe and the God of me?  My brain cannot understand this fully and my actions get consumed in the day-to-day requirements of this life.  And as He spoke words to Nicodemus in full understanding, He too understands me...and you.

The tilted and broken Mary figurine I saw in the store reminded me of her story so I went to reread it in Luke 1.  And lo and behold what I found,
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God....For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:28-35, 37-38
Mary too asked the question, how will this be?  I am thankful today that this Christmas we have the freedom to ask God, "how can it be"?  We see overblown wrappings of commercial christmas and wonder, how can it be? We also see the manger, we sing the songs, we hear the Christmas story...how can You have come to us, how can it be?

I pray the end of Luke 1 on your life and my life today:
Come Holy Spirit by the power of the Most High and overshadow me.  Overshadow the trappings of this Christmas season and the falseness of retail christmas.  Overshadow those who offend me and those I offend.  Overshadow my little world with your great Truth so that the Holy One will be re born in me today.  For Father, your Word will never fail.  Instead of wondering, how can it be, let me shout in my spirit today, "I am the Lord's servant...may your Word be fulfilled in me today.
Amen and Amen

10 December, 2014

Unexpectedly Born Again

(Crosspost from Adventagain.blogspot.com)
As I carefully make my list of gifts and decorations and parties and goings-on I seem to always experience something unexpected.  My best laid plans get upended by some unexpected happening.

Nicodemus seems to have had a similar experience in this part of the story.  As Scott mentioned on Sunday, Nicodemus risked a night visit to see Jesus.  I'm fairly confident that he had played out a scenario in his head of how the visit might go.  He certainly had his opening statement well prepared..."we know you are a teacher who has come from God.  For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."

But the unexpected happened when Jesus responded with such an odd statement.
In reply Jesus declared, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Suddenly the conversation took a turn Nicodemus or us could never have expected.  This Jesus... he's always taking us to the unexpected places where our minds have a hard time bending around His truth.  I begin to look closely at the words in my Bible but specifically the beginning of verse 3.  "In reply Jesus declared..."  To declare means to state emphatically and authoritatively.  Jesus knew this truth to be the essence of his purpose on earth.  Our key to salvation is to accept and confess and acknowledge that He is Savior and God and to be spiritually born again.

I made this born again decision when I was in the 7th grade.  Since that time I've learned a lot in my faith journey or perhaps it might be better said that more has been revealed about my great, daily need for a Savior! So now in my forty-fourth year of being a Christ-follower, I like to think of being born again as also a daily yielding to Him.  The recognition of our great need allows each of us to be remade into the dream God has for us...to be born again every day.

Now unexpectedly, I heard a new whisper this morning while I was writing.  A whisper about the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus and this Christmas season.  A whisper that said, Jesus was Born Again too.  And in this celebration of Christmas that is exactly what we are celebrating: Jesus being born or His being born again.  I'm confused!  Are you??
In John 1 we learn that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning."  And then in John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

This is why Jesus could speak so authoritatively to Nicodemus for He, Jesus had experienced a rebirth.  A rebirth from leaving his heavenly home to being born to earth through a virgin named Mary.  The God of the universe somehow squeezed Himself into the physical body of a baby and has been born again for us.  Henri Nouwen penned these words regarding Jesus birth: "Our salvation comes from something small, tender, and vulnerable, something hardly noticeable. God, who is the Creator of the Universe, comes to us in smallness, weakness, and hiddenness.   I find this a hopeful message. Somehow, I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God's saving power; but over and over again I am reminded that spectacles, power plays, and big events are the ways of the world. Our temptation is to be distracted by them and made blind."
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
I ask you today to explore what that means for you this Christmas.  The parallel between our call to be born again and the fact of Jesus' birth as a 'born again' event has quite taken me unexpectedly today.

My Christmas lists have overshadowed the fact of Jesus' 'born again' experience in the stable.  The rush from the fields to find the Christ child seems the only appropriate expression.  Rush from what I'm doing today, find Him - the born again God, coming to meet us in our world so that we could finally understand and finally, ultimately FIND Him.  And be born again.

03 December, 2014

We Know

(Cross post from Adventagain.blogspot.com)

"Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Nicodemus made an important decision that night.  He decided to go.

Earlier this week, Scott gave us a definition of the Pharisees, "a political party, a social movement, and school of thought in the Holy Land during the Second Temple period." Through Scott's writing we were specifically able to glimpse Nicodemus' prestigious role in the Jewish community.  The Pharisees were highly respected as they intimately knew the scriptures and they outwardly professed their faith. These were men who had dedicated their lives to the spiritual.  At the same time, they were human and clearly made mistakes and some really bad decisions.  And somehow this sounds familiar to me.

I must confess to you...the Pharisees of that day may now...be me...and my church.  Some of us have been taught the Bible since we were toddlers.  We've heard sermons and attended Bible study our entire lives.  Is it possible that we've lived in this place of faith for so long that we have come to a place in our hearts of simply going through the motions?  Could that be a Pharisee moment in me?  I don't mean to focus on outward appearances and forget the grace and mercy of our God.  I don't mean to forget the coming of the Savior into the world but it's Dec. 3 and I don't even have a Christmas tree up yet!  And to be almost-totally honest, I blazed through Thanksgiving week with barely a thought of the Savior of the world because I had six days of company in my house, cooking, a dinner party, travel, and football!

So I find myself needing to come to Jesus too.  In the stillness of the night when all is quiet and it is just me and Him.  It is in that place that I am able to unrobe from my Pharisee gown and tell Him my whole truth.  Nicodemus says to Jesus, "we KNOW that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him."

WE KNOW.  I know you have come from God and I know this Christmas season is about your coming to get us and save us.  I know that I and my church get mired in the production and entrapments of Christmas but we know.  We really know who YOU are for no one could do what you've done and not be God.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:8-15.
We find shepherds who also experienced God at night.  They were terrified but they heard the message and they believed...And they KNEW.  And as a body of believers, the church, in that lonely field that night they looked at each other now realizing the truth and chose to go.  They chose to leave their work, leave the familiar, leave the surrounding expectations and to go see the Savior.  That is exactly what Nicodemus chose also.  He knew Jesus was God.  He chose to leave the entrapments of his prestige and position to go to Jesus.  I wonder if Nicodemus felt an amazing sense of relief and peace as he came to meet Jesus.

Is that my desire?  Is that a choice I will make this December?  Can I choose to leave the familiar and the typical seasonal expectations and live my life as though I really know what the Christmas season represents.  It's a choice I can make to go meet Him.  Do I dare take off the entrapments of christmas-doings?  Can I go into the world around me and tell what I know?  Can you?  Will you?

Let's go to those outside our inner circle who are standing in vacant fields just waiting to hear the message of hope and healing that is only offered in this Christmas.  We know HE has come into our world.  Let's go!

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