Sunday, December 5, 2010

Zechariah’s Song – Redemptions Joy – 12.5

Today is the second Sunday of Advent and today we light the Candle of JOY. Our joy is rooted in God, our God who loves; our God who loves all of us – all of his people.  The joy of today is that God has asked us to live, walk, sing, and participate in his Kingdom. Today we can live a joyful life because our God, our savior, our Lord, daily walks among us.
Here this morning we can have JOY!  Here in this very moment joy, is available.  Wrapped up in a blanket, clothed in human flesh is God incarnate.  From a virgins womb comes our king, the baby Jesus; the King who would triumphantly ride into the city upon the back of a donkey.  It is God incarnate who washes the feet of the poor, the broken, and the downtrodden. In just a few weeks we celebrate our King, born in a manger, surrounded by animals, with his loving arms outstretched. Jesus came to flip our understanding of what it means to be in community.  He came to change our world view.  Christ came that we may have joy and have it more abundantly.
But here we are – in this season of Advent – where we wait patiently for the arrival of baby Jesus. Here we are in the weeks leading up to Christmas when we recognize the “already – but not yet” aspects of our Lord. In this season we are given the opportunity to remember and try to understand what it must have been like – for those who lived before the arrival of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
This year, as we patiently wait for the birth of Christ, during Advent we are looking at the songs of a few characters from the story. Last week we looked at Mary’s song. Today we hear Zechariah’s, and the following weeks will include John the Baptist’s, the Angles’ and Simeon’s songs.
If you’re sitting there wondering just what Zechariah’s song is – It’s located in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and begins with verse 67. Let’s read it together.
67 His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. 
69 He has raised up a horn[
c] of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 
70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— 72 to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear  75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. 
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

            When I was in college I used to carry my little hand held bible with its tiny little print with me everywhere. It was great; it was the era of the cargo pants. Do you remember them? They’re still around, but not like they were in the late 90’s. You could hardly find a pair of pants that weren’t cargos. I remember one day walking along cafe-lane and as I passed a group of friends, the girl was commenting how she didn’t like cargos with all their pockets. She was going on and on about how no one uses all those pockets and how they were useless and not very attractive. As she got to the part about them being useless I walked by. Without saying anything – I simply began emptying my pockets. I pulled something out of nearly every pocket I had. I had my yo-yo in my front left pocket along with some gum, and I had my keys in my front right. I had my wallet in my back pocket and hand lotion in the right-side cargo pocket. And over in my left-side cargo pocket – was my little hand held bible.
            This little hand held bible has been with me and helped me through some pretty tough times in my life – especially in college; times of loneliness, uncertainty, confusion, betrayal, persecution and doubt. You know, the cargo pockets might not have lasted long – but I’m sure glad I had room for all that stuff, especially the little hand held bible with its tiny little print.
            I remember reading from this little bible inside my Chevy truck waiting for a friend. I was parked just outside of Brown Chapel on Point Loma’s campus. It was dark, I had my cab light on as I read Mark chapter 9.

            What passage of Scripture do you come back to – or did you rely on – in your toughest moments?

            In the midst of my loneliness, uncertainty, confusion, doubt and unbelief – inside my truck outside of Brown Chapel and even today I turn to Mark chapter 9. Mark 9:24 “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”
            Just thinking about the role this passage has played in my life over the years is powerful. It’s emotional, moving, inspiring, and humbling. If I pause on it too long, reflect upon it for more than a moment – I can feel my eyes well up.
            So – Are you wondering what the connection is between Mark 9 and Zechariah’s Song?
            When I began reading and working on this passage, I had to go and be reminded of who Zechariah was and why he was singing – or prophesying as it were. To be honest, I was confused for a little bit as to why we were hearing from Zechariah and not Joseph. To be honest, I had to remind myself who Zechariah was. To do that – I started reading from the beginning of the chapter.
            This is a really hard passage, this Song of Zechariah, to just read 10 verses from and speak on. We have to look at the whole of the chapter – we have to understand all the elements of the situation to be able to hear Zechariah’s song, to hear his hope and to hear his joy!
            Zechariah and his wife were both kind of old – and childless. Zechariah was part of the priests, and when it was his turn to go into the temple and do the routine temple things… he was greeted by an angel. A most un-routine kind of thing! He was told his wife would bear him a son – and his name will be John. The angel goes on to tell Zechariah that John will be a joy and a delight!
            Zechariah – like many of the other Hebrew Hero’s of the Bible – was a realist, he was a bit skeptical. Even being a priest, knowing the Torah, and living a life of faithfulness, Zechariah had some doubts. He wasn’t sure how in his (and his wife’s) old age he was gonna have a son. So he asks the angel how he can be sure.
            Well, apparently that was the wrong question to ask. Perhaps the lesson when an angel speaks to you – don’t ask questions. The angel tells him because of his unbelief he will be mute until the birth of his son. He can’t talk, he is unable to say anything all because of his unbelief.
            There’s the connection – did you see it? Zechariah was struck mute because of his unbelief. Sometimes we’re a lot like Zechariah aren’t we. We go through the routines. We do what we’re supposed to. We do what’s expected… but we lack a little faith. We lack understanding. We lack belief in the power, the action, the love, the faithfulness, the presence of God. We forget that our Loving God is here, caring about us.
            Nine months later Zechariah’s son is born, they are about to circumcise him and give the child his name. And the men assume he will be named after his father – but Elizabeth says his name will be John. Blown away the men go to Zechariah to ask him what the boys name shall be. After writing John on a tablet – his voice comes back. And he doesn’t just talk – he begins to sing!
            He doesn’t just talk, he sings, he praises the Lord. He gives “Praise to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.”
Today I love hearing Paul’s words to the Romans found in chapter 15:13, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
He says: may you be filled with ALL joy and ALL peace as you trust in him. May you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. His prayer is that we would be so full of joy and peace that as our cup overflows – hope floods the gates. Paul’s prayer for us is that our joy, our excitement, our passion will transpire into the lives of others as hope for their own situations, for their own lives!
This passage from Paul for some reason reminds me of the last Presidential race and Obama’s campaign vastly rooted in one word. Hope. Not caring what your political leanings are - the hope we seek, as Christians, as people of faith – is a hope of change. In this season, we better hope that God incarnate changes things. The hope we seek is one of change in perspective, a change in location, and change of allegiance. The hope that overflows, is one of justice, and one of mercy. The hope of change, in life, in perspective, in relationship – the hope of change found in Christmas – is one brought on by the joy found in salvation. The hope of Christmas is found in the joy of redemption!
Zechariah knew this to be true. After being struck silent for nine months – the joy at the birth of his son caused him to praise God for his faithful acts of redemption! He began to “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.” After being mute for nine months, the joy at the birth of Zechariah’s son caused him to praise God for his faithful acts of redemption!

In the midst of Advent, in this midst of this season with its hustle and bustle and emphasis on consumerism, I hope the words from the song by Over the Rhine ring true for us! Because as we await the birth of our savior, we know we need “A New Redemption Song.” We have tried to do it on our own, but it hasn’t worked. As we have sat in unbelief, skepticism and uncertainty, we need to claim as the father did in Mark 9 – “help me overcome my unbelief!” As we sit around pondering the reason for the season, as we’re lambasted by memories of old, reflecting on scriptures that got us through those hard times… As we wait in the darkness, the confusion, and in the stable filled with dirty animals – we know we need something different. We know God’s love is out there – calling us to sing “A New Redemption Song”

Lord, we need a new redemption song. Lord, we’ve tried, it just seems to come out wrong.
Won’t you help us please? Help us just to sing along, a new redemption song, a new redemption song.

Lord, we need a new redemption day. All our worries keep getting in the way.
Won’t you help us please? Help us find the words to pray, to bring redemption day, to bring redemption day

Lord, we need a new redemption song. Lord, we’ve tried, it just seems to come out wrong.
Won’t you help us please? Help us just to sing along, a new redemption song, a new redemption song.

As we patiently wait for the birth of Christ, we like Zechariah need Christ’s Redemption song in our lives. We need to join hands, step up, and join the choir. Singing isn’t a spectator position. It’s an activity – Mary’s done it, Zechariah’s done it, and John the Baptist does it. We need his help to sing along. Our world continues to need the new redemption song Christ sings in us!
Our joy, our true joy, is found in our participation in Christ’s song of redemption. We must prepare the way for the Lord. We must sing and proclaim – as God’s provocateur of Prevenient Grace we must sow seeds of justice, mercy, and love. Seeds of hope! Seeds of compassion!
In the midst of our unbelief, God the Father shows his compassion. In the midst of darkness, God the Son emanates with love. In the midst of our hectic lives, God the Holy Spirit fills us with joy; a joy so rich that we overflow with hope – God’s loving redeeming hope for this broken and hurting world.
We are filled with joy so we may overflow with hope!

 As you go, be filled with redemptions JOY and overflowing with hope… Go and Love!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spiritual Discipline of Worship- 11.21

Harvest Sunday - Spiritual Discipline of Worship

The Lyrics of My Heart by Deborah Belka
With what words shall I compose,
the lyrics of my heart?
I hear them in my mind,
yet, I am not sure where to start.

Shall I arrange them in perfect order,
from the time when we first met?
Or open with the refrain of the day,
You took upon Yourself my debt?

Shall I begin with my appreciation,
with the gratitude I have for You?
Or, perhaps I should open with my love,
ah, yes that is what I ought to do.

For to capture from within my soul,
the melody of my full expression.
I would have to come up with the tune,
of how Your love left its true impression.

Oh, to know what I now understand,
and to see how my love has grown.
You would have to one day meet,
this Man I have loved and known.

For He loved the world so,
and gave to all His only Son.
And that is the greatest love song,
this heart can sing to anyone.

As we gather this morning on our 7th annual HARVEST SUNDAY, we celebrate our gracious God. We worship the Humble King, the one whom we look to in our times of need and our times of plenty.
            At Seattle First Church, today is the last day in our series looking at Spiritual Disciplines. We spent time reflecting on: Solitude, Community, Prayer & Meditation, Fasting, Stewardship, Service, and today we wrap it up with Worship. How fitting, on a day the Global church closes out the calendar year, a day we collectively celebrate Christ as King, the Sunday before Thanksgiving – that we carve out time to spend participating in the Spiritual Discipline, the Spiritual Exercise of Worship!
            I found out this week that speaking on Worship during a worship service is not an easy task. Wrapping our minds around why we do what we do – and its implications – is not an easy task! I’ve found myself asking questions I’m sure many of you have asked as I’ve grappled with what Worship is, and its role in Spiritual formation.
            So what is it about Worship that brings us together each week? I have three basic questions I want us to look at: What is worship? What do we do in worship? and What are the implications of worship on our lives?

What is worship?
Is it merely an hour set aside every week to gather in a building, sing some songs, listen to a message, shake some hands and continue on with our lives? Or is it more?
Praise and worship seems to be universal. Have you ever heard of an explorer finding a new tribe or a culture that doesn't worship? For every person, for every people group - worship is a natural instinct, a basic need, a historical expression. A simple definition of worship is to regard with great devotion or to honor as a divine being. Worship is defined by what we are devoted to.
A great place for us to begin looking at worship is found in the Scriptures. Let’s look at a handful of passages that point us to what and how worship is depicted. I have several verses I’d like us to read. They are: Ephesians 5:19-20, Romans 12:1-2, Psalm 95:1-2, John 4:23, Matthew 22:36-39, Matthew 6:33.   
Seek first his kingdom & his righteousness. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength – and your neighbor as yourself. Worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth. Sing for joy, make music. Offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.
What is worship? Of all those verses we just read – one theme emerges prominently. Each verse speaks to the action of worship. The call to worship – is one that is not stagnant. Worship is a movement. Worship is exciting – life giving – and transforming.

What do we do in worship?
Thinking about worship – how do you worship. What does worship look like for you? What aspects do you like to have as a part of your worship experience, your worship expression?

This morning we have incorporated many different ways for us to express our worship of God. We have singing, live art, a choreographed dance, and we have communion. We have read scriptures and poems. We have prayed and we have one another – a beautiful mixture of lives and backgrounds.
Often when we think of worship, our culture thinks only of singing, and attending church, and praying. These obviously are expressions of worship, ones which we participate in regularly, but I believe worship is more than just those three. Worship is not found only on Sundays or only within a church building. When we honestly look at worship, it’s what our lives ought to be about – a dynamic, everlasting celebration of God. Worship is not an isolated occasional activity, it is a lifestyle.
The call to worship – is one that is not stagnant. Worship is a movement. Worship is exciting – life giving – and transforming.
Worship is not found only on Sundays or only within a church building.
Growing up, the worship services I remember best – most of them were outside, at a camp, in the mountains or on the beach, around a fire. In college – they took place outside in the Greek Amphitheater. I have opened my heart to God in unique ways in buildings, on beaches, in rivers, and in the mountains. God is not limited to a location and he’s not limited to a singular expression! And God does not expect his people to be limited to a location or to a singular expression!
I have been to an art museum and nearly moved to tears as I gazed upon the beautiful depiction of God’s grace. I have sat on the beach, listening to the sound of the waves – enamored by the awesome power of God. I have been on a bus, in a crowd, at a random event – and been blown away by God’s indescribable presence.
In 1999 I sat in a worship service, one I will never forget. I’m sure you have a few that stand out to you! That night I heard the amazing transformative story of an African tribal princess. I don’t know her name. It wasn’t shared with us. You see, it was not safe for her to share her identity incase word got back to her surrounding villages of what she was saying and sharing. I will never forget that night as she told us the story of her conversion from witch-craft to following Christ.
Years before her conversion three Catholic nuns moved near her village. But for fear of their lives, the nuns didn’t share the Good News. They basically just lived in proximity to their neighbors. They didn’t proclaim, they didn’t do anything, they were just there.
As crazy as this sounds, the Princess said It was in a dream that she became aware of Jesus. She woke up freaked out, wondering who that was. As she went about her day, days on end she just thought about Jesus. She began to know him, and speak to him. Not knowing any of the scriptural facts about his life – she became compelled to seek out the nuns and learn from them.
One day she traveled over to the Nuns house and asked them for a bible. To her amazement (and ours) they said no. They thought it was a trick. But she convinced them that she was honestly interested in learning about their book and asked them who Jesus is. Still a little skeptical and afraid, they said he is the Son of God. The Princess replied – yes I know.
You see, God was made known and God was worshiped that day. Out in the fields, at the doorstep of the house, and eventually throughout the whole village God was worshiped. He is not confined to a system, a mountain, or a temple.
The call to worship – is one that is not stagnant. It is active it is moving. Worship is a movement of the Spirit. Worship is exciting – life giving – and transforming.
Worship is not found only on Sundays or only within a church building, and worship is not expressed in only one way.          

What are the implications of worship on our lives?
The Gospel of Luke paints a beautiful description of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – we hear that the disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Well some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus: “Rebuke your disciples!” And Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
If we don’t worship, if we don’t praise, if we don’t sing songs, dance, create, break bread, remember – the stones, inanimate objects will cry out. If we don’t worship – the rocks will!
We know Worshiping God is not about us – it’s about turning our hearts to him, sharing our thankfulness, our praise and adoration. We know it is an act founded in Spirit and in Truth.
But what then does worship do as a spiritual discipline?
In God’s upside down kingdom – I believe worship looks and takes on different characteristics than it does in our empirical/regular world. What does it mean to worship the king who came as a servant… who does not sit on a throne idly – but steps into the lives of his people – empowering love? Perhaps our worship is not only about him – but about his transformative power in our lives, readjusting our perspective.
Perhaps as we worship, worshiping the king who came in stable, and rode in on a donkey, we are strategically being swept away from the functions and mindset of this empirical world. Worship in the upside down kingdom varies from worship in the empirical world – While there are similarities of conforming to the images, the differences lie in not being elevated – but becoming a servant.
            As we worship God. As we seek to be more like Christ, like minded, action oriented – holy as he is holy – our very countenance changes from seeking financial or public glory to living the life of a servant, humble, meek. As we worship the Humble King we are drawn into a counter cultural movement where love wins. As we worship the Creator God we are given freedom to dance, sing, proclaim and create, not for ourselves but for the one who loves, and is love.
I believe worship is like our tool box. It’s kind of like going to the gas station/the filling station. We are getting the stuff, the tools, the sustenance, the ability to pick up our cross and follow him. I believe we must practice the exercise of worship because while God is blessed during the process – he is also daily drawing us closer to him. He, like the Wood Carver reminding Punchinello, transforms who we are as we engage in more of him. As we are being drawn to him – we are being reoriented to our true selves – ones of love and compassion, ones where we look not to our own needs, but to the needs of our brothers and sisters.
God cares about us so much, that even the things that are about him – I believe are about us. I might get some flack for saying that. But really – I don’t believe he is an egotistical, narcissistic God who needs our praise. I believe he needs our praise, he needs our worship simply because he cars so much about us. It is in his caring about us, that in worship of him, we can be transformed, re-oriented, purely conditioned in his love.
It is in our worship of him, that we become so much like him – that we begin to see the world as he sees it. It is in our Worship of him, that we become so much like him – that we begin to walk as he walks, talk as he talks, live as he lives, love as he loves. It is in our Worship of God that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is then that we are able to live, putting our individual and corporate action into God’s will – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

On Harvest Sunday, what a great day to be reminded of who we are, what we do, and why we do it. What a great day to have prayers in different languages, art being created, songs of love and joy, and a dance of thanksgiving. Today is a powerful day of worship where we break bread, remembering Christ’s unconditional call of love and justice for all. Today we will not partake in communion in the traditional form found in the cup and plate – rather we have brought clothes, canned foods, and a Thanksgiving meal. Today we bring our harvest of God’s bountiful love to the table. Today we worship, across denominational lines, ethnic backgrounds, and economic diversity – Praising God for his blessings, his presence, and his transformation in our lives. Today we worship that we may continue to be his instruments of peace, and his hands and feet of love.

As we close, I’d like to read A Poem of Worship by Amber Williams

Praise the Lord here in this place.
Praise our God for his wonderful grace.

Tell of his glory, his power and love.
Tell of the one who reigns up above.

Sing and be glad for our God is great.
Sing of the wonders that He did create.

Shout for joy, be glad He is King.
Shout to the Lord, let your praises ring.

Worship the Lord with prayers and with song.
Worship the Lord all the day long.

Love the Lord for He sent his Son.
Love the Lord, His will be done.

Lift your feet and dance around.
Lift your voice, make a joyful sound.

Raise your hands and praise his name.
Raise a prayer- thank God Christ came.

Praise the Lord, our God of love.
Praise the Lord who reigns above.

As you go, worship the Lord in all you do – Go and Love!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spiritual Discipline of Community - 10.17

We are in the midst of a series looking at a handful of Spiritual Disciplines. Last week we started by looking at the spiritual discipline of solitude. This week we’re looking at community. How does Community function as a Spiritual Discipline?
Mark encouraged us last week to spend time, not merely alone, but with only God, closing out some distractions to hear his voice.
This week along with reading Making All Things New, Mark also handed me a little book by Henry Nouwen called Out of Solitude. The premise is that when coming out of Solitude - we find Community.
In our lives we need to find time for both solitude and community. We have to find time to be alone with God, yet the very nature of God is relationships. We find many times in scripture that God is love. Love is a very communal thing. Our faith, our spiritual growth relies upon both solitude and community.
We cannot live only within solitude. Even the Monks who live out in a monastery, in solitude – do so with others. They have times in their “set-apart” existence which is still in community.
So, if you’re like me, this clearly brings us to a question… what does it mean to participate in community as a spiritual discipline? We know we’re supposed to meet together. But why? It can’t be simply to perpetuate the system of meeting together. God has to have something deeper in mind. Why does the scripture encourage us to not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing? What is it about being together, as the community, that carries so much weight?  
As we begin, what are some of your thoughts? What are some of the ways you participate in community as a means of spiritual discipline?

Open your Bibles with me to Matthew 6. We will begin reading from verse 28.
28 "Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.
A few weeks ago Rhonda was talking to us about the Kingdom of God. She had us imagine we could travel back several hundred years to the times when kingdoms ruled the earth. I imagined the kingdoms clad with round tables, horses and knights. I imagined the big candle pillars, and the loyalty the people felt to their kingdom.
Rhonda said something that morning which has stuck with me and as I’ve thought about this week’s message. And I have come back to it time and time again. She said, if we spent enough time in one of these ancient kingdoms, their lifestyle, their thinking, and their ways would become our ways… if we let them.
She said their lifestyle, their thinking, and their ways would become our ways… This is true isn’t it? When we are inundated in a way of life, steeped in its practices, we begin to pick up its characteristics. I believe this is what it means to practice the discipline of community. We are to step into the kingdom and allow it to wash over us.
This week I picked up the Church of the Nazarene’s magazine Holiness Today. As I flipped through the pages, I found myself intrigued by one article titled: Amazing Grace In Action. It is the true story of a young girl named Kirsten. Listen to her story, and hear the subtleties of solitude and community.

Amazing Grace In Action
In the fall of 1997, I started my freshman year at a Nazarene university on an academic scholarship. Intent on becoming a pediatrician, I was studying pre-med. My goals were high, but not unattainable. I was dating a youth ministries major, and our relationship was progressing nicely. 

However, by late spring the relationship was also unfortunately progressing outside of God's standards. Over spring break I started to feel nauseated and began vomiting nonstop. After two weeks of sickness without any relief, I faced my fear head-on. A simple test revealed something that would change my life forever: I was pregnant.

Within days I was back in my hometown-pregnant, abandoned by my boyfriend, devastated, alone. The gravity of my situation set in quickly, and I knew that I would soon have to make a major decision. 

The options were obvious, but the answer was unclear-was I going keep my child and somehow, as a teen mom without an education, job, or husband, try to raise him? Or, should I give him up for adoption and hope that someday I would be able to see beauty rise from the ashes of my broken heart? 

One evening, after four months of vacillating and trying to come up with an answer on my own, I decided to try something I hadn't done before. I asked God for advice. "Please God! I need to know what the right decision is for this baby. I can't decide on my own." Reaching this place of humility was pivotal for me. Although I was well aware of who God was, before this moment I had never taken responsibility for my own sin and the hurt it caused God.

That evening, I felt God's presence for the first time. His voice was clear and the answer was distinct: I was to give up my son for adoption. Immediately, Jeremiah 29:11-13 came to mind, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."

Over the next several months I met with an adoption caseworker through a Christian organization and was able to view various profiles and choose a family to adopt my son. After meeting Mike and Patti, I knew without a doubt that they were the right parents for my baby. As much as I wanted to be his mother, I knew that I couldn't fill the role of both a mom and a dad. We decided on an open adoption, in which I would be allowed to visit the child occasionally and exchange phone calls, photos, letters, and gifts.

Through it all, my parents were incredibly supportive. They gave me the space I needed to make my own decision, and prayed that God would guide me to make the best choice for the baby. 

As my due date approached, I recognized how much I had bonded with this growing baby inside of me, and how difficult it would be to stick to my decision once I was cradling him in my arms. Although God had spoken to me clearly in His promise for redemption, the fact remained that I was about to endure the most emotionally challenging season I would ever face. 

I entered the hospital to give birth and again, God's voice spoke clearly, "Kirsten, I sacrificed my Son so that you do not have to live condemned for sacrificing yours. My grace is enough."

On December 18, 1998, at 3:43 A.M., Andrew ("Drew") Paul was born. He had a head of dark brown hair, slate-colored eyes, healthy lungs, and a perfect beating heart. As I held him for the first time, instantly I knew that it would take a miracle for me to ever let him go. The few days I spent with him in the hospital were both excruciating and sweet. Those memories are forever etched in my heart. 

Placing him in Patti's arms was an act of sheer obedience for me. Nothing in me wanted to part with my baby boy. In doing so, I clung to that passage in Jeremiah, and to God's promise to redeem my hurting heart. 

I ran out of the hospital empty-handed, my heart aching with devastation and loss. But amazingly, I had peace the entire time. Peace in knowing I was in God's will. Peace that my heart would someday heal. Peace that my little "Drewbug" was going to be okay. And I had absolute peace and confidence that Mike and Patti would raise Drew to be a godly man.

I barely made it through those first few months of nearly unbearable grief. However, redemption was near, and I was blessed to see that unfold very tangibly. A month after Drew's birth, the women of our church, Centralia, Washington, Church of the Nazarene, gave me a "personal shower." 

Over 100 women came and showered me with love and gifts. I showed them pictures of my time in the hospital with Drew and shared the photo album Patti had given me of them taking Drew home to meet their extended families. The women expressed interest in my situation; many shared their adoption stories. Together, we laughed and cried. Claiming Jeremiah 29:11-13, everyone gathered around me, prayed for healing, and committed my future to God's purposes. 

That evening, healing began as God met me there in my brokenness. Realizing I had a church family that was surrounding me with love and support helped me garner the strength that I needed to press on. 

God, through His presence and by working through the community of faith, gave me a treasured gift-grace. Now, years later, it continues to encourage me and press me towards the very face of God.

Kirsten Stiltner Rose is a full-time home school mom who lives in western Washington with her husband, Micah, their children, Caleb and Caitlyn, and their two young foster children.
Holiness Today, Amazing Grace in Action. (Used with permission by Holiness Today)

I loved reading this story this week. Amazing Grace in Action - what a fantastic description of God’s love for his people. What a fantastic depiction of the community of faith we are called to be a part of.
As I read Kirsten’s story, it truly reminds me that God is a relational being. He is relational and it’s found in the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit. It’s found in the creation. It’s found in his love for each of us. I love in Kirsten’s story, four months in, after trying to do things on her own she slowed down, found solitude, and listened to God’s word. Several months later, out of her solitude, out of her hardship, she was able to rejoice as she was embraced with God’s kingdom love. The women of the church supported her, listened to her story, and loved her. They surrounded her in God’s loving arms of his community.

 A few months back, in March, I received a new pair of glasses and the new type of lenses I ordered made me sick. It was similar to the worst migraine I’d ever heard of. I was laid out. I couldn’t open my eyes because it made me dizzy. So Bree brought me a little emergency radio – one you had to crank to have the flashlight work, or crank to hear the radio. I would crank it, listen, and have to keep cranking it every once in a while to keep it running.
That night I listened to an intriguing interview on NPR of a new author sharing background stories about his book. After hearing the interview, I bought the book and read it this summer.
What’s the book? Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead, the Frank Meeink Story. Perhaps not the book you were anticipating. But, the story of Frank Meeink's life is a poetic journey of neglect, abandonment, insecurity, hatred, abuse - physical/emotional/drug, addiction & yes even love.
Frankie, as he calls himself, shares the trials he endured as a young boy - emotionally abandoned as a child by strung out druggie parents, he finds a family within the Skin Head movement of the 90's. He found a purpose, a home. Quickly rising to the top of the local leadership he gains national attention for his acts of hate.
Yet, a few years later while in prison - he finds the only friends he truly has are black kids his own age. His hatred begins to crumble before him. His last stereotype, the one held so tightly as truth, broke down when hired to work for a Jew - who paid him well and showed him respect. It is here that Frank realizes over the 20yrs of his life hating the Jews - he'd never actually known or met one. He gets so wrapped up in his hatred of others because of the intense relationships of the community he’s involved in.
When I was in high school, a friend from church made some new friends who quickly and drastically changed his life forever. Brian met a group of guys whom he seemed to connect with naturally. He began spending all of his time with them, drinking beers, smoking out, and cruising for chicks. Within days, like the story of Frank Meeink, Brian thought of his new friends as family. They were tighter than brothers.
Within three weeks of meeting his new family, two guys talked him into driving the car while the others ran into a store and robbed it at gun point.
Just three weeks after making new friends, being inundated in their community, their lifestyle, their thinking and their ways, Brian was arrested, locked up and put in prison. After just three weeks!

These stories remind us of the vulnerability of community. Brian was introduced to the new crew, he was made a part, invited in, and given a purpose. The Skinhead lifestyle, it’s thinking, and ways became Frank’s ways… Kirsten tried to do it on her own for four months, found some solitude, and was wrapped up in God’s community.
When we are inundated in a way of life, steeped in its practices, we begin to pick up its characteristics. I believe this is why it is so important for us to practice the disciple of community. We are to step into the kingdom and allow it to wash over us.
Our text today encourages us to “Seek first his kingdom…” Scripture reminds us, as we reflect upon life to not conform to the pattern of this world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our mind. We are to be in the world – but not of the world. We are to practice the spiritual discipline of community so that we are inundated with kingdom principles, kingdom practices, and kingdom love. Our engagement in the community of faith is to transform our heart, soul, mind and strength (which can be understood as our actions). It is to transform our lives – that we too may be agents of God’s Amazing Grace in Action. We are to be inundated with kingdom principles, kingdom practices, and kingdom love so that we may be in the world, while being in the Kingdom!

This morning, I’d like for us to participate in one of our communities ancient practices. The very nature of the historical act of breaking bread and drinking from the cup is that it is done in community. The Eucharist, or as we often refer to it, Communion functions as a reminder that we are to be filled with God. Communion functions as a reminder that we are to be physically present in the world. Communion reminds us that there is an Amazing Grace in Action.
As we break bread, and drink from the cup this morning, we have three stations where we will do this together. We will serve one another. It is each of us, as the community, empowering one another, to be filled with God. It is each of us, as the community, strengthening one another to embrace Kingdom principles and practices. It is each of us, everyone of us, whom God eagerly wants to love, embrace and shine though to others. We are God’s hands and feet to this world. We are his disciples, his ambassadors… and it is through this communal journey that we come today to be rejuvenated by his sustenance.
So step to a station and offer the bread to your neighbor saying: “this is Christ’s body, broken for you. Offer them the cup, saying “This is Christ’s blood, which is shed for you.” As you do this, remember the table Jesus sat around with his friends, his disciples, his community. Remember the simplicity of the items, common bread and common juice. Yet, when joined together in the community, they carry weight where the Spirit of God resides. Let’s, in community, break the bread and share the cup of God’s Amazing Grace in action!

To create space for God among us requires the constant recognition of the Spirit of God in each other. Friendship, marriage, family, religious life, and every other form of community, Nouwen says it is solitude greeting solitude, spirit speaking to spirit, and heart calling to heart. Community is where all the forms of life can together become ways to reveal the real presence of God in our midst. Community has little to do with mutual compatibility. It has little to do with similarities in educational background, psychological make-up, or social status. Yes, those things can bring us together, but they can never be the basis for community. True community, life giving community is grounded in God, who calls us together.
Our call as followers of Christ, our call as citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, is to be in the world without being of the world. It’s a life in which we are totally transformed by the Spirit of Love. (All things New, Nouwen)
The spiritual life can be lived in as many ways as there are people. And it should be, as each of us is individualistically different, yet when we come together as the community it will play itself out in unique ways. The spiritual life can be lived in as many ways as there are people. Community is a vital aspect of the spiritual life. We, like our heavenly Father, long for deep, emotional, caring relationships where love wins. The spiritual life is one which must be lived in deep caring relationship. It must find times of solitude, but out of solitude comes community. Our Spiritual faith is founded in the relationships of the upside down kingdom, rooted in the spiritual discipline of community. This makes sense doesn't it! It’s why we gather on Sunday’s, midweek, and why we as a faith community created Mosaic – a community coffee house. Our Spiritual faith is founded in the relationships of the upside down kingdom, rooted in the spiritual discipline of community.
As we are talking about Spiritual Disciplines, I guess today’s question simply boils down to: “your heart, soul, mind and strength are going to be transformed, but by what community?”

As you go, participate in the Amazing Grace of community in Action. Listen, engage, go and love.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

thoughts on the emergent church

The dialogue discussion, argument, discourse, position of the Emerging/Emergent Church is an interesting one. It is one to some degree I am involved in. Many consider what we do here in Seattle (in the running of a nonprofit, community coffee house) as emergent. We call it faithful.

I’m not much of a proponent of placing arbitrary labels on things. As there is much discussion of what Emergent entails, I tend to not verbally identify… however, many of my actions might speak differently. As I am involved in a ministry where we actively seek ways to be in the neighborhood, we don’t shy away from social justice and seeing God’s social implications throughout the Scripture. I regularly read books by pastors/ministers/followers of Christ who many (as well as themselves) align with the Emergent Church. 

Perhaps my theological heritage (within the Church of the Nazarene – and the Wesleyan Holiness tradition) provides me with a sense of comfort within the writings of the emergent church… as many emergent church thinkers fall more on the side of Free-will and grace.

Emergent or not, I believe we must continually be in the Scriptures and applying it to our lives. I believe the church must always be an active living body – not stagnant – but seeking ways to connect God’s reconciliation to the disenfranchised of our world. And so, in many ways – I believe the church must always be emerging… as our culture changes – we must be willing to evaluate our current systems and emerge with new authentic ways of sharing God’s love, his ways, as we invite others into his Kingdom.

I believe we must always be faithful to God’s call to our lives. If it means stepping outside our traditional boxes – then we must do so with new practices (or ancient ones) of faith!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Living Relational Justice – 9.26

(Shared with the Northridge New Life Church of the Nazarene, whose pastor is Dr. Charles W. Smith)
Scriptural Texts: Luke 16 & 1 Timothy 6
    The Gospel text we will be looking at this morning comes to us from Luke chapter 16. It's a parable Jesus tells of a Rich Man clothed in purple and a beggar named Lazarus covered with sores.

But I don't think we can go too far into the text today without first reading the Lectionary text from 1 Timothy chapter 6. Paul is writing to Timothy and sharing some powerful words with him concerning who we are and what we do.

He says: 7 We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11 But you, (Speaking to Timothy – and I believe all of us) man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…

Paul goes on to say: 17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

There is a lot of powerful stuff here, as we are commanded to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. Do Good, be rich in Good Deeds, and be generous and willing to share! Then we will take hold of the life that is truly life.

    When we are doing good, when we are generous and willing to share – it's then that we will know, and begin to understand, and take part in what is truly life.

    The texts our joined together in the Lectionary today for a reason, they go hand in hand. They speak to the same concepts and kingdom practices – our kingdom ethos, if you will. They speak to the heart of God.

I constantly think of the time in Mathew when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is. And his response, directly taken from Deuteronomy:  'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.' We can't get away from loving our neighbor. It's foundational.

Join with me as we begin reading with verse 19 from Luke chapter 16.

19"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' 25But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.' 27He said, 'Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father's house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.' 29Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.' 30He said, 'No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'31He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"


There's a lot to this passage isn't there; a lot to grapple with. It is ripe with imagery and metaphor. It speaks to us here and now – as well as to perhaps what is to come. Jesus points us to reflect upon our future, our present, and our past.

    My future, to be honest, is unknown. I don't know! Somewhat it's up in the air.

    My present on the other hand is known. I currently live in Seattle, I'm on staff at Seattle First Church of the Nazarene. My primary responsibility is overseeing our community coffee house where I get the joy of interacting with our neighbors, our community – daily.

    My past, my past is known. My father is a Nazarene Pastor, my mom, a compassionate Special Education educator, my sister, a third grade teacher. My parents went to Pasadena College. My sister went to Point Loma. My dad graduated from NTS. I went to Point Loma, NBC, Mid-America and NTS. I'm a second generation product of our Nazarene Schools. I personally have attended 4 of them.

    My past says I'm from a Christian home with a Nazarene flair. My present says I'm a Christian with a Nazarene flair. And I sure hope my future will say I'm a Christian, with some flair! With some passion! With some vibrancy!

    You know as I share this little bit about my story, I hope it causes you to reflect upon your own life. What your future may bring, what your present now says, and what your past has been. But beyond the individualistic stories we have; my personal story differs from yours. We also have a collective past, present and future. We as the Church of the Nazarene have a rich history of transformation. We have a rich history of good deeds – our historical foundation is on the streets of LA, ministering to the poor, the broken, and the disenfranchised. Our known past spoke life to the homeless. We broke bread with the hungry. We knew our neighbors.

    In our Gospel text this morning, we hear Jesus tell us a parable about a rich man clothed in purple and a beggar named Lazarus covered with sores. We hear the history of two men, one who lives in luxury – the other longing for scraps. We hear about the past, the present – and Jesus takes us to the future, one where both men have died and gone on to everlasting life – just in different places.

Jesus sets the scene for us beautifully. It's one which is easy to imagine. Inside the beautiful mansion sits a rich man. He's got it all, everything in his life is comfortable and elegant. His walls are covered with beautiful art, and he has a beautiful family. He is lavished in what seems to be a blessed life. Yet outside, by the gates of his driveway, sits a poor man - covered in sores, who is cold and hungry. He is an outcast, a loner, a misfit, disenfranchised, without friends, family or community.

In time, both men die and find their positions completely reversed – The rich man without all his comforts and possessions is in hell while the poor man who had nothing, now finds himself in the security of heaven.

    So what do we do with this story? Why is it here? Why did Jesus share this parable?

As we look at this section, we must see it within its context. As we do so, we see that Jesus was telling this story to the Pharisees who believed in life after death. The Pharisees believed, the Saducees didn't. The Pharisees also saw themselves as children of Abraham. What does that mean? 1. They believed in the afterlife 2. They believed as direct descendants of Abraham, God would fiscally bless them.

For the Pharisees, this parable from Jesus would have been an uncomfortable distinction. They believed prosperity was the sign of God's blessing. God had promised prosperity to Abraham and his descendants. Yet, here in this story the rich man was cast off from Abraham and the family of God. While the poor man - who, they believed was poor for the very fact that he "was not in God's favor" – it was he whom Abraham claims as his own.

The Kingdom is upside down.

As I think about this story from Jesus – I can't help but wonder about the Rich Man's plea to Abraham concerning his brothers. The whole dialogue is so intriguing, from the reference of "Father Abraham" to the number of brothers. There is a lot of imagery here.

I love when the scripture writers subtly reference something. I love where there are familiar stories, ones you've read time and time again – yet something new jumps out at you; the subtleties, the irony, the imagery of the story teller. This happened to me as I read this story in regard to the number of brothers. Luke tells us the Rich Man had 5 brothers.

I like the implied symbolism found in Scripture. As I mention numbers, let me tell you I'm not a big numerology guy, but sometimes I like their implied symbolism. So as I think about this story, I can't help but wonder if there's perhaps some significance to the number of brothers. Is there irony? Is there some underlying symbolism?

Perhaps there's irony in the numbers. There clearly is irony in the Rich Man's statement "if someone came back from the dean THEN his brothers back on earth would listen and change their ways…

As we talk about numbers, what are some significant numbers we find in the scriptures? What are they connected to, what do they mean? 40, 12, 7, 3…

If we follow the Biblical narrative back through the Old Testament we find that many times brothers chose one as a scapegoat. What often happened was that the brothers needed one of them to pick on. There was always one sibling who didn't fit in. It seems like the Old Testament stories always had one brother who was made fun of, sold into slavery, murdered, or looked over. There is one particular family who had 7 sons and 2 daughters and this was their story. Do you know who? David.

King David, before he was king and before David & Goliath, he was the youngest of his 6 brothers and he was over looked. He was passed over – sent out, practically not counted. When asked – his father said "oh ya, I've got another son, but you don't want him. He's too young, he's just a little guy, he's out tending the sheep."

The Rich Man says he had 5 brothers. So, that means the Rich Man himself would be brother number 6. But the interesting thing is that in the culture of the day, if a father was going to have a son, he'd better have seven sons. Since the number seven represents "completion", having seven sons would symbolize the "father's perfection". So, if the Rich Man comes from a thoroughly Jewish family – it could be implied that he would have one more brother. Which begs the question, "Who's the 7th brother?"

    In Matthew we hear Jesus say: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength… and your neighbor as yourself.' And here in Luke we are reminded of the inter-relational lives we live. We hear Jesus subtly asking the Pharisees (and us) who's the 7th brother?

Are we overlooking our brother or our sister – as they sit at the gate, with sores being licked by dogs, begging for scraps from our lavish table?

    As member of the Church of the Nazarene, we must not forget our heritage. We must not forget the message of reconciliation Jesus came proclaiming and living. We, who call ourselves followers of Christ – imitators of Christ – ambassadors of Christ – we must not become complacent in our purple robes. We must not become complacent as our Global World is shrinking and our 1.2 billion brothers and sisters who live on two dollars a day or less – sit just outside our gate.

    As we look to our past, and remember our heritage, which consists of providing room at the table for the homeless, the poor, and the disenfranchised – we must look at who we are today, be encouraged by the Gospel, and ready to step out into tomorrow.

    We live in an era in which we who call ourselves followers of Christ must be Living Relational Justice. What does that mean? I think it can mean two beautiful things.

  1. Living Relational Justice – It's alive. It's not dead. We, collectively are God's ambassadors. We are his hands and feet. We, the Christian Church are a living body… We are relational beings, and we are called to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.
  2. Living Relational Justice - we are part of an active, on going – not stagnant, life giving, hope inspiring, transformative message of love which is found in our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ and embodied through our doing. As Paul says, we must Do Good. We must be rich in Good Deeds, and be generous and willing to share! It's an action. It's a daily thing. It's a lifestyle. It's not alone, it's not self-centered. It's together. It's continual! It's who – in Christ – we are!
This week I was able to hear a beautiful poem by Dr. Gloria Burgess titled Song to Myself. It was shared at a benefit for a local agency involved in providing education access to those our society rights off – homeless teens and young adults. Seattle Education Access provides the opportunity for disenfranchised youth to go to college. As I heard the stories of hope, access, opportunity and transformation – my heart was warmed. I'd like to share her poem with you this morning. I think it speaks, as a parable, to the heart of the Gospel.

Song to Myself – Gloria Burgess

It doesn't matter to me

    What you do or where you work.

I want to know

    Who you are

    When the sun goes down

    And if you are willing

To put everything on the line to fulfill your soul's desire.

It doesn't matter to me

    How much bread you can afford

    To put on your own table.

I want to know

    If you will knead and wait

    And bake the bread and share

Your blessings at someone else's table.
I want to know

    If you can look into the eyes

    Of the young woman

    Who sleeps with fear each night

    The one who dared to walk

Away from the hands that pummeled her.
I want to know

    If you can share her pain.

It doesn't matter to me

    What neighborhood you live in

    Or what kind of car you drive.

I want to know what drives you

    What compels you

    To follow your soul's longing.

I want to know

    What pierces your heart

Awakens you at night and inspires you
    To devote yourself to whomever

    Or whatever moves you.

I want to know

    How many times you've opened

    Your heart and extended a hand

To your homeless sister or brother.
I want to know

If you will sit in the quiet dark hours
Between midnight and dawn listening
    To another's heartsong.

It doesn't matter to me

How many unspeakable secrets you have.
I want to know

    If you will share your secrets

    To liberate your demons

    So they don't devour you

    Or those you love.

I want to know

    If you will risk looking foolish

    To embrace your bliss.

I want to know

    If you will grasp the sleeve

Of a nameless elder stumbling on his way
    And lead him in from the cold.

I want to know

    If you will throw away your cloak

And show your heart if you will dare
    To wear your soul on the outside.

It doesn't matter to me

How many mountains you've climbed or will climb.
I want to know

if you've fallen down in the valley of despair.
I want to know

    If you've scarred your kness

On the stones of self-abandonment.
I want to know

How long you've been hidden in the shadows
Of hypocrisy prejudice addiction abuse.
I want to know

    If you will stop

To light a candle and pray with others
    Who will surely wander there.

It doesn't matter to me

What you say you will do for others.
I want to know

    If you will act

    With courage and conviction

If you will daily cradle the frail hand of your mother when she no longer knows your name.
I want to know

    If you will look into the hazel

    Grey or ebony eyes of a stranger

    And say "yes" to affirm your sister

    Your brother yourself.

I want to know

    If you will take the time to be still

    Call the names and pass the cup

    To honor the ancestors

    Who cleared a path

    And broke new ground

    For you and your children.

It doesn't matter to me

that you have a past.

I want to know

    If you will celebrate your present

    If you will take a stand

    Declare yourself sing I am

    Boldly and with rejoicing

    Not only to the stars at night

    But to anyone


    Without apologies

    Or regrets.


As Dr. Burgess – a beautiful, powerfully emotional black woman – read her poem; I sat there and could just hear Poppa speaking to me. I could hear him saying: It doesn't matter to me where you work. It doesn't matter to me what neighborhood you live in or what kind of car you drive. It doesn't matter to me how many mountains you've climbed.

It doesn't matter to me how much bread you can afford to put on your own table. I want to know if you will knead and wait and bake the bread and share your blessings with someone else, to share your life with those who are at the gate. Share it with those who our society over looks, with those whom I love.

    I hear Poppa saying: It doesn't matter to me what you say you will do for others. I want to know you will act with courage and conviction. I want to know you will do good. I want to know you will pick up your cross and follow me. I want to know you've opened your heart and extended a hand, my hand – of my love, to your homeless brothers and sisters.

    I hear Poppa, Abba, Yahweh, Jesus saying – What matters to me is following after my heart. What matters is my compassion, my peace, my joy, my hope and my love. What matters is this upside down kingdom, where I've come as a servant, not upon a white horse, but a donkey. What matters is that you pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. What matters is that you step up, step out, and boldly live as I empower you! I hear God saying to you and to me - What matters to me – isn't a what – but a who.

    We have some pretty powerful passages of Scripture set before us this week. Besides simply reading the texts, what do we do with them? The question perhaps staring us in the face is: Who is your 7th brother? Who is sitting at your gate – wishing to be fed your scraps? Who is God calling you out of your robes of luxury to embrace with his upside down kingdom?

    The kingdom of God is an interwoven relational being. We cannot do it alone. We, like our triune God, are relational people and we must be living relational justice. Can you hear Poppa, Abba Father, calling you to remember your past, as you prepare for action today and into tomorrow? We are called to living relational justice of hope to a broken and hurting world – desperate for the love and embrace of the One who cares.

    Who is the brother or sister sitting outside the gate – who Jesus is calling you to step out of your purple robes – and love?

As you go – Step out of your purple robes and into God's unconditional love of grace. Go and Love.