Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent Reflections: God with us: the Rest of the Story

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Emmanuel.”  My family will tell you that I have one version that I blast around the house during the month of December. They are spared this year since we are moving and I haven’t gotten the CD out; I think they are grateful!

Emmanuel means “God with us.”  We sing about this reality, we celebrate it at Christmas, we reflect on what it means.  However, there is so much more to the story . . .it spans all of history as well as pointing us to eternity.  I don’t believe our Heavenly Father wants us to stop with “God with us.”  He has so much more for us; so if you are willing to accept the mission…read on!
God Present to One Person:

Abraham is one who experienced God.  He had several encounters with God; the first being told to go “to an unknown land which I will show you.”  Imagine having to go home to Sarah to tell her the news:  “we are moving….where? ….not sure yet, we have to pack up and start moving and then we will know.”  Probably wasn’t the best conversation in the world!  Abraham’s next encounter involved being told he would have a son in his old age.  When Abraham was 99 years old, the Lord appeared and created a covenant with him; he would become the father of a multitude of nations.  Finally, his last encounter with God came with great sacrifice.  Abraham was to take his long awaited son and put him on the altar.  All together Abraham personally experienced God’s presence four times in his long life. 
In this period of time, out of all humanity, one man experienced God four times in his life. 

God Present to a Nation:
God was present in a cloud and fire to the Israelites after they are delivered from Egypt.  Even so, only Moses and Joshua were able to go up the mountain to meet with God.  When the Tabernacle was built, God’s specific instruction was for one priest to meet him in the Holy of Holies one time per year.  His presence to the whole nation was still limited.

Emmanuel: God with Us:
Almost five hundred years later, Israel’s long awaited Messiah appeared.  Jesus, the baby born in a manger in Bethlehem, came in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:  “Look!  The virgin will conceive a child!  She will give birth to a son and name him Emmanuel:  God with us.” Is 7:14.

When Jesus was about to be crucified, he told his disciples, “It is best for me to go away because when I do, the counselor, the Holy Spirit will come.” (author’s paraphrase: John 16:7)
Jesus was God in flesh living amongst humanity.

The Rest of the Story:
If the story stopped at this point, we still have much to celebrate.  However, there is much more to God’s story with us.  The heavenly Father sent Jesus to model for us how we live on earth in a human body, but with the realization it is no longer just God with us, but it is now God in us.

God in us is the mystery kept hidden for all history.  At Pentecost, everything changed.  The disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, their bodies instantly becoming the Holy of Holies, the place reserved for one priest to enter one time per year.
Imagine this:  throughout the ages, God was present with one man, he was present with a nation, he was even present through his son on earth, but today he is present in us.

We carry the living God with us.  We are tabernacles which brightly reflect the glory of the Lord:  when the angels rejoice in the heavens at Jesus’ birth, they were a prophetic sign for our present reality:  God in us.
We celebrate Jesus birth because he came to show us how to live as God in us.  He taught us how to see and hear the Father’s voice and direction (John 5:19).  He modeled for us the rhythmic pattern of life through moving between abiding and bearing fruit (John 15).  He equipped us to go and do the things he did. He sent us to go and proclaim the kingdom of God is near (Luke 9:1-2).  He taught us the road of sacrifice through his willingness to lay down his life so others, this includes us, could have life through his death (John 12:32).

We have everything we need to live as Jesus did.  He lives in us!  So, this Christmas season as you sing “Emmanuel” and celebrate God with us, remember our true reality is “God in us.”

When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal,  the promised Holy Spirit,  who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.  Ephesians 1:13b-14
Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,  who lives in you and was given to you by God?  1 Cor 6:19
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,  just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Reflections: "Saying Yes to the Unknown"

It happens to all of us.  We go through our daily life, moving in our regular routine, when all of the sudden God breaks through and changes our direction: sometimes so dramatically it leaves us breathless and in great awe as we ponder what God is doing in our midst.

This is called a “Kairos Moment.”  Kairos is the Greek word for when time stands still and God breaks through.  All of our Bible heroes experienced them:  Abraham did when God told him to go to a "land which I will show you."  Moses did when he experienced the burning bush and a call to return to Pharaoh’s palace to set the Israelites free.  David did when he was called out of shepherding sheep into leading a nation as king. The prophet Ezekiel did when the Lord called him to speak to a valley of dead bones which became an army of living people.
Mary, mother of Jesus, also experienced a kairos moment when the angel Gabriel met her in her village of Nazareth.  She was most likely in the barn milking the cows, or tending to the sheep, when Angel Gabriel showed up and said, “Greetings, favored woman!  The Lord is with you.”

Mary was confused and disturbed.  She didn’t consider herself a woman yet; she was most likely 14 or 15 years old.  She had no clue she was favored:  she saw herself as from the lower class of life as she was poor, a woman, and part of the Israelite culture oppressed by the Romans for decades.

But, God isn’t concerned with our viewpoints of ourselves.  He identifies us through the lense as his beloved children with a purpose to help redeem all of creation in the world.  The Angel Gabriel spoke out God’s identity for Mary:  one who was favored to conceive, carry through pregnancy, and birth the Messiah to the world for all time.
Mary was never the same when she entered into the land of the unknown by agreeing to God’s outrageous plan. It didn’t come without a cost.  She had to face shame and rejection by her fiancĂ©, her family and her village.  As a matter of fact, I believe the reason there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the inn was because her reputation as an unwed pregnant woman had preceded their arrival.

So, instead of a birthing room or a hospital, the baby Messiah was born in a smelly stable amidst the animals he had created in the beginning of the world.  It’s a picture of God’s upside down priorities. He takes the least likely situation and makes it extraordinary.
I am currently living in the space of the unknown.  I experienced a kairos moment late this summer when Bill’s company told us we needed to consolidate our two locations of Seattle and San Francisco into one.  They told us we had some time to make the move, however, so when I prayed I expected to hear God say we should move at the end of the ministry year next June.

But, instead, I heard him say, “Go now.”  So, like Mary who responded with  "May it be to you as you have said," so in other words, YES!, I did the same.  I told God, "Yes, I will do what you asked."  When I gave him my yes, I was given great peace and joy and a day where everything in life seemed multiplied with goodness.
The next day we put everything in motion; telling our daughters and Missio Lux, putting our house on the market, and coming to California to discern our new location.
Kairos moments are not usually easy to walk out. They take courage and determination to follow God into the unknown.  Right now, I am sitting in Bill’s apartment in San Francisco, waiting to go up to our new home 50 miles north in Santa Rosa, while we continue to make arrangements to leave our home in Seattle.  I vacillate between feeling great sadness in leaving my middle daughter, our wonderful house, and our friends in Missio Lux and the community, with the anticipation of what God is going to do with us through our new life in California.

Where are you experiencing a kairos moment?  Where are you observing something unexpected happening? Where is God surprising you with a direction you didn’t expect to go?  Where are you being challenged to live into the unknown?

How are you responding?  Is it with a “yes God,” or is it with fear and doubt?  I just returned from the 3dm Learning Community which equips leaders to lead integrated lives of discipleship and mission.  As we invited people into the journey of discovering a lifestyle of integrated discipleship, I saw many present responding with a lot of apprehension about the shift it would involve for their churches and their leadership. As I processed their kairos invitation, I realized once again the cost to following Jesus versus the cost of staying in the familiar.
It’s hard to leave the world of the known.  We are often tempted to stay in the place of the familiar, even when deep down we know it really isn’t working for us, but it seems too hard to move into the land of disequilibrium to change it.

However, if we want to become one of God’s heroes for this particular segment of history, we MUST pay attention when we experience a kairos moment which takes us into the land of the unknown.  We must courageously walk toward the burning bush, observe what is taking place, reflect on what it means and talk to those we trust in relationship about how to respond.
When we do this, we can lead lives like Moses, who had the opportunity to lead an entire nation of millions of people out of slavery.  We can be like David who led a nation into times of peace and prosperity.  We can be like Ezekiel who saw dead bones come to life.  We can become like Mary who received the greatest invitation to partner with God to birth his son Jesus.

I anticipate becoming one of God’s heroes.  I am willing to make the adjustments to God’s kairos moments in my life, so I can live fully aligned with his purposes for me.  I don’t know fully what the next segment of my life will include, but I have confidence that if I follow the Shepherds voice (John 10), I will have the opportunity to discover the abundant life Jesus promises.
I also think God considers the people of Missio Lux Seattle heroes as they follow God into the unknown over and over again, as he continues to surprise us with his unique ways and purposes.  These faith filled people continue the journey of the unknown because they don’t want to miss anything Jesus intends for them to experience.
Please pray for our family as we move to Santa Rosa, CA right after Christmas and for Missio Lux Seattle as we make the faith filled adjustment to living life together in different locations.

My prayer for you is for you to observe your kairos moments and to have the courage to take the next step to discover the invitation God is giving you within it.  In the meantime, consider God’s heroes and how they partnered with God for some of the biggest opportunities throughout the history of the world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Seek first his Kingdom: a Posture of Thankfulness

It’s fun to see all the facebook postings of “thankfulness messages” this week.  This is the season we are reminded to stop and give thanks for the blessings we experience in life.  It’s good to have this season, but I wonder, what would the world be if everyone of us followed Paul’s admonition to live a life of thanksgiving.? How does a posture of thanksgiving for all things change us, and the atmosphere around us?

1st Thessalonians 5:16: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Three short phrases. Simple, really:

            Be joyful.
        Pray continually

        Give thanks for everything.
I memorized this Scripture as a child, so I’ve known it for a long time. But, I am only recently learning to live it out.  I am discovering knowing how to recite it and walking it out in daily life are two very different realities! 

The first phrase “be joyfulcan only be done in relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Joy is something we can’t manufacture.  We can create happiness through our circumstances, but joy comes from the inner place of our spirit when all is right with the world.  Do you ever have those moments when you just know that joy is present? I had one a couple of days ago when I was editing my book. As I listened to moving music and  anticipated how God would use the book, I felt my heart burst with joy over the privilege of participating with God in conveying his message of “good news” to his people about our true identity.

The second phrase “pray continually” is a posture of how we live our days.
I used to get so hung up on this thinking “there’s no way I can pray all the time.”  I am realizing, however, it’s more about how we live our days.  Are we relying on ourselves and our own abilities to get things done?  Or, are we committing what we are doing at this moment to the Lord and inviting him into it?  I started to get overwhelmed when I started writing today, and when I realized it, I stopped and invited Jesus into the process.  Once I did this, he joined me and my writing became much more joyful and fulfilling.  It’s no longer something to rush through in order to finish my list on this short work week, it’s a journey with my friend who is delighted with the message

The final phrase “give thanks for everything” ends with a qualifier “for this is God’s will for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
A couple of things here:  the first is I used to think that everything that happens to us is the “God’s will for us”….but that thought doesn’t line up with tragedy, destruction, illness, war, poverty, those things that definitely aren’t found in heaven, so it’s not God’s will for earth. 

What I now understand is the “God’s will for us”  is to live in the posture of thankfulness, which leads us to continual prayer, and results in joy! 
Thankfulness brings us freedom. 

I wrote earlier about the challenges we hit regarding the purchase of our new home.  Despite the impossibility of the situation, when I started thanking God for them, I was freed up emotionally and able to pray in faith, which resulted in God’s tangible presence which brought me joy.  I will never forget the power of that day. When everything fell apart around us, we were given peace and joy.  Romans 14:17 tells us “the kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy.”
The eating and drinking represent our earthly needs….paradoxically when we look heavenward, we find peace and joy despite what is taking place around us on earth!

I want to conclude with a story I heard Mike Breen ( tell at a Learning Community.  On a trip to Africa, he found himself very ill in a small village far away from any hospitals.  Mike was so sick the doctor told him he was going to die.  As he laid on a cot two feet too short for him, far away from any family, he heard the Lord tell him to “thank him.”  Mike asked him what to thank God for in his situation.  He heard God say, “Start with the nurse taking care of you.” 
So, Mike began to thank God for the nurse, for the hut, for the short bed, for the village, for anything he could think of in his very sick state.  After about an hour of thanking God, he realized his fever had broken. Within a few hours, they were able to feed him some broth.  Within 24 hours, he was completely well. 

One day he was dying all alone in an African village.  The next day he was totally healed.
How did this happen? 

It came about through the posture of thankfulness, which caused him to pray continually, which brought not just his spirit joy, but his body health.
How about you? 

What are you thankful for? 
It’s a good time to get started in living a posture of thankfulness as we see it all around us.  My next door neighbor, Nancy, is celebrating her birthday with a month of 50 random acts of kindness.  She is learning the posture of thankfulness, which leads to peace and joy!  She is also inspiring those around her to learn the joy of a life shared freely with others.

Take some time this week to make a list of everything you can think of as you thank your loving Heavenly Father.  Repeat the list out loud.  Do it again the following day.  I encourage you to do this for 40 days throughout the entire holiday season.
At the end, ask yourself, “Was I able to live this holiday season with greater joy, peace and connection with my Father?” My guess is that the answer is yes because when we align with the way we were created to live, the outcome is God’s supernatural gifts of peace, joy, hope and love!

I think I will start now….
1. I am thankful for you.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Raise Up Your Staff: Missio Lux Moves Forward!

In many ways, it feels as if Missio Lux is pressed up against the water's edge, just like the Israelites after they were miraculously delivered from Egypt!  They literally had nowhere to go, but instead of being defeated, they walked through a sea which supernaturally parted for their crossing.

We have a moving date now; we are moving at the end of December!  Watch for my future blog where I describe the miraculous way God has moved to answer our prayers for our home to continue to be a beacon of light, welcome and hospitality for his kingdom!

When I asked the Lord to show me the most important things to do before I move, he was clear to show me we needed to do a process of discernment and prayer.  So, we set two nights to gather, discern and pray. 

Our first was Sunday when we asked the Lord to show an areas where we needed to repent, open entry points where the thief is able to sneak through a door, and sins made against us.  We took communion and prayed for repentance for the areas we discerned through the evening.

Last night many of us gathered to pray specifically for repentence and breakthrough.  It was exciting to me to see how we humbled ourselves, prayed and sought God's face, as we trusted him to hear from heaven, forgive our sin and heal our land (2nd Chronicles 7:14).

It was also good for us to gather from our different missio communities to come together to pray. The unity in the room was palpable; the desire for God to do more amongst us increasing as our prayers of faith rose up to believe God to part the waters so we can walk through, and our enemy the thief, is drowned in the sea.

When people hear I am moving to another state, their first question is "What's going to happen to Missio Lux?"  However, instead of distress, we hear the Lord saying, "This is my finest hour.  Watch and see what I do...."

We are expectant.  We are watching, waiting and we raise up our staff like Moses for the sea to part.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Seek first his Kingdom: the Treasure of a Good Foundation

It’s been interesting to watch the “Occupy Movement.”  I have been fascinated by how quickly it has spread, as well as their passion and the organization they have for the simple tasks of living:  cooking, trash removal, and . . . protesting!  The Occupy Movement is highlighting an inequity that exists between the wealthy and the poor, as we slowly watch the middle class disappear.

Jesus spoke to crowds who also experienced the vast difference between the wealthy and the poor. . .no middle class existed in his day.  The wealthy had power; the poor were powerless.  Jesus was brilliant in his ability turn things upside down….and money and power were one of his favorite topics as he revealed how shallow they truly are in comparison to his kingdom come.
Remember, in his message about priorities Jesus told us to “seek first God’s kingdom and to set things right, and then everything else would fall into place.”  The apostle Paul heard Jesus right.  He wrote a moving letter to his disciple Timothy where he concludes the letter with a passage about priorities in finances:

1st Tim 6:17-19:  “As for those who in this present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
Think about it.  How many times a day do we receive the message that if we “get a better job,” we will have a better life?  Or, if we buy the latest car, outfit, cell phone or computer, we will have a better life?  We have these messages coming at us over and over all day long, especially now when we are so connected to technology.

Paul tells us not to focus on the uncertainty of riches.  It’s a great message for today as we watch the stock market jump all around and the selling price of our homes continue to plunge.  Paul encourages us to “set out hopes on God who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.”

I guess I wonder if we really believe that God wants to provide things for our enjoyment.   I find that when I dig with people, we often have a mindset which believes God wants us to take less, to be less content in life, that suffering is where he wants us to focus.  God is teaching me, however, that he does like to surprise his children with gifts….just as we like to do for our own children.

Today we are signing the loan papers on our new house.  It’s a big faith leap for us in trusting God’s provision to do this before our own house is sold.  My prayer for weeks has been for us to have a contract in hand before we signed the papers.  Last week not one person looked at our house….so the circumstances didn’t point towards getting a contract.  But, God is the God of surprises, and last night our realtor called with news of a contract for our house.   God is a God of “just in time” because today we signed the offer papers in our kitchen with our realtor and immediately walked into our living room to sign our loan papers for our new home in California!
While I was writing this reflection, Brad called me.  He has been out of work for awhile…and in his time of reflection, he realized that he was no longer content to continue to the status quo; he knew he wanted to give his life to something greater.  He is pursuing a position with World Vision where he would help retail stores carry their message of provision to a hurting world.  He told me, “I’ve made a conscious decision to give my life to a cause where I am helping serve people, making a difference in the world.”
Brad is listening to Jesus’ priorities.  He has discovered that when he aligns his life to “seek first God’s kingdom, and his righteousness, the all things comes into place.”  I read him the 1st Timothy passage which ends with “taking hold of the life that really is life.”  Brad agreed with it; saying his time of unemployment had helped to clarify his true heart.

Retreat does that. When we take steps away from our regular life and listen, being quiet and in solitude, we hear God’s heart more clearly.  His desire is for us “to live the life that really is life.” I love that.
From the beginning of time, our enemy has lied to us that God is holding out on us.  He twists the truth to make us think that the fruit on another tree is better for us, when in reality, the Tree of Life stands before us, beckoning us to eat from it each and every day.

When we remove ourselves from the tempting messages, we begin to get clarity on what’s truly important.  Jesus tells us “to love God and others, and then to go and multiply God’s message to others”, resulting in disciples who go and do the same.  Paul tells us in 1st Timothy when we set our hopes on God who richly provides everything for our enjoyment, we are able to “do good, be rich in good works, generous and ready to share.” 
When we move in rhythm with how we were created, to follow after God’s ways, we are building a foundation of the hidden treasure which enables us to take hold of the life that really is life.

So, how about you? 
Where are you tempted to follow the way of the world?
Where are you misaligned in your priorities? 
Where do you find yourselves frustrated and iscontent?
The answers to these questions will start you on the journey of discovery on how to build your life on the foundation of the life which is truly life:  a life spent pursuing seeking God’s kingdom, his righteousness and trusting him for the “all things” to fall into place.

I encourage you to find some space for some retreat, a time of solitude.  Sit down and journal your answers to the questions above, and meditate on Paul’s words to Timothy; his clues for a life worth living!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Experiencing the Egyptian Aftermath of the Massacre October 9th

Laurie is one of the major leaders in Missio Lux.  She has been my vision partner since the inception of Missio Lux; meaning that we meet together weekly to dream about the future and plan for the present.  Laurie is extremely gifted and intelligent. She currently attends Bakke Graduate University,, whose mission is to "Develop Christ centered leaders who change global cities." 

As part of their curriculum, they require students to go on an intensive trip in some of the most challenging locations on the globe.  Laurie chose to go to the Middle East this October.  She began to get nervous as the date for departure drew near; especially with all the volatility in the Middle East this year.

She had reason to be wary.  The groups' first stop was in Cairo, Egypt right in the middle of the massacre October 9th.

Her group of Bakke students actually ended up staying in the Coptic Christian Bishop's home, as well as being present at a meeting with the Coptic Pope where the families of the Copts who were killed came and vented their grief and outrage.

It is often hard to get reliable press coverage; leaving us wondering what to believe at times.  Take a few minutes to watch this short (1:22) video and read the text that accompanies it.  It is important to know how our fellow brothers and sisters around the world are being treated.

Laurie has many stories to tell about her trip, including sharing about Jesus followers who risk their lives to share God's love by serving their communities. I will make sure to link all her blog posts to this sight so we don't miss out on her observations and reflections.

Take a moment now to pray for the Coptic Christians in Egypt; for their protection, courage, perseverance and wisdom. Amen.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Seek first his Kingdom: Raise Up Your Staff"

Last week we heard some very discouraging news regarding our move to California.  Many of the finances we were counting on disappeared; and the time to move forward with the new house was immediate.  I went to pray; to ask the Lord to show us what to do.  What’s taken place has been one of the greatest faith lessons of our lives.

The next day, I heard the words “pressed up against the water’s edge” out of the blue. I knew the Lord was directing me to the passage in Exodus 14 about the Israelites, recently released into freedom from Egypt, in the desert as they watched the Egyptian army chase them down.  They were trapped on both sides:  the Red Sea and the Egyptian army.
The Israelites cried out to Moses in accusation: “Did you just bring us out to this desert to become a cemetery of death?”  Moses, being strong in his identity as a representative for God, calmly told them, “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and today you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

After Moses made his declaration, it’s implied that Moses then turned around and said pretty much the Israelites message to the Lord. But, the Lord told him, “Stop crying out to me.  Raise up your staff over the waters so they divide.  The Israelites can walk through on dry ground.  I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so they go in after them.  And I will gain glory, so that everyone knows that I am the Lord!”
Raise up your staff.  What does this mean?  How can we translate it to our own lives?

God gave Moses the staff when he called him at the burning bush to go and confront Pharaoh.  The staff was important to Moses’ life as a shepherd.  However, when God gave it back to him, it was something else.  It was meant for his role as one who reigns with God, and has his authority to call forth God’s will and his supernatural power to reign over nature.  Over and over we hear of the plagues that were released through Moses into Egypt to bring them into a place of humility to God’s plan and purposes.
God replaced Moses’ identity as a shepherd and told him that “I AM” is with you.  “Because ‘I AM’ is with you; you are my representative to seek first my kingdom. My ways will come forth for the people of my heart.”  Moses was being called not to hide in a desert in fear any longer, but to go and fight for the freedom of God’s beloved people, the Israelites.

We are to do the same.  We are to go and fight for the people God created; keeping our back to the enemy so we don’t back down in fear, our eyes focused on our Deliverer, who has the power to part the water!
How did we practically walk out the challenge before us?

First, we didn’t back out of our contract to buy the house in CA.  We believe God led us to this house and he wants it for our new life together and for his kingdom purposes.  We kept our eyes on the Deliverer.
We asked people to pray for us. We didn’t try to walk through the battle alone.

We began to thank God for the challenges.  Despite all the chaos swirling around us, as soon as we started thanking God, peace came.  It is the peace that is clearly supernatural and not defined by our circumstances.
We raised our staff by praying in the spiritual authority given to us by Jesus. We followed the pattern of the Lord’s prayer by praying for “God’s will to be done on earth as it is heaven.”

We also called the angelic army to go and fight the battle for us.  God is always the God of just in time; so just hours before we had to wire a substantial sum of money for escrow, we got word that we would have enough finances to move forward.
We moved forward in faith.  We didn’t have all the answers then, and we don’t have all the answers now.  We do have, however, the confirmation of Exodus 14 five different ways.  Over and over in the anxious days of waiting, we were given this word from the Lord.  They came in various ways:  through the words out of the blue, “pressed up against the water’s edge,”  an email from an intercessor with a teaching of Exodus 14, prayers prayed by two young women who saw the waters and the army coming after us,  a daily Scriptural reading, and finally my Bible falling open to it when I picked it up.

Coincidence?  No, as we begin to know the language God speaks to us by, we begin to recognize that repitition is one of his greatest ways to show us his plan.
Was it easy?  No, it was very hard.  Walking in faith is truly living “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.”  Hebrews 11:6

Was it worth it?  Yes, because we are now walking in a greater level of faith which gives us confidence for the next test.  We have a testimony now.  We can tell the stories over and over how God parted the waters for us to walk through to the other side.
Let’s remember our theme for the year, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all things shall be added to you.”

To seek first God’s kingdom is align our lives with his heavenly kingdom reigning on earth.  This is not a cool Sunday School story, this involves real life action to which we have the ability to respond with a “yes, I am in, “or a “no, too hard, I am out.”
God’s righteousness is to “partner with him to set things right.”  Moses partnered with God to set right the Israelites freedom.  We partnered with God to set things right regarding our next stage of life and ministry.

And, all things shall be added onto you.  When we align our lives to seek first God’s kingdom, we can trust his promise to “provide the necessary aspects of our lives,” which includes food to eat, clothes to wear, and houses to live in.
Where are you pressed up against the water’s edge?  Get out your staff and begin to experience the power which flows from it as you trust the Deliverer to see your faith and to part the waters.  Victory is yours.  The King is calling you as his kingdom partner to help set his beloved people free from their slavery.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Seek first his Kingdom: Choosing between Faith and Fear

The Buchan family has a lot happening right now:  we are seeking to move to a new location in Santa Rosa, California so that Bill can stop commuting weekly from Seattle to San Francisco.  Our daughters live in Seattle, Chicago and London so this adds another location to our already very spread out life.  I am leading Missio Lux through an important transition as together we discover how to continue to be faithful in God’s call for us to be a “dispersed faith community.”  I am also getting close to finishing the editing process of the Identity Book I wrote earlier this year; it should be out in print in early December.

I went through a period a few weeks ago where I was so overwhelmed I could barely get up in the morning.  I felt fearful, stressed out and anxious about how I was going to be able to do all that was in front of me.
I began to ask myself, however, how I could walk out the very thing I was encouraging you to do:  “to seek first God’s kingdom.”  The Lord was faithful to show me the way to do this and I’d like to share it with you.  I hope it will be helpful to an area of your life where you feel overwhelmed, or out of balance.

The first step is to examine priorities.  What’s more important?  Are you worshiping Jesus or the problem?  In other words, what’s occupying more of your thoughts:  the challenge or the answer to the challenge?  Make a decision to focus your thoughts on God’s ability to do the impossible.  The angel told Mary that “nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37).  It takes a lot of repetition to change your brain pattern but over time you will find it much easier to find the right focus:  on the Provider not the problem!
The second step is to incorporate a posture of celebration and thankfulness.  Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to “Be joyful always, pray all the time, and give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  When we make a decision from our will to thank God for the challenges, it takes us out of our place of worry and fear.  Our decision to trust God with our problem actually frees God up to move to answer our dilemma.  I find the more that I thank God for the challenges, the sooner I get to peace!

We found an amazing house in Santa Rosa. We felt confident that we be able to buy the house as there had been very little activity on it.  We were sad to discover that another buyer came in and bid for it the same day we did.  I got so stressed thinking the house may not be ours.  It wasn’t until a couple of anxious days later as we waited to hear their decision that I decided to come outside my emotions, and with my will thank God for the challenge. When I did, everything changed.  Amazingly, the timing of my decision to thank God and the owners choice was at the same time! The owners picked us saying, “We know they are the ones meant to have this house.”
The next step after examining our priorities and developing a posture of life full of thankfulness is to follow Scripture.  Paul outlined an excellent process to the church of Philippi in the fourth chapter:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  Phil 4:6-7
There it is:

Don’t worry:  pray instead:  the priority!  Focus on the provider rather than the problem.
           Tell God your needs and thank him for the challenge, developing your life of faith as you wait for God to bring the answer.

Remember the ways God has worked in the past and speak them to others.  This will build your faith and remove all fear from your thoughts!
            Develop your life of testimony:  review the ways in which God has been faithful     to you!  We have a testimony now about our future house in Santa Rosa; if we wouldn’t have walked through the challenge, we wouldn’t have known that it truly was the house God intended for us to have.

The outcome:  peace which goes beyond any circumstance.  The word guard here means to “prevent hostile invasion.”  The Lord guards our heart from the hostile invasion from the thief who comes to rob, steal and destroy us.  God does the opposite:  he gives us the life of heaven that we were meant to experience in the Garden before the fall.
The valuable outcome of this process is that our life of faith is built so that the next challenge becomes less daunting.  I am able to say that I am at rest and peace right now despite all that is happening around me because I have a list of testimonies for how God has worked in other impossible situations to bring about my best; and his best, the kingdom come!

Romans 14:17 says this, “For the kingdom of God is not eating or drinking, but righteousness, peace and joy!” 
Righteousness:  things being set right as we are in right relationship, peace and joy. 
There it is again, the priority:  it’s not about acquiring the needs the Father already knows we need:  it’s about seeking first his kingdom; which gives us righteousness, peace and joy.
It’s the treasure the whole world is seeking!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vision for "Identity Crisis: Reclaim the True You!"

Now that "Identity Crisis: Reclaim the True You" is written, what are the different options for how it can be used to help pull people out of an identity crisis and into the place of walking in fulfillment of God's plan for our lives?

The possibilities are quite endless!

"Identity Crisis:  Reclaim the True You" is an interesting read, and will open up minds to a way to a different lifestyle.  However, just reading it will only go so far in helping change a lifetime of thinking and behavior.  The book will be most effective in bringing peace and joy and a fulfilling life when the material in the book is interacted with, both individually and in groups.

Therefore, I have designed a variety of ways to interact with the book:

       1.  Each chapter ends with both reflection questions and experiences to reinforce the themes.
       2.  The reader will be directed to an interactive website where the questions and experiences will be accompanied with opportunities for online conversation and support.  (QR codes in the book will take those with iPhones directly to the website.)

        3.  Identity Crisis is designed to be a powerful book study which takes place over 10 weeks or more; readers can assemble their own groups to work through it, or existing groups may adopt it as their present study.  The Scriptures, stories, reflections and experiences are transformational when explored in community.

       4.  Some readers may find the book most effective as they work through the content individually at a pace that gives them time to fully integrate the themes found in the book.

       5.  I am also available to lead groups through the material in a variety of ways:
                     a.  Weekend Retreats are excellent in taking "set apart time" to process the themes in the book and to process it in community with others.  These retreats can be either gender focused or done with both men and women.

                    b.  Identity Workshops are one day gatherings which will focus on the two main themes found in Romans 8:14-17:  we are beloved adopted children of God, and our inheritance of being co-heirs to Christ as we partner with him to bring his kingdom purposes to earth.

                    c.  One topic talks from the 10 different identity concepts presented in the book: these talks can be sermons, one time presentations, or presented at conferences or seminars.

                    d.  Book studies done over a series of weeks in locations convenient to where I live.

I am also developing a blog, facebook page and twitter to communicate the themes of Identity Crisis on an ongoing basis!  Watch for all of this to come out in the next few weeks as we prepare for the first printing of the book coming out in early December!  (the book will make great Christmas presents)

What are my dreams for how this book will make a difference?

I envision a scenario much like we find in Ezekiel 37.  The Lord took Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones and he told Ezekiel what to say so the dry bones became a living, breathing army.  We, as people, have become a valley of dry bones as we let the world define our identity.  As we engage the truth of our god given identity, we begin to breathe again and find our destiny, the unique reason for our life on earth.  As we reclaim our true identity from the wasteland of the dry bones, we discover our life on earth is fulfilling, joyful and full of peace!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Writing "Identity Crisis: Reclaim the True You!"

Last January on one of my prayer days, I sensed the Lord calling me to write a book about identity.  Within 30 minutes, I had an outline, a personal story, Scriptures, illustrations and biblical stories for every chapter. 

I started to write it in mid-March, even though the only time that I could carve out for it as two to three hours on Friday morning.  However, I made great progress, finishing half the book by mid June.  My plan was to go to San Francisco for the month of July in hopes of finishing the whole book.

Amazingly, at the end of the three weeks that I stayed in San Francisco, I finished the manuscript.  When I added up the amount of hours that I spent writing the book, I realized that I had written it in less than 100 hours.  Wow!  I knew I could only have written it through being empowered by God's Spirit.

We don't often get to experience something so powerful in the Spirit, but I can honestly say that writing this book has been one of the most thrilling experiences in my life.  Some days I felt like Jesus was right next to me, giving me the words to write, as well as expressing his pleasure about its progress.

Before I left San Francisco, I sensed the Lord urging me to work towards getting it published by the end of 2011.  I gulped and thought that timeline seemed a bit impossible.  I know people spend years seeking to get their books published.

Once again, the Lord was present showing the way.  When I asked those who committed to pray for me to pray for direction for a publisher, my parents gave me a name.  When I prayed about it, I sensed the Lord's pleasure on it. 

When I approached them about it,, they were willing to by pass the submission process and take it on.  They agreed to have it published by early December.

Wow!  I got the call to write the book in January, started working on it in March, finished writing in July, and now am moving towards the first printing in November.

When I asked the question about the rapid way that this book came together, I sensed the Lord respond, "My people are discouraged and distracted because they don't know the truth about who they are, what I created them to do, and how to walk out their true identity that I gave them."

In other words, we are in an identity crisis:  letting the world or our own thoughts define our identity.  The word "reclaim" means to take back that which has been wasteland and make it productive again.  This is what God wants to do in our lives:  to reclaim the wasteland of our identity and to make it reflect the true glory that he deposited into us; his beloved children!

Read my next blog for ways that "Identity Crisis:  Reclaim the True You" can be used to help us all live into the places for which we were created!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reflections on the Kingdom of God: What are We Working For?

Our daughter, Molly, was home from Chicago this weekend.  On the way home from the airport, she brought up the “Occupy” movement.  She wondered why there was so little press about what was taking place.  It seems pretty important to her. 

Seattle has had pretty extensive press because we are a city that likes our freedom to express ourselves.  We have a history of demonstrations, the one in 1999 with the World Trade Organization as perhaps most famous.  Even our mayor seems in sympathy with those gathered at Westlake; it seems he has even given up wanting to arrest them for violating the park permit of no sleep overs!
I find it interesting that even those walking into their buildings on Wall Street seem sympathetic with the protesters.  So, if they are sympathetic, who are the oppressors?

I am once again reminded that the Bible is a timeless book and that nothing new comes under the sun.  I read Haggai today and felt like the prophet Haggai could be here today giving the same message to us.  So, what is it?
Let’s read most of the first chapter from the Message:

2A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies: "The people procrastinate. They say this isn't the right time to rebuild my Temple, the Temple of God."

3-4Shortly after that, God said more and Haggai spoke it: "How is it that it's the 'right time' for you to live in your fine new homes while the Home, God's Temple, is in ruins?"

5-6And then a little later, God-of-the-Angel-Armies spoke out again:

"Take a good, hard look at your life.
Think it over.
You have spent a lot of money,
but you haven't much to show for it.
You keep filling your plates,
but you never get filled up.
You keep drinking and drinking and drinking,
but you're always thirsty.
You put on layer after layer of clothes,
but you can't get warm.
And the people who work for you,
what are they getting out of it?
Not much—
a leaky, rusted-out bucket, that's what.
7That's why God-of-the-Angel-Armies said:

"Take a good, hard look at your life.
Think it over."
8-9Then God said:

"Here's what I want you to do:
Climb into the hills and cut some timber.
Bring it down and rebuild the Temple.
Do it just for me. Honor me.
You've had great ambitions for yourselves,
but nothing has come of it.
The little you have brought to my Temple
I've blown away—there was nothing to it.

9-11"And why?" (This is a Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, remember.) "Because while you've run around, caught up with taking care of your own houses, my Home is in ruins. That's why. Because of your stinginess.  And so I've given you a dry summer and a skimpy crop. I've matched your tight-fisted stinginess by decreeing a season of drought, drying up fields and hills, withering gardens and orchards, stunting vegetables and fruit. Nothing—not man or woman, not animal or crop—is going to thrive."
This message from God, through the Prophet Haggai, is about priorities.  The people that returned from exile to Babylon made their priority about taking care of themselves first.  They forgot about their identity as redeemed chosen people, and they focused on meeting their own needs.  In the process, they worked hard but they had so little to show for it.

According to God, they were working, working, working but they only had a leaky, rusty bucket to show for it (verse 6).  It seems they were going in circles, never getting to their desired destination because they were on the wrong path.
They were experiencing extreme frustration because they were “taking care of their own houses while they forgot about building God’s house.” This was the very reason that they were given permission to come back to Jerusalem.  How quickly they forgot their unique call.  As they continued their futile pursuit, God reminded them that “he’s matched their tight-fisted stinginess by decreeing a season or drought:  nothing, not man or woman, not animal or crop, is going to thrive” (verses 9-11).

Don’t you think that this sounds familiar?  How many of us worked hard to save money only to see it wiped away in a day or two in the stock market?  How many of us put gas in our cars, only to see our hard earned money disappear at an alarming rate in our engines?  How many of us went to college to be trained for a vocation, only to find ourselves working at a job meant for a high school student?
We are going in circles.  We are in a futile pursuit.  We are exhausted and confused.  Why can’t we get ahead?

Are we asking the right question?
Maybe a better question to ask is “What are our priorities?”

Jesus spent a good deal of time in his time on earth challenging priorities.  The Sermon on the Mount is all about priorities.  He ended his teaching with a challenge:  “Will we build our house on the rock or on a sandy beach where any storm can take it down?”
Sound familiar?  I hear an echo of God’s word through Haggai.

The words “Seek first My Kingdom and my righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” come to my mind.
There it is again.  When we prioritize building God’s house, our own houses stand on a firm foundation that can’t be wiped away by any storm that comes our way.

So, what does it mean to build God’s house?
I like to think of it as the difference between a circle and a brick.  When we have a circle of life and Jesus is in it, we have a house build on a sandy beach.  When we have a brick; the rock of Jesus Christ on which everything else is built, we have a house standing on the firm foundation that will never fall.

What’s the difference between a life with Jesus in it and a life built on the rock?
It’s about priorities.  Is Jesus first, or is he one of many priorities in our life?

Here’s my idea to find out where you stand. Spend a day or two being an observer or your thoughts and decisions.  Recognize what you think about in those moments where your mind is allowed to wander: in traffic, or on the subway, or doing dishes.  Are you thinking about how to get ahead or are you communing with your Creator? What are your first thoughts when you wake up or when you go to sleep?
Pay attention to your small decisions.  Not the big ones, but the small ones. What will you do with the extra five minutes before your kids get home from school? Do you turn to the internet or to prayer or God’s word?  How many times do you hit the snooze bar on the alarm before you get up?  Has all your quiet time of reflection in the morning been eaten up so you face another day in a frenzy?  

After you do your work of observation, read through the book of Haggai.  Ask yourself the question, “Where is my priority?  Am I building God’s house or my own house?”  If your answer is my own house, spending time reflecting on the promise Jesus gives us in Matthew 6:33.  When we seek first his kingdom and set things right within our relationship with him, all the “other things” are provided to us.

Then follow the way of God’s direction in Haggai.  Go up into the hills and cut down some trees….which translated for the 21st century is “Take a step.”  Do something to give to the kingdom, to build up God’s house.  Give your time, your money, your precious energy.  And, as you do it, prepare yourself for the blessing that comes from building God’s