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.