Rosarito, Day 1

Met at the church today at 5:30 a.m. & had the van packed by 5:50… on the road by 6. Quickest pack job ever. 9 of us prayed & piled into the van for the long trip that would eventually end with us in Rosarito, Mexico for day 1 of our mission.

I was the driver today… didn’t initially plan to drive the whole way myself, but it worked out… & I don’t feel like a zombie. The only difficult part was when everyone in the van went to sleep, leaving me cruising down the I5 attempting to will any drowsiness away. Didn’t turn on the radio until we hit LA traffic.

Made it to our destination, Carl’s Jr in San Diego where we met up with Don & Sandy Godwin, the pastors of Hope Chapel Rosarito, & their daughter Emily (who lived with theBean & I for several months last year.) They will be serving as our hosts for the next week. Don & Sandy guided us the remaining 3 miles to the border, & led us across. Our van was stopped by a border agent – he asked a question or 2, looked in the van, & sent us on our way. Rosarito here we come.

20 minutes later, we were reminded WHY we have been told over & over that we need to be flexible – the place we were supposed to be staying for the next week turned out to be double booked, & we, like Joseph & Mary at the time of Jesus’ birth, found there was no room at the Inn. Stables, anyone?

A few phone calls were made & we found that we would be able to stay at the same children’s home we did last year – this could be a win-win situation, as we are already familiar with the home & many of the children… our only wild-card is we don’t know how the ‘cooking our own food while the children’s home staff are in the kitchen prepping their kids food” thingy will go. Here’s to a couple of necessities: Flexibility & Humility.

Emily prepped us for some of the outreach work we’re doing tomorrow, & gave us all a lesson in cultural norms & appropriateness. We wrapped up our day with a short debrief & a quesadilla snack. The weariness of the day’s travel is setting in. Please pray for us over these next days – our team is safe & doing well.

O Holy Night #1 – Where is God in the silence…?

In preparation for our Christmas series, “O Holy Night,” I’ve been studying the Inter-Testamental period (a.k.a. the 400 years of time between the book of Malachi & the Gospels) leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. Part of the reason I’m wrestling through this is that I love exploring the history & context of Scripture; another reason is that this time period is often referred to as “God’s Silence.” That grabbed me. WHY is it called that?

Well, there was no prophetic literature added to the Scriptures during this time; no insights, visions, or directions recorded from God to His people. Israel had been scattered from the Promised Land in 583 B.C. (see 2Chronicles 36 for the story,) & had experienced oppression & persecution from Babylon, the Medo-Persians, various Greek empires, & finally, Rome. Throughout the 400+ years, Israel suffered, attempted to rebel to gain their freedom, were put under occupation & dominion over & over, & at no time is there a record of God addressing His peoples’ plight, let alone stepping into the situation to bring deliverance & redemption.

Was God really silent during these years? Was He just letting Israel twist in the wind as a payback for their hundreds of years of disobedience, unbelief, grumbling, & serving idols & other gods?

I say, “No.” Here’s why.

Even though there wasn’t any prophetic messages added to the Bible during this time, & even though Israel endured terrible persecution & unmentionable ordeals at the hands of their enemies, the LORD God’s “mighty hand” & “outstretched arm” were very clearly & powerfully at work:

  • Throughout centuries of bloody & terrible war between ruthless rival empires, wars over possessions, resources, & strategic territories, God protected His people, keeping them from repeated attempts to annihilate them (read the book of Esther for one such account.)
  • God used the evil of Alexander the Great’s greed & quest for world domination for good as Alexander brought the known world together, from the East to the West, under a common culture, Hellenism, & a common language, Greek.
  • This common culture & language, coupled with a dictator’s desire to create the greatest library with the best books on the planet led to the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (called the Septuagint) at Alexandria, thereby making God’s Word readable & accessible to all Greek speakers/readers on the planet. The Septuagint Greek Scriptures were what was used when the Old/First Testament was quoted in the New Testament by the apostles & disciples.
  • God used Augustus Caesar, the murderous & tyrannical self-proclaimed “Prince of peace” to bring about the “Pax Romana” a period of relative peace (enforced by soldiers & the Roman war machine) which helped create the relatively stable time period into which Christ was born.
  • And there’s much, much more.

I hope you can begin to see where God is at work, behind the scenes, between the lines, in the activities of the pagan nations, in the middle of the oppression of His people, in order to bring ultimate deliverance to humanity: relationship with God, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God & man through Christ Jesus our Lord.

During this coming Christmas season, especially in the areas of difficulty & throughout the  times of silence, be on the lookout for God at work in, through, & around our lives. Because He’s always at work.

Even in the silence.

Through the Gospels – Matthew 3

SOAP – Through the Gospels
Matthew 3

S – SCRIPTURE
Matthew 3:1,2;5-8 – In those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…” Then Jerusalem & all Judea & all the region about the region were going out to him, & they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees & Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance…”

O – OBSERVATION
Repentance is a heart-level, life-transforming response; it is a change of heart & mind that leads to a change of direction & action. John called people to REPENT because the kingdom of heaven was at hand, & that fact changed everything. People from all over, convicted of their sin & challenged in their heart, submitted themselves to the declarative & symbolic act of water baptism as a sign of a changed heart & life – it was a visible sign of their desire to be prepared for the advent of the kingdom of God.

But repentance wasn’t (& isn’t) just about the act of being baptized; true repentance will bear fruit, will show evidence of that changed heart, mind, & life – the proof of repentance is seen in the days, weeks, & months that follow, as the new life springs up & reveals itself.

A – APPLICATION
John’s challenge to the religious leaders of his day, (& to us reading this 2000+ years later) is to persevere in repentance, & not merely go through the outward motions of a religious experience. To be fundamentally shifted from my road to Christ’s. To live life, make decisions, establish priorities, & invest oneself in a manner that is congruent with a life of repentance; to not grow weary at doing good, but to persevere through difficulty & opposition so we may see the work of the Holy Spirit, righteousness & life, established in us. (Galatians 6:7-10).

P – PRAYER
LORD – make me sensitive to Your Spirit – that I would be quick to repent, to turn, to change my mind to align with Yours. Make my heart simple & soft. And may the seeds of repentance & faith grow in my heart & mind, translated to action & a life that makes You famous.

Through The Gospels – Matthew 2

SOAP – Through the Gospels
Matthew 2

S – SCRIPTURE
Matthew 2:19-23 – But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the LORD appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child & His mother & go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose & took the child & His moth & went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, & being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went & lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

O –OBSERVATION
It jumps out at me that Matthew 2 has at least 4 fulfillments of prophecy:

    • 2:6 – Christ, the Anointed One, Son of God would come from Bethlehem of Judah – Micah 5:2
    • 2:15 – Christ, Son of God, would come out of Egypt – Hosea 11:1
    • 2:16-18 – All the male children in the region of Bethlehem would be killed – Jeremiah 31:15
    • 2:23 – Christ would be called a Nazarene –

It seems a little surreal to see that the miraculous, tragic, & even everyday events recorded in Matthew 2 can be directly tied to the fulfillment of a prophetic foretelling, each of which played a part in identifying Jesus as the Christ, & the accomplishment of the God’s plan for the redemption of humanity. For example, Joseph had a dream warning him to head to Egypt, & no sooner does the new family hit the road than the executioner’s sword falls on the region where they lived. Then, in another dream, the family gets the ok to go back to Judea; however, out of fear, Joseph decides to avoid Bethlehem (prophesied birthplace of the Christ) & head to one of the most despised cities in the region: Nazareth (check out John 1:43-51.) God’s plan revealed & fulfilled in human choices, guided by emotion, reason, & an instinct for survival.

A – APPLICATION
I bet the fulfillment of prophecy was the last thing on Joseph & Mary’s minds as they ran for their lives, lived as refugees, & attempted to dodge assassins – they were just making heaven-informed choices on a day-to-day basis, looking to stay alive & keep the family together & whole. And in the middle of it, God’s purposes were worked out. Herod’s megalomania, striving for power, and paranoia all played into creating the panorama in which Matthew 2 unfolds. The absolute craziness of the scenes in this chapter give me great encouragement that God is Sovereign & in control, even in the chaos & craziness of my own life. He has, is, & will continue to “work all things together for good for those who are called according to His purpose” for those that love Him (Romans 8:26-30, ESV).

P – PRAYER
LORD – let my life be an offering to You. May my ears be open & my heart soft & able to be directed. Guide me in Your paths of righteousness; & when I’m walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I thank You in advance for being with me. Increase my faith, LORD, that I would not just walk & live by what I see, but by faith in the Sure Thing that is You.

Set apart for special use, obedience, & other musings…

When you hear the word, “holiness,” what comes to mind?

Scripture tells us that holiness means being set apart to God, for His exclusive purposes and use.

In the Book of the Law, God gave specific instructions about being holy and maintaining holiness – to help the Israelites understand it, He gave them specific things to do and to avoid; foods they could eat, and foods they couldn’t; He even gave restrictions about who they should hang out with, and who they shouldn’t.

At the same time, God also challenged Israel with the idea that holiness was MORE than this. That God’s main hope & desire for His people wasn’t just that they had the list of “stuff we don’t do” memorized; further, He told them that the holiness, the set apart life, wasn’t merely a set of exterior behaviors. It involved a ‘set apartness’ of heart, mind, thought, & purpose. It wasn’t just for temple/church times, but was a 24/7 manner of living.

Knowing the Rules: what we’re not supposed to eat, where we’re not supposed to go, & who we’re not supposed to hang out with is easier than living fully dependent on the instruction of the LORD, & direction of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Peter was holy – he’d never knowingly eaten forbidden food; hadn’t gone where he wasn’t supposed to go; didn’t hang out with ‘unclean’ Gentiles.

And so his world was rocked when God told him in a vision – “Don’t call unclean & unholy what I’ve made clean & holy.” If that wasn’t enough, God gave him instructions to immediately & without hesitation go with 3 Greek men to the house of another Greek- Gentile man & to await further instructions.

To obey & do this was a huge risk – at the very least it meant a loss of reputation, & at worst, he could have been prosecuted (or worse) for doing something so “unholy.”

But something clicked. Peter got a glimpse of what it truly meant to be holy; it wasn’t just the externals. Rather, it was the willingness to be directed & redirected by the LORD; to be willing to have his mind changed, to go where he’d never gone before in obedient response to the Holy Spirit.

And he saw the LORD move. The Holy Spirit poured out. He gained brothers from among a people that beforehand he wouldn’t have even been willing to be seen with.

May we be holy, set apart to God for His purposes & directions, no matter what.

Wanted: Table servers. Must have good reputation, be full of the Spirit & full of wisdom…

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples & said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit & of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer & to the ministry of the word.”… & Stephen, full of grace & power, was doing great wonders & signs among the people. Acts 6:1-4,8

What are the characteristics you’d look for in a person to serve tables? Good personality. Responsible. Able to multi-task.

The disciples had a different list: Good reputation. Full of the Holy Spirit. Full of wisdom.

To serve tables. Isn’t that a little much?

I don’t think so. The disciples weren’t just trying to find a warm body to help pass out food; they needed several someones that fit their description exactly to help heal a potentially volatile situation that had arisen in the church.

“…anyone who calls upon the Name of the LORD will be saved,” meant that people who had had little to nothing to do with each other in the past, were now worshiping Christ together. Former points of division were tentatively, but surely being overcome.

It was precisely at those points of racial and cultural division that our enemy, the devil, attempted to strike by stirring up offense & bitterness, trying to get the Greeks to lash out & retaliate against the Jews, subtly whispering to them that this ‘salvation in Christ’ was just a sham, & that the Greeks were still second class citizens.

The Apostles brought the Church together – the whole church – & asked them to pick 7 men, of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit & wisdom. And they did – if you read Acts 6:5, you will see that all the men chosen had Greek names.

This seemingly menial assignment was actually one of great significance, & the discernment, grace, & faithfulness of Stephen & the rest help diffuse the antagonism & bring unity to the Church.

Every single one of us who belongs to Christ serves in a vital place in the body. Our job title may not be prestigious according to the wisdom & values of our culture, but in the eyes of the One who made a way for us to serve in that role, it’s perfect. Because our world needs us, men & women of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, & full of wisdom to bring glory to God by the way we live & serve.

And real significance comes from hearing God say, “Well done, good & faithful servant.”

fellowship, encouragement, new discoveries, & other musings…

…and so we came to Rome. And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius & Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God, & took courage… Acts 28:14-17

Paul was in Rome.

And the first thing he experienced there was an in person meeting and greeting with fellow Christians who had traveled 50-60 miles to visit him (from the Forum of Appius.)

Put yourself in Paul’s shoes – in the previous years, he had experienced abandonment, rejection, constant persecution, wrongful accusations. He was treated like a criminal, had survived several assassination attempts, and even recovered from a stoning. He’d been imprisoned in Jewish & Roman strongholds, had weathered the temperamental whims of Caesarean governor & had even lived through a shipwreck.

Then, upon arriving in Rome, he encounters brothers & sisters in Christ, a vivid reminder that he isn’t (& won’t be!) alone in this place; they are a flesh & blood fulfillment of God’s promises & goodness to Paul; their very presence caused him to give thanks to God, & also to be encouraged. He was filled to overflowing, & his time in Rome was characterized by his “proclaiming the kingdom of God & teaching about the LORD Jesus Christ with all boldness, & without hindrance.”

This is fellowship. Mutual encouragement. Being strengthened, & strengthening others in return. Based fully on the commonality of having been brought from death to life, darkness to light, by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Years ago, I traveled to Birmingham, Englad with a couple of friends in preparation for a mission trip; we didn’t know a soul there, but had heard that there was a Christian church that we could visit. We made our way there, & found a small group of brothers & sisters meeting together for a meal & worship.

Though they’d never met us, they welcomed us to their table & into their midst with open arms. There was a tangible feeling that we were among family, & that we had something in common that bound us together in a way that only happens with the fellowship with other believers.

We talked, laughed, sang, & prayed. They prayed for us, speaking words of knowledge, encouragement, hope & faith that touched our hearts to the very core. I can remember looking across the room through the candlelight at this gathering of believers, knowing that we were bound together, in Christ, & that I knew I loved them & what’s more, that they loved me.

A few days later, when we parted, I had the distinct sense that I wouldn’t ever see many (most? All?) of these people again. But I also knew that when I did, here & in Heaven, that we’d run to embrace each other, & to celebrate the goodness & grace of our LORD Jesus Christ that sustains us from day to day.

black-eyed Sceva, the Name, being known, & other musings…

Acts 19 tells of Paul’s life investment in Ephesus, where he spent the better part of 3 years of making tents and disciples. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the revealed power of God significantly transformed the spiritual climate of the city. Extraordinary miracles, healings, and deliverance grabbed the attention of a culture that was intimately familiar with idolatry, magic and very real spiritual power.

It was a common practice for 1st century Ephesians to collect all sorts of magical paraphernalia: amulets, charms, spells, and most significantly the ‘powerful names’ of protective spirits in order to manipulate, attempt to control, and garner protection from an unpredictable spirit world. There was no relationship needed with these spirits or forces, as it was believed that merely knowing the name of a powerful spirit/force was thought to provide authority and power over it and what it controlled. (BTW: a great resource on 1st century Ephesus is: “Power & Magic: the Concept of Power in Ephesians” by Clinton Arnold.)

In Acts 19, two things jump out at me:

1. The power of the Holy Spirit, (and of the Name of Jesus,) revealed through the lives of Paul and the other believers, stands as a testimony to impacted by them; so much so, that the seven sons of Sceva, a group of traveling exorcists, tried to ‘claim’ the Name of Jesus as a part of their deliverance ministry. Something happened all right. Through the man they were attempting to bring freedom to, the evil spirit said, “Jesus I know. Paul I recognize. But who are you?” Then, the man proceeded to beat them, leaving them naked & wounded. And the Name of the LORD Jesus was extolled, lifted up, and the believers were highly esteemed.

The most important thing is our relationship with Christ; knowing (& being known by Him) is what matters, not merely invoking His Name like a magic phrase. It’s radically different than a collection of spells or power to be wielded; it involves a committed and submitted life, involved a submitted life devoted to Christ.

2. As a result, (& what I believe was the conviction of the Holy Spirit) many believers came forward to repent – to turn from sin, & turn towards Christ. This involved not only committing themselves to an obedient relationship with Christ, but also renouncing old habits and old ways of living. The Ephesian believers brought the physical, material symbols of this old life – all of the books, charms, amulets, spells, and written materials used in the practice of the magic arts – and burned them. The value of the burned items was several million dollars in today’s economy, and signified that there was no going back to the old ways. These believers in Christ, people who had ‘hedged’ their bets and “covered their bases” using magic, were now determined to depend solely upon the power of the Holy Spirit in their relationship with God

In reflection, I’m asking the LORD to reveal to me anything that I’m leaning on instead of Him – any superstitions, fears, or rituals of culture that could seem so normal, but that actually get in the way of an obedient and submitted life. I want to live filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, strengthened and protected for whatever God may bring my way.

feed the hungry bird, & other musings on a Friday…

I’m amazed at how God can use the most mundane of life activities to bring people together. The Apostle Paul left Athens and headed to the booming metropolis (and wide-open mission field,) of Corinth. Left with the question of how he would support his gospel spreading and church planting campaign, Paul fell back on the trade he knew, tent making. And it just so happened that two members of the local ‘tent-making guild’ were Aquila and Priscilla, a couple of refugees from Rome that had fled to Corinth at the order of Emperor Claudius because they were… Christians. And, just like that, Paul had a team.

Paul’s followed his pattern of testifying to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ, His promised Anointed One. Here at Corinth, the message was soundly rejected, complete with threats of violence against Paul by the Jews. With the non-Jewish Corinthian audience, however, the response is drastically different. They believed. In large numbers, people in a city famous for sexual immorality and wild living flocked to the gospel of grace and the message of justification by faith.

Even though the Jews continued to threaten Paul, he knew that unlike Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica, he was to stick around Corinth for a while. The LORD Himself confirmed this, saying something to the effect of “Keep it up. You won’t be hurt. I’ve got lots of people here, and you’ve got lots to preach, teach, and train.”

I often think about how the Apostle Paul wrestled through the dichotomy of the two responses to the gospel at Corinth, where one group soundly rejected and strongly opposed the Good News, and the other joyfully embraced and applied it. I think that this contradiction was at the forefront of his mind as he wrote letters back to Corinth:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1Cor 1:18, 22-25 ESV

One way I like to think about this is that my role in sharing the gospel and investing in discipleship is “looking for the hungry bird.” What I mean is this: when the mama bird comes back to her nest after a morning of worm digging and bug grubbing, the baby bird that gets to eat is the hungry one, the one with the open beak! In the same way, I want to be looking for the “hungry birds,” those people that eagerly hear and respond to the Good News. This doesn’t mean ignoring others, but rather is a picture of looking for where God is actively at work, and then intentionally partnering with the work He’s already done in preparing the ‘soil’ of their hearts.

I pray that we would have eyes to see the hungry birds in our lives today.

No cookie-cutters, please, & other musings…

Philippi. Thessalonica. Berea. Athens. They might be just a list of ancient Bible cities to us, but to Paul, Silas, & Timothy these places represented the commitment they had made to live out the call of God, day by day, as “chosen instruments in God’s hand” to bring this Good News to people who hadn’t heard it before.

Acts 17 tells of this life-investment of Paul & his companions, and their travels from city to city as the Spirit led, discerning the local culture, then finding a way to present the Word of God. They reasoned from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ, explained why Christ had to suffer, and celebrated His resurrection from the dead. What strikes me is that these missionaries didn’t use a cookie-cutter, one-size fits all approach to ministry, as each place they traveled had vastly different peoples, places, and cultures.

How Paul presented the gospel in Berea and how he presented it in Athens were radically different. This Spirit-led contextualization – a.k.a. Paul being ‘all things to all people,’ caused the gospel to be brought forward in each place with maximum effectiveness. In Berea, it meant entering a synagogue and reasoning from Torah that Jesus is the Christ. In Athens, it meant going to the public square and presenting in a much different manner, using as reference even the myriad graven images and altars that littered the city, illustrating Christ with the words of a local poet.

The longer I am in ministry, the more likely I am tempted to lean on what I know, my gifts, and my competencies. The problem is, while God can use all of those things, His Kingdom is built and the gospel effectively takes root with the work of the Holy Spirit. I pray for eyes to see my local context as God does, and for insights to be able to speak the gospel in a way that it can be heard. So whether it’s in the exegesis and discussion of Romans, or quoting Bono, it’s not me or my cleverness that shines through, but the clear, saving message of Good News.