Of Signs & Seasons

DSC02907

Cotton-fields are white again and our southern roads are framed in golden stretches of tobacco.

Trees are shaking their branches, hues of red and yellow glinting, and letting loose their leaves.

Mornings are chillier and darkness settles earlier and earlier each day.

Yes, the season is changing and the signs are all around us.

Yet we do not worry about these transitions. We know that the world spins in the Creator’s hands and His rhythms are for our good and His hands give this earth what is needed. Instead of finding fear in the changes, we look for reason to celebrate them. We rest in the knowledge that the next season, too, is secure when He reigns over it.

It feels like there is another season changing – call it a way of life, a culture, a chapter in God’s Time – whatever the right name for it may be, it seems like there is a shift occurring all around us. And this season-change, too, comes with signs.

Maybe you know that Jesus said He would return to this earth and that, one day, this span of time as we know it will come to an end. Maybe this is a new idea to you…whether or not you are familiar with this promise, this is the time to examine it. Jesus Himself spoke often about His return – and His words are what we must know and hold as the true foundation for our faith and our every-day lives. This Savior who gave His life and rose from the grave is the King who will bring the children of God into His eternal-Kingdom.

No, we cannot know when, exactly, Jesus will return to earth. No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. (Matthew 24:36) But Jesus knew we’d understand the familiar cues creation gives us…maybe that’s why He said this in Matthew 24:32-33: Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know His return is very near, right at the door.

He spoke of some of the initial signs in Matthew 24:4-12… Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in My name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.  But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other. And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.  Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

These words of Jesus resound in my heart every single day when I open my eyes to our world. Every sign He said would come to pass before His return is happening.

So as we see these cues and feel the changes of this season– how should we live?

It could be easy to get bound up in fear and discouragement when we see the problems abounding everywhere we turn. It could be easy to hunker down in our corner and hide from it all, closing our eyes to the changes and the turmoil.

It’s interesting, to me, that Jesus compared this last season to the time before the Great Flood (Matthew 24:37). I can imagine that Noah and his family, before receiving their directions from God, tried to stay out of everyone else’s way. I can put myself in their shoes – living in the middle of a people violent and cruel, set in their own ways – and think that, perhaps, it was safest to blend in. But building an ark required action. To trust in the promise of salvation that God had given him, Noah had to set out into the world in obedience. He had to make proactive decisions based on faith and not on what he saw around him. He had to risk drawing attention to his family and he had to trust in God’s ultimate wisdom every step of the way.

Noah could not shut out the world. He could not give fear control of his life.

And neither can we.

As frightening as it can be to watch events unfolding around us, we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world and nothing – trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword, death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation – will separate us from the love of God. (from John 16:33 and Romans 8) This is His promise – if we stand firm to the end, we will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)

It’s time to be proactive in our faith – like Noah, we must listen for the voice of our Lord and obey, even if it seems risky…even if He takes us away from our safe routines.

Please know – there is peace in following Him, in having eyes and ears open to Him. He gave us these signs so that we could look forward to His appearing! As we understand that His return is ever-closer, we put our faith in Him and not in our circumstances.

Jesus gave us these signs so that we could be prepared, so that we would understand God’s sovereign hand at work. He said that we should be like wise servants, faithful over what He has entrusted to us in this life until the day of His return. As we watch for Him, we are able to offer hope of salvation to the people around us. 2 Peter 3 tells us that He is not slow keeping His promise, but patient – not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. Peter encourages us, as we wait, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.

So as the world continues to sink into a place of conflict and hatred, of discord and suffering, there is no better place to look for instruction than in the words of our Lord. As it becomes more and more culturally unacceptable – life-threatening in so many places – to wear His name on our lives, we must know what our Savior has told us to do.

From the beginning, He called us to take up our cross and follow Him, to love our enemies, to pray for those who curse us, to live holy lives. From the beginning, He let us know that our way of life would appear upside-down and inside-out to a world that would not receive Him.

Still, we can rest in Him – secure in knowing that He reigns over everything the next season of our lives may hold.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”-Isaiah 41:10

{Please come back and visit…over the next week or so, we will be revisiting the Beatitudes and listening carefully to the words of Jesus about how we should live – and shine! – in our world.}

Advertisements

Broken

Broken.

From the Garden of Eden to Noah’s generation, which is where we now pause, humanity was broken. Holy communion with God – broken. A mother’s heart, seeing the pain of an angry son and a son murdered in a field – broken.  A family watching their own people turn away from what is true and beautiful to violence — relationships, broken.

The thoughts of men turning towards evil in every way — God’s heart? Broken.  “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain…” (Genesis 6:6) 

But one man was found righteous and this man found favor with God — and, through Noah, humanity was given a chance for redemption.

The earth was given a new day, a new start, an mankind was given a new opportunity to walk with God.

But, again, we look back and see God’s laws, given to us for our own peace and good….broken.

God provisions to meet Him through obedience, sacrifices, and a pure heart were ignored, discounted, forgotten again and again. Through every phase of history, He pursued and He loved and the people He longed to bless remained rebellious and selfish. The world was again full of pain and corruption. Entire nations hurt. Families were torn apart. Hearts were in pieces.

But God does not give up. A way of redemption was given, once again, through a righteous man. But this was not just any man. This was Jesus Christ, son of man and son of God, without any sin. Without blemish. Perfect in every way. After Him, no other sacrifice was necessary. Through Him, we were given all that we needed.

He became our Righteousness, our Redeemer, and our Savior.  Jesus came and was wounded so that our broken pieces could be made whole. Our hearts, our families, our relationship with God — renewed and restored.

I think we could all use a good reminder of who this Savior is. Because I’ll be the first to admit — my heart is hurting.   

I’ve spent the last week and a half processing the events happening around us. Earthquakes, threats of nuclear meltdowns, thousands of lives lost, governments gearing up for battle. I’ve been hanging out with teenagers and learning bits of pieces of their stories, hearing the pain behind some of their casual words. I’ve had a few preacher’s kid moments, where I’ve wished I could stand on the front lines to protect those called to preach God’s Word and seem to be an easy target for other people’s frustrations.  I’ve had moments of aggravation and confusion, wishing the people of God would stop hiding behind petty issues and step up to love like Jesus.  

In these weeks leading up to Easter, I’d like to share His life with you. Maybe you don’t really know what Jesus did while He was here on earth. Maybe you’re not actually sure of what He taught us and what it means to live in His peace. 

If you feel broken, please read along. My words will fall short, no doubt, but the God I’m describing to you will never fall short. He is more than we can imagine and more than we need.

Jesus. He is our hope. We are still broken and only He can make us whole, and He can restore us even when it doesn’t seem possible. Sometimes we have to just be still and remember who He is.

Isaiah 53
Who believes what we’ve heard and seen? Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn’t true.

Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
will make many “righteous ones,”
as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

Ash Wednesday: Living in the Light

 A Franciscan blessing to you on Ash Wednesday (as seen on World Vision ACT:S)~~

May God bless you with discomfort. Discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. Amen
May God bless you with anger. Anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. Amen
May God bless you with tears. Tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy. Amen
May God bless you with foolishness. Enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen 
And the blessing of God, who creates, redeems and sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more. Amen 

 Here’s the thing about truly loving Jesus Christ — it changes you. It transforms the way you look at the world, at other people, at your family, and yourself. Spending time in His presence will cause you to step out in small ways — maybe you’ll ponder the expression on the face of a person next to you at the grocery store and make you offer them an extra smile and warm greeting just in case they’re hurting. Maybe you’ll take an extra few minutes to really cherish your child snuggling with you on the couch. Maybe you’ll buy extra food to donate to someone in need.  Maybe you’ll be absolutely stunned at the wide blue expanse of sky that is a constant show of His glory and stand still, lifting praise up to Him.  When your eyes are opened to grace, every day contains multitudes of moments to love.

  But knowing the love of Jesus and then seeing the sorrow of sin in our world is going to change your life in big ways, too.  Because you have the answer so many people need. You have hope. You have peace. You have freedom. You know the Savior who redeems us with His own blood! — and when you fully realize what you have and Who you know, you will want your life transformed to be a reflection of Him. You will want to give everything. You will not mind being called radical or extreme or even crazy, because you’ll know that Jesus gave His everything and we, His servants, are not above Him. If He suffered, then it goes without saying that His followers will suffer.  May we, like Paul, say: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead! (Phil. 3:10)

So maybe you’ll go to another country to share the gospel. Maybe you’ll quit your job to work for a non-profit. Maybe you’ll volunteer your time to reach those who are hurting. Maybe you’ll give your hours to study and teach others about the Word of God…the specifics are different for everyone. But each and every one of us are called to do something big for the Kingdom of God—we are commissioned to tell this world about the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ. When we love our Savior with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, we will spread His name through our neighborhoods, through our counties, through our nation and world — no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifices to our comfort, no matter what He asks of us.

On this Ash Wednesday, I’m thinking of how short our lives here on earth really are…and I’m reminded that I want to make my life glorify God in the small ways, in the big ways…in every way.

Let us be like Noah, in Genesis 6, who surely cast aside everything in his life – his reputation, his own agenda, his own day-to-day comforts — to tell his world that God had given a way to escape the coming judgment…that He had provided a way of redemption and life!   

We know our Savior. We know our hope.  So by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the grace of Jesus Christ, may we tell our message- boldly and in love. May we live our message-  in merciful actions and others-first relationships. May we reflect the light of Jesus Christ, beautifully and brightly.