Living Freely In the New Creation
1560-1 Newbury Rd #313
Newbury Park, CA 91320
Phone: (805) 498-7774
Fax: (805) 499-5975
Well, we're back, and it was quite a trip! Being in Israel at all the historic sites where God unfolded his story of redemption is a moving and stimulating experience. I even got to be in some places I had not been before, like the high place Jeroboam built to keep people from going to Jerusalem to solidify his power over half the kingdom when Solomon died, Caesera Phillipi where the events of Matthew 16 happened, the tombs of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. The other sites I'd been to before, but sharing them with Sara and 39 others was a joy. Our guide (pictured at left with Sara and me) was incredibly helpful and deeply touched by the love and life that our group shared together. I'm still blown away with it myself, and I've been through this kind of thing a number of times before. I'm sure there will be more about all of this on this week's podcast.
How can forty strangers show up from all over the world, with little similarities in cultural or spiritual backgrounds, and spend ten days together and in the end become such a tight-knit family, where the emails I'm receiving this morning are how much they already miss each other having returned to our various corners of the globe? I've had tastes of that wherever I've traveled in the world and find it always hard to part after a few days together because of how God knits hearts together. Many got a taste of it at our gathering in Ireland a couple of years ago that promted the article, Friends and Friends of Friends. I do see Jesus knitting his church together just through things like this that bring people together from distant places and allows them to connect as friends that will go far beyond the days we got to spend together.
Ten days in a bus as well as shared meals in hotels will do that. I love how quickly people fall in with each other and this trip was filled with lots of laughter, as well as walking with people through some painful bits in their lives. People were really ready to let others into their lives, to be genuine without the need to try to impress each other. No one was pressured to do anything other than they freely chose to do (other than wake up earlier than some wanted to catch the bus) and friendships began that will last a lifetime. Through our time together God built us into a family that learned to walk together, love each other, and share a life-changing experience. Yes, the circumstances were a bit artifical. We were on a task together (exploring Israel), free from the responsibilites of everyday life, outside of our own routines, and together constantly with the same people. Our time in Ireland offered the same dynamics. But just because the environment is a bit artificial, the relationships aren't. I can think of so many of those people I'd love to invite over to dinner tonight and continue the conversation. The bonding of our hearts was deep and real and I've no doubt will continue to bear fruit around the world in days and years to come. I've been enjoying relationships like that for a long time now.
But doesn't that same bonding happen with every tour group? Not according to our Israeli guide and our bus driver. They both commented how much they enjoyed all of us and the way we navigated life together. They've seen hundreds of groups but knew they were witnessing a different dynamic here. I loved watching the journey unfold through the eyes of our guide. He continued to make comments and asked questions and I watched him won into our friendships even has he was trying to maintain a professional distance. He was continually surprised that these people had not met each other before and yet so quickly and joyously became part of each other's lives. He didn't have a box to fit us into, and soon found himself endeared to so many in our group and repeatedly asked questions about what we believed and why we were there. On our final day we paused in a Jewish cemetary as we descended down the road Jesus took from the Mt. of Olives into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his crucifixion. There we sang and shared gazing on Temple Mount and in the end our affection spilled out in a sea of hugs that he was caught up in as well. He later told me he was undone by it and wasn't ready for that to happen. Later he sat in the hotel with us as people gathered their things to head to the airport. For two and a half hours he joined our conversations, sharing pictures of family and stories from his personal life. He told me he never does that but couldn't stop himself. With a smile in his eye he accused me of making him break his own rules. That made me smile!
When people are engaging Jesus as a real person in their lives, I find the only thing that's needed for fellowship to be rich and full is proximity. That's how he builds a family. By connecting us to him and then letting us live alongside each other long enough for friendships to take hold. Even if that is for only ten days, a marvelous reality emerges. Jesus takes expression in his family and the fruits are a delectable feast! This was one of those times when we got to be part of something so much greater than the sum of our parts. We got to experience what common-unity is in his family, not because we agreed on everything, but because we were people growing in his reality and could enjoy each other freely.
This is the fruit I enjoy most traveling around the world, whether it's something like this or being in a home with 4-5 or 35 people. I love it when God connects people on this journey and they discover how easy it is to share the life of Jesus together with others who are growing in his love as well. If you ever have a chance to go to a gathering of folks in your area who are learing to live loved, do it. Even if you have to cancel some things and drive (or fly) some distance. It's worth doing and you'll find that when people no longer have theological agendas, or a need to push others into their way of thinking, that it really isn't so difficult to love each other and share his life together.
Of course our very human need now will be to memorialize this event and try to hold on to the exprience longer than we need to. Though we joked about a yearly retreat somewhere in the world, that's the stuff of human imaginings. We were part of an amazing ten-day experience and we got to touch the reality of the family Jesus is building in the world. As an event it's time has passed. Life happened there and certainly those friendships will endure as we cross paths throughout the world in years to come. But there's no way to recreate it and trying to would destroy the mystery of it. What was true about his family that we experienced there will grow on with the next person we find ourselves engaging at home or at work.
Passion and proximity allowed the family of God to take shape around us. That can happen right where you are, too. It may mean that you have to break some of your routines as well. If what you're doing now doesn't lead you to community, it may be time to blow up some routines, and lay down some of our distractions. It may help to be on a task together, rather than trying to build a group. We didn't go to Israel to build a community and we didn't do ice-breaking games to artificially provoke it. Community is the work God does as we make room in our lives for others. That task can be as simple as exploring who Jesus is, but being intentional about relationships without manipulating people to a desired outcome will go a long ways.
We were part of an amazing family for ten days, and all the more that it comprised people from five different continents, from virtually every walk of life. We were enriched by the life we shared together, but it is only a brief picture of a larger family God is shaping in the world. Ask him how you can see that take expression near you.
So here's the group on our last day from the Mt. of Olives looking back toward Jerusalem.
It's finally here. We've been planning this for over a year and I can't it is now time to go. This trip fulfills a promise to Sara after I was there seventeen years ago when she couldn't go and it was always a dream for her to do so. We decided to take along some of our friends, so tomorrow Sara and i will depart for Israel and join 39 others from around the world for a ten-day tour of Israel. We'll not just be viewing the sights, but we'll also be sharing all that God has done here to invite men and women into a growing trust in a loving Father and why it was so important of all the places in the world to do it in the land we know as Israel.
Here God made himself known through the patriarchs and prophets of Israel and then through the Incarnation of his own Son. Throughout the whole story of redemption, God keeps trying to rescue humanity out of the brokenness of a fallen creation and humanity either resists him or continually seeks to exploit him by creating religious rules and rituals that diminish his reality even as they profess to honor him. In that sense Israel is a land of great contrasts. We will be at the tomb where the patriarchs were buried, the caves where David hid from King Saul, the mountain where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal, on the Sea where Jesus calmed the storm, the garden where he prayed, and in the prison cell where he spent the night before his crucifixion. But we'll also see the arrogant, excessive, and soul-numbing intrusion of religion in this landscape, where every religious group in the world seeks to have a presence and in the name of celebrating the God of the universe fight each other with firm resolve. We will see in stark terms the emptiness of religion and the glory of God being revealed in the earth in the new creation Jesus inaugurated when he was here.
And where will we see that new creation best? Will it be at the garden tomb or the Wailing Wall? The Mt. of Beatitudes or along the Jordan. I don't think so. The new creation makes its way into the world in the hearts and lives of people who are discovering who God is. This new creation will be evident in conversations on the bus, over meals, and in the scores of locations we'll visit. Knowing those who are coming and the journeys they are on I anticipate the new creation emerging in the relationships that people from four different continents will share over the course of these ten days. New friendships will form, insights and encouragements will be shared, and God will make himself known in the diversity of people he brings together affirming the wider work he is doing in the world that includes us all.
I wish everyone reading this could join us, but that would have taken a really, big bus and been completely unmanageable. Honestly, I've put off doing this for years because I didn't know if I knew enough people who could afford the time and expense of going. I'm glad these were able to pull it off, some having saved for years just for such an opportunity. I hope all of you find a way to come sometime. It's more than you'd ever dream. God is no more present there than he is in your home, but to actually stand where some of the major events in God's redemptive history took place will change something in you and help your understanding of Scripture come alive.
You can follow our itinerary here. We've got some gifted photographers along and we'll try to share some of those photos on this blog and on the Lifestream Facebook Page when we get a chance. That depends, of course, on time available as well as wi-fi access.
People are already asking if we're planning to do this again next year and my answer today is I don't think so. My daughter is already pressing for me to do it again when her kids are a bit older and she can go, but I don't want to be that guy that leads an Israel tour every year. I'm much more interested in helping building up the church all over the world where people are learning to live in his life. But you never know. If this turns out to be a powerful time helping people make connections that bear the fruit of his kingdom, I'll may consider doing another one somewhere up the road.
I do enjoy watching God draw lines of connection and relationship in his body, especially internationally. That's a lot of why I do the travel I do. So as we celebrate these days with a small slice of the church, we will be thinking of that larger body that is emerging all over the earth as people learn to live in the love of a gracious Father.
I get lots of email asking how the new book is coming along, so I thought it best that I answer here. For those who don't know I'm writing a book called Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More? I had hoped to have the rough draft done before I depart next week for Israel, but it isn't going to happen. I've got about 80% of the book done and have three chapters left to write. On a personal level, I am thrilled with how this book is turning out, though it has been a harder write than I anticipated. There is so much on my heart here and finding a way to say it that is clear, compelling and accessible has been a challenge. But I enjoy that kind of challenge. Days spent home writing are some of my favorite days, so don't feel badly for me.
I am working on the pinnacle chapter now: "Unity Without Conformity" that pains a picture of what his church looks like in the world as she takes shape, but also how she fulfills her mission by demonstrating God's character and being on the cusp of where the new creation confronts the brokenness of the old. It will be one of my favorites and help people appreciate why Jesus wants to make himself known through the church that is not built by human hands or ingenuity.
After I finish the rough draft, I'm going to go back through and tighten it all up. It is about 20% longer than I want it to be, so that means cut, cut, cut. And while it's always hard to throw out paragraphs or stories that I spent so much time crafting, I learned a long time ago that writing is a discipline. You can't say everything you want to say and keep people engaged, and cutting forces you to do better writing. I learned that while I was a Contributing Editor at Leadership Journal years ago. No matter how long an article was, they always wanted me to take another pass and cut 20% out, because it forces you to write a better piece. So I was not surprised to discover that this book as I'm coming to its end is about 20% longer than it needs to be. I'm actually looking forward to cutting it back about and shaping the writing to be more focuse and more disciplined. My theme verse at times like this is Ecclesiastes 6:11 "The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?"
I'll continue to work on that when I get back from Israel and hope to have the book completed by late spring and hopefully out this summer. Who knows? It's a journey and I'll get to the end when I get to the end. There's an excitement in my heart that continues to bubble up through this process and I'm looking forward to getting it done just to engage the conversations it will spawn, both with pepole who will resonate with it, and with those who will find it threatening. I can already see that in this season of my life I want to be involved in the conversations that help people recognize how Jesus' church is already taking shape in the world and to spend time with those who have a heart to facilitate its life where they live, and have no desire to build a kingdom for themselves.
On next week's podcast, I'll also be reading the rough draft of the second chapter for those who want to hear it. I did the first chapter a few months ago. You can find it here if you missed it. For those who want to get a taste of what I'm working on, I am including an excerpt below to give you a taste:
A number of years ago I was invited to speak at a black, inner-city fellowship near Boston. As I joined their meeting for the evening I was struck at how passive the people were even as the pastor railed at them for not being as faithful in attendance as she wanted them to be. We went through all the motions. We sang. I spoke, they listened, and while those times are not valueless, they are not what church life is all about.
The next morning I met two young men from that congregation for breakfast at their request. As we ate they shared their stories and their spiritual hungers, which were not being met where they were. They talked about the community they lived in and their desire to see a display of Jesus’ life available to them. We laughed, we cried, and we prayed unaware that others were listening to us.
After a couple of hours of conversation two ladies in their seventies suddenly appeared at the end of our table with tears in their eyes. “You don’t know how long we have been praying for God to touch some young men in this community who have a passion to share God’s life in such a desperate place. We have enjoyed listening to you three for the past couple of hours and know this is part of the answer to what we’ve been praying.” We all knew we were in a moment bigger than any of us and for that moment the church had taken shape in a restaurant in Roxbury, Massachusetts and was far more soul-shaping than the meeting we’d had the previous night.
If you’ve ever had a taste of authentic fellowship you’re a marked person. Nothing religious will ever satisfy you again. You’ll know that it can appear where you least expect it and it will capture your heart in a way no obligation can. You won’t see it as a meeting you can organize or invite others to, but as real and growing relationships with others on this amazing journey. Nothing we can do, even with the best of intentions, can produce or maintain it.
Though we see its reflection in fits and starts now, I don’t think any of us can yet conceive of what his church will yet look like when thousands upon thousands of people freely live in the reality of Jesus’ love and respond to the voice of the Shepherd simultaneously and spontaneously around the world, without the need to encase it in human institutions.
As I’ve been contemplating joy over the past few weeks my inbox has been filled with people going through serious seasons of pain. A young mother potentially facing a scary medical diagnosis, another losing a second child in a miscarriage and may not be able to have any more, a family facing bankruptcy, a father losing his job, as well as people recovering from past abuse, debilitating results of a traffic accident, or betrayal of a loved one.
Life can be excruciatingly painful at times.
Often times, I’ll respond with encouragement such as, “You are absolutely safe in the Father's hands, no matter what transpires here. May you find the rest in his affection for you and may he be glorified in all that unfolds here to sort you out and lead you onward in his life.”
Often the response back is an apology for not doing better, or a confession that they are being overwhelmed with fear and doubts as if by doing so they aren’t living up to my prayer for them. Then that only adds to their pain, it doesn’t lighten the load. And prayers are never something to live up to, but to find refuge in.
When I pray I am asking God to do something. I’m not pressuring the other person to pretend they are doing better. Yet haven’t we all felt that pressure? Someone prays for healing and we have to act healed, or for joy and we have to smile and act happy afterwards. What has religion done to us? Has it made us believe that the trusting life in God grows without pain, without seasons of doubt, and without blinding tears?
Then why did Paul tell us not only to rejoice with those that rejoice, but also to weep with those who weep? Why did Jesus during his time on earth offer up “prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears?” If Jesus found the reality of the broken creation so painful, that it led him to tears, and even to doubt God’s presence with him on the cross, why would we think we should be stronger? He wants to have fellowship with us in our suffering as much as in our joy.
When someone prays for you or blesses you in time of pain, please don’t feel the need to pretend all is well even if they want you to. Take it as God’s invitation into your pain and find him there. When I pray someone will find rest in his affection, I don’t want him to pretend to have that rest when their guts are churning inside. I want them to hold their pain before him until is rest finds them. Drawing near him in our tears, anguish, and doubts opens a door to greater wisdom and engagement than any pretense ever will. Some of my best moments with him have come out of tear-stained eyes.
I want people to discover a God whose love and comfort is greater than anything this world can throw at them. And in standing with them I realize it may take weeks or months for that reality to break through in a way that will consume their pain in his incredible affection. So I would rather weep where you weep, than have you waste one ounce of energy pretending what is not yet true in your heart.
And I think he would too.
I thought others of you would be interested in this little exchange I had the other day. The only reason I’m posting it is because I get this question often as it’s a very real part of our journey and the shift in thinking that happens when we move beyond religion to live in the Father's affection.
Mark: I have a quick question for you. How do you respond, when people that you used to attend church with ask what's going on in your life? I don't want to begin arguments and I don't want to come across in a negative way, but how do I share this new understanding with those who don't yet have it. Its so odd because Church in America is always touted as being a place filled with love and acceptance, but the moment that you walk away from that organization you are labeled, ridiculed, and often belittled by the very people that claim to have unconditional love for you. When I try to share that I left church to draw closer to God, I find that the response is condescending, accusatory, or skeptical. Yet, at the same time many still in the church will say that church is not required for salvation, but, the sad truth is that being part of an organized religious group is required in their minds. For many in America, Christianity is more about membership within a congregation than about adoption into the Kingdom of Heaven. If you can lend me any advice I would greatly appreciate it.
Me: Don't you remember being there too, looking suspiciously at people who had withdrawn from a congregation you thought was essential to your own spiritual growth? That's what gives me patience with others who are still there. They can't see what they don't see, and my trying to convince them isn't helpful. I simply engage such people with friendship, finding out how they are doing and, where appropriate, the things I see Jesus doing in my life that I hope will encourage them. I don't get into the "going to church" thing or why I'm not there anymore. I'm just interested to see if the friendship is bigger than whether or not I'm part of the same club with them and at the end I want them to know they are loved whether or not they are in a place to love me back. Don't worry so much about what they are thinking, and you’ll be able to see how Jesus wants to love them through you.
Mr. M: What a great answer! Thank you for helping me to remember.
Escaping the conformity confines of religion doesn’t make us immune from its tentacles. Because that system is built on our approval needs it leaves in a conversation more aware of what others think of us than we are what it would mean to love them and perhaps by grace open a door to a wider space for them to know God. Any time our personal wellbeing rests on what someone else is thinking, feeling, or saying, then we have no option but to try to figure out a way to change them or make them stop. In doing so we become like them and if we keep living there we will get lost in relationships because we will have to control them and when we seek to control we are not loving.
I got this email from a friend of mine last week who lives in Virginia:
My 92 year old aunt who lives in a nursing home in California. Despite her age and being confined to a wheel chair much of the time, she has a very sharp mind. She spends her days reading the Bible and other books. In a note at Thanksgiving she commented that there were times she didn’t understand the Bible and what it was trying to say, and so the idea of sending a copy of “A Man Like No Other” to her for Christmas hatched. Her faith and love of art, I hoped, would make it a great gift.
Today I got a note from her thanking me for the things my family sent. I thought you’d enjoy her comment on your book:
“I thank you---the beautiful book arrived before the 24th, what a surprise! The illustrations were beautiful and the written word was very good. I have read this beautiful treasure several times and it so touched my heart, it felt so real it brought tears, and I thank you for this lovely piece of work. I love it, so much, and thank you. Although I was lonely at Christmas, Jesus took me by his hand and we enjoyed a few words together. His love touches me so and he is always there for me.”
One of the joys of putting some things out in the world is to hear stories about the way people are touched by God. Every songwriter, artist, author knows what I'm talking about. This brought a huge smile to my face when I read it, grateful that God makes himself known in moments like that.
As much as I enjoy the process of getting the things God has put into my heart into book form, I am reminded over these past few months that my real passion is not writing books or traveling to speak to groups of people. My truest passion, other than engaging God mysellf, is to help people actually connect with God in a meaingful way. That's why I write and travel. Watching someone open up to a new discovery about God and his character or purpose in them is a joy to watch. I realize the best way to do that is through a personal conversation, and though I can't have that with everyone who wants, that’s probably why I spend way too much time answering emails.
I know that email is a very limited way to try to help people sort through some of the questions and struggles of getting past our religious ways of thinking about God and embrace him as he made himself known in the Incarnation. But sometimes it can help nudge people away from the religious thinking that is paralyzing their own growth and see a bit more clearly what God is doing in them and around them. For a long time, though, I've wanted to add a resource to Lifestream that would really help encourage people to embrace the relationship that I've written about in so many books and blog postings. So a year ago I set out to record some brief (5-7 minute) videos that people could listen to in two-week intervals and use the time in between to let God open up a new place in their heart in which he could reveal himself. I realize this could never replace a one-on-one conversation with someone who already knows him, but I hoped it would provide some clues for people who don't know anyone that will help them learn to be his disciple withoug loading them down with a lot of dos and don'ts. I hope it will also give people some ideas who are wanting to help coach others into a rich and growing relationship with God throught he work of Jesus.
My greatest hope with this series is that it would spawn a conversation about discipleship again that allows brothers and sisters who've been on this journey awhile, to help others who are just begininng. I know discipleship gets a bad name when its about human effort or conformity to religious practices. But finding our connection to God and being available in the world to help others find theirs lies at the heart of the new covenant. In the end, I know that connection is God's work to do, not ours. We can encourage, we can be the voice that drops the important question or makes the simple observation that opens people's hearts to a greater reality around them than they can see with their eyes or find their way into by their own efforts. Knowing God is a work of the Spirit and helping others see into that reality has been the joy of my life. So many of our discipleship tools have focused on man's efforts to connect with God. I want people turn that around and instead of thinking our efforts or disciplines would be the key to knowing him, they would learn to recognize how God is wanting to build a relationship with them. This is a reality to relax into, not something that human achievement can earn.
I posted the last one a couple of weeks ago and throughout the year I've been blessed by the number of people who taken the time to tell me how much these simple encouragements helped them find a better space in their hearts to engage God, listen to him, and recognize his fingerprints in their life. These videos will remain up and free of charge to anyone who wants to go on this journey. We are working now at putting them on DVD for those who want high-quality video for their own use or to share in small groups and you will find it in the Lifestream Store when it is ready.
Here a list of the twenty-four videos we made to encourage people on a more relational journey. You can access them all on our Engage page at Lifestream.org.
One: Why Engage?
Two: Starting Fresh
Three: How Do You See Him?
Five: With Him Not For Him
Six: Becoming An Active Learner
Seven: Relaxing Into A Reality
Eight: Following Him Not An It
Nine: Praying For Real
Ten: The Freedom To Fail
Eleven: Sharing Your Journey
Twelve: When God Seems Distant
Thirteen: A Quiet Place
Fourteen: What About The Scriptures?
Fifteen: What About Sin?
Sixteen N.A.T.O. Living
Seventeen: A Life Of Love
Eighteen: One Step At A Time
Nineteen: Living By The Spirit
Twenty: Letting God Win Our Trust
Twenty-One: The Only Thing That Counts
Twenty-Two: Tuning To God’s Frequency
Twenty-Three: That Your Joy Might Be Full
Twenty-Four: The Adventure Of A Lifetime
I'm amazed people track these things, but a friend of mine from New Zealand recently posted 11 books about living in Father's love and grace that have more than 100 5-star ratings on Amazon.com. He Loves Me was on that list. (You can view the entire list here, which includes some of my favorites.) I had no idea. So I checked and found it has 135 5-star rankings from readers. I never think to check on these kinds of things, but I just may have to go there some day when I can find the time and see what others are saying about it.
But I'm blessed that so many of you shared your thoughts about this book with other readers on Amazon. Thank you. I am truly honored and grateful that you took the time to do so, especially since I have never even recommended that people do that for me. That makes it all the more amazing that so many have. (I even know one blog some years ago that begged people to put up negative reveiws to discourage people from reading it. I guess he was the only one that took his advice, because there is only one 1-star review.)
You have no idea, however, how much this helps other readers when they are browsing for books. Not only does it give them a testimonial from another reader, but it is also part of what Amazon uses when it recommends books based on what people are searching for. So if you've read a book that really touched you, take the time to post a comment, even a brief one, and give it a rating. The authors you enjoy will really appreciate it.
The final episode makes it clear that we haven’t arrived yet, but merely stand on the edge of the most amazing adventure available to us—how can we explore the vastness of God’s love and character not only in this age, but also for all eternity?
On this last day of the year, I get to post the final episode of the video series, Engage: Finding Your Connection With God. These brief 5-7 minute videos were designed to be listened to in two-week increments so that in the time between them people would have a chance to explore their own relationship with God and let God connect with them. The topic of this final one is one of the most exciting for me because when I lose the sense of wonder at how God might show up in my day and get lost in the mundane responsibilities and droning media of our age, my spiritual life stagnates. But when I am reminded that this amazing God wants to make himself known in my life today in the reality the circumstances I confront and the people I encounter, the possibilities are limitless and my heart begins to soar.
It was good to be reminded of all this as the year closes out and a new one begins. I can think of nothing better to share with you than this today. May you be caught up in the most amazing adventure life has to offer. May you find the grace to be more focused on what you do understand about him and his life and less preoccupied with what you don't yet understand. The idea that even at our best we only stand ankle-deep in the vast mystery of God's love and affection for us can set us at ease in the uncertainty and let our trust in him grow.
I am blessed to see the number of people who are working their way through this series and warmed by the emails I've received at how they've helped people relax into the reality of a relationship God has always been seeking with them. Living loved is not a matter of embracing a different set of principles about God. Living loved is the fruit of growing in the "knowing" of God, learning to sense his presence in our life and to cultivate an ongoing conversation with him about what's going on in your life.
As Christmas rolls around, Sara and I look back over the past year with profound gratitude at all that the Lord has let us be a part of this year. The most precious of all is, of course, the people we've met and good friends who have walked alongside us. We have been enriched in so many ways by the love and care of people, as well as the opportunity to be with people at some of the the most difficult moments of their lives.
As this journey has unfolded we find ourselves increasingly grateful for the simple joys of friends and family and the moments of deep conversation and uncontrollable laughter. At the same time we are also aware that there is much pain in the world. My inbox is filled with it every day as people face some of the most brutal circumstances life can dish out. But even there I am blessed by the courage people demonstrate in simply putting one foot in front of the other each day and work their way through the circumstance as God's glory unfolds in them. Pained letters often turn into joy-filled ones in a few months time. God works incredible good out of our most desperate moments.
That's the story of the Incarnation that touches me the most. God shows up in our worst moment, in our pain and despair, to let us know that we are loved and that he has a way for us to live beyond our humanistic ways of dealing with life. As we embrace him in that hope our perspective changes about everything around us. We see the world differently and live differently than what the world glorifies around us.
I read this last week and it lifted my heart, so I thought I'd share it with you. We often go looking for life in all the wrong places, and miss the very opportunities right in front of us to be where God is—loving the most marginalized among us.
Again and again, what it amounts to is a clash between two opposing goals: One goal is to seek the person of high position, the great person, the spiritual person, the clever person, the fine person, the person who because of his natural talents represents a high peak, as it were, in the mountain range of humanity. The other goal is to seek the lowly people, the minorities, the disabled, the prisoners: the valleys of the lowly between the heights of the great. They are the degraded, the enslaved, the exploited, the weak and poor, the poorest of the poor.
The first goal aims to exalt the individual, by virtue of his natural gifts, to a state approaching the divine. In the end he is made a god. The other goal seeks the wonder and mystery of God becoming man, God seeking the lowest place among men.
Two completely opposite directions. One is the self-glorifying upward thrust. The other is the downward movement to become human. One is the way of self-love and self-exaltation. The other is the way of God’s love and love of one’s neighbor.
Eberhard Arnold in When the Time Was Fulfilled
So whether this season finds you in a time of joy or in the midst of struggle, our hope and prayer is the same: that you might gaze upon him who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will and that you might know his wisdom and his strength holding you in the storm and leading you to life. May your heart be filled with wonder at the awesome love of a Father who truly makes all things new.
And on a personal note, I want to thank you for all you have meant to us this year in your words of encouragement, your prayers, and your support for our friends in Kenya and those living with AIDs in South Africa. We are honored that we get to see so much love poured out into the world.
From our home to yours, Merry Christmas, and may find more of the Father's fruitfulness and fulfillment in the year ahead!