Israel, 4 am

The journey was over 24 hours to get here but I managed to steal a few hours of sleep from a couple flights. I was positive I would sleep soundly tonight, yet 4 hours later I’m wide awake and I don’t need to rise until seven. Perhaps some journaling and a sunrise with God is in order (and maybe some coffee too).

I heard children using “Abba” with their fathers today and it brought a whole new context to the word for me. This term, which Jesus used to refer to our Father, is similar to “Daddy.” But today I heard it used by small children, often accompanied by reaching arms and grasping hands. “Abba, Abba!!” they cry, unabashedly asking to be held, or comforted, or protected. Striking out fearlessly, one little one became startled and ran with arms open back to her Abba. It makes me reflect on Jesus’ choice of words and the posture of children with their Abba. Is that how I would describe my relationship with God?

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Rest In God: A Prayer

Elohim, why do I struggle to rest in you? Why do I flee from Your intimacy? Settle on me, sink into my very depths, Ruach Ha-Kodesh, until you are all that is left. Let nothing that is not of You remain. O, Abba, give me more of you, let me know you more deeply, let my heart long for the things you long for and let my heart ache for the things that make your heart ache. Let me know Your joy and your tears; let them be mine! Draw me close in all ways… Yeshua, help me to rest in the hope and comfort you bring to us through your life, death and resurrection. Let peace be my natural state and compassion my disposition. By Your grace may I become a reflection of you to all I encounter. Seal my lips and guard my thoughts from words that wound and curse. Yeshua, use me to fulfill your word, that we would do greater things than you. Help me to always honor and point to my God, in word and deed, as you did when you commanded Lazarus to abandon death for life. O Lord, how faithful and good you are. Amen.

Things from Worship

I had a really great time at Bethel Worship in Lexington last night and I wanted to record some experiences or reflections from it.

First, this song. I’m going to be speaking on grace in a couple weeks and then bam! This song hits me like a brick wall: A quote from “Abba” is: “Grace is the collision on the way back home. With the arms of a Father who won’t let go.” And then, in case I wasn’t getting it, the conviction and the experience of remembering my return to God felt like a fire being set inside my chest: God ran to me. Abba threw his arms around me and I knew his love.

During the pitch for Compassion International, I was listening to this man talk about his family and his encounter with the kids while he was on a mission trip. It was a good story but I wasn’t hyper engaged; I was mostly just looking around at all the people there and feeling excited that my sister was going to get to have a night of worship. I looked back at the picture of this man and his beautiful family that was projected on the screen and for a moment there was silence as these words passed through my mind: “I will give this to you too.” And I was startled. So I prayed a bit, repented a bit, gave thanks for a bit. Those words felt mostly like comfort though, reassurance. As if I was being reminded of something I already knew.

Mid-way through the worship, I felt prompted to kneel. I have felt this often during corporate worship and I have always ignored it because how weird would that be? But I kept feeling the push, so much so that I was a bit distracted. Then I heard the lyrics, “every chain will break…” and it caught my attention. The super crazy thing I had heard during our church journey was that I was a chainbreaker. Then they start singing about every knee bowing. I told some of my friends and they were like, just sit. That’s basically the same thing, but something in me rose against that. “Did you hear sit? Or kneel?” So I knelt. And the words of Luke 16:10 came to me, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.” Then, as I prayed, I recalled a verse I had been talking to God about earlier that week, Romans 8:31: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” I had written about this verse in the context of freedom in love, but I had also mentioned my love of the word hupernikao, or “more than conquerors.” And it was like an epiphany: be more faithful in these little things, because they are building the habits that will grow faith and bring freedom from fear. We are not only conquerors of death, we bring new life: we resurrect, we reconcile, we restore, we redeem. We don’t bind people in chains, we break them.

So that was… cool.

Prayer for Steadfastness

Abba, Father, Creator of all that has been and will be, how great and holy are You? I praise You that in the midst of all creation, You pursue so faithfully a relationship with us, Lord. You are all good and Your Kingdom is a Kingdom filled to the brim with the fruit of that goodness; our separateness is the fruit of our disobedience, not proof of your faithlessness. I pray you help me and my community to become more of a reflection of You, and that we bear fruit as you would have us do. You answer my prayers over and over again, Abba, and You provide for me in all ways and I give thanks for it. When disbelief in this creeps in, I pray you protect me from it. Remind me of Your steadfastness so that I can be more steadfast in my love to You. Help me to receive, Abba. Amen.

Hesed: Struggle, Love, Wholeness

This morning I woke out of a deep sleep to what I was sure was a Hebrew word and a phrase about struggle, love and wholeness. I was so completely awake I began searching online to try to find out what I had heard, to learn about what had called me out of my sleep. I soon came across an article: Hesed: Enduring, Eternal, Undeserved Love.

Hesed is a Hebrew word referring to God’s enduring, eternal love (of which we are undeserving). As I read the article which tied God’s love to our love of each other and the ways we demonstrate hesed in relationship, I heard the words in the phrase I woke up to echo in my heart: love, wholeness, struggle. I was struck by how deeply this spoke to what I had asked my Father to pray to God for me about, and also in God pointing out through community and prayer that I am running away from what I’m asking him to send me: a husband.

This is the kind of love I want and which I am capable of achieving, even if I execute it imperfectly. My past partners and their families have always commented on the depth of my love, my capacity to love in the way described in this article. But as I think about it I realize that I have come to believe what the world has told me through those men: that I will not be loved like that in return, nor anywhere close to it. They have said, “People don’t love like you do. Not everyone is built that way.” “The world doesn’t work the way you think it does.” I admit I believed that I was only loveable by God, family and close friends, who could see me the way God saw me and I definitely didn’t see anything valuable enough to “sell” myself to someone as a life partner. But I was seeing myself through the lens of my ex’s and not my Father’s.

But I hear you now, Abba. There are people who love like this. Your people. And the world doesn’t work this way yet because it is still broken and we are trying to bring your Kingdom to it. But you, Abba, with my earthly Father? You can send me this love. You can send me hesed. I believed in this love from you first, God. I knew you loved me when I walked into Crossroads and heard the story of a Savior who came in not as a warrior with a sword but as a sacrifice of love. Beyond that, here was a loving and sacrificial God who wanted me, me in spite of the sin that wore me down and burdened me with shame and depression. You wanted me. You loved me. And you still do because I have your enduring, eternal, undeserved love.

The bible verses from the article are perfect examples of hesed from my Father in heaven, and will help me to remember how enduring this love is when I become forgetful:

Isaiah 54:10 “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love (hesed) for you will not be shaken.”

 

Lamentations 3:31-32 “No one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love (hesed).”

 

Exodus 34:6 “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love (hesed) and faithfulness,”

Genesis 24:27 “saying, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness (hesed) and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

Discipleship Is Hard

This is not an easy thing. I suppose it should never be an easy thing, one way or the other. If you are leading someone and not struggling at some points, I would wonder if it doesn’t mean the responsibility is being taken too lightly? And if it is not a struggle to be someone’s disciple, I wonder how much challenge really exists in the relationship? How much growth is being experienced?

Luke 8:22-25 “One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

We have no idea what tone Jesus used when he asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?” But their response of fear, to marvel, to question… it is clear that they are being challenged by their relationship with Jesus.

Luke 9:49-56“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Here you can see Jesus experiencing again and again the challenge of discipleship. While he has repeatedly taught about the Kingdom and the new covenant he was bringing to God’s people (and the disciples have spent a great amount of time with him hearing about it), he has to continue to tell them the most basic things, like those doing work in his name were for them and not against them, and that they should not in fact rain fire down from heaven on a village (on the scale of unloving to totally loving your neighbor, that falls a bit short).

Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. “

Paul, a standard setter of fathering followers of Christ and creating a community of believers reproducing believers, struggled with this even more.  He reminded, warned, praised, prayed for, lamented and chastised those he lead. He struggled deeply with them though, speaking harshly and threatening discipline. He took the responsibility seriously and wanted all followers coming through him to understand the reality of their salvation and necessity of their relationship with Christ.

Mark 12:24-27 “Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

This was the final example I reflected on when I was considering this repeating idea that discipleship is hard. Jesus, when talking to the Sadducees, emphasized the importance of knowing the Scriptures. He didn’t come to abolish it but to fulfill it. He referenced it all of the time and I don’t think it was just because people of that time understood it. It is our story with our Father, our God. It is clear in his words that it isn’t just about knowledge of Scripture, but knowing the power of God. This too must be something we strive to grow in as leaders and challenge growth in for those we lead.

As hard as discipleship is, of course I cannot shake the simultaneous image of the bearing of fruit. The purpose is for deeper relationship with Christ, with God, with the Spirit. And as we receive the Spirit and do the work to which we are called we bear fruit. To Paul, the sacrifice was sweet in that in brought us closer to Christ and the fruit it bore was in the ways God provided and could then be boasted in to others, so that they might also come to know Christ.

Matthew 7:16-20 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

So yes, Abba, I see this is hard. But I see the fruit for your Kingdom that comes through it.

Prayer of Thanks and for Clarity

Abba, the grace and love you pour over me is without end. I see the love You have for me even as I grow frustrated at my own weakness and shortcomings. I give thanks that you teach me to love others the way you love me, as imperfectly as I might execute this. I praise God that I witness in Cincinnati a city being transformed by people who are being transformed by you. Abba, Love that Moves Us, Hope that Gives Us Breathe, we offer all good things as proof of your love. Please guide myself and my community in this time as to our purposes; provide us with clear vision and passionate hearts that ache to move the world. We are your people, Lord. In your name I pray, amen.