Wednesday, December 24, 2008

the womb before the cross

There were more than expected that came to the Christmas Eve service tonight. We lit the room with 40 small candles and a tall lamp standing beside me that cast a jaded glow. We could not have filled a stadium or even a typical church, but the night was true and fellowship was intimate. It is this night--of all nights--to remember that the greatest of things and the truest reality does not always draw a large crowd. Sometimes it is just a few shepherds. Everything about the night is humbling. God cannot control his physical body--no baby can. He must be warmed by rough clothes and nourished by creatures milk. "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." (John 1:10-11) "Veiled in flesh the godhead see!" It was too humbling a reality for most to believe and it remains that way. Sure we can imagine a lot of nice characteristics to God, but who dares to fully take in all of Him? It is easy to talk of love and its full expression in the Father, just as it is a conversation over tea to talk of the justice of God...or kingliness...or servanthood...or unexpected...or unchanging...or merciful...or full of wrath...or jealous...or long-suffering...or patience...or holiness, etc. But who dare expose his heart to all the wonder? I remember reading of one saint that had such a revelation of God that he cried out, "Lord! Stop!" fearing that his heart could not take any more. And so we do not understand Jesus. How could it be? A God-Man born of a virgin? God sacrificing Himself to Himself? We have abused our brains and gone mad thinking of other ways to be saved. There is just this one way. Never was or were or will there be another. God has worked in this one way and always planned to, and it is by this expression we know Him. All His perfect qualities are completely seen together at the cross. It is the summation of all God's self-revealing expression to man--the final earthly work of the "Final Word." We would do ourselves much eternal good to focus our lives, the deepest meditations of our hearts, and our times of pleasure to pursue what God focuses all the energies of scriptures towards--Jesus. Begin again by taking in his birth. The shame of a scandalous pregnancy...the field showered by angels songs...the need to be helped, clothed and cared for by a mother and learn to tie learn to walk by the Spirit and talk with the Father...the years needed to grow in grace and favor in the eyes of God and man...the resolution to follow at all cost. We always talk of the laborious movement to the cross, consider the approach to the womb! "Because God so love the world He...."

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

the silent uplifiting

"There is a silent uplifting impartation from the Absolute. It does us good to look up and see Orion driving his hunting dogs across the Zenith, or Andromeda shaking out her tresses over limitless space...It enlarges the self to have studied great architecture; to know great art--the red of Titian, the sunset of Turner, the seas of Winslow Homer; to have felt the spell of epic heroism; to have swung to the rhythmic pulse of Homer; to have known the tenderness of Francis of have heard the whirring of angels' wings in Milton's 'Paradise Lost'; to have been swept away on the streams of Beethoven's music; to engrave the prologue to the Gospel of John on the heart; and to march with the majestic affirmations of the Nicean Creed...It does something inside a man. It stretches him mentally, stirs him morally, inspires him spiritually...."
- Peter Marshall

There are days that you hike to no end, and others that you hike until you find a silent place to stop. Today I hiked to stop and be still for awhile. The world was still with me for that while, silently calling glory back to its Maker who had generously opened the storehouses of snow to ornament our home here. I find a lot to pray about in those times alone, but find myself even more these days simply enjoying the presence of God, which involves a good deal of listening and loving. I am learning that sometimes our lives can be covered by a blanket of snow, suppressing--as it may--with all its might the budding efforts of spring life. The snow postpones as long as it can and tempts despair with its chaotic flurries. It covers the city and binds the roads. But when the spring sun rises at just the right time--as does the Son of God in our hearts--the snow has no power to remain. The snow can never cool down the sun, just as our sin can never cool down the love of Christ. He will conquer whatever heart He pursues. Today my silent snow wandering reminded me that is the power of God that thawed my heart and, I believe, will also save this city.

Also, an hour visit with an old friend, who chuckled at my getting old even though he is topping 95 years. He is always kind to do most of the talking and also to offer advice freely. His advice is not always words though. His voice trembles and verges on sobbing when he asks for the scriptures to be read and reread. The subject of prayer frequents almost every paragraph of conversation. His belief is the centerpiece of his existence. Jesus is without a doubt his closest friend and heaven is talked of so sweetly and obviously that you would think he had memories of a recent visit to his future home. With fading memory he takes the time and energy to be concerned about me, which is usually expressed humorously. After being a bachelor for 95 years he encouraged me to get to know one of the nurses at his care facility when he found out that I wasn't dating anyone. More advice was to keep running so that I will continue to grow strong. He has reached the level of unashamed appreciation that comes with years of living (I hope more of us can reach that stage early on in life). The whole time I spent with him he held my hand and would tell me frequently how much he appreciated the visit. I did too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

hiking with athanasius

"It was January 11th that I committed suicide," he told me as we drove together. It wasn't an attempt, he told me, it had worked. For several seconds his heart had stopped beating, just like he had intended. It wasn't a stunt used as a platform for a desperate cry. It was what he wanted for himself. For the painful blood to stop repeating its cycle through his body. Today his heart beats just fine. God actually gave him a new one. One that is tender with compassion and that desires others to find God too. We walked together and prayed together, drank milkshakes and bought burly belt-buckles together, we are brother because God gave us both new hearts.

"I would sacrifice to the devil anything that I could find in the prison yard...10 years of solitary confinement," was the testimony of another conversation. I believed him. Neither of us minced words as we talked together late into the night. I told him plainly, "Sir, I have more hope for you than you have for yourself, because my God is unstoppable and irresistible." Between dinner in Gig Harbor (another story) and entering this fellows house I had 10 minutes alone. 10 minutes of holding my precious Bible and praying for wisdom--10 sweet minutes of being alone with God. Two other brothers were with me and God gave us much boldness.

Your prayers are always coveted and being remembered in prayer always refreshes my soul. Sometimes I long for the stillness and fresh breath of the hills. It was said of Athanasius, the great defender of the faith at Nicaea, that of all things he loved the mountains the most. We are going to be hiking buddies in heaven.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

book-doors, business-doors, and door-doors

"The book of God is a store of manna for God's pilgrim children....The great cause of neglecting the Scriptures is not want of time, but want of heart, some idol taking the place of Christ. Satan has been marvelously wise to entice away God's people from the Scripture. A child of God who neglects the Scriptures cannot make it his business to please the Lord of Glory; cannot make Him Lord of the conscience; ruler of the heart; the joy, portion, and treasure of the soul....If the Bible be used aright by anyone, it will be to him the most pleasant book in the world." - R.C. Chapman

The quote is taken from a book that I have read the past two years in the winter months. The book is "Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman." The front is covered by a kindly man in a large white beard that wraps all the way over his head forming a perfect frame for his face. As we stroll together through pages (metaphorically, of course) I can hear him saying again each year, "slow down, young man, it is God who makes a man. Set yourself to love Him through reading the word and prayer."

By the looks of it the Coffee Oasis/Hope in Christ Ministries will soon be buying a successful drive-thru coffee business. Please pray for my father as he spend time working out the business details. The previous owner is willingly donating almost half of the business ($21,000) because they believe that God is leading this way. One of our faithful advisers and an earnest brother in prayer said that he was praying for God to give the rest since He has showed it to be such an easy things to give us half. It is crazy the amount of trust offered to us being Christians, who gain our name from a God-man who was raised from the dead.

Please pray for me. Today I went door-to-door with one of the other staff from the Oasis. She is a spunky, boardering on hyper, lady who makes quick friends with any moving object. I, however, am not the best at such extroverted activities. We were not passing out tracts or looking to wage Bible wars with anyone, just inviting our neighbors (the city) to our community Christmas party. I hate the thought of invading someone elses space and don't always want to make new friends. I am not always good with new people, knowing that I am not always good with the old people either. Pray that God invades the spaces in my heart that hold me back from loving others and wanting to share the message of eternal life with them.

Started running again!!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

no, sir, i don't understand, but can i?

I had already been out for awhile, talking and praying with members of our church, when I returned to gather my belongings and head out for another engagement. One of the regulars came up to me and pointed me to the laundry room were there was a man who "needed to be prayed with," as she put it. I arrived at the washing room at the same time he was exiting the building. Deflecting the shutting door I followed the man outside and asked him if I could sit down with him and get to now him so we could better help him. We sat down and I talked a little. "Name...address...really your from Guam! Wow! what brought you here?...Four kids and a electricity...I am so sorry...No, Sir, I don't understand what that must be like, but can I pray with you?" "We want to help you in any way possible," I said, almost pleadingly, over and over again. In all he did not want to pray. He said that the whole things was to hard to talk about. It is humiliating, you know, to have no job and to do laundry at someone else's expense. I wanted so badly for him to know he was loved, not just by me or the other staff, but by God. That's why we are here in Bremerton, even here on this planet--love for God and our neighbors. "For God so loved the world...Jesus!" Dear God, let him know your love, and bend down to feed them (Hosea 11).

This morning I met a close friend, who is a youth pastor in Tacoma, for breakfast. We talked about what was most passionate to us, so I am sure many people in the cafe overheard loud, excited remarks about "God!" Over half way through our meal our waitress approached the table and told us that she would have brought our bill, but that someone (who asked to remain anonymous) had covered it for us. After an elderly woman in the adjoining booth left we were told that she was the kind benefactress (thankfully, I had acknowledged her with a smile as she left. I actually tried to smile at everyone else to not knowing who was the silent provider.) I felt very honored.

Pray for us as we prepare for a large Christmas gathering at the Oasis on December 20 and the caroling that precedes the event tomorrow night.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

things worth dying for

Tonight I spoke to a group of 12 people that gathered at the coffee shop on the subject of what our church breathes by--what we would give every breath to preach and live in word and deed (ie. our statement of faith). I am thankful that the Lord seemed to offer clarity in the the words spoken. Some of the topics spoken on were the Trinity and sovereignty of God, the authority of the Bible, salvation, and the two options of eternity. Given an hour I covered nearly 30 points, including sub-points and a several minute portion of time to cover a question on the essential nature of a God that could and did perish on a tree. I was happy to speak every word; happy to have such a God to speak about and that He taught me--me!--His song of love that wraps throughout history and beyond our celestial walls. Just think, it was all declared in final detail even before the world began (Ephesians 1:3-6)! May our passion never be only a matter of discussion between ourselves or a matter of question for onlookers. "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed" (Proverbs 27:5). I don't want my love to be concealed. O to be always open with love to God; then, I known, from us will flow streams, pouring over and multiplied to others. I tire though. The reality is that it all takes effort. Jesus asks us the Gethsemene question: "will you stay awake and pray for an hour?" Your life and mine is only a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). It was the final point. I am looking forward to the unfettered and forever joys of eternity. O God make my mist one that hangs epicly over battleground-earth.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas homesickness

In a Christmas sermon given December 2, 1928, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice! When once again Christmas comes and we hear the familiar carols and sing the Christmas hymns, something happens to us...The hardest heart is softened. We recall our own childhood. We feel again how we then felt, especially if we were separated from a mother. A kind of homesickness comes over us for past times, distant places, and yes, a blessed longing for a world without violence or hardness of heart.But there is something more--a longing for the safe lodging of the everlasting Father. And that leads our thoughts to the curse of homelessness which hangs heavily over the world.”

For the past months since my arrival we have been praying for a home for boys. We prayed and looked and realized that only a miracle would involve us in the debaucle that the house market is right now. We were looking for a big place, secluded enough to raise chickens, with the look of adventure. So what happened was that we didn't find it; rather, it was offered to us last week. Pray and praise with us as this work continues. In 2 months me and several other brothers ("staff") will move into a home on the edge of town. We already have a full number of guys wanting to move into the house to begin being discipled. As the Shephard moves the sheep will follow. May His voice always be familiar to our ears.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

when to laugh becomes easy

prayers from the day:

a girl: tired of truth and "trying God." Lured by the immediacy of prescriptions and pay by the hour motels.

a child: she learned psalm 23--Brilliant for her age. Pray that her and her mom learn to call God there Daddy.

a city.

Today when asked what I was thankful for the first thing that came to mind was imitatable people. Each night before I fall into sleep I prop myself up to read a few chapters of a book that inspires me. I admit that I have never understood those people that read to fall asleep. I take it as a sign of my maturing (ha, I have to look for signs) that I don't allow myself to be engrossed each night in flipping pages and forget to sleep at all. Reading itself is restful for me. It is one of the ways I dream. Anyway, I have been reading another biography of Hudson Taylor titled: "Hudson Taylor and Maria: Pioneers to China" by J.C. Pollock. First I will tell you to buy it and next I will tell you why. Buy it! I have tried reading this book several times and did not received it well (or as I should). It is a book that must be read by someone ready to accept the humanity of Hudson Taylor and love and laugh at his idiosyncrasies. The first time I tried reading this book I thought I was set for life. No need to worry about a wife, I was set. In my own priggish arrogance I actually wondered why people ever did worry. Just trust God, right? Hudson Taylor, the Leviathan of faith and exalted to the point of being canonized in sermons, was desperate, even sick, for a wife. I will not be a spoiler for the story, but do want to show you what God brought to Hudson. Hudson, knowing the call of God, went woman-less to China because he loved God more than anything. When Hudson finally met Maria there was much harsh feelings towards their courtship from other missionaries in China, even to the point of persecution. But here is the woman God was providing for Hudson. To ease the difficulty Hudson thought of returning to England to achieve an official medical degree or ordination, thinking that this would ease the hard feelings towards the match--her being well-bred and him being poor. Maria's thought on the subject of him leaving for a title was this: "I would wait if he went home in order to increase his usefulness. But is he to leave his work in order to gain a name for the sake of marrying me? If he loves me more than Jesus he is not worthy of me--if he were to leave the Lord's work for the world's honour, I would have nothing further to do with him." To this Hudson replied, "she is a noble girl." "A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" (Prov. 31). God be blessed for starch Godly woman. What is even more incredible is that Maria fiercely was attached to Hudson when she wrote this, yet knew for their love to ever be God must reign on the throne of their hearts. Blessed be the woman that guards your heart from idolatry, she is rarer than a rare jewel. As Francis Bacon would say, like a fine gem roughly set. I am encouraged to write this for a couple of reason: 1) I am happy to see that there are such people, 2) and to share this wonderful story with many who find this subject to be very consuming. Make sure Christ is on the throne of your heart. Love Him first and you will begin to know glorious intimacies of true love.

A friend of Hudson and Maria wrote of the days following their engagement: "Those were days when to laugh was easy."

Monday, December 1, 2008

remember the Majesty

12 hours from when I left home to when I returned today. Deliveries, praying with people, figuring it out along the way, Gospel. "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth (Eccl. 12.1)," in the days that seem long, in the unexpected endings and the bright morning beginnings, in the laughter of a hearty soul or the bleak look of a troubled one, in all the surprises of life--remember Him. Remember the Majesty.

"O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!" - Psalm 8.9