Echoes of Eden | 11.14.16

Have you ever had the sense of something so much bigger than yourself, maybe catching a glimpse of something so beautiful, something strange or exciting, and yet peaceful? Like, that overwhelming feeling of awe at the birth of your child, or the lump that comes into your throat at a poignant moment in a movie; a piece of music that taps into something deep inside, a warm sense of “rightness” when you give of yourself sacrificially, or that sense of deep mystery and beauty watching a sunset over the ocean. NT Wright describes this as “echoes of a voice that points beyond itself.”

So what are these echoes pointing to?

For years, I didn’t really get how the Bible stories from centuries ago had anything to do with my life now, or what the long litany of the people of Israel had to do with Jesus. But, slowly I’ve begun to understand that the Bible is telling an on-going epic story that isn’t over yet – a drama that we are now experiencing. This story is full of adventure, romance, danger, and betrayal, with a hero/lover and a evil villain. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that we have eternity written in our hearts, planted there by God – a Story (with a capital “S”) that we just can’t escape; somehow we just know there has to be more to our existence.

The Bible stories of the people of Israel are not just random stories, but are pieces of the saga that tell of God’s long-term plan to rescue and redeem the hearts of people and restore things back to the way they were meant to be – before evil entered the Story. The circumstances of your life are not just random events, but are interactive scenes in which you have an important role to play – one full of adventure, intrigue, sacrifice, danger, love, regret, and hope.

I believe the echoes are whispers from the One who loves us and will do whatever it takes to win our hearts back to Him. The voice is calling to us of a world set right again, a foretaste of what living life with God at the center will be like, pointing to the ending of the Story – which has already been written. Like all great stories, the villain is disposed of, the hero rescues the heroine, and they all live happily ever after – the kind of ending our hearts long for.

“There is far more going on around us than meets the eye. We live in a world with two halves, one part that we can see and another part that we cannot. We must live as though the unseen world (the rest of reality) is more weighty and more real and more dangerous than the part of reality we can see.” ~John Eldredge, Epic

How would you live differently if you believed this Story to be true?

Gospel | 12.20.15

This is the last week of celebrating Advent, the ‘arrival’ of God. Although not the only key event in God’s story, the coming of Jesus as a baby in the manger is definitely a big deal, a turning point in where the story goes next. It’s kind of unfortunate that our culture has tended to sentimentalize this event. I have to admit I get to feeling a bit jaded by it all, oversaturated by all the sweet images of a baby and Precious Moments figurines! We may miss just how powerful this event is for understanding the good news of God with us.

So what is the good news, or gospel? Christians believe that as God, baby Jesus grew up to live a perfect human life and sacrifice his life on the cross to pay the price for our sin and reconcile us with God. As wonderful and true as this is, I’ve begun to believe there’s so much more that he was up to. What if what Jesus did on the cross later in the story was not simply to forgive us and give us eternal life when we die?

Here’s my quick, simple version of a Christmas Gospel: God (Father, Son and Spirit) loved the world so much that the Father sent the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring us home into the life of God.

Guest Blog | Dawn Neldon

(Excerpt from message December 20, 2015, RBCPC ~ Love, the Turning Point

While his birth at Christmas was the first glimpse of the promise of God’s love, Jesus, through his life embodied and lived out the reality of the extent of God’s love for us. I mean, he didn’t just come and stand at a distance. And when you think about it he could have come and died without truly giving himself to others and the result would have been the same. Justice would have been satisfied.

But he dove in. He spent time with people. Messy people. He invested in real, meaningful relationships. He served others and expressed the heart of God’s love for us all the way to the cross. See, just as our voices take the ideas in our head and make them a reality by speaking them out loud, the life of Jesus speaks the reality of God’s love to all creation.

God so loved the world that he would stop at NOTHING to find a way to have a relationship with us…to offer us true, full life. This is the Gospel. Not that Jesus came and died so that we would be forgiven (that’s part of the story). But the real true good news of the manger and the cross is that they both happened so that we could experience true relationship with Jesus and by so doing experience life to the full in him.

Now this is all good, important theology but honestly, so what? Theology means nothing if it doesn’t impact us if it doesn’t compel us to be different as a result. So how does the reality of the manger compel us to live differently?

Let’s take a look at John 13:34-35

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Yikes. Love each other as he loved us? That doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation. That sounds hard. Too bad he didn’t just say sit in the same room with each other. Tolerate one another as I have tolerated you. No, he had to throw down the gauntlet. Love one another as I loved you and it’s by this kind of love that the world will know you are my disciples. Oh wait, you mean it’s not by the political groups I associate with? The world doesn’t know that we are your disciples by the articles for or against a variety of things on Facebook? shoot.

The result of the Jesus speaking the love of God into our lives is that we are then compelled to love one another. Loving one another as Jesus loves means that we must draw near. We can’t stand at a distance or keep people at arms length. We must live out the reality of what He evidenced for us…that love requires community. Think about it…love can not be fully expressed unless you share it with others. I believe that community not only allows us to love but it teaches us how to love fully.

I mentioned earlier that Drew and I lived in Mexico for a time. It was while we were there that I came to this realization about how God designed us. That God designed us for community and it’s only in community that we learn how to fully love one another. There we  lived with 100 children and 30 plus staff and there were ALWAYS people around. I mean ALWAYS. When there’s always people around, you get to see the best and the worst of each other. There’s no way to hide your ugly when you’re truly in community. Sure, you can keep up appearances for awhile but it’s only a matter of time before the you you try to hide come out.

Sharing life in community with other means that people get to know and love the real you with all you goodness and imperfections and in turn you love them for all of theirs.

Awesome Future | 12.13.15

Followers of Jesus believe that he is coming back again to reign in person as lord over his restored creation, and that everything will be made right and whole again. There is an interesting Greek word used in the New Testament to talk about this hope of Jesus coming back: parousia. In the culture of that day, this word had two meanings: one was used to refer to the mysterious presence of a god or divinity, particularly when the power of this god was revealed in healing. People would suddenly be aware of a supernatural and powerful presence.

Think about this for a minute; I wonder if this is kind of like that overwhelming feeling of awe at the birth of your child, the lump that comes unexpectedly into your throat at a poignant moment in a movie, or hearing a piece of music that taps into something deep within you. A warm sense of “rightness” when you give of yourself to serve another. That fleeting sense of mystery and beauty in a quiet moment in the middle of all the holiday craziness, something bigger than your understanding, an echo of something that you know to be real but can’t quite see?

Could it be that we experience the powerful presence of Jesus in moments like these, when we catch a sudden glimpse?

Here Now | 12.6.15

We understand that Christmas is about celebrating the coming of God to us in Jesus; remember that Advent means “arrival.” But less known is that centuries ago for early Christians, Advent also was about thanking God for his ongoing presence among us today through the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

In my particular religious upbringing, we didn’t hear much about the Holy Spirit at Christmas. He was pretty much downplayed, maybe barely mentioned. But I think one of the coolest things about God’s plan of rescuing us is the way that the Father, Son, and Spirit all colluded in what they were up to. Everything they did was done together, a shared relationship in which there was, and is, mutual giving and receiving.

The early church fathers used a word to describe this – perichoresis, the dance of love. This concept comes from a distinctive dance that is done at Greek weddings. There are not two dancers, but at least three. They start to go in circles, weaving in and out in this very beautiful pattern. They go faster and faster and faster, all the while staying in perfect rhythm and in sync with each other. Eventually, they are dancing so quickly that as you look at them, it all becomes a blur. Their individual identities are part of a larger dance. I just love this visual picture of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, coming up with their plan together.

Guest Blog | Sandy Russell

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HOPE

By Sandy Russell, December 2015

Sunday, December 1st 2013 found me sitting in church in tears with a deep understanding that I was about to enter a new chapter of life. On December 2nd I would receive the dreaded diagnosis – cancer. I had gone through mammograms, ultrasounds, and biopsies prior to that date and I already knew the words that would hit me on Monday. Sitting in that pew on the 1st Sunday of Advent, the day the candle of Hope is lit, I broke down. I felt the need to define hope, a word linked to cancer awareness, a word used quickly in our everyday speech. I believed that defining and understanding hope from God’s perspective would carry me through this uncertain time.

A dictionary defines hope as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Synonyms include aspiration, desire, wish, aim, goal, plan… Sure, I hoped that the Doctors would be able to treat my cancer, I hoped I would survive chemotherapy, I hoped I would live to see grandchildren. But that hope seemed very fragile and always relying on humans. There was something unsettling about this definition. So I read further and found another definition. Hope is a feeling of trust. Synonyms include faith, belief, conviction, assurance, and promise. So, now I was closer to understanding. But I still felt like I was on the outside looking in. I did not have the rest and peace that I wanted from this misunderstood word.

What do I believe? What is the promise? Should I ask God to miraculously take this cancer away? Wouldn’t that be a test of my faith?  I never did that, and not because my faith was small, but because it grew and it became clear that this cancer would give me a chance to experience the true meaning of hope and it would be an opportunity for my faith to deepen. God promised to be with me throughout the entire ordeal and he promised that I would thrive, not just survive. And that assurance came as I sat in prayer, weeping, full of fear and completely humbled to Him. In an instant, I was transformed from helpless human victim to worthy child of God. And in an instant we were walking together through the hardest thing I have ever faced, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

It is two years later and I understand the word Hope much better. I am cancer free and recovering from surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I am grateful. But the truth is, my hope went far beyond this cancer survival. My hope is not just to survive this mortal body. My hope is not a wish. My hope is a confidence that I am not alone, in life and in death, and my hope is a faith that I am worthy and loved for eternity. Hope is not a focus on what will happen, but what already has. Jesus was born to die and become our hope.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say.

2 Thessalonians 2:16–17