I’ve been thinking about how love, ashes, presidents, and Jesus all go together. Afterall, over the three weeks, we’ll be celebrating Valentine's Day, Ash Wednesday, and President’s Day.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion--
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:1-4)
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7)
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:8)
Let’s go learn what these verses mean this month.
I have The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook on my bookshelf. From parenting slip-ups to surviving the holidays with your ex and from dealing with those first awkward conversations about sex to figuring out how to level up your golf game - authors Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht have helped millions of people casually (and seriously) prepare for life’s very real and unexpected events.
I mean, there’s a lot that can change our ideas of what life is going to be like, right? We’d be devastated if we unexpectedly lost a loved one. Our anxiety would shoot through the roof if we’d lose a job or other source of income. At any age, a health diagnosis can change the entire trajectory of your life. Worst things are often bad things. Scary things. Painful things.
What do you think is the worst thing that could happen to you?
Jesus has a response: you can lose your soul.
At one point, Jesus asks, “What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:36, CEV/NIV).
Jesus asks this question in the context of helping his disciples understand the cost of following Him to the cross and eventually to the empty tomb. Bad things will happen. Bullies will come. Beatings will be given. Breath will be withheld. Yes - and you may even be abandoned (like an eternal quarantine).
But that isn’t the worst… at least for Jesus and His disciples. The worst is to lose their spirit. Their soul. The breath of God that lives in them.
Even Jesus - on the worst day of His life when He died on the cross as an innocent man sentenced to a criminal’s death - wasn’t the worst day for Him because He knew who held his spirit.
Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46, NIV).
Author and Pastor Tim Keller wrote a book titled, Counterfeit Gods. In it he defines an idol or “little-g” god as anything that we fear losing… the worst thing to happen. For some of us it might be losing a partner, spouse, or child. It might be losing income or retirement plans. It might be you being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Those are all really, really, really bad things and would cause pain, heartache, anger, and all those things rational human fears, for sure.
Jesus says that the worst thing that could happen is to lose the hope we have in Him.
As I think about all the things that would be “the worst” things to happen… compared to losing sight that Jesus loves me and trusts me to use with everything He has given me to love Him back and others as I’ve been loved - they aren’t so bad.
Let’s continue to fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2, NIV).
In 2007, Beth and I were perusing the Compassion website searching for our first sponsor child. I'll admit it. I agreed to begin sponsoring a child through Compassion International because I thought I was doing something great for a child in a developing country.
I didn't expect it to change me.
Beth spent a semester in college studying in France. She majored in French and was endorsed to teach K-8 French and Music. (Fun fact: a few years later, she actually was about to commit to teaching in a French immersion school when we found out she was expecting our oldest son.) Beth being a Francophone lover, she was drawn to that specific area of the world. And, we both share an interest in Africana (she's still insanely jealous that I have travelled to Africa three times now).
Adissa. She's the one. Adissa lives in Burkina Faso (a Francophone country). Burkina is in West Africa - check. Done.
While Beth chose who to sponsor, I committed myself to praying for our sponsor child.
As you may know, one of the fun parts of the sponsor child program is that you can write letters back and forth. Over the years, we enjoyed receiving letters from Adissa. "Watching" her grow up from a young girl to a young woman made our hearts overflow with joy. I loved reading about what she was learning and about her family. One Christmas she shared what she received from Pere Noel (Santa Claus). I remember helping Adissa receive her first Bible. I recall the letter she sent and the feeling I had when I read that she gave her life to Jesus.
Beth wrote to Adissa. I regret not writing more than a few times.
I remember the day we were informed that Adissa "aged out" of the program.
Weird feeling flowed through my body from my head to my toes. I had never met Adissa. I knew her through Air Mail and the occasional photograph. We never celebrated any holidays together. Beth loves French. I can hardly say, "parele ou français?". But, I felt super connected to her.
I wondered if she felt the same kind of grief and change I did in that moment.
Grief and change leads us to reflect on not just why we feel what we feel, but what we're learning from what led up to those feelings.
You see, I thought I was helping a "poor girl get out of poverty" - which I may or may not have since we didn't stay connected. I started sponsoring her because I could afford giving $30 once a month to feel good and hey - Compassion was a Christian organization, so bonus!
As I think about Adissa today, I can say that God used her - our sponsor child, to change me. As I got to know Adissa, she became less of "the poor Burkina girl we're helping" and she became a part of my life. In a way that is difficult to explain, Adissa became part of our family. She is like the child we've never met. An equal. She wasn't a number of a pamphet. She was deeply loved. She had a mom and brothers whom she loved. She had a community that she loved and who loved her. And she had a sponsor who she loved - and we loved her.
Jesus said it best, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). I like how Pastor/Author Tim Keller explains this verse in one of his sermons that I heard many years ago. He says something to the effect that while Jesus invites us to be poor in spirit, we want to be and are all too often, middle class in spirit. Middle class in spirit is the spirit of independence and self-sufficiency that led me to a self-righteous attitude that I as a "middle class Christian" can "help this poor Burkina girl". And, to a degree, in a material way, I can. Perhaps, I did.
But, what I learned is that God wanted to help her and me, together. I could give Adissa a few material things, but only God could give her what she really needed. And God could only give me what I needed. I needed to become poor in spirit.
Here's the point: God knew we both needed the same things... love. Grace. Community. Compassion. Acceptance. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-Control. These are things $30 a month cannot buy here in America or in Burkina.
To sum it up - both Adissa and I needed more of Jesus and less of ourselves. And only by God's grace were we both able to receive what we needed. Truly, blessed are the poor in spirit... for we experience the kingdom of God, together.
Fast forward a decade.... Beth and I continue to sponsor children all over the world, including Pilar in Indonesia through Compassion. We love it.
Here's what I've learned: There are children right here in our own neighborhoods and communities who need the same love and care that I was praying for Adissa to experience over 5,600 miles away.
There are thousands of Adissa's walking the streets in my neighborhood. In my son's classroom. Hanging out in the mall. Strolling through the grocery store with their adults.
God is already at work in the hearts of the Adissa's everywhere. Rich and poor. Burkina's and Americans. So as much as we love continuing to sponsor children (and it's a very good thing!), I have learned the greatest things in this world can not be purchased or sponsored - but they're only given when one life changes another life through the bond of Jesus Christ.
Adissa - if you by chance ever read this... thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus to teach me a part of what it means to be poor in spirit.
In case you missed it, here is my conversation with Bob Goff. It has inspired me to just go love people. Not always easy... but, simple. Practical. It's a transformational experience for me and other people. And let's be honest... looking at our own lives along with people in our neighborhoods, communities, and world - we all need it.
Jesus says it best: love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12).
What did our conversation with Bob inspire you to do? Email me at email@example.com or text me at 253.260.5753 and let me know.
Due to licensing and contractual agreements, this video requires a password. Click here if you need the password.
Epiphany is the ongoing experience of becoming aware of Jesus.
We often times think of how the Magi are made aware of King Jesus and chose to not return to King Herod and go a different way.
The Gospels tell us that as Jesus grows up, people have "epiphanies" all the time as they see and experience Jesus as He…
Jesus is always with you (Emmanuel!)... caring for you... loving you... So, stand up and shine, because your Light has come and the presence of God is being made known by surrounding you, everywhere! (Isaiah 60:1, My Translation).
How can you help others have an “epiphany experience”, today? Check out this video to find out.
So, why spend time with Bob?
See you Sunday! Love you!
I’ve been thinking about how to give a sneak peak at a surprise announcement that we’ll be making this Sunday about our January Sermon Series that we’re titling, “God, How Do You Care?”. It’s a series where we will discover new and fresh ways that God not only loves and cares for us, but also how God loves and cares for our neighbors and our world through us. Our stuff. Our words. Our talents and circumstances. Our work.
So, below are two clues. You can share your guess at what the surprise announcement will be using the form, below. Have fun!
I can’t wait to spill the beans at the beginning of worship on Sunday. Log in early so you don’t miss it!
I’ve been thinking a lot about joy.
The brightest and best at Harvard say that joy is essential. In fact, studies have even shown that happiness is directly related to our overall health. In other words, the healthier we are, the happier we become. In Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States says that status, wealth, achievement, and fame doesn’t guarantee happiness (p. 33). For Murthy, it’s proven and predictable neuroscience. Happiness comes from a connection with another human being. On one hand, I think we can all resonate with how isolation makes us grumpy, cranky, irritable, sad, anxious, and everything else we may characterize as “unhappy”. No doubt, pandemic purgatory has lessened our happiness quotient. On the other hand, I can think of plenty of happy people who are perfectly content with our current introverted lifestyle.
So, where do we find joy - a steady happiness that doesn't leave us during a pandemic?
How can we bring joy because we have God’s gift of joy in Jesus?
And just so you know. . . you bring me joy! Love you all.
“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits...”.
That quote comes from the Forward to Georg Rhau's Symphoniae which was written by Martin Luther in 1538. Perhaps that’s what makes Christmas music so powerful.
Christmas music helps me experience the hope, peace, joy, and love we all need right now. And even though Christmas might be a little different for us this year, the truth is: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
Here are my Top Five Favorite Pieces of Christmas music. Take a listen (or watch) and I hope you’ll see why they capture my thoughts, mind, heart, and spirit with the good news of Emmanuel - God is with us, in Jesus.
I hope these songs bring you the hope, peace, joy, and love of Jesus this Advent season!
Go ahead and share with me some of your favorite Christmas music! I’d love to add it to my playlist.
Love you all!
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, my friend and teammate, Dereem Hoff describes "having an attitude of gratitude". Check it out in this video.
Well - with thanksgiving now behind us, it still might be difficult to have an attitude of gratitude because you might not be part of any large family gatherings this year, there is no doubt that God still gives us the best Christmas present, ever: a family as big as the number of stars in the sky (if you can count them).
God knows we need friendships. That's why we feel so empty when we can't physically be near each other, look in each others' eyes when we talk, or share tangible experiences with each other. Our friends, family, neighbors, and communities are God's gift to us. No matter who they are, where they're from, what they've done (or will do) - God has given us a family as many as the stars in the sky.
How do I know that? Because God has promised Abraham in Genesis 15:5: Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” You and I are part of that family. Your neighbor is part of that family. The people around you are part of that family. We are part of God's family not by human desire or effort, but on God's mercy (Romans 9:16).
So, here are two ways you can develop or continue investing in your habit of having an attitude of gratitude for the very large family God has given us.
This season, as many of us might be searching for the Christmas spirit, we are reminded that God, our Father, sends our brother Jesus into the world. Jesus is born like us. Jesus grows up like us. Jesus eats, breathes, and sleeps like us. Jesus experiences life, like us... so that in years like 2020 when we feel isolated, lonely, and not so joy-filled, we know that beyond a doubt we are never alone. Even though we may feel lonely, we can trust that the God of the universe never leaves us completely lonely. And, through Jesus, we never lack a family who “gets” us.
Afterall, the reason we have family gatherings, exchange gifts, celebrate with food and singing, and carve out time to worship this holiday season is to love Jesus back because He first loved us.
Love you. -pt
The OSLC ministry team is a growing collection of women and men who live as a family on mission, leading the OSLC family in connecting an unchanging God with a changing world by loving God, loving people, and living like Jesus.