Prince of Peace

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “A prison cell where one waits for release, where one is completely dependent on the door of freedom having to be opened from the OUTSIDE, is not a bad picture of Advent.”

bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer knew what it was like to languish in prison without hope of release, condemned by Hitler’s Nazi regime to die. No way out unless someone opens the door!

At Advent we mark the coming of the Prince of Peace, the coming of Jesus. And as Bonhoeffer observes, the shalom that Jesus brings is not something we contrive within ourselves as persons, families, or even nations. It is gift from OUTSIDE our human experience that Jesus alone offers.

But if Jesus is our Prince of Peace, he doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job. If we did his end-of-year review, we might find ourselves suggesting areas for improvement.

“Jesus, it’s pretty obvious that when you enter history, yes, whenever you show up, the result is often anything but peace! Because of you, King Herod kills innocent babies of Bethlehem; religious leaders hate and oppose your ministry; Roman soldiers consider you a troublemaker and nail you to a cross; families and nations have been divided ever since over who you are!”

But Jesus would (I think) gently respond: “My friend, you don’t understand the peace I bring. My shalom means a healthy relationship between you and me that flows over into healthy relationships with others. My shalom gives you a deeply rooted sense of well-being that the problems of life won’t destroy. My shalom means forgiveness, loving your enemies, clinging to faith when life is incredibly hard.”

“I came so that you could have life and have it more abundantly. I came from OUTSIDE your world so that all that needs settling in your INSIDE world can be put right, and stay right, forever.”

Secret of Letting Go

The secret of trapeze artistry is in letting go at exactly the right time, trusting the hands of a stronger, more experienced partner to catch you.

trapeze artistry

This same secret is at the heart of any grace-filled adventure with Jesus. We obediently let go, trusting him to catch us. And he always does! Several personal examples already in this new year …

  • Final Sunday of ministry at OCF after 11 years of serving. Hard for us to let go, and hard for dear friends to let us go. But filled with blessings of fond memories, kind thoughts, gifts of appreciation, and prayers for blessing.
  • Passing of Karen’s mom just 3 days later. Hard to say goodbye, yet thankful that the discomfort mom endured for nearly 2 years is now over. There were tears, but they didn’t dampen our celebration of the gift mom was to us and so many others.
  • Sending our passports off to the PNG embassy, hoping they’d arrive safely, and that visas would be stamped and passports returned in time for our scheduled date of departure.

The Lord calls us all to continually release to him all that is precious – family, friends, the familiar, our future plans. We do this so we can more fully embrace the call of his Kingdom, and, in so doing, receive back all we’ve let go of and far more besides. Jesus said, “Whoever holds on to earthly life ends up losing it, but whoever lets go of life for my sake and the sake of the Good News will discover what it means to really live” (Mark 8:35).

Thank you, all, for the various ways you are supporting us in ministry. In this, you too are letting go, giving of yourselves – your time, your resources, your prayers – for the sake of advancing God’s Kingdom throughout the world.

By the Numbers

This year, some startling numbers helped confirm for us God’s leading to step out into new ministry with Taking Care Beyond, using gifts and experience the Lord has given us to provide pastoral care for mission communities around the world:

  • 480,000 – Number of pastors in the US
  • 320,000 – Churches in the US where those pastors work or want to find a job
  • 1,200 – Applicants for a missions pastor job at a multi-campus church in NC
  • 110 – Applicants for a job at a medium-sized Ohio church
  • 1 – Number of couples that applied, were accepted, and began preparing to go provide pastoral care for Wycliffe mission communities this coming year … no guaranteed pay, of course.

A few other numbers were equally stirring:

  • 500,000,000 – Adherents of one major religion in SE Asia, of whom 86% have yet to speak with a follower of Jesus.
  • 1,600 – People groups without access to the Scriptures in a language that speaks to their hearts.
  • 88 – Number of countries where Wycliffe missionaries are working.

Missionaries serve on the front lines of Kingdom ministry in almost every nation on earth. Their aim in mission is reaching all people groups on earth with the Good News of Jesus. They work tirelessly with little recognition. They continually give so that others can receive and be blessed.

They give much for others, but who gives spiritually to them?

Missionaries have the same need for pastoral care we all do. They can struggle in their marriages, parenting, and finances. They need wisdom in making decisions, dealing with a difficult boss, caring for one another in community. They need spiritual replenishing when the well of ministry runs dry.

The need is great, but the workers are few. Of course, not all can go serve mission communities around the world, but the Lord has made a way for us to do so. We can’t do this alone, though. We need a team of people like you who support us in giving and prayer. Thank you so much for being an integral part of Taking Care Beyond

More than Words

In Winnie-the-Pooh, “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold rather a large amount of Gratitude” (A. A. Milne).

What’s true of Piglet is true of you and me. God has given us hearts that have a large capacity for gratitude. Do we, then, occasionally toss a few thank-yous in his direction, or do we have a truly grateful heart?

tks

Words are pretty important in every area of life, but success, especially as God counts it, is far more than words. And this applies to more than being thankful.

Think about it. What’s more significant, the wedding vows or the way a couple lives together in love many years later?

A dad telling his kids to control their anger, or the way he fails to model self-control for them? “Don’t you dare raise your voice with me!” (Shouted.) “Don’t you ever talk that way to your mom!” (Daily disrespects her himself.)

Last week I had the pleasure of watching a MUTED video clip of my 1-year old twin grandsons at play. Not sure why I chose to watch silently, but I did.

One of the boys explores his brother’s face. Eventually his finger finds a mouth and, intrigued with the joyful novelty of wetness and slobber there, he lets it linger.

You know what’s coming!

His brother, equally intrigued with the novelty of a soft finger in his mouth, decides after a few seconds to chomp down with his incisors. One little boy’s delight turns to tears!

The entire mini-drama was understood without hearing a word. The little boy learned a lesson without mom speaking a word. Words are important, but much spiritual growth and fruitfulness, and many of the lessons God wants us to learn in life, depend on far more than words.

“For we know, ones dearly loved by God, that he chose you, for our gospel came to you not simply with words, but with the Holy Spirit’s power and deep conviction” (1 Thess. 1:4-5).

In Trouble

Pulitzer Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote, “Whenever I’m in trouble, I pray.  Since I’m always in trouble, I pray a lot.”

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, twilight, outdoor and nature

Jesus in his humanity, like us, experienced every conceivable struggle with suffering and sin. Unlike us, in each struggle he was victorious. Heb. 2:16 says this is why he compassionately and capably HELPS us in our need today.

“Helps” is a small, seemingly cliché word in English. But it translates a 6-syllable compound word in Greek – “eπi-lambanηtai,” more fully meaning “from a superior vantage reaching down, grabbing hold, not letting go.”

This kind of help is more than getting a divine nod of approval to our own plans in life. It is more than a spiritual boost to our own goodness or determination to do what’s right.

The image is of a little girl about to run into traffic picked up by her dad and protected in his arms. Or of a toddler struggling to behave, whose mom picks him up and settles him for a while on her lap – “I love you. You can get down once you’ve decided to share.”

Who are those who receive this kind of help? All those who by grace through faith continue to look to Jesus whenever they’re in trouble. And as Bashevis Singer noted, if we’re honest, that pretty much means all of the time.