Shacking Up…With Papa

Ever noticed how God seems to weave our lives in a complex tapestry? Something happens that dovetails with another event that finally makes the penny drop with something else that happened a month ago, etc., etc… Makes me want to fly way up high and see how the tapestry’s coming along! 😉

A particularly bright thread in the last two weeks has been reading The Shack. Just to get it out of the way as to where I stand on this book (unfortunately, anything that is wildly popular/successful in the Christian world brings out the heresy hunters en masse), go read this book! (After you read the book, take a look at the author’s personal profile here.)

Ok, there, I said it.

If you’ve not heard of the book, it’s a wonderfully written and engrossing novel that reveals, in fresh and incredibly creative ways, who God is, the relationship of the Trinity and His love for us and His Creation.

All I can say to those who don’t like the theology, I wish you the best and deepest relationship you can have with your Heavenly Papa.

What, for me, is so wonderful, is not the book by itself but how the Lord has weaved it into what He’s already been saying to me the last 3 months and how He prepared my heart before I read it.

The book actually was lent to us from a South African friend of ours (it’s huge in South Africa apparently…can’t wait for the French translation!) and Angela read it a while back. The premise of the story scared me away at first simply because, as a parent, I thought it would be too hard to read. It will open up your heart with difficult situations, but it’s not brutal. It’s hard at times to read (many tears possible…be warned), but in my opinion, it’s safe. No nightmares.

Anyway, in the mean time, God was working on my heart:

  • This summer, as you can read here, I went on a 1-week personal retreat to break through my fatigue and re-center my heart.
  • Then at the beginning of the school year, I purposed to change my weekly schedule to make the use of my time more effective, to carve out more time with the Lord most every day, and to work at keeping a real weekly sabbath (no, Sunday doesn’t work for me…too much work to be done then!).
  • Then I heard an aside in an audio teaching by NT Wright that plunged me back into one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Romans 8. As I dug in there, I began to have some gradual revelation about the Spirit of Adoption (Romans 8:15), among other things.
  • Finally, I went with a few others from our church to a conference in Germany recently where the Lord broke through to me about my real freedom in Him via a time of meditation on Romans 8:2 and some of the teaching in the conference.

This is the context in which I finally picked up The Shack. My heart was already prepared and actively enjoying my “sonship” with my Abba Father. This makes for very fertile “heart ground” into which God can plant all sorts of wonderful seeds!

So, while I do recommend this book, I realize that a prepared heart will go a long way to making this book a real window into the heart of God and not simply an occasion to painfully sprain your theology…I’d tell you more, but I don’t want to ruin the story!

The meaning in the angel’s message…

It’s been a while since my last entry (typical amateur blogging ‘blah blah’). I’m blessed that in this entry I don’t have to do the work, because it would be still even longer between entries if I didn’t have this great fodder for reflection! I’m still busy!

At any rate…

I participate in a weekly “watch” of prayer an intercession whereby the participants, using a guided set of notes sent out each week by email, spend an hour of prayer a week sometime between 9pm and 6am. It’s called the Nightwatch. If you want more information, you can find it here. The notes are prepared by a team in the UK led by Roger Mitchell.

For the Christmas week, the Nightwatch contained a meditation by Roger and his wife Sue about the advent of Jesus that I found to resonate deeply. Because of that I asked their permission to share it more widely. Obviously it’s a bit late (early?) for Christmas but I believe that the depth of Jesus’ Advent, as also the depth of His Cross or Resurrection, has no limits…other than what we put on it. I’m leaving it in its “prayer-guideline” format and encourage you to perhaps read it/meditate on it using those guidelines. Enjoy…;c)

WELCOME TO THIS CHRISTMAS NIGHT WATCH FOR EUROPE

Last week Sue and I had the opportunity to speak at a Christmas event on the shepherds encounter with the angel.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.'” (Luke 2:10-12)

We were hugely impacted by the last sentence and the nature of the sign. This week we will reflect and pray over the angels words and the implications of the sign the shepherds were given.

1. TAKE 15 MINUTES TO DECLARE AND PRAY OVER THE ANGEL’S FIRST WORDS TO THE SHEPHERDS

Declare these words over your family, street, workplace, town, city, region, nation and expression of church you are part of:

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people”

Notice that the first words of the angel to the shepherds were ‘do not be afraid’. Repent of and repudiate any fear or anxiety that is disturbing you at this time. Note too that the good news is of great joy for all people. Take time to thank God that the good news really is for all, without exception. Specifically thank God that it is for the ethnic minorities, immigrant groups and social, religious or political opponents of our Christian viewpoint being careful to bless each group by name before the Lord and his holy angels. Finally declare the angel’s words over your neighbouring nations as well as Romania and Bulgaria that will be joining the EU in the New Year.

2. TAKE 15 MINUTES TO DECLARE AND PRAY OVER THE SECOND PART OF THE ANGEL’S WORD TO THE SHEPHERDS

Declare these words over your family, street, workplace, town, city, region, nation and expression of church you are part of:

“For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

Think about the significance of ‘the city of David.’ Some people think immediately of Jerusalem as the city of David: the centre of political power, religious worship and promised blessing. But the Lord was not born there, but instead in the place where David had himself encountered God on the margins as a shepherd boy, forgotten by his father. Reflect and pray over the implications of this for the neglected, the marginalised, and the youth today. Consider the implications that although Bethlehem was their home town, there was not even room in the inn for them, let alone with relatives. Pray for the poor, the rejected and the forgotten this Christmas time. Finally reflect over the situation in Bethlehem today, with divisions there between Jews and Palestinians. Pray about this in the light of these words of the angel to the shepherds, setting aside all bigotry and preconceived ideas about the situation.

3. TAKE 10 MINUTES TO DECLARE AND PRAY OVER THE FIRST STATEMENT OF THE SIGN THE ANGEL GAVE

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby…”

I can think of three particular things about babies. They are very human, very vulnerable and very new. All true of this baby, but he was also God. Reflect and pray over what this sign means for humanity. There is humanity in God right now in heaven for ever! Don’t ever regard lightly your humanity or anyone else’s – it is glorious to be human! Reflect and pray over what this sign means about the importance of being vulnerable, subject to risk, to pain to dirt, to rejection and about our attitude to all those things in ourselves and others. Finally consider the implications that even God became new, had to do things he’d never done before. Pray for the body of Christ in Europe to be ready for this new day for the kingdom of God.

4. TAKE 10 MINUTES TO DECLARE AND PRAY OVER THE SECOND STATEMENT OF THE SIGN THE ANGEL GAVE

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths…”

Reflect and pray over the awesome reality that God was bound, wrapped up tightly, powerless in our hands. Remember that this was true again at the cross and in the grave. Now that he is alive and the Lord of all, consider the way that his power is still the opposite of human power, that he does not force himself on us, that he is still a gift, even in his resurrection glory with his grave cloths discarded, still wrapped and in our hands for us to unwrap for our world. How did Mary, the Shepherds, the wise men do that? How did Mary and the apostles do it after the resurrection?

5. TAKE 10 MINUTES TO DECLARE AND PRAY OVER THE THIRD STATEMENT OF THE SIGN THE ANGEL GAVE

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

What does the sign of the manger mean to you? It’s an animal feeding trough. Consider the way it speaks of the creation, the environment, the workplace, the lowest place. Reflect and pray over the significance of this being the context for the revelation of God, the kingdom of God, the appropriate location of the church and whatever more the Lord shows you. Finally ask the Lord that the fullness of this sign be expressed by the body of Christ in Europe in the coming year. Try and put this into words that describe the church being the steward of the kingdom of God in practical terms. ‘This will a sign for you: you will find the body of Christ…’

HAVE A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS!

ROGER AND TEAM

Zaccheus was a wee little man…

Chances are, if English is your “mother tongue” and your mother was a Christian, you learned a fun little “action song” as a toddler about the Biblical character of Zaccheus. You know the guy. He was a short, rich tax collector. He wanted to see Jesus but couldn’t because of the crowd…and the fact that he was vertically-challenged. So he climbs a tree; Jesus notices him; Jesus tells him to come down and invites Himself over for lunch. Kinda forward on Jesus’ part…but hey…what are you gonna’ do. You’re the Son of God after all! (If you need a refresher on the story, you can read it quickly in Luke 19:1-10 at BibleGateway.com).

The kid’s song was a fun song and the adults enjoyed singing it with the kids almost as much as the kids did…especially when you came to the “…You come down!” phrase in the song. It was great to see the kids wag their fingers with authority and basically mock all the adults around.

What’s also true is that this little song has probably inoculated you to any deeper meaning in this passage. ;c)

I was reading this passage the other day and something jumped out at me for the first time…or rather I should say, something penetrated the fog of this children’s song to speak to my adult heart.

Before I say what it was, I should tell you that I have an unfair advantage. I’m an American living in France and my French still needs a lot of work. So, when I read my Bible, I read it in French 1st (and then in German 2nd because I’m trying, slowly, to resuscitate my academic German at the same time!) This reading of familiar passages in an unfamiliar language has a unique effect. It strips the veneer of familiarity off of a passage you’ve read “too many” times. This removes one of the “intellectual barriers” to having a piece of God’s Word actually reach your heart. So, if you’re learning another language, for whatever reason, I encourage you to get a Bible in that language and read it alongside the Bible of your mother tongue. It will be difficult many times, but there will be some gems that you’ll see as well.

Anyway, back to to our “wee little man”…

In the passage we tend to look at Zaccheus’ physical stature since it’s mentioned in the passage. That’s what makes the song so fun for little kids. So, we put on “man’s glasses” and read the passage and miss some key elements. At least I do. Of course God once told Samuel (who was looking for a king for Israel at the time…to replace a tall king, we might add!) that making judgments and drawing conclusions based on someone’s outward appearance was probably not a great idea. (I Samuel 16:7) So, we have this principle from the Lord of judging someone’s heart instead of their appearance or actions. Therefore, when we do see actions in Scripture, it’s important to put on the “heart glasses”…both for our heart and to see what God is saying in a passage about the motivation of the heart.

What I saw initially was in the French translation, which translates literally into “…he wanted to see who Jesus was…”. Other translations put the emphasis more on his physical inability to see because of his stature, but the fact remains that he was drawn to discover more about Jesus. He had a motivation and a desire to better understand this One who was causing such a stir. I don’t think he was focused on what kind of clothes He wore or the color of His hair, etc. This guy had a serious curiosity! Here was a grown man climbing trees in public to see better! He was acting just like a kid. He was guided by his heart and his “passion” and not by his head or a sense of decorum.

What’s interesting is that this got him his heart’s desire. Jesus recognized him up there and recognized his heart and responded to it. I think that Jesus was probably as relieved to see Zaccheus as Zaccheus was to see Jesus. Here was someone who took pains to come to Jesus and wanted to really know Jesus…not just “get something”. Jesus obviously wanted to hang with this dude! Jesus always rewarded those who went out of their way to find Jesus on His way. It says that Zaccheus knew that Jesus had to be coming by that route. When we know where Jesus is, do we take pains to come to His route and to really look for Him?

Zaccheus received Jesus’ “self-invite” with joy and the time that Jesus spent at Zach’s house…really communing with him…changed his life in very concrete ways. Jesus said that salvation came to Zaccheus’ house that day!

This presents an interesting contrast to another person who came to Jesus in the previous chapter…the “Rich Young Ruler”. This guy was looking for where he could sign up for eternal “fire insurance”. Compare that to Zach, who just wanted Jesus. Jesus said that the Rich Young Ruler (“Rich”), needed to sell everything he had and follow Him to inherit eternal life. Rich asked for rules and he got rules for an answer. Zach asked for Jesus and he got Jesus and salvation at the same time…and Jesus didn’t give him the same rules to follow as Rich.

Rich probably wondered how rich Zach got away with only having to give half his goods to the poor to gain salvation where Jesus had told Rich that he had to give it all! When you live by rules as your guide, you’ll see rules everywhere. When you live with a heart that runs after Jesus, you simply live forever!

Zaccheus may have been a “wee little man”, but he had a whoppin’ big heart and a desperation to see Jesus. God rewarded that and now he can gaze on Him eternally.