Tag Archives: kingdom of God

Biblical Posture in Public Life: Witness & Injustice

Today we’re pleased to share this presentation from Dr. Esau McCaulley, who provides a careful survey of texts from the Old and New Testament as a basis for an approach to public life – in particular, believers’ approach to the practices and systems at work in our world that were shaped in the forge of injustice. As he concludes, he walks listeners through truths in the Beatitudes, locating our mourning and thirst for justice in the persistent hope of the Kingdom of God.

He says, “This intuition that something is not right is justified by close reading of the biblical text. First Timothy 2 and Romans 13 are not the entirety of the Christian political witness. Jesus’ words to Herod, Paul’s testimony, John the revelator’s vision for the future, Jesus own commands in the Beatitudes, call us to witness to a different world. The Christian who hopes and works for a better world finds an ally in the God of Israel.”

Dr. Esau McCaulley is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. He is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America where he serves as a canon theologian in his diocese. He completed his Ph.D. in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews, where he studied under the direction of N.T. Wright. He is a sought-after speak and author whose works have appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and Christianity Today among others. Read more from Dr. McCaulley by clicking here.

Further excerpts from his presentation:

On Grieving

To mourn involves being saddened by the state of the world. We can be so bombarded by pain that the natural instinct is to say, “I’ve done enough.” But mourning calls on all of us to recognize our own complicity in the suffering of others. Mourning is the intuition that things are not right, that more is possible. I think the Christian lives with a certain “joyful sorrow.” But I can always pray.

Hungering and thirsting for justice is nothing less than the continued longing for God to come and set things right. The resurrection has to inform our plausibility structure. We tend to think – white nationalism is a big problem. So is being dead. And God called a dead thing back to life.

On Peacemaking

Peacemaking cannot be separated from truth-telling. The church’s witness does not involve simply denouncing the excesses of both sides and making moral equivalencies. It involves calling injustice by its name. If the church is going to be on the side of peace in America, there has to be an honest account of what has happened to black and brown people in this country. This peacemaking must be corporate and it must be personal. When it is corporate, we’re testifying to the universal reign of Jesus. When it is interpersonal, we’re being witnesses to the work God has done in our heart.

“Have I now become your enemy from telling you the truth?” – Galatians 4:16

Peacemaking bears witness to the King and his Kingdom. The outcome of peacemaking is to introduce people to the kingdom of God. Therefore, the work of justice when understood as a direct testimony to God’s kingdom is evangelistic in its ultimate aims. It is part, not the whole of, God’s work in reconciling all things to himself.

Featured photo by Benjamin Thomas for Unsplash.

Edgar Bazan ~ Blessed in Any Season: God’s Sustaining Word

Life can be a battle, can’t it? No one is exempt from seasons of battle. No matter how much or little faith you have, everyone faces disappointments and challenges. These can cause you to wonder if this is what it looks like to be blessed. We may have disarray in our families or be treated unfairly in our jobs. You may be misjudged by others or let down by the people you trusted most. In all of this, one thing I believe we all can agree on is that we live in a very unstable world.

Is there a place to turn for stability, where you can look toward your future with hope? Perhaps you are asking this question, looking to be comforted in your battles and unstable times. Perhaps you see the fragility of your situation and the world around you, and you are looking for a place of refuge in which to find hope, peace, and happiness.

I am certain that you will find such hope, peace, and happiness – if you look for them in God. And not just that, I also believe that God wants to bless and prosper you.

Are you looking for stability? For blessings and prosperity? If so, this message is for you this morning. I know it is for me.

The Scripture for today is Psalms 1:1-3:

Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the [Word] of the Lord, and on his Word they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

Every time I read Psalm 1, I am reminded that it is possible to live a blessed and happy life in spite of the troubles I face in this life.

The image used in this text to speak about this blessedness is: “they are like a tree planted by a stream of water, which yield their fruit in season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”

This is the kind of life that I want for me and my children: fruitful and prosperous.

Now, it is important to know that this sort of blessedness or happiness is not contingent upon our circumstances. It can’t be manufactured or purchased, and it does not happen overnight. Instead, the Scripture states simply and clearly, “blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, they meditate day and night.”

According to this text, to be blessed is not about getting everything we want but to be rightly related to God so that our lives are fulfilled, and we experience deep personal satisfaction.

Interestingly, this blessedness begins with the negative, not the positive.

Blessedness, the Psalmist says, results from not following the advice of the wicked, from not taking the path that sinners take, and from not sitting in the seat of scoffers. By all measures, these are those who afflict the vulnerable, accuse the innocent, undermine the trust of the faithful, don’t listen for God, and threaten the good of the community. In other words, as there are ways of living, attitudes, and behaviors that tend towards wellness, kindness, compassion, and righteousness, there are also others that tend toward oppression, injustice, abuse, and wickedness. The latter are the ones we are being warned against.

What this means is that blessings come not only from what we do but also from what we don’t do. Blessed people avoid certain behaviors, situations, and unhealthy relationships. To be blessed is not only about having more of the “good” but also having less of the “bad” or “unhealthy” in our lives.

When we pray for blessings, it ought to sound something like this: “God, remove anything that stands between you and me, and then do as you please with my life. Give me the wisdom to do what is right, and wisdom to stop doing what is wrong.”

As we can see, blessings come to us as a side benefit of the choices we make as we follow the counsel of God. Thus, it says, “delight in the word of God,” which implies that we know the word and do the word, and “you will be prospered.” This promise of blessedness comes from building our lives on the Word of God, from delighting in its teachings and wisdom.

This is an interesting word – “delight.” What does it mean to “delight” in the Word of God? Think about it this way: to delight is to be so excited about something that you just can’t wait for it.

For example, watch a young couple in love and you will know what “delight” means. Or take a young man who has fallen in love for the first time. Ask his friends, and they’ll say, “he is not the same guy he used to be.” They mean he has radically changed. He doesn’t want to hang around with them anymore. All he does is talk about “that girl.” “Just look at him. He’s got this goofy grin on his face.” He’s in love.

Now, apply that same principle to the Word of God. We are to delight in God’s Word as a lover delights in a letter from his or her beloved. We are to delight with such a passion and expectation in God’s Word that every decision we make is faithful to our relationship with God, meaning that we don’t cheat God in the way we live. This is how God’s blessings come our way.

The last point I want to make is in relation to the image of, “trees planted by streams of waters which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.”

The Psalmist says that a person who builds his or her life on the Word of God is like a tree planted by streams of water, which basically means that their lives are deeply rooted and healthy. Their lives are nourished, marked by lasting stability and fruitfulness.

This is an amazing statement. It basically says that when we live our lives faithfully committed to God, we will never lack vitality and fruit.

Furthermore, look at the image of a tree that never withers. It means that even in the toughest seasons (the winters in life), even when there seems to be no evidence of fruit, the tree is fully alive and growing. The roots are so strong and well-fed, that, at the right time, it will produce the fruit of the season.

Here is the key: for a tree to produce fruit, it requires time and processes. So it is in our lives too. It takes time for us to learn, experience, reflect, and even believe everything that God wants to give us and do in us and for us. Even in the toughest times, we are not withered; we are regenerating, growing, renewing, and getting ready for the next fruit-producing season.

For us, this means that with every season that comes and goes, if we are rooted in the Word of God, we will grow, mature, and be blessed. If we need love, from the Word of God will come the strength to produce the fruit of love. If we need a forgiving spirit, from the Word of God will come the strength to forgive. If we need courage, we will produce the fruit of courage. If we need patience and perseverance, the Word of God will produce it in us.

This is the kind of prosperity Psalms 1 refers to when the Psalmist says, “In all that they do, they prosper.”

They prosper in the sense that no matter what season they may find themselves in, as long as their roots keep feeding on the source of life (the Word of God), they will have strength for the day. They will have hope in the midst of the hardest seasons and difficulties—even in the most unstable and shaking times.

This thought is similar to what Paul explains in Romans 8:37-39 when he says,

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In this world, we may face sorrow, abandonment, failure, disappointment, sickness, rejection, and discouragement.

Even then, we are not defeated.

But we will be prospered because we have kept the Word in our hearts. And when the time comes, we will flourish and overcome, and our fruit will burst out, for it has been said that, “the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:20)

The happiest, the blessed people in the world are those whose lives are built on the Word of God.

What are you living for? Who are you living for? Where are you planted?

Michelle Bauer ~ Healed with Compassion

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. There in front of him was a man suffering from abnormal swelling of his body. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they remained silent. So taking hold of the man, he healed him and sent him on his way.

Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” And they had nothing to say.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:1-14

Jesus celebrated the Sabbath by accepting a dinner invitation. How will you observe the Sabbath – a day of rest – this week? Do you rest on Sundays? What is your plan for finding time to rest this week?

In this account, Jesus wasn’t approached by someone asking to be healed. He noticed someone with an obvious medical condition and healed him on the spot. Take a moment to imagine the scene. How do you feel about Jesus as he steps outside of himself and the drama that seemed to follow him and focuses his attention on this ill person? If Jesus ignored a group and focused on you, what would you hope that Jesus would see about your vulnerabilities?

In what ways were the Pharisees failing at feeling and showing compassion? What distracted the Pharisees from the suffering of others? Who is it easy for you to show compassion to? Who do you find it difficult to have compassion for?

To be humble is to have a right view of self. What makes humility difficult? What are you learning about humility from this passage? How do you see humility in Jesus? How are humility and compassion linked together?

What do you do for others that you expect to be repaid for? Think about a time when you served someone who was incapable of repaying you. What was that experience like? What did you learn from that experience?

What aspects of interacting with broke people or ill people do you find challenging? Jesus invites us to love the person in front of us. If you are ready, ask God to help you notice someone in your life who needs your compassion.  

Think about a time when you needed compassion. Who did you receive it from? What did they do or say that expressed their compassion?

In what ways do you need compassion today? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a sense of God’s compassionate heart.

James Petticrew ~ Sanctifying Ambition: Leadership and the Pitfalls of Platform

Being a “fifty-something” (54-year-old, to be accurate) pastor means that I am at an unsettling place in my ministry. I am at that stage where the end is in sight; I probably have just over a decade of good ministry time ahead of me. I have discovered that knowing most of my ministry time is behind me makes me think of my legacy. In fact, it makes me wonder if I will leave any legacy at all. I speculate about when I retire: will anyone notice I am gone, or even care? Will my years in ministry have any lasting impact?

If I am open and honest, I have to admit that this way of thinking has led me to other ways of thinking that frankly I am embarrassed to admit to. I found myself wondering recently “how to raise my profile.” I have spent idle moments wondering what I could do to get more people to notice me, to appreciate what I do. I think marketers call it “building your platform.” I have daydreamed of being invited to speak at conferences that would lead to invitations to speak at more significant events. (I did warn you these admissions were embarrassing!) I have been seduced into thinking that the bigger the events I speak at, the more people who know who I am, the more effective I will be as a pastor and the greater legacy I will leave behind.

I don’t think I am the only church leader who has these thoughts. Both culture and our Christian subculture tempt us and cajole us along this way of thinking as church leaders. We subconsciously or sometimes very consciously compare those following us on social media with the followings that other church leaders have gathered. We find ourselves wondering, “how many times has my sermon quote been retweeted and by whom?” We check our blog stats to see if our latest post has attained the holy grail of social media and gone “viral.” Probably like every pastor, I think somewhere inside of me is a book, but I have been told that the first thing any prospective publisher will look at is not whether or not the content I could provide is good, but rather how big a platform I have. They would be interested in how many people are in my congregation, how many Twitter followers I have, how many hits my blog gets per month. Publishers want potential authors to have made a “name for themselves” before they take a risk on them.

All of that weighed on my mind recently when I read these two verses which are physically very close in the pages of Genesis yet are spiritually worlds apart in the attitudes they represent.

“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.'” – Genesis 11:4 (NIV)

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great,  and you will be a blessing.” – Genesis 12:2 (NIV)

More than just building a tower, the people of Babel wanted to build a reputation for themselves. They wanted others to recognize their intelligence and skill and to admire them. They wanted to create their own identity as the premier architects and builders of the Ancient Near East. They wanted to be the first people that the organizers of a “Purpose Driven Tower Builders” conference would think of when they wanted keynote speakers. You know how the story ends: in their pursuit of making a name for themselves they became a lesson in arrogance and failure. They certainly did make a name for themselves, but not the one they intended. I saw a reflection of myself in their desire to build a reputation for themselves. What about you?

Abraham, on the other hand, didn’t seem that interested in making a name for himself. He was happy to follow God, to obey God’s calling (with a few hiccups) and to entrust his reputation to God. God took care of Abraham’s reputation and made his name “great.” Abraham was happy to move from one of the “happening places” of the Ancient Near East to the relative obscurity of life in the backwater of Canaan. An unsettling thought crossed my mind: most of us pastors want to move in the opposite direction, from obscurity to a more important place, the church in the bigger town, the move to the congregation with the higher profile in our denomination.

In my more honest and introspective moments I have been contemplating why, when it comes to my reputation as a church leader, I have been more Genesis 11 than 12, more a humanistic Babel Builder than a God-trusting Abrahamic Sojourner.

I think I may have found the answer in some words from Lance Witt: “I’m not sure when, but somewhere along the way, the measuring stick for what it means to be an effective pastor got switched. My concern is that the measuring stick of size alone can fuel a kind of ambition that is destructive.”

Witt issued a warning for all of us who serve the church: “When you’ve been in ministry leadership awhile, you learn how to cloak ambition in kingdom language. You can wrap ambition in God talk and sanctify it.” We so easily fool even ourselves that what we are doing is to glorify God’s name, when in reality the goal is to get our name noticed.

That switch took place in my head and that ambition took root in my heart. I started to measure success primarily by size, the size of my social media following, the size of the congregation I preach to, the size of the events to which I am invited to be a speaker. I was a fully-fledged Babel Builder, and my goal was to make a name for myself. I allowed myself to believe that effectiveness, true greatness in ministry, was given through the approval of people rather than through the grace and approval of God. I subtly and then overtly came to value people’s approval of my ministry more than God’s approval of me as a disciple. I wanted to have a name that people recognized rather than to entrust my reputation to God.

I have this quote on ministry, though I don’t know who said it: “We should take care of the depth, God will take care of the breadth.”  Whoever said it, I am determined to try to live it out consistently. I am going to focus my energy and ambition in following Abraham’s example rather than building a following. I want to make journeying with my God in faith and obedience my priority and leave my reputation in his hands, not mine. Jesus once said, “I am not seeking glory for myself.” (John 8:50) I am now trying to filter everything I do in ministry through those words to honestly analyze my motivation.

So, how about you? Where are you when it comes to reputation, Genesis 11 or Genesis 12? Who are you trying to build a name with? Who do you really trust with your reputation? What’s your priority right now in your ministry, the depth of your relationship with God or the breadth of your influence with people? For me it’s been an awkward journey, but I have come to the place where I am content with obscurity if my name is great in God’s eyes because of my walk with him.

Michelle Bauer ~ An Invitation to Joy: Serving Well

We’re looking at the book of Philippians through the lens of joy. Joy does not come easily, and I need to be reminded of the choices and attitudes that lead to joy.  Too many times I settle for happy – which is a cheap substitute for joy. The road to joy is hard. If we are going to walk it, it will require ongoing transformation into God’s likeness. Think about over themes in Philippians – humility, unity over preference, a servant attitude.  This is very different from what culture says leads to joy – vacations, holidays, or career success.  

And so we have a decision to make – are we going to believe Paul?  Today we encounter two men, Timothy and Epaphroditus, who have chosen to believe what Paul has taught them about joy.  They don’t just believe it, they are putting into action the things they’ve learned. Their stories serve as perfect examples of how serving well leads to joy

My husband Chris and I had a funny experience with this a few years ago when we made a trip into Atlanta to see a performance of Cirque de Soleil.  We left our three boys with their grandparents and we traveled into the big city to eat a great meal and see the show. Cirque de Soleil is amazing! It’s not just a circus. It’s a fancy French circus – acrobatics, balancing, launching people on teeter totters, all set to music.  It is totally captivating. At one point in the show, I leaned over to my husband and whispered, “We have to bring the boys next year. They will love it!”  But we both at the same time quickly said, “Oh no, that’s a bad idea.”  Chris and I sat through that whole show and never once thought “I bet I can do that…”  My boys, however, would have sat through Cirque de Soleil as if it had been a training seminar. And we would have spent the next year in the Emergency Room.

While setting examples might be dangerous at the circus, it is exactly what we should do when it comes to the Bible. We should be reading and thinking, “I can do that! I’m going to try it!” Instead, I often read and think, “How interesting! Isn’t Paul amazing?” while instead I should be thinking, “I’m going to try that.” James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” We are called to listen to the word and to do what it says.

We are supposed to read and think, “I want to learn how to do that.” In this case, Timothy and Epaphroditus show us what it looks like to adopt these attitudes that Paul is writing about to the Philippians. In the last part of Philippians 2:19-30, Paul shows us that real, live people can do what he is talking about:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.  But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father, he has served with me in the work of the gospel.I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.

But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.

Let’s start by looking at Timothy.

Paul is writing this letter from prison while he is awaiting his trial. He will soon find out if he will be released or executed. While he is in prison, Timothy has been partnering with Paul so that the work of church planting and church supporting can continue.  Paul now plans to send Timothy to Philippi so that he can be helpful to them and give Paul a full report of how they are doing.

Paul in describing Timothy says, “I have no one else like him.” That’s quite a compliment. Paul then goes on to describe what is so outstanding about Timothy. The first thing he mentions in verse 20 is that Timothy has taken a “genuine interest in their welfare.” Timothy genuinely cares how the church at Philippi is doing.  Timothy isn’t pretending or posing as someone who cares. He really cares. The word genuine can also be translated as “natural” or a trait that comes through “birthright.” The things about us that we just can’t help – our eye color, our hair texture. We can’t change those things. They are an expression of our DNA. Those things are our natural state. Timothy cares about this church because his Father God cares about them.  It is being expressed through his spiritual DNA – from the inside out. He can’t help it.

God is forming Timothy into someone who can’t help but care for others. That is the work of God in his life. This is what God does when we let him: God changes us from the inside out. So we don’t have to pretend to be holy. We can be holy – because it is in our DNA.

Does your service, like Timothy’s, come from a genuine interest in others? If we are going to put into action what the letter to the Philippians describes, we need to start asking ourselves some questions. How are we doing in this area? Do you have a genuine interest in others?

Genuinely caring about others is hard. It means we will have to feel things. We will have to experience disappointment when people we care about make bad choices. It means we will have to hurt with people and to wait with people and to get frustrated by people.

I know this is happening throughout the church. Many people are genuinely touched by the needs of those you serve – their physical needs, their emotional well-being, the spiritual roadblocks they are experiencing.  Be encouraged. If it hurts sometimes, you are doing it right. If you get so frustrated you want to quit sometimes, you are doing it right. If sin and brokenness breaks your heart and makes you want to hit something, you are serving well.  And if you’ve found yourself at a point where you are numb or having a hard time letting those you serve get close to your heart, spend some time talking with God about that.  Paul is showing us through Timothy’s example that showing genuine interest in others is the path that leads to joy

The next thing Paul tells us about Timothy is that he works like a son, not an employee. We read in verse 22, “Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” I have never worked for a business my family-owned, but I’m guessing it’s different than just showing up for a job. When you are the son or daughter going to work you know that what you do affects not just your income but your inheritance.

A few weeks ago we ended up in a different town at lunch time and stopped at a pizza place called Michelle’s.  After our waiter took our order, I asked him who Michelle was. He said, “oh, she’s the owner’s daughter, over there.” And he pointed to one of the waitresses. As we waited for our food, I watched her work.  She waited tables – like she owned the place. She was engaged with the customers, she knew the menu, she obviously cared about each person’s experience.  She was working like a daughter and not just an employee.

Timothy considered God’s Kingdom his family business and he worked in it like a son. I’m not saying that he overworked; the sense I get is that he fully invested himself in kingdom work. He didn’t hold back.

Do you approach kingdom work as a son or daughter or like an employee? Do you approach your work in the kingdom like you are working in your family’s business? I’m talking about how we approach kingdom work in all areas of our lives: the way we interact at work and school and in our community. Do we have areas of our lives that we engage as children of the kingdom and others where we forget who we are?

There is a cost to working like a son or daughter. We let God’s way invade every aspect of our lives – we care not just about doing our assigned tasks but about the long-term vision of God’s work in the world. Again, I’m not talking about overwork or saying “yes” anytime someone asks you to serve. Rather, I’m talking about seeing yourself as a co-owner in God’s work. What that looks like will be different for everyone. Paul is showing us through Timothy’s example that working like a son or daughter is a joyful way to serve. It brings a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose that lasts.

Now we get to Epaphroditus (E-paf-roe-DIE-tus).  If anyone ever needed a nickname, it’s him!

Epaphroditus was a member of the church at Philippi who was selected by the group to hand deliver a gift to Paul. We don’t know the details but it seems like they collected items that he needed while in prison – clothing, food, medicines, supplies, probably money. 

At that time UPS didn’t deliver between Philippi and Rome, so someone needed to make the trip and deliver it in person. Epaphroditus was chosen for the mission and it proved to be dangerous; he literally risked his life. We read in verse 30, “he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.” The trip was long. I “Google mapped” the route. To walk from Philippi to Rome would take about 219 hours. If he walked eight hours a day it would have taken 27 days one-way. There also would’ve been a boat ride across the Adriatic sea. Then once Epaphroditus arrived in Rome he got to hang out in a prison. And Rome wasn’t safe for Christians. Neither was associating with someone already in trouble for spreading the gospel.  Somewhere along the way, Epaphroditus got very sick with a serious illness. Paul says he almost died and that only God’s intervention saved Epaphroditus’ life. What else might it have cost Epaphroditus to make this trip – time away from his family and community, his own career and work, whatever his own personal ambitions and priorities were?   

What are we risking?  Not many of us will be called to risk our physical lives. But we may be called to risk the life we thought we would have. We may be asked to risk our priorities and plans. We may be asked to risk our comfort and safety. But when it starts to pinch and pull at “our best life” we start to get nervous. When the Spirit begins to tug at our safety nets and the things we cling to for security, when God exposes the things we do to avoid pain. It defies all logic: but risking everything is where we can find joy.

Paul’s hope is that we will discover the path to joy that he knows. And he knows that we cannot have joy when we aren’t willing to genuinely care for others, when we treat God’s kingdom like a dead-end job, or when we aren’t willing to risk anything.

This question seems to sum up the path to joyful service in God’s kingdom…are you concerned with the interests of others? Paul repeatedly takes notice not just of what people do but why they are doing it.  We can do good things for the wrong reasons. We can serve at church, build houses for the poor, excel at school all for the wrong reasons. It’s an example of grace, that God uses us even with our mess of motivations to accomplish Kingdom work.  But if we want to serve in a way that leads to joy we need to let the Spirit work at a deeper level – at the level of our motivations.

Here are a couple of ways we can invite the Holy Spirit to begin working on our motivations:

 1. Ask God to make you more self-aware.

Ask God to show you what your true motivations really are. The human heart is complex and multi-layered. In spiritual direction, we dive into these layers with why questions.

“I want to serve.”


“Because I want to help others.”


Sometimes the why is to glorify God. Other times the why beneath that why is because we want to feel good about ourselves, soothe our guilt, or boost our reputation.

In Psalm 139, David asks God to “search him and know him.” Picture God walking through your heart with a flashlight, pointing in the dark corners and lovingly pointing out the truth of what’s there. God knows all there is to know about our motives. God can see into the deep places of our hearts that we don’t even know are there.  Ask him to show you what is there.

2. Give God permission to work.

The second action is to give God permission to work. When God shines a flashlight on something lurking in the basement of your heart, surrender the corner. Writing to the Roman Christians, in 6:13 Paul encouraged them to follow sacrificial living as, he said, we “offer ourselves to God.”  You may think God only wants the good parts. But what if I offer the parts that I need God’s help with? Open the door to that spot in your heart and give God permission to work.

3. Waiton God.

The third step is to wait.  Isaiah describes us as clay in the potter’s hands. We wait while God forms us.  Our instinct is to come out fighting: “oh, I have pride, I will single-handedly eradicate pride from my life.” No, you won’t. And if you could, you’d be prideful about it.  Our work instead is to surrender and wait. But we wait with expectation: “He who began a good work in you will complete it.”

God is calling us not just to do good things, but to do them for the right reasons – with others’ interests at heart. To do them out of love for Christ and his people. To do them because our hearts are touched by the effects of sin and brokenness and poverty and injustice.  Then our service will go from draining to life-giving, from drudgery to joy-producing.  When I am feeling run down it is usually a result of one or two things: I’m not taking enough time in God’s presence, or I’m serving from wrong motives. I’m seeking my own interests over those of others.

What are the signs of this?

– I begin to feel unappreciated.  I begin to think back to the last time I was thanked or complimented.

– I begin to let resentment simmer just under the surface. Everything becomes irritating and frustrating.

– I am tempted to see people as cogs in the wheels of my machine. I begin to fantasize about how great everything would be if people just cooperated with my plans.

– I begin to see everything as unfair. That person isn’t caring enough, or that person isn’t contributing enough.

When I find myself in that place, the choice is mine. And the choice is ours. Will we believe what Paul is telling us about joy? Will we find Timothy and Epaphroditus’ examples merely interesting and admirable, or will we say, “I can do that”? 

Suzanne Nicholson ~ Suffering through Thanksgiving

This is the time of year when advertisements inundate us with images of happy families gloriously celebrating the holidays. Women in velvet dresses clink champagne glasses with men in suits and plaid bowties. Their beautifully decorated homes overflow with relatives who eat turkey and all the fixings from holly-themed china plates. You can almost smell the cinnamon and nutmeg wafting through the air.

Thankfulness comes easily under those circumstances. It is effortless to live in the moment, to seize the day, when all is sparkly and beautiful. But when the current moment is rife with injustice, living in the moment is nothing short of cruel. A loved one murdered, and the killer avoids prison. A child trafficked for sex, with no one to protect her. A pension fund plundered, leaving retirees penniless.

How does one rejoice in the midst of injustice?

Scripture is full of stories of injustice. After Joseph saved Egypt from famine and brought his family under the protection of Pharaoh, time passed. The new pharaoh failed to remember that a Hebrew had saved the land; instead, he suspected the Hebrews of planning sedition (Exod. 1:8-10). The Egyptians enslaved those who had saved them.

Job’s only flaw was being so faithful to God that Satan took notice (Job 1:9-11). In the testing that followed, Job lost his business, his family, and his health. Despite his faithfulness, disaster ensued.

Sometimes even justified suffering seemed to come through unjust means. God punished Israel and Judah for their great sinfulness by means of the exile. But the prophet Habakkuk questioned how God could use the wicked Babylonians to discipline the people of God. He cried out to God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you are unable to look at disaster. Why would you look at the treacherous or keep silent when the wicked swallows one who is more righteous?” (Hab. 1:13).

Habakkuk’s outburst reflects common themes in the lament psalms. Psalm 22, which Jesus began to recite on the cross, starts with “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest” (Ps. 22:1-2).

Even after the resurrection of Jesus, unjust suffering continues. In 2 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul recounts the numerous times he has been flogged, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked, and subjected to other horrors as a result of preaching the Gospel.

These injustices point to the “already/not-yet tension” in the New Testament. Jesus has already inaugurated the Kingdom by dealing with sin and defeating death. The fullness of the Kingdom, however, has not yet been realized. The Holy Spirit is at work in believers, transforming our lives and empowering us to be salt and light in a dark, decaying world. But until Christ returns to complete the process he started, we will continue to experience injustice in this life.

But the truth of Christ’s impending return is what keeps faithful men and women going. When we take a long view of history, our current injustices take on a different meaning. We look back at what Christ accomplished on the cross—a fact of history that can never be changed or reversed—and we understand that sin and death have met their match. We look forward to the fullness of the Kingdom and recognize that greater blessings are yet to come.

This is why Paul can write to the Philippians—while chained to a Roman guard!—that we should rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). Earlier in the letter he told the church that he focuses on what lies ahead, pressing onward to win the goal of the prize for which God has called him (3:13-14). Paul’s reality is centered not on his chains, but on the promise of eternal life with God.

This does not mean that Paul somehow ignores his present pain or pretends it did not happen. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 he tells us that he had a thorn in his flesh that tormented him. Scholars have speculated on what this thorn might have been, based on hints in his letters—an eye problem? Arthritis? Some other physical deformity? Paul prayed three times for this thorn to be removed, and each time he was told no. Paul—who had healed the sick and raised the dead—was not given the power to heal himself. In Paul’s case, he needed to learn that God’s grace was sufficient to carry him through all weakness. His response: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9b-10). Paul defines his present and future by the power of God. In the current moment of pain, Paul takes a long view of history and rejoices in the ultimate victory of the God who overcomes.

This perspective is woven through the biblical narrative. The Hebrews experiencing years of slavery in Egypt cried out to God, who called Moses to deliver them. Job’s health and business were restored, and he was blessed with more sons and daughters. God promised Habakkuk that he would bring justice to the wicked Babylonians. And Psalm 22 reassures us that Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross is not the last word: the lament psalm remembers God’s past faithfulness and proclaims that God will triumph and all nations will praise him.

For those who are suffering injustice, the biblical narrative brings reassurance that God is at work in this world. While restoration may occur here and now, some injustices cannot be adequately addressed in this lifetime. For those who suffer in this way, Scripture proclaims that their story does not end here. Rejoice! The God of justice is coming.

Kelcy Steele ~ Civic Participation and the Kingdom of God: Why Christians Vote

Note from the Editor: Enjoy this biblically informed perspective on Christian participation and civic responsibility from Rev. Kelcy Steele, Senior Pastor of historic Varick Memorial AME Zion church.



Edgar Bazan ~ May All Your Plans Be Successful

There is a prayer that I recently discerned to pray: God, may all your plans for me be successful.

The rationale behind this prayer is that I want to position myself and do everything that is in my power to let God fulfill his plans in my life.

Notice that I did not say “my plans,” but God’s. This is a risky prayer by all standards. Basically, I am putting myself at the mercy of God! And you know what – that is the best place I could ever imagine to be.

However, sometimes I make it really hard for God to do this. Can you relate? We delay God’s success in our life. Don’t we? And because of that, we end up losing opportunities to fulfill God’s plans for us.

This message goes along the lines of what Billy Graham said: “End your journey well. Don’t waste your life, and don’t be satisfied with anything less than God’s plan.”

So it is my hope, whether it is today or in the next few days ahead, you too may find your way back to your life purpose and pray the prayer, “may all your plans be successful in my life, God,” because God indeed has a plan for you.

The question we all have asked in this regard is the key: What’s God’s plan for us?

Let’s look into this.

Our Scripture reading today is Matthew 4:1-17. Here, Matthew narrates the story of how, after he was baptized and recognized by God as his beloved Son, Jesus is taken by the Spirit of God to the desert, to the wilderness to be put to the test. After this time of trial, – 40 days to be precise – he then inaugurated the beginning of his ministry here on earth by proclaiming: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

In this story, Jesus faced three tests or temptations. I believe there is a powerful connection between one of them and the proclamation of repentance and God’s kingdom that speaks to us about this idea of God’s plans for our lives.

Of the temptations, one dealt with hunger, another with trust in God’s provision, and the last, with love or faithfulness to God. The first one is the one on which I am focusing today because I believe this one in particular is relevant to the proclamation of Jesus about God’s kingdom.

This first temptation went like this:

[Jesus] fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’

After 30 years of preparation, Jesus was almost ready to begin his ministry. Only one more thing was needed. To be completely ready to bring healing and salvation to this world, Jesus needed to be tested. And in this first test, we have the devil basically telling Jesus: It has been 40 days since you tasted any food, why are you starving when you can easily feed yourself?

Of course, the devil couldn’t care less about Jesus’ needs; he wanted to talk Jesus out of his purpose, out of God’s plans, into trouble, and even worse, into sin.

What we see here, then, is that the purpose of Jesus’ temptation or test was about challenging his trust in God’s plan and his complete dependence on God.

Would Jesus take a shortcut? Would he stay faithful to the Father’s will? Would he fall into doing things the devil’s way instead of God’s way? It would have been so easy for Jesus – the Son of God – to turn stones into bread. But in doing so, in choosing the bread, he would have compromised God’s plans for him.

My friends, how many times does bread get in the way of God’s plans for us?

Let me explain.

I believe that in this particular story bread represents a compromise of God’s plans. It is choosing something else before what we know God has said about us or has asked about us. It is the yielding or given up too soon because we can’t wait or endure God’s processes in our lives any longer.

What’s your bread? Is it comforts, satisfaction, or pleasure? Could it be wealth, fame, recognition, or any other? Just like actual bread, these are not bad, but if they take precedence over God’s plans for us, they will become a stumbling block in our lives.

Of course, all of these have merit and are valuable, and they may very well be part of God’s plans for us in one way or another; they are not intrinsically bad. However, they are finite endeavors that provide temporary comfort. Any of these, sooner or later, will need to be replaced with a new something else.

You see how difficult it is to refuse the temptation to feed on the bread because we can. But by doing so, we delay, interrupt, or miss altogether the plans of God for us. What is even more sad about this is that sometimes without even realizing it, our relationship with God is only a means to get the bread; we couldn’t care less about God’s desires and will for us.

But the bread did not get in the way of Jesus, for he said, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

This is what I want for me, my family, and I pray you may have it too: I don’t care if I am tempted with bread, crackers, or tortillas, the Word of God comes first, and I won’t compromise my relationship, witness, faith, and character for what is a mere temporary comfort.

This is what we can learn from Jesus’ temptation with bread: sometimes God will make us sacrifice something we want in order to secure our heart for the greatest good – himself and his purposes. What we will be given instead is much more valuable than any goal or plan we could have created for ourselves.

The point is not that God wants to keep us away from the things we want or need, but that we are willing to sacrifice them if they get in the way between God and us. When we submit ourselves to God’s Word, everything else falls into place and all the good plans God has for us become a reality. It is then that our prayer, “may all your plans for me be successful,” begins to take shape and becomes a tangible reality.

Now, what comes out God’s mouth? Words, right? But, what is God saying? I know God has unique words for each one of us just as God has particular plans and purposes for all of us. But there is a universal and constant word that God speaks that defines God’s plans for each one of us. This is the basis for everything that God wants to do in our lives, and without it, nothing can be done.

Here is where Matthew 4:17 helps us to discern this.

God’s plans for Jesus were about saving humanity from death and sin. And the first action Jesus took after being tempted by the devil was to proclaim this simple yet profound revelation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is what the devil wanted to keep Jesus away from: the proclamation of God’s kingdom and its arrival. This is what Jesus would have had left undone if he had chosen the bread when he was tempted early on.

This proclamation of repentance and God’s kingdom was a calling to people then as much as it is a calling for us today: to realign themselves with God’s Word and live in a new kingdom of heaven kind of life.

This proclamation is simple yet profound: “Repent!” he said first.

To repent is to make a radical reversal in life and realign with God. To repent or realign is a dynamic term that is more than a one-time event. Of course, there must be an initial turning to God, but repentance is not only a one-time crisis moment but rather an ongoing way of life.

We could more accurately capture Jesus’ message by translating 4:17 “Realign your life continually to God’s ways.”

Jesus’ words are an invitation and command to make sure our lives are in alignment with God’s character. This realignment involves turning away from obvious evils and sins, but more important than that, it also involves an ongoing assessment and shifting to virtues that represent the character of God and his kingdom – things like being kind and compassionate (Ephesians 4:32), living above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2), attending to the needs of others, especially the least fortunate (Proverbs 19:17), giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), praying for our friends and even enemies, loving our neighbor as ourselves – basically, everything we see Jesus doing and saying in the gospels. This is what aligning with God means.

So, when Jesus was tempted to eat the bread when he knew it was not the time to do that, he was for all practical purposes keeping himself in alignment with God’s plans. Because of this, Jesus blessed all humanity for all eternity because he himself was the greatest follower of God the Father.

Perhaps our challenge or struggle to see God’s plans for us fulfilled is not a lack of faith, but a lack of obedience and alignment with God’s Word.

My friends, this word is for all of us. Can we learn from this? Your life, everything you are, your thoughts, your strengths, your dreams exist for a purpose greater than yourself. Your greatest achievement in this life is to leave a mark of blessing in people’s lives, to leave this world better than you found it. And all of these can happen if we let God be successful in achieving his plans in our lives.

What we see in Jesus is the key to understanding what God wants for us and from us in order for God’s plans to be successful in our lives as they were with Jesus. If we sow in faithfulness and obedience, we will reap in blessings, in God’s promises.

Whatever your career, your education, your skills, and your dreams in life are, glorify and honor God through them by letting him be bigger in your life than everything else.

Now, I recognize how this may be challenging and perhaps even scary to do: surrender everything to God? Don’t be afraid to surrender your most wanted dreams, desires, and possessions to God. I know some people fear, if they give to God, what will there be left for them? What they don’t understand is that when you do surrender to God and confess, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God…” God is going to multiply the blessings in your life, and your cup will be overflowing.

Don’t believe me? Here is the proof: So, Jesus was tempted with bread, right? How ironic is that, because later we see that Jesus’ ministry was heavily centered around bread, feeding it to people and multiplying it miraculously.

What you are surrendering to God today may be the very thing that God will give you in abundance to bless many.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that if you submit yourself to God in all that you are and all that you have that somehow you are going to lose. When you unleash the Word of God in your life, pray to God, “May all your plans for me be successful,” and follow him as your shepherd, and you will lack nothing.

Jesus said best when he said in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

This is the invitation today: stop eating the bread that is getting in the way between you and God. Get back to the path. Get yourself together, and realign with God’s plans for you. Has it been a day, a year, maybe five or 20 years since you gave up on what you knew in your heart God wants to accomplish for you, in you, and through you? Well, you can start making it right today. Yield to God.

What is your calling? I pray for you: May all God’s plans for your life be successful. Amen.

Justus Hunter ~ Lent: There Is a River and There Is a City

There is a river and there is a city.
There is a river
And its streams make glad.
There is a city
And its streams make glad
And God inhabits the city
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
The holy habitation of the most high.
And God is in the middle of it
And God will not be moved.

There is a river and there is a city.

So why go into the ashes?

There was river and there was a garden.
There was a river
And its streams made the garden glad.

And the streams made glad a tree. And the fruit of the tree swelled with knowledge. And the fruit of the tree spoiled with death. And a couple came and they ate, and from them came the rest.

And the rest built cities. And among the rest, some had much and some had little. And so, among the rest, some were made to carry and others made them carry. And so the rest made cities. And the cities grew hungry. The cities hungered, and they foamed.

The cities hungered and foamed, and their hunger bore fruit, fruit swollen with knowledge and spoiled with death. The cities hungered and foamed, and their ripplings went round the world, cresting with promises. And the ripplings rebounded, crossed back, and swept the peoples and promises in their swell. From wilderness, desert, forest, and plain they were swept. They were swept into the cities, and the cities teemed with people. And the cities teemed with promises.

The cities teemed and roiled and spewed forth promises, promise upon promise. And one city ate another. Its promises consumed the promises of the other. And the cities and their promises grew. And so the ones made to carry grew to pursue the promises. And the ones made to carry built promises for the city. They worked miracles, making brick and laying brick. They worked miracles, making bricks with no straw, laying bricks with no straw. And so the cities built their promises.

Now the ones made to carry, the ones working the miracles, they did not forget their promise:

 There is a river whose streams make glad.

The ones made to carry did not forget. Their promise lived on. But the promise lived as the soft accompaniment of absence. There, in the other cities, they lived on other promises, promises created by the city and for the city, promises dreamt by the ones who made them carry. And still their promise lived on – There is a river whose streams make glad. – but it lived on as absence. And as absence, the promise spoiled and turned to sorrow.

And then the Word of the Lord came and spoke again the promise.

There is a river and there is a city.
There is a river
And its streams make glad.
There is a city
And its streams make glad
And God inhabits the city
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
The holy habitation of the most high.
God is in the middle of it
And God will not be moved.

The ones made to carry left their bricks behind and the Word of the Lord led them through the waters and back into the wilderness and the desert. They wandered far from the cities. And there, far from the hungers and foamings of the cities, they remembered the promise. There, in the wilderness, the most high made a holy habitation in their midst. It came into the middle of them. And with them, it moved, it wandered.

And so they built a city. And though there was no river, there were springs, and its springs made the city glad. And they built channels for the springs, and the channels fed terraces for their gardens. And there they grew trees, and on the trees grew fruit. There they built a holy habitation of the most high. And the most high came and was in the middle of it.

And they thought this is the city that will make glad. They built their city. They sought the promise. But then they remade the promise in their own image. They sought their own justice.

And the city turned. Its kings doubted the promise. And so they remade it in their own image, and once again the promises grew. And the city roiled and spewed forth promises, promises upon promises. And they promised their own justice and their own freedom from oppression. And once again, some of the rest were made to carry. And the ones made to carry built the city her promises.

The city turned. Its promises grew, and it ate other cities. But then other cities ate it. And the city burned, and her promises turned to ash. And the promises could not be told one from the other because ash is only ash. Ash does not remember.

So all the people, the ones who made carry and the ones made to carry, tumbled. The people were swept from their city to other cities. And once again the promise was theirs only as the soft accompaniment of absence. The promise was there as sorrow. And then the city swept them back, and they lived among the ashes of their promises.

The people lived among the ashes of their promises. And the people fasted and tried to remember. But the promise had spoiled, and the ashen promises of the cities overwhelmed them.

And the Word of the Lord came again. But this time, the promise came as judgment.

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the promise of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
They say, “Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all the ones you make carry.
You fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

The Word of the Lord came again. The promise was spoken again, but this time as judgment. The people sat among the ashes of their promises, promises made in their own image. The people sat among the ashes. And yet, they could not make the fast the Lord had chosen. Though they sat among the ashes, the could not humble themselves. And other cities grew hungry, and one city ate another, and one city of ash replaced the next, and one ashen promise followed another. And the people tumbled.


Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

So why go into the ashes?

Lent is a season that begins in ashes and ends in death. Lent is born in ash and dies in the descent to the dead.

Lent is a season for fasting, a season for bowing down, a season for exchanging silk for sackcloth. Lent is a season for ashes.

Lent is a season of judgment. Lent is a season of the judgment that will renew within us the promise. “There is a city.”

Lent is a season of clarity. We already sit among the ashes. We already sit in cities made in our own image. We already run after promises made to ourselves. We already seek our own paths to our own justice. And we already know, our own cities and our own promises and our own justice end in the ashes.

Lent is a season of clarity. It is a season to remember – from ash we came, and to ash, we will return. It is a season to remember – though we have the hope of a city that will not reduce to ash, though we have the hope of a promise that, once fulfilled, will bring an end to the foaming after more promises, though we have the hope for a justice founded in the righteousness of God, a justice that shares in God’s own eternal righteousness – we do not have this city or this promise or this justice as a possession. We have it as a promise. And so we must hold it as a promise.

And what is it to hold a thing as a promise?

To hold as a promise is to be cleansed by the truth, the truth which pierces us as judgment: we sit among the ashes of our promises. We do not come to the ashes from outside. We are awakened to the ashes already among us. We cannot resist replacing the promise of God with promises made in our own image. We cannot resist substituting the City of God with cities of our own making. From ash we have come. To ash we will return.

We hold the promise – There is a river and there is a city. There is a river and its streams make glad.

We hold the promise as a promise.

Before Christ’s final Lenten descent, his descent to the dead, he comes to the gate of that city of ash, that city where the most high dwelt. He comes to the gate and he cries out:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The Word of the Lord comes again. But the Word of the Lord comes not merely on the lips of this prophet, but on the lips of this prophet who is the Word become flesh, the Word dwelling among us. The Word comes in this man, Jesus Christ, the holy habitation of the most high. The Word comes in this man, Jesus Christ, the living God in the middle of us, in the center of the rise and fall of our hungry cities and our ashen promises.

The Word of God comes again, and cries out:

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate.”  You sit among the ashes.

And I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Happy is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Glad is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

There is a river and there is a city.
There is a river
And its streams make glad.
There is a city
And its streams make glad
And God inhabits the city
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
The holy habitation of the most high.
And God is in the middle of it
And God will not be moved.

So why go into the ashes?

There is a river and there is a city. But we have forgotten the way. And so the Way comes to us. And the Way guides us: Into the ashes. Through the ashes…

Edgar Bazan ~ The Trinity and the Mission of God

Rev. Edgar Bazan has written for Wesleyan Accent on transformative mission, the purpose of the Kingdom of God, and the shalom nature of God’s Kingdom.


Let’s explore how we are called to engage in the mission Dei through a Trinitarian lens.

Lesslie Newbigin uses the theology of the Trinity to offer a theological ground for the understanding and practicing of the missio Dei. He explains, “He is the Son, sent by the Father and anointed by the Spirit to be the bearer of God’s kingdom to the nations. This is the Jesus who was proclaimed by the first Christians to the world of their time.” (Newbigin, Chapter 3)

In Ministry in the Image of God: the Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service, Stephen Seamands further explains the Trinitarian paradigm to express the missio Dei in more practical and tangible ways. He describes the Trinitarian ministry as, “the ministry of the Son, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the church and the world.” (Seamands, Chapter 1) If the ministry of Jesus is to the Father through the Holy Spirit, argues Seamands, then as we follow Jesus’ command of teaching everything he taught us, ministry “is not so much asking Christ to join us in our ministry as we offer him to others; ministry is participating with Christ in his ongoing ministry as he offers himself to others through us.” For Seamands this is what it means to be in ministry: Christ offering himself to others through us.

Is the ministry to the Father through the Holy Spirit a ministry offered for the sake of the other? If so, then one may assume that the missio Dei exists for the sake of humanity. This complements John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” It is in God’s nature, in his intrinsic character, to be self-giving for the sake of the other as demonstrated in Jesus Christ. This approach to ministry or being in mission centers around what God has done and continues to do, and what God has said and continues to speak: “…so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

The ministry of the church – the mission that God has given to the church – is meant to be a continuation of the “ministry of the Son, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, for the sake of the church and world.”

These Trinitarian observations by Newbigin and Seamands point out that Jesus is not the initiator or founder of God’s mission, but the bearer and herald of God’s kingdom. This approach to the mission of the church, through Trinitarian theology, helps us see the Christian mission in three ways: as proclaiming the kingdom of the Father, as sharing the life of the Son, and as bearing the witness of the Spirit. If in Jesus we see him accomplishing and submitting himself to the Father, listening and doing as he hears from him through the Spirit, then the church has no other option but to do likewise.

Newbigin expresses this when he says,

From the very beginning of the New Testament, the coming of Jesus, his words and works are connected directly with the power of the Spirit. It is by the Spirit that Jesus is conceived, by the Spirit that he is anointed at his baptism, by the Spirit that he is driven into the desert for his encounter with Satan. It is in the power of the Spirit that he enters upon his ministry of teaching and healing (Luke 4:14; Matt. 12:18).(Newbigin, Chapter 5)

Jesus did as he heard from the Father through the Spirit. (Jn. 12:49) So what then is Jesus doing today to the Father through the Holy Spirit?