Miscellaneous

A Reflection on Cuba

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This past Monday, I returned home from my first trip to what has been one of the most controversial countries in the Western Hemisphere. For most Americans, the island of Cuba is known for its cigars, classic cars and communist revolutionaries. However, beyond this perception are people. Real people with real lives that tend to get overlooked when we only see a country through the lens of politics and propaganda.

One of my favorite aspects about the trips that we take is that we stay with those who actually live in the country that we are visiting. We get to learn about a culture’s daily life by experiencing it firsthand, and we find ourselves in places that would never make it into the travel brochure. I went with the intention on serving and blessing the people of Cuba but found myself being blessed by a people who are too often misunderstood.

As I reflect on my experience last week, I am reminded of what God told the prophet Samuel when he was looking for a successor to King Saul. God said to Samuel, “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16)

How many of us tend to see the world as man sees it rather than as the Lord sees it?

How many of us view different countries and people groups based on how they are portrayed in political discourse, propaganda and overall popular opinion?

This past week was a reminder that I need to pursue seeing the world the way God sees it. I want to examine and engage people’s hearts rather than making assumptions or formulating opinions about them.

I also want to step into the shoes of others for a moment and see the world from their vantage point. Let us not forget that we have been blessed by a God who stepped down from heaven and into our shoes to dwell among us. Jesus came into our world and lived life from our vantage point. And in doing so, he became our mediator before God who is able to sympathize with our own struggles and experiences.

So let’s fight the temptation to stereotype and only see others from a distance. Let’s pray and pursue seeing the world the way God sees it. And let’s try our best to step into the shoes of others with a sincere heart and an open mind.

Our God is the Almighty Creator of this world who loves his creation and pursues people from every nation, language, tribe and people group on the planet. Jesus taught us that collectively we are all the new family of God with him as our good Father. So please pray for our brothers and sisters in Cuba. Pray for disciples to be made and churches to be multiplied and that the people of God there will seek the peace and prosperity of that country with a pure heart that remains devoted to their true King.

And please pray for the church here in America. We could learn a lot from our brothers and sisters in Cuba. Pray for a renewed strength that resists the temptations that come with living in the wealthiest nation in human history. Pray for disciples to be made and healthy churches to be multiplied and that the people of God here will put their allegiance to Jesus over and above all other allegiances.

Let’s join our brothers and sisters in Cuba and across the globe as the one new family of God. And let’s stay focused on the mission of God and make disciples of Jesus from all nations who love God passionately and love others radically.


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Thanksgiving Quiz

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Happy Thanksgiving everyone! As we get ready to celebrate tomorrow and spend some extended time with family and friends over the next few days, I thought I’d send a few resources for you to check out.

I’ve provided one quiz, one blog post and one article with links to each within the titles below. Hope you enjoy!

Thanksgiving Quiz

A quiz to test your whole family

Were there more Indians or Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving? What president finally made Thanksgiving a national US holiday?

Last week, I spent a couple hours preparing a Thanksgiving Quiz for our Thursday Morning group to take together in our last meeting before the holiday. The test is made up of 25 questions, and would be a fun addition to your time tomorrow with family and friends. If you decide to take it then simply respond to this email or text me for the answer key. The current high score is 12 out of 25. Good luck!

Thanks-Giving

An archived post

As we get ready to celebrate a week of Thanksgiving, may this short reflection help all of us take time in the midst of this week to do just that. May we not overlook the amazing grace of God that is just waiting to be acknowledged all around us, and may we give God more glory by giving God more thanks.

How to Handle Difficult Conversations at Thanksgiving

A New York Times article by Richard Schiffman

“Thanksgiving is America’s yearly celebration of family togetherness. But with partisan divisions at a boiling point after the polarizing midterm election and a punishing political year, many are bracing themselves for a war of words at the dinner table this Thursday.”

This article offers some practical advice on how to go into Thanksgiving with a mindset that seeks to listen and learn more about others rather than going in with a mindset that is ready to defend and argue your own political positions and preferences.

The Shoot from the Stump

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Throughout history, God has brought judgement upon human empires and even His own people when arrogance and wickedness eventually take over. Scripture continually reveals how God brings the lofty and proud back down to being low and humble. He cuts down the towering empires with His almighty axe of judgement. 

After the reign of King David (the son of Jesse), God brought judgement upon the faithless people of Israel reducing them down to a small remnant. Abraham's family tree was chopped down to the stump. God's covenant promise to bless the world seemed hopeless and forgotten. But in God's own mysterious way, He promised to one day spring to life an everlasting kingdom from the very stump that appeared to be dead.

From the stump of Jesse, God would one day spring up the shoot named Jesus. Out of the roots of Old Testament Israel would come the fruitful branches of Christ's Kingdom. In His own special way, God took the cut down tree of Israel and brought forth a crown of thorns and a wooden cross that would be used as the cornerstone for building God's church.

What are we to think of our King who did not come as a mighty oak but rather as a tender twig born of a vulnerable virgin?

The one true King of God's everlasting kingdom was conceived in the most inconceivable way and obtained His authority through an unexpected act of utter submission.

In the midst of a season that has become a big spectacle, it helps us to remember our Savior who came into this world so subtle and small.

The greatest gifts often come in unexpected ways and unassuming moments. 

Christmas ought to remind us that our God transforms the world through the small, subtle and unexpected. May we slow down this season and seek the shoots of God's grace and His glory that springs forth from the unassuming stumps of our daily life. Stop and see the image of God in every cashier you come across this Christmas season. Bring the background music to the foreground of your heart and actually sing the songs written for our Savior. Discern the difference between buying a present and giving a gift and always choose the latter. And in the midst of a loud world begging you to love what it has to offer, listen to the whisper of our Lord who loved you enough to offer Himself.

 

Advent: Be Prepared

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This Sunday we enter into the season known as Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming. Traditionally, Advent is celebrated as the season leading up to Christmas which begins exactly four Sundays before December 25th. As early as the fourth century A.D., Christians would normally fast during this season because the whole purpose of Advent was to look forward to the second coming of Christ.

That being said, the essence of the Advent season is found in the posture of preparation and expectant waiting.

So if the Christian life is about expectant waiting then we must ask ourselves what it means to actually find ourselves in a posture of waiting?

We can begin by acknowledging that waiting always implies an object of focus. You cannot find yourself in a position of waiting unless there is something very specific that you are actually waiting for.

So what are we as Christians waiting for?

In the second half of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 24, we find the answer. Jesus the Christ who is the eternal Son of God and the everlasting Savior of Man is going to return and bring God's final sweeping judgement upon all who have live and died on the earth.

Like Noah in the Old Testament, only those who respond with reverent fear and faithfulness to what God has revealed in Christ will be saved from this global judgement. And as we have been warned, this return of our King will occur at an unsuspecting moment when everyone is just going about their normal everyday lives. Therefore, we must always be prepared. 

Do you find yourself eagerly awaiting the eternal life that God has promised and provided for us in Christ? Is there a strong desire in the depths of your soul that longs for more of the power and presence of God than you are currently comprehending and experiencing? Is it easy to find yourself so distracted with the busyness of life that you quickly lose the posture of waiting expectantly on the return of our King?

Obedience to the truth of the gospel is not constantly working to excel in our moral performance but confidently being prepared and eagerly waiting for what our faith in Christ has promised.

And so, if the Christian life is about waiting for our King and the promise of eternal life in His glorious Kingdom, what are we to do while we are waiting here on earth?

We need to live each and every day like Noah was probably living his days between the time that he was warned about the flood up until the day the flood finally came. Think about that.

We need to be ready and continue to prepare ourselves and our families and our loved ones for that day of final judgement. We also need to be warning those around us of what's coming and about the only Way to escape it. Living with this level of urgency and preparedness will convict some and further condemn others. However, either way, our lives and our message ought to never just leave people content and comfortable with a life of worldly normalcy. 

To put this another way, the Christian life here on earth is about loving others and preparing ourselves for the One that we love. Like a young bride preparing herself for that moment she’ll stand before her groom, we ought to be preparing ourselves for that moment we’ll stand face to face in the presence of Christ.

The Bible continually uses this metaphor telling us how Christ is the Bride-Groom, and we as Christians are His bride. The Christian life is about being prepared and expectantly waiting for the One who has already demonstrated and pledged His love for you forever.  

Are you someone who seems to be constantly working on your life and your own moral performance? Are you someone who seems to be casually wandering through your life primarily focused on yourself and what you might be able to gain from God? Or are you a Christian confidently waiting for another life with the Lord that you love and loving others around you while you wait?

A good measure of your Christian condition is whether or not you expect your life here in this world to be the waiting period or the actual wedding party.

May we be people that are prepared and expectantly waiting for the return of our King.

So what is it that we are anticipating and waiting for so expectantly this Christmas season? Where is our focus these four weeks leading up to December 25th? May we avoid the onslaught of worldly distractions that overwhelm us this time of year and shift our focus back upon waiting in wonder for our King who has come and will one day come again.