Cyrus, God’s Anointed

Our first Advent reading this year is from Isaiah 45:1-7.

This is a powerful declaration of one of the primary themes of Christmas: God’s passionate desire to be known by us and to know us.  As you read this, take note of all the ways God is making Himself known to His people.  Remember that God’s ultimate act to know and be known is the incarnation: His literal coming to earth, in the flesh, as a person like us, named Jesus.

There’s a detail in the first verse of chapter 45 of Isaiah’s prophesy that you might just overlook.  You’ll notice that Cyrus is referred to as God’s “anointed,” as one through whom God will make Himself known.

Here’s what’s wild about that: Cyrus is the Persian king!  Cyrus is the dude who is conquering Israel.  He’s the “bad guy,” but God is going to use even him to get His message across, even though Cyrus does not acknowledge God (v. 4 and 5).

What do you do with that?

You might re-evaluate the stuff in your life that feels like it’s bad.

The wonderful, messy, mysterious truth is this: God can reveal Himself to you even through that stuff. 

Succeed like Moses

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.  Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.  – Exodus 2:11-12


Maybe Moses was just acting impulsively.  I don’t know of any author who presents his act of murder as a good thing or as the right way to respond.

It was clearly an immature response.

But what challenges me about this scene in Moses’ life is that he sees injustice and he doesn’t just look the other way.

Nobody would have noticed if he had looked the other way.

All the Egyptians were benefitting from the slave class.  Nobody’s going to get involved when a soldier gets a bit heavy-handed.

And Moses, if he gets involved, risks everything.

Moses has two choices:
He can put himself first, prioritize the sovereign self, protect his personal comfort and his social advantages, by just looking away.

Just pretend you don’t see anything wrong, Moses, and keep walking.

Or he can respond to injustice and risk losing it all.

He chooses “option b.”

And, in one sense, that’s exactly what happens to Moses: he loses everything.
There are a lot of details, but the truth is, once Moses crosses the line and acts for justice for the oppressed, life is never, ever the same.  From that moment on his life is marked by exile from power (during most of adult life), conflict with power (when he returns to Egypt to free the Hebrews), and the relentless pressures of leading the freed slaves during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  And, in the end, Moses doesn’t even get to enter the Promised Land.

The woman writing our kids curriculum for this teaching asked me, “How real can I get with the kids?”

I said, “What do you mean, ‘how real’?”

She said, “Life gets really hard for Moses, and it stays really hard for him.”

It’s an important observation.  And it’s important to remind ourselves of this:  If you push back against the trends of the dominant culture, it will cost you.

It has cost everyone who has ever followed God.

The disciples of Jesus don’t retire and move to Mediterranean resorts.

They are killed by their own government.  There is real adversity from the outside.

And, bucking the trends of a self-centered culture ultimately means we need to address the selfishness in ourselves, the adversity from the inside, and that’s a decision to embark on a long and difficult journey.

It’s a journey that ends with a definition of success that looks very different than most definitions of success.

It’s success as holiness.

Success as perseverance.

Success as not giving into hate.

Success as becoming like Jesus through and through.

Daily Bread

There is a daily portion-ness to the Christian experience.

There’s a day-to-day-ness about the Christian experience.

There’s a live-it-out in real life-ness about Christianity.

You don’t acquire, consume, and finish the Christian faith like you do an In-n-Out Burger           or a trip to an amusement park.  You live the Christian faith every day.

You don’t possess the Christian experience like a Vince Lombardi trophy.  You journey through the Christian experience like pilgrim.

Therefore…you need regular, relational support.

Historically, with a few remarkable exceptions, Christianity has spread relationally.  One person who knows Jesus introduces someone else to Jesus.  One person who follows Jesus shows another person how to follow Jesus better.

Relationships and rhythms.

Relationships and rhythms.

Relationships and rhythms…showing me how to experience Jesus right here, right now.

People and practices.

Relationships and rhythms.

The New, The Next, and The Now

Our culture is consumed with the new.

We’re fascinated by the next.

But we struggle with the now.

The reason this is worth recognizing and considering is that now is when we experience God. (We can only experience God in the present moment because, even though God everywhen and everywhere, we are limited in only here and only now. We can remember the past. But it’s gone. We can imagine the future, but we can’t get there yet. All we have is the present moment).

And that’s good news, from a spiritual perspective: God is here, now.

That’s good news…unless I don’t know how to be here, now.

The Belief That Shapes Our Worship Gatherings (part 2)

The second belief that shapes what our community is doing on Sunday mornings (see the first here) is this:

We’re approaching worship as connected not fragmented.

What does that mean?

It means that

what happens here at church and

what happens in your home and

in your work and

in your school and

on the soccer field are connected.

It also means that what happens in your mind (intellectual)

is connected to what happens in your body (physical) and

is connected with what happens in your heart (emotional) and

is connected with what happens in your soul (spiritual).

It’s all connected, it’s not fragmented.

Historically, Christian worship has involved reading, prayer, and interaction.

We learn something (reading),

we communicate with God (prayer/worship), and

we do something,

we move somewhere,

we walk to a place of prayer,

we stand to sing,

we bow our head.

Worship has all these physical elements.  It’s not just intellectual.  In fact, it’s only partially intellectual.

I had breakfast with a friend recently who asked to meet with me just to tell me how he was growing in his relationship with Jesus.  I think I was a little surprised: it’s just not very common to talk with career and family guys in their late 30s about sudden increases in devotion to Jesus.

So naturally, I asked him “What happened?”

I’m thinking, maybe he lost his job or he got bad health news or he went to India or had some big life-changing event.

His answer surprised me.  It shouldn’t have (because it’s historically rooted), but it did (because it’s rare).

He’s intentionally and systematically going through each part of his life and submitting it to God.  His career, marriage, roles as parent – giving it all to God.

He’s connecting all the parts of his life to God.

And not just all the parts of his life, but all the parts of his being as well.

He’s started spending some of his prayer time praising God with his hands raised into air.  Then he spends some time praying on his knees with his head bowed.

And gradually, his relationship with Jesus, which used to primarily occupy one part of his life and be experienced primarily intellectually is now flooding into every part of his life and is being experienced by all his senses.

What we do as a church community on Sunday mornings is designed to be like that: worship as rhythm that connects everything to God.

The Belief that Shapes our Worship Gatherings

Two beliefs shape the specific way we approach worship in our community.

The first (I’ll address the second in another post) is this:

We approach worship as a rhythm, not as an event.

Increasingly, approaching worship as a rhythm,

or a pattern,

or a habit,

or a ritual (in the best sense of the word)

is rare in our culture.

Our culture is shifting toward seeing worship as an event.

What’s the difference?

And event is an exception.  A rhythm is the rule.

Events can also be very valuable.  They can also shape us.  But they shape us on a different level.

Once my college roommate and I went to a Grateful Dead Show in the Oakland Coliseum.  It was an unforgettable event.  We listened to some amazing music, took some pictures,                 felt very loopy afterwards.  It was an experience. A memory.

It falls into the “been there, done that” category.

Now, there were some for whom the Grateful Dead was a rhythm, a daily devotion, a way of life…they literally followed the Dead around the country.  For them, a Dead show was far more than an event.

My wedding was, for me, a memorable event… a powerful event.  I’m thankful for it.  It set us on a course and continues to serve as a touch-stone.

But, as great as our wedding was,  it doesn’t sustain our relationship almost 19 years later.

Healthy, regular habits do.

Truth-filled rituals do.

Good patterns do.

It’s interesting – and it’s a source or real frustration for me – our culture is becoming more and more focused on weddings as huge amazing events, and less and less concerned with the healthy practices that actually sustain good marriages.

In a similar way, in our culture, worship is seen more and more as an event,

as a concert,

as a show,

as a conference,

and an exception…

and less as a rhythm, a pattern, a ritual, an every week practice that sustains life.

Both events and rhythms can be valuable.

Interestingly, in historic Christianity, there are both:

Baptism is a one-time, life-changing event.

Communion is a regular, life-giving rhythm.

But we design our Sunday gathering as a rhythm.  It is designed to be experienced regularly and consistently, and therefore to shape and form us, to be a central part of who we are and who we are becoming.

It’s Not Too Late

There’s this extremely sad tendency in many of us that – even after we’ve sinned – makes confession difficult.

Like Judas, we might even admit we’ve done wrong, but still come up short of seeking forgiveness.  That’s the worst part of the tragedy.

People say, “It’s too late for me.”  “It’s too late for me to be a good parent.”  “It’s too late for me to learn to pray.” “It’s too late for this relationship to be saved.”

It’s not too late to humble yourself, to admit you were wrong, to seek forgiveness.

Jesus extends that offer to all people until our last breath.

If you’ve been wrong, if you’ve made bad choices, if you’ve been deceived, if you’ve sinned and hurt people, you don’t have to end in despair; you can end in hope.

Because of Jesus.

What happened to Judas?

Exactly what can happen to us,

when our history is not healed,

when we fail to see that God chooses us for his purposes, not ours,

when our character slips and choices become increasingly selfish,

when we’re deceived by the devil,

and when we’re too proud to seek and receive forgiveness from Jesus.