When Jesus taught his followers how to speak to the God he said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We often miss the power in that phrase. We simply recite the line without thinking. We view it as merely a request for Jesus to “come back.” We remove any meaning from God’s Kingdom and God’s will by treating them as unknowns. We make this into a prayer that we say with nothing to do with how we live.

But Jesus did not intended for this to be a throw away line. Jesus wanted this prayer to mold and guide us.

God has given us the Scriptures to reveal God’s character and God’s will. We have been given teachings on the Kingdom of God, and creative writing on what God’s Kingdom will look like when fully established on Earth. God’s will and Kingdom are not completely fuzzy concepts. Scripture reveals enough about God’s will and Kingdom for us to recognize when they are being realized in the world.

In addition to the Scriptures, the Spirit of God guides us in our understanding of God’s will and provides relational knowledge of God. The more that we know God, the more we will know what God wills in the world.

When we pray we are not just asking God to take care of everything, though there are situations when that is all that we feel we can do.  When we pray we are both asking for God’s intervention and aligning ourselves with God. As beings created in the image of God we have the ability, and responsibility, to act in a manner consistent with the will of God. While there are some glorious times of supernatural intervention, the answer to prayer normally comes in the form of a person. In other words, when we pray for God’s will to be done and Kingdom to come on Earth – our actions need to join with our request.

That brings us to a cup of water…  a fitting case study on World Water Day.

Chances are if you are reading this blog, you can easily get a cup of water in the next 10 minutes. That is not the reality for many people in our world. In fact, somewhere around one in three people alive today do not have access to safe drinking water. I do not mean that they have to wait in a line for it – I mean it is not an option for them. That reality translates into several tragedies, including around 4,000 children dying each day.

Does that look like the will of the God that is revealed in Jesus and the Spirit? Is that the Kingdom of God that we see revealed in the Scriptures? I think not.

When this currently reality does not fit the Kingdom of God we are called to pray for God’s will to be done, for there to be a new reality which reflects the Kingdom of God. We need to pray for God to intervene on behalf of people without water.

In addition to praying for the Kingdom, we are called to act according to the Kingdom. We are called to discern what direct actions we can take for the sake of God’s will being done on Earth.  There are other times when we are called to take a supportive role for those who are taking direct action. We need to intervene on behalf of people without water.

Act today! Follow this link to bring water to thousands of people by repairing existing water wells: The Adventure Project

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In sixth grade, I noticed that two of my classmates drew large crowds by break dancing at football games. I decided that I would get in on the action, and I bought a book on “how to break dance.”

Yeah … that did not really work. I was not a break dancer.
We often fail when we focus on what other people instead of being who we are. This happens even, maybe especially, within Christianity.

We see an example of this in John 21:20-22

Peter and Jesus had just finished a remarkable conversation clarifying their relationship and Peter’s role in the mission.
Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple John.
Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?”
Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

Most of us can relate to Peter in this story. We have taken our focus off of Jesus and our calling, and become consumed with looking at and evaluating others. Focusing on other people’s walk with God and their calling takes a few different expressions:
We Compare Ourselves to Others
We Copy Others
We Criticize Others

All of these expressions of  looking to others do damage to our calling and relationship with God.

I suspect that when we ask Jesus, “What about that person?”
Jesus still responds as he did to Peter, “What is that person’s calling and relationship with me calling to you? I will take care of them. You are called to follow me. Stay focused on me.”

May we be people who keep our focus upon Jesus and who he calls us to be.

I love my idealized self. The me that I imagine in my head is really amazing.

I have a far more difficult time loving the self who actually exists in the real world. The real me has weaknesses and flaws.

The story of Jesus shows us that God loves us, the real us, weak and flawed.

Tom Wright helped me see this in Jesus’ appearance to Peter in John 21:9-17, in ways that are not obvious in many of our English translations.

Setting of the Story: The smell of a charcoal fire burning was in the air as Jesus cooked breakfast. Peter had smelt a charcoal fire burning earlier in the Priests Courts where he had denied Jesus three times.

Jesus: Peter, do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord I am your friend.

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

Jesus: Peter, do you love me.

Peter: Lord, I am your friend.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

Jesus: Peter, are you my friend?

Peter was grieved that he could not say more, and that Jesus had to adjust the question.

Peter: Lord, you know everything. You know that I am your friend.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

A couple of observations on this story:

First, Jesus meets Peter where he is. Surely, both men would have preferred for Peter to say that he loved Jesus. He could not do it.  Jesus accepted what Peter could give.  Likewise, Jesus graciously meets us were we are.

Second, Jesus’ forgiveness comes in the form of a commission for Peter. That pattern still holds true today. We are forgiven and we are sent. All authentic ministry is rooted in the forgiving love of God.

May we learn to accept the love of the God who has taken our denials and our imperfections and has graciously dealt with them in Jesus.

On  Good Friday I participated in one of the most meaningful experiences of my years  in ministry.

At the conclusion of Elmbrook’s Good Friday service the congregation went to cross stations. When a person arrived at the station, a pastor marked their arm with a marker attached to a metal spike. This act symbolized the act of crucifixion.  While marking their arm, the pastor looked into the person’s eyes and repeated Jesus’ declaration, “It is finished.

Initially I was unsure about this experience, but I was quickly struck by its power. I looked hundreds of people in the eyes (Dancing eyes. Tearful eyes. Relieved eyes. Thankful eyes.), take their arms (White arms. Brown arms. Small arms. Bulging arms. Arms with cuts.), and proclaim God’s grace.  I saw God’s grace deeply move people.  I was also able to receive that grace myself.

I did not want those moments to end … but the service concluded.

Here are a few ways to continue living in the beauty and power of “It is finished.”

1. Personally Engage Others: There was something powerful about touching a person’s arm and looking them deep in the eyes.  All of us are made for deep connection. Yet, we often just pass by people while hurrying on to the next thing. We can break that pattern by intentionality looking into the eyes of others.

2. Extend God’s Grace to Others: While saying “It is finished” to people at the service, I was proclaiming that the grace of God has taken care of their “it.” We all an “it” that is weighing us down. This weight visibly lifted from many people as they heard God’s grace proclaimed. We do not have to wait until Good Friday to proclaim this good news. The grace of God should flavor our conversation.

3. Remember God’s Grace is for You: Part of the beauty of seeing the grace of God relieve others was that I had a deeper realization of that grace for myself. I often pick up burdens of  anxiety, pressure, guilt and shame. I need reminders of the good news, “It is finished.” That old way of life is dead. I do not have to bear the weight any more. I can live in freedom, even after Good Friday.

Love God.

Love People.

Trust Me.

Help some other people join you in this way of life.

The Epiphany, Three Kings Day, concludes the traditional Christmas season.

Christmas is the story of the God who came to earth to connect with people.

The Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12) is a story of people connecting with God in the person of Jesus.

The Magi from the East

Magi were wise sages who served as expert advisers to royal leaders.

They saw a certain star that announced a new king of the Jews was born. When your job is advising kings, you look for stars like that! They grabbed gifts fit for a royal family birth.  These were not baby toys! They traveled to the Jew’s capital city, to the royal palace … because that is where kings are born.

Then they discovered that the current king did not know about the new baby king. Yeah, that was awkward! Then they learned of an ancient prophecy that the Messiah (a special king) would be born in Bethlehem. Then they traveled to that remote rural town.

There they found a baby, not born to royalty, but to a displaced unwed couple of an occupied land. There they found a baby, not born in a palace, but in the most humble setting of a manger.

Magi normally interacted with royalty and stayed in luxury palaces. Magi were normally waited on by people like the family in the manger!

None of that mattered when the magi encountered Jesus. There was something about the baby that caused them to do the culturally unthinkable.

The esteemed magi bowed down and worshiped the baby born who was born in a manger.  The esteemed magi gave gifts fit for royalty to a family who would never see that much treasure in their lifetime.

Then, the story tells us, the magi were full of joy! They were full of joy as they gave and worshiped. They were full of joy as people who had connected with God.

While Christmas centers on God coming to earth to connect with people, Epiphany is about people actually experiencing that connection with God in Jesus.  It provides a model to receive that connection today.

The magi’s humility enabled them to connect with God.

The magi bent down before Jesus in humble worship.

The magi humbly gave their best to Jesus.

May we humble ourselves and connect God this Epiphany.

Is connecting with God at Christmas really an option for ordinary people?

Let’s  look at the story of the first Christmas again.

The story includes a group of ordinary people at a common job on just another day. Actually, they were below average in their day – a lower class, out of sync culturally, shunned religiously, plus they were smelly …

A group of shepherds were spending another night in the darkness of the fields

In the midst of darkness – a great light appeared. The light was the radiance of God.

Then an angel appeared.  An  angel was a messenger of God who carried with them the authority of God.

All of this happened to shepherds in the pasture – not priests in the temple or kings in the palace.

The angel announced “Good News of Great Joy for Everyone.”

The term “good news” was a royal declaration.

The shepherd were not used to being in the loop on royal or religious declarations.

But this message was for “everyone.”

It would bring great joy to everyone.

Even average people, even nobodies, even social and religious outcasts, even smelly shepherds.

Even you and me.

The good news was that the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord is born.

Why would this child bring “great joy” to everyone?

A multitude of angels appeared to summarize the implications of this birth.

They sang (some news is just that good!):

Glory to God in the highest places (because he has brought …)

Peace to the earth (because …)

His favor rests upon people.

This ancient message of Christmas is big.

Big enough for all of us.

How can you better realized the favor of God and peace on earth this Christmas?

How can you live more fully in the light of God’s Christmas declaration?