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Posts in Bill White
Showers of Blessing...

I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beastsso that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. Ezekiel 34:25-27 

Ezekiel gives the people this picture of from God to help them endure their long and weary exile. They feel like strangers in a strange land, which is a lot like how Paul calls us "strangers and aliens" on this earth (Ephesians 2:19) and how Jesus says "you do not belong to this world" (John 15:19). There has always been this hunger in the human heart, and only God can meet it - and he does.

God's promise is to send "showers of blessing," right in the middle of your hardship, your exile, your desire to belong. 

The saints of old often used their imagination to help them experience God's love. This may seem strange, but today I want to encourage you to try this exercise: close your eyes and imagine God's love like a refreshing rain, pouring over you. Just sit in the rain, allowing it to drench your soul with blessing. For some people, it can be helpful to set a timer for 3-5 minutes. You might want to read over that passage one more time before beginning, and then just to sit in quiet, imagining the rain of God's favor pouring over you. 

Detonating the Gospel

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20:17-18

Mary grabs onto Jesus, so thrilled she can hold him again. And yet, he wants so much more. He ascends into the spiritual realm so that now, not only one person can hold him in her arms, but that each of us can hold him in our hearts. The ascension detonates the gospel, exploding it into the world. And notice who the very first missionary is… Mary.

Jesus's last word to Mary, the messy one, is “Go…” That makes her, the original witness and the first Christian, also the apostle to the apostles and the world’s missionary prototype! Mary’s job is pretty simple: to tell what she’s experienced - first of all to those disoriented friends of Jesus who need to reconnect with the living Christ. 

How might God be speaking to you today through Mary? What story do you have to tell others?

The One Who Called Stars by Name

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out. John 20:16

Jesus, the one who called stars by name (Psalm 147:4), awakes a universe of hope within Mary just by calling her by name. There’s something about that tender voice, that gentle and strong and hopeful voice, that brings a person back to their center. 

Jesus has a habit of calling people by name. Sometimes changing their names to one he deems more suitable, sometimes not. But always reminding us that he is not just “the Big Man Upstairs” or some generic higher power. Jesus is a real person, even now, after the resurrection. And he interacts with real people, and he does so personally. Individuals, who have names and stories and dreams and heartaches, matter.

Today would you take a few minutes to rest in silence? Perhaps find a quiet space at home or go to a park or close your eyes where you are right now. Breath deeply a few times and then ask Jesus to meet you personally in some way. Listen for him.

On the Lookout

At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” John 20:14-15

How many times each day do we turn around, pricked by some realization or thought or noise or person, and not realize that it’s Jesus who is speaking to us? That’s what happened to Mary on that first Easter morning. I wonder if the real issue for her was the same as it is for us: she wasn’t expecting to see Jesus. Or, perhaps to say it more clearly (for us too!), she wasn’t expecting him to be more than an old idea or a dead body. 

What if you went through your hours and your days expecting Jesus to show up? There might be more disappointments - more weeping - at the harshness of the world. And yet, there might be a lot more hope, too. And I mean hope in the sense of a very real and palpable experience of connection with the world beyond, with the living Lord, who is reaching into the mess and muck of our mundane world to remind us of our belovedness and our mission. (I suspect there may be more guidance as well, but that’s over sold in the Christian world; Jesus is less interested in you getting each step of your day right because he’s far more interested in you getting it right about being loved and loving others).

Is there a practical way you could be on the lookout for the risen Lord this day? Perhaps start by practicing just a little bit of silence to let all the busyness of your mind and heart and body slow down so that you can pay more attention this day.

Willing to Weep

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. - John 20:11

On Sunday Brenna talked about how weeping is often a prerequisite to hope. Until we face reality, we can’t have a hope that’s real - instead we’re just stuck with wishful thinking. Too often we’re content with this kind of flimsy hope because it’s such hard work to face reality. 

To look at the world as it really is evokes a lot of sadness. The poverty, racism, oppression, ignorance, and despair can overwhelm us. And then there’s looking at the reality inside of our own hearts: our loneliness, selfishness, roundedness, insecurities and deception. 

No wonder Mary wept outside the tomb - without Jesus, who had saved her from her own demons and who had begun setting the word to rights, there was plenty to weep over. But those tears and that willingness to show up at the tomb were what got her close to Jesus and ready to embrace him. 

What causes you to weep? Is there away to connect with your deep sadness, and to do it with Jesus, so that he can be the one who brings true hope into your life?

In Every Season

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
    they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
    he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
- Psalm 92:12-15

As we're thinking about the different seasons of life it's important to know that there are certain things that make all seasons better (whether it's raining or the sun is shining!). When the poet who wrote this psalm uses the term "righteous" many times we think of goody-goodies or legalists or prudes - but that's not what it means. The righteous are those who are connected intimately to God, who are embracing the God-life, who are living out God's teachings from the heart. 

For those deeply connected into God, each season just goes better. Not that it's easy - just better. The 'cedars in Lebanon' that this passage refer to all face Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter - and yet they are huge and beautiful and strong. The key in the poet's image is that the righteous are "planted in the courts of the Lord." That's what makes them thrive - regardless of whether it's a seasons of hardship or fruitfulness, they have their roots in God. They are deeply connected.

Take time today to ponder how deeply you are connected to God. Ask God for the desire and the path to connect more deeply.

Sometimes God Shows Up...

"Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord."

Genesis 28:10-13

Sometimes God shows up in the least expected of places. As Jacob is fleeing for his life, running away from his dysfunctional family, God shows up and gives him an enormous vision for his future and the future of the world. Jacob was probably more interested in God providing some food for the next day or safe passage through the desert - after all, he didn’t have even enough clothes with him to roll up into a pillow. But God told him about his offspring covering the earth and being a blessing to every nation.

This is not unlike how God showed up in a cow barn two thousand years ago, but this time not in a vision but in person. When Mary and Joseph probably just wanted God to provide them with a bed, instead they got God’s own Son, in the flesh… and a flock of angels, some shepherds, and a few foreigners who were the ’spiritual seeker' type. 

Perhaps God is interested in showing up in your life today - your ordinary life, your crisis-filled life, your dysfunctional family life, your “I need a new job” life. And, instead of giving immediate answers to those situations, perhaps God is more interested in reminding you that you are part of his enormous story and that you have an important part to play in it regardless of present circumstances. Take some time to listen for him today.

Listening for his voice

Prov 3:5, The Message

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.

The sermon this Sunday was about the nine major ways to hear from God from Acts 16: 1-10. Since nine is a whole lot, we’re going to explore these practices of hearing from God both this week and next in our devotions. 

Today's passage is an intro to those nine ways to hear God because perhaps the biggest issue facing us as we think about our mission as a church to hear and respond to Jesus’s call towards wholeness is the question of desire. Do we really want to hear from God? Is that what we desire? After all, if God did direct us, if he did speak to us about our lives or our character or our calling, it may well be something we don’t want to hear. 

So how about you - do you really want to hear from God? 

As Proverbs 3:5 says, we’re invited listen to God everywhere we go and in everything we do.  Are you willing to make that your mission this week? If so, let God know that you want to listen and respond as best you can. Commit yourself to stretching your heart and your ears this week to be attentive.

Powering Up

In the early days of Israel's kingdom, after David and Solomon had passed from the scene, there was a lot of transition. When there's transition, there's opportunity for anxiety. And when there is anxiety, there's opportunity to respond according to God's ways or the ways of the world. 

Read this passage about how Solomon's son, Rehoboam, reacted to the anxiety he faced:

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. He asked them, “What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, ‘Lighten the yoke your father put on us’?”

The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’”

    -1 Kings 12:8-11

Young Rehoboam decides to power up over the people and it wrecks Israel. Side note: another translation is, "My little finger is bigger than your private parts!" - sounds like 'man talk' doesn't it?.

But I bet you can understand Rehoboam. You know what it's like to face an anxious situation. You know the temptation to power up. You've given into it plenty of times before, just like I have. For Rehoboam, his decision split Israel, and it would never be united again. That's because there's a high cost when we power up. Take some time today to repent for how you've powered up. Get in touch with the sadness about how you've messed up relationships, jobs, family, or finances. Tell God you're sorry. 

Then listen to these words, calling you into the Kingdom of Light:

Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

     -Jesus, in Matthew 11:29-30 The Message

True Unity

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. 
     -Galatians 3:28, The Message

Today we're going to read a little bit of theology as a way of reflecting deeper on the truths of scripture. This is an adaptation from book by James Alison. Read it slowly, a couple of times. Let it sink in. Let it lead you into worship today.

The unity which is given in and by the risen Christ is purely given.  It is indicative of no superiority at all over anyone else.  Anyone who genuinely knows the crucified and risen Christ can never again belong wholeheartedly to any other social, or cultural, or religious group.  He or she will always belong critically to all other groups, because all other groups derive their unity over-against someone or some other group.

The only unity to which he or she cannot escape belonging is the new unity of humanity that the Holy Spirit creates out of the risen Christ, the unity which subverts all other unities.  And this new unity… is not yet a realized unity, as must be apparent. 

The church does not teach that it is the kingdom of heaven, which is the realization of the unity in the new Israel, but that it is the universal sacrament of that kingdom.  That is to say, it is the efficacious sign of a reality that has been realized only in embryo.  As such, it is radically subversive of all other forms of belonging, all other ways of constructing unity.

-        James Alison, Knowing Jesus

Vision for the Kingdom

Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. 
     - Colossians 3:10-11, The Message

Paul is casting a radical new vision for what it means to belong in the kingdom of God. The typical way we think of ourselves is now obsolete. The way our culture defines us no longer matters. Even our religion is gone. Now our life is in Christ. Now he defines who we are. And not just who we are - who others are as well. 

That means that he gets to include all the people he wants in this new adventure called 'the kingdom of God.' And if his life on earth is any indication, we'll going to be spending a lot of time with people very different than us! That's why Rachel Held Evans writes, "What makes the gospel offensive is not who it keeps out but who it lets in."

What part of Jesus dissolving your group affiliations excites you most? Bothers you most?

What part of now affiliating with others in the kingdom excites you most? Bothers you most?

Talk with him about those things.