Where’s Your Agora?

No, an agora is not some body part that you haven’t ever heard of before. An agora is an English transliteration of the the Greek word αγορα. It means “marketplace” and it comes up in passages like this one from Acts 17:

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

Acts 17:16-17 NIV [italics added]

The marketplace was were Paul would go to sell his tents and tell people about the Risen King Jesus who was the Jewish Messiah and what that meant for their lives. It was something like a modern day mall, college campus, social media platform, and bustling city center all rolled into one. This place was a center of a city’s life in the ancient times. Where people who lived outside the city walls could sell the fruits of their labor, and where the city dwellers came together to get what they needed to make it through life in the big city. Naturally ideas would be past between people and it made it a perfect area for Paul to proclaim the Good News about Jesus to new ears!

But our world is not organized around an agora like the ancient world. When we shop, we often don’t talk to each other; when we post our ideas on social media, most of the time we are not offending the very people from whom we are buying the ingredients for the evening meal; when we go to our jobs, we often try to keep religion and politics as far from conversation as possible. We don’t have an easy place where we can go and tell people about the Risen King Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and what His life, death, and resurrection mean for the lives of everyone we talk to.

We need to try to identify: where’s your agora?  Everyone’s will be different, while maintaining some of the same elements. It is a place where you can rub shoulders with people who need to hear about Jesus, a place where you can speak about Jesus (even if it is uncomfortable… there are some places where talking isn’t really allowed), a place where other people will be open to hearing some really good news, and a place where you feel in your element.

Some of the folks at Grafted have identified these spaces for themselves and I want to throw them out there for your consideration:

  • the local playground
  • a bike shop
  • a college campus
  • a movie night in your home
  • a recurring cookout with your neighbors
  • during recess
  • at the gym
  • the local beer hall/smoke shop
  • a record store
  • your place of work
  • with your high school friends on social media

While it may feel daunting to see that list and think that you have to reach out in EVERY SINGLE ONE of those spaces, don’t feel overwhelmed! Pick a single space from your life and consider if it could be your agora. If that is you, start up a simple conversation with someone about who they are, what they do, and if they go to church and why or why not. Most people have some interesting stories to tell! Listen to them and they might ask you the same questions back! Tell them about the Risen King, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and how His life, death, and resurrection has effected your life.

And then see what happens!

Keeping Easter

It has now been almost three weeks since Good Friday and Easter this year. But so much has happened over the past couple of weeks that it feels like it has been forever since we came together and joyfully declared, “He is risen; He is risen, indeed!”

Maybe you aren’t feeling the same strain on your life and are finding it easy to remember and keep the joy and hope of Easter in your life and heart this year. But for me, I need some healthy reminders about how the death and resurrection of Jesus effects my life today.

This is why I need to constantly be both reading the Bible myself and be in conversations with other people who are trying to live out how Easter effects their life every day. The Bible, especially the letters in the New Testament, gives great examples of how the earliest followers of Jesus lived and were instructed to live because Jesus had died for them and had raised to new life. It is the same with other people who are trying to be followers of Jesus. Listening to how others are applying the joy and hope of Easter can give me me even more examples of how people live in light of Jesus.  Each give me ideas about what I can do in my own life, today!

What I really enjoy is the opportunity to discuss the Bible WITH people who are trying to follow Jesus and keep the joy and hope of Easter in their everyday lives. For instance I was talking to one of my favorite theologians and she said:

If you look at Paul’s letters, he’s like, “don’t be selfish; don’t suck; Jesus went to the cross you can handle being nice to one another.”
-R.A. Watczak

(13 book of the Bible summed up into one sentence… nice!)

But in this little sentence I was reminded that as I live my life selflessly, in a non-sucky way, and as I am kind to others because Jesus was kind to me, I can daily be reminded about the joy and hope of the Cross and Easter in all of the little things I do.

What about you? How are you keeping the joy and hope of Easter this year? How are you doing at interacting with the Bible and with other followers of Jesus to help remind and encourage you to follow Jesus?

Most of Us Don’t Do Sabbath Rest Well

I know it won’t come as a surprise to any of you that I was talking to my sister recently. I am not sure how the topic came up, but we got to talking about Sabbath rest an how sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between Sabbath Rest and Laziness. The conversation has been mulling around in my head a bit this week and I think I have come to two conclusions:

  1. My Christian circle doesn’t talk about Sabbath Rest enough.
  2. Most of us aren’t enjoying Sabbath Rest like we should.

Whether or not the first one is true, I am still going to write a blog post about Sabbath Rest… so arguing the validity of my argument feels like a waste of all of our time. But that second one… that is a pretty big claim. But before I show why I think that I am right, I want us to be on the same page about Sabbath. The verses where God commands the people of Israel to observe some kind of day without work are too numerous to list here, but in the first set of the 10 Commandments, found in the book of Exodus given by God at Mt. Sinai after Israel’s slavery in Egypt, God says this,

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11

I would love to include other circumstances that God gives this command to His people, but for now, let’s agree that the Sabbath was supposed to be a day without work that shows a trust in the God who provides and reflects the fact that even He rested when His work was finished.

With that under our belts, here are three reasons why I think most of us aren’t enjoying Sabbath Rest like we should:

Some of Us Are Too Busy

I don’t think that this is going to be a surprise to anyone. We all know someone who has such a full schedule that there isn’t any time for them to sit down to drink their coffee. They know where all of the drive through coffee shops are just to make sure they can consume their caffeine on the road and not slow down while they are getting juiced up for the rest of the day. Sometimes this busy state is self-inflicted (these are the workaholics among us). But a good portion of stay at home parents suffer from this same problem. From the moment they are awoken at 6 AM by another potty accident until the time that they put the last load of laundry in the dryer after the kids are in bed, these warriors on the front evangelistic lines (let’s face it, they witness to non-believing kiddos all day) have their throttle fully on. No matter where the source of the busyness, it can get in the way of us enjoying Sabbath Rest.

We Don’t Rest, Rather We Just Engage in Laziness

On the opposite end of the spectrum from those who are constantly working, there are those of us who are so good at “zoning out” with our eyes glued to a screen that it is a little scary. This is not a new problem for anyone. The method of being idle may now include screens, but even prior to the invention of the novel Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

2 Thessalonians 3:6-10

“The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Wow. Those who were being idle were such a drain on the family of God that Paul instructed that they not be allowed to eat!

When laziness is our modus operandi, we are unable to enjoy Sabbath Rest because we fill our down time with a substance called, “Nothing,” instead of enjoying God’s rest.

Lastly, We Don’t Understand Sabbath Rest

The last reason why I don’t think most of us are able to enjoy Sabbath Rest like we should is that we don’t fully understand it. Throughout the Old Testament a call to rest is brought up many times, and the author of Hebrews attributes this repetition to this idea:

9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:9-10

The rests from work Israel were called to throughout the Old Testament pointed toward an ultimate rest from our ultimate labor: to be in relationship with God. Instead we must recognize that the work that is required so that we can be in relationship with God has been accomplished for us when Jesus declare that His work was finished (John 19:30), and He rested in a grave for a Sabbath before returning in His glorified body on the third day.

Conclusion

I truly hope that this post was a much needed mirror to help you look at the way that you organize your own life. I know it is hard to know how best to follow God, but I think that it is important for us to consider how we are enjoying the rest that God has offered to us through the completed work of Christ on the Cross. Sometimes that may mean taking some time off, other times it might mean serving someone else, still other times it might mean working our butts off on a project for someone who needs it. What are ways that you are able to enjoy the Sabbath Rest that God has offered you?

Is Christmas or Easter the Most Important Christian Holiday?

I love questions like this because it forces us to think about the things that God has done for us through sending His Son, who was born or a virgin, lived and taught as a wise man, suffered as a common criminal, and then was resurrected to new life to proclaim His divinity once and for all. Can we really tear them apart, Christmas and Easter? One cannot have its own importance without the other…

Those are fun thought experiments. But I think that they miss one of the most vital moments in all of human history: the moment Christians celebrate on Good Friday.

So much of the Old Testament points forward to this moment. From the prophecy that one of Eve’s children would be a snake crusher who would be crushed by the snake himself after the first sin:

[God said to the snake, “] 15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

To the promise to the patriarchs that through the family of God all of the nations of the world would be blessed:

12 The Lord had said to Abram, …
“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.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:1-3

To the sacrificial system set out in the Levitical Law (there are, like 613 laws… ah, I am not going to be able to reference all of them here… but if you want something specific, go take a gander at Leviticus 16). To the saving nature of some of the leaders of Israel:

16 Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.

Judges 2:16

To the outlook of the prophets, who looked forward to a time when God would send the best example of a savior for His people:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

So much of the story of God’s interaction with people leads to the moment when Jesus was nailed to a cross and died. In that moment both the snake and Jesus were crushed, blessing was extended to the whole world for all could now be a part of the Family of God, the Lord has sent a true Leader who could save His people out of the hands of those who would have us turn away, and,

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

And now our lives have been changed because of Jesus’s incredible sacrifice. Truely, by His wounds we are healed. Our sins are forgiven. We are made new.

While Christmas and Easter are certainly important holidays for Christians, most of the story of God’s interaction with His people points toward and flows out of the cross of Good Friday.

It’s Snowing in April!

While this may have happened last year as well… a huge snowstorm in April is still unconventional. Granted, it definitely made me think about the song lyrics that say,

Jesus paid it all;
all to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain;
He washed me pure as snow.

I started wondering, is this just a really fun word picture, or did the lyricists get it from the Bible? Enter everyone’s favorite superhero: Google Search!

Looks like Isaiah 1:18 may be our winner! Check it out here in its original context:

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

In this passage Isaiah is calling out his fellow Israelites because they we not fulfilling their destiny as the children of Abraham. God called Abraham’s children to fulfill the promise God first made to him at the very beginning of Abraham’s journey with God in Genesis 12:2-3:

“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.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

All of the peoples of the earth should have been being blessed by the Israelites, including the fatherless and the widows among them. But, alas, no such luck. Israel had sinned by not becoming the people God had called them to be. And in their ledger their sin had left marks of scarlet and red crimson.

But God promised Israel that there would be a time when all the red would be removed, all the stain from the sins would be white, like snow…

It is simply the genius of God that the thing that He would use to both fulfill all of Israel’s failures and bless all of the nations of the world was the deep crimson red blood of Jesus. Ephesians 1:7 says,

In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

And Ephesians 2:13 says,

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Through the blood of Jesus, the sins, which marked Israel’s ledger red, have been forgiven. By the blood of Christ the blessing of being a part of God’s family have been brought near to to everyone!

While the white snow may be a bit overwhelming, especially since it has fallen so late in the year, it also reminds me of the scarlet-crimson-red stain that sin left on the ledger of all of humanity; it also reminds me of the scarlet-crimson-red blood of Jesus which simultaneously brings everyone who is willing to submit to God into His family and washes away the stain, so that even our sins are as white as snow.

My Grill is Broken

I am not sure if any of you remember this past winter… but at some point it was still warm enough for me to go outside and grill up some bacon… I think it was around Christmas time… And then the grill was all warm and so I decided to let it cool down before putting the cover on… but then it was too cold at night for me to want to go outside and put the cover on once it had cooled down… And then it snowed. A lot. And then it got really cold, and then warmed up and snowed more, and then got really cold again, and then warmed up and snowed even more…

The end product of this story was that this spring, as the icicles from the ice dams on my roof started to fall, I could not move my grill, for it had become frozen in place.  To top it off, it was frozen WITHOUT a cover to protect it from said falling ice, due to my failure to take care of it before the snow fell.

Most people hear this story and think, “Well, that’s nice. Hopefully you can learn a lesson from the natural consequence of not having a grill until you buy one at some point this summer.”

I deserve that. And, come next fall, hopefully I will have learned my lesson. (Always cook bacon inside… that is the right lesson, right?)

But for now, my family needs to deal with the fact that Daddy’s neglect has led to our having a harder time doing one of the ministries that we love doing together: Friday Night Neighborhood Cookouts! This year we are going to have to rely on the rest of the neighborhood’s willingness to host a bunch of people grilling, a bunch of kids running, and a bunch of chaos happening, on on their small Minneapolis plot of land. I think it will work out; it is just going to take some more organizing this year compared to last summer’s plan.

How are you planning on using the warm weather to reach out to your neighbors?
-Are you planting a garden? _ou can swap tips, tricks, and stories about Jesus with the folks next door who also have a bunch of fruits, veggies, and weeds growing!
-Do you plan on spending more time down at the local park running/working out or playing with your kiddos? Meeting folks on the trails or as you watch the kids (to make sure they don’t injure themselves beyond repair) is a great time to tell the tale of how Jesus runs after you and keeps you protected from the ultimate evil brought upon you by your own sin!
-Is biking more your thing? I don’t understand biking culture, but I know that the folks who ride 3 feet away from multiple ton vehicles whizzing past them have to swap close calls every now and then… Why not spice up the conversation with your close encounter with the Risen Lord?
-Are you planning on hosting cookouts of your own this summer? It is easy as a note in everyone’s mail box that reads, “Meet around the grill on (insert date) at (insert time) at (insert location) with your own meat (or other grilling item) and a side dish to share. See you there! Contact me, (your name here), at (your phone number here) with any questions.” Sharing food and sharing life go hand in hand! Talk about how you spiced your main dish; talk about how Jesus spiced up your life/became your main dish…

(I think that last one went a little too far…)

Share your summer evangelism plans below so that we can all share ideas!

Remember:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

1 Peter 3:15

Whatever You Do…

I have been thinking a lot lately about a verse in the Bible that says,

17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:17

It was one of those verses that was put to music for me as a youth and so it has stuck well in my mind as I recall scripture I have memorized in the past. But this verses has once again become alive to me as I have tried to think through the implications of doing EVERYTHING in the name of the Lord Jesus.

There is so much to EVERYTHING. My day starts with a snooze or two of three different alarm clocks. Am I taking master over my time in the name of Jesus, or am I letting time be master over me. I drive into work eating a couple of bananas on the way to help me wake up. Is that the best way to eat in the name of the one who created all things? I often am racing the clock to make sure I punch in before my start time. Does that action fall under something that honors the name above all names? I have a couple of fellow UPSers who don’t have the best of reputations around the operation. Am I treating them in a way that shows off that I have been remade into a likeness of God through Christ, or do I just perpetuate the negative talk? I race home to help get the kids up and on the bus. Will my kids look back on the memory of their father and be able to think about their Heavenly Father fondly, or will they have to reject what their earthly father taught them so that they can fall in love with the one who loves them more than I ever could? So far we have made it to 8:19 AM, and the kids are on the bus.

There is so much to EVERYTHING!

God isn’t just interested in the time you have set aside to be devoted to Him by reading your Bible or praying. He is interested in ALL of you. He made all of you to be something that reflects who He is to a watching world.

How do you reflect the God who loves extravagantly, the One who creates order from chaos, the One who molds beauty from ashes, and the Lord who saved you from the power, presence, and penalty of your sin in ALL that you do? Seriously, I wanna know! Leave a comment and we can talk about some of the ways we have found to pull this off!

The Gospel in Dental Floss

One of the ways that we have been trying to teach our kinds about Jesus and the gospel is asking them to figure out ways that their current activity relates to them.  (Sometimes finding the relationship between “How to Train Your Dragon” and the gospel is a bit of a stretch… but we normally are able to find it!)  The only problem that I have found with this practice is that now I find myself doing it all the time!

For instance, I was flossing… not the awesome yet overdone dance move… flossing my teeth and all of a sudden it hit me: cleaning my teeth is a lot like the gospel.  Every single day I brush my chompers, both morning and night, to keep them looking fresh and free from plaque and germs… but there is something about using a bit of dental floss that gives my mouth a “fresh from the dentist feel.” When I rub my tongue against the back of my teeth after flossing it is crazy how different it feels! (TMI? Sorry…)

The thought that hit my head after flossing: we need a refresher of the gospel every day. Actually going and trusting a dental hygienist and dentist to get your mouth completely clean is the only way to actually make sure you are in for some good oral health, but every day we need to do our part. We need to not just coast through life brushing to make sure we don’t have bad breath, but actually taking out the floss and getting rid of the nastiness! (And it gives us the added benefit of reminding us how good our mouth feels when we come out of the dentist’s office!) Actually going and trusting the God of the universe to cleans you from all of your unrighteousness is the only way to actually make sure that you are in for some good spiritual health, but every day we need to do our part. We need to not just coast through life with a prayer at meal times and attending our small group and Sunday service every once in a while, but actually commit each day to God and seek reminders from Him about who you are in His world, from His Word, and through the guidance of His Spirit and His people. (And it gives us the added benefit of reminding us how good it feels to be in the presence of the Most High King known as one of His children!) We need a reminder about the gospel every single day.

I think this is why Peter wrote these words:

12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

2 Peter 1:12-15

We need reminders about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every day.  What are you doing that helps you?

Do You Remember?

I listened to a sermon online recently that encouraged the people of the church to all come to the point where they have all at least read the bible.  The idea was that the bible is our sacred book, we should at least probably know what is in there…

Recently I have been using the ReadScripture App put out by The Bible Project folks.  While it is a bit boring normally to just read through the Bible from cover to cover, this app has videos to help me on my way, and the checklist helps me see how far I have gotten through a book, which I like.  Either way, here is a link…

https://www.readscripture.org/

Anywho, I am starting up Joshua right now.  (The first book after Moses kicks the bucket and tells the stories of how Israel made their home in the promised land.) The first time the Israelites head across the Jordan River in the promised land, Joshua gathered 12 stones taken out of the river to help Israel remember that God had parted the river for them.

20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over.

Joshua 4:20-23

When something wonderful happens in your life, do you make some kind of physical action to remember the event? I wear a ring to remind of the day when I became Chelsea’s husband (THAT was a good day.) We have marks on our bathroom wall to show each of the kids’ heights at different ages. I gather with my brothers and sisters to worship God on the day of the week that Jesus came back to life after He died to forgive our sins.

When children ask us, “Why do we gather on Sunday?” we can tell them, “This is the day of the week that God showed the world that sin and death don’t win in the end.”  It is one of the many reasons why I love gathering with you all on Sundays; I hope it will help you worship God on Sundays as well.

Be Prepared!

This Wednesday I was about to walk outside, when I started to hear the severe weather siren sounding. I started to get a bit confused, because while I was growing up these alarms only sounded in the summer (or maybe they sounded all year long and I was having too much fun at school to notice…). But then I realized that it was the first Wednesday of the month, and it was only a test. These alarms go off every month so that if there ever is severe weather we will be prepared to react to it is the best way possible.

It got me thinking about all the ways that we need to be prepared… from being ready for a everything (thank you Boy Scouts for that one):

Image result for be prepared

To getting ready for the death of the king…

Image result for be prepared lion king

To getting ready for the installment of a new king over a whole new earth:

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Revelation 21:5

To getting ready for the moment when we will all join this new heavens and new earth:

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51‭-‬52

Being ready is an idea that even Jesus asked His disciples to do in Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the 10 virgins. Herein 5 of them were ready and got to go to the feast when the Bridegroom returned, while the other 5 weren’t and were left out from the fun!

After my mind raced with all of these ideas, I got to thinking about how precious today is, because we only get it once.  After today is over, we will never experience it again. Am I prepared to face it? Am I ready to go out into this world that is full of hurting people who happen to be hurting others out of their pain? Am I ready to share the greatest news that I have ever heard with everyone I meet? Am I ready to talk to that one single person about the fact that Jesus is my Lord and Savior?

Am I ready?

I am reminded by Marshall Bruce Mathers III that I need to be ready because I only get one shot to do today, so I better be listening to the music of God so that I can be ready… honestly, it might be better to let him tell you:

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime you better
Lose Yourself, by Eminem

Luckily for us we get a reminder every month, on the first Wednesday of the month, at 1 PM, that we need to be prepared.  Are you?