Desiring God.. in Farsi.. for my Persian friends

One of the most foundational truths I have come to know about God is that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” What that means is that God desires to be made much of by us (to be glorified or honoured) but that this is done by us finding the deepest JOY and satisfaction in him. Not dry begrudging religiosity but deep and profound joy. It is not that we desire too much pleasure and need to beat ourselves into submission and desire less. We do not desire pleasure enough because if we did, we would turn to the source of all pleasure.. God himself.

He is not far away. He desires us to desire Him.. “to taste and see that the Lord is good.”

I have been on this website thousands of times for the scripture and the resources it gives me to whet my appetite and learn about our beautiful God and Saviour. Now it is in the process of being translated all into Farsi. Have a click and let me know what whets your appetite or turns over your thoughts about God to being a joy bringer.

Desiring God  in Farsi

If you, like me, need it translated, here is the English website. 

"Integrity – The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality" – book recommendation

Post Christmas I have been reading a few good books. I will post a list of my 2012 recommendations on here shortly but this is one I have been particularly enjoying this week. Henry Cloud is a trained psychologist and is a consultant to business leaders, CEOs of fortune 500 companies and many other organizations helping people change and grow to be more effective. His practical explanations, years of experience, and insightful writing make his book a useful and challenging read. The key area that he sees people be “stuck” i.e. be hindered in their effectiveness in work, in relationships and in life is integrity. He goes through it outlining how integrity affects the “task” area of life as well as the “relational” area and helps us see how they are integrated and lead to our demise or ineffectiveness. Though I am not there yet, I know he explains how to begin to work on those areas of weakness so you can be a whole person. I am looking forward to seeing how the rest of the book plays out. 

“Just as we leave the effects of our work behind in results, we leave the effects of our interactions with people behind in their hearts, minds, and souls. We leave a wake of people behind us as we move through their lives and their organizations.” – henry cloud

How are you doing in these areas of character?

1. The ability to connect authentically (which leads to trust) 
2. The ability to be oriented toward the truth (which leads to finding and operating in reality) 
3. The ability to work in a way that gets results and finishes well (which leads to reaching goals, profits, or the mission) 
4. The ability to embrace, engage, and deal with the negative (which leads to ending problems, resolving them, or transforming them) 
5. The ability to be oriented toward growth (which leads to increase) 
6. The ability to be transcendent (which leads to enlargement of the bigger picture and oneself ) pp 34-35

Cloud, Henry (2009-10-13). Integrity: The Courage to Face the Demands of Reality (pp. 17-18). HarperBusiness. Kindle Edition.

Some thoughts on Jesus… a ramble on the virgin birth, brokenness, and the life that sets us free

Twas the night before Christmas …I am holed up in Ohio with my family on a rare and precious Christmas trip home. Due to my life overseas I miss a lot of family Christmas’s. This has brought me much gratitude for the little things this year. There is nothing better to write to you about on Christmas eve than the One whom we celebrate. I thought I’d write you a few thoughts on Jesus.

1.) The Virgin birth was significant. Predicted years before it happened (about 2600 years ago). Came true (about 2000 years ago). Matters. It should matter to you. 

2.) The birth of Jesus is good news. It is good news for the people before Jesus was born and it is good news to you today. Moses and Abraham (who lived thousands of years before Jesus) were waiting for the coming of Jesus. How many babies do you know of that are good news to people who lived and died before them? Yes. Think about that. The best it can be for most people is if there are future generations so your family name doesn’t die out. Cool but that doesn’t change a lot about your circumstances. This baby came to pay for the sins of the people before him trusting in God’s promise for a Saviour annnd the people after him. This baby came to bring freedom. Now that is dope as my NY friends would say. 

3.) Jesus is called many things.. but one of them Immanuel, “God with us,” should make us stop and think. 

4.) Jesus (should) matter(s) to you because: 

  • His odd way of being born to a virgin interrupts the sinfulness all of us are born into. He was born sinless and remained that way. He can give you the forgiveness you want, the clean slate you need, and the new life that can only come through taking on what He is offering you: His own life. 
  • (As I reread that I should note that it wasn’t sex that was what made us born sinful.. it is being in the line of all the people before who were born sinful. Think of the virgin birth as breaking up the genetics. Just a side note to clarify. Also read The Gospel and Sex by Tim Keller for further clarifying.)
  • His humility and nothingness of being born to a poor couple in a barn shows us something shocking about God- God is not a tyrant or far away or indifferent. He loves you very much. He dwelt among us. He knows every pain you have felt. Personal to me at the moment, I can see in the life of Jesus: He has experienced every betrayal that has torn apart my soul. He knows what it is to suffer. He is not far away from grief but understands it, is acquainted with it personally. Even when you and I don’t have answers, we can see something in God the King who was born in a barn to an earthly set of parents that.. we are not alone.. He gets us, He cares, He loved us enough to come live in this space with us.
  • The life of Jesus is unlike anyone else’s ever. Try a read of one of the gospels (the biographies of his life in the beginning of the New Testament). Unlike what many people think.. if you read through one you will discover He wasn’t trying to get people to imitate him and give them a set of niceties to follow. He was beginning the process of undoing all the bad. Jesus was ushering in the start of the change to this broken world.. it’s not done yet (in case you were wondering). The life of Jesus is a revolution, ushering in a new way to live, a new kind of Kingdom, God’s Kingdom, the restoration isn’t finished.. but He was starting it.. He was ushering in the return of the King, the now and not yet complete end to sin and death and brokenness and first starting with turning over human hearts… 
    Looking for the perfect gift for Jesus? He wants you to give him your sin, & he’ll give you new life. Christianity is a gift exchange. – mark driscoll 

  • People were out to get him from the start – King Herod had lots of babies killed in Bethlehem to try and wipe out this King who was born. It’s worth you paying attention  that before he was born wise men were seeking him to go worship him (probably Persians I should add, it took them awhile to get there, on foot or camels and all). Kings wanted to kill him. 2000 years later He is still not forgotten whether it’s our worship of Him or being taken as a slang swear word. The drama surrounding this guy started before he was born, continued through his short life and continues thousands of years later. All of that should make us pay attention and ask the question.. who IS He? 
  • If we ask the question who is He.. depending on the answer you must then ask… what does this have to do with me? Your shortcut is this: Everything. What he offers you and I as well… is everything. 

The world is not as it should be. You know that. I know that. God promised at the beginning of the brokenness, when it all came undone from it’s goodness, as the world fell into destruction and decay, into violence, anarchy to God’s rule as King, that he would someday free the world through the seed of a woman who would crush the head of the one who brought destruction. A long time later a dude Isaiah records that the “virgin would be with child and would have a son and his name would be Immanuel” (which means God with us). (Genesis 3, Isaiah 7:14)

All of humanity lives in the gene pool of Adam we have all fallen. We are all broken. Stuck. A slave to our brokenness and cravings. We don’t live as we were created to live: in perfect harmony with God our creator. There are these two genealogies which I always found really boring to read as a kid at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel and Luke’s gospel. Now I know they were put there on purpose and they matter. They tie Jesus back to Abraham and to Adam: important people who lived a long time ago, but also broken people who were like us, sinful, fallen, and whom the Saviour was predicted would come through their lineage. He was raised adopted by Joseph, born of Mary: they both had the right lineage to fulfill the predictions of where this Saviour, Messiah would come from. But also as the angels told Mary, she, a virgin, a real one, would have a baby, not a baby brought there the normal way but one put in her womb by God’s Spirit. Kinda like the first IVF baby. It was an interruption to sin’s beginnings. God became a man: God with us. The genealogies help us see that. They want to make sure the readers know that Jesus had the right lineage. He was in the line of King David, of the tribe of Judah… more past predictions of this Saviour who was coming.. Yet.. he was not like an ordinary baby born into the same line as all the rest of us… he was coming to trump the first man who fell, to buy the human race out of slavery so we could be given life. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 The solution to sin and death in the world wasn’t try harder, but God himself was coming to sort us out. In the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have hope. New beginnings. The ability to be forgiven. The ability to be changed in a real way. The ability to be set free. The security of being known, loved and in relationship with God himself. The hope of a new changed world coming..

Those are just a few of my ponderings about Jesus this Christmas eve. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV)

Something to listen to: 

A Christmas (Fictional) Poem by John Piper (Hope for the Hurting)

…God’s humility in stooping low..

I saw this written in a Christmas update from an old friend and it was beautiful and I liked the way Christmas was explained so I thought I’d share it. 

“We have hope on Christmas, not in our ability to do better and reach high, but in God’s humility in stooping low.  In becoming like us so that he might save us.  Through his life and ultimately his death, our chaos and longing come to an end and we celebrate in hope and joy!  Because, our God was born a baby and by stooping low to be with us he has provided a way that we may be lifted high to be with him!”

Letters from prison at Christmas : Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer awoke December 25, 1943 on a hard wooden bed. It was the first of two Christmases he would spend sequestered in a Nazi prison.
This first Christmas would be celebrated in a lonely prison cell in a place called Tegel. He had been there for nine months, and he would be there for nine more until he was transferred to his final home, a Nazi concentration camp.
Bonhoeffer had hoped to be released for the holiday, but that was contingent on his personal lawyer who proved unreliable. His hope of spending Christmas with his family quickly evaporated into the cold silence, and his only connection with his parents would come through letters.

Inside Tegel

In the Tegel prison, Bonhoeffer and his 700 fellow inmates were treated as criminals irrespective of trials and verdicts. The men were underfed and verbally harassed, and frequently the warden refused to turn the lights on, adding to the dark and depressive spirit of the place. Bonhoeffer was assigned to a cell surrounded by prisoners awaiting execution. He writes about often being kept awake at night by the clanking chains of the cots as the unsettled, condemned men tossed and turned.1
But it was within this suffocating suffering that Christmas seemed to take a deeper meaning for the 37-year-old pastor-scholar. “A prison cell like this is a good analogy for Advent,” he wrote to a friend. “One waits, hopes, does this or that — ultimately negligible things — the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”2

Two Sides to Christmas

For Bonhoeffer, there are two sides to Christmas. There is a hopeless precursor side to Advent. Until God arrives, we have no hope for release from this imprisonment of our own sin. We are stuck and condemned, and the door is locked from the outside. We depend completely on Someone from the outside to free us.
And yet on the other side of Christmas, on the other side of the birth of Christ the King, we find suffering remains. We find freedom and hope, but the suffering is not washed away. As Martin Luther says, “God can be found only in suffering and the cross.”3 It is in the suffering of the Son of God that we find God.
From his birth in a despised manger, to his death on the cross, the Son of God suffered. Christ was acquainted with pain (Isaiah 53:3). And because Christ was familiar with it, we too are made familiar with suffering (2 Corinthians 1:51 Peter 4:13).
The wisdom of God in the suffering of his Son baffles us. Christ became weak and vulnerable in order to suffer for us in his full payment of our sin (Philippians 3:9). What this means is that the child of God suffers, but not because God has withdrawn from him, but because God has drawn close. We are united to Christ and we share in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10).

A Christmas More Meaningful and Authentic

Which brings me to Bonheoffer’s Christmas letter from the Tegel prison to his parents Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer on December 17, 1943. In it he asks that they not worry or fret about their separation. He will find joy in their enjoyment of the holiday. They will feast together, and he will feast on the memories of precious Christmases past.
At one point, Bonhoeffer writes this:
Viewed from a Christian perspective, Christmas in a prison cell can, of course, hardly be considered particularly problematic. Most likely many of those here in this building will celebrate a more meaningful and authentic Christmas than in places where it is celebrated in name only.
That misery, sorrow, poverty, loneliness, helplessness, and guilt mean something quite different in the eyes of God than according to human judgment; that God turns toward the very places from which humans turn away; that Christ was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn — a prisoner grasps this better than others, and for him this is truly good news.
And to the extent he believes it, he knows that he has been placed within the Christian community that goes beyond the scope of all spatial and temporal limits, and the prison walls lose their significance. . . .
With great gratitude and love,
Your Dietrich4

Suffering Brings Meaning to Christmas

Ironically, we can miss this meaning of Christmas if our celebration is only wrapped up in comfortable warm fires and the fellowship of friends and family. We can miss the memory of our desperation that required the Son of God to suffer for us. We can miss the personal desperation met in the manger. And we can miss out on the fellowship of his sufferings.
As we have recently explored, Christmas and suffering are deeply interwoven themes in Scripture. Personal suffering brings deeper meaning to Christmas. And in a season of suffering, the child of God discovers that he suffers not because God has drawn away, but because God has drawn close to us convicts, drawn close through a manger, drawn closer to us than the hard prison cell walls of a cold Nazi prison.

1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 8, Letters and Papers from Prison (Fortress, 2010), 343–347.

2 Ibid., 188.

3 Luther’s Works (Fortress, 1957), 31:53.

4 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 8, Letters and Papers from Prison (Fortress, 2010), 224–226.

Christmas Memories and the Costs of following Emmanuel

These are the shadows of the things that have been
That they are what they are, do not blame me! – the ghost of Christmas past 

My favourite Christmas memories involve a family reunion on my dad’s side of the family that happened yearly for most of my childhood just weeks before Christmas where we rented the Firestone shelter house, brought tons of food to share and ate and chatted for hours. It had a crackling fire and I remember running around the giant room madly with my cousins playing while the 50- 80 grown ups from the extended family played card games loudly and sooner or later you’d hear someone shouting that uncle Ronny was cheating. 
My dad ripped our fireplace out when I was a kid to put in a wood burning stove for economic reasons. For this reason, our house in the winter was always so nice and piping hot. Love the smell of woodsmoke and curling up in our living room watching films like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Snowman, A Christmas Story, The Nutcracker (though I have seen this on stage as a ballet quite a few times and nothing beats it as a ballet)  and the BBC version of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. For some reason it was always on at Christmas time in the States. And let’s not forget: A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. 
How can you not love the Muppets and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol mashed together? I grew up on Muppets. Muppets Tonight, Muppet Babies, other various Muppet goings on and love love this film. 
Though I saw the Holiday the other day it did not quite feel like I had kicked off the Christmas season cinematically til I saw an old classic. All nestled and all snug in my bed in England.. while my immense love of fairy lights and candles threatened to burn my room down and Kermit sang of Christmas. Christmas is finally around the corner. The only thing missing was my family and our place in Ohio. 
I have found there to be many weighty costs in my life. For the sake of the good news of Jesus being made known elsewhere, I made a decision to leave home and live far away. I was speaking to someone this week who is feeling the weight of their decisions to live so far from family for education purposes and they said “what is there but family in this life?!” They are going home soon. I wanted to cry and agree with them. They got me on a bad day when I was really homesick. Then something stopped me. There is nothing more important than family. I agree wealth and opportunity and jobs don’t seem good enough reasons to me. Helping people know God’s love and forgiveness is a reason why many of us in my world leave home. It costs us dearly. One of the costs is missing my family more than I can fathom. This Christmas I am getting to go home due to a cheeky Irish woman giving me a tip off that Dublin was cheaper to fly from than London. It’s been years since I’ve had an American Christmas. I won’t be able to see many people. I will probably hibernate with my immediate family most of the time. But one of the things that it has welled up in me, with the vast amount of Christmas’s I have spent away from them is gratitude for the time I am getting this year. This year won’t be spent on my own or with friends or people I am vaguely familiar with but with my nearest and dearest. I don’t know what adventures the Lord will have for my future or how soon I will get another American Christmas so I will take every moment home as precious and savour it this year.