How many of us actually expect to keep them? I think the success rate, at least according to the internet (and everything out here is true), is roughly around 8%. But yet every time a New Year rolls around we find our selves resolving to be better. Whether it is kicking a bad habit, losing weight, becoming more healthy, etc., it is almost a rite of passage into a new year to resolve to augment our behavior in some way that will make us better. Somehow the idea of a fresh start is just the spark we need to radically alter who we were just yesterday…kind of sounds silly in print. And yet I find myself being in with the crowd on these as well. But one resolution has always plagued me a bit. It goes like this; “I resolve to draw closer to God.”
Now at face value this is a great resolution. Who wouldn’t want to draw closer to God? I know I do. I think the problem is how we go about it. We think somehow that drawing closer to God is something that is achieved on an individual level. As if he can only be encountered in my resolve to be personally accountable to His presence. And although I realize that we need time alone with God I believe that if we want to draw closer to God it looks a little different. Frank Weston, the one time Bishop of Zanzibar in the Anglican church wrote the following more than a hundred years ago: You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. … It is folly, it is madness, to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. . . . You have your Mass, you have your altars, you have begun to get your tabernacles. Now go out into the highways and hedges, and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them; and, when you have found Him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of His brethren.
Here is what I think I am trying to say. If you really want to resolve to draw closer to God this year then resolve to draw closer to the people He died for. By sharing God’s love and life with others we find a way to encounter God like never before. Jesus himself put it this way in Matthew 25:38-40 “When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’.”
So by all means resolve to draw closer to God this year. It could be the greatest resolution you make. But be certain, it can never be done within the walls of your own safety and security. Rather it is only through reaching out in Christ’ love to those who haven’t been encountered yet for the Kingdom. Here you will draw closer to God.
I like to think that I am a man of words. In fact, that is kind of how I make my living. Perhaps I don’t always choose the best words but I like to consider myself a student of how they can transform existence and even people sometimes. And now we find ourselves in one of the most amazing seasons of the Julian and Christian calendars….Advent. A season to anticipate and look forward to the coming of Christ, but also to reflect on his having come as God with us. So being a student of words I like to do comparisons and contrasts at times and I can’t help but link the word advent to the word adventure (after all it is the word’s root)…a word that implies risk, excitement or even danger. If you even break down the words into their appropriate pieces you have advent – coming and ure – action. You can see how that is kind of fun, right? (okay maybe I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to words).
But let’s put it into it’s proper context. The original Advent, or coming of God into flesh, was an amazing adventure on the part of God. The Incarnation can even be thought of as a a huge risk. God comes into the world and places his own well being into our hands. He even trusts a young unwed girl to be his mother and his chief care-taker. Sounds pretty risky to me. Not only that, but he then grows up and starts hanging out with outcasts, sinners, drunks, prostitutes, tax collectors and all the dregs of society. Talk about the ultimate thrill seeker. And it didn’t even pan out so well. Paul put it this way in Philippians 2:7-8 “…rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” So by embracing the adventure of Incarnation God ultimately places his life in human hands realizing that it would result in an untimely death (Of course we realize that it was held together by the hope of resurrection).
And so we come to this season of Advent and we realize that the call of Christ must become our call as well. We have been given the task of becoming incarnational (I realize it is not really a word) to those whom Christ would be present with. It may not be the people we would choose to associate with, but it is those to whom Jesus longs for us to be with. The burnout, the outcast, the forsaken, the estranged, the hurting, the broken, those alienated by the church, and the people who ultimately are nothing like us. I mean think about how different we were from Jesus being made to be like us. And becoming incarnational (again, I know its not a word…at least according to spell check, but it is a church word) may not always have a good outcome i.e. the cross. But we have hope beyond this life and so we really have no excuse.
May you find a way to be incarnational this Advent season and truly embrace the adventure of becoming God en-fleshed to someone who desperately needs to see Jesus.
Most of us probably never had a “Dead Poets Society” moment. And by “Dead Poets Society” moment I am referring to standing on ones desk and reciting Whitman or ripping out introductions to analytical literature texts or reciting poetry while kicking a soccer ball for all it’s worth. No wonder this movie was so much fun. And although not many of us have had these dramatic landmark moments in our educational experiences, I imagine many of us still have moments we can look back to that continue to shape who we are.
For me it was Mr. Michael Pettit; my high school literature teacher. While coming up through elementary school and Jr High, English was never a strong subject for me. It’s not that I didn’t make A’s (I mean look at how nerdy I am, did you really think anything differently?), it just wasn’t my favorite. I preferred the strict analytical methods of math and science versus the creativity and limitless methods found in literature and the like. And all of a sudden in my junior year of high school I found myself getting a “C” in Mr. Pettit’s British Literature class. But the great thing about Mr. Pettit is that he was not content to see an “A” student get lower marks in his class. One day he took me aside after school and talked to me for over an hour about how I wasn’t living into my gifts by doing so poorly in his class.* It had it’s effect. I started working harder and diving into assignments more. But even greater was the appreciation that I gained from the universal themes in literature he brought before us.
One such assignment was unique in that he had us memorize a Biblical text before our senior class in American Literature began. The text was as follows: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-4). And not only did we have to memorize it, but we also had to recite it in front of the entire class. Now why in the world would we recite a text Christ himself read in the synagogue before beginning a class on American Literature? Could it be that our mission helps us better see the world and those who have written and spoken to us about it through literature? Could it be that as the Spirit rests upon us we are challenged to move forward and all life must be lived out of this mission? You can see how I am still formed by a text I recited sixteen years ago in a small classroom.
So I ask you today: who are your poor? your brokenhearted? your captives and prisoners? Who are the ones for whom the Spirit of God as rested upon you in order to minister to? Maybe we all need a little “Dead Poets Society” moment after all…
* As you may or may not have inferred by this point, I wen to a private Christian high school. An amazing gift of sacrifice from my parents I will never be able to repay.
In the midst of watching a movie before school this morning (I know my parenting skills are lax at times) my eldest had a question regarding one of the character’s excitement about becoming rich. “Daddy, why do people want to be rich”. I simply replied that a lot of people love money. His reply got me excited, “But daddy, we love people more than we love money, right?”.* What a response. All of a sudden I see in the words of my six-year old what life really is all about. And the weirdest part about all of this; his revelation helped to pull me out of my own apathy. I sometimes find myself wallowing in apathy without even realizing how I got there. But all the same I was in a lurch.
I think without knowing it might be because we are shaped by our desires. I know that seems like an obvious statement, but I don’t think we care enough about it to shape our desires before they shape us. Think about it this way: your stomach grumbles, you seek out food. If you are tired, you seek out rests. If you are irritable, you seek solitude. And none of these things are wrong (although sometimes broken by sin nature) as they are inborn desires, but do we allow them to control us without tempering them to the Word that is alive within us? In the parable of the sower in Mark 4, Jesus helps us to understand untempered desires and how they control His presence in our lives. “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Apathy, anxiety and misplaced desire render us ineffective in our daily walks.
I would go even further. Apathy and anxiety lead to misplaced desire which leads to the Holy Spirit being quenched in our lives. If I become apathetic towards my own life and the lives of those around me, all of a sudden I really could care less how my natural and sometimes broken inborn desires affect the lives of those with whom I come in contact with. If I become too anxious about the future and about how things are going to work out I stockpile securities for my self and all of a sudden the pursuit of wealth takes top priority in my life and those around me take a back seat. That’s why Dakota’s statement from above becomes so pivotal to this discussion, “We love people more than money”. Do we love people more than wealth? Does the thought of encountering someone for Christ stir us out of our apathy and anxiety? Does it curb our natural desires to think about the impact we may have on those around us?
You know, Christ set the example for us on this. When he heard about his cousin John’s death in Matthew 14 he just wanted to get away. His natural desire was to just be alone for a bit. But here is what happened, “…he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Compassion reshaped Christ’ desire. Compassion can draw us out of our own apathy, anxiety and misplaced desires. May we find a person upon whom Christ is calling us to shower compassion on today.
* I think he understands the goal of ministry better than some pastors…just an opinion.