I am reluctant to write this post. But sometimes when you experience something your eyes are opened to greater truth. And I feel that this truth I recently encountered is something that we in the church need to hear. I think our behavior, as in those of us who call ourselves the church, as of late can best be classified as ‘unchristian’. Don’t worry. I am not jumping on some political rant or some evangelical bashing bandwagon in order to prove a point. Let me give you some context.
Recently my wife and I attended a party. I was both nervous and excited about the party because it was thrown by some friends of ours. However these friends of ours, although they are dearly loved, live a different lifestyle than us. And a majority of the party attendees would also fit into that category. I love meeting people, but this was going to be a unique scenario as I was afraid as to what many of the people might think when they learned what I did for a living (As a side note, this often takes people by surprise…I guess I need more sweater vests). But the party actually went swimmingly. And there was never any judgment levied against me for who I was and everyone was super friendly. In fact, I made some new friends.
A couple of days later I begin to think a bit about Jesus and the people he was often seen with. Luke 7:34 has Jesus depicting himself in the following fashion per the religious gossip, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus was accused of hanging out with people with whom he had very little in common. In fact, he was sometimes viewed as less because of it.
Now back to my original thought. Christian, at it’s core, was originally a slanderous term calling followers of the way “little Jesus’”. Their actions and lifestyles were completely modeled after Jesus. And although this was originally meant to carry negative connotations, for many of us who follow Christ it is now filled with honor and pride. But sometimes in the culture and media around us it once again has become a slanderous term. But I don’t think it is necessarily because our lifestyles always reflect that of Jesus. Let me explain way by terms of Confession…I don’t have too many friends who aren’t part of the church. In fact, my life is characterized by the fact that I surround myself for the most with other Christians. I don’t think if anyone looked at my life from the outside that they would accuse Andrew of being, ‘a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’. And this troubles me. Am I, by my very associations with Christians and not so much with others, being unchristian?
Just a thought….
I want to be a person of prayer. But not the typical definition of what you may be thinking of. Often times I think about a person of prayer as someone you want to bring your requests to. Someone who will get ahold of heaven until heaven answers back. But I am not sure this is the person of prayer I want to be.
I want to be a person of prayer. But not a person who prays selfish things or for the world to get easier or for life to get better. I want to be a person who prays for God’s Kingdom come in earnest. I think that if I pray for this then it changes the words I say and the way I look at the world. If my prayer for God’s Kingdom becomes my heart’s desire then I start to see it in action all around me.
I want to be a person of prayer. I want to learn to pray like Jesus did. He got away and prayed in solitude and I’m not sure what he prayed for but I imagine it was for people to understand that living life to the fullest is not the easiest life. Jesus came to give us life to the fullest but his life ended in death…and not just a death where you pass peacefully into the next life but a violent horrific death because his life lived to the fullest was misunderstood. And yet Jesus was a person of prayer.
I want to be a person of prayer. And I believe this requires action. But I also think it means inaction. Being a person of prayer may require me just to be quiet and think and listen because prayer is about hearing from God as much as talking to Him. I don’t think this will be easy, but I think it’s necessary.
I want to be a person of prayer. I want my life to be characterized by prayer and for it to be evident in how I live. I want prayer to be a defining characteristic of how I see the world and how I help others to see the world.
And as I become a person of prayer I want to pray like Jesus taught us to pray…
“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. ’ – Matthew 6:9-13
I was recently granted the opportunity of writing some curriculum for preteen students. I mention this only because my subject material was quite a challenge. I was commissioned to write about what it takes to trust God in difficult situations. The topics ranged from suffering and persecution to loneliness and doubts. Not exactly the easiest stuff to try to communicate to preadolescence students with burgeoning faith. The topic of loneliness is particularly difficult because more than anything it speaks to our human condition. Anyone reading this post has at one time or another experienced the feeling of being alone and it is particularly poignant during this season of the Christian calendar. This time of year we find ourselves embroiled in the Lenten fast and all that comes with it. Lent is a time to reflect on repentance, mortality, and ultimately our human experience. Lent is intended to bring us closer to the human experience of Christ as we practice life ‘without’ in order to understand what it fully means to experience life with Christ. It is no wonder that the culmination of the Lenten fast is the experience of Good Friday and the anguish Jesus must have experienced as the Triune God took death into itself in order to redeem our condition. Christ became the discarded on our behalf. He was rejected by the empire, by his own, by his followers and left to die…
I know this in no way compares, but without fail I always seem to get sick during Lent.* It is almost as if my body decides to remind me of my mortality in its’ own way. But being sick also leads to feelings of separateness and loneliness. Not to completely reflect selfishly, but sickness always makes one turn inwardly and be consumed with one’s own self. One of the most difficult things to do while being sick is to be a parent. In all honesty I wish I was wealthy enough to just hire my kids out to a nanny until I am back to my normal health. And that’s what amazes me about Christ. In the midst of the most miserable state one could possibly be in (beaten to the point of death, stripped naked, abandoned, and crucified as a common state terrorist outside the city gates) he proclaims, ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34. When he was at his most alone moment in his earthly life he was concerned for those of us who were perpetrating those acts.
So I return to Lent. A season where we practice some form of apartness (I realize this is a made up word, but if you have a degree in Theology you are allowed to do this) or separation for the sake of coming a little bit closer to understanding the sacrifice God made for us. So maybe it’s not too bad to feel sick…maybe being low is really the only way to come a little bit closer to knowing what it feels like for Christ to love us when we discarded Him.
* A quick disclaimer: If these random thoughts lack cohesion it is due to the fact that I am not at my best…
I come downstairs to a greeting much like this every morning. The signs of my son’s latest obsession. Ever since we started watching the Polar Express before Christmas we have started a journey of train exploration like none other. When my son plays, it is with trains. When he watches a movie, it is The Polar Express. When he talks about what he wants to be when he grows up, it is a conductor or an engineer (I so hope these jobs are still available when he grows up). And so every morning when I begin my day I am greeted with the signs of the previous day’s train adventures. I am reminded that my son has been hard at work acting out a world that matters most to him.
I could probably stop there and let the inference be enough…but that’s not my style;) In II Corinthians 2:14 the apostle Paul writes, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” As captives in the procession of Christ. Think about that imagery. We are so caught up by the person of Jesus that we are like prisoners following after him. Paul then goes on to say that as prisoners we are spreading the ‘aroma’ of the knowledge of Christ. The word in Greek is better defined as ‘stink’. I know that is a hard one to swallow, but go with me here. I can think of one ‘stink’ that might illustrate this best. Have you ever had a skunk linger outside your home (or worse been sprayed by or had a pet sprayed by a skunk)? The smell permeates, it lingers, the evidence of the skunk’s presence is inescapable.
Like the skunk’s aroma, the evidence of my son’s train obsession is easy to identify. Sometimes my feet even provide proof as I step on a toy in the early morning light. Sometimes my ears are flooded the reenactment of scenes from The Polar Express as the conductor attempts to right the train while skidding on ice. Sometimes my mind scrambles for answers as I am quizzed on the intricate inner-workings of a steam engine. But I wonder if these same evidences exist with us and our Christ journey. Do people find our Jesus moments littering the places we have been? Does our proclamation of how Christ has changed our life linger in the air for others to hear after we have left our places of business and recreation? Do our peers and loved ones become overwhelmed by our Jesus talk and questions of how best to bring the Kingdom to earth? Do we ‘stink’ of Jesus?
I know at first that may seem like a crude thought but I guess what I ultimately want to ask is….are we leaving toy trains?
I was recently privy to a conversation online where someone had taken a passage of scripture of the Quran and used that one piece of scripture to paint a picture of what the entirety of Islam looks like. Now I realize at this point I may have lost some of you, but I beg you to stay with me because I think this discussion leads somewhere important. The problem I had with the conversation had nothing to do with Islam really at all, but the danger of taking something out of context. Take for instance some of our scriptures. If you took Psalm 137:9 out of context it could really be detrimental to our message.* How can you communicate a story of grace with a verse like that being taken out of context? But we do it all the time. We love to judge people by small representations of their groups and then it is much easier to avoid them. I mean can you imagine what would happen if the entire world judged the church by the likes of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church? I shudder at the thought. And yet, we demonize all sorts of groups of people just because of the actions of a few, or their words/stories taken out of context.
It kind of reminds me of a story in scripture where even Jesus’ encounter with another leaves us wondering. In Mark 7:26-29 we find the following encounter. “The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” Jesus initially came with a message for the Jews and even seemed apprehensive at getting involved with a Greek/Gentile woman. But all the same as her imploring took on a note of a plea for compassion, we see Jesus attitude towards her change and he relents and brings healing to this woman’s house. Now I realize that some of this is up for interpretation and debate, but doesn’t it seem like Jesus perception of this non-Israelite was changed by the above encounter? And if God allows change to occur in his human interactions then how much more should we?
What I guess I am saying is this…We should never alienate or distance someone until we know their whole story. You never know how someone may have been judged or mistreated all because of an off-chance word or misaligned ideology. We are all God’s children and Christ has died for all. So shouldn’t we be willing to extend arms of grace and fellowship to all? And maybe that is as simple as hearing the whole story…
* Psalm 137:8-9 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. This verse is of course alluding to the judgment of Babylon for all they had done to Israel, but still tough to read.
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.
My six year old has become quite the prolific artist as of late. And then again that might be a trait you could probably extend to all six year old artists. On an almost daily basis he produces some new work of art that is either designated for display or for a specific audience. ‘This one is for you daddy…and this one is for mommy…’ And the crazy part about it is that each work has something amazing about it; some intentionality behind why it was produced. Each one has a story. The sad truth is that all to often I lose a piece or two amidst the mass production that is the result of my son’s creative ability. And someday I can’t help but think that I will want all of those back.
I can’t help but think that the way my son feels about his art gives me a better glimpse into who God is. Think about it this way; the first thing we are told about God according to scriptures is that God ‘creates’. He is a creative God. He is a God who is intimately involved in the production of life…all life. And I thought my son was prolific. Here is God who from the get go we are told is a creator, and not just of a few things, but of all things. Now imagine this God stepping down out of His creator role to take on the form of one of His creations. I mean really think about it. Think about the way he would look at a tree. How he would appreciate the proportionate amount of sunlight or the stirring of a storm. Think about how he would look at another human. He would see us like no one ever could or ever would. His appreciation for His creation would be mind-blowing. You couldn’t help but be in awe of His interaction with another.
In fact, the Advent story is pretty much summed up in one of the most famous verses of all of scripture. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave…” – John 3:16. God gave of Himself to encounter His creation in a way that would show us what it means to truly love His creation. The appreciation He had for His handiwork goes beyond all comprehension. When he looks at us He sees the massive beauty and potential bound up in what He created and the breathtaking result is Love. And I am not talking about love that is conditional or bound up by fallen ambition or desires, but love that says ‘I made you and I would do anything just to be with you’.
And here is where the hard part comes in. I think it might possibly be justifiable to sometimes lose sight of one of the many pieces of art that my son creates for me (although in the long run it might not be). But for us to lose sight of or even cast aside one of God’s creations because of our own agenda or callous life-style…God help us. Help us to appreciate where you have placed us in order to love those around us like you do. Give us the eyes of a creator who sees the boundless love and grace poured into existence in the life of another. And may we see life anew this Advent season because of the way you see us.
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.