My wife and I don’t have cable. In fact, we cut the cable a long time ago. Now this doesn’t mean we don’t necessarily enjoy TV, it just means we spend less and binge watch more thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. That being said Hulu recently ruined my life. In the last month they made the entirety of Seinfeld available for viewing. All of sudden man hands, the Soup Nazi, the sidler and a myriad of other characters were made available for my viewing pleasure once again. And in the midst of my binge watching I have begun to realize there was a lot more to these episodes than I originally thought. In fact, one of my favorites so far is called “The Opposite”. In this episode George Costanza decides that every decision he has made up to that point in his life has been the wrong decision and vows to then make the exact opposite decision of his initial leanings going forward. The result…his life all of a sudden becomes incredible. It really is an amazing episode.
These episodes have given me new ways to think about how they might relate to us in our Christian journey. There are quite a few things Jesus said while here on earth that I wrestle with. One of those verses goes something like this, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25 Death is not something I love thinking about, and yet here Jesus is reminding us the necessity of death for life. Unless a seed dies, there is no life. Unless I die there is no life. One of the things I have been ruminating on lately is what does that death look like in our world today. And I think it looks a lot like the death of certainty. Anne Lamont once said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. ..Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, and emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
Confession; I am a recovering know-it-all. There was a time where I could tell you exactly who God was, what He wanted for my life and what He expected of your life with fearless certainty. But nowadays, I’m not so certain. Oh I am still confident of the fact that Jesus loves me and that God has and is redeeming all things unto himself. But the other details I think are best lived out in journeying with others. If I am dying to myself, to my certainty, to my comfort daily all of a sudden it leaves a lot more space for God and for others. And maybe that is where we all need to find ourselves from time to time. A little less certain and a lot more faithful.
Growing up in the Deep South I was privy to all sorts of clever t-shirts slogans. Whether it was the Redneck Yacht Club, various Warning/high-Voltage shirts or simply a classy tuxedo t-shirt (which I have yet to own) there was no shortage of southern ingenuity. One of my favorite of these amazing t-shirt sayings was the now infamous, “Ain’t Skeered” (this of course would translate to ‘I’m not scared’). I’m not sure how much of a declaration this was as much as an answer to a dare, but for a while you would see it everywhere. It’s almost as if we all needed to reassure ourselves that the life choices we were makeing were sound. I wonder, though, is this a declaration that should be fit for those of us who carry the name of Christ in the 21st century?
You see, I think for a while now, at least those of us Christians who live in the Western world have been operating out of a marred paradigm. Honestly, we have been a little scared. We are afraid we could be attacked by a terrorist. We are scared we might get shot or robbed by our neighbor. We are afraid we may lose some of our rights. We are scared of our own shadow it seems sometimes. And I can’t think of anything more antithetical to the gospel. 1 John 4:18 says this, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Perfect love drives out fear…hmmm. You know, in our tradition we have a synonym for perfect love: holiness.
So think with me for a moment. How does perfect love drive out fear? Well first of all it trusts that God is who He says He is and thus we really don’t have anything to fear (think about how many times God in scripture says ‘Do Not Be Afraid’). And on the other hand perfect love builds bridges instead of walls. It’s a love that reaches out to widows, orphans, oppressed, hurting, outcasts, unloved and tells them, ‘I am for you’. It’s a love that casts out fear because it unites us and reminds us all that we are all God’s children. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…”
I think this is where we need to start. Fear has no place in the Kingdom of God. We can’t be scared to see the work of Christ done around us and in us. We have to live out perfect love. This is the paradigm we should be operating out of and not that of fear. Ultimately all of us should be able to say that we, ‘Ain’t Scared’.
About a week ago I received a phone call from one of my college friends. Actually we played phone tag for about ½ an hour before we finally got our lines straight. Truth be told, I was a little anxious at first because I know that his wife was expecting and they have had some issues in the past. But when we finally got connected he assured me that everything was fine with the pregnancy. In fact, he said he actually just wanted to call me to encourage me. He wanted to thank me for being obedient to God’s calling on my life even to the point of moving halfway across the country. He wanted to say thank you for the sacrifice and the dedication I have showed to God in following after him. As I listened to those words (and even as I type them now) I was overwhelmed to the point of tears from the encouragement I took from this call. It came at just the right time and it brought some much needed encouragement to this Pastor. Believe it or not, sometimes even Pastors get frazzled and get our focus turned towards the wrong things and need a reminder of who God has called us to be.
I have heard it said before that certain people have the gift of encouragement. And while I do believe this is true for some people I don’t think the practice of encouragement is that exclusive. Take an athlete for example. There are those who are naturally talented, for instance yours truly…hahaha. But truly there are some individuals who just have something special about them. And yet there are also those who have made up their minds that they are going to be a good athlete regardless of their inborn ability. And through hard work and perseverance, they excel in whatever field they are pushing themselves into. I kind of feel this way about encouragement. There are some to whom it comes so effortlessly. They know the right things to say at just the right time and we all love to be around them. But I don’t think this has to be some sort of exclusive club. I think that much like any athlete who is determined to grow in their field of choice we all have the power to become a force of encouragement in the lives of those around us.
Hebrews 3:13 says this, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” I look around the world today and I see a lot of “hardened”, broken, hurting, injured, limping, desperate people. Longing for words of life to be spoken into them by someone…anyone who cares. We who carry the name of Christ should see this and we are called to respond. What better way to open someones eyes to Jesus than through words that bring life instead of death. May you find someone to speak life into today. May you find yourself so enamored with the power of encouragement that you become that source of power for someone else. And may you see the Spirit of God rush through you all the more as you encourage those around you.
I’m a sucker for cartoons; truly. Maybe it’s because I never really grew up. Of course nowadays I can use my kids as an excuse, but I do love animation. And all cards on the table I love Disney and Pixar movies the most. There’s just something about their ability to tell a story. Whether it’s an old man embracing his sense of wonder and adventure again with a floating house or a young adolescent struggling to make sense of her emotions after her family moves cross country or even the loss of innocence told through the eyes of toys, you find yourself caught up in the magic of storytelling and imagination. I can’t really say if I have a favorite or not, but I love certain scenes in all of them. One of my favorite scenes comes from the 1994 hit “The Lion King”. Simba (the protagonist) has run away from his pride and his responsibilities for fear of repercussions from an accident that resulted in the death of his father Mufasa in his early childhood. The scene opens with him being confronted by the old wise baboon Rafiki. After some weird dialog and pestering from the baboon Rafiki says to Simba, “You don’t even know who you are!” SImba’s response, “Oh, and I suppose you know?” “Sure do. You’re Mufasa’s boy!”
Wow! I don’t know if you caught that or not, but I find myself having God moments in movies all the time. And this is one of the best. Rafiki doesn’t tell Simba that he is lost or that he is running away from responsibilities, or that he needs to step up to the plate. No! He tells him, “I know who you are. You are a child of the King!” I think we all to often forget that. So let me remind you of something today.
You are redeemed.
You are priceless.
You are a child of God.
Your Father is the one who spoke everything into existence.
You are the beloved of God.
You are a child of Abraham.
You are a royal priesthood.
You are a holy nation.
You have been set apart, called out and been made new.
You are chosen.
You are friend of the Divine.
You are salt and light.
You have been bought with a price.
You are treasured.
You are God’s pleasure.
You are favored.
You are the bride who waits with expectation for the return of the bridegroom.
The Spirit that gives life to all that is loves you with an undying, never fading, forever enduring love that defeats sin, death and hell and will stop at nothing to show you how much you are worth. You are a daughter of the King. You are a son of the Most High. And not just you, but everyone who steps upon the face of this earth and has the breath of God in their lungs. So let us live into that promise and realize who we truly are. For that changes everything.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes there are those passages in the Bible that I really struggle to make sense of. For some reason the way I have heard it taught or preached just doesn’t add up with who I know God to be or the experience I have had in the church. For instance, there is a passage in the New Testament that I have heard taught on in a variety of fashions. Christ is in his final moments of pain and suffering before his death and we read this in the gospel of Matthew, “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). – Matthew 27:45-46 I have heard people teach that God the Father turned his back on the Son, which really doesn’t mesh well with Trinitarian theology. I have heard people teach on Jesus quoting the death Psalm (Psalm 22) as he was a good rabbi and this is how you enter into death. But this week I had an epiphany and it has helped me to maybe shed some light on this passage a bit more.
When we speak of Jesus and his time here on earth we often refer to this experience as the Incarnation; God made flesh. Jesus entered into our experience in solidarity. He came to show us what it means to live as God intended. He experienced what we experienced, was tempted as we are tempted and entered into suffering on our behalf. Suffering is probably one of the most genuine shared human experiences. In fact, I am not sure we can say we have truly lived unless we have experienced some form of suffering. Knowing this we look at Christ’ example in the midst of his agony and suffering and we see another act of solidarity. Jesus gives us permission to question the Divine life in the midst of our suffering. In his final mortal act of solidarity with humanity he embraces suffering with us and questions God in the face of darkness, saying to us in your suffering it is okay to ask why.
As a pastor you see a lot of people going through some really rough stuff. You see marriages struggling, cancer crippling people, accidents that decimate peoples lives, abuse and pain that leave you speechless. And often times the expectation is to give an easy answer to suffering. The problem is, there isn’t really an easy answer to suffering… But the one comfort I take from Christ solidarity with us is that it is okay to ask why. It is okay to question God in the midst of our pain and frustration. Christ has been there. And honestly, because He has been there, I also believe He is there. In our sufferings, God is present. And although that may not give us comfort right now or make it easier, it does give us hope. Hope that this is not the end. The story goes on and life triumphs over death and suffering will someday be no more.
Hello my name is Andrew and I am a Nazarene. I know, that may come as a shocker to some of you seeing as how I am an Ordained Nazarene Elder and I pastor a Nazarene church and all, but I thought it would be good to let us all start off on the same foot. Now being a Nazarene has always come with some interesting traits. We are a unique tribe and still relatively small on the banquet platter of denominations served up in the western world. I would always have to explain to people growing up what a Nazarene was. ‘No we do not handle snakes.’ ‘Yes we believe in Jesus’. ‘No we are not a cult’. The easiest way I found to explain us to people was that we believed like Methodists and worshiped like Baptists (Which is sometimes still the case for some Nazarene churches although some may reverse the order). Growing up in the Nazarene church there was always this lingering expectation in the background that we referred to it as Holiness, but it always seemed a little off to me; at least the way I was seeing it lived out.
You see Holiness was portrayed and communicated to me as a certain standard. I guess the old adage was “We don’t drink and we don’t chew and we don’t go with the girls that do.” (This was pretty easy to fall in line with). But there was almost this sense that if you didn’t fall in line with the holy checklist that you had fallen out of God’s grace, as if it was something you earned in the first place. And the sad thing is that this attitude still permeates our Holiness thinking at times. I want to remind you of a passage the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:8-10 Sometimes I think we end up ‘doing’ to try to earn God’s favor which in essence takes it out of the hands of God.
I like to think about it in terms of my marriage. I don’t really have to do anything to earn my wife’s love. It’s there already. But because she loves me I can’t do enough for her. I think it’s the same way with God. Salvation is His gift to us. It’s free and it’s beautiful and through the presence of the Holy Spirit we are being made into His ‘handiwork’. But I think it’s so important to remember that we can’t earn God. Regardless of the standard to which we hold ourselves, there is never enough that we can do to merit His grace. But we can receive God. And this may seem like too much, but at the end of the day it is all we will ever need. And suddenly we find ourselves responding out of love instead of obligation and before we know it, holiness has taken over. And that is a holy response to our gracious redemptive God.
I have never been one to frequent night clubs. Aside from being a Nazarene, it’s just not really my scene (and it’s not because of some weird phobia of dancing…I have moves like Napoleon Dynamite…John Travolta…Fred Astaire….ok maybe not). However, I have been to a few concerts in my day and so I suppose that might give me insight. You see, I have always been intrigued by the velvet rope. You know what I am talking about. The impassible shiny plush rope hung between gleaming chrome poles that is guarded by some roided (I think this is a word in the English vernacular) out individual simply known as the bouncer. And this bouncer’s responsibility is quite simple. He (or she I suppose) is to keep the normal run of the mill individuals away from the not so ordinary individuals on the other side of the velvet rope. Occasionally they will let someone pass, but only if they meet a certain criteria, have the right VIP passes or are of the same super human substance that allows one to exist on one side of the rope and not the other.
I’ve often wondered what it feels like to be the guardian of the sacred rope. Granted, I am not an intimidating individual and so I doubt anyone will ever ask me to assume vigil of such an important task. But I feel like I might understand the concept behind it a little. In the book of Matthew there is actually a velvet rope incident and I am afraid most of us might be able to relate. You see, people like(d) Jesus. He was evidently a very likable fellow unless you were very religious. And so one day people were bringing their kids to come and meet him. I don’t know why, but I have the image of a department store Santa in my head. And here’s what happened, “Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:13-14 The disciples had a velvet rope moment. They thought that Jesus needed protecting, or he didn’t want to be bothered, or that the kids weren’t good enough to take up his time. But Jesus quickly flips it on his head and reminds them of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like.
I wonder if any of us have ever found ourselves being a bouncer for Jesus. “I don’t think Jesus has time for you right now.” “I think there are some things you need to work out before you can take up any of his time”. “Your lifestyle really isn’t fit for you to be in his presence.” Believe it or not, Jesus didn’t call us to be his bouncers. He called us to be his followers. And to follow him in such a way that other people want to follow Him as well. And more than likely this means we drop the velvet rope, lose the security badge and get rid of every obstacle that we have put up between others and Jesus and just let His children see Him for who He is. And if you ask me, it really becomes a lot less complicated this way. And who knows, we might become better followers in the process.