separation

A week or so ago I was part of a Senior High camp…not out of the ordinary for a youth pastor I realize. But with this particular camp I had the privilege of hosting early morning (8:00 AM for Senior High Students) coffee talks. These talks revolved around theological issues and we would sit and discuss these for an hour or so. The craziest part about all of this…the students actually showed up. We would average between 30 – 60 students every morning. They would come in bleary eyed and sometimes bed-headed to discuss things like Theodicy, Trinitarian theology and even Atonement theory. It was on the last discussion day that the issue of sin came to the forefront. What is sin? Granted there were all sorts of text book definitions and Sunday School answers thrown out and I even added my own mix to the pile, “Anything that separates us from God”. And one of my counter parts (who shall remain nameless…) threw out the questions, “What about anything that separates us from our neighbor?” Hmmmm….(Now you are privy to my inner monologue) what about that?

And thus began a mini exploration that led me to a passage I shared recently with my students. It goes a bit like this: Jesus is hanging out teaching, per the usual, and a teacher of the law comes up to question Him. He asks Jesus a very pointed question as to which commandment is the greatest. “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40 Now it can possibly be derived that if the entire law and prophets hang on these two commandments then any violation of these two commandments is a violation of all the law and the prophets. That being said, if we are commanded to love God and our neighbor above all other commandments then anything that breaks that love, creates that separation would therefore be sin…

This one is by very nature tough. It’s easy (well maybe not easy) to understand sin as a violation against God. We understand the need for atonement and forgiveness and reconciliation when it comes to sin and God. But what about when it comes to our neighbor? And Biblically we are not allowed to think of our neighbor solely as the person on our immediate street, but effectively (see The Parable of The Good Samaritan) our neighbor must be seen defined by those we consider our enemies…the others. Now what do we do with this command? What do we do with this separation? How do we embody the Kingdom of God with lives counter to sin when it comes to our neighbors? Honestly I wish there were a clean cut answer. The scary (and yet infinitely opportunistic) part is that there isn’t. And crazy enough we are given this life to figure that out. So what are you doing to bridge the separation…or better yet, what are you allowing God to do through you to bridge the separation?

It’s funny what can come out of early morning talks around coffee with teenagers.


when you’re smiling

“I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” This is still one of my favorite lines from the movie Elf. Maybe it’s because I really do love to smile. I think back on our recent trip to Guatemala and my face may have been sore from smiling. Really! Every person we would encounter or pass on the streets we would exchange a smile and a horribly mispronounced Spanish greeting. It was almost customary for us to be overly friendly…possibly even labeled as the scary smiling gringos. But it was just one of those things you do…you almost can’t help it. The beauty of the country and it’s people was overwhelming. But now we find ourselves two weeks removed; back in our routines, work habits and possibly even struggling to smile.

Well this wasn’t good enough for me. So I tried a little experiment a few days ago. As I was visiting my local Kroger I went crazy with the smiling. I smiled and said “Hi” to everyone who would make any sort of eye contact with me. So now I am not banned from that Kroger as the creepy smiling pastor…j/k. In all seriousness I probably received an 80% positive return rate of either a smile or a return greeting (granted I wasn’t keeping statistical reference and there wasn’t a control group). But I begin to think about how a smile can really communicate so much.

1 Peter 3:8-9 goes a bit like this, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Inexpressible and glorious joy. I love that phrase. Although I am not entirely sure that the joy Peter is describing is inexpressible. Maybe it is beyond our normal human limitations to try to describe this joy, but I actually think it is quite easy to express our Christian joy. It might even be as easy as smiling. Think about it for a minute. What is the second fruit of the Spirit? “Love, Joy…” If we are consumed by the Spirit of God, then the second most important identifying mark of that life, second only to love, is joy. And yet how often do we walk around with vacant, lifeless expressions. Or worse yet, sour or frustrated expressions. This should not be.

So my challenge to myself and to others is to recapture a bit of the dumb crazy gringo Guatemala magic. I am going to smile, to wave, to greet anybody around me. Why? Because inside me I am consumed with the ever present fact that I have a God who would do anything to be with me (and in fact has already done that). And maybe if people see that on my face, hear that in my voice they might wish to be consumed with that same joy. So if you see me and I am not smiling make sure I am not dying first and then quickly correct my expression. Because I just love to smile…


heh’vel

This last weekend I returned from a mission trip with my students to Guatemala. This was a unique trip as it focused, by design, on experiencing as many different dimensions of missional opportunities as possible with what limited time we had in Guatemala. Little did I know how much this would wreck me; and is still wrecking me. In the short time we were there we participated in relief and mission efforts in a rural community, an inner city ghetto and the infamous Zone 3, the location of the Guatemala City Dump. We saw people who were starving, people who couldn’t rub two Quetzales (1/8 of a US dollar) together and those who rummage through others trash to try to scrape by a living. Those who lived in Paradise would work for sometimes 22 hours a day to earn a little more than a US dollar only to see the crops they spent their day picking (that easily could cure their families malnutrition) shipped overseas.* We saw extreme privilege and extreme poverty shaking hands in a beautiful country and it will not leave me alone.

And so now I come back to the US and I realize how lucky I am to have been born here. But I take a look, an honest look at all that surrounds me and I declare it to be “heh’vel”. If this doesn’t sound familiar let me try it this way, ““Meaningless! Meaningless!”says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!Everything is meaningless.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2. The Hebrew word for meaningless/vanity is actually the word for breath, smoke, fog, air…I look around me and I see air. Really! If at the end of the day all of this stuff I am accumulating isn’t making a difference in the world for those who so desperately need a difference to be made then it is “heh’vel”. And what do I do with that? I honestly don’t know…

So right now, I tell the story, I pray, I seek the face of Heaven to show me how to escape this heh’vel. We are a ridiculously blessed people and we are called to be a blessing. The constant nagging in my head now is of course, how? The verse that continues to haunt me in the midst of all of this goes a bit like this, “f anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” – James 4:17. Now sin, I think fairly enough, is anything that separates us from God. And I know God’s heart is with the oppressed, the outcast, the destitute, the poor. And my heart continues to be broken for what I have seen and experienced. So my prayer is that I would reject apathy, that I would reject heh’vel and that I would find a way in the midst of all of this to live out the Heart of Christ. And I pray this same prayer for you.

 

* Guatemala’s chief occupation is agriculture of which they export 80% of their total product. 90% of all farm land is owned by about 25 families who enjoy the export spoils. Granted this is derived from a few conversations with some local Guatemalans.


it’s summer…wait a minute

Okay, first things first. It has been way too long since I have posted anything and I want to apologize for that. But as you know, youth ministry starts to escalate a bit around summer time and so honestly, it’s just been a bit busy. Between open houses, mission trips, camps and all the other craziness it just seems as if time is fleeting. And let’s be honest, who wants to be indoors these days. Perhaps if I could dictate my blog while running around in a game of tag or sitting around a campfire? But that kind of misses the point. After all, it’s summer. The time to run, frolic, jump, swing, swim, hide, chase, sweat and enjoy all this season has to offer. Which brings me to my rant, I mean point today. I wonder how many of you have seen this commercial:

What is going on? Is this really what childhood is becoming? After seeing this commercial I just felt sad. I for one have now instated a ban on taking any kind of gaming device outside. I remember being young and the door basically being closed on me during summer and then opened again at the end of the day and occasionally for meal times. Getting outside and enjoying all that life has to offer is probably one of the most defining characteristics of being a kid. And yet, for those people who have the privilege of affording luxuries like the 2DS, we are robbing our kids of their childhood. While in some countries kids aren’t even able to play like these kids could because of being forced into slave situations in order to help their families survive. All that being said, I think there is something special about protecting the innocence of childhood. After all, it’s through the innocence and the joy of childhood that we see the possibility for all that is the Kingdom of God.

The writer of Luke put it this way, “But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” – Luke 18:16-17″ And yet, I think so many things we do today rob us of the ability to see all that God has in store for us and in store for His Kingdom. I think a big part of that is not being able to enjoy all that is around us. So maybe we need to turn off our phones, tablets, DS’s, computers (give me a few more words first), etc. and start living the life that awaits us right out our respective back doors. And it might look a bit like blowing bubbles, playing in the rain, jumping in mud puddles, collecting rainbows, smelling flowers, stopping along the way, building sandcastles, watching the moon and stars come out, saying hello to everyone, going barefoot, going on adventures, dancing, flying kites, wondering and wandering around, riding bicycles, looking at the sky, staying up late, climbing trees and ultimately enjoying all the good gifts God has given us to remind us of His love for us. So enjoy the summer! It’s rhythm reminds us of a God who continues to make all things new and wonderful.


the important things

A few days ago a friend of mine posted a video of the end of her son’s soccer match. Evidently it had been raining and all of the players decided to slide in the mud at the end of the game. In the background of the video you can hear parents starting to warn or yell at their kids not to join in the bedlam of mud sliding. I can just imagine what is running through their minds…”I don’t need that in my car”, “How am I going to get that mud out of the uniform?”, “What if they get sick from sliding in that stuff?”. And yet I also understood exactly what was going on in the minds of the players on the field, “THIS IS AWESOME”. And I wonder, what happened? What happened between us realizing how awesome it is to slide in a mud puddle to being more concerned about clothes, cars or anything else that really at the end of the day has no value. I’d like to think that if I was in that situation I would be tempted to join my kid in the melee. I would hope that I wouldn’t be so concerned about my khakis (who am I kidding, jeans) and my car’s interior that I wouldn’t jump right in. I would hope that I wouldn’t miss out on an eternal memory for temporal unimportant stuff.

It really is a matter of realizing what is important and what is not. In the closing of his letter to the church of Philippi, the writer says this, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8. And I’ve seen this verse used to justify all sorts of stances, faith statements, creeds, etc. But I really find it more apt to relate to experience. Those experiences that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praise worthy…these are the experiences we should recall, dwell on and seek to recreate. No one could look at a kid playing in the mud and not realize that for the moment for that child that is one of the best experiences in the world. I don’t think a child will recall later in life how much they loved riding around in fresh pressed clothes and a clean car. But I do think they will probably remember the time you danced in the rain with them, or went down the big slide with them or had a shaving cream fight with them.

My point of all this is simple. Let the important things become the important things. Don’t let the expectations and schedules of life that really are temporal rob you of life’s really important things. The experiences that are true, noble, excellent and lovely. And for goodness sake, go slide in the mud with your kids!

 


where you at

As most of you who occasionally read this blog know I am a very urban person. I am always up on modern lingo and so throwing out a title like, ‘where u at’ should in no way be surprising. In fact I am always hip to the jive talk of youngsters around me and therefore connect oh so well. But enough about my linguistic morphing, although it does lend itself to a certain subject I have been wrestling with as of late.

This last Monday I had my normal day off which I always look forward to. Usually my schedule on Mondays looks a bit like this…… And so you can see why I look forward to it. I usually just hang with my wife and kids and we just see where the day takes us. And this last Monday was no different, except for at the end of the day I couldn’t tell you what I did. I couldn’t tell you what funny things my kids did or said and I am not sure I can remember any of the subjects my wife and I talked about. I found myself at the end of the day asking if I was even present that day. It was just sad. But how often do we find ourselves guilty of this trap. How often do we find ourselves wishing that the day would just end so we can get on to the next one? The average human life span is roughly about 28,000 days and sometimes we find ourselves not even living those.

So why all my concern? It has to do with presence. You see, I think the thing that set Jesus apart (aside from the fully God/fully man thing) the most was his ability to be fully present in any and every  situation. The writers of the gospels would put it like this, “…When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them…” – Matthew 9:36 or “…When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, Zacchaeus, come down immediately…” – Luke 19:5. It really didn’t matter what Jesus was engaged in, He was present. He saw the needs all around him in every moment and lived life in that fashion. One of my favorite verses in John goes like this, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10. And maybe that idea of life abundantly is life lived out in fullest presence in every situation.

It’s Holy week this week. The week that we Christians set aside to remind us of the passion of Christ and His resurrection. But I like to think it is also a week to remind us of God’s physical presence in Christ and continued presence through the Holy Spirit. And that because of that presence we are empowered to live fully present in every moment. After all, we only have 28,000 days…are we making the most of them or wishing them away. May you find a way to be fully present and live life more abundantly today for the sake of the Kingdom. And then you probably won’t have anyone ask “where you at” again because it will be apparent to all.


the blank page

There is nothing worse for a writer and yet there is nothing better for a writer than the blank page (not that I necessarily consider myself a writer…I just like to write sometimes). In that blank page is the infinite void and also the limitless potential. In that page universes spin out of control, fates are decided and yet in that page there is frustration and writer’s block. What possesses someone to come to that page and think, “yeah, I can do this”? Often times I stare at the screen in front of me or the blank page before me and just sit in despair. Who am I? Why would anyone listen to anything I have to say? What could I possibly put down that would make the world around me better for having read it? It almost seems to border on arrogance. But then I realize that I really am not the creator…I am simply the steward.

You see once upon a time creation happened. I don’t really care particularly how you think it happened (that is a different discussion for a different day), just as long as you agree that once upon a time something came from nothing; ex nihilo if you will. And out of this nothing, this blank page, life spun into existence. Some accounts speak of a Creator speaking into life all of existence and from that we eventually end up where we are today. Every atom, cell, cluster, fiber, muscle, breath, thought, expression, emotion, etc. eventually came from that nothing to something moment. And consequently every thought, expression, written word, played arrangement, and sung melody is really an act of co-creation, participation in that which was brought into existence at that creative moment. The poems, songs, prose, art, designs, structures, dances, plans and every  other creative achievement are ultimately an expression of stewardship in the gifts offered up in that original creative act. Although a rather negative expression of this partnership, the teacher in Ecclesiastes puts it this way, “What has been will be again,what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun.Is there anything of which one can say,“Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

But I don’t like to think of it in negative terms or as a means for despair. In fact, co-creating may be one of the most Holy things we get to participate in. Think about it. We are expressing in us the in-born imago dei (image of God) that seeks to create beauty where there is none. It seeks to create order out of chaos. It seeks to speak light into darkness and bring life where death previously reigned. Maybe this makes the blank page even more of a necessity to our lives. I share an office with another creative type at our church and above his desk he has a print of an amazing quote that goes a bit like this, “Look at the blank pages before you with courage. Now fill them with beauty.” – Blaine Hogan

Maybe that is where I find myself. In need of courage to participate in the creative act that happened so long ago. And maybe each of us find ourselves on the precipice of our own blank page as well. May we find our song, poem, dance, design, plan or whatever gift we seek to express and be the best steward we can be as we dance with the Divine.


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