For those of you who don’t know, I have in the last four years become a Disney Princess aficionado. This is a position that has been rendered upon me by the birth of our now 4-yr-old daughter. Not only can I recite to you every Disney Princess story in breathtaking detail, but I can also sing every song, dance some of the dances and may have even been moved to emotion while watching one or two of the movies. Let’s be honest; having a daughter changes a man. But sometimes the lyrics in said Disney movies stick with me for all the wrong reasons. For instance, this morning the song Human Again from the second release (oh yes, there was a second release) of Beauty and the Beast began coursing its way through my synapses. I’ve often wondered why the objects in the enchanted castle were so consumed with being human again. I for one think it would be pretty cool to be a talking grandfather clock or candellabra, but they seem to be overly tired of that existence. The song even concludes with the following stanza, “I’ll be all that I was, On that glorious morn, When we’re fin’lly reborn And we’re all of us human again”.
Now I for one don’t quite relate to their elation at being human again. For instance, two days ago I was reminded in the most violent fashion of how human I was again. While attempting to better my human self at our local gym I was briefly distracted while moving a weight from a rack to the bar. And said 45lb weight thought that a nice detour between the two locales would be a five foot drop onto the top of my foot. It didn’t take long for me to remember how non-superhuman I was and how actually run of the mill human I truly am. And for the last two days I have carried/dragged that reminder around with me. Needless to say I don’t really need a reminder of what it is like to be human again.
I find it aptly timed that I received this little reminder of my mortality and fragility during the season of Lent. A season where we reflect on our condition apart from Divine intervention. The apostle Paul reflects on this same condition in his second letter to the church in Corinth saying, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7. I guess my issue with the talking house decor from the aforementioned Disney movie is that their idea of being reborn is to simply be human again. My idea of being reborn is to be more than human. And this isn’t accomplished by my own strength and power. That usually results in me dropping heavy things on my appendages. No, this is something more. What I long for and seek to live into is the Divine miracle of the Spirit of the Eternal God making It’s dwelling inside of this fragile, flawed, decaying clay jar that I call me. And it becomes for all of us a new way to be human again as we are made into the image of God.
Last night I was able to sub in for one of our regular teachers here at the church and I got to lead our adult Bible study. In the midst of our conversation we were looking at a text that alluded to believers in Jesus being tested/tried. And then the verse was brought up that is often brought up in this discussion from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13. And I am not faulting anyone for bringing up this verse. This is one of those verses that often gives us great comfort in the midst of trials, but I can’t help but wonder if the meaning at face value really applies to the temptations/trials that we as humans often want to apply it to.
For those of you who are not readily aware of it, we in the Christian tradition have just entered into the season of Lent (no this is not a reminder to clean out your dryer vent). But rather this is the season that begins on Ash Wednesday and marks the 40 days plus Sundays leading up to Easter. Lent is traditionally characterized by some sort of fast on the part of the believer and is ushered in by the marking of the believer with ashes on Ash Wednesday with the scriptural reminder from Genesis 3, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The beginning and overarching tone therefore of Lent is a remembrance of our mortality. In fact, the reason that Lent is celebrated for 40 days is a call back to Jesus’ mortal temptation in the wilderness.
Can I be real honest here for a minute? I don’t think any of us would have survived what Jesus did in terms of His temptation in the wilderness. Be you Bear Grylls or Survivor Man, I really don’t think it matters. The Bible tells us that Jesus fasted for forty days and after that He was tempted. You put me for four days, let alone forty, in the West Texas wilderness and then tempt me with anything and I would probably cave. Why? Because I am weak. I am human. And often times when I come under stress, trials, temptations, etc. it is so easy for me to buckle. But here is the beauty and the simplicity of my reflection on the verse from 1 Corinthians above, “they are weak but He is strong”. In my humanness I may consider often that the trials and temptations that I undergo are too much for me, but they are never too much for Him. And that really is what Lent is ultimately about. It’s a reminder that were we to be left to our own devices all that would await us is defeat, brokenness and death. But thanks be to God that the end of Lent is the ushering in of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So may you take to heart these 40 days. May it be a reflection upon your weakness and mortality, but also a remembrance of His power that is at work within you…Yes, Jesus loves me!
Just this last week I was part of a prayer retreat for the South Texas Nazarene pastors in Leakey, TX at the HEB Foundation Camp. The time away was incredible as we were surrounded by the beauty of nature and God’s presence was very real in our meetings. But I am always left thinking and pondering more by these times after the fact because I am not sure my response/intentions are always aligned correctly. Don’t get me wrong, time away and prayer are incredibly important, but I think the response and intentionality of why we pray/get away is even more important. I heard an African proverb last week from a podcast featuring Rep. John Lewis that I can’t seem to get away from. “When you pray, move your feet.” In other words, prayer requires action/engagement from our dialogue with God.
This is a bit of a paradox as most of the time, at least in Western culture we think of prayer as a solitary practice void of action, or at least mobility. We are to find a quiet place where we can have alone time with God. And I’m not saying this is a bad thing (in fact I do it daily), but what are our prayers for? And if we pray and fast, what are we praying and fasting for? Does it change the way we interact with the world around us? During the time of Isaiah the people of Judah, although faithful to their religious festivals, fasts, etc. were not faithful to the call these were meant to institute. God’s reply to their inaction, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (Isaiah 58:6-7)
So my question to us today, are we praying and fasting in order to move or to be solitary expecting movement without us? Saint Augustine is credited with saying, ““Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Maybe this is what we are supposed to be reminded of. Our prayer and our movement, our fasting and our work are inexplicably related. We don’t pray in order to remove ourselves from the lives of those around us, we pray in order to weave ourselves into their world. We don’t fast in order to become separate from the world around us, we fast in order to move into the neighborhood. So today, when you pray, may your feet move. And when you fast, may your soul and spirit move for those around you. And maybe once our prayers and fasting are linked with action we might find ourselves praying for the right things as we embody the heart of God.
Having now been a senior pastor for roughly about a month or so I have to say there are a few things that I love about this vocation that weren’t always available to me while serving as a youth pastor. I love the immediate interaction with every age demographic. It doesn’t matter if the layperson is 2 or 102, I am now their pastor (how cool is that?!?). I love being allowed to lead people into worship and prayer while listening for the voice of God in our lives every Sunday morning. And I love the interactions on Sunday morning and throughout the week that have come to characterize my life as a result of this. One particular interaction that I keep coming back to is something that happened this last week as we were serving communion for Family First Sunday. I noticed one of our youngest worshipers, who was roughly around my son’s age come through our Intinction line pretty early on in the procession with his grandmother. And then as we were almost done I noticed this same young man in the back of my line. As he came to the front he looked up at me and whispered under his breath, “I’ve already been up here” and smiled from ear to ear. I simply stooped down, smiled from ear to ear and whispered, “I know”.
Now as anyone who remembers being an 8-yr-old boy or has ever been the parent of an 8-yr-old boy knows, more than likely he wasn’t returning to the front because of his deep theological yearnings to celebrate the Eucharist. In fact, he probably just wanted some more bread and juice. He was hungry. But what a picture! When we celebrate The Lord’s Supper we are participating in something bigger than ourselves. We are proclaiming our alliance and our identity in this ancient feast that our Lord instituted. The apostle Paul put in this way in 1 Corinthians 11:26, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” By taking into ourselves the body and blood of Jesus Christ we are in a sense dying to ourselves in order to live for Him.
So now let’s revisit being in line again for Communion. Shouldn’t we also be hungry to remind ourselves of Whose we are? Sometimes we can be overcome by our own appetites and desires so much so that it deplete the image of Christ in us. We find ourselves chasing after things that ultimately lead to us becoming more full of ourselves than of Christ. I find it so important to establish those practices, those reminders, those disciplines that call my hunger back to the true source of Life. If I am ever empty, I know my appetite isn’t in tune with where in needs to be and I find the need to jump back in line. So maybe a few of us could stand to get in line again to be filled with the presence of Christ to align our hunger for Him.
For those of you who may not be following my family or I on other forms of social media I need to fill you in a bit. We have been sick. My wife and I for the most part have avoided the above referenced events, but our kids…well, they haven’t. And it’s kind of scary when kids get sick. You’re used to seeing these tiny humans navigate life at a ballistic pace and then all of a sudden they are reduced to couch sloths who want to binge watch Netflix kid programming that in turn might make you sick. But the scariest part to me of my kids getting sick is and always has been the fever. I guess this is partly due to the fact that I never run a fever and so it is quite foreign to be, but fevers are just weird. All of a sudden the body, via the Hypothalamus decides that the best way to treat the foreign invasion is by over-heating. This results in increased muscle tone, vasoconstriction, shivering and your kid becoming a human heating pad. It’s pretty crazy stuff. And eventually, if unchecked, the fevers can even become deadly. The body can, in it’s attempt at self-defense, roast itself to death. So yeah, fevers are a little troubling.
That which is meant for defense can turn deadly. It’s almost reminiscent to me of the struggle of the human will. The apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Roman church, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” – Romans 7:19 Paul is alluding to the very war within the body that the will is waging with sin. The human will want’s to do the good, but often ends up doing harm.* Paul goes on though in the next chapter to give us hope for that which holds us back, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus“. The allusion being to that which he talks about in Galatians of being crucified with Christ. The Spirit of God within us puts to death the struggle of wills because it is no longer I who struggle against sin, but the Spirit of God within me that sets me free.
The scary part about kids being sick is that you feel like you always have to monitor them. Is the fever getting better? Is it getting worse? Are they acting more strange than usual? Likewise the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives must be given attention to. Am I giving myself over to God’s Spirit today? Am I producing fruit in line with who God is? Is it my will or thy will? Honestly, giving over the fever of ourselves to God isn’t easy. But the health and growth that occur when we sacrifice our will to God is something that not only leaves us changed, but also those around us. One might even say it’s contagious, but very much unlike the stuff my kids have been passing around. So may you find yourselves being made well by the presence of God’s Spirit today and see how it spreads into the lives of those you come in contact with.
*I realize this analogy is a bit of a stretch as fevers rarely do harm, but it is a possibility. And hopefully this post hasn’t incensed you germaphobes to reach for the hand sanitizer.
Yesterday on the drive into school my kids and I ended up on the subject of death. Now granted, this isn’t a subject that often enters our realm of family discussion, but for some reason it came up yesterday. And in my fatherly wisdom I found myself saying these encouraging words, “Well, we all die someday”. Fortunately my son quickly interjected, “That’s ok. Because that’s the way we get to heaven.” (Luckily my kids somehow survive despite their dad’s morbid view of reality). But let’s face it. We all know the two things we are guaranteed in life are “death and taxes”. And sometimes we in the church struggle with our mortality and how to relate it to our immortality. We sometimes think that the blessings of the life to come aren’t real if they don’t somehow resonate in our current setting…but this isn’t really the gospel.
In some of the last teachings we see Jesus delivering to His disciples before his trial and death we read these words from the book of John, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 Oftentimes I think we misread this verse. We see ourselves as the “overcomers” of the world when we are really are only guaranteed to “have trouble”. The word in the verse above we read for trouble or tribulation is the Greek word, thlipsis. It’s most literal translation is “pressure” and it comes from the idea of ruts being worn into a path/road. Tell me that’s not encouraging. In this life you will get potholes. And really it’s the one thing we are guaranteed…this world will eventually end us if Jesus doesn’t return first.
Luckily that’s not where the story ends. Although we may lose, although we may be overcome, beat down, pressured, etc. this is not the End. Jesus tells us to be at peace as he has overcome the world. He has claimed victory over the temporal limitations of this world and made a way through death into life. And so we find peace. Truthfully this isn’t easy. When the ruts worn into us come through things like sickness, brokenness, bills, debts, familial discord, job loss, and grief we long to be the ones who overcome. But at the end of the day we don’t overcome…we take comfort in He who has overcome and speaks these words to us in the final book, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:4-5. The faith that we hold onto places it’s confidence in a God who has not only overcome but promises to make all things new. This is how we are not overcome ourselves and find peace even in the midst of the storms of life.
And truthfully, we who are called of Christ are also called to comfort and proclaim good news to those who have been overcome by life and it’s troubles. Our calling is not simply to look to the life to come but also to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Often times we find peace in serving those who themselves can’t find peace.
So may you take heart today. May you find peace and bring peace to others through Christ our Lord; the one who has overcome.
Moving to Odessa has allowed me to reengage with one of my favorite activities; taking my son to school. I remember when he attended Pre-K right behind the youth building at our last church. Whenever the days were nice (so for about two weeks before school let out) we would walk to school. And then there were the car rides where we would pray and then rock out to something “heavy” like Mumford & Sons or Old Crow Medicine Show. Needless to say I have been thrilled to get this tradition added back into my daily routine. Since he has begun a new school, I have been walking him to class every day so far. And let’s be honest, I love this piece too. So on the drive in the other day, I asked him, “Hey buddy (that’s what I call him sometimes), do you want me to walk you in today?” “Yeah dad. I want you to walk me in all the time.” “All the time? Even when you are in High School?” “Yup. Because I love you dad.” Talk about a melt your heart moment.
Sometimes we refer to our Christian journey here on earth as a walk. And I think for the most part this is a pretty accurate analogy. I think the hard part for a lot of us is fathoming what it means to walk with/be in relationship with an infinite God as finite beings. Because of God being all around us, but not necessarily being physically tangible we have a hard time always being connected. But then I reflect on the words of the writer of Hebrews. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16. Jesus stepped into flesh in order to help us understand what it means to encounter the Divine. Not only that but He wants to walk with us in our trials and struggles in order for us to encounter grace and mercy at the throne of God.
I think about my son’s response before. I will always want to walk with him and help and assist him as much as I can. In fact, I am probably a breath away from being a helicopter parent. But I know that is not how love works. Love simply waits in the wings. Ready to be that hand to hold, that hug to give or that shoulder to cry on whenever it’s needed. God incarnate came to express that same love through humanity to us. He is ready to walk us through whatever life may throw at us. We just need to ask Him to walk us in and He will be right there with us. May you sense God’s presence walking you into life today as you never have before and may you be overwhelmed by the grace and mercy of our Heavenly Father.