Last night I bore witness to an outpouring of love that I have rarely seen in the church. And the craziest part about it all was that it was all on Twitter. It didn’t necessarily begin that way, but that is where it fully blossomed. Last night I gathered with a large group of people in the home of a family who have been fighting a horrendous battle with cancer for quite some time now. We surrounded the family with prayer and celebrated communion together as a gesture of solidarity and love. But much to my surprise that was only the beginning. I got home about an hour or so later and jumped on Twitter (part of my nightly ritual) and was blown away. All of a sudden students involved in my ministry and students I have never even met had begun a community revolution.
There were countless prayers, encouraging posts, and more all being tweeted on behalf of this family. The local high school, where the oldest daughter attends, was even preparing itself to be awash with Pink the next day to honor the mother’s battle against Breast Cancer. And although their football game for Friday was scheduled to be a “Black Out” all of a sudden it became a “Pink Out”. The local news station even picked up on the phenomenon and aired a news story earlier this morning. And all because of Twitter.
Now I know that in the church we have a lot of discussion about effective ways of spreading the gospel and preaching Christ, but I am reminded of Paul’s writings in his letter to the Corinthian church, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (I Corinthians 13:1). Sometimes I know people have been discouraged by the use of Social Media and are worried about where it might lead. But last night I saw love in the language of my students revealed in one of the most amazing ways possible. Last night Twitter became more than a resounding gong. And it didn’t involve a sermon…it didn’t involve a Biblical exposition…it started with a 140 character limited post and it showed love from a community for a real family in a very real way. And we are all better for that.
This is far from my traditional post, but I thought it might be fun to share something. I recently decided to upload all of the sermons I have preached at Central Church of the Nazarene in “Big Church” (as I call it) to a SoundCloud account. And I know some of my family might enjoy this…not sure about the rest of you. But I thought it might be a fun thing to share. So enjoy…hopefully.
Heaven. What a buzz word to bring up! And I promise I am not going fishing for more blog readership….although that would be nice. But I have honestly been thinking a lot about heaven lately and can’t think of a better way to get my thoughts out than to place them online before the entire world…
Over the years of Christendom there has been a lot said about heaven. Even today we have books, movies, TV shows (don’t act like you don’t remember 7th Heaven) and more all about heaven or our humanly perception of it. We are insanely curious about what’s on the other side. We hear stories about people having near death experiences or being dead for a few short moments and then marvel at their stories about what they have seen and experienced. But the fact remains that there is no such thing as certainty about what may await us on the other side of this life. And I think that’s okay. We are after all people of faith.
I have been having some conversations with someone recently who may* be closer to heaven than a few of us and we have been contemplating what it may be like. Their hope resides in the fact that at the moment they meet Jesus that they will turn around and all of their loved ones will be there as well. As God exists outside of our definition of time it will seem as if time does not exist and their earthly familial legacy will be joining them instantaneously with Jesus. I for one love this picture. But I think the reason that I love this picture so much is because of the Biblical hope it contains. A lot of our hope for heaven comes from prophetic hope contained within the Bible. You have the hope of Isaiah and Micah of the mountain of God where ‘swords are beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks’. You have Jesus’ promise contained in wedding vows in John 14 when he says, ‘I go to prepare a place for you’. But I think one of the more powerful images of heavenly hope is found in Revelation 21. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 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…I am making everything new!”
Here is why this comprises all of my heavenly hope. God fixes the broken things. I don’t really care where heaven is or what it looks like or if I get a mansion or to eat all the chocolate I want and never get fat. I just want God to fix the broken things. I want the things like cancer, abuse, abandonment, genocide, disease, slavery, oppression, war to be redeemed, fixed, restored…and if that is all heaven is it will be enough. Because if the broken things are fixed and we are with Jesus…then I know it will be Heaven.
* Contained within this “may” are countless prayers for healing and hope for a miracle.
To say that life for a youth pastor in the summer time is busy is a given. The in-continuity in the schedule, in family meal times, lack of sleep, and the other resultant issues can sometimes become overwhelming (If you don’t believe me look back at the inconsistency in my blog posting). Thinking back on the last few weeks is almost dizzying. And yet I now find myself getting stressed over the ensuing months and all they hold as well.
The problem for me, as I am sure it is for a lot of you, is that I allow routine and expectations to rule the day instead of being concerned with the important things. Instead of working so that I can live I find myself falling into the trap so that I am living to work. And it’s a difficult reality for me with my particular vocation/career because it usually escapes the normal definitions of work. A lot of people have trouble defining their life by their work but my life has to be defined by my work as my work is of a different calling (I am not saying this to invalidate other careers, but rather to articulate the feelings that many pastors probably have). I was recently reminded about the detriment to the souls of our families this prioritization can have with a recent conversation and from reading this recent little blog post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-macy-stafford/the-day-i-stopped-saying-hurry-up_b_3624798.html (The Day I Stopped Saying “Hurry Up”)
I have been spending a lot of time in the Sermon on the Mount lately and the one passage that always seems to stand out is Jesus’ treatment of our hurrying about. He says that it boils down to worry and chasing after the wrong things. He then concludes with the following, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:33-34 Jesus reminds us that in pursuing the Kingdom of God first that the cares and concerns of tomorrow can be overcome. And so it’s important that the Kingdom is not found in schedules, events, chaos and running about. Rather the Kingdom of God is like small moments (mustard seeds or yeast if you will) that take place and give birth to something beautiful and massive. It is fixed moments in time where we fully enjoy each others’ and God’s presence. It is shared laughter, provisions, possessions, community…it is life lived out for the other instead of pursuing for our own consumption.
And so I think about tomorrow; and whether or not I like it, tomorrow will consume some of today. But I strive for it not to rob me of today and those around me. I hope that at the end of each day I can look back and feel it well spent, for that is all I have been promised. It may require more compromise and change than what I am used to, but I think that could be okay. And maybe then I will understand a bit more of what it means to live out the kingdom of God.
You have to love getting to see the world through your kid’s eyes. There is so much to be discovered, learned, conquered, played with, challenged, enjoyed, etc. My six-year old is the ultimate when it comes to this (I think this probably goes for most six-year old kids). Everyday the litany of questions starts around the time he opens his eyes and ends about the time we force them shut. How does that work? Where does that come from? Why are you doing that? The list goes on. And recently he asked my wife a question from which she proved her motherly wisdom goes beyond this dope of a father by leaps and bounds. ‘Mommy, what does God look like?” She replied, “Well, the Bible says we are made in His image so I guess if you put all the people together in the world that might be a good idea of what God looks like.” And this answer worked for his little concrete world for the time being. But the beauty of this answer is found in the abstract rather than the concrete.
In the church we take Genesis 1:26-27 to be a true doctrine of creation, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” But I am not sure that this means we actually physically look like God. Rather I think it means that we have the capacity for God…the ability to act as a representative of God, if you will. The actual Hebrew word behind that word for image is the world selem. A selem was an image of a conquering king placed in a conquered territory to remind all the inhabitants of said territory who their true king was. If we are God’s selem then we are placed in this world to be a reflection/image and a reminder to the world around us as to who our true King is.
So maybe we don’t physically look like God altogether, but maybe by acting as his selem together we might get a better picture of what God looks like. Maybe when we all feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, proclaim freedom for captives, adopt the orphan, care for the widow, love our neighbor and enemy…maybe when we do these things all together we get a better picture of what God looks like. Maybe when we bring God’s Kingdom to earth then maybe we start to get a better understanding of what God looks like. And maybe then we all do look a little more like our Creator. May you find a way to be His image to someone today.
This past week I had the pleasure of getting to the be the speaker at a Senior High youth camp. Having been profoundly effected by my experiences at youth camp in my younger days I always look forward to the opportunity to share and be a part of students lives. Not only that, but being for the most part a kid inside I still enjoy the games, the late nights, and all the other goofiness that goes along with camp. But about mid-way through camp I noticed something that was a bit unsettling. You see, I belong to a tradition (The Church of the Nazarene), where if you want to do business (I suppose this is a campy way of saying it) with God then you respond by coming to the altar. And it was towards the middle of the week that I came to my wife discouraged because no one had been responding by coming to the altar. I felt as if I had put in the proper preparation for my sermons and I knew the camp was being covered in prayer, but still… Then my wife asked me a very pointed question; what are the counselors saying about their campers and your messages? “Well they said they have loved them. And that the students are responding during their small group time. And they are seeing great things.”. “Well maybe their altar time looks a little different than yours”, she replied.
For those of you who have not married a spouse wiser than you (women) I can’t tell you how amazing it is at times to get to feed off this insight. Maybe their altar time is a little different because they realize that the burden of the church and its’ mission isn’t meant to be carried by just one person. Maybe we do indeed have to learn to respond together and be accountable together if we are going to truly live into what God is calling us to be. In his letter to the church of Ephesus Paul writes, “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:21-22 In Christ we are one together…in Him we are being built up together to be a place where God’s Spirit lives.
I am not saying that there isn’t a place for us to come to God on our own and come clean before Him. But maybe there needs to be more places where we come together and do business with God as a group rather than just as individuals. That week at camp we talked about the image of God and how we were created to reflect the creator. And I highlighted the fact that the beautiful thing about it is that we can’t in and of ourselves reflect what God has in store for us…but maybe, we as the Church can come closer to living out God’s image as we all come together to respond to the world and its’ brokenness. I guess I just wasn’t ready for people to take those words to heart. May we respond as one to God’s Kingdom being brought to earth and may we come to an altar before God together to find Grace and mission.