golden

How many of us love traffic? How many of us love standing in line at the grocery store? How many of us just absolutely love being inconvenienced by other people? I am sure, as is the case with me, that the responses on most of these probably found themselves in the negative column. After all, we are a busy people. There is so much to do, so much to accomplish that it would be so much easier if there weren’t other people getting in our way.

There is a rule that pretty much all of us in the church are very familiar with and a lot of the people outside the church are even familiar with. We refer to it as the Golden Rule and Jesus spoke it in The Sermon on the Mount. It simply states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I love the sweeping arc of that command…”in everything you do”. So whether we are in line, in traffic, inconvenienced, etc. our behavior towards others should be a reflection of how we wish to be treated. And this sums up all the law and the prophets!?! How could it be so easy?

I was reminded of this concept in a discussion recently. I found myself saying, “You know, God loves all of us the same. Regardless of our actions and so I think it is on us to try our hardest to see everyone we come into contact with as God sees them.” Ouch. But I think that’s the rub of it. Those of us who know the truth of God’s love and grace are bound by it as well. In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis put it this way, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

In other words, every interaction we have with someone walking and breathing could bear eternal rewards or consequences in their lives. So when we find ourselves in traffic, in line, inconvenienced, whatever, our actions, or better yet our reactions, could be priceless in view of eternity. And honestly, we never know what the people around us are going through until we know what they are going through. So may we live out the golden rule and know that as we fulfill the law and the prophets we just might be helping to shape the eternal destiny of our fellow sojourners.


joined

About a week or so ago my wife and I got to take part in that ever so elusive activity for a pastoral family with small children…date night. And my wife had been plotting our excursion for a while and so we went with excitement to the opening night of Pitch Perfect 2. And although I enjoyed this movie for a lot of it’s comedic elements, I found myself wrapped up in one of the final scenes for a completely different reason. As with many movies of this nature the finale comes upon us with the protagonists defying the odds and somehow coming out on top. But the way in which the writers lent a hand to the Barden Bellas (the competing A Capella choir) was perfect. As their final song reached a crescendo the stage illuminated to reveal that they were all of a sudden surrounded and accompanied by alumni of all ages of that same A Capella group. And being the masculine specimen I am, I realized that the movie theater was all of a sudden very dusty or my allergies were bad or something like that.

Allow me to explain my leaking eyes conundrum a bit. There is this statement in the Apostles Creed that we as believers affirm that I always take a huge amount of comfort in. We believe in…”the communion of saints”. What I love about this phrase is that the intention is not limited to the saints of here and now, but is also inclusive of those who have gone on before us. The writer of Hebrews puts it like this, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” – Hebrews 12:1I love the image behind this. in the midst of us running our race we have this heavenly cheering section in the stands so excited to rally behind us reminding us that every step is worth the journey.

There is one more story that helps me reflect on this a bit more. About eight years ago I found myself in a church service as a regular layperson and worshiping along with others in the seats. After the first few songs and during our greeting time, the woman in front of me turned around, shook my hand and then said, “You’re Garland Patterson’s grandson aren’t you? I can tell by the way you sing.” Now mind you, I had never met this woman before. In fact, I have never met my grandfather either, as he passed away when my mom was seven. Yet something in the way I was singing reminded this woman of my grandfather, who she was friends with many years before. And so I thought about my grandfather. And how he is part of the cloud of witnesses. And how they are singing along with us, backing us up, watching over us in our difficult circumstances and so excited to see us finish the journey. So that when life gets tough and our way seems difficult we take comfort in that knowledge. May we go on knowing that those who have gone before us are in our corner and so excited to see us join them.


innocent

I honestly can’t believe it was fifteen years ago. Britney Spears was the darling of the pop-music world and her latest single had just been released. Contained in that single Oops!…I did it again were the now infamous lines, “I’m not that innocent”. Now granted, I don’t want to give Britney Spears too much credit, but it seemed as if a new age had been ushered in. Maybe it was due to the coinciding of a new millennium, but it seemed as if all of a sudden everything in the world was turned against innocence.  Now little girls were being asked to grow up into their teen icons faster and the fashion industry started targeting tweens. Little boys were being exposed to violence and pornography through video games and the internet at an astounding rate. And the result of a this over-exposure? We have become a calloused and cynical society that sees the world as overly hostile and beyond hope. And childhood…well, let’s just say it ain’t what it used to be.*

I sometimes even find myself being a little over cynical. Who wouldn’t?  Look at the news around us. A biker gang fight in Waco, TX. Civil unrest in major US Cities. International chaos from earthquakes to civil wars. But then I stumbled across a story this week that made me hope again. I’m not sure if you saw it or not, but it was about a 5-yr-old little boy in Alabama who decided he needed to feed a homeless man at a local Waffle House. You can see the video here: http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/19/living/5-year-old-feeds-homeless-man-waffle-house-feat/ . And I thought for a second, maybe all of the innocence hasn’t gone out of the world. That’s the amazing things about kids in their innocence. They don’t see someone who is homeless, of a different race or gender, someone who we might deem unworthy because of their circumstances or our preconceived biases. They see a person. And honestly, they see better than us someone who at the end of the day is really no different than them.

There is a verse in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church that many people interpret differently than I do. It’s this weird verse in chapter 13 that is just sandwiched in there, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11. I’ve always thought of this verse as a Lament for the loss of childhood and the innocence that comes with it. I know that childhood comes with some pretty crazy things sometimes. Children can be temperamental, selfish, whiny, etc. But children can also be the most generous, the most loving, the most accepting…really the most innocent when it comes to the world and the people living in it. Maybe we as the “adult” church need to take a lesson from our children and reclaim the way we look at those around us. After all, Jesus did say, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3. May we find our innocence again and love like the little children.

 

 

* On a related note, I think it is so important for us to find ways to protect and foster the innocence that is such an important part of childhood and healthy development!


tethered

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Candy Crush Saga. One of these four had to catch your attention. Yesterday on my drive home from work, which albeit is about a 5 minute commute I noticed a phenomenon. While at a stoplight I lost myself in a song, but started to look around wondering who might be pointing and laughing at the guy rocking out to Needtobreathe. But here’s the weird part. No one was looking at me. While we were stopped, for maybe all of about two minutes, everyone I saw was looking at their phone. What have we become? Fifteen years ago I didn’t even own a cell phone and now I have a mini-computer in my pocket. And I was slow to get on the smart phone bandwagon. But now all of a sudden, these things are everywhere…and I mean everywhere.

There is this weird maxim tucked away in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians a couple of times that if you weren’t paying attention to, you might miss. “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.” – 1 Corinthians 6:12. And then again in 10:23, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.” Now in a way, Paul was trying to relate to the Corinthians licensing their lifestyles that conflicted a bit with their witness. And I get that piece, but I think this might be able to relate to our overstimulated technology tethered culture as well.  You will notice in the first reference of Paul’s use that he includes the phrase “I will not be mastered…”. The Greek root of this phrase literally alludes to the loss of the freedom of choice/freedom to choose. And then in the second occurrence we see the insinuation that perhaps these things might be okay, but they aren’t really improving our lives.

In all of this I’m not saying technology is a bad thing. In fact, there are so many benefits to media and technology that for the most part they outweigh some of the negative issues. But think about this with me for a moment. How many of you, when you find yourself in a time of silence/lull immediately reach for that phone? This is where I think the issue may take root. For thousands of years humans have been known for their innovation and cultural achievements. And now, I’m known for my high score on Flappy Bird or Candy Crush!?! The one thing we have that we constantly spend and can never recall is time. And I am scared to think of the hours (maybe even days at this point) I have wasted because of seemingly harmless activity on this miniature computer I keep closer to me than anything else. Maybe these things aren’t so bad…but I think I might need to find out who or what masters the empty spaces in my life and what better things they might be filled with. And I think that if we fill these spaces with more meaningful encounters/endeavors we might be amazed at what we can do and the freedom we find that we have.


insomnia

I rarely have sleep issues. Truly. I think I have just been gifted in the arena of sleeping and achieving good sleep. My wife and I have had many discussions about this and sometimes we drift off (see what I did there) onto the topic of the need for sleep anyway. It is odd isn’t it. For some reason, all of us animals in the Mammal classification have to stop, close our eyes and place our bodies in a catatonic state in order to keep functioning. In fact, if we as humans tried to go longer than eleven days without sleep, we would die. So as you can see it’s pretty important. Now like I said before, I rarely if ever struggle with sleep. My wife on the other hand? She has to have the perfect balance. The lights have to be off, our static noise machine has to be on, the temperature has to be just right, etc. And even then, she may not sleep well.

You may be saying to yourself, what in the world does a discussion about sleep and sleep habits have to do with the church? Well, for one thing I found myself awake at 4:00 AM today and so my sleep was off a bit today. For another I think the church needs to work out it’s own sleep/wake issues. In Ephesians 5, Paul references a passage of scripture out of Isaiah 60 in reference to the life of the church. Isaiah put it like this, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.” (Isaiah 60:1-2) I think Paul’s reference to this passage illuminates (see what I did there) the fact as we are called into new life in Christ we are called into the light, in order to be the light. And I think this has huge implications for us.

For those of you who don’t know, I was a youth pastor for ten years prior to my immediate assignment. During those ten years, I can’t tell you how many retreats I was a part of, but I can assure you that my wake-up call was usually the same. It would usually involve some sort of pot or pan and spoon and the melodious singing of the old chorus, “Rise and Shine and give God the Glory, Glory” (my retreat goers always loved this). But I like the implications of that song. Each day we are challenged with getting up, getting going, and shining a light, not on us, but on Jesus. In fact, I think this should be such an all-consuming passion that the church universal almost appears like an insomniac for the constant light being shown on Jesus. Do I believe that we all need to disrupt our sleeping habits for the kingdom of God? No. Like I said, I like to sleep and I think I am pretty good at it (and it is a human need). But do I think that we as the church need to wake up a bit more as to our true calling in the world? Yes. We are called to point to Jesus, not ourselves. So Rise and Shine and give God the glory and make sure when you do you shine the light on Jesus, and not on yourself or your own agenda.


who’s counting

I love people. I really do. And it’s not just something I tell myself or other people to convince me that it’s true. But sometimes I think we underestimate the cost of a word like love. For instance, I in any given day will utter the phrase “I love Dr. Pepper” and a few breaths later tell my wife, “I love you”. But obviously these two things don’t, or at least shouldn’t carry the same weight. So what does it mean for us to say we love each other? Just last night we were hashing out a portion of our church’s mission statement (Worshiping God, Loving People, Serving the World) and we got a bit hung up on what it means to truly love people. We even read the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 about love and realized the gravity of the call to love. The one phrase that always seems to trip me up is, “Love keeps no record of wrongs”.

Let’s be honest for a minute. There are some people we keep at a distance because of their behavior. We may not physically push them away or go out of our way to avoid them, but we do create space between us. Whether it is through things we say to to other people, posts and articles we share on Facebook or other varieties of social media, or views we have espoused in the past, we have inadvertently kept a record of wrongs and it has been killing our witness. I think another way to look at this is from Paul’s other letter to the Corinthian church. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. I want you to catch this…God was reconciling all people to Himself not counting their sins against them. And then the craziest part? We are now ambassadors of that same reconciliation…as if God himself is working through us.

So let’s backtrack a bit. When I say that I love people, it takes on a whole new dynamic. I need to see people as God sees them. So desperate to reconcile that he doesn’t even count their sins against them but instead reaches out with arms of love and draws them into Himself. So when I see people I no longer see their sins, their depravity, their brokenness…I simply see someone that God is desperate to reconcile and in that fashion I love them. If we say we love people then we are called to throw away our agendas, our preconceived notions, our biases, our fear, our misunderstanding, our political alignments, our view of their sins and simply love. And what does love do? “…love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8. May we learn to stop counting and stop distancing ourselves through any kind of medium and simply, truly, deeply, love.


in his humanity

As a pastor you experience things sometimes differently than others. I’m not saying we have super powers or anything like that…although admittedly as a comic book fan that would be cool. But the church sees the best in human endeavors and sometimes the worst in human experiences. And as a pastor you see this a lot. Lately it seems like those in and around our church have experienced a tremendous amount of tragedy. And sometimes I admit that I am even at a loss on how to deal with this. Death is awful. It’s horrible. It’s not the way things are intended to go. And yet, we as the church are called to minister in these dark places and dark times with people. Now some may try to tell you that we as Christians are supposed to have the right theology and the right words to help people navigate this sadness, this loss…but I’m not sure this is the case.

We who bear the name Christian claim our ultimate example in the person of Jesus Christ. And there is this story in the gospels where we see Jesus’ reaction to death and loss. Jesus had surrounded himself during his time on earth with friends. Some of these we know as the disciples and there were others as well. In Bethany Jesus called Mary, Martha and Lazarus friends. After the death of Lazarus, Jesus comes to be with Martha and Mary in their time of grief. True, he does speak words of comfort out of the Divine self and Lazarus is raised. But it’s what he does in the human self that has the greatest impact for us. When he is shown the tomb and he sees the loss and the brokenness around him we read the smallest and possibly most powerful verse in all of the gospels, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). You see, we affirm that Jesus was fully God and fully man. The amazing things he did in his Divine self set him apart from the rest of humanity. But what he did out of his humanity sets an example for us all.

I believe one of the things that made Jesus such a powerful figure in all of his teachings, miracles and the like was His ability to be fully present in every moment with us. After all, His name was to be called Immanuel, God with us. And sometimes God with us is simply that. In our pain, in our loss and in our mourning, Jesus is with us – he sheds tears with us. And in so doing He sets the example for all of us as well. We aren’t called to move mountains on behalf of those who hurt, but we are called to be with them. We can be a shoulder to cry on, a hug that has been missed or just someone to listen while they share with us their pain. So my challenge to all of us and to myself? Be present, be a friend, don’t worry about saying the right things but be willing to shed tears and share burdens out of the example Jesus set for us in his humanity.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,539 other followers

%d bloggers like this: