noisy

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This morning, as I am often apt to do on days that I blog, I woke up and thought to myself, “What in the world am I going to write about today?” I’m sure there’s some fancy phrase for this dilemma like writer’s stymie or writer’s barricade…but anyway.  As one is apt to do in this situation I turned to my trusty friend social media to see if I could find inspiration and was immediately inundated, nay overwhelmed with commentaries, discussions, opinions, etc. on everything under the sun. It’s as if social media has become an interstate clogged with billboards intended to either bottleneck traffic or have you swerve off the road entirely. Trying to make sense of all that is coming at you could almost be a full-time job and I was looking here for inspiration…? I wonder how often we step into the social media fray hoping to come away inspired and bettered by what we encounter there? And in the same vein how often do we come away feeling like we’ve encountered nothing but noise?

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament revolves around the prophet Elijah. Elijah is a titan of a prophet who has an amazing showdown with over 400 prophets of Ba’al and sees YHWH answer with fire from Heaven. And then as if that isn’t enough he declares the end of a drought and then outruns a royal chariot on foot. Then in the midst of all the noise he receives a death threat from the queen and runs and hides for fear of his life. To answer Elijah among all of the noise God takes him to a solitary place and here is where we pick up in scripture. “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

The phrase in the scripture for “gentle whisper” is actually best translated “sound of sheer silence”. This is where the prophet, who has been surrounded by noise and craziness and even good things, encounters God. This is where the prophet finds the ability to keep going. This is where the prophet finds inspiration. And I began to think about how often I disengage from the noise. How often do we turn off our devices? How often do we turn off the news? How often do we turn off our echo chambers that affirm how we think in order to listen to the One in whom we believe? My challenge to myself and perhaps to you as well today is to allow the noise to be the noise. May we also give space in our lives to the quiet so that perhaps we may have that same encounter in the “gentle whisper” which is the space in which the Spirit often speaks.

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radical hospitality

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I grew up in the south. That might be a shocker for some of you. But I was born in Chattanooga, TN and raised in Northwest Georgia, although people are sometimes suspect because of my lack of an accent (I intentionally use a y’all from time to time to assuage the naysayers). But I have very unique lenses from which to talk about my Southern heritage after having lived in the Midwest and Southwest. I even remember when my wife and I were preparing to move above the Mason-Dixon line and there was actual anxiety regarding how “cold” the Yankees might be. Honestly I think that is all derived from the fact that everyone is actually cold for eight months out of the year and don’t want to come outside. But after having lived in these multiple regions, can I make a case that perhaps Southern Hospitality is as hospitable as we have always thought? Going further, can I make a case that perhaps none of us have any idea what hospitality truly is?

Hospitality is a unique concept.We all like to think of ourselves as being hospitable; after all, it is a Christian concept. The thing that has given me the greatest lens through which to see this is the hospitality industry…truly. Every time I stay in a hotel these days I think about all the work that happens after my departure (you can’t help but think about this with four kids). I also have friends that run airbnb’s and I get exhausted thinking about all the work that goes into maintaining their facilities. The people who run these facilities put their lives on hold in order to provide an experience for someone else so that the other feels at home; like they belong. And we call this the hospitality industry. Believe it or not Jesus had something to say about what Christian hospitality would feel like from our perspective, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26-27 You don’t see how that refers to hospitality…?

The thing that makes airbnb’s or hotels successful in terms of hospitality is that all of their effort is focused on the experience of the other. We as churches or youth groups could possibly learn a thing or two about this. When people come through our doors we expect them to adjust to our schedule, our routine, our style, our sense, our/my/we/me…and yet Jesus says unless you put aside your own concerns, your own way of doing things, even your own sense of family and life that you cannot be His disciple. Now there will be things that will be distinctly Christian that we invite people to learn as they walk along with us (Creeds, Communion, Baptism, Salvation, etc.). But there are a lot of things that should probably be set aside or even left in the dust so that we can actually learn what it means to be hospitable. And it all starts with being willing to look in the mirror and ask if the actions I live out each week draw people to Christ or make it seem like this club is even more exclusive. May we start to practice radical hospitality today at the expense of ourselves for the sake of the other.


righteous indignation

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Sunday night I was angry. And truth be told I don’t get angry a lot. I think my wife may actually think there is something wrong with me…but Sunday night, oh man. You see, I had shared a video of a young black man and his white grandmother being pulled over because someone had “reportedly” told the cops that they thought this white woman was being robbed by this black man. And all I kept thinking about was, “This could be my son.” So I shared the video on social media and was astounded at the ensuing dialogue. Some of it was very supportive and resonated well with me, but some of it left me with a little holy anger, if you will. And it’s not even so much what they were arguing with me per se (I understand police procedure and I wasn’t faulting a police officer who could be correctly acting on misinformation), but just the fact that they were arguing for the fact that this is the way things are or how they are done now. You see, for a follower of Christ in this world, I don’t think this approach is acceptable.

Allow me to elaborate a bit. Time and time in scripture we are told about the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. We hear about it with phrases like “The Day of the Lord” or “When the Son of Man returns” or “The Kingdom of God is at Hand”. And when the disciples ask Jesus how to pray He responds with, “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on Earth”. And the images of this in scripture are profound. “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” – Amos 5:25 “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” – Isaiah 61:1 This is what the Kingdom coming looks like. Something new; something profound! Something that challenges “what is” for “what can be”. When we are content to accept the status quo or even pine for the way things used to be, we are submitting to the kingdoms of this world and refusing to see the world for what it can be. We are living out of fear instead of hope.

This isn’t a liberal or conservative issue, but it is a political issue. It’s a proclamation of the fact that we belong to a different kind of Kingdom. The apostle Paul puts it this way in Colossians 3, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things aboveHere there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” – Colossians 3:1,11 This different view of the world is the thing that Christians should always ascribe to and hope for. A world where bias and fear are left in the dust because after all, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” – 1 John 4:18

I remember when I held Jonas for the first time. I was worried about how he might be treated in the world. But I thought to myself, “It’s going to get better…it has to.” And yet today, I am angry. I am hurt. I am sad because the church continues to buy into the narrative of “it will all work out or this is just how things are.” Hear me O church. Christ Kingdom is at hand. We are called to live into this. And the day is now! I still believe it can get better. But church we must get to work alongside Christ building his kingdom here, now, today.


in so many words

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Those of you who know me well, know that I love the outdoors and I love music. In fact, one of my favorite things are outdoor concerts…I just usually can’t afford them. Yesterday was another one of those can’t afford them days, but I made the most of it. While clearing brush from my fence line (a task probably a few years overdue) I kept my phone near by and kept the Avett Brother’s playing as loud as it would go. Much of the time I sang along as well which I’m sure was not pleasant for many within earshot. There is one song that whenever it comes up always strikes me with how poignant the lyrics are. The song is called Ten Thousand Words and the main chorus goes like this, “Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different, We love to talk on things we don’t know about.”And even though this song came out almost a decade ago, the lyrics are just as meaningful in our world today as they were then. The underlying truth in that line is what gets me…especially as someone who earns his living primarily talking.

Talking, especially about something we may not know the whole story about, is something we seem to be rather fond of these days. Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” I don’t like to often think of myself as a fool, although I think I have been called worse, but I am not sure that I always speak from a completely informed platform. I try to pride myself on being culturally relevant and savvy; I study scripture and commentaries for Biblical insight; and I am a social scientist regarding the lives of my students and the environment in which they live. I even started listening to more podcasts to seem more informed about the subjects I tend to engage in with others. But there are still limitations to what I am able to collect in terms of information. I still haven’t walked in everyone’s shoes and I still am unable to see things from their perspectives completely, so maybe there is space to check myself before gushing out my opinion on everything.

What’s sad is when people have no consideration for the others’ beliefs or convictions. We attempt to speak truth/judgment upon them without fully knowing their story. I believe as Christians that we have a message which is of dire importance that we must share with people, but if we don’t know our message well, if we don’t know our audience, if we have no consideration for who they are and where they come from…then we might as well be gushing folly. Paul says it this way in his letter to the Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29. So maybe we could all use that check on our words. And I know I may fall into the category of being like most people who don’t know what they are talking about…but I think we all know better.


move your feet

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I saw a post recently that was a bit disheartening. It revolved around the latest tragedy involving a mass shooting and it was making light of the idea of “thoughts and prayers” being offered up to change the inevitable reality that we live in a broken world. While I do think that in the wake of brokenness and hurt that the idea of “thoughts and prayers” being a simple offering of a solution isn’t adequate, I also don’t think it is easily dismissed. And I think it all has to do with the way I think about prayer. We sometimes think that prayer is a passive response. We think about prayer as that moment where we don’t know what to do or have no will to do and so we simply turn the “to do” over. But I’m not sure that this is what prayer is meant to be. A few years ago I stumbled across a West African proverb that sums it up for me and it’s where I think the discussion of prayer should always go and it simply states, “When you pray, move your feet.”

This proverb can have a multitude of connotations, but I think the more implicitly implied meaning revolves around giving action to our prayers. And this is a pretty sound Biblical thought. When Jesus is approached by his disciples about prayer his response is pretty familiar to us, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:9-10. And we all know the rest of the prayer, but that beginning…man is it powerful! The word for Kingdom ‘come’ is best translated as, “to come into being, arise, come forth, show itself, find place or influence “. The word for will be “done” is best translated as, “to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be”. So much of what we pray/envision is for God’s Kingdom and Will to come into existence through us in the world around us. But how do we become a part of this?

When God became flesh He went around preaching one dominant theme, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” And then He brought it with Him. He saw those who society had cast aside and went to them and loved them. He was even quoted as saying that the well don’t need a doctor, but rather the sick. And maybe this is the type of prayer that we begin to offer up in the wake of something tragic. Maybe we begin to ask for God to help us see those who need love. Maybe we ask God to help us see those who need human contact. Maybe we begin to ask God how we can even begin to get involved in the lives of victims and perpetrators alike. These tragedies that seem to be growing in number won’t be solved through any kind of easy solution, but perhaps when we pray we don’t pray easy prayers. Maybe when we pray we don’t pray for passive responses. Maybe moving forward, when we pray we move our feet.

 


headlamps and missteps

dawn-environment-fall-891412.jpgFor those of you who follow me on social media you know I like to post about a certain hobby of mine. And it’s not meant to be braggadocio, but rather a measure of accountability for myself. In order for me to be the best me I can be I try to at least daily, or every other day, head out and go running. You see, for me running is self-care. And the more I post about it, the more I hold myself accountable to do it. The reasoning behind this is because I am also a father of four and a husband. So, in order to find space to be a good husband and father I have taken to running in the wee hours of the morning. Thus the need to stay accountable. That being said, in Nashville the sun doesn’t even wake up in the wee hours of the morning. So today I tried a new convention and ran with a headlamp for the first time…and it was quite the adventure.

I found out quickly that in order to run with a headlamp one has to concentrate on the immediate. There were moments where I wanted to look ahead and try to anticipate the next bend or the path up ahead and the minute I would do this is the exact moment I would stumble. I found out pretty quickly, that although I moved slowly, it was so key to keep the light on my next step. There was a verse from scripture that kept coming to my mind that comes from Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” And I know most of us are familiar with this passage of scripture, but we often don’t really know what it means to apply “the word” to our immediacy. We struggle with the future and the next steps versus the now and the immediate. But believe it or not, scripture itself can help us to understand how to avoid this trap of confusion that often overwhelms us with anxiety for the future.

In the prelude to his gospel, John writes to us that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. We can often become overwhelmed in trying to apply the word to our lives, but there is actually a really simple place to start; Jesus. He is the word incarnate and He draws us into what it means to live into the present. In fact, his own words to us are, “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. I think the headlamp for us in the immediate is to realize what it means to live as Jesus lived. Someone who was fully present at each and every moment. He would see the hurting, touch the leper, feast with sinners and love the unlovable at every step of the way. This is our roadmap. This is our light. And this is the way we learn not to stumble but to trust the next step.


fearful

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I remember pretty vividly the day we brought our first born home. It’s not every day that you walk into an office building with an empty baby carrier and walk out with a baby. But here we were, at Bethany Christian Services, signing adoption paper work in order to become a mom and a dad for the first time. We walked in and we were ushered into a small meeting room and we signed so much paper work that it seemed like we were finalizing a mortgage. Then our case worker said those words that are forever written on my heart, “would you like to see your son”. We then walked into the room next door and met Jonas for the first time. We were in awe of how tiny he was and we even had to have help loading him into the baby carrier for the first time. I even remembered how slow I drove back to Donelson that day…and it had nothing to do with the traffic. And the one thought that kept repeating through my mind was, “man, I hope I don’t mess this up.”

It’s something that anyone that is a parent has said at one point or another. All of a sudden we find ourselves responsible for another human being and it is absolutely terrifying. It’s funny, but I think there is a verse in the Psalms that expresses this well, but is rarely used for this insight. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm‬ ‭139:13-14‬ We often pause to reflect on the wonderful part, but rarely give said due to the fearful part. The word in Hebrew is yare’ and is most often translated as ‘actual fear’. The psalmist praises God because he is made wonderfully and this is easy to see. We are incredibly complex beings. But the psalmist also praises God because he is made fearfully. What does it mean for God to make us fearfully…?

I think it might be a bit like that feeling all parents get when we realize we are responsible for another human life. There is a fear, a reverence, a holy trepidation that the actions we take and the way we care for another influences who they become. As parents of teens and children, this can sometimes become overwhelming as we seek to trust God as he guides us into this responsibility. And the crazy thing about all of this…God made us all this way. Even more astounding is the fact that as the church we have been given the charge to engage all of creation with this same reverence and responsibility. We are God’s plan for redemption of all creation. And sometimes I look at the church and the world and think to myself, “Man, I hope we don’t mess this up.” And yet, the beauty in all of this is that God created us all this way. With freewill that often leads to things that could be considered scary and terrifying, or beautiful and lovely. So today, let us praise God. For you and I and all creation have been fearfully and wonderfully made and we have a mission before us. May all those we come into contact with realize that they too are fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God who trusts all of us with each other.


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