ground rules

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So I know this may not come as much of a surprise, but I love having fun. I love playing games and being crazy. But one of the most important things you have to take into account when having fun is you have to make sure everyone understands the rules. As recently as this week, I was part of one such occurrence. This Monday was our annual Memorial Day picnic for our church. Since it was going to be roughly about 1,000 degrees outside, my wife and I decided to fill up water balloons to bring to the park for the kids. But before the battle could ensue, I had to make sure everyone understood the ground rules. No hitting anyone in the face. Little kids this is your bucket and big kids this is your bucket. Make sure you step five steps away before you begin to throw. And thanks to these simple ground rules, everyone had fun, no one got hurt and we all were able to cool off for a little bit.

I feel like lately though, we as adults have forgotten how to have fun and get along. Even in the church we have allowed ourselves to succumb to worldly division and talk that just doesn’t belong. Remember Paul said to the Philippians once upon a time regarding the world and the church that, “Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” – Philippians 3:19-20 So to help us on a little refresher course and make sure everyone gets along, I decided to help us out with a few ground rules today.

  • In the Kingdom of God, it is never okay to refer to other children of God as animals. Regardless of what someone has done, Jesus died to save us all. Sure in Scientific classification we are all animals, but this is the church and not science class. Therefore let’s all refer to each other as humans or even brother or sister.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to compare a person of color, particularly an African American, to a monkey or an ape. This is not only dehumanizing but historically very racist.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t fly or promote symbols that are linked to racism. And although you may claim the flag of the Confederate States of America is historical in nature, it was a history that fought to keep my son in chains and for the right to own people. Let’s keep it in the text books and out of our yards or off our clothing.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to refer to women as gals or chicks or anything that would make them feel less than the equally gifted and called children of God that they are. And let’s also stop blaming them for the violence, abuse and even rape that for centuries has gone unreported, even in the church.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t think less of anyone because of their country of origin or their international and/or undocumented status. We seek to be Christ to all because at some point someone was Christ to us.
  • In the Kingdom of God we seek to know a person’s name and award them their humanity regardless of their perceived status. A whole lot of misunderstanding and hurt will be avoided if we simply get to know each other.

I know sometimes that people think the world has become insane or difficult to manage, but these ground rules really aren’t that hard to follow. At the end of the day if we simply start treating other people as if we are all one, instead of us versus them, we would get a lot further. After all, Paul said in his letter to Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28 And if you are still struggling as to how to implement these simple ground rules, maybe we can take it back to the words of Christ himself, “Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I hope this all helps. Now go out there and have fun and love people for the children of God they are.

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the best medicine

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When I learned to read I quickly became a little predictable. You see, we had this book that my parents got every once in a while and every time they would get it I would find myself rifling through the pages until I got to a certain section. It was either “Humor in Uniform”, “Life in these United States” or “The Best Medicine”. The publication was called The Reader’s Digest and I went straight for the joke sections. I remember going to my grandparents house and seeing their Sunday paper and going straight for the comics section (as long as my PaPaw was done with his puzzles). For a while I feel like I was almost obsessed with reading “The Far Side” or “Hogarth the Horrible” or “Get Fuzzy”. So yesterday, the superlatives at a teacher’s meeting for the end of the school year really didn’t come as too much of a surprise. That’s right, yours truly was awarded the Staff Comedian. Someone even asked if I was given the award because they were laughing with me or at me…? My response, “Yes”.

But I treasure this award…truly. I see laughter as a reflection of joy and I hold joy in the utmost regard when it comes to the life of faith. When the apostle Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit, you know the things in our life we see as a result of the living presence of God within us, it goes a little like this, “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23 The first one on the list makes a lot of sense. After all, God is love. But the second one? Joy?!? It’s that important that it gets picked second. There is a story in the Old Testament where the people of Israel are overcome with grief and guilt. They had finished rebuilding the temple wall and in the process had discovered anew the law. After hearing it read the people began to weep because of how far they had fallen, but this is the response: “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Don’t mourn or weep…Go, eat rich food, and drink something sweet,” he said to them, “and send portions of this to any who have nothing ready! This day is holy to our Lord. Don’t be sad, because the joy from the Lord is your strength!” – Nehemiah 8:9-10 The joy of the Lord is your strength!

Laughter to me is a natural reflection of joy. I remember my wife and I reading about the biology of laughter some time ago. Evidently laughter, true laughter, is an almost involuntary response when your brain gets surprised…literally tickled. It’s our bodies way of showing us there is a new way to see the things around us and sometimes it can even be silly or absurd or flat out funny. Laughter is a reflection of learning and a way of showing us the joy to be found in and through the world around us. Maybe it might not be the best literal medicine (my money is on ibuprofen), but it does make life a little more livable. And if God’s joy is our strength and a reflection of the presence of God in our lives, then let’s find more things to smile, laugh and be joyful about each day.


fire fighters

 

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This Sunday is a significant Sunday for the life of the Church…actually it is the celebration of the life of the Church, because it’s the Church’s birthday! Pentecost Sunday is the day we commemorate the reception of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the movement that came to be known as the Church. The story goes a little something like this, “When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:1-4 And from that moment on the world would never be the same. I love the description for the presence of the Holy Spirit; wind and fire. (Add earth and you’ve got a soul-filled experience, I couldn’t help myself). But these two movements in nature are both powerful and mysterious, yet how often do we think of the action of the Church in terms of wind or fire today?

Often the Church is more of a comfortable movement in the world today. We hear passages from scripture and rather than being spurred on or challenged, we simply seek to be affirmed or comforted in the station or position in life in which we currently exist. Take for instance this passage from Paul to the church in Thessalonica, “Make sure no one repays a wrong with a wrong, but always pursue the good for each other and everyone else. Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:15-19 That sounds good. Don’t repay wrongs, rejoice and be prayerful, give thanks and don’t suppress the Spirit…wait, what!?! The Greek word is actually sbennymi, which meant to extinguish. Don’t extinguish the Spirit? But think about it for a minute. This is the presence of God that on the day of Pentecost was described as a fierce wind and fire. What is it about the movement of the Church today that resembles a fierce wind or fire?

In his book, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis is describing the four children’s preparation for their first meeting with Aslan. The children become a bit scared when they realize that Aslan is a lion. Here’s how the conversation concludes, “’Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you’.” I think that’s where safety has taken over the flow of the Spirit in the Church today. We want the action of the Spirit to be safe, comfortable, fit our schedule, pat us on the back and tell us we’re doing okay. But what we don’t realize is that in doing so we are fighting the very fire of God that continually seeks to set the church ablaze. When we seek to control the Spirit or dictate how the Holy Spirit must work in our churches or in another’s life we are actually extinguishing that which is unpredictable. And yet God does not force us to remain in the flames of His love. In fact it’s quite easy to suppress the presence and power of God when our agendas of safety, comfort and control take over. So what will it be this Pentecost? Will we find ourselves consumed by the mystery of a God who is nowhere near safe, but good? Or will we continue to suppress the very Spirit that gave birth to Kingdom of God on earth?

Maybe it’s high time we put down the fire extinguishers.

 

 


women of valor

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It’s coming up on that time of year again. For some it can be a very joyous time. For others, it can be one of the worst struggles of the year. Strangely enough I’m talking about Mother’s Day. I remember for seven years of infertility, this was one of the most difficult Sunday’s in the church calendar. I even remember one year, shortly after a miscarriage, that my wife was even called upon to help hand out Mother’s Day gifts to the moms who were there that Sunday. And I imagine this Sunday can be difficult like that for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you have lost your mother this year. Maybe you don’t get to be with your family. Perhaps you’ve never had the family you wished for. None of these things should make you feel less or even allow a church to overlook you in their festivities. If anything, Monther’s Day should be a celebration of women regardless of their stage in life or the identity by which they are known.

One of the most frustrating things to me as a male is the degree to which we as the church often reflect society in the means of which we ask our women to measure up. Sometimes, even on Mother’s Day, women in the church feel the need to evaluate themselves based on a rubric that I’m sure the Bible never intended. Why in the world a Hallmark Card holiday would bring about this type of self-evaluation, I don’t know…but the phenomenon exists all the same. One of the passages of scripture that often gets pulled out for this type of self-inventory is Proverbs 31:10-31. This passage of scripture is known traditionally among the Jewish people as Eshet Chayil or The Woman of Valor. And if we read it at face value it can be intimidating…can a woman really be expected to do all of these things? If this is the ruler that anyone is expected to measure themselves by then not only would our women fall short, but I’m pretty sure most of the men would as well.

Sometimes, though, it pays to seek out an understanding of a Jewish text from Jewish history. I know it sounds crazy. But when it comes to this passage, the Eshet Chayil, before every Sabbath, a husband would read/recite this poem to his wife to praise her for all that she is (not all that she has done). It wasn’t a score card…but an embellishment and adoration of all that she was and meant to her husband and family before they entered into the rest of Sabbath. It reads a lot different now. Hear these words as if in adulation from a husband to his wife,

“‘Many women act competently,
    but you surpass them all!’
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” – Proverbs 31:29-30

And women of the church…this is who you are. When you enter through the doors of the sanctuary on Sunday morning, you are a woman of valor. When you find yourself worshiping although you are broken by years of infertility, you are a woman of valor. When you join the congregation in prayer although you’ve lost your own mother or even a child, you are a woman of valor. When you celebrate in the means of grace even though it seems you may never be called ‘mom’, you are a woman of valor. When you participate in the body of Christ, even when you feel misunderstood or undervalued, you are a woman of valor; and your worth is far greater than jewels.

 


breathless

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Many of you know this last year I became a science teacher. What many of you may not know is that I teach at a Middle school that is on a university campus. Not only that, but our school is even part of the university system and we are therefore connected to the university itself. That means sometimes we even have to handle things on the main campus. This really wouldn’t be such a big deal except for the fact that it always seems like the business I have to handle is on the fourth floor of the largest building on campus. To top it all off, I usually have a limited amount of time to handle said business so I find myself parking on the side of the building that doesn’t have the elevator and then hustling up three rather large flights of stairs. Take note; I’m a relatively in shape person, but I still feel winded almost every time I run up these stairs. Especially if it is a day like yesterday when I had just done squats at the gym that morning.

But one of the joys of being a science teacher has also been the opportunity to marvel at the complexity of creation once again. The fact that my brain tells my legs to move up and down, then my legs can do that action, then my lungs seek to compensate for their effort by pulling in more air to oxygenate my muscles in my legs, while my heart is picking up its rhythm in order to move that oxygen to those legs faster. It all really is an incredible feat. One might even call it a gift. The writer of the book of James has this to say about gifts, “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all.” – James 1:17 Our brains, our legs, our blood pumping, our lungs…even the breath in our lungs is a gift from God. I wonder if we would all be considered good stewards of those gifts?

A little bit later in that same letter James takes to task one of the gifts that we sometimes abuse; our tongue. Our ability to speak is an incredible gift. In fact, I’m amazed by it all the time. We push air in and out of our throat, it passes through our larynx, over our vocal folds and then somehow resonates enough to form sounds and then words and even sometimes notes of incredible beauty. We essentially take the breath of life, the gift that God has given us and transform it into something entirely new. But James actually has a word of warning for us here, “No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness.” – James 3:8-9 You could almost substitute the phrase, “breath use” for tongue in this passage. I realize that might be a little wordy and complex, but how often do we think about the breath we breathe as truly a gift of God i.e. the breath of life? And if it is a gift, are we wasting it? Are we using it for malice, gossip, evil? James himself said we praise God and yet speak ill, put down, judge and even curse those made in his likeness. Maybe some of us need to check our breathing. Maybe some of us should be careful for the day when we are left breathless and the gift and what we have done with it return to the creator. How will you sue your gift of breath today?


anticipation

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PSA: This may be the nerdiest blog post I’ve ever written.

I’ve been waiting for today for what seems like forever. For those of you who have read my blog at all or listened to a sermon, you know I am a fan of comic books. And not just any comic books, but Marvel comics; you know, Spider-man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, etc. Well one of my favorite cultural gifts of living in the twenty-first century is that we are living in the golden era of comic book movies. It’s almost as if Hollywood said, “You know who we need to cater to? All those weird 30 and 40 something year old nerds.” And today marks the completion of a ten-year saga for Marvel movies as they release Avengers: Infinity War. Since the villain of the movie (Thanos, the ultimate Marvel bad guy) was teased in 2012, fans have been awaiting this day. If they are like me, they have even reread all the comics they owned that cycle around this movie’s story-line just to be extra prepared. And so I woke up knowing today was the day…I don’t think I’ve been this excited in a long time. And I know that regardless of what I experience tonight, I will still be excited. I don’t think the movie could even let down my anticipation. And this is all over a two hour and twenty-nine minute movie…

Anticipation is a powerful thing. My kids get excited about upcoming birthdays. My wife will start packing for trips sometimes weeks ahead, but maybe that’s because a healthy dose of anticipation is necessary for traveling with a family of six. But anticipation, I believe, can often make the thing anticipated even greater. If you come to an event or happening with all this built up excitement and energy, and then you invest all that big excitement and energy into said event, then there really isn’t any way that you should be disappointed…of course maybe that’s just the eternal optimist in me speaking. However, sometimes I think our anticipation looks more like anxiety. I remember growing up and hearing about Christ’ second coming and always being nervous. Sometimes I would even go over to my grandmother’s house (she lived across the driveway) and if I didn’t find her quickly I would be scared that I missed the rapture. I’m not sure, though, that the coming of Christ is something that is ever meant to be seen through the lenses of fear. In fact, I think it’s something the church is called to rehearse over and over again.

The New Testament scriptures end with the writer of Revelation saying, “The one who bears witness to these things says, “Yes, I’m coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” – Revelation 22:20 And some translations even add the phrase “come quickly”. Now if you’re like me, you often look at the world around you and wish Jesus would come quickly and fix all the brokenness and hurt. You anticipate His return because it will be the cure-all for all the messed up things in the world. But what if we, as the church are called to rehearse, live out His coming again in anticipation in the now? I mean, after all the church is called the body of Christ. And we gather together through the power of the Holy Spirit. What if our presence here is Christ in flesh, Christ having come into the world? Here me out. Christ will come again; I’m not denying this. But what if in the now we are called to live in such rich anticipation that each time we gather we become agents of transformation in a world that could really only be fixed by the coming of Christ? What if each time we met the world would know that His Kingdom is coming and His will is being done through us because this is why we gather? What if each time we prepared to assemble as a church we anticipated the movement so richly that we couldn’t help but be excited and amazed at what God did through us? I think perhaps this is the type of anticipation we are all called to live with. After all, if one of us could get this excited for a nerd movie, think about what we could do if all of us were truly excited about what God can do through us.


why bother

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Does the church have anything to offer the world in the 21st century? This seems to be a question that plagues pastors, writers, theologians and thinkers alike in the church today. You see articles and books about church growth or reaching millennials or connecting families on an almost daily rate. The church seems to find itself at a crossroads of crisis and our offerings to me, and I imagine to a lot of the world, just seem lack luster at best. “Oh, you’ve got another program for me to attend?” “This book study will make me a skinnier, wealthier and happier Christian?” “This program is guaranteed to make church stick for me and my family this time?” I don’t mean to sound too cynical, but why bother? If all the church is trying to do is to compete with other social activities in the world, then why bother?

A couple of nights ago I sat across from a couple from our church in my living room. We were meeting to talk about a new (I’m reluctant to use the word because it just sounds like another program) ministry they’ve launched. Well, I guess it’s more of an inter-generational small group (even that sounded programmatic). But I asked them to sum up the rationale behind it and the gentlemen responded with, “Well, it’s more or less our attempt to build a family in the church.” YES! In a simple statement made on my sofa while my kids were all sleeping (I hope) in the background I heard the why bother answer resonate loud and clear. And it all goes back to the birth of the church. What does the church have to offer to the world? It goes like this in the second chapter in the book of Acts. “All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42-47 Did you see that? The church, at it’s core, is a family that wants to be together, takes care of one another and shares life together.

So church, please hear me in regards to your existence in the 21st century. We have the greatest hope to share with the world. But if we just make it another program, social event, to-do list, check mark or any other means of clever marketing we will continue to fail. The world will look at our existence as simply another ploy to get them to commit to something that at the end of the day adds very little value to their lives. But if we, and I know it might be a stretch, actually began to mirror the lives of the early church and became that Family of God we used to sing about all the time, then perhaps those outside our walls might see the life we share and come to realize it might be the very thing they’re missing. In a world of broken families, fractured homes, disenfranchised lives, social media virtual communities, depression, anxiety and fear we as the church have something to offer that nothing else can compare with. The Kingdom of God goes beyond all other kingdoms and programs when our family’s head calls us to remember, “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:12-13 It’s high time we started being that kind of family again and I can’t wait to see what happens when we do.

 


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