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.

 

 

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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.

 


treasure

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Yesterday was one of the longest days of my life; at least in recent memory. You see it all began when our five-year-old had a stomach bug over the weekend…Holy Saturday night…you know, the night before Easter Sunday. So here I am the night before one of the biggest days of the church calendar changing bed linens and caring for a very sick child and thinking all the while, “I’m staring down the barrel of a gun.” For most of Monday and Tuesday I thought maybe, just maybe I had escaped the clutches of this foul intestinal bacteria beast. But alas, that was not the case. Tuesday night, although not in the same fashion or severity, I slept maybe about two to three hours total due to stomach cramps and anxiety over what might come next. The most worrisome part about all of this was my lack of sick day accruing as a teacher and so I knew the next day would be rough.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life…and I was a youth pastor for eleven years with annual lock-ins. After a day of stomach cramping, heavy lids and middle school students I was barely able to drag myself in the door. Luckily I have a wife who was looking out for me and allowed me to sleep for 12 hours…12 hours. She handled bed-time and even kept the kids or pets from waking me. But the next morning she had one important direction for me. I had to wake our three-year-old and spend time with him before going to school. Evidently him not being able to see daddy for a day was a little much and he was suffering from major daddy withdraws. So after recovering from my early spring hibernation I roused my little monster a little early and he spent about thirty minutes on the couch with me watching Thor or Hulk or some other super hero that inspires our special relationship. And I began to think about how important these moments are.

Sometimes in the midst of our hustle and bustle we forget about the most important things we have here. Was it important for me to be at work? Sure. But perhaps it was even more important for me to recover so I could be the best for those around me. In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks a bit as to our most important investment. “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 I came to an epiphany earlier this year as to the treasure that Jesus is pointing us to. What does God value more than anything else in the entire world? His children. So the treasure we are called to invest in is…(wait for it)…each other. So yes, there will be times when we are busy or sick or spent or worn out, but we are called to take those moments that we do have to invest in those who are a piece of God’s heart as we seek to reveal God’s heart to the world. This is the treasure that we seek to store up for heaven’s sake.


unfinished 


This morning I write surrounded by chaos. For almost a week now we have been living in a house turned upside down. You see, shortly after Christmas we had some of our floor get ruined by a leak from our laundry room. Also the carpet in the boys room was ruined by an air conditioner malfunction so that was torn out as well. But, although we’ve been living on partial concrete floors for a while now, the real fun has come during the last week when we had the floor installers scheduled and realized all that needed to happen before the installation. We now have even more bare floors, our dressers are all in the garage, all the rooms have all the other furniture shoved to the side and most of the rooms are missing doors. So yeah, it feels a little chaotic, a little incomplete, a little unfinished. But the end is in sight…at least I think it is.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like that first Easter weekend. On this day, which we  call Maundy Thursday, the disciples gather with their teacher to share a final Passover with him; not even knowing it will be their last. A few hours later he is arrested and through the night he is tried, mocked, beaten, whipped, ridiculed and eventually sentenced to death in the early hours of that Friday. It was the end. The disciples had fled, the movement had died and even some of the last words of Christ on the cross himself were, “It is finished.” And yet for those who knew Jesus best, for his closest followers and family, something had to feel unfinished. It really couldn’t be the end, could it? When Jesus was alive during His earthly ministry he was once confronted by religious leaders who were frustrated by his actions and teaching. The gospel of John records it this way, “Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.” The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” – John 2:18-20 Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days? We of course have the insight to understand what Jesus was talking about and yet…it still seems impossible. Rebuilding the temple in three days would have been an engineering feat to daunting for any nation, let alone a person. Resurrecting a body was something that just didn’t happen. So either way we look at the passage it seems unfathomable.

If ever we need the story of Easter it is in our world today. It is easy to see that we are surrounded by chaos, brokenness, incomplete stories, unfinished lives, death, sin and hell. We need the story of the Resurrection. We need the temple (Christ body, but also the church) to be rebuilt into all that God intends for it to be. We need to feel as if there is a work being completed in us that will bring wholeness, healing, life and love to the world around us. We need to be caught up in a hope so fierce that it defies anything that the news, the nations,  or the naysayers might throw at us. We need the finality of Easter because in the end death does not have the last word. Unfinished is not the end of the story and love and life reign supreme for Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!


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