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.
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?
I have a confession to make. I’m not a writer. Yes, I write a blog each week and I occasionally write for other online venues, but I’m not really a writer. In fact, I get kind of jealous of my friends who have that title in their Twitter or Facebook bios. I really don’t feel like I’m there. You see, I’ve never had any formal training outside of my high school writing classes. In fact, my wife always feels the need to point that out anytime she has to proof one of my papers. Evidently, I either love, commas, way too much, or not enough (see what I did there?). But regardless of my lack of qualifications or my experience or my title, there is one thing I sit down to do every week. I sit down at a blank computer screen and I write. And some days I really enjoy it. Some days it feels like a chore. But I feel like it is important for my soul that I keep doing it…why? Because it reminds me of Who I belong to.
We are told at the beginning of the Bible that at the beginning of all things that the first thing God ever did was create. And although the Genesis account is a pretty incredible piece of poetic interpretation of creation, I find myself more and more being drawn to John’s account. It goes like this, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being.” – John 1:1-3 The Word. Jesus himself. Through his being all life came to being. This is one of the reasons I believe that communication brought to life through art and creativity is so important. You see, Jesus as the word/logos brought life into the universe. He is a creating/creative God. And we are created in that image. So in bringing forth words/pictures/images/art into the world we are participating in something that reminds us that we are created by Him to become like Him. Paul reminds us of how important our actions are in terms of how we go about life [you could read art here too], “Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17 In the name of Jesus. The same name/word that gave life to all that is.
So today I want to encourage you to…write, even if you are not a writer. I want to encourage you to sing, even if you’re not a singer. To paint, even if you aren’t a painter. To capture images, even if you’re not a photographer. To dance, even if you’re not a dancer. I urge you to sculpt, compose, draw, chisel, play, tinker, choreograph, program, edit, or find any other form of incredible creative expression to bring life and communication into the world that wasn’t there before…even if you don’t feel like you are qualified. Because the Voice that spoke everything into existence created you and you are created in the Creative God’s image.
I remember before my wife and I became parents we would often talk about how we would never tell our kids, “because I said so”. We both had always felt like this was a parental cop-out and were therefore determined to be able to help our children understand the reasoning and the logic behind every request that we placed upon them. As of today however, the running tally of how many times we have said, “because I said so” is roughly about 4,607,322…not that anyone is keeping track. Because sometimes you look at your amazingly beautiful, precious child and the amount of frustration boils up as your patience continues to wear thin and you just want them to understand your request but you really have nothing left and “because I said so” becomes that very necessary trump card.
Strangely enough though, I see a bit of Divine resonance in the phrase, “because I said so”. But I think it is all about where the emphasis is placed (did you see my hint?). There is a Psalm that kind of helped me to understand this a little more recently and it is probably familiar to many of you. Psalm 19 begins this way, “The heavens declare the glory of God…” It then goes through an incredible description of God’s glory and majesty and all that He has created and then it interjects with the following phrase, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Psalm 19:7 It goes from all the splendor and glory of creation to a description of the law…huh? But what I see the Psalmist presenting before us is a case for God being able to say, “because I said so” So often we see the law of God and we simply see it as a list of what not to do and what to avoid and how we will get punished if we step out of line. But for the Psalmist the law was born out of the love that God, the God who made everything, had for us.
Now think about that love for a minute. God gave us stars and planets and nebulas and quasars and all of these amazing things to display His glory. God gave us cells and synapses and electrons and mitochondria and DNA to amaze and grab our attention. And God gave us His law, His instruction because He is the same God who created all those things and He may know a little about how life works best. So His law is not a limitation of life…it is an amplification of how life works best. Often times this is how I feel when I am trying to convey to my children why I want them to do something. I’ve been around longer, I’ve seen more life than you and I know how this all plays out. I don’t want you to do something because I am mean or conniving, but rather the opposite. “Because I said so” is a reflection of my love for you, because it’s me…and I know how I feel about You. May we come to feel the same way about the law of the Lord so that we can reflect alongside the Psalmist in the concluding verse of Psalm 19, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
This last Sunday morning I was up with my coffee early and I was reading a blog post about pastors. One of the concluding lines in the post suggested that pastors should get thirty minutes of exercise a few hours before they engage with their congregation…so I went for a run. It was a nice muggy hot morning in Odessa, but the thing that struck me the most was the moon. It was a fingernail sliver of a moon and as I turned a corner it completely disappeared. I had to do a double take, because I was pretty sure moon phases don’t happen that quickly. I then realized some clouds had simply passed in front and it soon returned to its normal phase and I returned to sweating early on a Sunday morning.
The moon has always been fascinating to me. I can’t imagine what it was like for ancient people to look up and see this light in the sky that at the end of the day wasn’t even a light at all. We of course know that the moon itself is not a source of light, but a source of reflection. Even on those nights when the full moon seems to light up everything you see, it still is only reflecting the light it receives from the sun. But the ancient Hebrews described it this way in the Genesis creation poem, “God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.” – Genesis 1:16 They saw the moon as a light itself, which would be one’s perception, but its role seems to be the more important facet. The moon was present to govern the night. The word in Hebrew is memshalah and can be translated as the power to rule or govern. The moon was thought of as the light to have power to rule over the night.
Now here is where it gets fun. ‘The moon is only a reflection’ you might say, and yet the better it reflects, the brighter it is. And the brighter the moon, the lesser the night/darkness. In some ways our lives themselves reflect the moon. We are called to reflect the light of Christ to the world around us. The darkness or the storm clouds or whatever may come our way shouldn’t diminish our reflection because we have been granted the “power to rule” over the darkness. 1 John 4:4 puts it this way, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” The power of Christ in you…the power to reflect the light of Christ is greater than all the other powers combined. Sometimes I hear people complain about the darkness around them or the storms that seem to move in on them and I wonder…how will their reflection be affected? In his book Velvet Elvis Rob bell poses the following, “Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.” Maybe that is the question to ask ourselves today. Is our light governing the night? Are we reflecting all the Jesus we should to the world? Perhaps we may someday find our reflective light shining so bright that people can’t see where Christ ends and we begin.
I’m tired…and it’s only Thursday (feel free to substitute any day of the week except Friday).
How many times do we find that this becomes part of our vernacular? We have become a people whose god is busyness. There was even a recent commercial released during the Olympics that praised Americans ability to achieve out of said busyness and encouraged us to be even more busy.* But the schedules and the to-do lists and the accomplishments and the appointments and the events and the practices and the rehearsals and the whatever is next never seems to stop. Is this how it is supposed to be? We almost seem to think that it is an accomplishment just to make it to the next day. Something has to give because we cannot keep going like this and have healthy lives, families, relationships, etc.
Fortunately for you my friend, this is not how you were designed nor is this how you are intended to live. The Hebrew scriptures were penned in such a way as to help us see that our lives are intended to be ordered in a more unique fashion. Way back in the very beginning we see that God himself built a rhythm into creation and we are intended to follow said rhythm. It looks a bit like this, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” – Genesis 2:2-3. The word for rest in the passage above is shabath from which we get Sabbath and it literally means “STOP”. After six days, God stops…and does nothing. Isn’t that beautiful? There is built into the very fabric of creation a day of nothing…no schedules, no appointments, no errands, nothing.
And yet, we are too busy to honor the very fulfillment of creation itself. If we don’t go here, if we don’t do this, we won’t have this or we won’t get that done; STOP! As Jesus is coming to the end of His time with His disciples he reminds them of this is John 15, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” – John 15:4. Jesus, knowing the rhythm that is built into creation reminds us to stay, pause, remain, stop and dwell with Him. Does that mean that God isn’t present in our busyness and goings and comings throughout the week? By no means. But perhaps we need to take a day to be aware of His presence by stopping and finding ourselves renewed for a moment. After all, we are only human.
So my challenge to you and to me this week? In the midst of renewed schedules and life rhythms that come with the fall, find some time, preferably a day, to stop; to shabath. You need it. God made you and creation itself for it. And as you do may you find yourself renewed in The Spirit that gave life and breath to creation itself and then stopped.
* I do love this commercial though: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfUhExdNjK8
It seems to me that “we the church” have an issue. Now when I say we, I am not simply referring to a local congregation, but to the church as a whole. And perhaps to specify a little more, I probably mean the western church. It seems we have mishandled things a bit. You see, we have been charged with delivering the greatest message on earth. We are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, Heralds of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Makers of Disciples for our King…but something has gone awry. This message, this charge has somehow been perceived by the world around us as something that is boring, petty, ineffective, irrelevant, etc. Where did we go wrong?
In the gospel of John, Jesus is speaking about the message of the Kingdom. He refers to himself as the good shepherd and even speaks of the sheep he has not yet brought into the fold that still belong to Him. In this passage he talks about what the message of the kingdom looks like lived out in the life of a believer when he says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10. Full life! Not simply life that holds onto some distant promise and isn’t fully lived out in the here and now, but full life now. Another way to see this comes from the founder of Methodism John Wesley. “By salvation I mean not barely according to the vulgar notion deliverance from hell or going to heaven but a present deliverance from sin a restoration of the soul to its primitive health its original purity a recovery of the divine nature the renewal of our souls after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness in justice mercy and truth.” In other words God’s salvation isn’t simply something for the age to come, but it is expressly for the world now.
I think this may be where we have mispackaged things a bit. So many of us desperately cling to our hope in the next life that we have forgotten we are called to live out that hope in this life in order that we might share it with those around us. As we grow in holiness we become engaged in acts of justice, mercy and truth in order that we might live out the words of The Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” If we are called to live in this fullest life that God has promised then the world around us should see something captivating, inviting, even enviable. Christians should be the last people on earth who are ever accused of being boring or petty. Our message is too important and our lives are an adventure to be lived out in the Kingdom’s calling…
So my charge to you (and me) today: I implore you to throw off the boring, to free yourself of sin that entangles, to embrace the unknown and live in the freedom of God’s Spirit. To know without a doubt that the life you have been given is the fullest, greatest most inconceivable life imaginable because the forgiveness and The Spirit you have received came from the Divine life that spoke all life into existence. May you know the message you have within you is greater than any word or story every spoken and share that life as if all life depends on it…because it does. Now go and be the image bearers of Christ in a world that desperately needs to see Him and the life He has offered.