I haven’t had an old dog for quite some time. In fact, both of the dogs in my house are two years of age or younger. Which often results in things being chewed that aren’t intended for chewing (I may be a little bitter as one of these items was my most frequently worn Red Sox hat this last week). But I want to take issue with that old adage today, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. While perhaps this may be true for dogs, it is oft applied to humans and I’m not sure that this is exactly the case. Case in point; I have been a sufferer of teenage acne for going on 28 years. I have taken various pills, lotions, creams, etc in pursuit of a clear complexion over those 28 years. But most recently I have found the simplest method is to actually just wash my face one more time before bed. Now most of you at this point are putting your palm to your forehead and saying duh, but for me this was a completely new habit. And yet I have seen better response to this in my later years than to anything else I have done throughout my entire time of eternal adolescence.
It got me thinking about something my pastor, Kevin Ulmet, recently tweeted. He said, “The holiness of God calls us to transformation not continuation. That is a message of hope and change that we must teach and live in these days.” We as people of God are called to transformation and not continuation. And yet continuation is so much easier. Albert Einstein is often credited with the expression, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” And that’s sometimes the way we behave in this Christian life. We keep living the way we always live and are surprised that people are not impacted by our witness. We keep the same routines and schedule and we wonder why we feel relatively the same in our relationship with God. What we come to realize is that continuation is simply that…continuation.
In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul has this to say about transformation, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2 The word for transformation in the Greek here is anakainōsis which is defined as renovation, something becoming completely new. And that’s what people of faith are ultimately about; becoming completely new. Even the faith habits that we establish early on in life are in need of continued renewal and growth and transformation. After all, I’m not anywhere near the same person I was when I was fourteen…save the teenage acne. So let us learn new tricks. Let us discipline ourselves with new habits. Let us be transformed in new ways so that we don’t continue with the same old same old.
In the beginning…
These are words that spark a variety of responses from different folks. Some might hear the beginning of a story. Others might think about their family and how it started. For those of the Judaeo-Christian camp we know where this phrase leads, “…God created the heavens and the earth.” But sometimes we don’t think about the way the rest of the story goes and how it applies to the way in which we live today. The story continues: God separates the light from darkness, the sky from water and the land from the sea. He then fills in the spaces He has created and after He has filled in these spaces He says that it is good. The crown of creation after all of this is God’s selem; His image. He creates mankind in His image as a reflection of Himself and then God stops. We often refer to this stopping as the Sabbath rest but literally God is allowing space for creation and Creator to pause, breathe, reflect and it is called good.
I want to return to that idea of mankind being made in God’s image. Because I believe that there is something in this story that we miss if we simply try to break this down to a line by line account of how and not necessarily why. On days one through three God creates space. On days four through six God fills in that space and on day seven He pauses to look at all that has been done. If we are made in that same image, then how does our life reflect the life of a creator God? Do we make space in our lives for God’s creative Spirit to blow through us and allow new and good things to be created? Or are we so busy filling our lives with our own concerns that there is no space for His Spirit to work? The writer of Genesis understood that there was a rhythm to life. The seventh day was necessary to allow one to reorient, to recast the vision of how one leads their lives and then to move on from there. But if that rhythm is missing, can we be a complete selem?
The writer of the Psalms knew a little about this idea when he penned the words, “He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;“- Psalm 46:10. All too often in today’s world we are so busy going and doing and acquiring and earning that we don’t even realize we have taken up all the creative space inside of our selves and left no room for the Spirit of God to work. I belong to a tradition where we consider ourselves to be people who live by the presence of the Spirit of God. But if we don’t make space in our lives for God to work, can He? One last thought came from my reading this morning from Dennis Kinlaw today and I want to share it with you. “This personal character [creativity and love] of God and the personal character of Christianity, along with its emphasis on faith, means that God does not desire primarily obedience from us. If He wanted servile obedience, he could force it. What He really desires from us is that we should love Him so much that He is our joy, our delight, and our fulfillment” Are you making space for God to be all He can be in you today?
As most of you who occasionally read this blog know I am a very urban person. I am always up on modern lingo and so throwing out a title like, ‘where u at’ should in no way be surprising. In fact I am always hip to the jive talk of youngsters around me and therefore connect oh so well. But enough about my linguistic morphing, although it does lend itself to a certain subject I have been wrestling with as of late.
This last Monday I had my normal day off which I always look forward to. Usually my schedule on Mondays looks a bit like this…… And so you can see why I look forward to it. I usually just hang with my wife and kids and we just see where the day takes us. And this last Monday was no different, except that at the end of the day I couldn’t tell you what I did. I couldn’t tell you what funny things my kids did or said and I am not sure I can remember any of the subjects my wife and I talked about. I found myself at the end of the day asking if I was even present that day. It was just sad. But how often do we find ourselves guilty of this trap. How often do we find ourselves wishing that the day would just end so we can get on to the next one? The average human life span is roughly about 28,000 days and sometimes we find ourselves not even living those.
So why all my concern? It has to do with presence. You see, I think the thing that set Jesus apart (aside from the fully God/fully man thing) the most was his ability to be fully present in any and every situation. The writers of the gospels would put it like this, “…When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them…” – Matthew 9:36 or “…When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, Zacchaeus, come down immediately…” – Luke 19:5. It really didn’t matter what Jesus was engaged in, He was present. He saw the needs all around him in every moment and lived life in that fashion. One of my favorite verses in John goes like this, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10. And maybe that idea of life abundantly is life lived out in fullest presence in every situation.
It’s Holy week this week. The week that we Christians set aside to remind us of the passion of Christ and His resurrection. But I like to think it is also a week to remind us of God’s physical presence in Christ and continued presence through the Holy Spirit. And that because of that presence we are empowered to live fully present in every moment. After all, we only have 28,000 days…are we making the most of them or wishing them away. May you find a way to be fully present and live life more abundantly today for the sake of the Kingdom. And then you probably won’t have anyone ask “where you at” again because it will be apparent to all.
You ever find yourself clinging to one of those Bible verses and then realize it doesn’t really mean what you thought it meant? Okay, so maybe that doesn’t happen all the time, but it happened to me today. My life as of late has been rather disquieted for a variety of reasons and so I looked to one of those verses for comfort and I reached for Psalm 46:10, “Be Still and know that I am God.” (SPOILER ALERT…I MIGHT RUIN THIS VERSE FOR SOME OF YOU READING AS WELL). I have always thought of this verse as a peaceful reflection of meditation and quiet, but if you ever read the rest of the Psalm you would be left puzzling too. The Psalm is all about conquering and thundering and exaltation and big, loud images of God. And so in my mind I wasn’t sure “be still” fit. And truth be told it didn’t. The word in Hebrew is actually raphah which is best translated “fall down”….which actually fits with the rest of the Psalm. Not that this in anyway means that I don’t think we need to be still in the knowledge of God and in who He is, but the context is a bit different.
So then I found myself seeking for another word of peace that could speak into my life in a better fashion and I stumbled upon a very fitting and familiar passage, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. I love that title, “God, the God of all Peace”. And the word for sanctify is beautiful as well, hagiazō, “set apart”. The God of peace is seeking to set us apart completely from all of the other stuff that is trying to define us. From the hectic hustle and bustle, chaos, anxiety, etc., God is seeking to set us apart, define us differently, give us peace. And the best part about all of this is that it is God’s action and not our own. All to often we speak about sanctification and holiness as if it’s something we accomplish, but that’s Biblical incoherence. God sanctifies, God sets apart, God gives true peace.
It’s easy to find ourselves in the doing and going, and longing to “be still” (Still a little peeved at a Bible translator somewhere). But I take great comfort in the fact that the action being accomplished in my life is being wrought by the God of peace. And maybe sometimes I do need to be still and take joy and comfort in that. So today, may the God of all peace, God himself, continue to set you apart in the midst of all of your non-peaceful hectic existence.
It’s not everyday that you are going to see hip-hop slang as the title of a blog post by a thirty-something year old white youth pastor in middle America. But something has really struck me this week. I was sitting in Pastor Mike Kitsko’s class this past week and the discussion led to the statement, “Holiness must disrupt the dominant culture” (I realize that I just put Mike Kitsko’s name and hip-hop within a breath of each other). The reason that I start with a hip-hop title is that for years, hip-hop music was a way to voice resistance to the dominant culture that stood in opposition to a particular people group. Music and lyrics seemed to give voice to the frustration of a generation in a way that seemed so other-worldly to a white kid from Northwest Georgia. But, having a wife who enjoys hip-hop beats, I have come to appreciate the music more and more and as I start to understand the voice and emotion behind the music I am moved more and more (although I am still put off by the flagrant use of obscenities and the exploitation of women).
Hip hop music, at it’s core, is anti-establishment…but mainly because the perceived establishment held the members of the hip-hop community at bay. For instance take the lyrics from Talib Kweli’s The Beast: “The beast is out when the police is out They be pullin out and really showin you what peace about Upholdin the law that’s designed to keep my people down.” Often times in our dominant WASP culture we see the police as a good thing. That is not always the case in a culture that feels itself profiled and oppressed by that same power. This community sees the injustice being done and it has found a way to speak out against that injustice. The problem sometimes in our situation (assuming that a majority of the blog readers out there are white middle-class protestants) is that sometimes we become blinded to the injustices being done because so often they reflect a piece of who we are.
I have always had trouble with the following verses from Matthew 10:34-36 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’.” Why would the Prince of Peace not come to bring peace? It made no sense to me. But then I realized that Jesus is not speaking about warfare or violence, but rather disruption of that which we assume to be aligned with Him. Following Christ should call into question everything we are a part of. Do our family relationships glorify God? Do our governmental and political allegiances glorify God? Is our church glorifying God? Maybe we are called to disturb tha peace a little more when the peace looks a lot more like apathy and ultimately sin than it does God’s peace. God is a God who is consumed with justice and until we are in his business of seeking justice maybe we are not a holiness people.
I will finish this up with a few more hip-hop lyrics to let you know that this community might be onto something. “I want us to get by but we more than consumers We more than shooters, more than looters Created in this image so God live through us And even in this generation livin’ through computers Only love, love, love can reboot us” – Common Wake Up Everybody
Every year when we come around to the Lenten season I always have people ask me why I take part in Lent as a Spiritual practice. “Isn’t that something that Catholics do?” And yes, as an ancient spiritual practice and a part of the Christian calendar, this is a practice that is usually reserved for the higher liturgy traditions. But I also believe it is a practice that has great value in other Christian traditions as well.
Lent is defined as the forty day period leading up to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and is an observation practiced through fasting to symbolize Christ’ forty days of fasting during his temptation in the wilderness. The unique thing about the Lenten fast is that every Sunday during the time period from Ash Wednesday to Easter is a day of celebration from that which you are fasting. This is intended to prepare your hearts for the ultimate celebration in the Christian calendar…Easter! There is a traditional fast prescribed by church tradition, but often in protestant denominations, laity have taken part in a selective fast where they sacrifice part of their daily routine to the forty days.
So how does this add value to our walk with Christ? Lent is really all about appetite…which is ultimately where temptation strikes. We have appetites for all sorts of things and in Lent we sacrifice one of our appetites up to a time to grow with God. In an interview last year, Mike Breen (the head of 3DM), referred to the effectiveness of Lent in the following quote. “Learn to use your will to give something up so that the doors of your heart are crowbarred open just enough so God’s Spirit will give you His power over the other Appetite.” God’s Spirit is partnered with our consecration to Him. If we are yielding our appetites up to Him for forty days, perhaps we are able to easier give the harder things over to Him as well. Growth through Lent can look a lot like growth in Holiness. So may you find forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter as an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to walk with you into the ultimate celebration in the Christian year…the Resurrection of our Lord!
“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10-11