Next week is Holy Week. I repeat, next week is Holy Week. I know, I can’t believe it either. It really did sneak up on me this year. I’m not going to say I was too busy or anything like that, but I feel like Ash Wednesday was just the other day. So now, maybe like some of you, I am scrambling to prepare myself for what is to come: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, our Easter Eggstravaganza, and Easter Sunday itself. Even as I sit here and type this out I think I can actually sense my blood pressure going up. But regardless of how I feel or if I seem too busy, the resurrection still breaks through. I mean, think about that first Easter Sunday for a second. Do you think any of the players in this amazing drama actually truly expected resurrection? Mark’s gospel records it this way, “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they could go and anoint Jesus’ dead body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they came to the tomb” – Mark 16:1-2 Everyone was doing what they had always done when something like death enters the picture and then, out of nowhere, the resurrection breaks through.
I am thankful though, that nature has an incredible way of reminding us even if we seem too busy or overwhelmed. Maybe it’s the increasing minutes of sunlight. Or maybe it might be like my back patio where the smell of blooming wisteria almost bowls you over. Or maybe it is even like the photo one of my friends from Michigan posted of a small flower fighting its way through the snow encrusted landscape. Whatever the sign might be for you, the world around us is never surprised by resurrection and new birth. It’s built into the very fabric of being of all that is. Yet for some reason we often become so busy, overwhelmed, anxious, scheduled, (fill in the blank with your appropriate adjective), etc. that we NEED the resurrection to break through in a way that reminds us that this is built into our very identity as well.
So maybe you find yourself coming into this Easter season overwhelmed. The resurrection still breaks through. Maybe you find yourself coming into this Easter season lost in grief and sorrow. The resurrection still breaks through. Perhaps you find yourself coming into this Easter season fearful of the future and the unknown. Guess what…the resurrection still breaks through. Whatever emotion or feeling or predicament you find yourself consumed with today still doesn’t stop resurrection from breaking through. For once the world was covered in sadness and sorrow from that which had taken place on Calvary and yet, Sunday morning still came and the universe was reborn because Easter broke through.
Yesterday afternoon I found out about the passing of Glen Campbell. I don’t think I would have ever been characterized as a Glen Campbell fan per se, but I always enjoyed listening to his music and there were times I would even find myself binge listening. In fact, just this last Saturday on our way to a wedding I had my wife indulge me in one of those moments as we listened to Gentle on My Mind while rolling down Business 20. So yesterday after hearing of his passing I launched into a Glen Campbell kind of afternoon and I heard a song I hadn’t heard in quite some time. The chorus goes like this, “You got to try a little kindness, Yes show a little kindness, Just shine your light for everyone to see. And if you try a little kindness, Then you’ll overlook the blindness, Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.” Huh. It’s weird to think that we should need the lyrics of a Glen Campbell song to remind us of what might be important in today’s world.
Kindness does seem to be a dying commodity in the world lately. We are consumed with winning arguments, proving our point, getting our opinion across, tweeting our stances and jumping on our soapboxes before we even begin to think about the consequences and whether or not we are thought of as being kind. Which for us in the church is very strange. After all, in Galatians we read, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23 Did you see it there? (I underlined it and bolded it just in case). Kindness is a fruit of living life by the power of the Holy Spirit. One might even say that kindness is evidence of God living in you. And yet, sometimes it is a quality we value least in today’s world because we think it might make us appear weak or a pushover or tolerant or whatever adjective or excuse you want to pin onto the need to not be kind.
Personally I’ve been accused at times of perhaps being a bit too nice…but I have to be honest with you, it’s not me. There are so many times that I would love to give someone a piece of my mind. I can’t tell you how many times in the last year I have wanted to tell someone off or just let loose on someone who has rubbed me the wrong way. But then there is this gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit that reminds me of how God feels about the person across from me. And so I pause, try to put myself in their shoes and try to think about how God would treat them if He were right there instead of me. Do I always succeed at being kind? Probably not. But in the words of Glen Campbell it is always worth trying at. And maybe you might effect the life of the narrow minded across from you and find your own narrow mindedness being healed in the process as well.
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.
I’ve always loved fireworks. From the smallest sparklers and firecrackers to the amazing displays that occur around major holidays, I’ve always found myself mesmerized. I even remember the first time my dad let me save up my money to buy my own fireworks. This would even become an annual event for me until I realized one year how expensive these things were and how I was literally setting my hard earned money on fire. Then there was this one time my family and I were invited to a fourth of July party being thrown by some friends of ours who happened to be wealth management advisors. I’ll never forget the joke I tried to crack by going up to one of them. “It really doesn’t say a whole lot for your stock broker when he is literally setting money on fire”. Without missing a beat, this was the response, “It’s not our money”. It kind of makes you wonder whether or not stock brokers are always the best stewards of your resources.
But all kidding aside, stewardship is one of the most oft talked about themes in scripture and yet we sometimes simply think about it pertaining to our financial resources. But stewardship is better understood as a means of management of any gift that we receive. And so if we want to understand it better, we have to go all the way back to the beginning. In the second chapter of Genesis we read about the first gift that man ever receives over which we become stewards. “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7 The very first gift we are given is breath; the breath of life. The same breath in our lungs that empowers our speech and gives action to our words and sounds is a gift from God.
The problem is that at times we have not been the best stewards of this gift. This same breath that empowers our speech and gives us the ability for action has often been used to push others away or make them feel less like the sons and daughters of God they were meant to be. In his epistle, James puts it this way, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” – James 3:9-10 Our breath is a gift…our first gift and we are required to be good stewards of it. And don’t simply think that this pertains to audible speech only. The very words that we type, the posts that we share, the emails that we send, the texts spouted out are all embodiment of the breath of life that God has given to us. So are you being a good steward today? Are you managing this amazing gift you have been given to glorify God and draw others closer to him or has it become wasted breath? May we not take this gift for granted today and find ourselves being good and faithful servants of the breath of life God has given us.
Sometimes I hate my smart phone. I guess it really is more of a love/hate relationship, but I hate what I allow it inadvertently to do to my other relationships. And don’t act like you haven’t been there either. It can pull you away from meaningful conversation. It occupies time that would otherwise be well invested in the lives of those closest to you. It becomes a distraction from what could or should be termed as real life. It keeps you from being present. In fact at times I feel like I just have to take a sabbatical from it in order to be a better version of myself. Presence is something we as humans really seem to struggle with.
Fortunately for us this is not an issue for God. Although, the way we talk you might think it were. Sometimes we behave in ways as to insinuate that God isn’t present in a place. Or other times we allude to the fact that God is present somewhere when He hasn’t been before. But the apostle Paul has this to say about the presence of God, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:3-6 Did you catch that last part? ‘One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’. Whether or not we recognize it, God is always present.
And I think the problem with us and sensing God’s presence is not a God problem. It’s a you and me problem. Much like our inability to be present with our friends and family with distractions like smart phones, we often allow other things to get in the way of us perceiving the presence of God. Paul says to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through peace. So when we allow ourselves to be distracted by other influences and expectations and divisions, we won’t sense the presence of God. Even when we expect God to only be present in ways we have experienced His presence in the past, we are limiting our experience of who God is. The very giving of God’s name in Exodus 3 should keep us from doing this when God tells us, “I am what I am” or even better, “I will be what I will be”. (Exodus 3:14)
There is a worship song that was written a few years ago that I think helps us to see our responsibility in the presence and action of God that I think we would all be wise to give ear to today. The bridge simply says this, “Let us become more aware of Your Presence, Let us experience the glory of Your goodness” (Holy Spirit by Bryan and Katie Torwalt) Today, may we realize that God’s presence is all around us and that we are called to experience that presence with Him and to share it with those around us.
In his now classic allegory The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis begins the process of introducing the Christ-figure character of Aslan to the children in the following fashion. “Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Lewis chose to portray his Christ figure as a lion and so it should go without saying that he isn’t ‘safe’, but what holds up his Kingship in the eyes of all Narnians is that he is good. Lewis allegory that ran throughout the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia always had a robust way of seeing God. Through the image of Aslan we never however see him as safe, but as wild and free and good. I makes me think that sometimes we may have reduced our image of God in the way in which we live our lives today.
Before Christ ascended into heaven he made a promise to his disciples in the book of Acts. The writer Luke puts it this way, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 This verse of course refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but there are two terms I think we need to pay closer attention to. The first is the Greek word dynamis which means “the power to carry out a task”. As you can see it is where we get the word dynamite. The second is the word martys which refers to a witness in legal matters or one who tells their story. Strangely enough, this is where we get the modern word martyr. Stop me if I am off a bit, but putting those two terms together doesn’t seem very safe.
To me the wonder of Pentecost and the birth of the church was the movement from safety (at least relative perceived safety) to the disciples being willing to lay down their lives for that which they had experienced. They had been in hiding from the authorities until receiving this power and then all of a sudden they were willing to risk everything to tell their story. And now 2,000 years later we have at times reduced the gospel of Jesus to something that promises safety and comfort and very little risk to your current way of living. I’m not sure this is what was intended when we were promised power to share our experience with the world around us. In fact, I think we need to be reminded that we are not called to safety and comfort but to share that which we have been given in a real and true way. Ours is the story that has called apostles to confess before the coliseum of death, martyrs to share Jesus to the bitter end, missionaries to travel at risk to family and friends and saints to pursue bringing others to Jesus above any worldly comfort.
This same power is available to you and I today…we just have to be willing to give up feeling safe. May you embrace the risk and adventure of walking in The Spirit today.