For those of us in the Christian faith this week holds special significance. We call it Holy Week and it is ushered in by Palm Sunday, celebrated with Maundy (or Holy) Thursday, memorialized through Good Friday and finds its finale on Easter (Resurrection Sunday). For those whose lives revolve around the church or for those employed by the church this is also one of the busiest seasons of the year. There are multiple services to plan or attend, there is less time for preparation and yet this is also meant to be the holiest of times in the life of the church. It can all become a bit overwhelming. And sometimes it is hard for practitioners to find the sacred space in Holy Week.
I think getting back to the definition of the word holy might help us a bit in trying to find that space. Holy, at least in the original Biblical context, referred to something set apart for God i.e. something that belonged to God. Over time because of the way we thought about God and the dualistic nature of the world (thank you Greeks), we came to see clear divisions of that which was holy and that which was profane. And this wasn’t just a discussion of good vs. evil, holiness vs. sin, but life itself took on divisions based on the type of tasks that was taking place. However, doesn’t the world/cosmos belong to God? In her book And the Trees Clap Their Hands, Virginia Stem Owens writes, “All the world is a sacramental loaf. We are not-nor will we ever be, God save us-solitary intelligences spinning in the dark void of space.” In other words, all our life is (should be) holy as all of it is infused/connected to God himself. The apostle Paul put it this way when he was attempting to speak to the Greeks about this very thin in Athens. “For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.” – Acts 17:28
Holy Week is a special time in the life of the church. But so is the week after Holy Week. And the week after that. I love the significance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, but I also love that the same Spirit that speaks to and through us during these special times also wants to do the same on a Tuesday in July. So what am I saying? We need to be careful in categorizing our lives. With seasons like this it is easy to mark certain times as holy and others as not. Which in turn allows us to mark certain avenues/tasks in our lives as holy or not. When in fact all life is meant to point towards our Creator and His redemption story. Owens goes on to say, “Whenever we eat, drink, breathe, see, take anything in by any means, we are commanded to remember the sacrifice.” Our lives should be lived in a constant state of declaration that God is holy, we are his creations and we are seeking to reflect Him. So that not just one week is set apart for God, but life itself takes place in Him. May you find your life caught up in the Divine Romance not only this week, but for all eternity.
So…I’m a nerd. I know for many of you that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But I enjoy all things comic book, superhero, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. It shouldn’t surprise you either that when the new Star Wars film came out late this last year that my son and I were in line on opening night in costume. That kind of reveals to you the depth of the nerdiness and its influence upon our household. Recently I was actually reminded of one of my favorite quotes from this movie franchise that actually comes from my least favorite of the movies. In Episode 1, Yoda (the Jedi guru type) is speaking to young Anakin Skywalker and he says, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
The reason this line has come to mind is my general concern for the health and well-being of the church. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably come to realize that a lot of the political rhetoric that has been occurring in the United States lately has been coming from a place of fear and anger. And sadly enough that same rhetoric has taken root in the church as well. My brothers and sisters, anger and fear have no place in the body of Christ. In his epistle the apostle James, the brother of Christ, had this to say, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20 Likewise in the 1 Epistle of John we find this, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” – 1 John 4:17-18 ‘Anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires’. ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”.
The reason this concerns me so much is that it is killing our witness and our voice for true Kingdom transformation. Please hear me, when we the church operate out of a sense of anger or fear, we no longer represent the Christ we confess. Much like the aforementioned quote from Star Wars, we ultimately compromise who we are intended to be and end up walking in darkness instead of light. So my question to us today; in the midst of all of this political chaos and confusion, are your actions/posts/statements/conversations/etc. originating from a place of love and grace? Or do you find yourself responding out of fear and anger? I myself cannot go there. It is too easy to hold grudges, to distance the other, to be angry or to be afraid. Instead we are called to take up our cross; the ultimate symbol of grace, love and forgiveness. I’ll leave you with this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. which is just as true today as it was 50 years ago. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I can’t recall if I ever went through this phase or not. But I know with certainty that this was definitely a phase my now 9-yr-old went through. Some form of disciplinary action would take place in our home and all of a sudden it was too much for him to handle and he would declare to all within earshot that he was running away. Now he never really made it past the backyard. And there was never really any long-term planning involved other than grabbing one or two favorite toys, but the spirit of the action was understood. At some point though either my wife or I one would beckon him back in the house and all would be restored again.
It reminds me of the parable I was able to share this last week a couple of times. A son runs away from home after wishing for the inheritance he would receive upon his father’s death i.e. wishing his father dead (sounds like a dramatic running away story to me). He waste the inheritance on wild living and then ends up in a very desperate situation and finally comes to his senses and heads home. Here’s where the writer picks it up, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” – Luke 15:20. And we love reading about this reconciliation but I’ve always thought that perhaps there could have been more. I can’t help but think about the older brother watching the father while the son was still in the distant country. Everyday as he would head into the fields he more than likely would see his father on the front porch staring into the distance. He knew his father’s heart was breaking and yet he just kept busy…doing what he thought his father wanted him to do. When in all truthfulness the father just wanted the younger son home. Had the older brother truly understood his role in reflecting his father’s heart he would have gone to the distant country, found his younger brother and told him, “It’s okay to come home.”
I look at the church today and I wonder which older brother we are reflecting. Are we busy about what we think is the father’s business? Or are we actively pursuing the younger brother or sister and telling them “It’s okay to come home”? Are our churches truly a place where the lost know, “It’s okay to come home?” Are we creating environments and programs to suit our own needs or do we truly reflect the heart of the father reaching out to the runaway son/daughter and telling them, “It’s okay to come home?”
My son was probably never in the backyard for more than an hour in his attempts at running away. But I like to think he knows that at the end of the day regardless of how long he stays out, how far he strays away, or how much he thinks he has failed us that it’s okay to come home. May the same be said for us when we think about those who aren’t home yet with our heavenly Father.
Sometimes life changes in subtle ways. Sometimes life is like crossing the interstate with your arms full of bags of groceries, getting hit by a Mack truck and then being left to make sure the eggs didn’t break. For my wife and I, the latter took place this last week. On Thursday we received something we had been working on for quite some time; our Foster Care license for the State of Texas and we were absolutely delighted. And with that license we also received 1-yr-old and 3-yr-old brothers who came to live with us the same day (insert Mack truck analogy here). All of a sudden we were scrambling for diapers, places to sleep, clothes, toys, formula, etc…all the while making sure the eggs didn’t break. And the first few days, well, we felt like we were getting hit by the same truck over and over and over again. But it gets better.
You see, my wife and I believe that the Biblical mandate to care for orphans is just that…a mandate. And so we acknowledge that calling in the most literal sense possible. And most recently for us, that meant stepping into the world of foster care. Did we plan on taking two little boys into our house all at once…no. But I once heard someone say that if you want to make God laugh, then tell Him your plans. And yet in the midst of all this we have started to see God do some amazing things as we have leaned into Him for strength.
As I mentioned before, the first few days were rough…more specifically the first few nights were rough. Neither of the boys wanted to sleep or probably felt safe I imagine. Their bewitching hour (as I like to call it) was between 9:00 PM and 1:00 AM, you know, just the time adult types like to go to sleep. Although we are still trying to figure out the magic formula for the little one, through a series of trial and error we finally found out that the 3-yr-old was more comfortable sleeping in a crib, with a night-light and a pacifier. And two nights ago I witnessed something incredible. You see, for the first few nights the 3-yr-old was terrified of bedtime and would usually end up crying until his body finally succumbed to sleep. But just the other night, as I went back in to check on him I heard something magical…singing. And I was reminded of the words of the Psalmist in thinking of this little one, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” – Psalm 32:7 All of a sudden this small child who has been through more than most of us may experience in a lifetime felt safe enough to sing in the darkness.
And isn’t that what we all want; some form of security, some form of shelter, a hiding place? And even though things won’t always turn out the way that we plan or expect it we want to have some sort of hope that in the end everything will turn out okay. As followers of Christ, we have this hope. But with this hope comes the mandate that we share it with those around us who don’t have that hope. That we offer them the shelter, the hiding place that we know exists only in the forgiving grace of God. May you find a way to offer that same grace to those around you and find yourselves being witness to singing in the dark.
By now the inevitable has happened. It’s late February, Valentines Day has come and gone and with it many of our New Year’s resolutions as well. It hasn’t been as easy to get up and go work out. We haven’t had the will power to say no to the Valentines Day candy that was 300% marked down on February 15th. Some of us have even been forsaking that gym that we joined on January 1st even though it’s just a few blocks from our home. And this isn’t meant to be a criticism, but rather a confession. I’m in the same boat as you. In fact, I’ve even been contemplating cancelling my gym membership. But, mainly I am doing this because I plan on joining a gym that’s closer to my house;).
I love the idea of a gym membership. I am going to pay you in order to hold myself accountable for coming to your facility in order to inflict pain upon myself that will hopefully pay off in me being more fit and healthy. But if I don’t show up, I’m still paying for you to exist. And I think this is the plan for a lot of gyms. We will keep the rate just low enough so that if you don’t show up, you don’t feel guilty for not showing up. I think I have found myself in this category a lot. But what does a gym membership ultimately ask of us? It really asks are you concerned enough about your health that you are not only willing to invest your time, but also your resources to make a difference.
I’m about to make a leap here that I hope a few of you can follow me on. I believe that many people who attend church from time to time don’t believe that the church can actually change who they are. Sure they attend and sometimes feel better about themselves, but there is no real investment. They don’t volunteer with any programming and they can’t remember the last time they tithed. They don’t have skin in the game…and really it’s a statement as to whether or not they actually believe in the mission of the church and its ability to transform their lives. There’s this one passage in Malachi where the prophet actually invites us to test what our tithing/investment might result in from God, “ Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10).
So I guess the question before us today has very little to do with a gym membership or New Year’s resolution. But rather, do we believe in the mission of the church and whether or not the church can transform our lives enough to get skin in the game? I plan on getting back in the gym sometime this year, but I plan on giving a lot more of my time, money and resources to the living embodiment of Christ that I know can make a difference in not only me, but the whole world.
Hi. My name is Andrew and I am a recovering know-it-all. I’d like to think I have been in recovery all my life, but sometimes I am not sure. For a while during my teen years I was sure that my mom meant this as a term of endearment I heard it so much. But somewhere along the line I learned that being a know-it-all was not quite the same as having wisdom. I guess I had always thought that there was value to being the smartest guy in the room and so I sought out knowledge at a voracious rate. There was even a time in my pre-teen years where I read encyclopedias for the fun of it (this was before the internet folks). But as I matured, I came to see that knowledge in and of itself could be used more as a weapon than as a tool. I learned that sometimes being right came at the expense of someone else being wronged.
I came across a quote last night that struck me in a new way. One of our church’s district superintendents was quoting one of our general superintendents and posted this, “We (Christians) are notorious for making a point, but not a difference. (Borrowed from Dr. David Busic)”. Ouch. But how often has this been true? We have the moral knowledge and capabilities of defending our point only for that to be the only substance that there is. In his letter to the church at Colosse, the apostle Paul had this to say in regards to our message. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:5-6 I wonder if our conversations with those outside the church are characterized by grace. I wonder if we are truly making the most of every opportunity our just trying to be right.
The one thing that a recovering know-it-all has to do above all else is listen. This is a hard skill for someone who already has the answers. But one thing I have found in the midst of listening to people is that sometimes I actually don’t have all the answers. Sometimes I have to extend grace to someone because I have never experienced what they have experienced. Sometimes making the most of every opportunity doesn’t mean that I rush in with some Divine appointed answer, but that I am willing to enter into relationship with them to someone show them the way God would treat them. The illustration of salt in regards to these opportunities is key as well. What if our conversations were dynamic, flavorful, interesteing, captivating and full of grace? Do you think then that perhaps we might be better known for making a difference than a point? I for one would rather be known for these opportunities that go unwasted than for one who simply is a know-it-all.
Yesterday was a special day in the Christian calendar. Ash Wednesday is marked as a day of repentance and the beginning of the season of Lent, a powerful tradition that crosses denominational lines and cultures. So for many of us in the pastorate it was a busy day. About mid-afternoon though, I was able to go home for about an hour or so and spend time with my family who have been sick for a bit now. Forgetting I had ashes on my forehead, I noticed my 9-yr-old staring at me and then he asked, “What’s on your head?” Well the conversation went on as I explained to Jonas the significance of what Ash Wednesday meant and how we commemorate this season and then I asked him, “Do you think you would get ashes?” His reply, “Yes.” “Well why would you want to?” “Because I love Jesus and I want other people to know it.”
That’s the kind of response that melts a father’s heart. And I had never really thought about the significance of Ash Wednesday as an outward expression of solidarity with other Christ followers until yesterday. But what a profound image. Here we are as Christians, for the most part blending in every day of the year and then all of a sudden we are walking around with smudged crosses on our forehead and saying to the world our allegiance lies elsewhere. It reminds me of the verse from 2 Corinthians 2:14, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.” We are meant to leave a mark, to spread an aroma, to have an impact on the world around us.
This morning my wife and I were having a different conversation about our son. We were wondering for a moment what his life would have been like had he not become a part of our family. You see, Jonas is an incredibly sensitive young man and our home is a safe place to express emotions and feelings. Then I began to think about what my life would be like if Jonas were not my son. Its crazy to think about how we left marks on each others lives because of a decision long ago. I look at this sweet caring soon-to-be teen and am so thankful for the mark he is leaving on the world around him. I am so thankful for the mark he is leaving on my life. And I think Jesus is thankful for the mark he is leaving as well. Can the same be said of us? Are we leaving a mark that points back to Christ on the world around us? Or are we just content to continue to blend in? May this Lenten season become a time for you to examine your life, your mark and see if you truly leave the mark, the aroma of Christ wherever you go.