This last Sunday I made a mistake that I hope never to repeat again. You see my wife was not with us after church and so I decided to treat the kids to something special for lunch. My wife has a gluten allergy from which she was suffering an exposure to and this was a place that we normally avoid like the plague because of said allergy. But I thought what’s the harm? The kids love it and it will make me look like super-dad and I might as well have some as well. So there I was 20 minutes later with my 20 piece McNuggets and Dr. Pepper and thought to myself, this will all work out fine… But that afternoon I couldn’t get my Nazarene Nap in and then that night I was up half the night. Not sure what was in those nuggets, but it did not go well with my system. Needless to say, the very next day I swore off McDonald’s. Well, at least until my kids convince me otherwise.
But that’s kind of how things are today. We like our convenience, our fast food, our drive-thru, our microwaves, our digital shopping, our high-speed WiFi, our fill in the blank. We have become a society bereft of patience and it really has begun to cripple our relationships and even our witness as the church. We have become so used to fast/convenient/express/etc. that we no longer know what it means to invest in someone’s life through the art of true discipleship. Especially those of us who have grown up in and around the church expect people to walk in our church doors and become like us overnight without any of the hassle because if we can beam a satellite signal around the world in 2 seconds then surely I can turn you into me overnight as well. I love the picture the writer of II Peter gives us of God in regards to redemption, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” – II Peter 3:9. God is not slow, but patient. Hmmm.
I recently asked one of my somewhat older (although amazingly young in Spirit) parishioners how she was doing and she responded, “I’m doing good. Just slower” And I love this. Why? Because it accepts things the way they should be. I think sometimes we can get frustrated with people we are trying to love into the Kingdom or disciple because it isn’t happening as fast as we think it should. But if God is patient with the whole of creation, shouldn’t we be patient in allowing Him to work in the lives of those we are ministering to? Yes it may cost us more time and energy and it may even get messy and drag us through their muck as well, but isn’t that what God did for us? Maybe we need to step out of our fast food quick fix mindset and realize that the people we are doing life with are flesh and bone just like us and that we need to realize that growth and change don’t happen overnight. And maybe as we become a little more patient maybe a little more of that Divine character can be seen through us and before we know it the change is happening. So today may you move a little slower and be okay with it.
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.
Yesterday marked fourteen years of marital bliss with my bride. And so last night one of our amazing ladies here at the church made a cake for us and we had a mini-celebration of sorts with those who were a part of our Bible study. I was struck in conversation later by the words of another one of our parishioners who wished me a Happy Anniversary and then made the comment, “You two are becoming more the exception than the rule”. Wow. Yet I look around me and I know it’s the case. Marriages ending after a few years, after ten years, sometimes even after decades of being together and I wonder where we are missing the mark. Why isn’t our society, or the church, producing healthier marriages? Where did we go so wrong?
Honestly, I think many people enter into marriage with the wrong motivation. We see marriage as an opportunity for someone else to make us happy, complete, whole, fulfilled, satisfied, etc. and in the church we base this out of a wrong concept of marriage that we pull from the very beginning. In the book of Genesis there are two accounts of the creation of man. In Genesis 1, we read of God creating mankind in His image, both male and female. In Genesis 2 we read about the more intimate account of God forming man from the dust of the ground and then realizing that something was missing. Man’s loneliness did not reflect the divine image that we read about in Genesis 1 and so God attempts to fix this condition with different animals. After this doesn’t work He causes the man to fall into a deep sleep, removes an intimate piece of him and forms the woman. We then read this response, “The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:23-24. We often read this and think about how the woman is the fulfillment of man’s loneliness or his desire in some way, but what if both the man and the woman form a more pivotal role in each others lives as reflections of the divine image?
The phrase “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” is very much based in the physical realm and yet it speaks of this reflective imagery between the man and the woman. She is a reflection of him and he is a reflection of her. But in the previous account in chapter one, both male and female are created as image bearers (made in the image) of God. So regardless of the conditions we sometimes base on our partner or spouse, what we should be calling out is not a means of satisfying my needs or desires, but rather creating space for the other to become the greatest image bearer of God they can be. In other words, in my relationships, in my marriage am I making space for my partner to reflect God to me and to the world or am I just trying to see how this makes me feel? And likewise, is this person creating space for me to be the best image bearer of God that I can be?
Maybe if we began here instead we might have a lot less divorce, discord and hurt and we just might reflect our maker more and perhaps longevity in marriages would again become the norm versus the exception.
I’m not sure how many households that read this still hold on the magic of Santa, but if you are one of those households and you are reading this out loud to your children (although I am not sure why you would) you may want to hit the pause button. That being said, this morning my 10-yr-old and I were having a conversation whereupon he made it known that he would like an in-ground pool for his birthday. After spraying the living room with the sip of coffee I had just taken, I quickly explained to him that an in-ground pool costs roughly about $20,000. He thought for a moment and then announced that he would just ask Santa. Being relatively quick on my feet I responded that Santa kind of works based on our economies. He really can only bring us what we already can afford. He thought for a moment and then said, ‘well what about an above ground pool?’
I love the imagination that surrounds childhood and the acquisition of stuff. They really don’t get economics and how things work. You have to earn a certain amount of money to be able to afford certain things. Someone else who really didn’t get economics was Jesus. There’s a parable he tells in Matthew 20 about some workers in a vineyard who are hired at different parts of the day. And those who worked one solitary hour got the same amount of pay as those who had worked all day. It really didn’t make any sense at all and it infuriated those who had worked all day to ‘get what they deserved’. Then he ends the parable with this statement, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” – Matthew 20:16 I think Jesus must have been confused. You see, those who are first are first. Those who work the hardest to achieve what they deserve should get everything they work for. Those who come sliding in at the last moment do not deserve the same reward as those who have worked so much harder.
But Jesus began this parable with a statement that often ushered in his stories that didn’t always make sense. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” The Kingdom of Heaven. It’s one of those phrases is scripture that we have a hard time wrapping our heads around because it is now and it is coming. It is present and yet it’s not yet here. But what it truly is, is. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is an alternate reality to the reality we find ourselves in. In this Kingdom the lowly are exalted and the exalted have to learn to become lowly. The last become first and the first must become like the last. In this economy one is praised for losing their life and if they try to save their life on their own they are missing out. Jesus says to us, ‘Your effort to save your own skin is void, the only real effort you must put forward is to lose your life on behalf of those around you’. Grace shows us that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, but all of our efforts should go to seeing those around us, even the last, lowly, meek, poor, outcasts, etc. know what grace looks like. The economy of mercy doesn’t make sense in this world sometimes, but it really is the only economy that matters. May you find yourself caught up in bad economics today as you extend the grace that none of us could ever deserve.
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.