In William Shakespeare’s definitive work Hamlet we get to have a front row seat as the title character slips into madness. As his condition begins to take hold there is a poignant scene in Act II where the Danish prince is confronted by Polonius in his attempt to ascertain what is troubling the prince. “Polonius: What do you read, my lord? Hamlet: Words, words, words.” Sometimes I feel like I can relate to the young prince as it seems as if all of our society is slipping into madness. “What troubles you young pastor? What do you read?” “Words, Words, Words”. And that’s a lot of what seems to be wrong today. All around us we see print, posts, quotes, rants, etc. of careless and misused and misaligned words. And at the end of the day, what good is it doing?
Time and time again the writers of scripture warn us about the dangers of words and their usage. Paul in writing to his young protege Timothy says this, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” – II Timothy 2:23 James in writing to the church has this to say, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” – James 3:9. Obviously the writers of the New Testament new the danger and the responsibility we have with our words and yet…this lesson seems to have fallen short on modern readers. All to quickly we jump into the fray on social media. All to quickly we have to make sure people know our opinion before we even get into a conversation. All to quickly we have to make sure people know what we are against before we actually take the time to get to know them. And all of this accomplished through words.
In late February my wife and I took in two foster boys. As is often the case with foster situations we have face some developmental challenges. The younger of the two is about to turn two and he still hasn’t developed the ability to speak words. He’s quite good at shrieking or even growling, but the cognition to form words isn’t really there yet. But just think about that with me for a minute. The gift of speech is quite incredible. We take breath into our lungs and then pass it over our vocal chords while forming our mouth in a certain fashion and it becomes spoken word. Our very ability to speak and even type or write words is nothing short of miraculous and yet it is a gift we so often take for granted. With this gift we have a responsibility. Do our words give life? Do our words bring the Kingdom of God? Or are the words we share, form, write, rant, etc. simply contributing to the madness around us? Today may you measure your words a bit more carefully. Today may you find the words you speak, the articles you share, the posts you engage with having eternal meaning in a world so fixed on the next temporary thought. And may it not simply be words, words, words.
There’s an epidemic that is seizing our society. You see it everywhere you go…sometimes even in church. I’m not sure how it began either. Perhaps it was originally a defense mechanism. Maybe it started out of the need to feel cool or aloof. But wherever or however it began it has become a serious problem. I speak of course of the scowl; you know, the perma-frown. The look that indicates you’re not happy, in pain, angry or perhaps you’re face is just stuck that way. It’s the furrowed brow mouth turned down look that seems to be the standard greeting these days. You see it at the store, the school pick-up line, the elevator, and even sometimes when I look out from the platform while I am preaching (maybe that’s because of my preaching). But I have come to take serious issue with this epidemic.
Maybe it’s because as often as I can I strive to show the opposite. I think strangers must often think me a very simple minded person as I often am grinning like an idiot and trying to catch their eyes for the return smile. But I often think about what the expression of joy should look like in our lives. Joy is most often characterized by laughing or smiling. And why is this important? “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 When describing the result of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the apostle Paul begins with Love and then the second priority is Joy. So one of the primary evidences of the presence of God in our lives is joy. This is the exact opposite of the scowl that so often we see painted on the faces of people who so often claim Christ.
I’ve been trying to think about why this might be. Maybe you are unhappy about something in your life. Maybe you are frustrated by the way others are treating you or what they are doing. Maybe you are in constant pain. I suppose all of these things are reason enough to struggle with exhibiting joy. But think with me for a second. The very God that spoke the entire universe into existence looked at you and thought you so worthy as to give His very life for you. Not only that but that same God looks at you and calls you child. This thought alone should be enough to permanently affix a smile to most our faces. Every day you can look around you and find something worthy of the expression of joy. Maybe it’s the wonder of the sunrise (or sunset if you’re not a morning person), the fact that your body still works, the laughter of a child, the insanity that we don’t go flying off this spinning orb into space or any number of things that should elicit wonder and joy. There’s an old song that says, “When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling, The whole world smiles with you.” Maybe that should be our challenge today. Let’s see how contagious the joy of the Spirit in our lives can be and perhaps we might begin to see the whole world smile with us.
This last evening I got to witness something pretty spectacular. The school our two older children attend was hosting an open house and so we joined the throngs of parents navigating the hallways and classrooms to learn all about what are kids do for the hours they are away from us each day. We were able to meet our daughter’s teachers and hear about her progress, but my son’s teachers were indisposed. This didn’t seem to be a drawback for him though as he was free to roam about the campus. Little did he know, that I had been able to speak with one of his teachers earlier in the day and then last night I was able to observe her report in action.
Before we jump into her report I need to give you a little back story. About a year ago my son was diagnosed with a reading/writing disability (a form of dyslexia). And we have worked with him since then on trying to be on par with his peers. Last year we made a good deal of progress, but we knew this was still going to be an ongoing struggle. The teacher I met with showed me his most recent reading scores and although he still isn’t necessarily where he needs to be, he has made incredible strides. But then she paused and said, “But this isn’t really the most important thing. Your son is a really good kid. He has a huge heart and he is always so encouraging to all the other students.” Cue my heart swelling with love and pride. Cut to that evening when I got to see it in action. Although he wasn’t meeting his teachers with us, we got to see him hugging, high-fiving, and talking to every classmate he saw like they were his long lost sibling. His classmates are drawn to him like magnets (now if he could only get that concept in Science).
Sometimes I think about how lucky we are with Jonas. He really has enriched our life from day one. And truthfully there isn’t any real secret to our parenting. I often hear this verse quoted in regards to parenting, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6. But most often we think of this as instruction or teaching them what to do or not do and I think a better word might be model. If you want your child to be kind, show kindness. If you want your child to be loving, then love. If you want your child to be curious about the world, ask good questions. That which you long for, for your child to be should be modeled before them. I don’t say any of this from a place of pride, but rather from a place of accountability. We all have these models following us around. What are you modeling today?
It doesn’t take much to get people riled up these days. Think about it with me for a moment. From one week to the next people are getting extremely angry about all sorts of different issues. One only has to open up some form of social media on any given day and scroll through for approximately .05 seconds and you will find something that someone is angry about. I finally decided that I just can’t click on any headline that has the key words ‘upset’, ‘outrage’, ‘displeased’, or any of these synonyms if I want to lead a more productive day. Most recently people have been getting outraged over a few athletes disrespect of the US National Anthem. And I understand where that frustration comes from, but my question is this: is this what we should truly get so upset about?
Before you click off of this blog post or delete this email hear me out for a second. I am not discrediting any of the symbolism or history or pride that people feel are bound up in this issue. I don’t want to discredit the complexity of this issue…I just want to raise a different issue. A million years from now many of us will not even know what all of this hullabaloo was about. Why? Because we believe in something that will outlast the temporal. We believe in a Kingdom Come that is and will be eternal and all earthly kingdoms, nations, principalities are like vapor in comparison. So my question is, why are we as Christians so worked up over this issue of disrespect and allegiance when there is something much greater at risk?
Let me clarify a bit. I get mad too. I get outraged. But I try not to get upset over things that will not matter as much in the eyes of eternity. However, when someone misrepresents the name of Jesus. When someone uses the name of Christ to belittle, exclude, alienate, oppress, wound or in any way hurt someone else I get outraged. This is something that deserves our anger and our ire. In his first epistle the writer of John writes this about our character, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8. Love is the defining mark of those who belong to God. And if someone claims the name of Christ but their actions, their words, their posts, their tweets are not characterized by love then I believe this is a reason to get upset and feel disrespected. Not only that, but if we as Christians aren’t working for the betterment of the world and the lives around us then I also feel that our allegiance to the Kingdom is in question. Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said this, “The greatest sin of man is not the hatred, but indifference to his brothers.” By our inaction and lack of engagement with those around us we are also showing that our allegiance lies not with the Kingdom of God but with the ideology of indifference and apathy.
So may you get upset today (see, I gave you permission), but not with things that won’t matter in the eyes of eternity, but over the violation of the law of love. And may you become proactive in loving God and loving your neighbor for all else truly pales in comparison.
Yesterday morning I had the privilege to gather with ministers from around Odessa, TX as we met for our monthly ministerial alliance meeting. However, this meeting was unlike any that I had attended before as we had set the agenda to discuss race relations in Odessa and how we as the church were addressing these issues. We set around and heard stories from Latino, African-American and Native American ministers and how the church was doing in regards towards racial-reconciliation and healing of historic and systemic wounds. Much of the conversation seemed to be framed around how our differences ultimately shouldn’t divide, but lead to conversation which should lead to understanding which would ultimately lead to healing. And many of us concluded that a large part of the problem is that often these conversations aren’t happening in churches not out of fear or hatred, but rather indifference or apathy…which might actually be worse. What is it about our current situation or way of life that keeps us from approaching, conversing or even relating to each other?
Sometimes in the church, maybe specifically the Church of the Nazarene, we struggle with this on an even grander scale. You see, those of us who believe in Holiness doctrine believe that God does something special through a second (or continued) work of grace through the Holy Spirit. In this work on God’s part we believe that God does away with our sin-nature or our desire to sin and leads us to living more Christ-like lives. However sometimes this work on God’s part becomes a thing that we think we have done on our part and we forget who we were and who we still are apart from grace. In his first letter to his young protege, the apostle Paul put it this way, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” – 1 Timothy 1:15-16 Of whom I am the worst? I’m not sure Paul minced words about who he thought of himself in regards to his condition. And yet…he was Paul.
I think about what this should say about us and how we relate to people who aren’t like us. I think sometimes it is easier to relate to those who look like us, dress like us, behave like us, smell like us, the list could go on forever. And yet God has called us to relate His story of grace to those we come into contact with regardless of their situation because in God’s eyes…in Paul’s eyes…we really are no different. So there isn’t any space for feelings of superiority in our Spirituality or our piety because at the end of the day, we didn’t save ourselves and it’s only by the grace of God that we are even able to be partners in God’s saving work. So maybe today we should cast aside our indifference, our apathy, our piety or anything else that makes us feel distant from those around us and lavishly extend God’s grace as it was once lavishly bestowed upon us.
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