sickness

I am not even sure why I feel the need to blog/write today. I don’t really feel like doing much of anything. Truth be told I have been under the weather for a couple of days now and it is hard to get motivated to do much of anything. It is crazy how much a little infection in your body can take down your entire system. It just seems like everything begins to fail. You have trouble focusing and you can’t seem to get anything accomplished. It is almost as if your entire body is rebelling against you. And so, as one of my doctors once put it, we send in the troops…antibiotics. Now I know there are arguments both ways as to the good or the bad of antibiotics, but you can’t help but be amazed at how they work. You are essentially ingesting a micro-poison that is directly targeting the bacteria that are causing the infection in order to rid your body of the sickness. I can almost imagine the miniscule battle raging as the antibiotics race to the defense of the body and start trying to take down the invading bacteria (yes my brain works like that).
It kind of has me wondering if this is what the affects of sin look like personally and corporately. Does sin come in and wreck the entire system? Does it inhibit our ability to accomplish good for the Kingdom and for our fellow man? And if all of this is true how is it taken care of? 1 John 1:8-10 reads like this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” All of a sudden our individual sins become a corporate/systemic problem and we become broken as a people. But the writer here says that if we confess these sins (there might be need for personal and communal) that God is faithful to cleanse us from unrighteousness. And the Greek word for cleanse may look familiar: katharizō, from which we get the medical term cauterize. The filth, the sin is burned/stripped/cleansed out of us and it frees us to function as we are called.
The problem that still remains is the vastness of which we as the church and the world are infected. Stanley Hauerwas (an esteemed American Theologian from Duke University) once said, “To be witnesses to the world is to be truth-tellers.” And maybe this is where the greatest sickness lies. We can’t be honest with ourselves in the church as to the degree of our infection and therefore we have no witness. Without a witness we can never expect the world around us to get well. May we as the church come to grips with an honest recitation of that which is making us sick. And then as we are healed through God’s cleansing may we be a witness to the health that only God can bring.


week after week

Tuesday morning I engaged in one of my yearly rituals; Easter clean-up. You see, for most pastors, Holy Week is the busiest week of your entire church year. There are extra services, extra practices and Easter Sunday itself is often composed of different elements than one would traditionally have on any other Sunday. So by the time all of this is finished, it’s usually Tuesday morning before I even begin to think about clearing out the random collection in my office or the extra pageantry from the platform. One of the most arduous tasks here in Odessa each year is the removal of our cross from the stage. I only say this because our cross is probably about 8 feet tall and made of 4 X 6 beams which amounts to roughly about 80lbs plus of wood. It’s also supported by a solid metal base into which it drops about a foot…I sometimes wish there was a hidden camera of me trying to remove this cross each year. It would probably go viral. But nonetheless, each year I put the cross back into storage until it’s time to bring it out for Holy Week again the following year.

It’s almost like it’s a sign of some of those who show up annually for Easter Sunday. This isn’t meant to be a slam at those who come to church once a year, but I sometimes wonder how they do it. How do they make it through life when you’re only here for Easter? Yes, it is the definitive day and moment in the life of the church, but it doesn’t stop there. It even gets me thinking about how I put away the cross each year, but that also doesn’t stop there (side note: luckily in our church we have a lot of other crosses as a constant reminder of our identity). The apostle Paul wrote this in speaking to the church in Corinth, “We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies.” – II Corinthians 4:10 We always carry around with us the cross in order for the life of Christ to be seen in us.

And that to me is kind of what the life of the church enables me to do. Why do I come week after week after week and not just on Easter? Because I need to be reminded of who I am. I need to be reminded that I am called to carry in me the cross/death of Christ so that the life of Christ may be lived out in me every day. And I can’t do that on my own. I need my church to help me. I need my church to remind me. And I need my church because it is a weekly realization that I am not alone in this. As we gather to worship each week we are reminded that this life we are trying to live is bigger than any one individual. We belong to the Body of Christ. So may you be encouraged today. May you be challenged to continue to carry on. And may you find yourself connected to a body of believers that weekly remind you of who you truly are.


in control

Last night just before bedtime, a boomer of a West Texas thunderstorm began to roll in. This immediately means a few things…number one, Odessa will get some much needed rain (this is always the case regardless of how much we get). Number two; that I myself will have a potentially wonderful night of sleep as I love sleeping with rain in the background. And lastly, that no one else in my household will sleep well, so number two is immediately negated. And last night was no exception to that rule as I type this through bleary sleep-depraved eyes. But it got me thinking about control…or lack thereof. My kids are prime examples of the fear of lack of control. My ten-yr-old most recently has even begun to express his increasing fear of tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and any other kind of natural phenomena beyond his control. But control really is an illusion…isn’t it?

I guess it goes all the way back to the garden…I mean waaaay back. We couldn’t handle not being in control of our circumstances; our fate. And so we ate. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” – Genesis 3:6. And ever since we have operated under the illusion of control that sin allows us to think makes sense. If I just get this piece of my life figured out. If I just work hard enough these things will all fall into place. If I just have enough money, power, popularity, beauty, security, etc. then all will be well…except it won’t. In fact, the invitation made to us in the wake of a world broken by the illusion of control sounds more like this, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25

Tomorrow is Good Friday and combined with Easter it represents the two most important days for the life of a Christian…why? Because it reminds us that we are not in control. Christ himself, in order to redeem us, showed us that life is best lived when we yield up control and just live for God. The apostle Paul described it this way, “When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:7-8. Christ gave up control of His life even to the point of death at our hands (talk about yielding control) so that we might know there is no power in control. In fact, true victory and power comes from giving up control or even realizing that we never even really had control. Perhaps this is the truth of Good Friday. That as we are called to give up the illusion of control we realize that we have a Savior who has already showed us the way. So may you give up the desire for control and the fear that accompanies it and live in the promise of Good Friday and the Hope of Easter.


shared

One of the things you sometimes forget about as parents of older children is one of the first lessons you have to actually teach your kids. One of the things you are reminded of quickly when you become parents of small children again is one of the first lessons you actually have to teach your kids. And that is the art of sharing.  For some reason, right out of the gate we seem to be naturally inclined to claim possession of things. This is mine, not yours. And if it belongs to me and you take it from me then I am entitled to any level of escalating violence to retrieve said object and restore order in the world. This becomes true of toys, snacks, blankets, stuffed animals, etc. ad nauseam. Luckily at some point, someone somewhere decided that sharing was a good idea and it started to become more of the norm…or did it? Today we continue to fight over toys (whose car/house is better), snacks (food resources), blankets (let’s just say land and natural resources), stuffed animals (each other as possessions) and whatever else you can think of. We forget that we share the same globe and more than not we even have shared stories…if we are willing to listen.

This past week I have had the opportunity to sit in and listen to shared stories on a couple of different occasions. In the first instance I found myself surrounded by ministry peers at a Young Clergy Conference in Oklahoma City. And although we all ministered in radically different contexts (what could be more different from West Texas than Northern California), we still found that many of our stories were similar and many of the issues facing us had common ground. Then just last evening I found myself in a room with people who are bit more seasoned in life. I had everyone share their stories of how they came to be in the Church of the Nazarene and why they continued to be a part of the church. And all of a sudden I realized how similar so many of the stories were regardless of years or experience that separated them. However, it sometimes seems that in today’s society we have been influenced by a mentality that reflects a perpetual toddler mindset. This is my story, not yours. You’re different. Give me that. We’ve allowed ourselves to be defined by a dominant narrative that defines me against you versus me alongside you.

When Paul was traveling on his missionary journeys throughout the book of Acts he came into contact with many different cultures/stories. Yet instead of looking for that which was different, or would set him apart, he would instead look for the shared story. In Athens we find him saying this, “ ‘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 Paul took the Athenian philosophers and helped the Athenians to recognize that they shared, not only a story, but their Divine heritage in God. Maybe we could take a page out of Paul’s book. Maybe we could come to realize that we share a lot more with those around us than we think. And maybe we can listen and tell stories and begin to see God open up doors that we previously had tried our hardest to keep shut. And maybe we will begin to realize that we all are God’s children and we are called to help each other live into that identity.


the slow club

Once upon a time I prided myself on being a prompt person. I was the guy who believed 15 minutes early was on time, being on time was pushing it, and if you were going to show up late, you might as well not show up. And then I met my wife… That’s not to say that she is late for everything; it’s just that arriving on time didn’t seem to be as much a priority for her. And then we had kids…and then we had more kids…(4 in total!) I have learned a whole new form of departure/arrival schematics that would make your head spin since the advent of children into our lives. I sometimes feel I am the only one in my household who holds appointment arrival times in high regard. And this is just the half of it. I actually believe my 6-yr-old daughter may be a charter member of what we refer to as “the slow club”.

My wife and I learned about the existence of the slow club a number of years ago while attending a youth convention. The keynote speaker, Mark Yaconelli, spoke about his young son and how they would be trying to get somewhere and all of a sudden he realized his son wasn’t walking with them anymore. He would turn around to discover his son mesmerized by a rock, a twig or a flower; just caught up in the moment. And I have come to realize that my flower picking, roly polie catching, cloud gazing 6-yr-old princess is also a member of the slow club. She is just able to move at a different pace than the rest of us. And I am doing all I can to realize that maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. After all, I think God may be a member of the slow club as well.

Now before you jump down my throat about the attributes of God let’s hear these words from the second letter from Peter.“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 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.” – 2 Peter‬ ‭3:8-9. Time is different for the one who stands outside of it. When all of eternity is before you, what is one year? And so often we think of God as not acting fast enough, not bending to our prayers quickly enough or not intervening on our time table…but maybe God is in the slow club. Maybe His divine patience and grace make space for things to take place that just can’t make any sense to us in our limited scope of space and time. I know I am so thankful for his patience with me and perhaps I need to learn to extend that same patience with others and with God. Maybe having a daughter in the slow club isn’t such a bad thing after all…even if I do sometimes have to stop and take a deep breath. So may you and I find ourselves taking a deep breath today and learning to be patient, for our God is.


just believe

Lately I’ve found myself spending a good deal of time in the gospel of John. I’m currently teaching a Sunday school class on the “I am” statements, working our way chronologically through John in a Sunday evening Bible study and even the Lectionary has us encountering Christ through John. So needless to say I pretty much live there. The central theme throughout the book of John is that of belief. This belief and it’s benefits are spelled out pretty quickly in the prologue,  “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12 Even the most often quoted piece of the entire Bible contains this theme as well, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 But what does the gospel writer mean by belief?

I can’t help but think of the scene in the story of Peter Pan where Tinkerbell is poisoned by Captain Hook. In order to resuscitate her the audience (as this is the play version I am thinking of) must say they believe in fairies and clap their hands. As the audience claps, Tinkerbell is restored to life in the presence of their “belief”. But is this the “belief” that the gospel writer is referring to? The Greek word used throughout the book of John is the word pisteuō and William Mounce defines it as, “to believe, put one’s faith in, trust, with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow”. And I think that this last portion of the definition is where the gospel writer is taking us…and rightfully so.

The thesis of the gospel of John is quite simple. He writes so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Belief that Jesus is the Son of God cannot in any way, shape or form be separated from what one does with that belief. It cannot be a statement of mere vocal expression. Because when one says that Jesus is God’s son, one is saying that Jesus fully embodies the Divine force that created every speck of existence and therefore that which he enacts and commands for us carries that same weight. In his trilemma, C.S. Lewis put it this way, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.” So truly I tell you, there is no such thing as ‘just belief’. To say one believes that Jesus is the Son of God must transform one’s very existence and therefore create in each and every one of us an entirely new way of living. So where is your belief taking you today?


making space

This past Monday evening my wife and I entered into a phenomenon which we had yet to experience, but which I have heard occurs rather frequently. Our oldest had been registered to begin soccer and then our 6-yr-old decided to give gymnastics a try and lo and behold, they were both on the same evening. And so all of a sudden we were scrambling, heading in different directions with the kids split up and even all grabbing dinner at different times/locations…and I thought it was terrible. For a day my family simply felt like we were all roommates under the same roof and it just felt so disjointed. You see our usual routine of the day culminates around one table where we share a meal and our days with one another. We get to see what each other experienced throughout the day and offer up encouragement and affirmation to each other as we conclude the day. And yet, I am led to believe that what we experienced on Monday has simply become more of the norm for a majority of households in America today. And it kind of makes my heart sad.

An often quoted Proverb in and around the church goes something like this, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6. And we often use this as justification for getting our kids to church or praying with them or occasionally reading scripture with them. And this is good, but this isn’t the whole picture. What kind of precedents are we setting for them? Are we allowing space for them to still be children? Are the expectations that we place on our kids and spouses realistic? Where is our space to just exist for a moment as a family? In our pursuit of what we often think is best for our children we have begun chasing after things that are ultimately unrealistic/unattainable and leave us and them drained. In commenting on our pursuit of empty things, Jesus had this to say in the Sermon on the Mount, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” – Matthew 6:32-33 Now before you say that this doesn’t relate, let me extrapolate a bit. 

There is a phrase in our society we hear sometimes about, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ (I kind of feel for anyone with that last name). But it’s an expression about attaining to the status that our neighbors have achieved. So if their kid is in three sports, then my kid needs to be in three sports. If there kid is on the honor roll and a master of violin, then my kid needs to be. If they are holding down two jobs to hang onto the mortgage for the house and the car payments that they can’t afford, then by golly I need to as well. And if there family is falling apart and their marriage is a sham because they rarely have time for each other, then I guess it’s okay if mine is too. What example are we setting for our kids? Where is the space left for our families and our marriages to succeed? Maybe today we need to realize just how precious little the time we have is and find space for our families and for God to make the most of who He has called us to be.


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