water and spirit

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Yesterday I decided to engage in a task that was a long time coming…cleaning out the youth supply closet. Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with a youth supply closet, I want you to picture your junk drawer in your house; and now it’s a closet. So as you can well imagine there were quiet a few things that needed to make the fifty foot trek to the dumpster.  It also happened to be an incredibly rainy day. But on one of my trips to the dumpster I noticed a path being carved in the water before me. After dropping my load I came back to observe a single hornet that was carving the path in the water. He was holding on against the inevitable. Fall is coming…winter is coming…and a deluge of water was pushing against him and yet he still held on stubbornly against the inevitable. Here he was exposed to imminent danger (feet, cars, etc.) and yet he persisted. I almost wonder if he would have been safer to let the current carry him. Would he have found refuge further down the stream and then be able to live out his last few weeks in a better place; an open place?

I feel like we in the church can be guilty of hanging on to things we should let go of. Culture and the winds of change push us so aggressively that we are scared and so we hang on to that which we know/understand. The problem is that this isn’t a new problem. In the third chapter of the gospel of John we read about someone who was shook by all of the newness that was being ushered in. He was anxious about this Jesus character but could not comprehend why he should change or how he could change in order to accommodate his known identity, tradition, methods, etc. Jesus responds to him in part and eventually says to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8 Those truly born of the Spirit know what it is to move by the Spirit’s leading. They know what it looks like to let go and allow the current of God to carry them into newness of heart and life (that’s a very loaded phrase if you dig into it).

So back to the hornet and hanging on. Sometimes what we perceive in fear may actually be the moving of God. Think about it for a minute Abraham left all he knew, Moses stood up to a god-king, Joshua faced down giants, 3 Hebrew children didn’t bow, Peter got out of the boat, Matthew left his tax booth, Saul forsook all he ever knew (it was rubbish)…they all let go of relative safety, what they knew and the tradition they had embraced in order to be carried by God’s Spirit into something unknown, foreign, scary and unpredictable…and the world would never be the same. So what are you clinging to today? What terrifies you about God’s movement amidst the winds of culture? Where is God calling you to pull up anchor and join the movement of His Spirit? May we be those born of Water and Spirit and not those who cling to dry and stagnant land amidst the current of God.

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villains

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Fall is here (well only by namesake here in Tennessee). But the season has arrived and with it some of my other favorite things. No, the pumpkin spice takeover is not one of them; but baseball playoffs are. And this year my beloved Boston Red Sox are in the ALDS against the dastardly, villainous, maligned, evil empire known as the New York Yankees (Even as I type that name I have a sneer on my face). And last night was beautiful! The Red Sox handed the Yankees their worst ever loss in the postseason in fifty-four playoff appearances. It’s so good when we get to see the bad guys lose, and lose bad. And my favorite thing about all of this…? It’s just a game. At the end of the day I don’t hate (actually hate) the Yankees or the Georgia Bulldogs or the Jacksonville Jaguars or any of the rivals to the sports team I claim fandom to. In fact, if I set down to a meal with C.C. Sabathia or Aaron Judge we would probably get along just fine and find more things that we have in common versus things that divide us…even if they do wear the cursed pin-stripes. All I know is it’s a good thing that this narrative of good guys vs. bad guys is only played out in sports and sports rivalries.

Okay, so I used hyperbole to prove a point. It’s amazing how our cultural and even global narrative has become accustomed to an us versus them paradigm. It’s so much easier to understand who we are as long as we know who we are not. And the conversations and divides have become so sharp that we fail to see that we are all in this together. This thing we call life, this existence that happens on our planet is a shared experience and regardless of how we want to think about the other person and their experience, we all breathe the same air. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul has this to say about our shared humanity, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” – II Corinthians 5:15-16 We can’t regard each other from worldly points of view because Christ died for all. The great Catholic social activist and theologian Dorothy Day put it this way, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” Our narrative of villains and otherness and separation and divide really has no place when we know Christ and His Kingdom.

In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis had this to say about our encounters with our fellow humans, “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours…our charity must be a real and costly love …next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” In short, everyone we encounter is God’s image in flesh destined for eternal glory or eternal separation and this is who we interact with on a daily basis. There truly can be no villains or otherwise, but forgiveness and grace and mercy must reign over us and through us as we seek to be Christ’ ambassadors in this world. Is this easy? No. It’s much easier to write people off as Democrats or Republicans or Liberals or Fundamentalists or Progressives or Conservatives, etc. But as Christians, we don’t get to do this [full stop]. I must always strive to see every person as Christ would see them…even if they are wearing a New York Yankee’s hat. So may you and I treasure each other today. Because how we treat the creation says an awful lot about what we think of the Creator.

 

Photo by Yucel Moran on Unsplash

what you say matters…

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We live in a world of words. I wake up in the morning and one of the first things I begin my day with, outside of fumbling with the french press, is read. I read Facebook, Twitter, emails, The Bible, Instagram (pictures say a lot) and sometimes I may even have time to pick up a comic before my morning run. Then there is my morning run and my commute to work where I listen to Podcasts or Audio books. We literally fill our worlds with words. And unless you’ve been living under a rock lately you realize how divisive these words can be. I look at the reactions from my Christian brother’s and sister’s to the confirmation hearings surrounding Judge Kavanaugh and I am astounded at how much vitriol our words have been laced with on both sides of the aisle. It’s almost as if we have allowed our political and religious stances to embolden our language to the point that we don’t care how it makes another feel as long as we are perceived as being right…and our kids are watching our words.

We’ve always been told that our kids observe our actions and hear our words, but I think sometimes we forget about this audience. And how we react to political and cultural situations in the world around us actually effects how our kids will react as well. Now I don’t want to get into a political discussion defending one side or the other, but it is important how we discuss these things with our teens and kids. In his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul has this to say about our words, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29 Unwholesome talk that tears down or belittles another created image of God (I think it’s safe to say we have been guilty of this on both sides of the aisle, present company included). Instead we are to engage in talk that is helpful for building others up and benefits the ones who are listening. In other words, it is so important to think about the one’s who are listening.

So when we slander or doubt the validity of a person just because we don’t agree with their political affiliation, those who are listening receive permission to do the same. When we doubt the testimony of the powerless against the powerful we give others permission to continue to marginalize the weak. When we belittle others because in doing so we feel all the more right in who we are and what we believe those around us take on those same bully traits in their interactions with those they disagree with. I for one have had quite enough of the church finding itself divided into camps that the world deems necessary. I’ve had quite enough of our words becoming weaponized because that’s what the current cultural climate deems necessary. The way of the cross demands that our words and actions rise above the fray to show a third way and I think it’s high time we take into account the audience that is listening to our words. Maybe then we might be able to truly live into our role as the Bride of Christ, not simply for ourselves, but for the church that is being raised up by our words.


old dog new tricks

I haven’t had an old dog for quite some time. In fact, both of the dogs in my house are two years of age or younger. Which often results in things being chewed that aren’t intended for chewing (I may be a little bitter as one of these items was my most frequently worn Red Sox hat this last week). But I want to take issue with that old adage today, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. While perhaps this may be true for dogs, it is oft applied to humans and I’m not sure that this is exactly the case. Case in point; I have been a sufferer of teenage acne for going on 28 years. I have taken various pills, lotions, creams, etc in pursuit of a clear complexion over those 28 years. But most recently I have found the simplest method is to actually just wash my face one more time before bed. Now most of you at this point are putting your palm to your forehead and saying duh, but for me this was a completely new habit. And yet I have seen better response to this in my later years than to anything else I have done throughout my entire time of eternal adolescence.

It got me thinking about something my pastor, Kevin Ulmet, recently tweeted. He said, “The holiness of God calls us to transformation not continuation. That is a message of hope and change that we must teach and live in these days.” We as people of God are called to transformation and not continuation. And yet continuation is so much easier. Albert Einstein is often credited with the expression, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” And that’s sometimes the way we behave in this Christian life. We keep living the way we always live and are surprised that people are not impacted by our witness. We keep the same routines and schedule and we wonder why we feel relatively the same in our relationship with God. What we come to realize is that continuation is simply that…continuation.

In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul has this to say about transformation, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2 The word for transformation in the Greek here is anakainōsis which is defined as renovation, something becoming completely new. And that’s what people of faith are ultimately about; becoming completely new. Even the faith habits that we establish early on in life are in need of continued renewal and growth and transformation. After all, I’m not anywhere near the same person I was when I was fourteen…save the teenage acne. So let us learn new tricks. Let us discipline ourselves with new habits. Let us be transformed in new ways so that we don’t continue with the same old same old.


noisy

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This morning, as I am often apt to do on days that I blog, I woke up and thought to myself, “What in the world am I going to write about today?” I’m sure there’s some fancy phrase for this dilemma like writer’s stymie or writer’s barricade…but anyway.  As one is apt to do in this situation I turned to my trusty friend social media to see if I could find inspiration and was immediately inundated, nay overwhelmed with commentaries, discussions, opinions, etc. on everything under the sun. It’s as if social media has become an interstate clogged with billboards intended to either bottleneck traffic or have you swerve off the road entirely. Trying to make sense of all that is coming at you could almost be a full-time job and I was looking here for inspiration…? I wonder how often we step into the social media fray hoping to come away inspired and bettered by what we encounter there? And in the same vein how often do we come away feeling like we’ve encountered nothing but noise?

One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament revolves around the prophet Elijah. Elijah is a titan of a prophet who has an amazing showdown with over 400 prophets of Ba’al and sees YHWH answer with fire from Heaven. And then as if that isn’t enough he declares the end of a drought and then outruns a royal chariot on foot. Then in the midst of all the noise he receives a death threat from the queen and runs and hides for fear of his life. To answer Elijah among all of the noise God takes him to a solitary place and here is where we pick up in scripture. “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

The phrase in the scripture for “gentle whisper” is actually best translated “sound of sheer silence”. This is where the prophet, who has been surrounded by noise and craziness and even good things, encounters God. This is where the prophet finds the ability to keep going. This is where the prophet finds inspiration. And I began to think about how often I disengage from the noise. How often do we turn off our devices? How often do we turn off the news? How often do we turn off our echo chambers that affirm how we think in order to listen to the One in whom we believe? My challenge to myself and perhaps to you as well today is to allow the noise to be the noise. May we also give space in our lives to the quiet so that perhaps we may have that same encounter in the “gentle whisper” which is the space in which the Spirit often speaks.


radical hospitality

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I grew up in the south. That might be a shocker for some of you. But I was born in Chattanooga, TN and raised in Northwest Georgia, although people are sometimes suspect because of my lack of an accent (I intentionally use a y’all from time to time to assuage the naysayers). But I have very unique lenses from which to talk about my Southern heritage after having lived in the Midwest and Southwest. I even remember when my wife and I were preparing to move above the Mason-Dixon line and there was actual anxiety regarding how “cold” the Yankees might be. Honestly I think that is all derived from the fact that everyone is actually cold for eight months out of the year and don’t want to come outside. But after having lived in these multiple regions, can I make a case that perhaps Southern Hospitality is as hospitable as we have always thought? Going further, can I make a case that perhaps none of us have any idea what hospitality truly is?

Hospitality is a unique concept.We all like to think of ourselves as being hospitable; after all, it is a Christian concept. The thing that has given me the greatest lens through which to see this is the hospitality industry…truly. Every time I stay in a hotel these days I think about all the work that happens after my departure (you can’t help but think about this with four kids). I also have friends that run airbnb’s and I get exhausted thinking about all the work that goes into maintaining their facilities. The people who run these facilities put their lives on hold in order to provide an experience for someone else so that the other feels at home; like they belong. And we call this the hospitality industry. Believe it or not Jesus had something to say about what Christian hospitality would feel like from our perspective, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26-27 You don’t see how that refers to hospitality…?

The thing that makes airbnb’s or hotels successful in terms of hospitality is that all of their effort is focused on the experience of the other. We as churches or youth groups could possibly learn a thing or two about this. When people come through our doors we expect them to adjust to our schedule, our routine, our style, our sense, our/my/we/me…and yet Jesus says unless you put aside your own concerns, your own way of doing things, even your own sense of family and life that you cannot be His disciple. Now there will be things that will be distinctly Christian that we invite people to learn as they walk along with us (Creeds, Communion, Baptism, Salvation, etc.). But there are a lot of things that should probably be set aside or even left in the dust so that we can actually learn what it means to be hospitable. And it all starts with being willing to look in the mirror and ask if the actions I live out each week draw people to Christ or make it seem like this club is even more exclusive. May we start to practice radical hospitality today at the expense of ourselves for the sake of the other.


righteous indignation

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Sunday night I was angry. And truth be told I don’t get angry a lot. I think my wife may actually think there is something wrong with me…but Sunday night, oh man. You see, I had shared a video of a young black man and his white grandmother being pulled over because someone had “reportedly” told the cops that they thought this white woman was being robbed by this black man. And all I kept thinking about was, “This could be my son.” So I shared the video on social media and was astounded at the ensuing dialogue. Some of it was very supportive and resonated well with me, but some of it left me with a little holy anger, if you will. And it’s not even so much what they were arguing with me per se (I understand police procedure and I wasn’t faulting a police officer who could be correctly acting on misinformation), but just the fact that they were arguing for the fact that this is the way things are or how they are done now. You see, for a follower of Christ in this world, I don’t think this approach is acceptable.

Allow me to elaborate a bit. Time and time in scripture we are told about the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. We hear about it with phrases like “The Day of the Lord” or “When the Son of Man returns” or “The Kingdom of God is at Hand”. And when the disciples ask Jesus how to pray He responds with, “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on Earth”. And the images of this in scripture are profound. “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” – Amos 5:25 “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” – Isaiah 61:1 This is what the Kingdom coming looks like. Something new; something profound! Something that challenges “what is” for “what can be”. When we are content to accept the status quo or even pine for the way things used to be, we are submitting to the kingdoms of this world and refusing to see the world for what it can be. We are living out of fear instead of hope.

This isn’t a liberal or conservative issue, but it is a political issue. It’s a proclamation of the fact that we belong to a different kind of Kingdom. The apostle Paul puts it this way in Colossians 3, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things aboveHere there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” – Colossians 3:1,11 This different view of the world is the thing that Christians should always ascribe to and hope for. A world where bias and fear are left in the dust because after all, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” – 1 John 4:18

I remember when I held Jonas for the first time. I was worried about how he might be treated in the world. But I thought to myself, “It’s going to get better…it has to.” And yet today, I am angry. I am hurt. I am sad because the church continues to buy into the narrative of “it will all work out or this is just how things are.” Hear me O church. Christ Kingdom is at hand. We are called to live into this. And the day is now! I still believe it can get better. But church we must get to work alongside Christ building his kingdom here, now, today.


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