govern the night

This last Sunday morning I was up with my coffee early and I was reading a blog post about pastors. One of the concluding lines in the post suggested that pastors should get thirty minutes of exercise a few hours before they engage with their congregation…so I went for a run. It was a nice muggy hot morning in Odessa, but the thing that struck me the most was the moon. It was a fingernail sliver of a moon and as I turned a corner it completely disappeared. I had to do a double take, because I was pretty sure moon phases don’t happen that quickly. I then realized some clouds had simply passed in front and it soon returned to its normal phase and I returned to sweating early on a Sunday morning.

The moon has always been fascinating to me. I can’t imagine what it was like for ancient people to look up and see this light in the sky that at the end of the day wasn’t even a light at all. We of course know that the moon itself is not a source of light, but a source of reflection. Even on those nights when the full moon seems to light up everything you see, it still is only reflecting the light it receives from the sun. But the ancient Hebrews described it this way in the Genesis creation poem, “God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.” – Genesis‬ ‭1:16‬ ‭They saw the moon as a light itself, which would be one’s perception, but its role seems to be the more important facet. The moon was present to govern the night. The word in Hebrew is memshalah and can be translated as the power to rule or govern. The moon was thought of as the light to have power to rule over the night.

Now here is where it gets fun. ‘The moon is only a reflection’ you might say, and yet the better it reflects, the brighter it is. And the brighter the moon, the lesser the night/darkness. In some ways our lives themselves reflect the moon. We are called to reflect the light of Christ to the world around us. The darkness or the storm clouds or whatever may come our way shouldn’t diminish our reflection because we have been granted the “power to rule” over the darkness. 1 John 4:4 puts it this way, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” The power of Christ in you…the power to reflect the light of Christ is greater than all the other powers combined. Sometimes I hear people complain about the darkness around them or the storms that seem to move in on them and I wonder…how will their reflection be affected? In his book Velvet Elvis Rob bell poses the following, “Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.” Maybe that is the question to ask ourselves today. Is our light governing the night? Are we reflecting all the Jesus we should to the world? Perhaps we may someday find our reflective light shining so bright that people can’t see where Christ ends and we begin.

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extracurricular 

Growing up in a relatively small town meant that life always seemed to have a rhythm. Your school year would flow in it’s given way. And then school would let out and that meant it was time for little league baseball. Of course, the only thing outstanding about my short-lived baseball career was my incredible ability to get from the dugout to the snack-stand before my teammates for my free snow-cone after each game. I remember the first time my family mixed up this rhythm because I decided I wanted to play basketball (I wasn’t too great at this either…most improved player three years in a row). Basketball was a winter sport though, and so it took place in the middle of the school year. And when I first hear the word extracurricular I actually thought it meant something in addition to church and school. You see, the center of my communal life wasn’t school, although that helped to provide the rhythm, but rather church…and I think that was and still is a good thing.

According to Merriam-Webster’s, the secondary definition for extracurricular is, “[something] lying outside one’s regular duties or routine.” And so I suppose my way of understanding recreational basketball in its regard to school and church wasn’t that off base. However, over the years I’ve begun to notice a cultural shift where extracurricular has begun to solely reference things outside of one’s academic career to the point to where church itself has come to be viewed as extracurricular. Before you get defensive, hear this; I don’t believe that church attendance is necessary for one to believe in God…but (there’s always a but). At the most vital moment in the life of the church, that is the beginning, we read this from the book of Acts, “All the believers were together and had everything in common…and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts‬ ‭2:44,47‬ ‭The power found in the life of the early church revolved around their shared life. And yet for many, church life has simply become an occasional appointment that they can check off their calendar so they feel as if they’ve accomplished something.

Within the manual of the church of the Nazarene, we have what we refer to as a church constitution (I know it sounds exciting). And within this constitution we affirm what we aspire the church of the Nazarene to be. It goes a little something like this, “[The church is] those persons who have voluntarily associated themselves together according to the doctrines and polity of said church, and who seek holy Christian fellowship…and the simplicity and spiritual power manifest in the primitive New Testament Church.” – 2013 Manual Church of the Nazarene. Did you see that? The church is those people who want to be together and see the early church’s power manifest in their lives. I hear people often complain about the disorder in their lives, the chaos in their schedules, the brokenness in their familial unity and their in ability to feel at peace and I will often look at their involvement in a local community of faith for a sign. The “simplicity and the power” of the early church was present because of their presence in each other’s lives. When the life of the church becomes extracurricular it often means that you’ve chosen to sacrifice something else. You have chosen to sacrifice people praying for you or senior adults hugging your kids. You’ve given up singing together words that remind you of your identity or eating with people who remind you the story goes on. And you’re missing out on knowing that you are a part of something bigger than your schedules, appointments, practices, performances, etc. that have taken over your life. Maybe we all need to find a healthy rhythm again. And maybe we need to find it with our fellow believers.

 

 


mi casa

Couch

One of the most common phrases heard around our house these days is, “that’s mine”. And it really is a rather recent development with our two youngest. Foster kids can really change your perspective…for a bit. Because for a while it seemed like they were super human because they really didn’t claim ownership to much of anything and so “those disputes” didn’t seem to happen. Boy was I naive. Now that #3 & 4 have been in our house for over a year the claiming of property seems to resemble the gold rush of 1849 more than the charitable sharing that typified their initial behavior. “That’s mine”, “I had it first”, “No” and “Give me” have become the calling card of all their interactions as of late. And I  can’t help but wonder how much of this I have taught them.

Most of us learn the art of possession from an early age. We learn that things cost money and we have to work for that money and so through our toil these things take on a value that we assign. The problem occurs when we assign these things a greater value than we assign to other people. We don’t want certain people coming into our house because they might mess it up. We horde up or collect nice things because we we worked for it (Even the word horde brings to mind images of Smaug from the Hobbit). Yet at the end of the day, if we don’t even own the very breath in our lungs, do we “own” any of these things? Or do they own us? Jesus had this to say about the things on earth we lay claim to or possess, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” – Mark 10:29-30 The crazy thing about that is the inference to the expansion of family and resources in the present age. A lot of folks might try to tell you that this is about God “blessing” you with bigger and better things, but it really is about something much richer.

I’ve begun to see it happen recently due to impending/ongoing threats to people’s homes and security in the United States. In the wake of Harvey and under the threat of DACA or Irma I have begun to see Christians open up their homes, lives  and possessions to those who face the unknown. And this is what Jesus really is referring to in the passage above…a shared kingdom life. It’s a life that literally says, “mi casa es su casa (my house is your house)”, because the things that I have come to “own” are actually things that I am a steward of and so they are best used when they are shared. In fact, this is the “hundred times as much” that Jesus refers to in the passage above. It is not about me amassing wealth and being greedy, but about me belonging to something much bigger than myself by realizing I don’t own any of it. There was a wonderful quote from Mahatma Gandhi that describes our world and the need for this type of behavior, “The world has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.” I hope today you find yourself letting go of the “that’s mine” mentality so that you can open yourself up to see how Christ could use you for those who need you in the worst way.


but that’s not what I meant

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One of the most important things I’ve come to learn over the last couple of years from being a senior pastor is the ability to be vulnerable. And it really began with a realization of how little control I have over what people hear me say. You see, I say…well and I even write a lot. Even if you just take into account this blog, I’ve written over 65,000 words over the last two and a half years. But I’ve come to realize that I really have no power when it comes to people interpreting my words. I’ve been taken out of context, misquoted, and even lied about. And if it was done to the right audience, then no amount of pleading, arguing or even explaining will sway my words from being misunderstood. I wonder if any of the Biblical writers would feel this way today?

You see, one of the things we as Christians love to do is to latch on to a singular verse and use it for our causes or motivations without considering what we might be doing to the original meaning and context. One of my favorite verses that this is done to is Philippians 4:13; you know, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” You see it on t-shirts, work-out equipment, necklaces or even football player’s face tape. But when Paul was addressing the Philippian church, he had something drastically different in mind. Listen to the context here, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” – Philippians 4:11-12 Paul’s declaration of being able to “do all things” had more to do with powerlessness than power. It had more to do with vulnerability, than strength. It had more to do with contentment in adversity, than accomplishment.

Today my mind goes out to the thousands who have been displaced by Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Philippians 4:13 truly would be a life verse for them. For they have had to leave their homes and and all they know. They have had to accept the help of friends or even strangers. They still may encounter hardships and hurt that they aren’t even aware of yet. There will be trials, temptations, frustration, pain, anger, denial, etc. over the next few days, weeks, months and maybe more. You know, it sounds a bit like this, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:6-7 The reason that Paul could declare that he could face hardship and troubles through Christ’ strength is because he knew Christ endured it for his sake. The reason we can endure that which is about to come next is because we know Christ has endured it before.

So may you find encouragement today in reading and understanding the bigger context. And may you find strength in vulnerability, power in weakness, contentment in hardships and the ability to continue moving forward because of Christ and His example.


in the flesh

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I once heard a story about a little girl who was having trouble going to sleep one night. Her father came into the room to remind her that there was no reason to be afraid because God was right there with her. However, even after this reassurance, a few minutes later the girl was calling for her dad again. Her dad came back into the room again and tried to remind her once again that God was right there with her. “But dad, I need someone with skin on.” We might hear this story and think of it as just being a cute anecdote, but it might be a story that calls us to the greatest Christian action that we could practice…being present.

The very beginning of the Jesus story goes a bit like this, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” – John 1:14 The thing that makes the Jesus story so powerful, so compelling is that God was willing to put on human skin and join us. He was willing to suffer, laugh, play, dance, sing, work, cry, think, move, and share in every other human experience. Not only that, but He set the example for us as to what it meant to be truly human because He was always fully present. As you read the story of Jesus throughout the gospels, you begin to see a trend in his approach towards others. Regardless of the person’s station in life or their spiritual state or status, Jesus was always fully present with them. I even think of the most extreme example where we may even think of Jesus not being present in Matthew 15. A Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and he really doesn’t seem to want to take the time to interact with her as He feels compelled to continue taking His message of healing and redemption to Israel. Yet at the end of the encounter we read this, “Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.” – Matthew 15:28

Now think about this with me for a moment. If Jesus proved His love for those around Him by being present in each and every situation, how much more should we work at being present to those around us? Perhaps if we began to value each conversation, each interaction, each moment as God would have us to, then people might begin to respond to us differently. I can’t help but think of the marvel Jesus had each time He encountered someone new. Even though He knew them, all of a sudden it was real…because they both had skin on. Perhaps if we could come to realize that people are more than agendas, schedules, products, customers, numbers, etc. we might begin to see them with the same awe and wonder that God has for each and every human that ever walked the face of the earth. So may you today seek to be present in a new and real way to those around you. Because you never know when they may need somebody with skin on.


wait, what? 


So on Monday I became a teacher…

I guess it all began a few weeks ago. I heard a “story” about a guy in a flood. As the water rose to his knees someone came by in a boat. “Do you need help?” “No, my God’s going to rescue me”, was the man’s reply. As the waters continued to rise someone else came by in a boat. “Do you need help?” “No, my God’s going to rescue me”, was the man’s reply again. Eventually the water rose so high that he had to climb onto his roof. Not long after that a helicopter came by. “Do you need help?” “No, my God’s going to rescue me”, was the man’s reply yet again. Well he ended up drowning. Upon arriving in Heaven he asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” God’s reply, “Well I sent two boats and a helicopter, what more were you waiting for?”

Now the business of a church is tricky at times. And sometimes when you feel like you are doing the ministry God has called you to it doesn’t always add up in terms of finance. And at our own church it has been this way for quite some time. You could see the proverbial waters rising and we all were just waiting on how best to solve this dilemma. Then a couple of weeks ago I found out that the school my kids attend needed a science teacher. For most pastors this probably wouldn’t sound like a boat, but this pastor happens to have an undergraduate degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. Not only that, but the school was looking for a Middle School teacher and I had worked with Middle School students for over five years during my youth ministry days…what?!? So I applied, talked it over with my board and on Monday I became a Middle school science teacher.

Now here’s the beauty of it; I’m not alone in this endeavor. More and more pastors are turning to bi-vocational ministry as they seek to minister to contemporary culture and settings. Not only that, but there is a Biblical example for this type of ministry as well. In his letter to the Thessalonian church we read this from Paul, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.”‭‭2 Thessalonians‬ ‭3:7-8‬ Although I may feel a little overwhelmed, I am actually excited about the possibility of working outside and inside the church. It will help stabilize our church finances, but it will also give me an opportunity to see the work and sacrifice many of our laypeople already engage in (not to mention a platform to speak to those laypeople who aren’t all that involved).  So I invite you along on this new journey with me and our church. I ask for your prayers and patience in the days ahead. And I still look with ever-increasing expectation and optimism to what God is going to do among His people.


try a little

Yesterday afternoon I found out about the passing of Glen Campbell. I don’t think I would have ever been characterized as a Glen Campbell fan per se, but I always enjoyed listening to his music and there were times I would even find myself binge listening. In fact, just this last Saturday on our way to a wedding I had my wife indulge me in one of those moments as we listened to Gentle on My Mind while rolling down Business 20. So yesterday after hearing of his passing I launched into a Glen Campbell kind of afternoon and I heard a song I hadn’t heard in quite some time. The chorus goes like this, “You got to try a little kindness, Yes show a little kindness, Just shine your light for everyone to see. And if you try a little kindness, Then you’ll overlook the blindness, Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.” Huh. It’s weird to think that we should need the lyrics of a Glen Campbell song to remind us of what might be important in today’s world.

Kindness does seem to be a dying commodity in the world lately. We are consumed with winning arguments, proving our point, getting our opinion across, tweeting our stances and jumping on our soapboxes before we even begin to think about the consequences and whether or not we are thought of as being kind. Which for us in the church is very strange. After all, in Galatians we read, “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 Did you see it there? (I underlined it and bolded it just in case). Kindness is a fruit of living life by the power of the Holy Spirit. One might even say that kindness is evidence of God living in you. And yet, sometimes it is a quality we value least in today’s world because we think it might make us appear weak or a pushover or tolerant or whatever adjective or excuse you want to pin onto the need to not be kind.

Personally I’ve been accused at times of perhaps being a bit too nice…but I have to be honest with you, it’s not me. There are so many times that I would love to give someone a piece of my mind. I can’t tell you how many times in the last year I have wanted to tell someone off or just let loose on someone who has rubbed me the wrong way. But then there is this gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit that reminds me of how God feels about the person across from me. And so I pause, try to put myself in their shoes and try to think about how God would treat them if He were right there instead of me. Do I always succeed at being kind? Probably not. But in the words of Glen Campbell it is always worth trying at. And maybe you might effect the life of the narrow minded across from you and find your own narrow mindedness being healed in the process as well.


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