Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Who Do They Say You Are?

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him . . . and when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13–17

What emotion does God feel when he thinks about you? What stirs in his heart when you come to his mind? Your identity, and all that’s connected with identity, flows from your answer to that question.

The reality is that the one who makes something always knows best the thing that has been made, whether it is a car or a poem, a painting, a building or even a person. Your identity only truly can come from the one who created you, your maker, and your sustainer, the only one who fully knows you and fully loves you. Our lives are full of voices that try and tell us who we are, what we should be, where our value comes from. These voices drown out the voice of God. Most of us are really never still, we don’t set aside time to listen God’s voice. So, we don’t hear it -- we can’t hear it -- we drift, untethered from whom we really are.

The reality is that God is madly in love with you. He calls you to himself; calls you to hear that love. God invites you, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) But, how often are you still? Stillness does not come naturally to most people. Stillness and silence take practice. It takes intentionally setting aside times to be still and silent. The practice of solitude and silence is one way to allow God’s Spirit to descend upon you and confirm this love.

- Think through the words that God the Father spoke to Jesus in the passage above. Dwell on the word “beloved.” Why did God choose to say that? What do you think Jesus felt when he heard these words? Can you imagine God saying this about you? What does it mean for you to be beloved by him? In what ways can this belovedness impact your own feeling of mission in the world? What else does this passage unearth for you? How can it point to a deeper sense of his love for you? How does his belovedness give you identity? What tempts you away from your identity in God’s love?

Only with the love of God can we face the temptation to leave who we are in order to settle for a lesser good and a false identity.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Best Sermon I Ever Heard

"The preacher" looked to be in his late 60's but he could have been much younger - age and hard living had clearly blurred the normal telltales of age. A work shirt of blue denim, blackened at the cuffs, his name stitched on the pocket -- not normal clerical attire. His weathered face, warn and creased with lines that hinted at a myriad of untold and difficult roads traveled.

"The preacher's" pulpit was no pulpit. Rather he sat hunched over a table, sitting on a folding chair no different than those that supported the frames of his congregants. His congregation uncommonly diverse - young and old, rich and poor, male and female, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian and Native American - sat at tables just like the one that served as "the preacher's" pulpit. Bathed in the antiseptic glow cast by a dozen rows of fluorescent lights, "the preacher" preached his message; 10 minutes and he was done. It was the best sermon I ever have ever heard.

Good speakers often use repetition as a stylistic medium, speaking the same phrase at various points during their talk. "The preacher" too used repetition, not for style or effect but because the repeated phrase was his learned truth, the truth that had literally set him free. The truth, repeated numerous times during his message was as simple as it was jarring, "I'm a 'rotten' liar." Only he didn't say "rotten" (Use your imagination here - if you like -- in order to get the full, jarring effect of the nature of his truth). "I'm a 'rotten' liar."

The best sermon I ever heard wasn't preached on a Sunday, it wasn't preached at a church, per se. The best sermon I ever heard was preached on a Monday afternoon at an Alcoholics Anonymous [AA] meeting in Bellevue, WA. "The preacher," just a guy who needed community to share his burden, a place where he could be known, a people to whom he could confess his addiction, and by whom he could be welcomed by name. I did not know what to expect. I had never been to an AA meeting. I was there for a class. My prepared response if asked why I was there, "I am here to learn about the process of addiction." I did not have to speak the line; nobody challenged my presence. 45 minutes after walking in, I walked out inspired by the simplicity, realness, honesty and truth of this one man's message.

There are 12 steps in AA. Members are said to "work the steps." "The preacher" spoke of that day's assigned step, 11: "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out."

Sobriety or death, "the preacher" had chosen the former nearly a decade ago, and began working the steps - all but step 11. "Step 11 - God, step 11 - a higher power, step 11 - God's power; foolishness." "I don't need God to make it, I got this."

"Maybe I can have just one drink." "Maybe it was not as bad as I thought it was." "I'm not like these drunks."

"No!" I'm worse; I'm a 'rotten' liar.

"If my voice is the only one to lead me, the only voice of truth, if my voice is my only mirror, then I am a dead man."

"I'm a 'crummy liar.'"

"Could there really be a voice greater than mine, a voice from all eternity, a voice of truth instead of lies?"

"I've been ten years alive," the preacher shared, "all because of the one step I said I didn't need; the one I needed most, the one I now listen to instead of me - because, I am a 'rotten liar.'"

Ten minutes. The best sermon I ever heard.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Planted, Nourished and Sustained

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:9–12

Jesus described the relationship between him and those who choose to follow him as being like a vine and a branch – he the vine, the root, we the branches, we emerging from him, the source of our existence, growing and receiving our sustenance from him, our vine. Jesus’ words are beautiful and poetic, but they are so much more. They are, in fact, the key to everything; contentment and well-being in every areas of our lives; our marriages, our kids, our friendships, our ministry, our work, our faith, our life and our death – everything.

The reality of the human condition is that each of us looks to things other than Jesus for the source of our happiness, contentment, well-being and sustenance, we ask them to play a role they were never intended to play and in the process distort them even as we ourselves become distorted.

I love my wife; she is my best friend. But if I look to her to be the source of my well-being and contentment, I will either control her so that she will be the person I want her to be, or I will avoid conflict -- even necessary conflict – for fear that my well-being will be threatened. In either event, I will end up looking for her to provide something for me that she was never intended to provide and rather than who she really is, thus burying things that need the cleansing air and light of discussion. If, on the other hand, I look to Jesus for sustenance, to Jesus as the source of well-being, that well-being will not be jeopardized by conflict, and any conflict that there is, will be infused with the peace of God’s never-wavering acceptance and love.

Jesus says, “Remain in me.” Rest, come back when you get disconnected, return, seek, sit in my presence, rest in me, listen, abide. Only then will you will be free to love; free to be the husband, child, friend, minister, teammate, employer, boss . . . that I created and called you to be; freed from the things that claim to be sources of well-being but that in the end cause you to chase, worry and strive; free, because you are connected to me, the source of love and life itself.

It starts and ends with abiding in the vine, abiding in Christ. We move toward abiding by seeking ways that connect us to Jesus; reading the Bible, prayer, silence, giving, singing, fasting, and more (all with an idea of entering the presence of God). It is not a list of how to be a better Christian; rather, it is learning to abide in Jesus, our only hope for contentment, and a worry-free (not problem-free) life. This life is not just possible for every single person, but promised by Jesus himself as we abide in him.

- How’s that going for you today?
- Do you believe that is possible?
- Do you believe that promise?
- Are you connected to God, to the vine? - If not, why not?
- Be honest, do you believe Jesus’ promises in John 15 and elsewhere?
- What could you do to learn to abide in Jesus?
- How have you connected with God in the past?
- How can we, or others, help you do so now.

Let me know your thoughts, share your thoughts with others – we need to share our stories of success and failures so that we can grow together.

Peace, hope and love


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Living Legacy

I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. - 2 Timothy 1:3–6

The passage above talks about the legacy of faith passed to Timothy from his grandmother and his mother, a gift of God, handed down to a young man by two very important people in his life, and resulting in thankfulness for a man, Paul, awaiting execution in prison; a very powerful legacy.

When was the last time you thought about your legacy? Have you ever done so? When I say, “legacy,” I am referring to the impact you have on others, which goes beyond you; past your control, perhaps past your ability to observe or even know about, maybe even past your life. What is your legacy?

Legacy is not an optional thing, which only some people have. It is something that everybody has, something that is always being created and extended. Within each of us exist pieces of other’s legacy even as we creating pieces that reside in others. And yet, we rarely think about it. Let’s change that. Let’s think about our legacy and be intentional about living into our responsibility toward others and toward our world.

Legacy is a responsibility, both individually and collectively.

- What is your legacy?
- Who is your legacy?
- What is our legacy?
- Who is our legacy?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Week?

Today is the middle of what the Church calls Holy Week, an odd name if you give it much thought; so many of the events are so very unholy.

On Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem to worshiping crowds shouting “our king has come at last,” “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” By Friday the same crowds that cheered him as a king will be jeering him as criminal flinging curses at him, spitting on him, and demanding that he be tortured and executed, and then he was.

Holy week.

“Good” Friday, we mark the death, the tearing, the darkness. How morbid. Really, it seems almost twisted, to intentionally sit in, to think about, to even try to relate to the evil that was poured out on someone – especially someone so undeserving of punishment as the one who came to bring life and light to a world that chose darkness instead. And it would be twisted; it would be morbid, except for one very important thing. The story did not end there, not by a long shot.

The story did not end on Friday, the story continued, began again, exploded in life and power on Sunday, Easter. As we come to the close of Lent, the completion of our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, to the cross and then to the empty tomb, there is no more fitting way to do so than to enter into Good Friday, to sit and ponder the evil of a broken world, of broken systems of a broken you and a broken me; to try to comprehend the miracle and the mystery of the love that drove Jesus to take all of that brokenness and sin upon himself, to suffer, to be separated from God and then to die in disgrace. To enter into that reality and then to celebrate with even greater enthusiasm the even greater reality that Sunday is coming, that the story is not over, that it is not too late, because he has risen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What God Hates -- April 15 Edition (Year Two)

Warning: This Post Is Not Intended To Be Political.

So, I was at the gym today and the TV was showing some tea party folks protesting at the Capital. One protester's sign caught my attention and prompted this post. It read: "God Hates Taxes."


I always get nervous when I see signs, blogs, articles and the like which start with the words "God hates." (do you see the irony of the title of today's post? Nice, huh?) Anyway, those words make me a bit uncomfortable; those words make me a lot uncomfortable. Blogs, and signs that tell us what God hates paint a picture of God that I do not find in scripture. If you want to get depressed, google "God hates," you will find that God hates an awful lot (which is ironic since God is love, and therefore gets me asking questions like; where does love store all that hate?) What's even more depressing if you google the phrase is that you will find that God hates you. Yes, God hates you (which he doesn't and so disproves the whole "God hates" categories, but let us not confuse truth making our point).

So, back to today's tax day edition of What God Hates -- God Hates Taxes. On one level, yes, God hates taxes, in that taxes are needed in large part because of the brokenness of the world. If we did not have crime, if we did not have poverty and injustice, if we did not have systemic evil, if we all were just, if we all truly sought first His Kingdom, we would need no taxes because the world would be as God intended it to be -- and the way it one day will be. But, it is not, and we do not (though wouldn't it be a beautiful thing if all of the tea party folks and all of the rest of us did; started giving stuff away and seeking justice, mercy and humility in such a way that we did not need as many taxes because we were acting like the Kingdom agents we were supposed to be?) But, I don't think that is what the guy with the sign meant.

God hates taxes? No, God hates that we do not seek to give more away and thus make taxes irrelevant. In the meantime, we have the words of Jesus (who by the way is God and who paid taxes and spoke specifically to this issue and thus laid all doubt to rest) Give to Caesar what is Caesar's (taxes and respect) and give to God what is Gods (everything).

Happy tax day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Leaving Dispair for the Hope of a Seemingly Impossible Future

I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’” Ezekiel 37:2–6

That, my friends, is one crazy, amazing story. The prophet Ezekiel paints a picture of a macabre, genocidally decorated desert restored to fields teaming with life; bones, dead dry bones encountering the word of the LORD, rattling and moving, each one finding its complimentary part – along with connective tissues, flesh, skin and finally the very breath of God, and with that life.

For you and for me, it might seem just a colorful scene or an odd Biblical passage that we do not know what to do with. But for oppressed people the world over Ezekiel’s picture is a very real reminder that no matter how bad things are, no matter how much death seems to reigns, hope does not die. When American slaves were brutalized, ripped from family, beaten, raped and killed, hope came to them like the flickering light of a candle as they sang:

Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around;
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around;
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around;
Now hear the word of the Lord.

The words of Ezekiel are the cry and the hope of oppressed people everywhere. The reality (though we might try to convince ourselves otherwise) is that there is nowhere you can flee where you will not be able to see the dry bones of oppression. The bones are everywhere; if you look you will see them; God calls you to look and to see and to heal. As followers of Jesus, we are called to simultaneously be broken by a world filled with despair, yet believe in and become agents of hope for a seemingly impossible future.

Where are the dry bones that God wants you to see?

Maybe they are in your neighborhood, maybe they are across town, maybe they are in your house, maybe they are your own bones.

Do you see the valley of dry bones? Do you believe these bones can live? How does God want you and those around you to be agents of hope to make a seemingly impossible future move from a possibility to a reality?

I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

Monday, March 21, 2011

We're All Day To Day

Maybe you know this about me, maybe you don't. I have had three kidney transplants, the most recent coming three years ago.

Three times in my life I have gone from the peace of the reality of good health to the reality of declining health accompanied by the myriad of complex and hard to explain emotional, spiritual and physical complexities. As I have written elsewhere, I am a better person for this all, though I never would have chosen this path, God's has deeply shaped me through these trials, for which I am deeply thankful, yet the pain of the process still lingers, still scares me from time to time. Like I said, it is complicated.

Every three months I get my blood tested, then a couple of days later visit the nephrologist. As the days approach, my mind starts to question my body, inventorying anything that might signify that something might be going bad; "Am I more tired than usual?" "I felt a little sick the other day." "My feet seem to be swelling" "Is my skin itching?" As the days approach, I think of reasons to cancel the appointment -- maybe it would be better not to know if something is going wrong, after all, you don't know what you don't know; ignorance sometimes seems bliss.

I got my blood taken last Thursday and went to the doctor today (we had to take my daughter to the airport today and I thought that might be a good reason to cancel the appointment -- we'd either have to come home and then back to Seattle, or find a way to kill 4 hours). I didn't cancel, I made my appointment.

I seem really cheery at my appointments, making small talk with the assistant as she takes my blood pressure (blood pressure can spike if your kidney is failing). Today she finished and said, "your blood pressure is good, 120/70, I'll go get the doctor." I had half expected her to look at the readout, scream and run for emergency help. So far so good. The doctor comes in, asks how things are, small talk, NCAA hoops, and then . . . the papers are in front of him, the papers with the results from Thursday's blood tests. The numbers tell the story now, what will they say? The time between him starting to peruse them and his speaking to me seeming to take forever. "Your Creatinine is 1.3." A simple sentence, the meaning of which most people would not know or care. But for me? He might as well have waved a magic wand over me and said "carefree." 1.3 - normal, 1.3 - healthy, 1.3 - a very well functioning kidney. Immediately I feel great. No tiredness, no itching, no anything. I feel great. I've been healed -- for three months.

Sometimes when somebody finds out about my health history, they say something like, "I can't imagine what it would be like to know that your kidney could fail." I love the discussions that ensue when I tell them the reality; "we are all day to day, I am just more aware of it than most people."

Life is too short, or more accurately, we have no idea how short or how long it will be. Jesus says "I have come that they may have life and have it to the fullest." Is that your experience? I find that when it is not, it is often because of living in fear. God does not want you to waste your life, God does not want you to be afraid. He wants you to trust him -- with everything, and in the process experience a peace that is completely unexplainable. Every day God is calling you into an amazing Kingdom partnership with him - and he offers you fearlessness, a spell cast as we trust him, which says "carefree." What is God is calling you to, but that you are afraid to do? You may not have tomorrow, we are all day to day.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

It Would Be A Lie To Run Away

Today is Ash Wednesday the door though which we enter Lent, enter the journey to Easter. It is a time to look at our finitude, our frailty, our pain and even our death.

I did not grow up in a tradition that observed Lent. While there may be many reasons for its absence from the church calendar, ultimately its absence had theological consequences, or perhaps its absence was a consequence flowing from a larger theological weakness, I don't know. In my tradition, it was all good, and then it was Easter -- kind of super good, and the next week back to good again (until Christmas when it was super good again for a day). It was a theology that said our journey was a two segment journey to the cross and then from the cross. (actually it became a one segment journey, but that is for topic for another post)

A journey to the cross and a journey from the cross. While that is right, I think it is not right enough.

I think that our journey, instead of a two segment journey, is rather a three segment -- not necessarily linear -- journey, to the cross, through the cross and from the cross. While the miracle of grace tells us that God does all of the work in each of those segments, each is nonetheless necessary. And yet, the middle segment, the "through the cross" segment is often ignored. And for good reason; nobody wants to go to through the cross. The cross is suffering, the cross is pain, the cross is hard. "Jesus did the cross thing, not me."

Yes, Jesus "did the cross thing." But, can we truly identify with him without taking some time to identify with his suffering? I'm not suggesting some weird earning through suffering thing, I'm suggesting an identification thing. How do we fully identify with Christ if we never identify with his suffering. But, we don't want to go there. We live in a culture of suffering avoidance -- we spend $40 billion annually on pain medicine! We are a people obsessed with finding a cure for every possible pain, and that obsession infiltrates our Church and tells us we should do the same. And in the process, we lose something important.

Lent provides us with a cure for our obsession to find a cure for every pain. "Oh my Lord, to suffer as you do, it would be a lie to run away."

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Who Told You That You Were Naked?

Who told you that you were naked? Genesis 3:11

Exposed, accused, guilty, shameful; whispered voices, “You are naked.” We are all works in progress, imperfect, often not the people we want to be. It is God’s plan for each of us to move towards our true self, what the Bible calls sanctified. While none of us will fully achieve that state this side of heaven, we are at the same time seen by God as having already attained it – through Jesus’ work on the cross. If you are a follower of Jesus, God sees you as complete, holy, without shame, and clothed.

- Are there voices that tell you otherwise?
- Whose voice might they be?
- Do they ever claim to be God’s voice?
- Whose voice is it that tells you that you are naked?

Take a moment and consider the tragic story of the fall of man and the restorative voice of God in the garden.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:31

The LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Genesis 2:16–17

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Genesis 2:25

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. Genesis 3:4

She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:6-7

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked?
Genesis 3:8–11

God’s plan is that each of us moves further and further into our true self, further and further into the person He already sees us as, further and further sanctified. He invites us to move forward, yet never condemns us; never tells us that we are naked.

- Who tells you that you are naked?
- What might the voice of God be saying to you instead?