As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Underestimated Virtue

2 Thessalonians 3:13 "As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good."

Have you ever stopped and wondered if perhaps we make being contagious with our faith more difficult than it ought to be?  I have.  Sometimes when you listen to Christians and activists talk, being faithful seems to require grand acts of self-surrender and a theology degree on top of it.  The fear of doing it wrong, saying something wrong, or messing something up often hinders people from living out their faith in an infectious way.  What if the starting point is a bit more simple? 

Some of the most contagious Christians I have been around were simple men and women.  They took a little extra time with the people they came in contact with.  They always learned the names of their servers at restaurants, called them by name and tipped them well.  They held doors for people with their hands full.  They covered someone buying groceries who came up a little short.  They mowed the lawn for their neighbors when they were on vacation.  They took groceries to the woman down the road that had trouble getting out of the house.  They never passed a lemonade stand without paying more for the cup than was asked.  They offered to watch the children of a couple who was going through tough times so they could be alone and talk.  They were contagious because they were kind. 

Nestled in the list of the fruit of the Spirit is the word "kindness" (Galatians 5:22).  We suffer from a deficiency of kindness in our world.  In that frantic and frenzied world that we talked about yesterday, we have a tendency to be too self-absorbed to take the necessary time to extend kindness.  When kindness is offered, most people wonder what strings are attached.  We blow past one another, eyes down scanning our electronic devices, avoiding eye contact, plugged in to the cyber world but detached from the surroundings around us.  We fail to recognize the underestimated value of the virtue of kindness.  It is a virtue practiced by the simple but contagious Christians who have learned the art of grace-filled, generous, compassionate full-presence. 

Full-presence is necessary for kindness.  You and I are rarely "fully-present" for anyone.  We are perpetually distracted by what's coming next, by the vibrations in our pockets alerting us to the next text message or status update.  Full-presence is the gift of awareness of our surroundings and the people with whom God has given us the privilege of encountering.  Kindness is the disposition of our lives that looks for opportunities to bless, to make others smile, to go the extra mile to make a difference.  When practiced regularly it catches the attention of others.  They notice a difference.  They anticipate your coming, because your coming brings joy.  When kindness is practiced it has a way of softening the rough edges of hardened hearts.  It breaks down barriers and witnesses to crumbling walls.  It establishes trust.  When practiced regularly it opens up doors for conversations and testimonies about the One who has made us kind. 

So if it's not that difficult...what act of kindness can you take today that may go a long way in the life of someone else? 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Slow Down

(Note the Following Blog Post Contains information that may have more fingers pointing at me than you.)
Let’s face it, we live in a fast-paced, frantic, frenzied world.  What is our typical response when someone asks how we are doing?  “Very busy!”  We sort of wear our busyness around like a badge of an honor.  Being busy means getting stuff done.  It means we are important, that people need us.  It  means we are going somewhere.  Unfortunately, living the frenzied life can often hinder the infectious nature of the gospel in our lives.  For the faith to be contagious, we must be willing to slow down and intentionally engage God and the world around us in a deliberate and measured way.

What happens when we are too busy?  We don’t make time for God to shape and form our lives.  The gospel is contagious as the people of God reflect that gospel in authentic and consistent ways.  That’s not something we can manufacture on our own.  Sure, we can be moral.  However, being moral and reflecting the grace of Jesus in this world are two very different things.  If we aren’t intentional in making time for God in our lives, we have a bent toward pride, impatience, insensitivity, unforgiveness, indifference, and frustration.  Inevitably, these will display themselves in some manner or another.  Making time for God allows God to search the deep places in our souls and make the necessary corrections.  Making time for God places us in His hands trusting that He is faithful to work out in our lives what He has started.  Making time for God gives space to the Spirit of God to shape us to look more like Jesus. 

When we are too busy, we have no room for others.  The gospel is contagious as people feel valued by the God of the gospel.  How do they feel valued?  They feel valued by the intentional time we take with them.  There are folks around us each and every day that are broken and hurting.  When we as Christians are “too busy,” we rush past them without any thought or concern, leaving them to wallow in their isolation and struggle.  How are those that feel neglected by Christians supposed to believe that what we have to share is good news if it makes no time or room for them?  The gospel is contagious as we slow down and really “see” those around us. 

A contagious gospel starts as we slow down, as we find a pace and rhythm of life that makes space for both God and for others.  Folks aren’t drawn to a life that seems as frenzied and frantic as the life they already live.  People are yearning for a life of peace.  I long to live the kind of life that after having spent considerable time with God says to others, “I have time for you.”  Perhaps a purposeful rhythm creates an atmosphere where the gospel becomes contagious. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Life that Infects

In the early days of the church, the gospel was a virus, an infection, a contagion.  Without power or sanction from government or the religious powers that be, the gospel spread as communities of people infected with the contagion of hope and transformation gathered, lived faithfully, and through their lives witnessed to something that was enticing to others.

I love this passage from the 2nd Chapter of Acts: 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Ok…so the gospel is supposed to be a contagion, spreading from person to person, group to group, indiscriminately affecting anyone that gets in its path.  But…that isn’t always the case.  There are those that will have nothing to do with the gospel because they have witnessed it treated more like a repellant than an infection of hope.  Today, I want to briefly look at some of the ways in which the gospel can become a repellent.  

1.)    Those who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk:  People aren’t enamored by information or verbal presentations.  They are looking for authenticity.  The infection only spreads if people are engaged by a community of people that live lives that adhere to the good news they proclaim.

2.)    Holier than thou attitudes:  Too often the church is seen as the evangelists of judgment and condemnation instead of heralds of really good news.  When people witness in the lives of those that “supposedly have it altogether” a condescending attitude toward those that are outside the church, they are put off by the lack of authenticity.  The gospel is good news to those “on the way” and not those “that have already arrived”…those who are coming to terms each and every day with their broken and messy lives.  Living faithfully means dealing faithfully with our stuff.  

3.)    Politics instead of Jesus:  When the church aligns itself too closely with any one political party or agenda and doesn’t focus enough on the life changing power of Jesus and the coming of His Kingdom, people are repelled.  Folks are put off when we make allegiance to ideology as a prerequisite to belief.  The Kingdom of God calls into question all ideologies.  

These are just a few ways in which the gospel is treated as a repellant.  Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience.  Perhaps you’ve inadvertently kept the gospel from becoming a contagion to those around you.  Simply ask this question, “Would what people see in my life be something they’d care to be infected with?”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Powerful Prayer

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
  deliver me, O Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
 deliver me, O Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may, increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,  
 O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

-Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Play Me a Song, Piano Man

Adrian Romoff took the stage last night as I watched a re-run of America’s Got Talent.  On a show where you never know what you are going to get, the initial impulse was to write this child off as a cute kid.  However, as this 9 year old child prodigy sat behind a keyboard, something electric happened.  In a moment, as an observer, it appeared that the world seemed to melt away from around this child and all that was present to Adrian was the music, the keyboard, and his presence.  As this young man played, he ceased to perform and at one point he became indistinguishable from the music that flowed from a deep place in his being.  As he sat at the piano, he became a participant in the great chain of musicians who’d come before him and into whose work he was now contributing.

Standing along the wall of our new home is the remnant of my vain attempt at piano playing.  For nearly two and a half decades our family has carried this remnant from one home to another, now that heavy remnant has been passed to our family.  It has served much more a decorative piece of furniture than the vessel of beautiful music.  Mind you, I begged for a piano as a child.  I was going to learn to play.  For months, each week I’d ride my bike to Mrs. Morgan’s home, sitting in her cigarette smoke filled living room, learning the basics of this art.  Day after day, I plunked away on the keys.  However, it became obvious to both my parents and my teacher that I lacked the passion to ever move beyond a “plunker.”  When I sat on the bench, I awkwardly struck the keys, displaying my own complacency in practice.  My offering was a far cry from what I witnessed when Adrian Romoff sat at the bench. 

Unfortunately, throughout much of my Christian life, I have felt much more like a “plunker” as I’ve prayed than anything like Adrian.  My plunking around in prayer has much more to say about me than it does a reflection of who God is.  I haven’t always been disciplined in practice or intentional in paying the price to acquire the confidence of faithful prayer practice.  When Adrian played the piano, he was lost in the music.  He was indistinguishable from the melodies he played.  I was reminded of Jesus.  As Jesus prayed, he was lost in the “music.”  He became indistinguishable from the melodies of his soul rising up to the Father in Heaven.  He was so incredibly lost in the music that through his prayer His will would be united to the Father, His heart would beat by the rhythm of the Father, and that what he did was not a performance of righteousness but the natural flow of music from the deepest places of his being.  I long to engage prayer with such abandon, to be lost to the music.  I long to be so intentional in practice that when I sit at the bench I find my place as participant of the great chain of witnesses who’ve come before me, contributing my prayers to the ongoing melody of dependence, trust and faith.

Very few people have ever asked me to play piano for them.  Not only is “plunking” unpleasing to hear, the awkwardness of the “plunker” is evident.  Growing up I had a friend named Jed who was one with the music he played.  As his friends, we’d gather in around the piano and say “play me a song, Piano Man.”  We’d then give our requests and person by person he’d offer up his music.  Why did we ask Jed to play?  When Jed played, when Adrian plays, those in the presence of the musician are also caught up in the music.  Lord help me to live in such a way that people who ask me to pray, do so because they know that I won’t simply try to fix them, but because they trust that I’ve given myself away to the “music” and that in praying, they will be caught up in that music, that melody to God.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Holy Avoidance

“People ought to know their place.”  These are the sentiments of most whose place is privileged, powerful and socially or religiously secure.  Most societies designate certain spaces for particular “kinds” of people.  The spaces are valued and sought according their proximity to the center.  In the center are the acceptable, the influential, the wealthy…or in the religious spectrum, the holy, the righteous, and pure.  From that center, people inhabit various circles, until the margins are reached.  The people at the margins “ought to know their place.” 

At the margins of 1st century Judaism were the lepers.  They were so entrenched in the margins that they were legally unable to inhabit the same space as others.  Forced to walk several yards off of main paths, required to yell “unclean” as people approached, alienated from both communal and religious participation, “their place” was mandated by those in the center.  Now wait, let’s give those in the center a bit of grace.  They’d inherited a system where the treatment of lepers was religiously legitimated.  Their traditions, their laws, their forefathers had shaped them to believe “this is how it’s done,” “this is how we’ve always treated them,” “to be holy is to avoid those on the margins.” 

Then Matthew 8 happens.  Jesus can be so frustrating.  The way social structures are maintained is that not only do those on the margins know their place but that people in the center know theirs as well.  What would ever become of society if people stepped free of their places?  Jesus is a line crosser.  His reputation as holy man and rabbi, in the minds of many, anchored him firmly in the center…or at least just off center.   In this story, so much happens, so much that’s so wrong in such a short text.   In this text, a desperate leper courageously steps out of his assigned place because he’d heard about Jesus.  At this point, what should have happened was that Jesus should have stopped, done an about face with all others standing alongside him, and for the sake of purity and holiness left that leper standing alone.  But what actually happened was that Jesus honored the leper’s courageous step by stepping free from the expectations of those in center and the traditions that determined the center.  As he met that leper, as he did the unthinkable and touched the leper…a new space was created.  This is what I believe Jesus would call Kingdom Space and in Kingdom Space there is a shared place for all.  Because both leper and Jesus left their assigned places in this world and embraced a Kingdom Space, the leper’s life is radically altered.

The church has too often embraced the theology and tradition of “holy avoidance.”  In fear of being corrupted by those on the margins, the white middle class church has left them to wallow in their assigned, alienated, lonely places.  If any help is lent, it is done so from a safe distance, either through philanthropy or through social service organizations.  Helping from a distance leaves the world’s social structures firmly in place.  However, the church is called to step into the new space created by Jesus, the Kingdom Space.  The church is called to step free from whatever circles it inhabits and meet those desperate, marginalized folks as they step from the margins.  The Kingdom Space is that place of meeting, where those on the margins are radically altered …and…so is are those in the church through this encounter.  In Kingdom Space, NOTHING remains the same!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Learning to Hear and Tell Other Stories

So I am a Ted Talk fanatic...that's a confession.  I am a nerd!  Some folks listen to hours of music on long road trips, I lull my family to sleep listening to challenging messages from a variety of different fields.  There is a reason behind this madness.  I am fascinated by the world around us, by the voices of those far different from me and those who see the world differently from the limited ways in which I see the world.  I really believe that we become a more accepting, embracing, informed community as we learn to see the world from the angels of others.

This desire to stand in different places affects nearly everything I do, how I counsel, how I lead, even how I read the Scriptures.  I can't say I arrived at this craft easily.  One of the challenges we all face is coming to terms with our biases and prejudices.  We love to say we have no prejudice or bias.  I don't know that's fully accurate.  We have a natural predisposition to certain worldviews that we've been raised under, inherited, or have influenced our lives unconsciously.   To make matters worse, we don't always realize the damage done through bias and prejudice. 

Occasionally, I will connect you with sources and experts that will challenge our assumptions.  I would encourage you to take a look at a Ted Talk delivered by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  During this Ted Talk, you will come face to face with some of the assumptions and preconceived ideas that influence your engagement with others.  Until we deal with those assumptions, we can't possibly conceive of how we connect with people of difference that walk through our doors and those on the margins of our community.  I hope you take time to view this Ted Talk.   

The Danger of a Single Story

So what are some of the single stories you tell?