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

Friday, December 25, 2015

In a Moment, In a Manger

It changed
                Everything
                as the radiant beams of God’s Glory
                                Leapt up
                From the most humble of circumstances
God’s Invasion of Grace

In a moment
In a manger

God punches through
                the veil that appeared to divide
                the Divine from the Down-Trodden
                the Holy from the Lowly
                the Eternal from the Time-Bound

In a moment
In a manger

God Himself
                In Son Jesus Christ
                Dawns the Fragility of Flesh
                                And…
                                Everything Changes

Because in that moment
In that manger

God would no longer be thought
                Only…for us
                Now…God with us
                God Himself
                                In Son Jesus Christ
                                Walking miles and miles
                                In the worn-through soles of our shoes
                                In the tattered garb of human frailty
                                Through the broken shards of earth-born living

In a moment
In a manger
Distance spanned
Division Eclipsed

The King from on High
                Had now come low
                Condescending to us
                                And we…
                Accosted, scandalized, captivated
                By the simplicity
                                Of the One that Comes
                                Not as conquering ruler
                                But…
                                                Suffering Servant
                                                As lowly peasant
                                                As One…like us
                                                As One…for us
                                                As One…with us

Who in a moment
In a manger
Wearing our Flesh
Filling our Fragility
Sanctifying our Skin

                In Coming to be as we are
                Makes possible
                                Our coming to be like He is
                                Humble
                                Whole
                                Holy

Yes Holy…
For this Invasion of Grace
Is not complete
In a moment
In a manger

                This moment is the set-up
                For moments to come
                                Of teaching
                                Walking
                                Sharing
                                Loving
                                Modeling
                                Calling
                                Struggling
                                Suffering
                                Dying
                                Rising
                                Ascending
                                And…
                                                Sending…of God Himself
                                                In Spirit
                                                That he is no longer
                                                Only God for us
                                                And God with us
                                                But now…God in us

For the One who in a moment
In a manger
Who takes up flesh
Now takes hold of our flesh
Inhabiting our fragility
Laying waste to our resistance
Invading our Space with His Grace
Filling up our Broken Cracks and Empty Places
                With the Glory
                the Radiance
                the Majesty
                of His limitless Grace
                So that in all things
                In all ways
                At all times
                We might become like
                The One who stooped low
                To become like us

In a Moment
In a Manger
Everything Changes
                And that…

                Is the Christmas Miracle.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hope Through the Thick Cloud of Depression

Has it settled in like a thick cloud again?  It’s denseness, at times both suffocating and restrictive. 

“Yes.
There are moments…when…every…breath…feels…labored.
When the haze makes seeing beyond this present moment nearly impossible.”

Is it piling up?  When it was just one or two things you thought you could handle it.  But now it feels like everything.
            All at once…
            No let up…
            Really…again.  How much more can a person take?

“Where’s my bed, my bottle, my blanket and remote.  Maybe if I just wait it out here.  Forget about it…sleep it away, drink it away, wish it away…
            it’ll go away?
            Maybe?”

But no, the thoughts – they are relentless.  Even in your exhaustion the thoughts keep coming. 

“Make them stop, will they ever stop?  I’ll do anything to make it stop…”
            Anything?
            “I didn’t mean anything?  Don’t worry, I mean it’s crossed my mind, but doesn’t everyone have that thought?  I’m good though, really.” 
                       
But are you?

It’s thick this cloud.  You really can’t see, beyond now, beyond here…
“What did you say?  You say you are there for me.  Wait, I can’t see you through this cloud.  I’m afraid if you are waiting for me to reach out…you might be waiting awhile.
            I…don’t…know…which…direction…to…reach. 
                                                                                                Man, I can’t breathe.”

“But I’m not the only one that can’t see you, you can’t see me.  You see me, but you don’t see me.  You see me fake laughing at work pretending to be ok.  You see me cheering on my child at the ball game not knowing that later that night I’ll wish I was dead, feeling like a failure as a parent.  You’ll see my smile at church that hide the tears trying to break through.  You don’t see me, partially because I won’t let you…partially
            Because you won’t let yourself.
            You don’t know what to do with me.
            How to talk to me.
            How to walk with me.
            What it means to love me.”

What can be done? 
            “Care.
            …but be gentle.
                        Don’t be trite.  It may not be better tomorrow.
            Care enough to love me through it.
            …but be patient.
                        Depression can make me sound like a jerk sometimes.
                        I didn’t mean to snap at you.
            Care enough to reach through the fog.
            …but don’t let go.
                        I need you, even though I’ll tell you I don’t.
            Care enough to tell me of God.
            …but not of his anger.
His love.  Remind me that God’s not impatiently waiting for me to get my act together, but with every tear drop, he weeps with me.  Tell me that He is holding me –as you hold my hand.  Cause in that moment, God is what I see in you.  Tell me that He is safe…that he can take it, my fears, my failures, my regrets, my worries, my past, my present, my future, my…
            Care enough not to give up
                        To sit with me in quiet when I need it.
                        To endure my awkwardness – believe me it feels worse for me.
                        To laugh with me in those moments when the light breaks through.
            Care.
            …but be tender.
And let me love you back.  Please don’t let this only be about me.  That just adds the guilt.  Share with me.  Let me be there for you.  As much as it is possible.” 

Has it settled in like a thick cloud again?

“Yes.”

Is it still hard to breathe?

“Yes…more…often…then…I…care…to…admit.
            But it’s less lonely here now, knowing you are close enough to see through the haze.
            It’s less fragile here now, knowing God’s hand holds me.”

But what’s different…what was done?

“You cared.
            And reminded me…
                        God cares.
            In that moment…

            That was just enough.” 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Bringing Gifts to Jesus

Bringing Gifts to Jesus

On Christmas Eve all across America, churches will fill with worshippers eager to celebrate the coming of Christ into this world.  Bridgeway, we will join those thousands for 4 services at our 2 Campuses, 3:30 and 5:00pm at each campus.  The theme of this Christmas Eve will be, in keeping with our Making Peace Series, “Bringing Gifts to Jesus.”  We will be focusing on the journey of the three Magi and the gifts they carried to Jesus. 

However, beyond a message, you will have a special opportunity to “Bring Your Gifts to Jesus.”  This year, we will be taking a special offering in all four services.  NONE, I REPEAT, NONE will stay at Bridgeway.  I’ve identified three projects as part of our Nazarene Network of Global Partners to bless with what I’m praying will be somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 dollars.  Each of these projects will receive an equal amount of whatever comes in the offering. 

Project 1:  I have a close friend, a real Peace-Maker, that is serving as a Global Missionary in Australia, planting a church that is attempting to deal with the Global Refugee Crisis in Brisbane.  Australia is a hub of immigration and their church wants to stand on the forefront of engaging those that have been displaced from their homes.  Emman and Jade Chapman and their two children, Caleb and Savannah Zoe are evidence of the sacrifice of Peace Makers. 

Project 2:  Education for Children IN Syria.  Our Global Ministries is engaged in educating the young children in the war-torn country of Syria.  This is our opportunity to engage the work of Jesus instead of listening to the talking heads on TV. 

Project 3:  The Global Refugee and Immigration Fund for the Church of the Nazarene.  This fund helps missionaries all across the globe to engage the Refugee Crisis.  Friends, we have boots on the ground making a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable.  We have a chance to join this Kingdom Work. 

I would like to challenge you to start praying now.  How much might God challenge you to give during this Christmas Season to impact the mission of Peace-Making in this world?  Bringing our gifts to Jesus is a way to make that happen. 


Let’s see God astound us on Christmas Eve with an offering like Bridgeway has never before seen for the purpose of giving it all away to our Global Partners. 

Thank You 
Pastor Jeff 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

#ChoosePeace

Hate fuels Hate
Violence begets Violence
Evil prompts Evil
This is the dance of the devil
Who lures us in
To the very actions we loathe
We become participants
In Fear
In Irrationality
In Bigotry
In Thought
In Glance
In Spreading the Death-Dealing Agenda of the devil

We cling to our reasons
Freedoms
Justifications
Political Ideology
And Religion
Yes…Religions of Violent Propaganda
And Demented Yearnings for Armageddon
And forget
Neglect
Write-Off
Dismiss as untimely, unsafe, unproductive
The words of the Savior…who we attempt to protect
With our “Merry Christmas”
And Nativity Scenes on Public Ground

Who suggests that 
Blessed are the Peacemakers
Cross-carrying trumps Sword-Wielding
Love conquers Hate
And Sacrifice is made Holy
In Advent we proclaim Peace
From our pulpits in church
But cry out “kill the bastards”
From the streets
We are getting permits to pack instead
Of getting on our knees to pray
We post
We tweet
We meme
But…refuse to deny ourselves
Take up our cross
And follow the one
Who reaches out in risk
Shares tables with betrayers
Crosses bridges with the outsiders
Forgives the unforgiveable
Whose agenda is Life and Love
Grace and Peace
Hope and Transformation

May God Break the Fear in our Hearts
With the Perfect-Love of Christ
May we refuse to
Dance with the Devil
Choosing Hope
Instead of Hate
Loving
Instead of Loathing
Friend-making
Instead of Fear-Mongering
Brotherhood
Instead of Bigotry
Reconciliation
Instead of Reactionary Evils

It’s that kind of love
That could get us killed
Certainly
But we might be
In good company
With the One
Whose Love Triumphed
Even in Death.
Or it could
Be the difference
Between the brutality of today
And the blessings of

Tomorrow.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Praying for our Enemies, Really?

How ought I pray for them exactly, Jesus? 

I know what you said, but given our current situation, your words seem a bit absurd, Jesus.  You once said to us, Matthew 5:4“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  Jesus, obviously you forgot to put the qualifications on that statement.  You should have been more specific.  At what point do our enemies become so dangerous, callous, brutal, and filled with evil that they are no longer candidates for prayer?  Could you help us with that?  I remember the guy that wanted you to put qualifications on “our neighbors,” and you messed him all up. 

But what about our enemy.  Could you be a bit more specific?

And what kind of prayers should we pray?  What did you have in mind exactly, Jesus?  Can we pray the words of Psalm 137, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”  Would that work?  Because that’s how we feel.  That’s the level of hate that seems to surge through our veins.  Should we pray that instead of the rain that you bring on the righteous and unrighteous alike, that our rain, the rain of our bombs finds their hideouts and holes?  Is that how we ought to pray, Jesus?  I’m just asking here, cause I’m not liking your idealism in the dark times in which we live.

We aren’t wired to pray for our enemies, Jesus.  We are wired for vengeance and wrath, fear and violence, vitriolic speech and contempt.  But prayer?  Prayer is dangerous Jesus, we’ve been down that road before.  That’s why we avoid it.  Once we start praying, you start aligning.  You start aligning our hearts with yours.  You begin to open our eyes to see those “others” the way you see them. 

Prayer is dangerous.  We know it, because stuff like broken-hearts, loves, and compassion happens as we pray.  This is not the time for that.  These are desperate times that call for desperate measures.  We can’t risk prayer if you are going to go trifling around in our emotions and ideas leaving us confused in a time when bold stances are required. 

No, not prayer.  We stand boldly and then ask you after the fact if we got it right. 

But pray for our enemies.  What good could come of that?  Isn’t this all a bit idealic, honestly?  Why pray, they’ve been hardened by the enemies lies.  They’ve sold their souls to the devil.  They are breathing out murderous threats…oh wait a minute.  I see what you just did there, Jesus.  That’s why we don’t pray.  We start praying and you go bringing up the Bible again.  Are you saying, Jesus, that it’s interesting that our enemies are located in the very space where another enemy to the gospel once stood breathing out murderous threats?  What was his name…Saul?  Yeah, that’s right, the enemy who was transformed by the very presence of Jesus, who became Paul. 

Enemies can become friends of the Gospel?  Really?  By praying for our enemy we are opening up the possibility that you seek to make our enemies, your friends?  But that’s scary, Lord.  That’s why we don’t pray.  If we go to praying you might pull an “Ananias” on us.  You might call us to embrace the risk of faith and go to our enemies in love and reconciliation.  No, that’s ok.

We won’t pray.  We’ll just stand boldly and ask you later if we got it right. 

But what if, what if, through prayer you were able to change hearts, reveal Christ, and breakthrough with the Kingdom of God in a God-forsaken place?  Now, I’m just talking crazy, Jesus.  See this is why I don’t want to pray, you get me sounding as foolish and absurd as you sound.  These are dark times, we need logic not idealism.   We need a course of action not disruptive movements of your Spirit. 

But what if, what if praying is a way of holding on the hope that you aren’t quite done yet?

What if praying for my enemies means that you might still break in and save?

You know, while we are at it, I’ll just let you know another reason why I don’t really care to pray right now Jesus.  Because in praying, I risk in aligning my heart with yours for you to reveal the places in which the enemy is already at work in me.  The enemy’s work that produces all kinds of hate, fear, and prejudice. 

I don’t want to get to praying, Jesus and you tell me that my hatred is not justified and in fact it is listed in Galatians 5 as an obvious sign of the sinful nature. 

I don’t want to get to praying, Jesus and feel rebuked for my willingness to sacrifice wholesale the lives of the innocent on the altar of my own protection.  I don’t want you to tell me it’s not ok to be afraid.

I don’t want you to tell me that I’ve ripped a few Bible verses out of context to justify my prejudice, suggesting that it’s destiny that the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael are forever locked in battle.  No, I cling to those verses, they are my out.  I don’t want to start praying, Jesus and you go to trifling with my reading of the Bible. 

What ought I pray exactly, Jesus?

“That we might all become sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven?”  Really, I’m not ok with my inability to make my eternal family.  Yet you love? 

What ought I pray exactly, Jesus?  Can’t I just stand boldly alongside the other non-praying people and ask you  later if we got it right? 

What’s that…no.  That’s not how this works.  We seek you first and your righteousness.  Can you make prayer a little less intrusive and dangerous?  No? 

What ought I pray exactly, Jesus?

Perhaps, something like this…
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come (not mine),
your will be done (not mine),
    on earth (right now and even in Syria and the Middle East) as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors (even our enemies).
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Ok, Jesus we will pray for our enemies.  Even if we are labeled absurd.  I guess you wore that label well, maybe it will fit us as well. 


Amen.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Crossing the Line: Settling the Jesus Question

“There’s a line and I’ve crossed it.  Some will say that I’ve lost it.”  These are the words of a song that I recently listened to that gripped me in a way few things have in recent years.
 
A line.

God has drawn a line in the sand and invited us to step across.  Will we, excuse me, will I heed that call? 

What’s the line?

The line is Jesus!  The line is the call to follow Jesus.  At the crux of this entire “being Christian thing” is Jesus.  Our belief about Jesus, who he is, His claim upon our lives, and what He’s calling us to is the single most pressing issue in our lives.  Have you settled the Jesus question? 

Jesus is the HINGE on which all of human history swings.  One of the earliest “line-crossing” statements made in the Scriptures regarding Jesus comes from the mouth of Peter in Acts 4, “…for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  This is what settling the Jesus question means.  Do you believe that?  This has been one of the most hotly contested statements throughout history and especially in our modern times.  Jesus is THE WAY to TRUTH, LIFE, WHOLENESS, and HOPE. 

This is not an exclusionary statement as though we are purposefully trying to keep people out.  No, the Jesus movement is the most inclusive movement in all of history.  Jesus didn’t differentiate amongst women or men, religious or sinner, poor or rich, alien or stranger, broken or self-righteous.  Jesus issues a call to all.

This is not a statement of pride as though I’ve figured something out that many in the world have missed.  No, I didn’t figure anything out.  In fact I wasn’t looking for Jesus at all.  I was a miserable wretch of a man who was one day accosted by Jesus at 25 years old in a chapel in Macedonia.  I wasn’t looking for Him, He came looking for me. 

This is not simply a Heaven/Hell question.  The minute someone says, “Jesus is the only way,” others will begin to ask, does that mean “so and so” won’t be in Heaven.  There is one thing in this world that I’m deeply thankful for and that’s not being in charge of who gets “in” Heaven or who ends up “in” hell, whatever that might mean.  What it does mean, however, is that if anyone gets “in” Heaven, no matter who they are (including me – wait, especially me) it’s because there was a cross on a hill on a Friday afternoon that became the altar on which both death and sin were defeated and an empty tomb on a Sunday that pointed Humanity to redemptive hope. 

Jesus is the line. 

He’s the line.  His call to follow is our call to cross the line.  That’s where things get difficult.  Oh, if it were only about getting “in” to Heaven.  If it were only about a magical prayer, once prayed, meant guaranteed bliss somewhere in the future.  But it’s the call to follow that gets us.  Because that means something now.  The call to follow is a costly call. 

We are wired for cost-benefit analysis.  How can I maximize the benefits for the absolute minimum in cost?  That doesn’t work with Jesus.

See on top of being the HINGE, the Bible seems to suggest that He is LORD.  To suggest that He is Lord means that to settle the Jesus questions means settling the Lordship question.  Does Jesus have full, unrestricted, unhindered reign in my life?  Is my life shaped by full allegiance to Jesus? 

Careful here…not so fast.  No flippant “Yes, of course he does” will work here!  If Jesus is Lord of your life, that means He is jacking up your life each and every day.  The Lordship question means we understand that we can’t serve two masters.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our Greed.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our Safety.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our Prejudice and Pride.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our Comfort.  We can’t call Him Lord and serve our ____________ (you fill in the blank.)

No, stepping across the line affects everything.  Crossing the line will put you at odds with the side out which you just stepped.  It’s in the line of the song…”Some will say that we’ve lost it.”  Those that stay safe from Jesus on the other side of the line won’t get you.  They can’t, they are serving other masters.  Even some who seem to be of the same religious tribe will be confused.  Jesus is ok in our culture as long as He’s a privatized spiritual guru alongside Buddha that teaches us to behave well or the one who endorses and baptizes our agendas and political schemes, subservient to our Constitution and political parties.  But when Jesus becomes LORD!  Well, look out.  Some will think that you’ve lost it.

Because Jesus doesn’t seem to care all that much about…
Our constitutional rights
Our economic flourishing
Our comfort
Our American dream
Our privilege
and the list could go on…

No, Jesus appears to have a higher priority!  That priority is the coming of His Kingdom.  To cross the line is to step from this world and into His Kingdom and that will mess up everything.  It will mess up what you do with your checkbook, your political decisions, your aspirations and ambitions, your job, your family, and who you keep company with.  It will push you into places of deep compassion, sacrificial love, the anguish of forgiveness, silly generosity, time-consuming prayer, dangerous hospitality, and a myriad of other postures that aren't easy.  

It’s not comfortable.

It’s not safe.

Remember the One that calls us to cross the line spent 3 years hanging out with a bunch of hooligans, one of which was a terrorist (look up Judas the Zealot if you doubt me), made space at tables for all the wrong kinds of people, whose good work landed Him on a cross, and who even in His dying breath was blessing a scoundrel hanging next to Him. 
    
Some will say that we’ve lost it. 

If we cross the line I mean. 

See, here’s the tricky part.  You can’t hang out with Jesus long without at some point being confronted by the Jesus question.  You can avoid it, try to rationalize it away, attempt to diminish its impact, or try to get as close to the line and its blessings without crossing it.  But the line is still there. 

I’ve been guilty for two long of straddling that line.  But no longer. 

There’s a line, and by the grace of God and the power of His Spirit at work in me, I am crossing it.  I want nothing more than the Kingdom, I yield forever more to my Lord.  I long to align my life with the priorities of Jesus. 

For years, I pastorally and piously prayed, “Break our hearts for what breaks yours, God.”  Did I mean it?  I thought so.  But maybe what I meant is “Break our hearts for what is convenient and doesn’t cost much, what is safe and comfortable, what will give me the sense that I’m doing enough without actually pushing me over the line.”  Maybe that’s what I meant.  But no longer. 

I’m taking the risk.

I’m crossing the line.

Some will say that I’ve lost it. 

But…

The next line of the song goes something like this, “Who cares what they say. I have found my joy, the joy of knowing You, Jesus.”  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Nothing New Under the Sun: A Christian response to the senseless Evil in both Beirut and Paris

A Christian response to the senseless Evil in both Beirut and Paris

Once again the images of senseless violence and the tragic, unexplainable loss of life were imprinted on our minds after the scenes of last week’s terror in Beirut and Paris.  We were again confronted by the very real embodiment of evil.  Images of the horrific devastation caused by a few radicalized extremists aroused in us a myriad of different emotions; compassion for those that lost their lives and their families, anger at those that would perpetrate such violence, confusion as to how this could happen, and  fear about when this could land in our towns and cities.  It has many of us reeling.  There were quick responses, some good and some bad.  It was beautiful to see the call for #prayforparis.  There was support for the Parisian people and a willingness to stand alongside our long-time allies.  (Unfortunately this support didn’t translate to the people of Beirut --I’ll speak to this in a moment.)  There was the call to quick and immediate military response against the strongholds of ISIS.  There was also the fearful statements that appeared to lump all refugees fleeing from Syria with the extremists.  Of course there was the finger-wagging and the blame game as to whose fault this was.  When we are left reeling by evil, some good and some bad always seems to emerge.  But the crux of all of this is the word evil. 

In the Christian tradition, evil is a very real, pervasive force at work in this world that seeks to contradict, usurp, mitigate, push back, and ultimately destroy the work of God’s Kingdom-making here on earth.  Evil has been at work throughout the whole of human history (in the Christian tradition – after the fall in Genesis 3 and 4).  Evil has agendas: domination, destruction, depair, and ultimately death.  Evil can’t be ignored or wished away.  Evil rages.  It lashes out.  It wrecks lives.  It creates “reactions” that often trade evil for evil.  Evil evokes fear and turns sensible human beings into death-dealing brutes.  Here’s the tricky thing…evil wears many faces. 

In the Christian tradition, we will often talk about “powers and principalities.”  In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul states,  “12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  He seems to suggest that the faces evil wears will change, but the underlying force of evil is the unseen anti-Kingdom (of God) powers and principalities that threatens the live-giving, peace-establishing, hope-offering agenda of God.  It is against evil and the forces of darkness that we as Christians struggle.  Why might this be important?

The terror that we experienced last week was the latest iteration of an ancient problem.  There is nothing new under the sun.  When I say that I don’t mean we should just accept it as fact, become indifferent and complacent, or throw up our hands in despair and say, “what’s the use.”  No, that’s precisely what evil would have us do.  What I mean is that ISIS is the latest in the line of evil, barbaric, and savage forces of darkness.  We would do well to keep that in front of us so that we are less surprised, less reactionary, and more purposefully responsive. 

In just the 20th and 21st century evil has worn many faces.  This is not an exhaustive list. 
Evil has worn the faces of:
Hitler’s Nazi Regime
Stalin’s brutal and horrendous murderous campaigns
The hooded bodies of the Ku Klux Klan
Jim Crow Laws
The savagery of genocide in countries like Bosnia and Rwanda
The totalitarian dictatorships of Pol Pot, Pinochet, Idi Amin and many others
Timothy Mcveigh
Mass shootings at places like Columbine and Sandy Hook
Human Trafficking
Child Sex Trafficking
The Proliferation of Violence in the Inner Cities
Drug Cartels
Al-Qaeda
The Terrorists in Mumbai
The Boston Marathon Bombers
etc., etc., etc., 
And yes…ISIS. 

Evil has been claiming the lives of the innocent, leaving in its path a wake of horror, tragedy, and destruction in all corners of the earth for a long time.  Until we recognize its tenacious force and refuse to be lulled to sleep by our sense of indifference and our illusion of safety, it will continue to jump up and bite us, leaving us surprised, scared, and reeling.

Evil demands that Christians take a proactive stance.  What might that stance look like?

1.)     Prayer:  I know this seems so churchy to start off with, but I really believe this to be true.  God, according to the Scriptures, has wired this world for co-participation with humans.  Part of that participation is prayer.  Prayer is the spiritual force of communities of faith that recognize the unseen dimensions of evil and call upon God to act and ask God for the discernment and wisdom to know what to do when it is encountered.  Prayer is the posture of the believing people that acknowledges that the authority to overcome evil is not found in human ingenuity or good intentions (those have often unwittingly contributed to evil).  No, overcoming evil is about a community of faith surrendered to God’s will and work in this world.  It is about a life shaped and sold out to the priorities of God for this world.  Prayer is about a life oriented to God and drawing its direction and strength from God.  Prayer wages war against evil through heavenly means.  It pushes back darkness and declares the power of God.
a.       Note:  We must also pray for those that wage physical battle against evil.  God has seemingly used violence to mitigate (not end) evil.  However, those thrust into those positions pay a terrible toll.  

2.)    Abandoning Ethnocentrism:  What does that mean, right?  Too often we are only shocked by the horrors of evil when those affected already look a lot like us or live like us.  For us Westerners, it means we are often only horrified when other Westerners are affected by evil.  This is the reason Beirut got little airplay last week.  We expect such brutality in certain parts of the world, so it doesn’t hit us as hard.  Unfortunately such ethnic bias does nothing but perpetuate evil through prejudice, hatred, and malice.  We must be equally broken-hearted over the loss of life of the innocent.  We mustn’t write off certain people groups because they aren’t like us.  We should be horrified by the countless thousands of innocent mothers, children, men, and elderly that have been killed in the Syrian battles.  Compassion should know no color, ethnic origin, or religious creed. 

3.)    Peace-making:  This is tricky for us Christians.  Too often this is seen as a passive “Liberal” response of the weak who don’t understand the gravity and weight of evil.  This couldn’t be any less true.  Peace-making is hard work, grueling work, painful work.  It is the work that costs some their lives.  It is about engagement, proactive engagement in the lives of others.  It’s about bridge-building, diplomacy, education, intervention, reconciliation, forgiveness, caring for the broken and needy, the poor and disenfranchised.  There is nothing passive about peace-making.  Making peace cost Jesus his life and may do the same for us.

4.)    Generosity:  Did you know there are agencies, missionaries, and mission works happening in these areas and countries that are seeking to do the hard work of making peace right now?  Did you know they would be able extend their reach if we’d be more faithful in the giving of our finances?  As Christians we are called to generosity.  Engagement means funding those Kingdom-oriented methods of engaging evil and pushing back darkness before it lashes out and takes the lives of others. 

5.)    Quit Feeding the Pundits and Fear-Mongering Voices:  Right now there are people making lots of money off Christians whose rhetoric is hateful, arrogant, prejudicial, malicious, deceitful, and sensationalistic.  They spout and spew out claims that can’t be substantiated and drum up business for their books, shows, and speaking engagements by keeping us frenzied with fear.  It is time to stop buying the junk they are selling.  It is time we begin to weigh the words of the loud-mouthed pundits against the words of Christ and the example established in His gospels.  When they don’t align we must be willing to call out their ridiculousness. 

6.)    Love:  This is my last one for right now, though I could go on.  Love is the primary orientation of Christians toward the world.  Love is a life lived outward, toward God and others in hopes of being ambassadors of God’s desire for reconciliation with a lost and broken world.  Love is the power of God, poured out through His people to bring hope and healing to our world.  This is not sentimental love.  This is a love that gets in the mix, gets our hands dirty, makes sacrifices, and willingly tackles the most difficult systemic evils that seem to perpetuate terror in this world.  Love is God’s counter-force to evil.  Evil steals life and Love gives life, even if it requires giving up life to give life. 

ISIS is without a doubt a face of evil in our world and must be engaged through a variety of different means.  However, if we aren’t aware of the proliferation of evil, we will miss the next iteration until it jumps up and bites us.  If we are not conscious of the many faces evil wears, we will again be lulled to our places of indifference.  The intensity of the moment will pass.  Our Facebook filters will be replaced by our funny poses.  Our prayers for Paris will be replaced by our Christmas wish lists.  We will struggle in a year to remember when that “bad thing in Paris happened.”  And yet, evil will rage on.  We must begin now!  We must be proactively engaged to bring peace and healing to a world under the sway of death and destruction.  We must sell out for the Gospel as God’s preferred means bring all of humanity under the life-giving, peace-making, hope-offering reign of God.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Achilles Heel

COMPETENCE is the Achilles Heel of the Christian faith.  The more COMPETENT a person is the greater the temptation for that person to take care of things on his/her own.  If I am generally COMPETENT in ABILITY, perhaps I have talents that enable me to accomplish much with little concern for God’s will.  

If I am COMPETENT with LIFE CHOICES, perhaps I can put off the air of having things together, managing the exterior space of my life, the space that everyone sees.  If I am COMPETENT in KNOWLEDGE, perhaps I can maintain the illusion of wisdom and counsel.  If I am COMPETENT in WILL, perhaps I can most often make the appropriate choices, willing myself through great difficulty and trial while standing on “my own two feet.”  

Unfortunately, COMPETENCE is an OBSTACLE to faith.  The longer I cling to my own capabilities, the less I turn to God for the POWER and SUBSTANCE of GRACE that infuses all I do with HOLY POTENTIAL.  The COMPETENT PREACHER speaks well, relates to his/her audience, can be considered relevant and funny, offers engaging content with thought-provoking illustrations, but often lacks the PRAYERFUL ANNOINTING that comes on a person when they’ve been CALLED BEYOND their capabilities and into a space of complete DEPENDENCE on GOD.  The COMPETENT CHRISTIAN can fulfill all the exterior expectations of religious practice, being in the right places, reading the right things, often choosing the right moral direction at life’s little intersections, but often misses the FULL outpouring of GOD’S SPIRIT that TRANSCENDS our NATURAL ABILITIES and empowers us to live LIVES pointing to GOD alone.  THE COMPETENT CHURCH conducts its business well, EXCELS in its programs, hangs its hat on its staffing, and celebrates its EFFECTIVENESS in engaging it TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC, but often NEGLECTS the kind of KINGDOM-minded ministry that LEADS us into the UNCHARTERED WATERS of faith where we are utterly DEPENDENT on GOD every step of the way.  

COMPETENCE treats PRAYER as a last resort once all other OPTIONS have been tried and found wanting.  COMPETENCE treats GOD as a solution to a PROBLEM rather than the SOURCE of all LIFE. 
LORD, may we never SUBSTITUTE our COMPETENCE for DEPENDENCE and FAITH in you.   

Monday, October 26, 2015

Never Running Out

WORDS FAIL.  We live in a culture of “just enough” and “it’s running out.”  Many of us live paycheck to paycheck, just barely squeaking by.  Our bodies seem to run out of energy.  We’ve watched relationships apparently run out of love.  There’s either just enough or not quite enough.  The worries about the “amount left” seem to affect everything we do, including our relationship with God.  We often wonder, when is God’s love, mercy, grace, patience, and forgiveness going to come up short for me?  When is He going to run out…just like everything around us?  

GOOD NEWS – God never runs out!  God never has just enough!  God never just gets by!  God is OVER THE TOP!  That’s why I love the language of Scripture, it’s EXTREME.  It says things like…the grace of God that He “LAVISHED” (Eph. 1) on us.  We are promised that God can do “IMMEASURABLY” (Eph. 3) more than all we ask or imagine.  His love is described as “BEYOND KNOWLEDGE” (Eph. 3).  His grace is always “SUFFICIENT” (2 Cor. 12).  We are promised that His strength never fails us and we can do “EVERYTHING” (Phil. 4:13) through Him who gives us strength.  The grace of Jesus “OVERFLOWS” (Rom. 5) to the many.  

This EXTREME language reminds us that God has more than enough for all of us.  His supply never fails.  HE NEVER RUNS OUT!  His MERCY endures FOREVER.  His GRACE is LIMITLESS.  His LOVE is INEXPLICABLE.  

The only thing that runs out in our relationship with God is our words.  WORDS FAIL to capture the super-abundance of God who always goes OVER THE TOP and whose favor towards us can’t be measured.  Rest assured today!  GOD is OVER THE TOP in LOVE with you!  HE does not RUN OUT!  HE always has MORE THAN ENOUGH!!

Monday, September 28, 2015

The “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” Personality

Philippians 2:1-11

As a young parent, one of my favorite times of the day was bedtime (and no it wasn’t cause I was finally getting the kids to sleep – well not always).  No, I loved the bedtime because that was story time.  We had a shelf of favorite books.  We’d grab one and in our best character voices, we’d read and laugh with our little ones.  It was quality time.  One of my favorite books to read to my children was If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  It’s just a cute book, right?  Wrong…it’s a life lesson.

What I didn’t realize when I was reading that book is how closely it mirrors life.  The whole premise of the book is very simple, “If you give a mouse a cookie, they will want a glass of milk.  If you give the mouse a glass of milk, they will want a straw.  If you give the mouse a straw they will want a napkin…and on and on and on.”  This book speaks to the truth that for some of us, the cookie is never enough.  There is always something more we want, we demand!  We have an unrelenting, insatiable demand for something more. 

Now, before I go pointing fingers, please understand…this is sometimes ME!  (Especially with God!!)  Often I will ask God for something, he will give it.  But when he gives it…immediately I try to inform Him of what He left out.  My list of demands seems to grow with every blessing He grants me.  Funny how that works right?  Perhaps I ought to try gratitude which leads to contentment a bit more often.  Yikes.  So there…there’s the plank in my eye.

Can we talk about your speck now?  Some of us have the kind of personalities where we are never content with the cookie that someone in our lives gives us.  We are takers.  We don’t want to admit that, but we are.  We want cookie, milk, straw, napkin, toothbrush…and on and on.  Trouble is…when we don’t get it, we get disappointed and bitter.  We feel short-changed even as we are sucking down that cookie.  People in our lives run around trying to make sure they’ve met all our demands, asking for forgiveness every time they’ve run out of milk.  There is just no pleasing a mouse…or a taker.  They always want more. 

Do you fall into that category?  Be honest…are you hard to please?  Do you ever stop and take time to consider all the cookies you’ve been given, content yourself with that and just give thanks?  Do you ever stop and look to those around you and offer to give them some of your cookies?  Do you wear people out demanding they meet another need you have or think you have?  Do you live bitter constantly because everyone else around you seems to have enough milk, another napkin…and all you have is the cookie? 

Tough questions…right?  But necessary.  God has called us in Christ Jesus away from being a “taker.”  According to Phil. 2, it says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Can I also tell you that gratitude is the best weapon against being “taker.”  Gratitude leads to contentment. 

If you have a cookie monster mouse in your life, it may be time to start drawing loving boundaries instead of feeding into their unrelenting, insatiable demand for more.  When is the last time you simple said, “No!”?  Drawing healthy boundaries avoids the co-dependency of trying to please the mouse in your life.  

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hope is Dangerous

The hopeful person is a dangerous person.  To hope is to creatively imagine a future different than the present.  It is to imagine a world freed from the constraints of present power structures, unhitched from the chains of social, economic, and racial distinctions.  To speak a hopeful word is to speak a disruptive word to the protectors of the status quo, those who through privilege, good fortune, social capital and influence, wealth and power, seek to preserve and defend the “way things are” because they reap the blessings of the current establishment.  

The hopeful person is a citizen of humankind and not merely a member of a narrowly defined clique or subculture, but one who has drunk deeply from the myriad of human experiences, who has looked deeply into the mosaic of human faces, whose heart has been wounded by the suffering and injustices of intolerance, abuse, violence, and exploitation.  But, having taken in the despairing realities of many, refuses despair as an option, instead mustering every bit of God-given strength, courage, and creativity to inspire the dream of difference.  The hopeful person is one who believes that in God’s wiring of humanity that the flame of human solidarity still flickers in the hearts of many.  Certainly there are those that seek to extinguish that flame, dousing that fire with the putrid waters of greed, arrogance, and selfishness.  But the hopeful person believes that all that fire needs is a bit of wind, a bit of breath blown on the embers to ignite it to a raging, all-consuming fire, one that consumes our lethargy, complacency and indifference.  The hopeful person prays…”Lord breathe on the embers so that the fire might again rage.”  

The hopeful person expends themselves, giving themselves away for a cause much greater than themselves, who refuses personal comfort and security as the end-all-be-all of human striving.  No, the hopeful person lives in pursuit of change, affecting and promoting change on the behalf of others, giving voice to the desperation of those whose voices have been quieted.  The hopeful person has no towel in their hands, for there is no giving up or throwing to the mat that towel.  Oh, they will draw the vitriolic condemnations of those in power, those threatened by promise of creative change.  They will be distrusted and abused, discredited and accused.  But they will prevail.  They will cling to the belief that God’s writing a redemptive story in this world and we are the pens he holds in his hand.  Though some may smear our ink, God continues to write for He will not be denied the final word.  

Hope is rooted in God’s promise of a world redeemed.  Hope is anchored in the example of Jesus.  Hope is made possible through the faithfulness of God’s Spirit traversing this earth awakening people to dream.  Hopeful people are dangerous because they announce to the world that things will not remain as they are.  God is at work.  Hopeful people are dangerous because they dare to dream!


Be a #hopetimist today!  One who believes that though the world is not as it should be, God is busy, at work, making it as it ought to be.    

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Breaking up with Old Friends

Sometimes it's just too easy to go out in search of our old friend. Most of us have one, that friend that's been there in times of stress and trouble, the one that's always waiting for us when we are frazzled and desperate. The old friend is always there. That old friend is like the child's blankie. It's security. It's been there through the thick and thin. It doesn't judge or ignore us. Notice I'm saying it and not he/she. For many of us our old friend is a compulsion, an addiction, an unhealthy habit, or some form of stinkin thinkin. Our old friend is the place we run when we are at wits end or lonely, the bottle, the pills, the website, chat room, credit card, cutting, eating disorder, ego, attitude, etc..
Though the old friend is always there, it has the propensity of getting us in trouble. After a long night or few weeks with the old friend, we are worse off than we started. Our old friend promises so much but leaves us broke down, wore out, and let down. Our old friend just can't seem to deliver. We might forget about our problems for a moment, but when we've stepped away from our old friend, they hit us 10x harder.
Maybe it's time to break up with our old friends!
In John 15, Jesus calls us friends. That's quite a statement from the One through whom all things were created. He calls us friend. He steps into that void left by our old friend and fills that space with grace and mercy, patience and peace. His friendship offers healing and strength to weather the storms of life. His voice can calm our anxious hearts. Our old friends seem to take life from us whereas our new friend Jesus gives his life on our behalf that we might find life. Our old friends may be comfortable but Jesus is compassionate seeing us through struggle and granting sufficient grace. Our new friend stands before us with arms open wide and invites, "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
Who is your old friend? Maybe it's time for a breakup. Maybe it's time to get a better friend.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan - Day 9

Day 9 Readings
Matthew 9
Luke 9
John 9

He must of looked a bit foolish.  His head must have whipped from one side to the next, every step causing him to pause.  He didn't saunter.  There was no air of dignity about his walk.  Instead, he leapt from one place to the next.  He sprang about like child who for the first time entered a world of wonder.  This was the first stroll he'd ever taken that he could see where he was walking.  He'd been blind from birth, but Jesus had opened his eyes.  Now he saw everything for the first time.  All things had become new.

This is the story of the man in John 9 from your reading today.  A flat reading has him walking home unphased by the incident.  A full reading has him overwhelmed by sight, dancing and prancing about like a man with no care of his dignity in the world.  We are reminded today about the gift of sight.

What do you see?
When reading the Scriptures, we are often confronted with the question, "What do we see?"  Today's readings throw us against that question, not only in the life of the blind man, but in a variety of ways.

Matthew 9:
What do you see in a room full of tax collectors (cheats and sell-outs) and sinners?  Do you see a table to avoid or great dinner companions?

What do you see in the presumptuous actions of a bleeding woman?  A rule breaker that gets in the way as Jesus makes his way to somewhere really important or a divine appointment with someone in need?

What do you see on the seashore filled with broken hurting people?  Do you see people that will require a lot of energy and time or do you see a responsibility to act on the behalf of those struggling and suffering throughout life?

Luke 9:
What do you see in a crowd of thousands that are hungry?  Do you see people that need to go get a job, stop expecting hand outs and fend for themselves or do you see an opportunity to display the generosity of God?

What do you see in those moments when you discover something profound about God?  A chance to stay put, camp out and never go away from that moment or an opportunity to come down off the mountaintop with a fresh gift of God to give to others?

The Scriptures stretch and expand our vision.  They invite us to see things differently, through the eyes of Jesus.  The question remains, in seeing all things new, will you prance about like a child overcome by the wonder, or will you saunter away wishing you could unsee what you saw, cause not seeing was easier than seeing what Jesus sees?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan - Day 8

Day 8 Readings -
Matthew 8
Luke 8
John 8

Playing Around in the Text
We are often locked in a rigid, flat, one-dimensional reading of the Bible.  Throughout this reading plan, I've been challenging you to get lost in the Stories.  One can't wander too far away from the comfort of home, when the path is already flat, straight, and well-marked.  One-dimensional reading of the Bible treats the path as though it's already clearly marked out.  What you get is what you immediately see.  But what if?  What if the Scriptures invite us into creativity and imagination.  What if reading the Scriptures is like playing around in the text?  To some of us, this can almost seem blasphemous.  The Scriptures aren't to be played with...these are serious.

Throughout the centuries, the Jewish Rabbis have worked at perfecting the art of interpretation of the Hebrew Bible (what we call the Old Testament).  The method they use is called Midrash.  Midrash isn't a technical, rigid, stale approach to the text.  Midrash invites the reader into playfulness.  Midrash recognizes that in the stories of the Bible, there are gaps, places where details are left unsaid.  These gaps mean that the text has an abundance of meaning.  At each gap, the reader is invited into the a moment of wonder, of surprise and shock, of playfulness and creativity, of (dare I say) imagination.  In this playfulness, the text comes alive in new ways.  Reading the Scriptures, by means of Midrash, invites the reader to step off the well-beaten path only to arrive at the destination in a new way.

Today's texts invite us into such encounter.  In John 8, we encounter a woman nearly stoned to death by the religious conservatives (the strict letter following folks) for her adultery.  These men make the mistake of asking Jesus what he thinks about this woman.  Here is where the gaps can make room for playfulness.  The story tells us that Jesus, knelt down and wrote something in the sand.  Have you ever stopped to think, "What did he write?"  "What did he draw?"  Reading the Bible invites us to linger in those moments.  Don't rush.  Let the Spirit of God to guide your imagination, evoke your creativity.  I've thought of a number of different options (that I'm not going to tell you here because I want you to make your own discoveries.)  In both Luke and Matthew, Jesus calms the storm.  Great.  One dimensional reading tells us, "Jesus can calm the storms of life."  Sure, absolutely.  But what else?  What else is happening on those boats?  What comes before?  What comes after?  Are there connections to be made?  Who is freaking out in the boat?  Who is trying to act tough?  Who is hung over the side crying out for momma?  Did you give yourself room to play?

Playing around in the text invites the text to come alive.

However, there are a few guiding principles for us.

1.)  Playing around in the text doesn't mean the text can ultimately mean whatever you want it to mean.  Playfulness fills up the text, but it doesn't conform the text to your wishes.  Our faith tradition establishes some boundaries (think the lines of a football field or a basketball court).  These lines protect us from landing out of bounds.  The more we understand our tradition and the more we compare what we read to other passages of the Scripture, the more we will feel the freedom to play around faithfully.

2.)  Often our playfulness and creativity will be determined by where we are standing in life.  There is no neutral place from which we can stand and make sense of the Scriptures.  We are shaped by the context of our lives.  I often hear people say, "every time I read the same story it means something different to me."  In some ways that's true.  However, I'd like to change the language a bit. "Every time I read the same story I find myself standing in a different place of life which enables me to see the story from a different angle, which adds depth and meaning to the text."

3.)  It's always more fun playing with friends.  The Scriptures were never simply intended to be read as my book (in the individual sense).   The Scriptures were intended to be read as our book (in the communal sense).  Playing around is always more fun when there are others to share in the delight.  Reading the Bible well means finding people with whom you can share what God is showing you and hearing what God is showing others.  Community can also help to serve as a safe-guard from landing out of bounds.

4.)  A Trail Guide is always helpful.  If you are going to play around and wander off the beaten path, don't go alone.  When you read, invite the Holy Spirit to take your hand as you journey.  Allow the Spirit to be the One that stirs your imagination and invites you into creativity.  The Spirit is faithful to help us discover new things in the text and convict us when we begin to use the text to justify our selfish intentions and ambitions.

Read, play, have fun!  Let the stories come alive today.    

Monday, June 22, 2015

Gospel Reading Plan - Day 7

Day 7 Readings:
Matthew 7
Luke 7
John 7

St. Augustine, perhaps one of the most influential early Christian leaders of the first 400 years of the church, once wrote, "Scripture teaches nothing but charity, nor condemns anything except cupidity, and in this way shapes the minds of men." These words are found in his book called On Christian Doctrine. This book is one of our earliest pieces we have describing how followers of Jesus ought to read the Bible. (Yes, this was even an issue way back then.) What he captures in this short statement is something I believe to be central to our reading of the Bible and today's readings in particular.  

Augustine will emphasize over and over again throughout this work that the reading of the Bible should produce charity. By charity, he did not simply mean giving to a non-profit organization you believe in from time to time. Charity is the early way of speaking about Love. For Augustine, this was a particular kind of love. It is the devoted, rightly-ordered, sacrificial love of humanity toward God and their love toward one another for the sake of God. Let me say it this way, "If you are reading the bible and it doesn't produce the fruit of Love in your life for God and others for the sake of God, then you are reading the Bible wrong."  

By cupidity, Augustine is describing a life driven by all the wrong kinds of passion. It is a life when our love is thrown off course and we love all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. The Bible is a re-ordering and re-orienting of our lives back to God. Any reading of the bible that neglects this re-orientation is a misreading of the Bible.

Where might Augustine get such confidence to speak with such clarity about the right way of reading the bible? Today's passages might be a good place to start. Throughout today's passages you are encountering a similar theme. The validity of our lives, our actions, and our identities in Christ isn't determined by what we say, how much we know, or how often we do the right "churchly" stuff. It is determined by the fruit our lives produce. Those that give themselves to a journey with Jesus should have that journey evidenced in the sweet tasting fruit of their lives. For Augustine, and for many Christian writers, the fruit is very clearly a life of rightly-ordered, God-enjoying, neighbor-respecting love. In Luke 7, Jesus demonstrates this himself. Driven by the mission of Love, every where he went lives were changed, people were restored, lives were healed. (The power of Love is healing). When asked by John the Baptist's followers if Jesus was in fact the One they had been waiting for, He simply says, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor." (Luke 7:22) Jesus simply says, "You've seen the fruit of Love for yourself. What do you think?"

No matter how new one is to the Scriptures, no matter what tradition one finds oneself in reading the bible, no matter how well or poorly one understands the complexities of Scripture, if the fruit of love isn't being produced, "you are reading the bible wrong." Jesus might end by saying from Matthew 7, "everyone that hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is is like a wise man who built his house on a rock." (Matthew 7:24)