for the love of donuts.

Paul writes in his letter to the early church in Rome, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race” (9:3)  This was mentioned in class today, in example of just how important it was to expand and increase the knowledge of the Love of God in the communities we love.   “I donutsdon’t think I’ve ever loved a church I’ve served that much!”, was said with a smile to many nods in the crowd.  As much as I’ve loved the Church, and the church I’ve served at – I don’t think I would ever elevate them above my love for Jesus.  I don’t think Paul was either, but was rather making an emotional appeal to explain just how passionate he was to see his fellow countrymen knowing the Love of God.

But being in “Church History” lectures all of this week, I can’t help but think about the history of God’s people seeming to put other seemingly good things ahead of the Love of Jesus throughout thousands of years.

Each time I’ve driven between my hotel and seminary, I’ve noticed new things like a kid who is somewhere they’ve never been before.  I’ve driven past a large national cemetery, with it’s rows of white grave markers.  I’ve driven past a large Finnish paper products plant, that I should probably purchase stock in for the sake of my family’s use of paper plates.  But two places I’ve noticed on each drive seem to stand out in their contrast and commonality with one another:  A small local donut shop that closes when they sell out late each morning, and a large commercial bakery with loading docks and trucks lined up to a giant warehouse building.

Both of these endeavors could be labeled “successful”. It would seem silly for someone to approach the small local shop and prod them:  “Don’t you care about sharing donut goodness?”  “Don’t you want the masses to enjoy the same donuts you’ve enjoyed?”  “See the bakery down the street?  Surely they have a truer passion for donuts!”

Yet so often throughout history this same mentality has crept into the church.  We take the “Great Commission” not as a direction to live and love, but as a mandate to succeed at with all the resources and power we can amass.  So we divide and conquer.  We establish.  We claim.  We protect.  All in the name of a Jesus who came to die.  To give away.  To release.  To submit to the will of the Father.

Yes – I love Jesus. Yes, I want the people in the community I love to know the freedom and New Life offered in receiving His Love and Hope by Faith.  It has transformed my life, and continues to even as I don’t deserve it.  I’m sure the giant bakery I drive by is run by great people who truly love their baked goods.  But I suppose what I’m saying is – it’s really good for us to remember our love for Jesus above our love for everything – even the church.  That may lead to heresy.  But it might just lead to some amazing donuts as well…

..and what might happen if, the church continued to be filled with and sending out people of all ages and every background who were passionate in sharing their love of donuts?  We may not even need the trucks. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

an illustration…

churchhistory(asked to write a short essay on why one might study “Church history”)

            Imagine you discover a new Kingdom, and the King invites you in to spend some time together.  In your conversation you learn about His heart, and the amazing power He has over an infinite number of things, and continue to be drawn in.  You decide there could be nothing quite better than serving Him and enjoying being a part of His Kingdom forever.  As you become a citizen, you receive a book that has all the ways of this new land written within, but some of them seem beyond reach, and others seem beautiful woven into stories that should be dwelt on, and talked about with others. The King also seemed to hint that this book is growing, and you’re now a part of the grand story.

Excited about this new opportunity you head into the local village.  You can’t wait to learn more about the ways of life in this new land and meet the people who’ve lived here a long time already.  You know already – your life will never be the same.

On your way toward the town square, you get pulled aside by a small group of people.  In this group, everyone seems to be holding their Kingdom book tightly across their chest, as if proving their love for it visually.  Their leader explains he wanted to connect with you while you were still pure. Before you were “influenced” by wrong thoughts or practices.  They invite you to their community, where you’ll have your own room to study the pages of the Kingdom book in private.

Over time and conversation, your frustration with this small community grows.  They won’t tell you anything about others, how they arrived, or what life so far has been like.  They say it would make you impure.  There are some questions you have about one story in particular that doesn’t seem to make sense, but they won’t let you ask others about it – because here only private study is allowed.    This small group of people also seems to have issues that could be resolved by going into the village and talking with others, but they don’t seem interested.  You’re not sure this is the Kingdom you were so excited to be a part of.

One morning you wake, and find a note left by the King himself next to a book on the chair in your room.  He has written, “This may help.”  As you flip through the pages, you find story after story of how others have arrived here, and it begins to remind you of your own journey here.  The ways others discovered this amazing King make you smile as you remember when you first met him.  Some of them wondered about the same mysterious story as you, and here are the thoughts of several who have spent time dwelling on it.   Their insights make your heart beat faster, and you breathe deeply as you continue to turn pages.  All of a sudden, you realize a story from this book is exactly the insight this small community could use to solve a current problem.  Excitedly, you run to the leaders to share with them what you’ve found.  Gasping, they try to take this new book from you.  They explain that the people who wrote and lived those stories did not agree with them 100%, and if you did not hand it over immediately, you would not be able to stay.

As you walked away with both books tucked under your arms, you took a long slow breath of fresh air.  The village stretched out in front of you, and you were filled with a new hope for life together with these Kingdom people.

safety

A few weeks ago, my wife sent me a picture our daughter had drawn.   A stick figure that seems wrapped in a straight jacket, that my wife (because she rocks, naturally) asked our daughter to tell her more about.daddycross

Let me pause for a moment to remind the reader: We’ve had our daughter home from the DR Congo for a bit over a year now.  She’s learned a lot, and grown in so many ways.  One of the sources of her growth has been involvement in church activities and lessons.  A focus of our children’s’ ministry here at Moundford Free Methodist Church last year was to teach the kids about faithful followers of Jesus.  People who suffered for the cause of spreading the good news of the Love of Jesus – even when there were sometimes large prices to pay.

So when our daughter explained the picture to mommy, she shared “It’s daddy, and the mean people tied him up.”  My wife asked why, and she said “Because he was telling people about Jesus.”

It may have just been a silly moment of imagination.   But it may have actually been something in the back of her mind/heart for months now – wondering if and when daddy might actually be taken away or hurt because of how he spends his time telling others about the Love of Jesus.  We’ve assured her, thankfully, daddy doesn’t have to worry about this.  My job is safe (although maybe it should seem more threatening to the powers that be at times?) to do.

It made me incredibly thankful, when I allowed it to settle. Hanging from my door lately is a leather cross made by Coptic Christians in Egypt, given to me by a friend back in college.  It reminds me each day as I walk into my office – how thankful I can be to have a place where my life and work is not threatened each day simply because of Jesus.  It causes me to pause and pray for those for whom “safety” means something so far away and unknown.

I’m thankful my daughter (now) doesn’t have to worry about daddy being hurt or killed by “the mean people” who don’t know about the Love of God.  But there are children globally who aren’t free from that worry.  May we lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer even now, and live lives that strive to not take for granted the freedom we have to proclaim the love & peace of Jesus in the unique ways we’re given…

FMYC 2017

FMYC

Relentless

Improbable, unstoppable, and unable to be contained

Not looking to be explained away by simple answers, the chance for

Us to escape is not that great, because our fate has been decided no matter how hard we may fight it.

We are His, Beloved.

 

And I don’t mean to rub it in but some things are urgent to understand.

Like when a man lights a fire to a chair,

when life isn’t fair and all the things that could go wrong seem they do,

When you have spent your last dollar, last moment, last emotional drop of what you could summon,

And nothing’s coming to prove it was all worth while, so you try to smile because the world tells you

That’s what we mean by strength.

 

But the length that you’ve been stretched to, a wretch too focused on exterior to really notice.

You’re imprisoned, and the risen Savior wants to set you free.  Relentlessly.

The

Spirit of Adoption – not an option for identity crisis, so receive this in a way that forms your soul – you don’t need to have control.  Salvation comes as release and freedom, crashing through

The false boundaries of before, when we were too poor and unsure the pure grace of God we find as Jesus comes near, because fear doesn’t deserve to tell your story – the more you and I realize the glory so close at hand, set free from all demands – we’re empowered to take a stand.

In a land of those who feel unworthy, for only thirty bucks a month you change a life for generations

And nations are transformed by love of God – revealed in those who’ve made a new decision to join His mission.  One that envisions the Kingdom coming near, and not all of us getting out of here.

Because our eyes have seen a great light, reflected in smaller sources – courses not yet set in stone – still time to own as we’ve shone bright – no matter how dark the night, we know that death has no power over New Creation Life.

For this, some good advice is: to shut off our devices, as they flood us with news, refuse to get stuck buffering – too many are losing a sensitivity to the causes of suffering.  So take action, be filled with compassion, cause love is not Rationed out for grand moments of global mission – but also for those currently in your daily vision. We realize that getting “into the Kingdom” is less about Jesus as a key that unlocks a gate, and more like Jesus is a Love who has already conquered hate

And when you Love like this, you’re not holding a ticket punched for heaven, but leavening dough here and now, from the west out to the east, a bread of life for a table set to feast.  Proclaiming and partaking, by simply taking time to sit by those who are lonely, because if you only want to be close to Jesus – you draw near to those His heart breaks for – and aches for them to know they are dear.

It’s clear we’re sometimes too focused on all the ways He Frees US – but when you don’t see those who are suffering – you don’t see Jesus.

But Mercy is Multiplied as the gospel arrives and thrives in the lives of those wearing masks – not another task on a stack piled high but a child of God unable to deny He’s a good Father – He did not cause your pain, but holds you through it.  And if you want it redeemed only he can do it.

But be prepared beyond the shouts, because doubts will begin to assail, asking what about when we fail?  What about when rooster crows, and Jesus knows every time but never excuses Himself from the table.  He’s able to forgive, and give new invitation, a declaration of value, of Beloved.  And asking – Do you Love me?

Then do not abandon your calling.  Stop stalling and falling through the cracks, when temptation slaps the chord, you cannot afford to fear, but hear it clear – Will you follow me?

Not only follow but set an example – be a sample – of how it looks when Kingdom takes

over,

As YOU lead, and intercede in what it looks like to bleed for the cause of loving others.

The sisters and brothers you once overlooked, recipes of a kingdom feast now cooked and set to table.

Cause you’re able and empowered for more, the curtain tore so we could explore all the gifts of Spirit – so come near it – and while you’re at it, bring a friend, ensure His transforming Love will not just be a trend but flow without end – by prayer and the Word – no longer blurred as you serve in ways only you’ve been wired.  And rewired as Creation is made New, that means you – all the way through.

We find you’ve done more than just joined the movement as apprentice.

You’ve been transformed and called Beloved by a God who remains Relentless…

inter-generational…

In so many areas of life/culture, groups of people are divided and set against each other.  By race, understandings, generations, cultures, experiences, etc.  The Church is always to be the place that no matter what your defining characteristics – we are ONE in Christ.  No matter what definitions the world gives you, the foundational characteristic of “Beloved by God, in need of His Grace” is enough to build on for the Kingdom.

Even in the midst of this, there are understandings that improve our ability to serve and work and celebrate life together as one body.  Overloading our accounts and pockets with grace, love, humility, and inviting the Holy Spirit to enable us to live/love like Christ are great places to start.

For years now, our culture seems to LOVE age-specific ministries. It’s great developmentally to focus on Jesus and life experiences in ways that are appropriate and easily assimilated into knowledge & life.  The problem is when we make these the primary focus of doing church well.  We have great kids’ programs for earning important badges.  Next, we have a youth group experience with mountain tops and focusing this highly emotional season of life on Jesus.  Next, we have students who enjoyed youth group so much – they want a similar experience with their peers as “College Age Ministry”.  When that goes well, it seems successful and natural to provide a “Young Adult Ministry”.  At some nebulous point after significant life events like owning a home, moving, getting married, etc…a person might simply quietly acquiesce into a “Regular Adult Class”, but not without first attempting a “(age range) Group”.

Like I said – some of this desire is good, and should be harnessed toward life transformation.  But some of this simply provides a false experience of a Biblically diverse community made from several generations contributing to life together in the name of Jesus.  Church is meant to be inter-generational, not just multi-generational.  It’s not enough to say, “Wow, our church has a lot of (desirable age group here)!”  Is that group integrated & connected with the other generations, self-identifying as a contributing and valued part of the whole?

Thankfully, many have been realizing this – and some never forgot it.  The warning I’ve heard in their writings have been – don’t assume the Love of Jesus will simply wash away the varied (and beautifully important) differences each generation brings to the table.  So in closing, I’ll include a chart here that I created after reading some articles/books on the topic.  I found it an interesting study, as an artist might appreciate the palate of colors available before beginning a new painting technique… (although I’m more of the artists’ admirer, as Jesus holds the brush) ( (Side note: The authors often indicated that any discussion on generational descriptions is an exercise in Fiction. Of course, we cannot say that all (generation) are like this. But as they’ve studied, certain characteristics seemed common, and worth noting.)

Chart1Chart2

sunrise

Sunlight breaks through hotel window.
A building crescendo toward a week to come.IMG_0807

Youth & beyond, a pond teeming
With life, some life anew.
So few moments
but filled with
Something esoteric to this umwelt.
As felt need meets prayers from home
That intercede
For transformation.

For some, simply vacation
But even this offers to displace
The patterns and anxieties normally served
God uses such a swerve
Even as they work up the nerve to speak.

And peek through clasped hands
A glance at a future yet undecided
Confided only in quietest of moments,
After noises fade, we find He has made

New Creation.

And I get to watch them take
first wobbly steps.
Get to speak Hope.

Someday they will run and dance.

And I will too.

 

Pentecost (a poem)

Dry.

Coughing as I breathe in, chest wheezing, this dusty cloud kicks up when I walk.

When I talk, words fall to the ground without sound.

Cracks invading the pavement, waiting for someone tall to step wrong and fall. Someone saw rain in the distance, just one instance, but that was years ago.

For now, nothing grows. And so, nothing sows. The last leaves turned to ash.  Our of resource, out of cash.  It happened so fast, before we realized we were empty.  The wind blows over another dried up, used to be, has been but isn’t now.

For a split second, seems to bow on purpose, then falls.

Smashing into a million pieces in these parched halls.  The air so dry it’s impossible to sweat – impossible to shed a tear, for fear of losing the last drops of moisture we assume are somewhere deep inside.  We’ve tried to hide.  We’ve lied to hide.  Cause when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Or so we’ve heard.  Not another word.  After all, we’ll get by.  We just need to try.  Try harder.  To really mean it this time.

Sunlight breaks, the cushion shakes and reveals the dust we’ve been breathing.  Our lungs as thirsty as our throats, debris forming coats.  A trembling unsettles our dust.  Frightened, but we must, respond.

The room is shaking, the ground quaking, the clouds fill the sky and darken brightly.

Not a drip.   Not a trickle or a stream. But all in one moment it happens.

Dams break, waves overtake, water makes and snakes its’ way, soaking the day, washing away any traces of ash and dust.  Respond we must, gasping for air and at the same time sinking without a care.

The pipes have burst, rushing like floods from somewhere unseen.  More like a geyser, like the spring from which all springs are sprung – filling our lungs and drowning out all remnants of thirst.

To a land that was cursed – healing and life, New Life. A Spirit poured out, and all creation shouts “Great is the Lamb that was slain!”  “Great is His Name!” The Spirit that came, as God promised it would.

See His blood on the wood…

We receive and are never the same.

Isaiah 44:3

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