Archive for the ‘Different Thoughts’ Category

all saints

A few important words to stir something new this season…

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Snails & Rose-Tree’s

During bedtime prayers tonight, I read our girls the story from Hans Christian Andersen, “The Snail & the Briar” (which apparently most people call “The Snail & the Rose-Tree”).  I’d never read this one before, and really loved one section enough that I wanted to share it.  The snail is teasing the rose-tree a bit, for never doing anything other than producing roses year after year.  The snail is a bit of a cynic, retreating into himself introspectively, always telling himself that the time or moment of his realization of self in some important way is on the horizon.

In one conversation, the snail straight up confronts the rose-tree: “Have you even thought about why you do it?  Why keep blossoming, and not do something else?”IMG_0154

To this, the rose tree replies: “No…I blossomed with joy – I just could not help myself.  The sun shone so warmly, the air blew so freshly, I drank clear dew and heavy rain, I breathed and lived!  Strength seeped into me from the soil and also filled me from above.  I felt happiness, for ever new and for ever greater, and that is why I kept on blossoming.  That was my life, I could not do otherwise!”

I loved this, especially in the context of parenting my daughters to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5).  That we would help arrange the conditions of sun, air, water, etc. to the point that when people ask my kids why and how they continue to bear fruit for the Kingdom, they simply say “That’s who I am!”

This is our role, church.  May we fill our world with the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control flowing from a life connected to the vine (John 15:5).  Not so that we look good, or nice, or “Christian-y”.  But so that our children (read HIS children, including all the kids on our block, in our community’s schools, and those feeling overlooked today) have the nurturing conditions necessary for fruit-bearing in beautiful ways.

This little light of ours…

IMG_1993The sun is big. Like, really big. Bigger than most of us can even fathom, given how huge our own planet seems.

For a quick example, the circumference of the sun (how far one continuous path would be around its surface) is over 2.7 Million miles. In perspective, the circumference of the earth is just under 25,000 miles.

In regards to the massive size, people who sit around figuring out such things have determined that it would take about 1.3 Million earths to fill the area of the sun.

All of this really makes the moon pale in comparison. At a mere circumference under 6,800 miles, it’s pretty small in comparison even to earth. Yet, on August 21, 2017, the moon will cover the sun for about 3 minutes (in the center of the viewing areas path), casting millions of people into freakish mid-day darkness. This happens even with the size differences, because of proximity. The moon is 400 times further from the sun, than it is from the earth. It’s the same as being able to hold a background national monument in your hand, using proximity to make it look real. IMG_1991

So how do we harness this occasion, to listen to what Gods’ creation might be whispering into our lives? What important message might this offer, especially in conversation with our kids/others?

Some small things can bring large amounts of darkness. Especially in regards to our consumption and/or creation of content in social media. Something that may seem tiny or insignificant, can actually make a larger impact than we first realized. Whether it’s movies, music, Apps, or other; we can easily inadvertently place these things in such a position in our lives that makes it very difficult for the light of Gods Love to shine on, or through us.

Thankfully, scripture reminds us: nothing has the power to separate us from the Love of God. But, we can choose to elevate other things into our field of vision, forgetting where our True Life comes from. This causes all sorts of expressing ourselves in the world – seeking the identity and peace that we’ve been created to receive from the Love of Jesus.

The question becomes – What might be “eclipsing” the Light & Love of Jesus from being the foundational light by which you see all things, yourself included? What small thing, if moved out of your focus even a small amount, or completely if necessary, could allow Love & the perspective of Gods Grace to illuminate your life in new ways?  The Love of God for you is strong and deep enough, no matter how long you’ve lived under an eclipse, to shine just as warm and brightly  as ever.  You might find yourself needing help to “move a moon” that has been in position for way too long. God has given us the power of His Spirit, always with us. Not to mention, the gift of living these lives together in Loving community.  Open yourself up to committed life together with others who desire the Light of New Creation to shine.

The beauty of it is, even as a small object like the moon can eclipse the light of the sun – a small candle can illuminate darkness. How will you shine your light this week? Where can the Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control be humbly lived out as the Fruit of His Spirit? May we be even more geeked out about discovering these opportunities. They are light that will shine well into the coming Kingdom from which they derive their lumens…

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. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

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…

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

a snapshot of celebration.

Easter week is over.  The dust is beginning to settle on a roller coaster of a month.  There are still large unknowns about what God has in store, but we are incredibly hopeful about how we can not only be used for His Kingdom, but be blessed in the process.  This week in my “Spiritual Formation” class, we focused primarily on the spiritual discipline of “Celebration”.  We read the chapter from Richard Foster in his “Celebration of Discipline“.  I wrote a short response, which included this paragraph:

“How much more powerful is a testimony of someone who clings to and proclaims the goodness of God, in the midst of great struggle – than that of someone who praises the goodness of God, having just escaped the clutches of suffering? It doesn’t take divine empowerment to have joy in the midst of visible blessing. However, it does often require the Holy Spirit to Love someone who has (or continues to) offended you. Foster says the Joy and Celebration he speaks of come after the other disciplines and a life of obedience he’s been writing about in this book all along. ”

Looking back on what I wrote, I could see someone reading it, and missing the important focus.  It is easy to hear culture these days, and be influenced to want blessing and comfort so that we can proclaim “Look, God is good!!”  It’s easy to hear my words above, echoing those of Richard Foster and many other great Christian leaders, and want to seek suffering along with a broken world so that we can proclaim by God’s strength, “Look, God is good!!”

The emphasis, however, should not be on the conditions we’re experiencing.  Which is kinda the point.  We are called to proclaim the goodness of God, simply because God IS Good!  God is not “good” like anything we’ve ever called “good” before, and yet God is the substantial essence of which all other “good” is merely an echo. 

So yes – my brothers and sisters who are enjoying the blessings of a comfortable life this week – I join with you in proclaiming “Look, God is good!!”  To my brothers and sisters suffering and oppressed, I join with you in proclaiming “Look, God is good!!”  To those of us stuck somewhere in between, our voices come together as we proclaim “Look, God is good!!”

Not because we are naive.  Not because we don’t see the immense suffering and brokenness in our world today.  But because we know that God is with us within it, and working to bring redemption even now.  Not only this, but because He has invited us to join Him in bringing freedom to those who are bound, forgiveness, grace, Love, light, Hope, and by this to bring others to faith that New Creation is coming – and has already been launched.  Not as a “someday” future hope that we can escape all of this.  But as a “right now” hope that it is precisely “this” (whatever “this” is for you) that God is interested in bringing redemption and healing through.  Our celebrations.  Our hurt.  Our confusion.  Our joys.

I pray you’re able to declare “God is good.” this week.  May He reveal His goodness to you, and through you…

 

 

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