Posts Tagged ‘church’

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…

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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.

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

Shell or Rock?

Moana was a fantastic movie for so many reasons. The chicken made us laugh. The grandma was one we all wish we had. The usual motif about “someone realizing there was something mystically special about themselves all along” – is something many of us hope to discover.

There are roots in there story with amazing truths, if we will notice.

There is a girl who is taught her entire life, that her value comes from her ability to maintain what has always happened. She is expected to make wise decisions, to rule well, and to navigate the difficulties of island life. That someday she will place her stone on the highest mountain, atop the stones of previous leaders, making her contribution the highest point on their island.  But within her stirs a discontent. A “holy” stirring that not only she, but her people, were created to do more than what they’d done yesterday.  That perhaps even, looking far back in their history, they might find stories of a completely different existence altogether.  They were not a people meant to thrive on how well they could perpetuate status quo. They were wired to thrive on creative discovery, and to craft stories of stepping out into the unknowns, in faith that something greater than themselves held their fate and future. That actually, their fate depended on complete change in what was being done. They were facing struggles no resources could be found to solve. The status quo way of maintaining routine was slowly losing its ability to provide life.

So she set out to discover what else could be done. Sacrificially, she launched a new initiative toward becoming vulnerable – not just for her own sake but for a people who were temporarily without any idea of what might happen next.  Collectively, they looked toward tomorrow with hesitancy, but hopeful faith for what could be. Enlight16

It turned out to be exactly what was needed. As she returned to share this new way of life she’d discovered, it was immediately embraced by the people as being their actual story. No longer were they island people, who valued being able to efficiently stay as they were. Connecting to their ancient roots, they were a people “on the move”. Entrusting themselves to something larger, they collectively were reidentified as New Creations.  There is a brief scene where we simply see a shell placed on a stack of rocks. No longer would success be measured by the highest point on an island that was ultimately no source of life.

From now on – they’d become a people who’s measurement for Life had been altogether transformed.

The wisdom here offers us a moment to contemplate as leaders and servants in the Kindgom of God. Are we willing to let go of our chance to place a stone, if it enables others to actually be transformed toward a New Life altogether? Can we trust God to guide us as we launch out together toward a New Land?

There is, after all, a world out there already placing stones upon stones – waiting for followers of Jesus to show them a better way…

 

A new perspective on the “Good Samaritan”

In Luke chapter 10, an expert in the law stands up to ask Jesus a question. The purpose of the original question seems to be in “testing Jesus”. It may be that he wants to reveal Jesus as a false prophet. By asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”, it’s possible he was trying to catch Jesus in saying that something other than being a Jew can lead us into being a “child of God”, and thus worthy of the inheritance. We know that a lot of people were trying to catch Jesus in a moment of blasphemy against the Law, and yet in true Jesus fashion – He totally turns the tables.

With impressive rhetoric, Jesus asks the man a question in response, “What is written in the law?” The man answers proudly with his knowledge, and as Jesus pats him on the head in verse 28 the man remembers his original intent. Still wanting to test Jesus, and justify his original question, he asks for clarification, “And who is my neighbor?”

In response this time, Jesus tells the story we know as “The Good Samaritan.” He closes by tying the story to the original question by the expert in the law. Earlier it was stated, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Here we have Jesus pointing out that the assumed definition of “Neighbor” (any member of the Hebrew nation/commonwealth) fell short of this new movement the followers of Christ were proclaiming. Here, the main character we assume was a Jew (heading from Jerusalem to Jericho seems to point that way). The character in the story who had the most in common with him in regards to loving (Luke 10:27) ends up being the Samaritan. Even though there was a long history of tension and conflict between their people (and remains still today), Jesus is pointing out there is a grouping of people that goes beyond national boundaries or allegiance to human leaders. There is a foundational difference in the hearts of those who are living from the Love of God. This brings us together beyond any worldly division of culture or ethnicity. It melts away any prejudice we may have, for the purposes of God’s Love, mercy, and compassion.


Now, maybe the Samaritan knew this was a Jew. Scripture tells us he was “attacked by robbers…stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.” Maybe there were torn clothes nearby, or he noticed the man was circumcised (if he was naked). But it’s also possible the Samaritan was simply doing what he would do for anyone, whether friend, brother, or enemy of his people. His citizenship was in the Kingdom of God, which means that he was someone for whom “Love” was his native language. Love for all.

So was Jesus challenging the expert in the law to love “like” the Samaritan, showing mercy and compassion to even those who are broken, bleeding, and lying in the street? Or was Jesus challenging the expert in the law to admit that even here, in the people of Samaria, there can be those who are understanding what this Kingdom of God’s Love looks like?

It sure seems like the latter. Jesus was pulling back the curtain, opening the shades, and clarifying the unexpected Truth for this expert in the law – there may be more invited to this “who’s in?” party than you originally thought.

What are the implications here for us?

There are many, but here are a few thoughts: The Samaritan was so motivated by Love, he wasn’t worried about the terms of this world. Whether touching the man on the street would make him unclean or not, or whether they agreed politically or not, were not important issues. He was motivated first by Love. The opposite seems true of this political expert, who seems to try and catch Jesus in a moment of heresy. He has been living according to “who’s in” and “who’s out” for so long, he wanted to help catch Jesus off guard. But the heart of God is not stuck in the patterns and molds we like to form equations by. We cannot reduce becoming a child of God to a stamp of approval, a “sinners prayer”, or a purity ring. By doing so, we fail to love our neighbors who may already know more about actual Love than we do.

This story invites us to let go of sitting in a room deciding what we can do to be people who are “in”, and go out into a world of hungry, beaten, slaves to proclaim freedom, resurrection life, and sustenance. As Bob Goff has written, “Love Does”.

So how does this story offer to challenge our local churches? I think most of our local churches would be quick to tell you how much love God has for the poor. They know God loves the broken, the drug-addicted, and the alcoholic just released from prison. They’ll welcome them any day of the week, and proclaim God’s Love. The challenge in this story might be a bit harder to pinpoint, and might vary from family to family. Decatur is a city with quite a few ethnicities, cultures, and religions. It would be a pretty big “zing” for our people to admit some of these people who know nothing about Christ might in fact be living with more love for others. So what is it about our practices, our unspoken rules, and the ways we do church….are keeping us from existing and being known from our love for all others?

we dance.

It was Father’s Day – a pretty great one if I might add – and they’d each helped select a gift that would make me smile.  Addie got me a Detroit Redwings decal I could put on my new (to us, thanks to awesome friends!) car.  Sophie drew me a picture of myself, and put it in a nice small frame.  Even Phoebe got in on the action from Africa, and sent me a bowtie made out of African fabric.  Each of the girls helped answer questions in a small booklet, all about their daddy.  Apparently I’m a professional cuddler. (said in my best “King Julien” imitation voice)

All of the gifts were awesome, but one that instantly grew was from Ruby.  She helped select the soundtrack to the most recent Muppets movie.  Even though I’ve not seen it yet, the girls knew I’d be excited to experience anything new related to the Muppets.  This gift, of course, came with certain expectations.  We had all afternoon, as it was a Sunday.  No plans, and the girls knew that.  So what should we do?  9ojti

Open the soundtrack, play the music, and dance…of course. 🙂

Confession: We dance a lot in our house.  Two of our girls have had ballet lessons, but the 3rd daughter is the one who’ll convince you she’s had several years instruction.

We danced with them.  We watched them.  Their smiles, laughter, and movements were beautiful and lit up our living room.  This was the un-purchased gift that warmed a daddy’s heart on Father’s Day.

This is the activity we join together in, as we enjoy the gifts God has given us.  To dance and enjoy the goodness of His creation is not a denial of evil or suffering.   Yesterday morning, they were clearing a major area because of shots fired at a hotel.  A suicidal man was firing rounds into the air as many of us simply drove by on our way to work.  It was a morning that faced the harsh realization that our world includes suffering and brokenness.

But last night, over 80 people of varying ages and backgrounds gathered in our church gym.  We shared a meal, talking and telling stories.  We spilled drinks, and laughed as we cleaned up.  We sang songs, some goofy with motions and some straight out of the hymnal.  We told a story that had a 6 year old leading 70 year olds in making trumpet noises.  We confessed the painful truth that some of us have yet to see the response of God to prayers we’ve made for a long time.  We prayed.

Our lives as followers of Christ, are not denials of the evil in our world.  Our lives are powerful statements that even in a world where evil has made an impact, Jesus is Lord.  Even in a world where brokenness exists, beauty abounds even more.  In a world where wrong motivations and false Gods lead people astray – we invite people to dance with their Heavenly Father.

My kids are getting it.  One day at a time.  I think my church is getting it to.  I’m so proud and excited for the family, and church family, I get to dance with.

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