Posts Tagged ‘discipleship’

Growing in the Word

A sermon I was able to preach recently, connecting to 2 Timothy 3…

img_0929

(Click to Listen – Will open a new tab.)

Advertisements

Grace, Love & Bunny Hills

A few days ago I took a group of all ages from our church on a “Family Ski Day” a few hours drive from home. I love to ski, but living in Illinois has only offered me opportunities nearby, and probably only about once every other year. Still, I look forward to it every chance I get – and dream of someday going down an actual long ski run. I don’t enjoy the “Black Diamond” hills as much as a long, side-to-side, “Blue Square”.

This trip was different, however, as I brought our oldest daughter along. I secretly hoped she’d be a prodigy so we could enjoy a bit of skiing on the biggest slopes the valley of Andalusia, IL could offer. I took a quick video of her first attempt on a bunny hill so I could capture & share the memory.img_0397

Fast forward 6 hours later – she was still bubbling over with delight as she cruised down the bunny hill, using her ski poles to increase speed on the way down. She loved it. There was a small part of me that wanted to see her experience a larger hill – for her own sake – but also so that we could share that experience together. But her cup of excitement was filled and flowing with joy as her eyes communicated that she was thrilled to be skiing down the hill and riding the “magic carpet” back up, over and over again. She granted me permission, more than once, to go enjoy some more extreme skiing for a bit. I took her up on that offer a few times, and each time returned expecting her to tell me she was growing weary and wanted a larger, steeper hill. Instead, I could see her smile still beaming from a football field away. She was in the zone and loving every bit of it. I’d gently ask her if she wanted to try something a little different, and explore a larger hill. “No thanks, dad! I’m loving this.”

I smiled, loving her. As her father, I wanted so much more for her – and knew someday she may enjoy cruising the larger slopes. But also as her father, I loved watching her gain confidence and grow in excitement over her abilities here – where things were a bit easier to stay in control.

There are moments in scripture where I hear the same kind of love Jesus has for his disciples. He came as God in flesh, to reveal a way of loving and living never before seen in humanity. He gathered a small group of followers and began taking them down the bunny hills of revealing God’s Love. They were thrilled.

He began pointing to some of the larger slopes, and inviting them to adventure…and they took a few tumbles. Peter asks Jesus how this new approach to forgiveness works in Matthew 18:21, and you can imagine Jesus nudging him along on new ground. The disciples begin to rebuke people who were bringing children to him, and Jesus reminds them to keep their knees bent, and body relaxed (ski talk for a grace-full approach) in Luke 19:14.

There’s a bit more exasperation in his love during other moments. Times like the disciples freaking out about the storm in Mark 4:38, or Peter using his sword in Matthew 26:51-52. You can imagine Jesus patiently wanting so much more for his followers, even as he understood they were limited and still maturing in their faith.  The smile coming over his face, as he closed his eyes to imagine the ways God’s Love was yet to be revealed by His followers in the years and millennia to come. Then perhaps a bit of sadness in the corner of one eye, as he understood humanity would also continue to stumble on such large slopes.

There is a moment, in Luke 24:36, where Jesus comes back to the bunny hill to check on his followers. He waits a bit, hearing their conversation and smiling to hear their excitement as they share stories of his resurrection. This group of random men – fishermen, tax collectors, zealots, all brought together and united by the stirring of God’s Love. He knew they were being prepared for so much more…and they would invite others into the mission as well. He finally spoke up, “Peace be with you.”
They couldn’t imagine the places He’d just returned from and were stunned to see his scars. But as he began to talk to them in those final moments, they realized the grand picture of what he’d always been inviting them to join. They were no doubt overwhelmed by the love of this Savior who’d spent so much time on the bunny hills with them. They believed His promise that a power was coming that would enable them to Love & Live as He had.

May we be newly aware of such grace and love, and see how the Spirit might guide us to reveal His Love in ways we never imagined on the bunny hills…

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)

Reminder: Check out the adventure of faith our family is launching out into!

A Statement on Ministry…

The “official” graduation ceremony for my MDIV takes place this Saturday.  I’ve already walked (across our home church stage, to receive my diploma from my wife & children), but I figured this would be a good moment to pause.  Here are a few words I wrote many months ago, toward the end of my MDIV.  These are words I want to look back on and remind myself with, and so I “file them” publicly here – in case they may serve to encourage others.  These are not profoundly unthought of, will not shock the world, or inherently transform someone’s ministry.  But for me – they are important to remember:

PERSONAL MINISTRY STATEMENT
“My life in ministry aims to join the incarnational presence of Jesus by living out the good news of the gospel invitationally in every area of my life toward the New Creation of all things – both now and yet to come.”

Based on the coursework at Wesley Seminary, the reminders and wisdom gained, the time spent in scriptural study, and conversation with others – I can say some foundational things about ministry itself. I would use the word “pastoral” ministry, but this may imply that it is only true when serving as a professional “pastor”. Instead, I would simply use the term “Ministry” itself from the Christian perspective. This implies and includes those descriptions of a pastor but does not limit an understanding to someone who is paid to carry such a title professionally. Such ministry must always be incarnational, invitational, and eschatological.
INCARNATIONAL
In Jesus we see God becoming human to literally make this fleshly world the location of His presence in a way that had never occurred. This was not simply to give us a pattern to emulate, but by his resurrection and Holy Spirit becomes something we’re empowered to participate in. Any effort for ministry must be fed by first feasting at the table set for us by Jesus in prayer, Word, and worship. By receiving New Life in Christ, we are transformed into that New Creation that proclaims Jesus as fully Lord here and now. This means we are not simply incarnational to be among the people God loves, but we are missionally incarnational – infinitely compelled by the Love of God to proclaim, live out, and share the reality of God’s New Creation reality as is arriving “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Christian ministry here will be a response to all of this in the context of bringing healing restoration and redemption to relationships between humanity, God, and creation itself.
INVITATIONAL
In Jesus we see God extending such an invitation not only during a worshipful moment in the temple but as he walked along the road. We see Jesus extending the invitation to not only hear the objective truth, but to live in the new reality of all things transformed by Christ – set free from both sin, and the death it brings about. Christian ministry contains all of the amazing “Means of Grace” talked about by John Wesley, along with the “Method-ism” he espoused but is so much more than these things. It happens as Deuteronomy 6 proclaims, “When you sit at home, and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.” Because of Jesus Christ, there is no person, no group, no location, no family, and no brokenness that is beyond the invitation of God to experience freedom and redemption in His Love. Christian ministry here is empowered by the Holy Spirit to extend that invitation in life and word.
ESCHATOLOGICAL
In Jesus, we see a life and ministry that joins the flow of God from something toward all things being made new. Even as important things happen, especially in the context of individuals and communities, it is always within the larger context of the Kingdom coming fully that these things are located. The word here is generally used for “last/final things”, but in this case, we really view the coming “completion of all things” as a New beginning that is forever located fully within the reign and rule of Christ. Christian ministry here recognizes with both hope and humility that everything we do, say, and any bit of our “being” is to be discovered and understood within those purposes and activities of God toward what will be. That is not to say our eyes are completely turned toward the “final days”, or even to a contemporary understanding, as we believe God has been speaking and revealing His final purposes actively as His Love has been transforming all things since creation itself.
CONCLUSION
There are libraries filled with books about how these things find themselves happening and “fleshed out” in the midst of individuals, families, and communities shaped by the loving presence of Jesus Christ. It involves worship services, small groups, proclamation, Bible studies, accountability, prayer, fasting, baptism, teaching, and more. Depending on the particular situation, season, and lives involved, it may take different shapes. But at the core, Christian ministry is always about joining the work and life of the Triune God who has invited us to do so in ways that transform us for the sake of all creation. We do this in fear and trembling, with excitement and joy, and mostly with a whole lot of grace – offered first on our behalf, so that we might begin to respond as He calls.

img_8738

A Wrinkle in Parenting (spoiler alert)

We’ve just returned from the theater, only to verify once more – the book is always better than the movie.  It sounds like such a great homeschool policy – “We’ll only go see the movie if we read the book together!”  Yet every time – the movie ends up falling flat.  It just doesn’t stand a chance.wrinkle.jpeg

Pushing that aside for a moment, I do love the book and so much of the imagery and themes througout: Light fighting back the darkness. Strength discovered in weakness.  You cannot serve two masters.  Hope even in places where we’ve made mistakes.  There are even direct quotes from scripture used imaginatively throughout.

L’Engle presents a Universe much larger than we usually envision, and the invitation for each of us to become warriors on behalf of light.  This doesn’t mean strapping on our weapons, and polishing our armor – it means offering ourselves in places and situations where we aren’t assured of the outcome.  It means loving the other, even when there’s no visible sign that such sacrificial love will be received well.

One of my favorite scenes is toward the end, as the lead character realizes she has been self-centered in her relationship with her Father:

          “I’m – I’m sorry, Father…(tears came to her eyes, their hands together)..I wanted you to do it all for me.  I wanted everything to be all easy and simple…So I tried to pretend that it was all your fault…because I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself–“
        “But I wanted to do it for you,” Mr.Murry said.  “That’s what every parent wants.”  He looked into her dark, frightened eyes….
         “No.” Mrs Whatsit’s voice was sterner than Meg had ever heard it. “You are going to allow Meg the privilege of accepting this danger.  You are a wise man, Mr.Murry.  You are going to let her go.”

So many layers to this.

We love our children, and want great things for them.  But we must remember, for them to grow and develop they must be allowed to experience the mystery of holding Gods’ hand into the unknown.  As John Ortberg has written, “Persons of excellent will, judgment and character are formed by having to make their own decisions.” (Focus on the Family, April/May 2018)

We see this same love as God invites humanity with free will to respond to a crucified Messiah, an image of self-sacrificing Love that doesn’t force, demand, or overthrow.  An infinitely compelling revelation of a path we’re invited to follow, not with the promise that all will go well – but with the promise that this is the path of New Creation Love.  This is the way of proclaming Jesus as Lord.  This is the way of light breaking forth into darkness.

So what is the wrinkle? If we want to invite our children to step forward into a faith-filled unknown – we must be prepared to respond to their obvious questions.  “Really mom/dad?  You’re doing this?”  Where are we following Jesus into areas of unknown?  Where are we trusting Him to do something, without which we would sink into the waves of a stormy sea?  Where are we experiencing this as a home/family?

This isn’t meant to be intimidating, but encouraging/inviting.  This isn’t saying every family should sell all things, move into a tiny home in the bad part of town, or other side of the world.  This is simply saying – great distances can be traveled by small and simple acts of sacrificial love.  Great rifts can be overcome by a humble dependence on a Love that reflects the brightest light that has ever shown.

This is how Christ began the ultimate victory.  This is how we continue to proclaim & establish it, empowered by His Spirit even now.   Not by our own power to Love, but as we are transformed by His…

smiles.

Back when we were dating, a song emerged as “ours” in the way songs do as couples travel through life together.  It was by a small band that only existed for a short period of time, but whose CD I borrowed from her all the time.   The title was “You Make Me Smile”, and yes…we often got sappy to it.  But it communicated so much of our early relationship and still today.  I often traveled in a band throughout college, and during the time we spent apart there were many moments where the thought of her, or surprise visit would brighten my face in great ways.  I would’ve never imagined it has now become a bit of a “Family Song”, offering a new perspective when sung/heard by or for our children.  But as any parent knows…..our children have the ability to make us smile.

Often in simple ways…

Our 5 year old, as we’re walking up to the playground, singing “Time is tickin’ away!  Tick Tick Tickin’ away!!”  Granted, we’d just ridden in my car where my incredible cassette-player was pumping out incredibly solid standards of Christian rock.  So she doesn’t know all the words to “Jesus is Still Alright” yet….she’s got time.

Our 8 year old, breaking in on a grown-ups version of charades, grabs a slip of paper to write down a name.  She’s giggling like she’s just written down something hilarious.  I’m thinking a vague cartoon character of some sort.  Maybe a common princess.  But she’s so excited to have that name in the mix, she actually stays and joins the game with us.  So who did she write down?  Pavel Datsuk.  One of the greatest Detroit Redwings to ever perform magically with the puck.  Well, actually she wrote “DASUK”, but we’ll give her time.  Those European names can be tricky.

One of the coolest moments from this past week, however, came from our 6 year old.  It was in the midst of dinner, before we began to carve our pumpkins.  The only night all week where we had no commitments, we had looked forward to a nice relaxing family time together.  Sarah had made a pot roast so tender, you could spread it on bread if you needed.  The whole house smelled of comfort and tranquillity.   We were all sitting down, and just barely keeping the girls reigned in to eat together, as they were so excited to be done and move on to dessert and pumpkin carving.  Sophie gets up and runs into the kitchen, I almost yell but realize she’s refilling her water cup and I calm down.  That’s when it happens.

“OH MAN!!  You guys have GOT to come see this sunset!!  It is soo beautiful!!”   And so, just like that, we all collectively sat our forks down, and followed her call to the kitchen.  Sure enough, it was quite pretty.  Pretty enough that we all went upstairs to get a better view above the neighborhood.  image1(2)

It wasn’t long before we all had breathed in enough of the wonder and beauty of a perfectly pink sunset that could never be captured fully by an iPhone.  We slowly made our way back to the table, and back into the rhythms of a busy fall night.  (did I mention this was also bath night?)   But several times this week, I’ve remembered that moment our 6 year old called our whole family to come and appreciate the beauty of what God was painting on the horizon.  These girls make me smile….

re-tweeted theology.

2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.”tweet

I’m sure most of what I say here could be found on some witty list of “Things Christians should stop saying.”  I’ve seen links to those posts all over the place, but haven’t really read them.  So just in case any of you have a similar experience, I really wanted to share a few things today.  I could probably post another one entitled “Gospel Quartet Music Theology“, but I won’t go there for now.  The point is, I think so many of us settle for a thin, re-tweeted, “click share”d, un-inspected theology these days.   We hear a rallying cry (or meme) of someone we have liked in the past, and assume whatever it says should be taken to heart, and passed along.

To write/say something against them can easily be dis-regarded as the common “cynicism” of young adults today.  That’s why I almost didn’t say anything.   But just in case it helps someone to rethink something they’ve heard and grow in their relationship with God…here goes nothing.

1. “Don’t pray for a lighter load, pray for a stronger back!” – It sounds good.  Certainly there are many of us, especially in the US, who need to stop complaining about small inconveniences as if we’re really suffering.  But this phrase was posted publicly on a church sign, in a city where many broken and suffering people drive by.  For a church to basically say to anyone driving by, “Suck it up!” , doesn’t seem like the love of Christ we find in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  So go ahead…pray for a lighter load.  Jesus knows the load you’re already carrying, and offers to hold it for you.

2. “Judge not, lest you be judged” – It was written to a friend who’s trying to clean up his life, and asked people to be more thoughtful about what they post on his wall.  Obviously he was killing a vibe, and the friends who noticed didn’t like it.  I’m reminded here of Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Beginning to follow Christ means you’ll probably have people who don’t want to change, who are unwilling to be close to you as you change.  That’s okay.   Show them love, and keep doors of relationship open.  But don’t fall to the “God’s Word says not to judge” routine.  Because actually, the Bible says quite a bit about holding each other accountable.  Yes, in Matthew 7 and Luke 6, Jesus does talk to his followers and tell them not to judge.  He’s pointing out that we cannot have the same expectations of people who don’t know God, as we do for those who do.  It’s also a reminder that we don’t “think of ourselves as above” others, because we are all sinners.  God alone does the judging of worth (we’ve all been declared valuable enough to receive his mercy), and eternity.  But there are so many scriptures about the transformation Jesus wants to bring to our lives, the Love of God that changes our mind and behaviors, and the sin we are called to both be set free from, and proclaim the freedom for others from. )(1 Corinthians 5:12-13, John 7:24, 1 Timothy 4:2, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3)   So go ahead…live a transformed life, and proclaim the freedom from sin God has made available to others…in love.

3. “God will not give you more than you can handle.” – This one’s hard to confess, because I’d love so much for it to be true.  Unfortunately, it’s a false teaching.  One that should be easy for us to realize, as God’s own son was given a death sentence on the cross.  Not to mention it makes it sound like these horrible things are given “by” God, instead of simply allowed as the freedom to sin spreads brokenness throughout our world.  Thousands upon thousands have died for Christ over the years, and it wasn’t because they really wanted to die.  It was because they were willing to follow Christ, even when it WAS more than they could handle.  There is a scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:13, that tells us God will not allow us to be TEMPTED beyond what we can bear.  But that’s a different topic.  Jesus told his followers, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves…” (Matt. 10:16)  Not like superheroes, and not like people who can handle any burden easily because of the supernatural abilities given us by the Holy Spirit.  So if the tears are falling lately, as you’re suffering under what seems to be an unbearable burden, take heart.  It doesn’t mean you’re not a good Christian if you feel like things are horrible right now.  It means you live in a broken world where sin and evil are being revealed as the horrible things they are.  There IS hope, and Christ has proclaimed that justice is coming; that redemption is on it’s way; that all the current sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).  But don’t feel pressure to pretend everything is okay…it’s not.  So go ahead, lean on your brothers and sisters…allow yourself to be held by Christ as you suffer…and be there for those who are suffering.  We need Christ to come fully…and until then He is coming to the world even now, through you.

There are quite a few more on this list….but there are plenty of places already calling ’em out.  These are just a few that’ve been on my heart this week. 🙂

impress.

%d bloggers like this: