Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Trinity

A poem for Trinity Sunday…

(Click to read/listen.)

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as the world gives…

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

A large part of the world is built and continually dependent on the lack of peace.  Advertisers know that in order to sell a product or service, they often must first convince you of your deficiency without their offer.  News sources know they must convince you of inherent anxiety that you can not shed without hearing the story they’re about to share (after these messages).  Our economy and daily connection to what’s happening in the world threatens to be shaped by these forces on a regular basis.img_1760

Into that kind of existence, we receive the words from Jesus again:

“I’m giving you peace…and I know the world offers you peace also.  The world offers you peace if you buy their product.  The world offers you peace if you utilize their services.  The world offers you an equation by which if you do “A”, they’ll accomplish “B”, and the outcome will be “C” (A + B = C).  But even if you attain “C” in this world, it is a peace that continues to allow disturbance so that you will continue to purchase the product, utilize the service, and listen to their voice of influence.

In fact, I want you to take an entire day off every week.  You don’t have to, but I invite you to gladly because it will shape your soul.  One day out of every 7, step out of the routines and paces of this world to declare and remember your freedom from them.  My peace and freedom are not an equation.  They are not dependent on any conditions of this world.  They are a gift that is continually poured out by the Holy Spirit – your advocate sent by my Father to remind you of all these things.”

May we respond to His invitation to Sabbath this week in ways that free us to be people of peace during the other 6 days as well…

Growing in the Word

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

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

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!

On a Changed Mind…

In reading Bob Goff’s “Love Does” to our children recently, I was reminded of his words urging us not to be “Stalkers” of Jesus. He points out that we often spend so much time personally, and even in our gatherings studying about Jesus/Holy Spirit/God.  But how often are we focused on simply “being with” this Triune God?  As a pastor, as a father, and especially as one who recognizes the power of God’s Love – I want to consciously spend time, and invite others into times, of being increasingly aware of the fullness of God’s Love & presence.

Recently there was a book published that contains an amazing amount of scientists, researchers, and history of people all wanting to do something similar.  The main title is “How to Change Your Mind”, and a conversation with the author on NPR caught my attention.  As someone who’s studied biblical Greek, I remembered that Jesus often called people to “repent” using the word “metanoia” which literally means “having a changed mind”.  The unpopularity of this book in Christian circles might be caused by its subtitle, “What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence”.  The awkwardness of my preconceptions of psychedelics pushed-aside, I went ahead and read it anyways.

Wow.  The history of these substances and the opportunities for research beginning to resurface has a great deal to offer the brokenness of humanity.  Researchers are just in the past 8 years, finally and slowly/clinically, beginning to proceed cautiously again.  There are potentials in treating addictions, anxiety/depression, PTSD, and a great many of maladies in between.  Unfortunately, many of these substances were misused/abused in unsafe ways/levels back around the ’60s, and so most of us have a cloudy understanding of all these things.

But most interesting to me were the accounts of the early scientists/philosophers/divinity students who experienced these substances simply as a way to experience an “altered state of consciousness”.  Complete skeptics who viewed everything through a scientific lens came away skeptical of their own need to understand only that which is understandable.  Religious people came away feeling as if they’d “finally” had an experience of the divine.  There were so many great connections to those of us who are willing to see it, and I cannot process everything or share all the great quotes here.  But one thing in particular screams to be noticed:

What is striking about this whole line of clinical research is the premise that it is not the pharmacological effect of the drug itself but the kind of mental experience it occasions – involving the temporary dissolution of one’s ego – that may be the key to changing one’s mind.” Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind

It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to see the connection here.  Pick a verse! Look at Ephesians 4:22-24 if you need one.  Scripture talks about “dying to self” in order to come alive with the New Life of Jesus Christ over and over again.  Followers of Jesus since ancient times have wrestled with and expanded on what all of this involves.

What happens in story after story throughout Pollan’s book (the “good” trips at least) are individuals who carve out time and space purposefully for an “otherly” experience.  They are talked to by a “guide” who comforts them, and reassures them of their presence.  They close their eyes, turn on some music, and are guided verbally while the substance takes its effect.  Once you shed some of the hallucinatory aspects, what often leads to transformation/healing in the individual is coming away from such an experience aware that an “other” way of existing is out there.  An immediate realization of a unity that flows through all of creation, and the beauty of color, sound, etc.

One of the things that commends travel, art, nature, work, and certain drugs to us is the way these experiences, at their best, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in the flow of a present that is literally wonderful – wonder being the by-product of precisely the kind of unencumbered first sight…”  Michael Pollan, How to Change Your Mind

This is not too far off from experiences we’ve heard of happening in worship.  This is not too removed from experiences of “guided prayer” even I have helped lead others into/out from.   It reminded me of another book I’d read recently, “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere“.  Merton has written extensively on prayer, on dying to the “false self”, and on meditation.  He was even around during many of these early “trials” in the 60’s, so I wondered his perspective of these things.  In a letter from December 1965, he writes:

“..my impression is that they are probably not all they are cracked up to be.  Theologically I suspect that the trouble with psychedelics is that we want to have interior experiences entirely on our own terms.  This introduces an element of constraint and makes the freedom of pure grace impossible.  Hence, religiously, I would say their value was pretty low.  However, regarded merely psychologically, I am sure they have considerable interest.” Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love

I find myself agreeing with Merton.  The grace of God that arrives in our moments/lives of sacrifice and other-centered Love is not something we can carefully plan for/measure.  They should not be contained in a moment or require the assistance of substances.  Even the neuro-chemical responses of emotional worship experiences can be addictive in ways that make us desire more of those moments on terms we can manufacture.

Only when we are able to ‘let go’ of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste, and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life.” James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere

It’s not as simple as saying “Drugs are bad, mmkay?”  But it is as simple as saying an authentic and sustainable experience of God that transforms and brings New Life is possible for anyone, anywhere, at any time.  We live within a creation that proclaims the awe-inducing beauty and goodness of God,.  We are surrounded by a fellow humanity that was created to bear the image of the Divine.  God is not so far away as we often imagine.  The divine invitation to repent, to “metanoia” (have a changed mind) is something we do not seek to control, but submit ourselves to by pausing.  We offer ourselves in unceasing and moments of prayer, and a life with patterns of Sabbath.

To put it another way, we “come away/apart” or “retreat” to a solitary place as Jesus did, but also in moments joined together in relationship with others.  We prayerfully and vulnerably confess our false selves and seek to live in ways that shed/deny that self for the sake of others.  In living with these patterns, embracing people and moments with the precious validity of what could be (rather than what we assume will be), we position ourselves to receive the grace of a God-given Now.

On a closing note, I do believe these substances are able to “force individuals” into an awareness of the Divine (though not always).  However, we don’t need a substance in order to reveal to us different ways of perceiving this world exist.  What Jesus invites us to recognize is the power of compassion to accomplish even more.  Compassion means literally “to suffer with”.  When I choose to enter into the sufferings of another (person, people group, etc.), my vantage point enters into their own.  When this happens, we experience a “metanoia” that empowered by the Holy Spirit can lead to freedom from the chains we’d previously been bound by.  From a Christian perspective – when I “die to self” to come alive as Christ, I enter into a Holy Spirit-sourced compassionate life for those whom Jesus Loves (everyone…yes, even/especially them).  Such a life is the arrival of New Creation, where former things (false self) have passed away and all things have become New.  Not once, and not in a moment, but as a way of Life.

But beware.  As anyone who’s traveled to a foreign country can affirm, a daily existence where everything is “New” can be incredibly exhausting both cognitively and physically.  We may find ourselves depending on the power of God and needing to return to His presence…often…

…the Good News is, He is here.

 

 

One Year.

One year ago I was on my way to the D6 Conference in Texas, along with our new lead pastor and another pastor friend we picked up along the way.  I was attending the conference both as a “Pastor of Family Life”, but also as an intensive study course personally administered by the president of Wesley Seminary toward completion of my MDiv.  It was a great week of learning, dreaming and praying over what God had in store for a church family I loved with a new pastor I was blessed to also call a friend.  I ended up being able to share a spoken word I’d written as part of my coursework with the entire D6 Conference!  As we went home from that week – we had no idea what would happen in the year ahead.  We certainly didn’t imagine the year we’ve had. 🙂

This year we’re traveling to the D6 Conference in North Carolina, along with our spouses.  The four of us look forward to some great time praying and casting vision over what God has in store for this church family that we love – and we’re blessed to img_8338all do so as friends.  But my wife and I are also attending as a couple on the edge of launching into full-time missionary work in Gyor, Hungary!  We’re scanning the topics, and trying to figure out what seminars/speakers might equip us for the work on the horizon as well as the work we’re aiming to finish well.

This past year I’ve finished my MDiv, something I never thought was part of my life plan.  It seems when you hand God your life and ask Him one step at a time “What would please you here?” – He actually seems to suggest things you may not have imagined.  Not in an anxious “Oh my goodness, I’d better not miss out on any tiny decision that God may have an opinion on….”  But more in a mode of living toward receiving and responding to the flowing Love of God out into and for the sake of His Kingdom announced and arriving in the world through changed lives, people set free and restored relationship.

All this to say, the past year has brought some changes for sure.  The year ahead seems to be filled with quite a bit as well.  We’re going to be selling our home soon, and moving into a short-term rental.  Then we’ll move to Hungary, and learn a new language both literally and figuratively as we learn to join the living Word in a new context.  Thankfully, we’ve been shaped for years already by the Word who became flesh.  So #D62018, 2019, and beyond…here we come…

(If you haven’t already, check out our website for the family missionary adventure that has already begun!!)

 

We Are Seeking…

img_7747In 1965, the Jamaican Methodist church was seeking a year of renewal.  Sir Hugh Braham Sherlock,  a Methodist leader also known at the time for writing the Jamaican national anthem “Jamaica, Land We Love”, helped pen this incredible poem & hymn as a prayer for God’s people to sing in unison…

Lord, Thy church on earth is seeking

Thy renewal from above;

Teach us all the act of speaking

With the accent of Thy love.

We would heed Thy great commission:

“Go ye into every place;

Preach, baptize, fulfill My mission,

Serve with love and share My grace.”

 

Freedom, give to those in bondage,

Lift the burdens caused by sin;

Give new hope, new strength, and courage

Grant release from fears within.

Light for darkness, joy for sorrow;

Love for hatred, peace for strife.

These and countless blessings follow

As the Spirit gives new life.

 

 

In the streets of every city

Where the bruised and lonely dwell,

We shall show the Savior’s pity,

We shall of His mercy tell.

In all lands and with all races,

We shall serve and seek to bring

All the world to render praises,

Christ, to Thee, Redeemer, King.

Amen.

 “Lord, thy church on earth is seeking.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed August 22, 2018, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/l/lord,-thy-church-on-earth-is-seeking.

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