Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Beyond fig leaves…

In ministry to youth since my college years, there have been many psychologists, sociologists, neurologists, and even parents who have attested to the teenagers’ quest for “self” discovery.  Throughout adolescence, floods of hormones and new/heightened neurological abilities for cognitive and social connections (the ability to “think” from anothers’ perspective) allows young people for the first time to be more fully aware of the self they not only are – but the self they are perceived as by others.  The fact that the “self” perceived by others might be different from the “self” they believe themselves to be – becomes realized.  (For more on this, here’s an awesome article you might be interested in.)  This ability actually grows and deepens throughout adolescence, and combined with modern technology can become a labyrinth from which young people need – not rescue, but guidance.  I’m also convinced that many of us “adults” (myself included) are sucked back into our adolescent years, in terms of the practices evoked by these opportunities.

This goes back to our very first presentations of a crafted “self-image”, as human beings.  Today, we see it in the duck-faced 13-year-old girl or the 15-year-old male flexing in a mirror – both affixed as a “Profile Picture” or even just an update.  The statement is implied by sharing (even if not understood), “This is the image I’ve chosen to represent the ‘self’ I’m curating for you to perceive me as.”  This is not a new desire.  Our first img_8561attempts at this are found in Genesis 3:7, as Adam and Eve sew fig leaves together out of a desire to cover up their true “self” which they’re shamefully aware has been marred.  They want to be perceived without the humiliating nakedness and vulnerability, and so they put on leaves and say, “This is the image I’ve chosen to represent the ‘self’ I’m curating for you to perceive me as.”

To this, God responds with the hard truth about what has happened.  He also replaces their garments of leaves which cost nothing, with garments of skin which we can assume cost the lives of animals.  God seems to suggest, “You may cover up, as this level of vulnerability is a heavy burden.  But it comes at a price also.”  We see here a prophetic illustration, that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  Not as payment, but as a direct result – living in a way that chooses our own presentation of “self” above the “self” God has created us to be, will always lead to death – whether of relationships or literal.  This is not something that weak people “fall into” as an activity, but rather something we are each born into as a state.

Thomas Merton wrestled with this same concept in thought & prayer: “To say I was born in sin is to say I came into the world with a false self. I was born in a mask. I came into existence under a sign of contradiction, being someone that I was never intended to be and therefore a denial of what I am supposed to be. And thus I came into existence and nonexistence at the same time because from the very start I was something that I was not.” (Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, 1978)  (Note that “sin” here is less about morality and more about ontology.)

We are not left to struggle with this tendency toward the “false self”.  We believe and proclaim that Christ has provided a New way of being (ontology again!).  Galatians 2:20 declares that our “self” is “crucified with Christ” so that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (NIV)  Scripture reveals to us this Freedom is not only something offered to us, but invites us to understand that the very activity of sacrificing our “self” in order to receive the “self” that is alive in Christ is our act of worship! (Romans 12:1)  It is in this New-Creation-living in the life of Jesus that we discover and move toward the “self” God has created us to be. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

So how do we guide young people, and how do we respond to a technology culture that constantly invites us to purposefully curate our own “self” for the sake of how we’re known by others?

  1. Understand where the desire for “multiple-selving” comes from.  A certain level is healthy and expected:  What foods do I enjoy? What music/culture/comforts/fashions do I prefer?  What art do I appreciate/contribute?  During the adolescent years especially, our cognitive abilities develop in ways that allow us to “try on” variations of who we might become.   Most of us even continue into adulthood with more than one “self”, and seek to balance these expressions of our identity.
  2. Understand where the desire for a “false self” comes from.  Scripture reminds us we are born into a state of sin that brings death (Romans 5:12).  To deny this is our nature, and just try to “be good” or “be strong/successful/attractive”, etc. is to throw on fig leaves and hope for the best.  We come to God, confessing our naked vulnerability, and accept the price He has paid-to reconcile us in relationship – offering a restored “True self” that exists in the Love of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Offer every expression of our “self” to be an opportunity to worship God, not bring glory to our “self”.  Whether on social media, in classrooms, in the living room, or wherever we find ourselves.  “Offer your ‘self’ as a living sacrifice…” (Romans 12:1)  This means daily (and a life of) prayer where we bring our whole “self” into the presence of God.
  4. Pray.  Together, and individually.  In prayer, we enter into a redeemed time and space where we discover the Loving God whose image we were created to bear, and are shaped/empowered by His Spirit toward how that can happen today.  Here we become less and less influenced by how we might be perceived by others, and in declaring Jesus as Lord – give weight to who God has declared we are becoming in Christ.
  5. Love.  Love God as the source of our True Self.  Love others, not as the “selves” they might curate for better or for worse, or as the “false self” ascribed to them by others, but as the “True Self” they are in the light of Jesus Christ.  Finally, love the True Self God has set you free to become – united with God in the Love and power of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

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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.

The Baker of an Ordinary Cake (a parable)

There once was an amazing baker, who had one of the most incredible minds and tongues for creating something not only visually spectacular, but that also wowed the senses all at once upon eating. She could create cakes that looked like they’d been brought straight out of a magazine. Professional masterpieces, where layer after layer after layer was simply a blank canvas upon which she would unleash her creative energies. People came from all over not only to see her cakes, but to pay great amounts of money in order to experience just a bite themselves.

There’s a story that one time she created a cake in the shape of a sleeping alligator that was so lifelike, animal control was called. She let the story unfold, gaining media attention and growing in tension until finally, she snuck through the boundaries of onlookers, and sliced a piece of chocolate filled strawberry cake from the midsection of the alligator. As the people around gasped, they laughed and applauded as cake was served to everyone who had gathered.

The news of her talent and abilities spread far and wide. One day she saw a challenge before her. Her cakes were all incredibly beautiful, and captivating to the eye. When people took a bite of one of her cakes, it was only after they’d seen the beauty of the full cake, or heard long stories and explanations of her cake-making abilities. But what did people really think of her cake recipes? She might not ever find out, because so much emphasis was always given to helping people understand and notice the beauty and talent inherent to everything she ever baked.

She decided to try an experiment. She made a cake that looked exactly like – an ordinary cakecake. Nothing incredibly fancy. Nothing that screamed “WOW”. Nothing that forced everyone around it to notice. Just, ordinary. Next, she snuck her cake right into the middle of a busy restaurant where food was being served left and right. An ordinary cake showing up in the middle of a buffet table was no big deal. She watched, and waited, as the first slice was taken by a small boy. She’d used the finest ingredients, and put a great deal of care and inspiration into her recipe. But on the surface, and looking at his plate – the boy saw a piece of ordinary cake just like any other. He hurried back to his table and sat down.

She knew others were beginning to take slices as well, but this boy captured her attention. She wanted to see what his response would be, and waited quietly, patiently, pretending not to notice from a table at the side of the room. As she sat, sipping her coffee, the boy took his first bite. She noticed his face brighten. The combination of perfectly crafted icing, and moist delicate cake was like a bomb of deliciousness on his tongue, and he couldn’t keep himself from beaming as he devoured the rest of the piece from his plate.

She smiled, satisfied and excited at his response. She began to look around to see how others who had taken a slice might be responding. Person after person, she noticed the expressions of delight and reverie as some devoured just as the boy had – while others set their forks down after every morsel, chewing slowly and closing their eyes as the flavors settled over their tongues. She heard someone ask for the manager, so they could contact the chef. Apparently, someone wanted to have this exact cake made for their wedding. The baker continued to watch from the side, as the chef proudly emerged from the kitchen, only to look with disappointment at the few pieces leftover from the cake.

He confessed – this was not his cake, and he had no idea where it had come from.
Finally the baker stepped forward, and confessed – she had made this ordinary-looking cake. Everyone was so excited to meet her, as soon as they realized here was this incredibly famous and gifted person, right in the midst of their simple ordinary restaurant! No WONDER this cake tasted so amazing, and compelled people to respond!

Hands were shaken, pictures were taken, and the story spread like wildfire. Everyone heard the story of this incredibly simple, ordinary cake from the outside, that held an incredible amount of talent, love for baking, and flavor inside. In fact, it became so popular – people began requesting the same exact cake at their local bakeries. It was such an easy cake mold to use, and such an unassuming design, it was very easy for other cake shops to replicate it. They even improved on it modestly. Images were shared all over Pinterest, and all the other social medias. The hashtag “#OrdinaryCake” was trending for months as the world caught “cake fever”.

The problem was, with everyone focusing on what the cake looked like, hardly anyone was coming to her to make the cake anymore. She had kitchen cupboards FILLED with ingredients, and only once in a while did anyone call and ask her to make one of her cakes. The world was busy sharing images, celebrating moments, and eating ordinary cake, filled with ordinary ingredients, and ordinary inspiration…

May we examine our cakes, to see what all the excitement is about…and may we call the baker today.

(Inspired in part by 2 Corinthians 4)

A Million Dreams…(no spoilers)

As we continue in celebrating the Easter season – it’s great for us to be on the look-out for echoes of New Creation, creativity, and resurrection life.  Recently I found God winking at us through the soundtrack of “The Greatest Showman”, and it made me smile big enough I wanted to share it.

No spoilers here, but there’s a song called “A Million Dreams” that begins with a young BT Barnum, and transitions into him as a man.  He’s singing about his dreams, specifically to a girl who makes his heart race.  As the words began to come, I immediately thought of a young Jesus who had dreams for what Love, forgiveness, and mercy could do to transform our world, as he studied the Torah.  The song takes on even more depth and beauty as the transition happens into him as an adult, and especially as the woman joins in.  Here we have a beautiful metaphor in song – Christ singing invitationally to His bride (the church), and she asking to be a part of what He’s launching into….

This points us with goosebumps toward a New Creation that will blow us away….and we get to join in those dreams becoming flesh today…as we choose to turn away from the systems, powers, & self-centeredness of our world….as individuals, as families, as communities….for the Loving ways of New Creation… (Revelation 21:5….”Look!! I’m making all things NEW!”)   It may cost us everything, but we may gain even more…

He “lives”?

“..songs affect what we think because of repetition – singing the same songs over a period of years embeds the message; and when music is added to the text, an emotional element is introduced that causes greater attachment to the message of the song.” (Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, 2010)helives

The above statement carries all sorts of implications for the music we listen to, the music we encourage our kids to listen to, etc.  But here we are asking about the words that shape our theology and faith over time.  Modern songs get a pretty hefty (and often deserved) criticism at times for their vague or shallow theology.  But there are plenty of songs (I’m looking at you, “I’ll Fly Away”) that we love to sing, that we should also be careful to examine/balance with Biblical teaching/awareness.

Today I’m asking us to re-examine the words of a song most of us probably sang over the weekend.  “He Lives” (#220 if you’d rather not use the screen), is a classic hymn with some great reminders in it.  “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today.”  What a hope-filled offer for us to live toward!  But on further review of the entire song, there’s something significant missing from it: a resurrected Jesus.

Let’s pretend you don’t have it memorized for a moment, and examine the chorus:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today,
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Yes! Amen.  I love it.  I sing it loudly, and I even hold out the final “LIIIIIIIIVES” until the lack of breath begins to turn my lungs inside out.  Yet the Jesus in this song is not the physically resurrected Jesus we celebrate visiting His disciples and revealing His scars.  I’m not saying Jesus couldn’t visit us physically, either recognizably or hiding his identity (both are seen in post-resurrection accounts).  But I’m saying when most of us sing this chorus (and the rest of the song), we’re probably actually referring to the SPIRIT of Jesus at best…and the idea of Jesus at worst.

Yes, I believe the “presence” of Jesus we have been given through the Holy Spirit, and a God who is omnipresent/immanuel is “God With Us”.   That means so much of the song still rings true.  But if we lift this song up as our primary “Easter Song”, we can miss something vital to our faith:

We believe Jesus was physically resurrected ahead of all things.  That all humanity who have died or will die, continue to wait for a full and coming revealing of God’s fullness at which point we will all share in the same physical and bodily resurrection.

He does not “walk with me and talk with me” the same way He walked and talked with the disciples who saw him after the resurrection. Why? Because he has physically gone to be with the Father, to a location many simply refer to as “Paradise” (using Luke 23:43).  A place where it seems both non-resurrected beings (like the thief), and resurrected beings (only Jesus, for now) can be together in God’s presence as we await the final return of Jesus.

The promise and hope of the resurrection isn’t that Jesus has returned spiritually to “be in our hearts”, and help us not feel lonely along the paths we walk.  That’s one of the blessings of the encourager He has given us (Holy Spirit).  But the promise and hope we receive as we celebrate the resurrected Jesus are found in 1 Corinthians 15 (take a moment to read it!).  In Jesus we see the “first fruits” of all New Creation, and an example of what God has in store for all of us – our loved ones, and creation itself!

This is a foundational truth, and one of the greatest things we can clarify to a world that assumes we all think Jesus is a spiritual being hiding in our hearts that helps us to be “good behaving people”.  The Holy Spirit can help transform our hearts and minds, and the grace of God is actively moving to heal/restore the image of our Loving God He intended in creation.   But we believe there is much more to celebrate in Jesus, and much more hope for the embodied lives we live today.  These physical bodies (and this physical world) are tied deeply to the New Creation we believe will exist fully someday.  So caring for others, for creation, and for ourselves happens in fully embodied ways.  There are so many things still to say here, but plenty have already said them.  I just wanted to throw out a quick reminder.

For more on this, check out: Surprised by Hope by NT Wright, Salvation Means Creation Healed by Howard Snyder, and Earthen Vessels Matthew Anderson

Awake (response to Mark 14:32-42)

It seems like such a simple thing – to stay awake.
With no earth to quake and no preparations to make, but simply to be.
To be near, those dearest to the heart of Jesus, invited to go along
Step away from the throngs and people, and in the stillness of prayer
found themselves feeble.
More feeble than they wanted to admit
Not quite quitting, but not fitting into the dynamic roles of prayer
They thought themselves to be.
And in response the words of Jesus come to you, and to me.

“The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Not seeking their shame, and not calling any names,
but framing the moment in grace
Even while his own death was on the horizon,
he saw through their eyes, and the lies
Of a moment that could never be judged by performance
Because it’s not just about what we do, but who we are.
Jesus knew we were far from the Father
And that distance makes us depraved,
enslaved to patterns of sin we didn’t even begin,
but were born into.
As he went to the garden to pray for relief,
he discovered his burden once more
The Father whom he adored, reflected back the love of a heart broken
Words spoken, “not my will, but thine”, all the time his own heart troubled,
Doubled over in painful expectation,
that launching New Creation would cost him his life
Pain cut like a knife, returning to find his friends asleep,
not keeping their eyes focused Or sharing in his Passion.
Still, compassion in the moment stirred action,
A re-action filled with Love, a statement not shoving their sin before them,
But not ignored then, like a sword dividing bone and marrow
Narrowly escaping into freedom, we gasp for New Creation Life.
The strife and suffering he endured out of love,
opened a way for us to stay near

But it’s still quite clear we are weak, and seek places of comfort and ease
That we’d rather lean up against the trees, than stay on our knees
Even as he frees us to fly, we cry out for better legs,
and he begs us to stay awake,
But when he finds us asleep, he will not keep quiet, but speaks,
Into moments of false peace he stirs an awakening
A quakening of the ground that was never sound enough to stand
The land beneath our feet becomes unstable as it receives new stability
Our ability to fall asleep in such moments should cause us alarm
There’s no harm done by others, of which we’re incapable.

It’s inescapable on our own, but the love of our Father’s throne has come
Has prayed, and has stayed awake on our behalf,
While we were napping, he was mapping out a new revelation of Love
Inviting all of us to not only see, but to be,
the canvas on which he masterpieces
This Master, Jesus, not demanding or coercing, not forcing us to bow,
But allowing us who are still drowsy with drooping heads
Stumble up out of our beds, and see…clearly.

This.Is.Love.

He calls out, bloodied and broken on the tree,
“Come, and follow me.”
Follow me and give your life for others, loving all men as brothers
Even the ones with whom you disagree.Even those who have the power,
for in this hour you see all earthly power stripped bare,
Unable to bear the burden on his sagging shoulders,
boulders will be rolled in place
And their faces will smile as if they’ve won.
But he has not been overcome.
He has loved. He has submitted.
He has been fitted with a crown of life no King could ever earn

And by this we learn True Power. True Love. Truth.

Proof that his words were never empty, he meant every word.
What the world though absurd, he saw as invitation
To not only care for creation, but transform
To reset the norm, and form a path to something new
And all we have to do? Is stay awake.
There’s far too much at stake for us to snooze,

So we choose now as those made response- able,
the child from the stable has unleashed
His love in our midst, his suffering gift signed for us to inherit.
And no level of merit would deserve,
what he came freely to offer and serve.

So as we look to the cross, at the man crucified for treason,
Built into our annual church season,
a reminder of the reason for all that we are
Not settling for sub-par standards, but only that which proclaims THIS Love
Rediscovering our identity as those who’ve been awoken, more than words spoken
Before bed and meals, his grace heals and arrives with every breath,
As we embrace his death, not on our own strength, or simply for Heaven’s sake
But because such passion was offered to re-create us,
Awake…

May I have your attention, please?

I’ve been reading The Attention Merchants for fun between classes, & as everyone is posting “New Years’ Thoughts/Resolutions”, I thought this was an important time to share the surprising insight from the author…

“If we think of attention as a resource or even a kind of currency, we must allow that it is always, necessarily, being ‘spent’. There is no saving it for later.” (pg.20)wesley.apple

“(speaking of developments in political advertising) With its combination of moral injunctions as well as daily and weekly rituals, organized religion had long taken human attention as its essential substrate.  This is especially true of monotheisms, whose demands for a strict adherence to the one true God naturally promote an ideal of undivided attention.  Among early Christians, for example, total attention to God implied ceaseless prayer.  The early Church father Clement of Alexandria wrote of the “Perfect Christian” as one who “prays throughout his entire life, endeavoring by prayer to have fellowship with God.” Likewise the desert monastics of the fourth century took as their aim “to maintain there as near as possible a ceaseless vigil of prayer, punctuated only by the minimal interruption for food and sleep.”

“Such an aspiration to monopolize the attention of believers was hardly abandoned after Christianity’s early days.  Some 1700 years later, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, prescribed various means for keeping the mind attuned to God, such as the practice of thinking of him immediately upon waking, right before falling asleep, for at least an hour during the day, and before taking any important action.  (This discipline shares some similarity with the Jewish practice of offering brachot, or blessings, at various routine moments, such as before eating or drinking, or more exceptional ones, as when thunder is heard, among other practices codified in the Mishnah in the third century CE.)”

“To be sure, it isn’t as if before the twentieth century everyone was walking around thinking of God all the time.  Nevertheless, the Church was the one institution whose mission depended on galvanizing attention; and through its daily and weekly offices, as well as its sometimes central role in education, that is exactly what it managed to do.  At the dawn of the attention industries, then, religion was still, in a very real sense, the incumbent operation, the only large-scale human endeavor designed to capture attention and use it.  But over the twentieth century, organized religion, which had weathered the doubts raised by the Enlightenment, would prove vulnerable to other claims on and uses for attention.  Despite the promise of eternal life, faith in the West declined and has continued to do so, never faster than in the twenty-first century.  Offering new consolations and strange gods of their own, the commercial rivals for human attention must surely figure into this decline.  Attention, after all, is ultimately a zero-sum game.” (Pgs.26-27, The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu)

Translation?  The things we purchase, and technology/apps we use may be affordable or even free, but there is always a cost involved.  When that cost involves our attention during moments previously available to contemplation, quiet, prayer, & offering ourselves to discover the needs/desires/joys/pains of God & others – we may benefit from asking if we can/should really afford the price.

Question for conversation: Is it more redemptive to abstain from creating/posting content – helping spread subversive critique on consumption of social media, or to sparingly & creatively post content that points those who consume toward the Love and Truths of God?   How have you seen either – done well?

In any case – may we be people who invite our children & young people to think about these things.  May this be a year where we realize there are always prices unlisted.  May we seek redemptive ways to interact, create, and live together.  May we not be defined purely as amused consumers, or anxious responders, but discover new ways to offer Faith, Hope & Love creatively as New Creations ourselves…

 

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