Posts Tagged ‘love’

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.)

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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)

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