Monday, May 30, 2016

Being Made New

In the last two years I have explored, experienced, and studied the Biblical text in Turkey (Asia Minor in the first century) and Israel (Hebrew Scriptures through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus). Being in the text has changed everything, and it has changed me. God is making me new again. It has taught me how to teach the text so as to leave those journeying with me with less to unlearn. American Christianity is far too often wrapped in all sorts of cultural trappings, starting with an individualistic, consumer approach that is unhealthy and unbiblical. It can quickly spiral into a message about my prosperity and comfort, rather than God's kingdom breaking into and through our self serving kingdom. Heaven is often viewed as some other future place in some other future time, namely after death. Western Christians can be found talking about the Jesus who died for me, but not about how Jesus lived and what he taught in order to guide all of us. Christians like to talk about the person Jesus, but too often dismiss or downplay Jesus's message in which we are to be shaped and reshaped by. The Kingdom of God, the Good News, is about way more than my sin and my life after death. It's about renewal, the putting back together of all things, which Christians are invited to participate in, co-creating with God to reach it's fulfillment. Shalom, a wholeness and fullness of life for today that slides right into the age to come.

Let's do both. Let's immerse ourselves in who Jesus is and what he has taught, where he taught it and to whom he was teaching. Because context matters. The geography and the land matter, so let's dive into all of it so as to grow as disciples - students of the master Jesus.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

I Love Halloween Because I'm A Christian

How do you feel when you are finally relaxing on the couch after a full day's work, and you hear a knock at the door? You have answered calls all day, you've sat in meetings, and you've listened to the boss drone on and on about TPS reports. But now you've taken a deep breath, sat down, and you just want to kick back and relax. And then there is a knock at the door and you think, or possibly mutter, "It better not be a sales pitch or one of those religious people telling me I'm going to hell because I don't want to sign up for their freaking newsletter that will tell me once a month, in more detail, why they think I am going to hell."

Whoever is at the door doesn't have much of a chance and you haven't even opened the door yet.

Then, there is Halloween, the day where we make sure we are home for the very purpose of waiting for people to knock on our door so we can give them something we bought, because we have labored over the TPS reports, and spent our money on a treat to give to the stranger at the door. And we do it with a smile, thrilled to walk to the door, excited to see who is going to be on the other side. That was the plan. It was the goal to buy treats for random strangers who have come to our house dressed up as Yoda, singing songs about smelling feet and giving treats. Not just one stranger, but dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of random strangers singing songs about smelling their feet, and you are going to give them a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup you purchased for them.

Awesome, completely and totally awesome! Kind and generous, both in heart and wallet; and almost the complete opposite of what we see on the news and chirping through the twitter feed all day.

The community out and about, walking around the neighborhood, smiling, laughing, interacting, and welcoming the stranger with a high five or a friendly handshake. As a Christian (a pastor even), this is like a dream come true, or a vision that has been prayed for and preached about. I know a lot of pastors that pray for this kind of connection opportunity, for their congregations to live with a heart bursting with this type of kindness, generosity, and hospitality. And it's happening, all this amazing kindness and friendliness, on Halloween night, on my block, with all of my neighbors.

Somebody ought to protest. Christians ought to protest. Step up on that soapbox and grab that bullhorn and start yelling and calling down fire from heaven to lick up the pure evil and demonic presence of six-year-old Nancy dressed up like Sophia the First.

Now, I'm fully aware there are some who are frustrated and saying that Sophia the First is not the problem, but it's the history of Halloween, the origins that are wrought with evil and demonic forces. What about the witches, ghosts, and ghouls? You're telling me that you don't want to celebrate evil and wickedness and play into that kind of darkness. Great. Then don't. I don't. In fact, this is my 40th Halloween and I have never seen, experienced or interacted with any of that junk. The closest I have ever come to hearing about the dark history of Halloween is from, well, church people.

For me, Halloween was always a night where my brothers and I were the best of friends, we were on mission together to find the best candy, to go to as many houses as possible and sing songs to neighbors, that on most other days we don't get along with, talk to, or even like. But on this night we were sprinting to their house, waiting for them to open their door, and then beaming with pride when they complimented our creativity and fantastic sense of humor because of how we were costumed.

On Halloween, I have experienced community and neighborliness often only dreamed about. This has been my experience and this is what I celebrate, and it's what I am gifting to my three sons. Inviting the neighbors over for coffee and hot chocolate, caramel apples, and endless Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which someone else paid for and gave my kids, for free. Peanut butter and chocolate aside, this is a night in which communities and neighborhoods take time from their exhaustive to-do lists, their endless sports schedules, and their go-go mentality. The one goal is to walk to their neighbors and talk with them. Or it is being home, waiting with anticipation to respond to the dozens and dozens of knocks on their door so they can give people treats, free of charge, only a smile attached. Beautiful, I'm in.

In some of the earliest writing of the Older Testament in the Biblical library, you will find the instructions to Love God and Love Your Neighbor. Later in the library, Jesus is asked on several occasions what are the most important instructions that worshipers of God should follow. Jesus responds to these questions with, "Love God and Love Your Neighbor." Be light, shine in the darkness, live what you learn, because that is the way of Jesus.

Community and neighbors and laughter and creativity, that is Halloween in my book. I celebrate that, and I celebrate that because I am a Christian.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Jesus’ Donkey Just Collided with Indiana’s Law

As we step into what Christian tradition calls “Holy Week”, I can’t help but wobble at the stark contrast of the new “Religious Freedom Law” that was recently passed in the state of Indiana. On Palm Sunday, celebrated this past Sunday, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey with tears spilling out of his eyes; weeping for a people who have missed the point of his presence among them. People who are, in that moment, singing his praises. Yet soon, will be chanting for his crucifixion because they want a king through violent rebellion rather than a revolutionary King of compassion. Jesus is riding into Jerusalem preparing to wash the feet of the very person who will betray him and have him arrested, all leading to the most brutal and humiliating death the Roman Empire can construct.

Jesus shares a final meal with his disciples after washing their feet, serving them in the most simple and humble way. At this meal he walks them, once again, through his way of putting back together everything that has been taken apart. He teaches them that loving one another and serving one another will be the signs they are walking in his ways, following in his foot steps. At this same meal, while Jesus’s words are echoing off the walls, these same disciples are arguing over who is the greatest among them. They are sitting at a table with the very Savior they need—that we all need—but they are asking him if he will reserve them the best seat at a different table. The broken table of pride, oppression, and a false victory through violence.

People sitting at the same table as Jesus, yet their ears are deaf to his message.

Today I am bombarded with the news of a law in Indiana being passed which allows people to refuse service to other human beings because of their beliefs? It is reported that those who organized the law, lobbied for it, and then signed it, were self-proclaimed Christians.

Those claiming to follow Jesus organizing a law that keeps them from serving others?

Jesus dismantled the political ways of his day through love and service to all people. He was slammed to a cross FOR the very people pounding the nails into his hands and feet. Over two thousand years later, self-proclaimed followers of this same Jesus are using the political arena to avoid serving their neighbor?

Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry he served and loved those who he disagreed with. Yes, he invited them to follow him, and yes, he invited them to walk with him rather than away from him. Yes, he sometimes had very poignant and firm words for them to leave the ways in which they were currently living, but all this took place through face to face conversation, which Jesus either initiated or warmly welcomed. He consistently met people on their turf, offering them grace and peace through life with him. He invited people to follow him as he demonstrated a new way to live, and this way would show others who they were following. It was a way, it is THE way. A living, breathing, visible action that communicates belief. How Jesus loved, served, sacrificed, and selflessly gave showed the world around them who and what they would believe in. His non-violent actions may very well subvert and call out the backwards way of the empire, and may very well put his life in jeopardy. These actions demonstrate a life of love and service, not of conquest and discrimination.

People sang praises to Jesus one moment, and the next moment were yelling to have him killed. People had their feet washed by Jesus and shared a meal with him, all while completely missing the reason for the cleansing and symbolism of that very meal. It happened then and it happens today. On the other side of Jesus’ crucifixion was resurrection, both for Jesus and for most of the disciples who were dead to what he was actually doing. His resurrection awakened their hearts to his way of love, service, and sacrifice. Jesus on the cross forgives our ignorance and buries our divisive actions. Jesus’ resurrection invites us and empowers us to live out his ways, and to serve others with his love in the most generous of ways. There is no lid on love. So there is hope for you and me today, hope to be awakened to a new way of living. Hope that our actions and ways will demonstrate our love for God through our love for our neighbor.

Jesus, riding on a donkey, collided with the empire and self-serving ways back then. And Jesus and his way have collided with the empire and self-serving ways of today. Resurrection offered people a second chance back then, and I believe it can offer the same to you and me today. So as we find ourselves in the season of resurrection, may we be awakened to the way of Jesus, and may we seize this chance to live the way of love and service to all people.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

How Jerry Seinfeld Taught Me About Purpose

Jerry Seinfeld has a comedic bit about the idea of why men wear a tuxedo at a wedding, so that if the groom were to be a no show then the best man could take a step to his left and the ceremony could just keep humming along. This is why the priest/pastor says, "Will you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband," because the language needs to be generic for such a scenario.

Believe me it's a hilarious bit, and it actually taught me a fair amount about purpose.

I thoroughly enjoy the creative aspect of my work and it feels like something, or better someone, is calling out to me from deep within. It's as if God is whispering, "I need you to do this work because there is no one else who can do what you do. This work depends on your unique touch." If I don't show up, if I don't live my life expressed through this wiring that God has weaved into me, well, there isn't someone a step to the left "dressed" to fill in.

So my soul soars when I am invited to create, to arrange words and craft sermons that help unleash truth for people in such a way they can grab hold of it.  The empty canvas is waiting for me to collect words from the bottomless bucket of my soul, where God keeps inserting fresh supplies each and every day. It is beautiful, a gift, and I endlessly say "thank you God!"

So on the other side of this idea of purpose and uniqueness, then, is being a cog in society's generic machine. You know, getting by, just plodding along trying to pay the bills. This machine functions in order to keep you and I busy doing the mindless drivel that can lead to waking up 25 years from now wondering, "Where did it all go, and why did I just let it go?". No uniqueness required here, just punch the time card and sleep walk until you hear the whistle blow.

Death - to - my - soul.

This machine is brilliant in it's design, in it's ability to keep you running on a wheel trying to get the cheese, yet it will forever be out of reach. Run little mouse run. There are a lot of things that just beg for our participation, for us to jump on the wheel that isn't going anywhere. We have created a dictionary full of words and phrases to describe this, but we haven't done anything to shut the machine down. Busy work, grunt work, the mundane, and on and on the pages turn. When I find myself in this rut, when I'm asked to be a cog in the machine, my soul shrivels up like a leech dipped in salt.

So my question is, how do you tell the tailor he can keep the tux? How do you hang a sign that says this assembly line is permanently out of order? Because maybe like me, your soul hungers to wear something a bit more unique, to live a life a life that is a bit more, you.

Dad is Fat

I had the pleasure of reading Jim Gaffigan's book, "Dad is Fat," and it was hilarious with a great warmth about it. I have read books before that I felt I couldn't put down because the story was riveting and I wanted to take one more step, just one more page. Then I realize the book is ending and I am shocked at how smooth and fast it read. Well, Jim Gaffigan does that with laughter, with short stories about the joys and adventures of parenting. You just want to laugh one more time before setting it down, or hear one more quick tidbit on raising five kids in a two bedroom apartment in New York City. Then, the book is done, and so you rush to the computer to watch a clip from his stand up shows on YouTube, because Mr. Gaffigan has you hooked. A book that is hilarious, smoothly written, and is about the day to day of real life. Beautiful. This isn't written with the vibe of a wealthy, famous person prattling on about the nuisance of having kids, but an honest adventure in raising five kids in a small apartment, which is accessible humor for everyone. Oh, and clean humor! It's easy and cheap to crudely talk about hook ups, sex in marriage, or just cussing for cussing sake, and Mr. Gaffigan avoids it all. Because he understands that life is funny, that parenting is a whirlwind with endless jokes and hilarious sound bites. Beyond the funny is insight and heart as well, and it is clear that Mr. Gaffigan loves his kids and adores his wife. He seems to always be looking for a way to praise her, highlight her strength, and make you want to find the Gaffigan family for an afternoon play date with your kids. This is the kind of book that should be a best seller, and I applaud Mr. Gaffigan for his craft and his life. Keep telling stories, Mr. Gaffigan, and keep writing books because the world needs to laugh and find life insightful and heart warming.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Viral didn't go this time

A small review for the book 'Viral' by Leonard Sweet.

I understand that we live in the technology age, but that doesn't mean that technology has the final word. I also get that Mr. Sweet is not saying that, exactly, but Viral left me feeling that technology has all the advantage and no disadvantage in sparking a revolution of the soul. Although good can go viral, so can the chase for viral make you go off the radar of humanity. Community, flesh and blood interaction. Mr. Sweet is obviously incredibly smart, and I have found many of his books to be of much help, but I feel like this one leans too far to the side of the savvy, modern wins the race. The medium is still the message, so we ought to pay close attention to how we care for and engage the medium, so as not to offer a trendy but thin message.

I look forward to Mr. sweet's next offering, as I know it'll be better than this one.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Your Yard Is Messy

It's easy to stand in the front or back yard, look to the left and right and check off all the things that need cleaning or fixing to the neighbors house and yard. And then there is the yard we are standing in, the one we are first and foremost responsible for.

"We worry a great deal about the problem of church and state. Now what about the church and God? Sometimes there seems to be a greater separation between the church and God than between the church and state." - Abraham Joshua Heschel

Good question Abe, I'm going to do some self inventory before I respond.