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June 15, 2015, 10:09 AM

Just Like Jesus...


If I were to ask, in the general assembly of any Church during any regularly scheduled meeting:  “Who here wants to be like Jesus?”  I guarantee every hand would go up.  

Your hand included.  And mine too. 

And then we feel better about ourselves because we’ve just made a public proclamation about ourselves that fits within the box we’ve built for Western Christianity.  And we walk out the doors and look nothing like Jesus.  

We sang O To Be Like Thee yesterday in our regularly scheduled assembly, and it has got me thinking.  It too is a public proclamation that we want to be just like Jesus.  The song speaks (in the very first verse, which we never avoid… the 3rd maybe, but never the 1st) of forfeiting all of the treasure’s of earth GLADLY so we can be just like Jesus.    

Still want that song in next week’s selections?  Yeah, me neither. 

Because when we’re just like Jesus we forfeit things that earth claims as its best treasures!  There are things like winning, being right all the time, pride, reputation and fear, and lots of STUFF!  Are we willing to forfeit all that?  If we do even partially forfeit some of that, the world looks at us funny.  And we don't like it when the world looks at us funny.  

When we raise our hands, and sing the song and claim our desire to be just like Jesus we are saying that we will forgive unconditionally.  We are proclaiming that our will is secondary to a God we’ve never physically seen.  When our hands fly up in profession of faith, we are stating very plainly that we see the worth in the poor and destitute, and want to honor them with our generosity and compassion.  

Jesus hugged the leper.  Dined with sinners.  Adored children.  Ignored cultural and racial barriers.  Exalted women.  Protected the innocent and rebuked the hypocrites.  His hands were dirty and his stomach often empty.  

That hand still in the air?  Yeah, me neither.  

 




June 8, 2015, 10:29 AM

Everything I need to know I learned from..........a Squirrel......?


Stick with me on this one... but we're going to start this week's blog talking about the squirrels in my front yard.  This Spring, we've noticed three new additions to the usual crowd around the trees.  They're smaller than the others and have a much more playful spirit to their daily routine.  Before you think I'm advocating squirrel-rights or harboring those pesky, lawn-destroying, dog-annoying rodents, I'm not.  We simply are able to observe them every day outside one of the large windows perched delightfully in front of a couch/recliner.  

I am, at different times, entertained by them; annoyed by them; and perplexed by them.  The entertainment comes when, especially the young ones, get into a fit of frivolity and chase each other up/down/around the tree.  They jump on each other and seem to enjoy themselves greatly.  That is cheap entertainment.  All of it turns to annoying when they dig in and around wires for landscape lighting and make holes much bigger than any squirrel needs in the mulch and the "nicer" portions of the area around the house.  If I were a squirrel, I'd have a very systematic approach to digging holes.  There would be quadrants and neatly spaced dig sites in which the optimized hiding and retrieval of nuts would happen.  It seems random is the modus operandi of our furry friends.  

Finally, I find myself perplexed by our furry neighbors.  And I'm fully aware this is where I might really lose you (as if that hasn't happened already, its a theology blog about squirrels).  Do squirrels mind the humidity (this humidity is torture on my tail!)?  Do they ever wish the lawn was mowed a little neater and closer to the ground to better the digging and harvest?  Have squirrels ever thought to themselves:  "I think THAT branch over there would be a better location for our nest, but since we're already here I guess we'll just make do" (all the while constantly staring longingly at the better branch nearby).  Are squirrels ever tired of the constant interruption to their routine when I walk out the door and they scatter like the wind? Judging by their approach to digging, they cant seem to find their way back to the holes they started before interruption.  

I often find myself observing the Church in the same way as I do the squirrels (it keeps getting weirder and weirder with the squirrels).  Often entertained and pleased, but at times perplexed.......and dare I say it, annoyed?!  There is such delight in a body of believers who let themselves worship with abandon.  Maybe its the right song and just the right time, or the lyrics that punch right into the moment.  No matter, when that chorus hits there is nothing better than listening to the voices of a hundred people throwing themselves into the arms of God.  This moves far past enjoyment and becomes a moment when I see past the grime of earth into the holy places.  What joy there is!!!  

But that always comes to an end.  Every song has an end note, and the proper punctuation so we know how long to hold that last refrain.  And we look back down at our own hands and wonder why we stopped digging.  The focus on the best things turns to a focus on the "Important" stuff like doing our job, and building our portfolios, and writing something that matters.  We get back to digging and the fleeting moment of joy vanishes like a light breeze.  Instead of peering through the veil to the holy places we screech to a halt and peer into the emptiness of our worries.  Today dawned bright and new, but our eyes turn to the other branch, wondering if we wouldn't be happier over there.  When we gather on Sunday morning, yes it may be my bright-eyed naivety showing here, but we gather for the important stuff, united by the singular desire to seek God.  And then we get interrupted.  We forget what we were doing here, and instead of doing what is important, we remember the complaints; the worries; the pain.  And we run off to try and remember where we buried them. 

The potentially misread intention here, it seems, is to tell you to not work hard and provide and sing your days away while ignoring responsibility.  Nope.  I would never say that, nor would I assume you are not doing so.  The thoughts I've shared have bloomed from the singular focus of one of God's unique creations, the squirrel; and the inability of God's most precious creation (Us) to focus on THE most important things for more than a few minutes a week.  What sermon could I preach that would return our focus to the roots of our first and most precious love?  What song could we sing that would pierce our souls to the songs sung by the Heavenly Host at the moment of our conversion and commitment to eternity?  It certainly wont happen in a blog about squirrels.  

I pray for the Holy Spirit to invigorate the Church today with a focus befitting our Creator.  And I pray for the entitlement we harbor to vanish into a passion to see God glorified in every thing we do.  Whether you're busy running around a tree playing tag, digging holes in the earth to lay cable or sewer lines, or laying down roots that will hold us into eternity...  remember the important things, those parts of this life that matter.  And next time you get the chance, sit and watch the squirrels.  

 




June 1, 2015, 8:57 AM

Settling in...


From Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:  (emphasis added) 

O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetterBind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

We've been wandering since day 1.  Sure, "In the Beginning..." there were boundaries, but we were created to be free.  When the gates were closed, we continued to be free to wander... and that spirit of roaming has been our tendency since then.  We teach our children of the great explorers and visionaries who sought to touch the very boundaries of the earth.  They learn of the women and men who pushed the boundaries of gravity, elevation, and free-fall.   

But that's not the wandering we're singing about above.  We've been free to explore, even having from the get-go a Tabernacle created to be mobile.  

The wandering that requires our hearts to be sealed in the the courts above is the wandering of hearts that have nothing to do with terrain, physical borders, or flaming swords guarding the way back in.  We could stay in the same place, attend the same church, eat at the same restaurant after church every week and still be a wandering soul without constraints.  The distance and boundaries we must be leery of are those of the wanderings that create distance and boundaries between us and God.  

A question posed in the Sermon yesterday was about our roots.  "What holds us to the ground?"  Trees of even the greatest height can be thrown about if their root system is shallow or stunted.  We have idioms in our language sets that speak of being "Uprooted" and conversely "Laying Down Roots."  Those speak to the wandering of our feet, not our souls.  Too often we're too caught up in our physical dimensions and boundaries to remember to plant our souls in a place they will grow.  

Psalm 1 speaks of the benefit of a tree that is planted by the water.  The fruit of that tree is lush and vibrant.  The roots are solid and entrenched in solid ground.  Winds will not avail those trees.  Drought will not push them to their limits. 

Doubt has no effect on that tree.  Attacks of faith and devotion to greater truths merely flow through the branches like a gentle breeze.  Worry

is pushed to the places Jesus told us to place them.  Not because freedom to wander is removed, but because the wandering NEVER takes

us from our Roots.  

 




May 18, 2015, 9:15 AM

In-Between


We know where we began.  "In the Beginning, God..."  

We have hope where we'll end.  "...So that whosoever believes will have everlasting life."  

During the In-Between... well, we've gotten confused.  

 

Is it about money, respect, reputation, happiness, Eat-Drink-Be Merry?  All of those pull at us until we choose one, much like a college guidance counselor pesters us to decide on a major.  We spend our time during the In-Between trying to figure out where we came from and where we're going to the point that we miss what we're to be doing right here and now.  

Salt.  Light.  Growth.  Just to name a few.  These are concepts put on the table by Jesus, followed up later by his Disciples...and much later by the Saints and Theologians of nearer times.  There have been debates, conflicting commentaries, agreements, and seminars built around these concepts.  All because we've gotten distracted, confused, and misguided. 

Salt is the preservation of our society.  Will the world continue to turn without Religion, or more pointedly, Christianity?  Sure.  Chaos will reign as each mouse scrambles to get higher and higher at the expense of every other being, but the world will indeed continue to turn.  The place for those of us who've carried the mantle of Christ though is to be the preservation to the rotting meat of culture, society, morals, ethics, and most importantly: Hope.  From the beginning of this illustration from the Sermon on the Mount, the saltiness came from the character of Jesus completely.  Today we've added other seasonings to the mix... you know, for flavor.  That way, if someone doesnt like one flavor, they can choose from the array of salts on the shelf.  In the same way individuals have gotten distracted by money, reputation, etc... Churches have followed suit.  Countless words are spent every day on trying to realign the character of Christ-Followers and Churches to what is most important. (And yes, I see the irony of that statement's presence here in a blog).   

Light.  We've taken the call of being the Light of the World and put a fashionable, palpable shade over it.  What once was a bare bulb that exposed the darkness of corners and pushed shadows to their furthest limits of existence have become places where darkness not only creeps but occupies more than corners.  We all wear a shade over the light of Christ, proving that we can be attractive AND Christian.  Or we can be cool and holy at the same time.  The assumption has become:  the world wont look our way unless we prove ourselves worthy for their attention.  Oddly enough, the world isnt looking for shades, its looking for hope, relief, and peace.  All those come from the Light of the World and need no further augmentation.  Everything we do must be to present that light, in all its blinding glory.  The good news is that the light shines through us in countless ways and styles.  

And Growth.  Just like flowers, trees, bushes, plants of all kinds:  if you're not growing, something's wrong.  Even trees that have met their height max continue to grow and present new branches that spread wide beyond the base.  We're not to be about the numbers, really... financials and attendance are not the only signs of growth in an institution.  Most importantly is the growth that occurs on an individual basis in the lives of those attached to said institutions.  We cant grow (affect permanent change and development) as a group until we're there as individuals. No, we dont grow at the same rate, which is why we're strongest when united.  If you ever feel like things just arent moving ahead in the group, look closer at the individuals who make up the group and see if the growth hasnt been arrested there.  

 

This is what makes up the In-Between... and its hard work.  But we cant just look back to the beginning, and hope for the end.  We're called to faithfulness in the In-Between, which are shaped by the beginning, and hopeful to the end.  

 




May 11, 2015, 8:32 AM

Missing the Point.


I wrapped up a sermon series yesterday, and tried my best to boil down our purpose here on earth to one thing.  Ambitious?  Yes.  Successful?  Probably not, but ne'er have I had a sermon that I thought accomplished much anyway.  

 

Its interesting that Jesus could boil his purpose down to one thing:  to Serve.  Hear me out here, because he does this in Matthew 20: 25 - 28 -- "For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."  He came to serve.  Yes, it was profoundly powerful service, ending by bearing the weight of our sins on The Cross.  As a whole, the essential piece of his purpose and mission was to serve. 

 

This should not be blowing anyone's minds, because Jesus was ALWAYS serving other people, reaching into their lives and bringing light to the darkness, joy to mourning, and love into all circumstances.  No better example of this is when Jesus washes his Disciple's feet in John 13.  John writes that Jesus knew All Things were given to him and under his authority.  ALL THINGS!  He was the Word, He was there before time began.  And the next thing he does is take off his robe, get to his knees, and washes the feet of his friends.  

 

This is the lesson Jesus needed to teach before he was gone.  His words were forgotten (he'd been telling them he'd rise from the dead for years, they didnt get it).  After all, post-Crucifixion, the Disciples hid themselves because they had no clue which way to go because Jesus was dead.  The lesson he needed to teach them that they would remember was to Serve.  Service.  Service through humility and sacrifice.  

 

He speaks to them of what greatness looks like.  He speaks to them the power of humility and service without the expectation of reward or acceptance.  I mean, how awkward was that moment when Jesus washed their feet?!  Imagine the silence enacted in the room when the Disciples realized what Jesus was doing!! They made eye contact with each other, hoping one of them had a clue.  Only Peter spoke up about how weird it was that Jesus offered himself as the lowest servant to them.  

 

And then we walk out of churches thinking "I got nothing from that this morning."  We avoid neighbors because we know they're going to ask to borrow our hedge trimmers again.  We fiddle with our phones to avoid eye contact.  We fill our schedules with fluff and wonder why time runs out to do the important things.  We expect Heaven, but offer the base minimum requirements expected to earn it.  

 

There is almost nothing sacrificial about our lives these days.  We give out of excess.  We schedule service opportunities.  We program our faith development into 13 week sessions.  We pour our communion meal into singe serving cups with easily grabbed portions of bread.  Our faith costs us nothing, but we expect a full refund at Judgement.  

 

Our lives have boiled down to one thing:  comfort. 

 

And we've missed the point.  


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