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April 28, 2014, 2:32 PM

Finding the Extraordinary in the Mundane.


Routine.   

Routine = comfort.  I hate being taken out of my routine.  A lot of us fight actively to maintain our routines.  Why?  Because they make us comfortable, they are calming, they are known.  When things get a little off we respond in kind with stress, crankiness, or engage the environment around us will all the sensitivity of a dental drill.  We are creatures of habit.  I once had a high school teacher (back in my days of assigned seating in the classroom) tell our class that he does not find a need for assigned seating.  He let us choose our seats from day one, never once asking us to return to that seat or arrange ourselves differently.  The crazy thing is, we never changed or switched seats for the entire year.  Every day we all went right to that seat we chose from the beginning.  We like our routines, our habits, the mundane details of our daily existence.  

This shouldnt be blowing anyone's mind.  This is human nature.  This is a part of the story we are living that began with Creation.  It was through his routine, his daily walk through the Garden in the cool of the evening with Adam and Eve that God noticed something off.  It was through his routine travels as a shepherd that Moses was introduced to God's voice in the burning bush.  David was pulled from his routine, to be anointed King, after which he immediately went back to just that.... his routine and his sheep.  The Apostles were found and called from within their daily routines, in the middle of the workday.  

Within these stories I see God doing extraordinary things with those who were doing ordinary things.  Its within those ordinary things though, that we see the beginnings of something extraordinary.  It took Moses 40 years of shepherding to break the control and power Egypt gained over him. Only when he embraced the ordinary life of a shepherd did he hear the voice of God.   Adam and Eve got into trouble when they found themselves unfaithful to the routine, breaking the faithful habits of a life lived in relationship with their Creator.  Trouble found its way in when David was not present with his army in the Spring, when Kings were oft to go to war (you know, shaking off those winter blues with a good old-fashioned battle). Instead, he broke from that routine and found himself staring down into the bathtub of Bathsheba.  

Within our lives, much seems mundane, typical, average, ordinary.  We read the stories of the Apostles and find ourselves watching these men to amazing things, make awesome commitments, and flip the world on its head.  That is extraordinary.  And we just cant relate or keep up with them.  However, we never would have gotten their story if they were unfaithful in their routine, in the mundane, average, and ordinary.  It is within that routine of their lives that we find the makeup of true disciples.  Within the mundane we learn who Peter really is, and how we can grow into a leader.  In the habits of James and John we see what makes them so passionate.  It is within Matthew's routine that he encounters Jesus, and is never the same again.

When we think about the great things we should be doing for the Kingdom of God, its easy to be swept away with the enormity of Salvation, repentance, and sin.  Its easy to find ourselves caught in battles only with those high-profile sins and habits that get a lot of attention (addiction, lying, murder, etc...), and even easier to find ourselves oblivious to the routines in which we are "stuck" in every day.  Are we finding God and his calling in the mundane areas of our lives?  Are we hearing his voice in the ordinary?  Its the mundane details of our lives that make up most of our identity, isnt it?  Work.  School.  Our Commute.  Traffic.    

Are we faithful there, so we can be called to something greater?  When we do become faithful in the mundane, places like the grocery store, gas station, and office cubicle become more than areas of routine.  They become places where God thrives!  God's voice is calling out among the noises around us.  He is reaching out for us in the relationships that only exist because of our routines.  The extraordinary is ready to happen...  but only if we show ourselves faithful in the ordinary.  

 

 




April 21, 2014, 11:42 AM

Lost among the hurt and misunderstanding


I can see the hurt in Mary's eyes when she turns away from the tomb.  I can see the confusion and frustration in Peter's face when he turns back home after seeing the empty tomb.  I hear the broken hope in the voices of the disciples on their way back to Emmaus, when they gave up and decided the past three years were good, but now gone.  I can even hear the desperation in Judas' screams as he tries to take back a mistake.  

How can I see/hear these things?  Because I own a mirror.  Because I read emails and letters.  Because I have an office that is sometimes used for counseling, or just sounding off.  Because I have ears and eyes.  But mostly because I work with people.  People trying to find hope and a path in a world that is very, very messy.  

Its easy (relatively) to speak, write, teach, and preach about the Resurrection because it doesnt involve the nastier details of the prior weekend.  Its a simpler sermon to preach because it brings hope, and we get to talk about stories of reconciliation and healing (Peter is exhibit A/1).  Jesus' words after the Resurrection often start with "Peace be with you..." and not admonishments or rebukes.  The Resurrection brings everything Jesus taught into a reality not felt prior to his death.  "Oh... THATS what he meant!!! I GET IT NOW!!!"

And yet we still see the hurt, hear the confusion, and lose hope.  

Things arent going to go our way.  And thats confusing to us when we just know we're doing the right thing.  We are going to be misunderstood by those who dont get it, or who dont understand how we process this world.  We are going to be pushed into boxes that will confine us, and make us feel either powerless or hopeless.  Sometimes we are going to be the ones who blind ourselves.  Forgiveness will elude us.  Peace will abandon us.  Compassion and generosity will be lost among the more familiar emotions and passions of our souls.  In other words: we will miss the Resurrection.  

The Resurrection brings a burden to those of us who believe, and we just cant seem to balance this burden with the one taken from us on the Cross.  With the cross we are relieved of our sin, guilt, and old self.  With a risen Savior we must have answers to the hard questions ("Do You Love Me?") and we must respond accordingly.  The Cross changes us... the Resurrection expects us to grow.  Change is difficult, Growth feels like Mission:Impossible.  Before the Resurrection, Peter and Mary were changed.  They were confronted with either forging ahead without Jesus, or returning to the way things were.  I'm going to guess by the fishing and bag of spices that they hadnt quite worked out the "ahead" part, and were opting to rejoin what was known and comfortable.  

When they come face to face with the risen Jesus, they were moved past the decisions of change and it became about who they were going to grow into becoming.  For Peter is was growing out of the foot-shaped mouth and into the leader of the Jerusalem Church.   

Change is easy, growth is hard.  Change happens overnight, or even right in front of our eyes.  Watch Mary's eyes opened with hope and understanding at the mention of her name.  See the fear in Peter's eyes when he is told to "Feed My Sheep."  Change happens quickly, growth takes time.  Sometimes forgiveness and reconciliation takes years, generations even.  Should we abandon hope? No, if we do we will have missed the Resurrection.  Difficulties will stall us at what feels like the starting line.  Should we give up the race?  No, if we do we will have missed the Resurrection.  People will treat us unfairly.  Friends will leave us.  Mentors will disappoint us.  The world will misinterpret us.  Should we give up or just head back to the fishing boat?  

No.  We dont want to miss the Resurrection.  

 




April 14, 2014, 11:53 AM

There's Money in the Tax Booth.


I dont want to make this into a silly competition, but my tax booth is WAY bigger than your tax booth.  Really.  Folks, I get paid to do this.  You have to (well, you dont really HAVE to) listen to me preach and write about all of the things you're supposed to do, then do them in your free time during the week.  And even with the way things work in this relationship, I think I've got more excuses than anyone else as to why I'm not available to display the Christ-like characteristics in my every day life than anyone else.  Its backwards.  For the non-paid ministry peoples (99% of you), free time is when you finally get to take a break from thinking about all of things you HAVE to do and finally get to think about the things you WANT to do.  I enter the scene with my nasally voice asking you to spend that valuable free time doing more stuff you HAVE to do. Sigh.  Does it ever end?

Its no wonder we're so good at making excuses.  

I wish Matthew (Levi) would have at least offered one or two excuses why he couldnt leave his tax booth.  I'd feel much better about preaching his story if he gave us a couple good one liners.  Nathaniel at least gives us a snarky comment to begin his calling.  Levi just walks away.  Ok, so he doesnt just walk away, he walks away and invites Jesus over to his house for a lavish and expensive party/meal.  All this without one word of explanation to anyone why he's leaving the tax business.  Not one letter of resignation to the Roman Officials he was responsible to.  And not one word or excuse to Jesus about there being money in the "tax booth" business and ZERO money in the "following Jesus" business.  Talk about showing availability.  

If anyone earned the "right" to make an excuse it was Levi.  Seriously, Peter left fish to follow Jesus.  "So I leave the pole here?"  "No, You can bring the pole."   Yes there were family issues, but we see Peter's house and visit his home multiple times in the three year journey.  I dont recall ever hearing about Levi's home or visitations.  He walked away from everything.  Thats availability.  

That level of availability is the lesson I pull from the life of Levi.  He becomes available to hearing Jesus call him.  He changes his behavior.  He adjusts his allegiance.  Earning potential is disregarded.  I'm not sure how it worked, but I cannot imagine the divorce rate from Roman taxation being very high.  These booths were franchises, set up by the Roman governors to keep the revenue flowing in.  There was always money in the tax booth.  Levi walked away from obligation and into a potentially dangerous realm of desertion.  There were people who's pockets would get a little less fat when he quit padding them with a little extra here and there.  I've seen how that story ends (not directly of course, but in movies which are the next best thing to reality).  

And there is not one excuse to be heard.  

Are we showing ourselves available to the voice of Jesus?  I imagine we hear him loud and clear... because we are all familiar with that beauty of a feeling called "GUILT."  We know what we're being called to do, and yet we have an excuse ready to go to prove just how unavailable we are.  The biggest issue I have with our society's level of unavailability is the fact that we're not being called out of our tax booths at all.  We're simply being called into characteristics that should meld seamlessly with our souls and everyday lives.  

Forgiveness is not a full time occupational change.  Its a characteristic of a person showing themselves available to the mercy of Christ.  But there's an excuse for that.  

Generosity is not an occupation choice.  Its a piece of who we are, often becoming something we can do more of the more we actually work and earn.  But there's an excuse for that.  

We're very good at being unavailable.  We've got these tax booths after all that need our attention and investment.  And when we are occupying our tax booths, we become unavailable to those things we MUST be doing.  This past week I called our congregation to physically write down the things the would be available to do this week.......and it was beautiful.  Tax booths are being walked away from as I write this on Monday morning. 

What tax booth has your attention, time, resources, and needs walked away from this week?  It may be a broken relationship that needs pride removed and grace inserted.  It might be a wrong from decades past that has been allowed to camp out, unforgiven and not forgotten.  It may in fact be a habit that has turned itself into a sin that is keeping you locked away from the healing mercy of Christ.  

We all have those franchises that we think need kept up, or kept secret, and that keep us unavailable.  But there is amazing news:  Jesus went right from calling Levi out of his very own booth and walked into his home to eat with him.  Jesus walked right into Levi's mess and loved him, and his friends.  Yep, Tax Collectors and Sinners were welcome to the table with Jesus.  

Levi became available from that moment on to the voice and tender burden of Jesus.  What is keeping us chained to our booths this week?  The money?  The pride?  Safety and Assurance?  Or all of the above?    

 

 

 




April 7, 2014, 4:10 PM

The debate: to blow stuff up, or be the one who gets blowed up?


So who would you rather be:  Peter or James/John?  

We're talking pre-Pentacost apostles here... James and John with the power to rain fire down on a Samarian village, and Peter with the edge on being the punch line of Jesus' most pointed teaching.  It sounds like a rather obvious choice doesnt it?  James and John embody everything that we envision in ourselves as Christians in our current culture.  Bold.  Powerful.  Passionate.  And nearly always Right.  

Peter on the other hand was nearly always wrong, or at least on the wrong side of the "moral of the story is..."  He gets publicly lambasted as "satan", his faith gets pointed out as weak, and he ultimately opens his mouth at the worst possible time declaring promises he would never keep.  That is FAR from where we envision ourselves in our tribes these days, isnt it!  

Think about this, and bear with me for a second as this may get uncomfortable, we've turned Christianity into one big protest.  We're against this; We're FOR that; we believe in this; and expect you to respect our rights to that.  And lo and behold, if the world doesnt recognize us and validate our opinions, we are ready to wipe them off the map in a holy rain of fire that they will never forget.  Yep, sounds a lot like what James and John were ready to do with that town in Samaria that wouldnt provide housing and food for a flock of Jews cutting through their territory on their way away from Mount Garazim (where the Samaritans at least hoped Jesus would acknowledge was sort of a legit worshipping place) and into the den of cultural and genetic prejudice and hate in Jerusalem.  Yes, they were totally in the wrong and deserved that fiery rain.  

I say a lot of that tongue-in-cheek, and with a sardonic tone to my voice (of which you cannot hear... well, I'm not even speaking it audibly, but I hope you picked it up).  Tie that James and John attitude to today and just watch when our Christian bubbles get pushed on a little bit by a wicked world.  Facebook explodes with fiery raindrops; articles are written decrying a world that wants to be heard but doesnt want to hear US!!  Thats the whole point of the world, folks.  They dont know Christ.  They dont know compassion in the form of a man laying his life down on the cross, bearing everyone's sin.  Why do we expect anything more from them?  Oh yeah, its the Sons of Thunder complex we've got.  We sing songs about Mansions Just Over the Hilltop and Crystal Seas and crowns we'll earn when we lay down our trophies at last.  We hear all about the rewards we'll earn (and think we deserve) and forget the point of the whole matter.  Reread Matthew 19, in which Jesus speaks to his disciples of Thrones and honor, only to remind them that the whole point of those thrones and that honor is to lift up those without either in this world.  

Jesus calls us to lay our lives on the line for the sake of Love.  We're not going to be martyrs, but there are much more painful things we could lose:  reputation, comfort, wealth, pride.  Thats what James and John were facing when that village shut their doors.  And instead of realizing that a fallen world doesn't react like we want it to, they figured it deserved to be shamed, destroyed, publicly decried for just not getting what Jesus was all about.  Silly Samaritans, how dare you.  

Then there is Peter.  Oddly quiet during that encounter in Luke 9.  Personally, I think he’s a little relieved that someone else said was he was thinking and got rebuked for it for a change!  

Move ahead a few weeks, years, and maybe a decade or two…  James is dead, killed by Herod.  John is writing, and so is Peter.  They’ve witnessed something horrible, followed by countless instances of the miraculous.  Often the miraculous occurred by their own hands.  They’re changed men.  John speaks of Love, and how the outward expression of love must be the defining characteristic of a Believer.  Peter is breaking down walls with Gentiles of all people.  He still speaks boldly, and he has faced abuse and prison because of it.  Neither of them are the same as they were when walking alongside Jesus.  

Why?  

Because they witnessed something in the Garden that rocked every bit of self-esteem and pride they held so dear:  “Your Will, Not Mine.”  

Because they saw the power to wipe out a nation (the world even) being arrested, beaten, spit on, then ultimately hung on a rough piece of wood.  He was conscious enough to know exactly what was happening, and conscious enough to do something about it……..but he didnt.  They saw submission.  Not just to authorities or someone stronger, but submission born out of love and compassion.  

They witnessed Jesus rising and speaking to his friends, those who ran and deserted him, as friends.  Instructing them, loving them, feeding them… and even loving Peter back into the fold with quiet questions.  

They were changed by Love.  They were changed by what we’re calling the “Extra” in our current series.  And when the “Extra” was added to their ordinary, we find ourselves looking at Disciples.  

What has changed you?  Sure, we know about baptism and repentance.  But has that really changed anything?  We’ve grown up being told to chase the American Dream…….. and we still are.  There’s nothing wrong with freedom and justice, but when it comes at the expense of morals, integrity, generosity, and compassion… we’ve lost our way and turned ourselves into Sons of Thunder, ready to bash anything that gets in our way. 

What defines us?  Our opinions?  Our Wallets?  Or the extent to which we will go to love someone who probably is never going to deserve it?  

I want to be like Peter.  I want my pride to be all blowed up.  I need my life broken to the core by Jesus, so that I can rise from the ashes of what I want and find myself wanting only Christ, and making Him known.  

Yes, I’d rather earn the nickname “Rock” than “Son of Thunder”.  What about you? 




March 31, 2014, 11:43 AM

Why the Andrew costume is so dusty and forgotten...


Imagine standing between Peter and John whenever Jesus was speaking, or asking questions, or doing anything directed towards the apostles.  We know Peter's personality, and we get a peak at Johns ("the disciple Jesus loved...."  sigh), and I wonder just what level of fun it was being sandwiched between those two.  Into the picture steps Andrew.  He is the one disciple always grouped closest to Jesus, but seemingly always pushed out when Jesus wanted his closest friends with him.  

Why was he there?  He is always listed near the top, and was the first to be called into discipleship with Jesus.  I think he's there because of this one crazy concept that haunts every church today:  Unity.  Or maybe we need to make it more about sanity than just unity.  Among the brashness of Peter, the ego of John, the thunderous nature of both James and John, the political activism of Simon the Zealot, and the Roman apologist of Matthew the Tax Collector we have the calming and unifying presence of Andrew.  

And thats why Unity (sanity) is so hard.  

No one ever picks Andrew as the apostle they want to be in the classroom skit.  He doesnt have any of the good parts.  He simply stands there next to Peter (who has ALL the good lines).  The big moment is introducing Peter to Jesus, then pointing out the young man with the 5 loaves and 2 fish.  When we play Church, too many claim the roles of Peter and John and leave the role of Andrew to collect dust with the other costumes in the drama closet.  (He's stuck in the box with Boaz, Old Samuel, Aaron, James the Less, and the Ethiopian Eunuch).  

This is not a preacher telling congregants/parishioners to suck it up and do/give more.  This is an observation from a study into the apostles, and the simple truth that we dont ever hear Andrew gripe or complain about his role or exclusion from those pivotal moments shared with the Inner Three.  We simply get him painting a picture of unity (sanity) by connecting people with Jesus and not getting caught up with all the hoopla.  He emphasizes what is most important (getting people to Jesus) and lets others wrestle with the silly things (who will sit at your Right hand Jesus?).  He understands that Jesus is the X-Factor for making ordinary things extraordinary.  

All of this is done from the background, from behind the curtain, where things seem to really matter to Jesus.  Salvation came to Zacchaeus at home, when confession and repentance was done in the presence of Jesus alone.  We have to assume that the fruit of that repentance made itself known quietly through new-found humility and generosity from Zach's tax booth.  When tears were used to wash Jesus' feet, when perfume was "wasted" on anointing Jesus at a party (among sinners, no less), and when a sister is rebuked for missing the point...  its in those moments that we find the characteristics of Andrew coming into the light, displayed by Jesus.  

 This is where Unity (sanity) is cultivated.  The media or Hollywood cannot be the fuel for our country's revival.  Mega-Churches are not the soil where revival is born.  Those places are the playground for Peter and John.  And while important and powerful places for discussion and action, revival has its roots in much more humble places:  our homes;  our schools; in line at Walmart when you're in a terrible rush; at work when the boss is being a nincompoop.  When we display our desire for the character of Jesus to be on display in our lives, we can slip into the background.  When our words bring comfort and peace, and do not add fuel to the fire, we let Andrew speak.  When our presence takes tension down a few notches and not up, towards the boiling point, we are Andrew.  I wish we got to see more of Andrew in the Gospels.  Wait, I just wish I got to see more of Andrew when I look in the mirror.  I'm too busy trying to get my fake beard to look more like Peter's.  

 

 


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