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March 24, 2014, 11:26 AM

Typical


The Status Quo.  

Ordinary. 

Mediocre. 

Right down the Middle. 

 

Be honest, none of those models of operating are getting it done.  We will not accept mediocrity from others, why do we find it acceptable from ourselves?  If your server at a restaurant is mediocre, you make your frustration clear in the size of the tip you leave.  If a Doctor's care is ordinary, we see a second opinion.   If all that our lives have to offer our neighborhood, schools, or workplaces is only the status quo, the ordinary, or any level of mediocre response to the amazing presence of God in our lives, they are going to look elsewhere (if they continue to look at all).

When Jesus chose the apostles, the people he kept closest to him during that 3 year assault on everything "ordinary", he understood that ordinary or mediocre wasnt going to cut it.  Here's where we find hope in that:  he took ordinary folks and made them extraordinary, not the other way around.  Jesus could have sought out the best, most popular, and prettiest folks to be his Plan A.  Instead he intentionally picked the fallible, weak, and unknown.  If that doesnt give you hope, we need to check out egos at the door.  We are fallible, weak, and unknown.  We dont garner tv time with our opinions.  We are not being photographed doing inane things like taking out the trash.  We are known by those around us, those that we have let into our sphere of influence.  Other than that, the world passes us by without as much as a blink.  

And Jesus is perfectly fine with that.  Are you?  

While seeking promotion and wealth are encouraged from day 1, Jesus asks for us to seek humility and faithfulness from day 1.  Think about it, if you are seeking promotion and wealth, what differentiates you from the rest of society?  Nothing.  But seeking God, seeking first His Kingdom takes us to a whole different level of success and notoriety.  Once Peter got that, he became the undeniable leader of the expanding First Century Church.  Until that moment, he struggled with pride and the desire to be greater in the eyes of the world.  

Are we ready to break the spell of the typical?  

 

 

 




March 17, 2014, 10:23 AM

The Lent Equation.


To start: I am not, nor have I ever been Catholic.  While my heritage is just as conservative and regimented, I have never been subject to Latin verse or ornate robes (a real bummer).  In fact, growing up if anything was even remotely related to Catholicism, it was immediately deemed wrong and to be avoided.  Except Fat Tuesday, we always celebrated that one for some reason......  However for the rest of the events around that time (Ash Wednesday, Lent, Friday Fish Fry, etc...) I was taught and accepted the practice of thinking less of people for participating, actually wondering how they thought they were pleasing God by participating in these archaic and doctrinally wrong practices.  I can recall a specific individual praying directly against those practices in multiple church services I sat through growing up.  It has taken decades of tedious work by God on my heart to finally break through that shell of prejudice and shortsightedness to finally begin to see the beauty and dedication behind a simple marking of Ash on a forehead and 40 days of purposeful fasting.  

Indeed, I have come to accept and appreciate the pageantry of these acts of worship, fancy robes and all.  Will they ever show themselves in our tribe?  Probably not, and thats ok.  But that doesnt stop me (or us) from appreciating the beauty of a heart pointing itself towards God and the sacrifice of Jesus whether or not its got our doctrinal stamp of approval.  Its the facebooky thing to do this time of year to proudly post your chosen sacrifice for Lent...  Ironically, one of the most popular is fasting from facebook itself.  <The addiction of social media, and the fact that it has wormed its way into our consciousness and habits like the dreaded midnight binge of mint chocolate chip ice cream drowned in chocolate syrup is a topic for another long post...>  I havent given anything up for Lent in years, and much like my attitude from younger days, I find myself looking down on people who have.   Sure, there are some people who do something very honorable and give up things that will actually make life harder for the 40 days, but most of the offerings to Lent are pithy, minute offerings that have no weight to them.  And I walk right back into my judges chair, gavel in hand and start condemning these offerings in the name of my religion.  Its a vicious cycle that I cannot seem to break. Perhaps I should have thought to give up cynicism for Lent? 

To finally get to a point:  Lent is important.  Its important because it brings the suffering of Christ into our reality, out of the ethereal world in which we habitually contain it.  Even if its only for 40 days, pointing our hearts towards Jesus and seeing even a portion of his earthly battle realized in us is a valuable exercise in faith.  Those stories we preach about, and teach our children every Sunday are dangerously close to becoming simply that... stories. Some of them we treat like they're straight from the Brothers Grimm and only use to teach moral chastisement on children while ignoring them ourselves.  Zacchaeus?  We have left him in the realm of fable, being just a short man who wanted to see Jesus.  We've forgotten the words of Jesus declaring "Salvation has come to this house today..." ONLY after Zach promises to deplete his own fortune (4 times every cent he's stolen!!!), repent of his greed, and embrace the poverty of honesty.  Thats not just a story for children, its a relevant tale modeled for our societal propensity for greed and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.  When these stories become our reality, we begin to see the powerful need for things like Lent, fasting, and the Cross.  

Here's my Lent Equation: Him > Me.  Less of me, More of Him.    

There doesnt need to be any stamp of approval or pageantry to  make that equation valuable to your life.  Whether you spend 40 days each Spring honoring the suffering of Jesus, or you do it one day a week in every season, Less of Me and More of Him is an equation that applies at all times. Here's where I really dont like the Lent equation:  when I'm called out to give more.  Thats not a new equation, (i.e. More of Me...), its me being willing to give up those things I wish I had more of (time, money, even joy and happiness).  Am I willingly offering of myself to the betterment and relief of others?  Less of Me means I hold my tongue.  Less of Me means patience.  Less of Me...  

What is your Lent Equation?  




March 10, 2014, 10:59 AM

A Unicorn, A Pelican, A Crocodile's Entrails, and the Plants in My Office...


Yesterday (3/9/14) was a treat.  We got to hear and experience the beauty of music from a gifted group of singers (Harding's Chamber Singers).  I'm not an expert in music, nor can I identify the specific complexities of what made the arrangements and parts so beautiful.  What I can identify is the emotional beauty and connect I had with dynamic voices united to glorify God.  It was outstanding.  If you missed it, I'm sorry for all the adjectives I've just thrown out about the event, you missed out for sure!  

One of the songs presented by the Chamber Singers stuck with me long after it's closing notes, and unfortunately it is not because of the beauty of the composition or its performance.  Dr. Kelly Neill introduced the song, Unicornis Captivatur​, as a song that displayed the ability of certain monks to see the glory of God in everything from fantasy and those imaginative places we create to the harsher realities of real life.  Having the emotional depth of a middle school boy, I couldnt help but giggle at the lyrics.  I mean, how cool is it that this group was singing a beautiful composition that included the words: "The hydra enters the crocodile, Deprives it of its entrails, kills it, then comes back alive"?!!!  It doesnt need to be said that this was my favorite moment of the concert!  Apparently, Latin makes even the guts of a large reptile sound beautiful.  

Silliness and grossness aside, what struck me was the chorus that planted itself between each of the verses.  "Sing Alleluia..."  Crying out praises to God who is the victorious lion! The composer of this work echoes the profound nature of those that seek God, seek to praise God, and ultimately see the Glory of God everywhere.  Much like the plants in my office who stretch themselves with every fiber of their being to reach the sunlight streaming through the window.  

I love having plants in my office.  I dont know why, as I typically avoid having plants at home, nor have I ever shown a propensity for gardening. Currently I have two plants, both simple shades of green and of your average house plant variety.  They show no dynamic characteristics other than those shown by every other house plant in front of every other window.  Yet I find in these two normal plants something extraordinary.  They reach for the sun.  While they do what all plants do: growing, pushing deeper into the soil, establishing a root-base, and turning my hot air into breathable O2, they are always stretching South.  I've turned them around so they dont lean one direction and grow crooked, but to no avail.  No matter which way I turn the pots, the plants lean toward the window... always.  

Here's the lesson I'm drawing from all of these caveats:  in the midst of everything are we stretching ourselves towards God?  While the Unicorn is captured, or while we hunt down that elusive state known as financial security, are we stretching with arms wide proclaiming Alleluia?  While we work tirelessly to establish ourselves in this world are we stretching our hearts to God with his praises on our lips? 

I fear we only reach out casually in whispers of Alleluia.  The fantasies of life distract us to the point that we forget the true source of contentment and fulfillment.  We reach out with extended arms for the joy of reputation and security in the fleeting comforts the world has to offer.  We cry Alleluia at the appropriate and scheduled times, when our voices are drowned out by the bustle of the crowd around us doing the same thing.  In everything, we must be crying and shouting Alleluia.  Because the Lion of Judah has been victorious over sin and death.  

I'm thankful I've never had to experience the entrails of a crocodile up-close-and-personal.  Hopefully if that day ever comes, I can do so with the cry of Alleluia on my heart and lips... Because God is there, wrapping himself around me.  




February 24, 2014, 9:28 AM

Face to Face


I've had a line from one of the songs we sung yesterday (2/23/14) running on loop in my head the past 20 hours or so (Thanks Reuben!!).  Its from the song Faithful Love, and in the chorus we sing:  "I've seen faithful love face to face, and Jesus is his name."    A song stuck in one's head is not something to sneeze about, more or less write an entire essay on...  Its all the other stuff thats been engaging my brain this weekend that makes this line pop to the forefront.  

In my daily travels through blogs, commentaries, and outposts on Faith, Ministry, and Theology, I've run across a scathing set of articles written against a mega-church pastor who has skirted our newsfeeds recently for a particularly extravagant house purchase/financial decision.  Dont worry, I'm not going to add to the fodder, I merely want to explain the convoluted thought process in my brain.  I started along this path because one of the articles dealt with children, and the messages being presented to the children of that church.  The message is "We trust Pastor _______ and the vision God gave him, completely." Now, on the surface this looks harmless and like a way to build support and trust in the leadership.  The problem became when the message was delivered in a coloring book to the children's ministry featuring only pictures of Pastor _______ and The Code (their church's vision elements), and looked more like brainwashing than innocent coloring-in-the-lines!  

Through all of these ramblings and alarm bells going off in my head, I was still singing that line from Faithful Love.  What does Jesus look like?  Where have I seen him face to face in display of love?  Is it in this young and upcoming Pastor _______ who is obviously a charismatic and influential leader?  Is it in the face of the preacher on television who has thousands and tens of thousands of supporters who follow him unquestioningly?  If thats where I'm to see the face of Jesus, why doesnt my heart leap every time I hear their voices?  Why dont I throw my money at the television when they ask for more, more, more?  Why do I hear alarm bells going off every time I hear the term "New York Times Best Selling Author of _________" when they're introduced?  

I think its because I'm looking for the face of Jesus in the wrong place.  I read another blog on Sunday morning that not only had a different set of alarm bells going off in my head, it had pictures of diseased people that made me want to scroll even faster through to the end of the webpage.  It spoke of a Western civilization criminal imprisoned in a third world country.  This man was incarcerated for a minimal period of time, however the prison in which he served his time was also the permanent home of the outcasts of society.  These outcasts were not fellow criminals, they were lepers.  In what was the ultimate form of culture shock, the man was forced to live his daily prison routine among those who were given sanctum in this prison because they were shunned from every other place.  

This seemed to those charged with punishing his crimes, fitting for the white-collar character of this man and for his white-collar crimes on the poor and destitute.  They were right.  He felt as though he was being tortured and punished far beyond the scope of his crime and tried his best to avoid any and all contact with these pariahs.  Eventually though, he found himself being befriended by and in turn befriending a woman who was disfigured, crippled, and ravaged by disease.  He described later what he had found in the face and eyes of this woman:  Jesus.  After weeks of avoiding his fellow "inmates" he began to see them differently.  In their gnarled hands he found solace and comfort, more so than he ever found in holding the smooth hands of women he sought so eagerly in the past.   When cleaning their wounds he found peace, a peace far beyond anything money could have provided.  

What this man found was the face of Jesus.  And Jesus didnt look anything like me, you, or the young mega-church pastor who claimed to be the next best thing to hearing from Jesus himself.  Jesus looked like someone I would shield my children from if we encountered them on the street.  Jesus looks like someone who didnt take a hot shower this morning before putting on freshly washed and ironed clothes.  Jesus looked like the people Jesus himself said were the most important in Matthew 25: 31 - 46.  What was the ultimate in revelation for the man imprisoned, is that he found himself looking like Jesus to his fellow inmates.  Yes, Jesus began to look a lot like a white-collar criminal who was guilty of taking money from those who had little to none to take.  When he touched them without flinching, he looked like Jesus.  When he helped them walk just a few steps closer to the well, he looked like Jesus.  When he picked them up out of the dirt, brushed them off, and placed them back in their ramshackle cots, he looked like Jesus.

And that scares me.  It scares me because I dont look anything like Jesus. 

The man, once released from his incarceration and free to resume his life, found himself longing to remain with his friends.  He saw Jesus face to face, and was forever changed.  Needless to say, he did not resume a life of white-collar crime.  He came home and began looking for the face of Jesus at home, in the faces of executives and CEO's, the homeless, the affluent, and the destitute.  When he looked for Jesus, he found him... and When he found him, he began to look like him.  

I've seen faithful love face to face, and Jesus is his name.  I just wish I saw him staring back at me when I look in the mirror.  

 

 




February 17, 2014, 2:34 PM

Limited time offer, act now before it's too late.


I'm "home" at this moment in Detroit and its part of the nature of the beast that when visiting with my parents I assimilate into their routines a bit. One of those routines is the old school television shows on for most of the morning. Today it was Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger back to back.  This post isn't about those shows, but, boy, the drama sure does play out differently in the happy land of black and white.  I'm writing today because I happened to get caught up watching the commercials. 

They are, in my opinion, more poisonous and greedy than any offering we get during our prime time programming.  Yes, we can complain about the immorality and scandalous nature of the images we see, but they are NOTHING to the targeting and manipulation of your daytime, old folk, medicated crowd. 
The commercials are an intended marketing to the gullible or the desperate. 

To the observant, that appears to be just what it is: marketing to the gullible and desperate. I could see through the flashing letters, the "heartfelt testimonies", and the call-now, limited time offer urgency. It's a baiting tactic to create a lack of security and confidence that only "they" or their product can provide. 

  • If you or someone you love have ever gotten sick from something, there is probably a lawsuit you can be a part of and profit. Just call. 
  • If you're on Medicare, you can get them to pay for everything you don't need. 
  • If you're on this prescription, you are eligible for another medication that will fix all the problems the first one caused. It's a vicious, money making cycle. 

And that was just ONE commercial break. One. There are at least three during each thirty minute program. 

To the unobservant, it looks like they really, really care about your well being and will only be able to help if you CALL NOW!!! I'll admit, that cane that stands on its own and can adjust to whatever terrain you're on, looks pretty sweet. 

My imagination ran, as you expect it to, to the church. 
For lack of a better term, we are a commercial for our faith, for our salvation, for our level of faith. We provide the world a window into our very own moral system, and to what extent we think our product will help to the casual observer.  Within each commercial break, we are provided the opportunity to showcase what we've got.  Are you selling something that creates an urgency? Or are we one of those commercials that is dismissed immediately because of its ridiculous and "crafted" nature? 

 When given the opportunity (things stink, or take a sudden and unexpected turn) how do we approach those who have not chosen our path? Meaning, are we trying to sell them a faith that looks like it solves everything, while holding back the reality behind what we're selling: we don't really believe in its effectiveness either.  There is a danger to saying Jesus is the fix-all solution and then showcasing just how much we doubt that after the commercial break ends.  We need to be buyers and sellers of the same product we use on a daily basis. 

Perhaps it is because we are selling, most often unknowingly, a half-hearted faith that speaks about its effectiveness but the reality is far from it's intended practical and daily use. The commercials the church could make would look nice and orderly, much like our Sunday services, but the reality of most lives would speak to another message all together: we don't really believe most of this stuff either. Sustenance and reliance in God makes a great song, but looks really hard and impractical outside the walls of the church. 

Church, it's time for some truth in advertising. And that means we don't just make better commercials, it means we back up the commercials we've already made. 


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