There is a scene in Forrest Gump where Forrest is riding the school bus for the first time. In this scene, we hear a chorus of "Seat taken" and "Can't sit here" as Forrest looks for a seat. Other than Jenny, no one has compassion. No one makes room for him. I keep thinking of this scene every time I read an article about the immigration/humanitarian crisis taking place at the border between the US and Mexico. City after city and state after state keep scooting over and saying, "Can't sit here" or "Return to Sender". It hurts to come to the realization that we are the school bus full of cruel, selfish, and indifferent kids. I don't pretend to know all the ins and outs of the political arguments regarding immigration, naturalization and citizenship. I know there are a lot of connected issues to this conversation like national security, international politics and sustainable economic resources. But I also know that this issue at the core is very simple. We are talking about human beings, and there comes a point in time when we must remember that we are all natives of creation. Kindness and hospitality to strangers, refugees, and aliens (legal or otherwise) is a basic conviction and expectation for the people of God. It always has been. The reason God's people needed an exodus in the first place was that Egypt and Egypt's Pharaoh chose enslavement over kindness and fear over love. Yet, throughout the Hebrew Bible, we see case after case of God's people being reminded to demonstrate kindness and hospitality to strangers and foreigners. We must always remember God's liberation, the exodus and what preceded it in order to sustain loving our neighbors in this way. And where is Jesus in all of this? Jesus: born into poverty and forced to become a refugee. The same Jesus who very clearly taught that we would find him in the least of these and in the little children. What a sobering truth to face: how we treat these people is how we are treating Jesus. I don't think we would yell "Return to Sender" if we saw Jesus riding in these buses. But he's there.Whether or not our nation is a Christian nation is a debate for another day. But one thing is for certain: we live in a country with large numbers of people professing Christian faith and Christian values. Few issues are as clear as this one as to how our Christian values must come to bear. Our call is to demonstrate care, hospitality, and kindness to the thousands of children pouring into our cities and states. Our compassion is demonstrated by what we do, how we treat them, and how we speak about these people and this issue. Know that I don't write this only for those who read it. I write this for myself, as well, because I have not done enough. We are all on this bus and there are children looking for a place to sit down. Thankfully, some churches are leading us in the counter narrative of compassion and hospitality: St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Fontana, CA and Southside Presbyterian Church in Tuscon, AZ. May we see the least of these clearly so that we can see Jesus clearly. And may we creatively participate in showing kindness to Jesus...because he is there.
Forgive Us Our Trespassing by Banksy
I love the Noah movie...mostly because I think it tells the story better than the church.
Let me explain...
In a recent interview with Esquire, Ethan Hawke says, "When I was sixteen, I remember telling my high school sweetheart I was pretty sure I knew everything. There were some dates of wars and Latin terms I didn't know, but I felt I knew everything that was important. Now I'm forty-two and I'm pretty sure I don't know anything."
Although I never said it, I can remember thinking in high school that I had a pretty good handle on pretty much everything. With each year since, questions definitely outnumber the answers. Grief, suffering, evil, darkness, and brokenness abound and answers, knowledge, and certainty fall short in helping us face it all.
Growing up around churches and Christians, I learned pretty quick that church was no place for doubts, struggles, and questions. Certainty was and remains an idol among us today. I think some of this is behind the fire some Christian reviewers are throwing at the Noah movie. It's not at all what we pictured or have been taught so it must be dangerous and wrong. It threatens our certainty and challenges our preconceptions of what the Noah story is about.
But if we go back and read the story, I think we will be surprised to discover just how biblical this movie really is. Darren Aronofsky goes to great lengths to place the Noah story in the Genesis narrative. Throughout the movie, we are reminded of creation, the Fall, Cain and Abel, and the growing wickedness of humanity. There is a context to this story and the context is the growing disconnect between creation and its Creator. And this is precisely what we encounter we go back and read Genesis.
In imagining this story, Darren Aronofsky takes some artistic and creative leaps, but these don't bother me. Methuselah running around with Noah? I went back and did the math and he would have been a mere 869 when Noah was father to his 3 sons giving him 100 years to run around with Noah and his family. Rock monsters? Go and read Genesis 6. Does anyone really know who the Nephilim were or what they looked like? What resulted from the sons of God marrying the daughters of men? While I never pictured rock monsters, a certain amount of artistic license is fine with me as long as the heart of the story is protected. And that is precisely what Aronofsky does.
God is deeply troubled by the wickedness of humanity. Behind all the darkness of this story is a God working to bring an end to the mess we have made. This is so important in our day and time because we trust that God does take evil, suffering, and brokenness seriously. The movie and the biblical story are dark, and this demonstrates the truth of God's connection with his creation. He is grieved by the violence and wickedness of humanity so much so that he decides to start over.
It is here where many give voice to another way of understanding this story. What if the flood story was just that: a story and not historical fact? Noah and the Flood share many points in common with another non-biblical story from antiquity: the Epic of Gilgamesh. One way of resolving this in our minds is to propose that there was an ancient flood of some kind. In an effort to make sense of this flood, 2 stories (Noah & the Epic of Gilgamesh) and maybe more were created. And we shouldn't be bothered by this at all.
If it turns out that this is the case, I am fine with that. Stories have long been powerful vehicles of truth. I learned to never cry "Wolf" because of what happened to the boy who did. I used this story with my kids and I still remember how I felt when they asked what happened to the boy. It was in that moment that I realized how dark this story really is and began to question why it was always told to me so nonchalantly.
"Well, the wolf ate the boy," I told my kids. Point made: no more crying "Wolf." What if the Noah story was intended to do the same for the people of Israel and now for the people following Jesus? All the people died! Point made: no more wickedness, violence, and being comfortable with so much evil in our hearts.
And there is Jesus. Jesus (who is God in flesh) loved a good story and seemed to prefer them in teaching the truth of the kingdom of God. The same may be true of Genesis: God using stories to convey the truth of his kingdom. Namely, that God is deeply troubled by the wickedness of humanity. So much so, that he decides to start over with Noah and his family.
It's good for us to know these things trouble God so deeply because we are also troubled by the state of the world. It is good to know God cares so much, and that darkness doesn't have the final word. A lot of hard things happen in Genesis, but the final word is always one of grace and hope.
Adam and Eve are banished from the garden but God gives them clothes to cover their nakedness and relieve their shame. Cain is banished to the land of Nod, east of Eden but God gives him a mark of protection. The flood wipes out everything and everyone, but God hangs his bow in the sky and promises to not wage war on us in this way ever again. The Tower of Babel is destroyed but God gives us a way to reach the heavens after all by calling Abraham and creating a people who journey with God. Genesis even ends with the story of Joseph and this moral to the story: "You intended to harm me but God intended it for good to accomplish the saving of many lives."
The final word is always grace, but struggles linger. And this is precisely what Noah, his family, and even the rock monsters are doing. They are struggling to discover and live out the will of the Creator. In fact, Noah's struggle to discern and live out the will of the Creator is something I never thought about. But this is the part of the story is what we need most.
Here is where the Noah movie saves the Noah story from the church. It does so by recovering the struggle with darkness. Life is hard, and I don't know as much as I thought I did when I began walking with God. But what I have now is much better: a relationship with God that is both struggle and trust. Doubts and questions persist because darkness and suffering remain. As certainty fades, my faith increases because the one who gave us life cares enough to do something about the mess we have made.
Jim Wallis says this: "There are two types of people – the Saints and the Cynics - who see the world realistically. The difference is that the Saints make a choice to act in hope and the Cynics give you reasons for never acting. Cynicism is a buffer against commitment."
The saints aren't doing a good enough job of seeing the world as it is. We have been ignoring the mess. The problem with this is that leaves only one option for people who see the mess: to be a cynic.
So...As for me and my family, we choose to see the mess, and we choose hope. Our hope gives ways to commitment, and our commitment empowers us to stick with God just as he sticks with us. God's bow still hangs in the sky after the rain, and God's cross remains in the ground after the storm.
May we all choose hope and place our trust in something stronger than certainty: God. And God brings us the best news of all: Everything is broken...but not for long...because Jesus lives!
This week I am thinking about power surges, and I started thinking about Surge - the Coca Cola product from the late 90's that was supposed to be the Mountain Dew Killer. Surge only lasted a few years, but it helped me survive a couple of tough weeks of summer camp. I was a camp counselor for a bunch of wild, energetic kids who never slept. Surge was a good friend to me during those weeks of camp and the only option available for a quick boost of energy. These days, there are plenty of energy drinks and the fact is that many of us are running on spiritual fumes. We want the quick fix and the energy boost to renew us but we're having trouble getting this done on the go. But what truly ails us cannot be fixed quickly and requires more than simply managing the symptoms of spiritual fatigue. We just aren't careful enough with our time. The spiritual energy we seek and know we desperately need is accessed by making the difficult choice to stop, be still, and wait for God. I know what you are thinking: who has time for that? I hear you and understand. Protecting time for silence and waiting is hard. Our hurried culture doesn't make this easy for us. Our hurried lives don't value "unproductive" time. Our anxious spirits have trouble resting and dealing with God on a soul level. But some things are more important than the urgent demands on our time. And this is one of them. We need silence and solitude in order to stay connected to God, ourselves, our families, our friends, and our neighbors. What happens when we are more careful with our time and seek silence in our days? We find the power surge from on high we need. When we make time to be silent and wait on the Lord, we have our strength and spirit renewed by the everlasting one who will not grow tired or weary (Isaiah 40:28-31).
On Sunday, I asked everyone to take a selfie. It was an odd request, but it fit with the take home point of the message.
In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 70 (or 72) depending on your version of the NT. In Genesis 10, we find the Table of Nations, or list of all the nations. In the Hebrew version of the Old Testament, there are 70 nations listed. In the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), there are 72 nations listed. The number here in Luke 10 symbolically connects to the Table of Nations, as Jesus' followers are sent to the all nations with the good news. This explains why ancient manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke disagree on this number. Some have 72 and others have 70.
Either way, the main point of the story is why they/we are sent and how they/we are sent. How are we sent? We are sent into the world and called to go with simplicity, vulnerability, contentment, and a single-minded focus on the kingdom of God. Why are we sent? We are sent because the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few. Jesus instructs the 70 to pray for God to send out workers and then he tells them to go. The idea here is that we are the answer to our prayers. To quote Lisa Sullivan, "We are the ones we have been waiting for!" She says this in response to many people wishing and waiting for another Martin Luther King, Jr. to show up. The same goes for us - whatever it is we want to happen in the world begins with us. Rather, it begins with our willingness to let God work through us.To quote Joanna Thomas, "God was already there. We just had to make him visible." She said this in response to a question about how she brought God to Pollsmoor Prison in South Africa. Again, the same goes for us. Wherever we want to take God is a matter of going there in order to make God visible. God is already there...wherever there is.And this brings us back to the selfie. The point of taking a selfie at church was to capture a snapshot of ourselves among the people with whom we are sent into the world. Since I asked everyone to take a selfie, I took one also: my first selfie and probably the worst selfie ever taken. You can see this pic below and the second pic is actually a great one taken by Tyler with one of our Elders: a great moment captured.
The point of this exercise and Luke 10 is captured in Eugene Peterson's translation. "On your knees" and then "On your way!"
Mishear: to hear incorrectly.Growing up, the only place where I heard the national anthem was when I went to an Atlanta Braves game. One result of this was that I grew up thinking the National Anthem ended with "land of the free and home of the Braves." . I guess I thought that it was sung differently at every ballpark/stadium: people in Houston were singing "Land of the free and Home of the Astros," which turns the song into a lament and people in the Bronx were singing "Land of the free and Home of the Yankees," which turns the song into a celebration of evil. Misremember: to remember incorrectly. I'm not sure if misremember is technically a word (some dictionaries list it and other don't), but this didn't stop Roger Clemens from using it before Congress when responding to allegations of steroid use. He used it to explain the difference between Andy Pettitte's version of events and his own. I don't think anyone bought it, but I guess it was a nicer way for Clemens to call Pettitte a liar. Mishearing, Misremembering, or Worse?
Some of us mishear the lyrics to the song God is playing. Sometimes, it's the fault of our churches and homes. Other times, it's our own fault for not paying attention. God is singing a beautiful song in the life of Jesus. Let's pay attention so we sing a song resembling his.Sometimes, we misremember our calling and identity as followers of Christ. We might remember incorrectly because we are tired, distracted, angry, or complacent. But we also might remember incorrectly because we are not taking the time to remember. But maybe it's not a matter of mishearing God's lyrics or misremembering God's calling. Maybe it's worse than we think. Could it be that we willfully turn away from God's song in favor of one that is more worldly, self-indulgent, and entitled? Whatever the reason may be, we find ourselves in need of hearing the lyrics to the song God is singing once again. There are many places we can find these lyrics, but one of my favorite places to go find God's song is Luke 4:16-21. Drawing from the words of Isaiah, Jesus gives us the message that will define his life and the words that should shape ours: good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, setting the oppressed free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor. May we all rediscover these lyrics so we can sing with God once again.
As a kid, I loved to play hide and seek. And I also loved to play it without telling my family that I was hiding. Not always the smartest thing to do.
On one occasion, I hid under a bed at my uncle's house. My uncle lived next to a pond, and that was the last place my parents had seen me. I knew I was in trouble when I heard my mom say that dad was out walking through the pond afraid that I was somewhere stuck in the pond.
I waited a few minutes and then walked out of the house. I was subsequently hug-tackled by my parents: hugged because they were glad to see I wasn't in the pond and tackled because I had hidden again without letting them know I was playing hide and seek. They looked me in the eyes and said, "No more hiding!"
But we don't stop hiding, especially from God. Or we keep hiding parts of our lives from God. Either way, hide and seek is game we still play. We hide from God or keep certain parts of our life hidden from him. And God seeks us so he can walk with us through life, sin, shame, fear, and anxiety all the way to redemption and reconciliation,
One of my favorite episodes of Portlandia (a satirical sketch comedy show), is one featuring an adult hide and seek league. It's a ridiculous and accurate take on the extension of adolescence into adulthood. Hide and seek is a game for kids. Yet we play it all the time with God. Let's stop hiding and find God. Rather, let's open our minds and hearts to the reality that God has found us.
"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking
through the garden in the cool of the day,
and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
But the Lord God called to the man, Where are you?" (Genesis 3:8-9)
"The Christian life—and especially the contemplative life—is a continual discovery of Christ in new and unexpected places."
~ Thomas Merton
Moses discovered God in a burning bush. Elijah discovered God in the quiet. Jacob discovered God while on the run. David discovered God in the wilderness.
The Bible and history are filled with stories of people discovering God in unexpected places. To say this is so because God is everywhere misses the point.
God is everywhere, but we often fail to notice. God is everywhere, but we take this for granted. Simply proclaiming that "God is everywhere" misses the struggles and surprises of pursuing God. When we find God in these unexpected and hard to reach places, we discover a patient, loving, everlasting, and kind God. And we can't help but want to plunge more deeply into our pursuit of this God.
So we shouldn't be surprised to discover Christ in the storms of life (Matthew 8:23-27
), among the least of these (Matt 25:31-46
), in the anguish of suffering (Matt 26:36-46
), or on a cross (Matt 27:45-56
). What is surprising, mysterious, and beautiful is where the story of Jesus begins: an infant in a manger. Here is the beauty of Christmas: in Christ, God put on flesh in our most vulnerable of states and experienced the fullness of humanity.
Every time we drive by or see a nativity scene, may we remember the God of unexpected places, the God who became a child for our sake, and the God who, in Christ and in Spirit, is always with us. As we remember, may we also discover Christ in the unexpected and hard to reach places in our lives.
"Advent is a time when we ask, even plead with God not to leave us alone, for when God leaves us to our own choices and turns us over to our own ways, we are certain to drift from him. Our indifference to God is soon turned into spiritual boredom, a boredom that leads to spiritual inertia and ultimate death to spiritual realities. Advent is a time to cry, ‘O God, turn me away from my indifference, create in me a heart of repentance, and lead me to the waters of spiritual refreshment." (Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time, 43)
The Christmas season is filled with clutter. There are gifts to buy, decorations to display, parties to attend, deadlines to meet, people to see, and families to accommodate. All the clutter gets in the way of celebrating Christ.
We’re too busy to receive and share the peace of Christ. We’re too tired to love others the way God loves us. We’re too distracted to dwell with the Spirit and receive the joy of the Lord. We just don’t have the patience or time to wait, hope, or anticipate the return of Christ.
Herein lies the potential of Advent. Early on in Christian history, the church recognized the importance of organizing the year around Christian themes. Easter and Christmas are the 2 big events marking both the core of our faith and the staples of the Christian year. In much the same way Lent prepares us to celebrate Easter, Advent prepares us to celebrate the beauty and mystery of Christmas: God putting on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
Advent is our opportunity to reclaim Christ from consumerism and recover generosity from a culture of greed. Advent is the season where we remember that we are a people anticipating the return of Christ. And it is this anticipation that we so desperately need because it shapes a way of living that resembles the kingdom that is at hand and the kingdom that will soon arrive fully and completely.
Before we know it, Christmas will be in our rear view mirror. When we find ourselves beginning 2014, let's be able to look back on this month of December and see a month where our hold on hope strengthened and our embrace of God's future quickened.
When you have a few minutes (3 minutes and 45 seconds to be exact), watch the video and let the words of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” revitalize your following of Jesus Christ.
On Sunday, we are experiencing Jesus' call to carry our crosses daily. "Whoever wants to be my disciple..." is how he begins his teaching on what it really means to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24-27). The teaching is important but so is this opening phrase.
Behind all the accumulated baggage of traditions, creeds, biases, speculations, agendas, and controversies is a "more determined quest for him who is the sole object of it all, for Jesus Christ himself." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
There is so much to do and so much we mean to do. There are places to go and people to see and other places we haven't had time to reach yet and people we still intend to see. We have goals, plans, intentions, and a daily schedule. Somewhere in the midst of everything is a restlessness. We are searching for something, for someone.
When someone finds something, you often hear them say, "It was the last place I looked." Of course it was, who keeps looking for something once its found. But that is exactly what many do when it comes to our restlessness regarding life and our spiritual search. We find Jesus and sense and know he is "the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." But we keep on looking.
Sunday will be a reminder for us to stop looking because we have found what we are looking for - Jesus Christ. Some might argue that actually we are the ones who have been found. I think both are true: we have found Jesus and Jesus has found us. Now that Jesus is found...and we are found, it's time for us to listen closely and pay attention to what Jesus says and does. For therein lies our hope for staying found and the world's hope for finding Jesus (and discovering that they are no longer lost, but found).
Mission, worship, discipleship and spiritual formation, compassionate service, and working together are five fundamental priorities of any local church. These five priorities combine to wholly involve the local church in the kingdom of God, and are listed in the order in which I would prioritize them.
Missio dei is a Latin term meaning “mission of God” and describing the fundamental nature of God who seeks a relationship with us (Genesis 3:9), gathers together a people as his own, and sends his people to carry the message of reconciliation to everyone. Following mission is worship, as we are called to give glory to God in everything we do (Colossians 3:17). Therefore we live lives of worship and gather to worship God together each Sunday morning. Living a life of worship is about devoting ourselves to God, surrendering our will for his, loving God with all that we are, and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Next, discipleship and spiritual formation are two terms describing the same process, but both are needed because discipleship orients our spiritual growth to following Jesus and spiritual formation fastens our growth to the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. Compassionate service is how we are called to interact with everyone, and we demonstrate compassion to others because that is what God has done for us. One important insight from the call of Abraham is the promise from God that he will bless the world through his people. We are called to be a blessing and not a drain. The world has enough drains and not nearly enough fountains of blessing.
Finally, working together completes my list of priorities. Jesus sent—and sometimes even called—his disciples in pairs signifying the importance of working together. Fellowship, connection, cooperation, and unity invigorate and enliven our participation in the first four priorities. In this way, working together serves as the priority completing this group of fundamental priorities.