Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bullseye!

The source of discontent and anxiety, of struggle and fear and much evil is a matter of centeredness (or the lack thereof)--specifically centeredness in the authority of the God who is Love.


On the other hand, contentedness and confidence and peace and assurance and even righteousness and justification are found in the center, in trusting in and living for the authority of God as loving Sovereign and caring, nurturing Father.


"In what did the humility of Jesus consist? Low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness, disappointment with his spiritual progress? Absurd! He was enthralled with his Father. In utter self-forgetfulness, he lived for God. The central theme in his personal life was the growing intimacy with, trust in, and love of his Abba. He lived securely in his Father's acceptance.


"'As the Father has loved me so have I loved you' (Jn. 15:9), he reassures us. Jesus' inner life was centered in God. His communion with his Abba transformed his vision of reality, enabling him to perceive divine love toward sinners and scalawags. Jesus did not live from himself or for himself but from the graciousness of the Other, who is incomprehensibly caring. He understood his Father's compassionate heart." --Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust


This is the mark we are missing when we sin. Not that there are "do's" we failed at or "don'ts" that we did, like naughty school-children trying to win the favor of our teacher. The mark we are missing is centeredness in the authority of our loving, caring Father who is Lord and King of heaven and earth. We move from centeredness in God's authority to care for our lives, to guide us and empower us and provide for us. We move from centeredness in God's authority to have a plan--a loving plan--for all the world, for the lives around us. And we move from his invitation and empowerment for us to participate in realizing that plan.


In short, sin is not living in that bullseye that is life from and for God, not basing life on enthrallment with Abba and his love. In the end, what else is there? We find all manner of distracting targets and we shoot ourselves off in many different directions. Then we wonder why we're lost, why we can't find love, why we can't find God. But direction, love, and God are right where they've always been--right there at the center of it all, at the heart of the matter...of all that matters.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Jesus the Bomb

The first verses of John's Gospel are like an atomic bomb going off in the middle of history:

"The Word was God...
Through him all things were made...
In him was life...the light of all people...
To all who received him he gave the right and power to become children of God...
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us...
Out of his fullness we have all received grace...Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known."
                                  ***BOOM!***

All else is just fallout from that explosion, either colliding with and being consumed by its glorious, holy radiance, or straining to slink off and put down roots in the shadows. But the darkness cannot comprehend--could never overcome--the sun of righteousness rising with healing in its wings.

And what of the children, the little ones who have thrown open the windows of their lives to bathe in the grace and truth? They are nothing less than sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of that atomic-bomb-of-a-Son. They are becoming one with the wind and fire of God's Spirit, making each little child another explosion in history as the kingdom of light pours into the fractures of the cowering kingdom of darkness. That's you. That's me. Out of his fullness we have all received grace.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Monarch

All these Monarch butterflies are graceful, autumn-colored reminders to let the Wind of God move us as he pleases. It is for his good pleasure that all has been made, including us. And it pleases our Father to give the kingdom to his little ones.

Why do we ever doubt such a Creator, who wants nothing but our good--more good than we can ever desire or create for ourselves? Yet we wrestle and insist that we know better, that we can do better. Fear sometimes drives us--sometimes pride, certainly doubt. But it's always the case that we don't even know what to desire, much less how to get it. We don't know how to take a punch. We don't know how to die.

But the Wind moves. Not an impersonal force, but the very Breath of God filling our blackening spiritual lungs with nothing less than God himself. We are to be one. This circumstance, that challenge, this opportunity, that intersection of our dreams and God's plans. If we will move with the Wind--through, around, within, above--we will experience it all...or at least enough. If we resist, we are grasping and punching...at the Wind. Much better to fly--like the Monarch.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Time to Slow Down

My family and I are going on vacation. It’s time to slow down and notice things. That seems to be what summer is about. Those Gershwin brothers got it right: Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. The smell of mowed grass and barbecue, the feel of the sun’s warmth, the glorious sight of baseball under a blue sky, these are a few of my favorite things! Whether packing in as many vacation experiences as possible or just sitting on the porch watching the sun go down each evening, summertime is an annual reminder to experience life. It is a time when we let life happen, rather than trying to force it into our own daily constraints.

Typically, the worst part of summer vacation is that it ends. So, here are a few summer ideas that might work in autumn, winter, and spring.


1) Let life happen. Make plans and work hard, but enjoy the passage of time.

2) Rest. A key about summer is that it seems to give us permission to relax, but God already gave us not just permission, but a command to rest. After all, he did!

3) Notice things. Each season has its own sights and sounds and smells that are the stuff of life. Make time to take it all in.

4) Enjoy loved ones. Family reunions, cookouts, ballgames, and vacations don’t have to end with the summer. Whatever it is, it should be shared with the people we love.

5) Worship. God made all of these seasons for his glory and to enrich our lives with their beauty and the lessons they can teach about living more faithfully in the process of life, death, and resurrection.

And right now it’s summer; so fire up the grill, pour the lemonade, and PLAY BALL! ...Or just play.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Falling in Love With the Church

Me being ordained in 2010, with my wife, the Bishop
and other elders laying hands on me.
My calling to pastoral ministry was a little odd. Other pastors talked about growing up in church, about how much it meant to them. They spoke about little old ladies pinching their cheeks and telling them they will make a fine pastor some day, and about youth pastors and older pastors giving them leadership roles and letting them "try on" pastoring for size. There seemed to be a rather clearly-marked path that led right through college to seminary and into the pulpit.


Not me. True, I was a child in church. I have memories of Pastor Ken Metzger yelling passionate sermons (and even scaring me a little), of Pastor Buff Hearn playing his guitar in church (can you really do that?!), of my mom playing the organ, of going to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. And of course, my chubby cheeks were sufficiently pinched. I was a well-behaved church kid. But I didn't stay very active in church. And I was certainly never going to become a pastor.


Needless to say, things changed. There were a number of steps along that road that eventually did lead on to seminary and into the pulpit. Those seasons can be celebrated (and cursed) in other posts. But there was one main thing that opened my eyes and heart to pastoring: I fell in love with the church.


It wasn't just memories of bazaars and revivals and Christmas Eve candlelight services; of my grandfather being the first to arrive at church on Sunday to make the coffee and my grandmother leading Bible studies for the ladies circles. It was those things. But more than that, it was freaky mind-blowing stuff like this:


"I ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory, to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him--endless energy, boundless strength!


"All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence." (Ephesians 1:17-23, The Message)


Not a bad way to spend a life. Of course one needn't be a pastor to be part of this. (Indeed, that might be a last resort for many of us.) No, it is the people: organ-playing moms and coffee-making grandfathers, guitar-playing pastors and cheek-pinching old ladies, young and old women and men with light or dark skin in cathedrals or huts playing organs or djembes, thousands in an arena or a dozen in a living room--all knit together...forever...joined to God at the center of eternity. Even me. Even you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Headline: Hell and Rapture Yesterday's News



  • Most devastating tornado in decades rips through U.S. city.
  • Dictators charged with crimes against humanity.
  • Air strikes pound ancient nations.
  • Nuclear disaster worse than previously assessed.
  • Local grandparents murdered during robbery.
  • Local teen gunned down in nightclub.
Murder, war, economic collapse, ecological turmoil...this is all in today's paper. Not an assessment of this year's, this month's, or even this week's news. Just today.

"Jesus is coming at 6 p.m. to take all the good people away from the bad people" and "Does hell really exist and, if so, who goes there?" That's what our culture thinks the church is about. In each of the above headlines, there are disciples of Jesus Christ working for peace, justice, reconciliation and healing.

But somehow we've allowed ourselves to get so caught up in conversations about hell and the rapture that we appear to be so heavenly (or hellishly) minded that we're no earthly good. This is NOT the case, but anyone on the street would be hard-pressed to come up with the name of a Christian working to end the modern slave trade or bringing potable water to a village, as opposed to, say, naming false prophets who put up irrelevant billboards.

Hell and the Rapture are not unimportant. Ask an addict or an AIDS orphan or those living in war-zones if they believe in hell. Ask a homeless family or a 13-year-old sex-slave or just any lonely, lost, marginalized, tormented soul if they're ready for Jesus to come back. It's not the subject...it's the framing.

Hell and the Rapture are not some trivial sci-fi fantasies that we speculate about over gourmet coffee. Hell is the life of death, the path away from the God who is Love toward destruction and loss. And hell is reflected in those headlines. The Rapture is the return of Christ--not to flee the earth that so desperately needs him, but to set right all that is so wrong and to bring his kingdom in all its fullness. The need for Christ's presence is also reflected in those headlines.

But in the meantime, the church must take her PR in hand. And this, not by more billboards and superficial marketing, but by framing the conversation around the true life of the church. Indeed, it is the very presence of Christ through the Spirit-filled life of his church that should be front and center in our conversation. There doesn't have to be speculation: the Son of God is here...really! The gospel cannot continue to be commandeered by attention mongers and false prophets. There are too many true Christians in the world doing the true work of Christ.

If it bleeds, it leads...I know. It's likely we'll never hear much about the real kingdom-building that humble Christians are doing every day. The media eats up sensationalism. But does the church have to feed the monster? It'll keep coming back around. There will be more scandalous tripe--a "lost" gospel or a Catholic conspiracy or a grilled Cheesus or Satan at a Starbucks. We already have the Rapture re-predicted for Autumn--I'm sad there won't be a World Series but at least we won't have to rake those leaves!

I urge all apprentices of Jesus to keep modeling the life of the Master. And when the opportunity arises--with and without words--turn sensationalized conversations toward this truth: God is Love. And may the headlines read: God's Kingdom Coming On Earth...Now!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Water-Diamonds


My 5-year-old daughter dives headlong into her pool. It's nothing fancy--just a good-sized inflatable pool with an inflatable slide. You plug the hose into the slide so water arcs onto it, making it slick like a slip-n-slide. It's a nice inflatable pool, but far from an in-the-ground pool pool. But to her, it's a slice of paradise.

She stands there, having unhooked the hose, and lets the water shoot overhead and splash down on her. She laughs uncontrollably. The sun glistens through the water, turning it into diamonds showering upon this little princess--cheap water-diamonds from a yellow hose and a backyard spigot. She doesn't know it's not a pool pool or that they are cheap water-diamonds. She only knows that all of time is present in this moment, a moment she will live in until her parents make her come inside. This is joy.

We need this joy. Somewhere between trying to be cool and trying to be responsible we stopped showering in water-diamonds. What we had wasn't enough. Who we were wasn't enough. Where we were heading wasn't clear and, so, became our obsession. How crazy is that? We became obsessed with the non-existent--things we didn't have, identities not our own, a future that was only a dream or a nightmare--and we called that "growing up."

We do better to "become like a little child." All of space and time are present in this little inflatable pool and yellow hose. There is sunshine and there are people I love. There is laughter and a shower of water-diamonds. There is joy...and I can dive headlong into it.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Song: Jamie (I'm Just Wondering)



Ok, after a long hiatus I'm back on the blog with this song I wrote for my wife before she was my wife. See how that works? And they lived happily ever after...

Advent: Coming and Going

With the excitement of driving out of town to move to a new phase of life, there often comes a pang of sadness in watching the hometo...