Posted in Different Moments, Different Scriptures

approaching the Holy

As we head further into the week before Easter, referred to as “Holy Week”, it’s good for us to pause and reflect on the direction we’re heading. Many of us have gone through these rhythms before, and there is a dangerous familiarity. Dangerous because we may once again miss out on an opportunity for God to stir or accomplish something new in our hearts and lives.

But also dangerous because, if we’re honest, many of us hesitate to move in the direction of the Holy. Our hesitancy is often born of the same hesitancy seen in Adam and Eve in the garden, as God called out “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Humanity’s response was to be afraid of a God who sought intimacy with them (Genesis 3:10), and it seems that same response is readily available for us still today. This is not only how we respond to God, but often how we respond to one another as well. We’ve been created for intimacy with God and one another, but so often we are hesitant, we run in the opposite direction, or deflect with hurry or humor. At best, we may even manufacture moments of emotional exhibitionism as a way of staying in control/power of our own vulnerability.

Yet this week we purposefully look in the direction of a God who became human, and submitted Himself (in Love for you and I) to one of the most humiliating and painful deaths imaginable (Philippians 2:8). He wasn’t anxiously curating His image so that everyone would know the best aspects of what He was up to. He was able to fully rest, even on His way to the cross, in the unchanging Love of the Father. His trust that God’s good redemption comes no matter what happens along the way, set Him free to offer Himself in intimacy as a friend even in that final week – even knowing some were preparing to betray Him.

What would it look like for you and I to approach the Holiness of this God who pursues us in a new way this year? What would it mean for you to “take off your sandals”, recognizing this place we stand in His presence, has been made Holy. What is on your calendar these next 5 days that you could reschedule for later? What would prevent you even in these next few moments, from pausing to recognize there is a Divine Love who calls out “Where are you?” right now?

Nothing in the experience of Adam and Eve up to that point had taught them to be afraid or hesitant when responding to the Love of God who seeks them in the garden. The only difference in that moment, was they had begun listening to the whispers of a deceiver who said, “Are you sure?” Questioning the Truth of God’s Word began to make them question His Love for them, leading to disorder in their relationship. Along with such a disorder, their relationship with each other followed and continued into the next generations.

We believe that in Jesus – we have been reconciled to God. Brought into a rightly-ordered relationship once again. As we approach the next several days, know there is a God who calls out to you “Where are you?” Know also that Jesus emerges from the shadows of a hidden humanity, speaking on our behalf “Here we are.”

Will we follow Him daily into the light, where we can know God fully even as we are fully known (and Loved)?

Will we remember that such a re-ordering invites our relationships with one another to be securely approached in the foundation of such Love as well?

Posted in Different Moments, Uncategorized

S’more.

I sit back in my generic blue camping chair, admiring the flames as they begin to crackle. Their orange tongues just barely flicking up the surface of the larger wood now. Within a few minutes, the logs are completely engulfed in fire, preparing the logs for the process for which they’ve been set ablaze – s’mores. But everyone knows you don’t cook a marshmallow on a raging fire. You cook it slow, roasted while carefully hovering over the surface of the coals that have seen enough fire to whisper their memories to the sweet sugary fluff suspended over their heads.

For now, we wait and we watch.

We listen to the sounds of cicadas bellowing overhead, inviting us to incline not only our ears, but our eyes in their direction. So up we look, gazing into the overarching umbrella of the upper leaves, swaying to and fro with the evening breeze. The cicadas, are there tens or thousands? Loud enough to drown out the worries of an earlier hour, and yet also loud enough to keep you from thinking clearly about tomorrow. All we are allowed to be aware of is this present moment. The sunlight flickers from some distant dusk still trying to promise it will return again tomorrow, but the light is too quiet to hear above the shadows of this moment.

We take a deep breath, and close our eyes.

Sight becomes unnecessary for now, as the sting of the smoke begs us for some brief respite. We smell the fire, and think for a split second about the need to do laundry later. We push such thoughts aside – they are not helpful here. Exhaling slowly, eyes closed, in this moment we’re able to enjoy the cool breeze tempered by the rising flames nearby. We feel warmth, even as we are cooled. The cicadas screaming such a noise that anywhere else would be instant annoyance, and yet here and now it is a late summertime symphony, with front row privileges.

We turn our attention again to the flames.

The wood is dry enough to embrace the fire quickly as family, welcoming the flames deep within, and crackling in ways that evoke a thousand previous campfires all at once. A sound that in many other moments would stir fear and rising anxiety – here in this place, finding a glad reception as memories of gathering close to beloved friends and family are stirred. Turning through pages of mental Polaroids, the album turns to reveal bales of hay with more friends than should be safely balanced, somehow comfortably positioned with smiles warm enough to make the pumpkins seem spiced.

As time passes, the mature coals beckon to be used as God intended.

I load the marshmallows, fatherly skills expertly developed for such a moment. They are loaded one at a time, two, three, four for this round. I watch the youngest child too excited to let dad help, plunge her mallow straight into the flames, with shrieks of delight. She doesn’t care for culinary perfection – she wants to see the flames, taste the burn among the chocolate graham, and return to playing with fireflies in the grass. Her older sisters have learned to trust their father, and the value of a well-roasted marshmallow. Turning my tines slowly, almost too far from the source to be perceptively active in my endeavor – nevertheless, heating from the outside in. Showing no external signs of heat absorption, time passes. The white turns slowly as I consider the source of heat actively. After a time, you notice the mallow begin to droop, until it seems destined to fall right off the metal fork. Dipping dangerously close to the heat, I caramelize the exterior just enough to give a roasted identity before offering one to each of my girls who stand nearby, plates ready. S’more one. S’more two. S’more three. One mallow left, and no more plates beckoning to be filled. Smiling, I gently remove the expertly roasted marshmallow myself – no graham or chocolate required.

I’ve discovered my mouth is large enough to fit an entire roasted Jet-Puffed Marshmallow safely.

I enjoy the thin shell-like exterior on my tongue, before closing my mouth slowly. The gooey center oozing in every direction, I examine it slowly to satisfy my pride. Yes, I determine. It was roasted fully to the center, leaving no solid center behind. I smile, slowly enjoying the sweetness until all has been swallowed. The cicadas are now singing a song of appreciation for such adept roasting abilities. The sun has disappeared long ago, and the bats are now noticeable in the dancing light of the flames still leftover. I place another log on the fire, breathing slowly while the smoke flows momentarily in another direction. Tomorrow there is more to do.

But for now, I believe I’ll have s’more…

Posted in Different Moments, Different Scriptures

awe-full freedom…

I have vague memories from my childhood of sitting on a blanket on the rooftop of a vehicle, in the midst of a large crowd of people facing the sky. There were antique cars patterned on the blanket, and it smelled like a combination of my grandparents and a summer field. The collective “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” of the people around me, along with the giant “BOOM” from the sky compelled me to join their upward stares, and enjoy the show as well. It was beautiful. It was loud. It was explosive. All of the chaos, anxieties, and individual issues faced by each person melted away by the tiny colorful fires blooming across the evening sky. We were united in that moment by the shared experience. The commonality of awe, wonder, and even humility as we felt each “BOOM” with a reverb that shook us to our bones.

As we (in the US) approach the Holiday weekend, there are some who are so grateful for particular Freedoms today, they’d throw the celebrations without wanting to get stuck in the mire of humility or contemplation.  There may be others, repentant of our country’s’ difficult and painful past, who feel there is little cause for celebration.  Still others, focusing on our present need to continually reform and heal, who want to trumpet their particular cause in the direction of healing.  There are important reasons to listen to and value each of these voices.  We are thankful for the freedoms many of us are able to enjoy.  We confess they didn’t come easily, but in many ways painfully on the backs of previous generations.  We also confess that we struggle to distribute the enjoyment of such freedoms equally even today.

As a pastor in a denomination with “FREE” in our title (Free Methodist), I have definitely come to appreciate the word.  We have been liberated from patterns and penalties of sin, and made New Creations, which sets us free from the sources of anxiety and division that threaten to chain us down/apart.  But as someone who has served in a post-communist country, I’ve also been reminded that the word “Freedom” carries a variety of meanings – not all of them positive.  When a conquered country is told they should be grateful for the “freedom” they now have – to not need self-governing – this is no great gift of freedom at all.

With these things in mind, I find it important to pause briefly and reflect on the Freedom I am most thankful for.  A freedom shared globally across every culture and nation.  A freedom that offers to shape & impact our policies at home and abroad.  A freedom I pray is found and experienced by every individual and community.  It’s the merciful freedom we’ve been given to be aware and moved/drawn in by the present and active Love of God, revealed by Jesus Christ, empowered by His Spirit.

There is something about watching fireworks that reveals our experience as a humanity gathered in awe of the wonder and divine power of God.  We can easily get distracted by the smaller details in our environment, but there are moments that compel us all to look collectively at the wonder and beauty of God’s creation, His powerful authority, His gracious Love, or simply His abiding presence.  When we look toward Him together, united in such a moment of wonder, we converge in our reflection of His light in ways that offer to illumine our lives anew.  It is beautiful.  It can speak powerfully to those who are willing to listen. It can transform and provide explosive catalyst for something New.  Abiding with our attention directed toward the fullness of God together can melt away (or give proper perspective) to all of the chaos, anxieties, and individual issues faced by each of us, as we gather together.  We are united (and sent) by such a shared experience.  It has the potential even to humble us, with reverbs we feel in the very core of our being – offering us a New identity…

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

And as we climb down from the rooftops of automobiles, heading back into the world with eyes still impacted by the dazzling flashes of His Love, we notice that as we freely join such Love – the moments of awe continue…