Posted in Different Scriptures

Psalm 1

Psalm 1

Blessed are those who know Your Word
The Way You’ve died to reveal
Happy are these who, by such things
Become Your Will to heal

They who are not followers
Of ways the world has shown
They who bear Your Spirits’ fruit
From seeds Your Word has sown

They are like trees near water
Like solar cells near sun
Lives that soak and also proclaim
The Truth, Your Kingdom, come

Not blessed by mere proximity
But blessed as they draw in
Your present gracious Love for us
Offered again and again

Today, may I not only come
To know that You are near
May I know You as source of Life
Not only God to fear

Watch over me, Lord Jesus now
I breathe slowly, Your breath
That Love which conquered all unlove
That Life which conquers death

Posted in Different Scriptures, Different Thoughts

Encanto (lots of spoilers – beware)

We finally joined the millions of you who have already been singing about Bruno for months, and I wanted to spill some thoughts before they faded. I thought the movie was pretty great for many reasons, but as a pastor – one continued to buzz through my imagination: The Madrigal Family is a beautiful allegory (on some levels) for the Church.

The meaning of the word “Encanto” can mean “charmed” as in magical, but there also seems to be an element of alluring, charming, even grace that draws others in. Here is a family that – in their healthiest moments, exists for the good of their surrounding community. They are not given such enchantment only to enjoy on their own, but to be a blessing where they have found themselves dwelling. If they would lose their source of enchantment, they would cease to be a light to the city. Their community would notice, and be wounded without their presence. One question we often hear in measuring our effectiveness as a local church is: If your church closed it’s doors this week – would the community notice/be impacted? The allegory here brings another powerful question: If your church lost the power of the Holy Spirit this week – would your community notice? May we pray for the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (& it’s fruit) to increase and bring the kind of revival Mirabel sings about as a new foundation comes at the end of the movie.

Another obvious connection seems to be the concept of “What’s your gift?”, and the over-emphasizing of the obvious/impressive gifts, over the inherent value of each individual as part of the whole. I don’t need to go too far down this road, as the connections make themselves. How often do we (hopefully inadvertently) communicate the importance of certain gifts over the greatest gift and power of being and living as a beloved and loving child of God? May we seek ways to empower and invite all voices & gifts into the ministry and liturgy of God’s gathered people as we seek to join Jesus together.

Once we open the door to such “gifts”, we begin to see some particulars revealed in the characters themselves:

  • Isabela – Some of these connections are painfully obvious in our Western culture of advertising and image-curating to make our churches (& people on stage) attractive/attractional. But this puts unhealthy pressure/emphasis on Isabela to appear perfect, and paints an photoshopped image that often distracts from genuine faith.
  • Luisa – This connects with both “spiritually strong” and “physically able”. Spiritually, we often rely so much on a small group of leaders within a church, not acknowledging that they feel vulnerable and weak at times too. Do we model and guide into healthy habits of serving and resting, inviting/allowing others to serve? Physically – often the less public, but highly valued (and often over-used) for their willingness to serve and give hours of devoted physical presence. Instead of relying so heavily on Luisa’s – what if we painted a picture (or built a ministry) of everyone owning and investing in the life and work of God’s people? Even if that means discovering some limitations (as it should).
  • Pepa – There are people in our churches who seem to “control the environment/weather” according to their mood that day/week. To Love them is not to empower them only when the weather is good, but to help them develop healthier responses (and spiritual fruit) to have & offer peace that is not dependent on their circumstances.
  • Camilo – So often we train (whether purposefully or de facto) Jesus followers to “be all things to all people” with good intentions. But what we sometimes get are people who seem like shape-shifters to a world that is already suspicious of inauthentic relationships. How well do we help people know themselves fully in the light of Jesus Christ – trusting that God has made us (& is forming us) each uniquely capable of revealing His Love to our world?
  • Dolores – She hears everything. Do we use her knowledge to manipulate situations and people to our advantage, even without realizing it? Or do we help her discover how to use her gift for discernment in listening well to the Holy Spirit for the sake of and in the lives of those around her?
  • Antonio – Has a gift and a special connection to nature/science. Do we listen to his understanding as a special revelation of our creator? Or do we deny what he brings to the table, afraid that what he says will contradict our previous/preferred understandings?
  • Bruno – The one willing to speak honestly about the trajectory of our “family”. Will we listen honestly and have difficult but necessary conversations about how we can better care for the elements that are causing our home to crack? Do we care enough about the community we exist within, and our mission as a family, that we can be honest and vulnerable about changes that may need to happen even deep down to the foundations/patterns we’d laid long ago? For many Christians, the song is right – “We don’t talk about Bruno”. But we should.

Finally, what commentary on “Encanto” would be complete without Abuela and Mirabel? This is obviously a church that (rightly) empowers and celebrates women in leadership, yet also honestly confesses that even women can mess up when they focus on blindly protecting the status quo over healthy vulnerability. It’s interesting that they movie doesn’t “beg the question” of what Abuela’s gift was…yet we’re never told. Often the local church operates under the assumption that we don’t ask questions about those “at the top”, when Jesus sure seemed to critique religious leaders heavily. May we never be so confident in our place of leadership that we forget our role as those who wash the feet of those we serve.

From the Abuela’s to the Bruno’s – may we see the gift of the intricately woven and living “whole” for the sake of the community/world, more than we emphasize the giftedness of any one servant who is only one piece of the mosaic…or as scripture puts it, one small part of the body. May we each discover new insights about how God invites us to actively join His activities – not just within the walls of the church building – but as the living Body of Jesus Christ that is sent (bearing the Bread of Life) as Julieta’s into a consuming world, in need of something that will actually bring/heal life as we consume it…

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-14

Posted in Different Scriptures

an experiment in prayer.

Take a deep breath for a moment, and prepare yourself to read the next few paragraphs slowly. As far as you are able, silence the noises and distractions in your environment. Acknowledge the noises you cannot silence, and set them aside mentally for now. Be sure you’re sitting comfortably in your chair.

Relax your body as far as you are able to, while still being able to read these words. Take another deep breath, but slower this time. Notice the breath entering your lungs, and become aware of the way God has created your brain to respond to increased levels of oxygen in your bloodstream from such a deep breath. It helps you to relax. Slow, deep breathing helps offer you a time and space where you step out of the routine for this moment. You step out of the pace of what needs to be accomplished, and what is depending on you, and allow yourself simply to “be” here and now.

I want you to imagine a leaf, which is easy to do right now because it is Autumn. Imagine all the colors you’ve seen recently, or look out the window for a moment to see what colors are visible there. Remember the warmth of summer, when all was green. Then the trees begin to change slowly, so that some of them are deep brown even now. Maybe you have seen, or can see even now – bright oranges, yellows, deep reds, and all hues and shades in between. Imagine what the trees will look like in the middle of winter – bare, branches blowing in the cold wind. They will be seemingly lifeless, as the flow of life within has slowed in order to survive until the higher temperatures return.

I want you to take another deep breath, and all yourself to examine your response to the question: What is the flow of spiritual life within you these days? Slow down for a moment. You are the only one who can guide yourself forward at a pace that offers this moment to God.

Maybe you feel vibrant and green.

You have experienced the shining of the sun, and the warmth of relationship both with God and others that have contributed to feeling like life is flowing into all the areas of who you are.

But possibly, there are parts of you…and possibly even the whole, that has begun to slow down internally.

The harsh conditions you have experienced in the world have made you feel cold. The flow of life seems to have slowed down. Some of it seems natural, and you can see the beauty in the changes of color as you experience the ebbs and flows of life, experiencing the natural seasons of living in a broken world. But it’s also possible the flow seems to have stopped to the point where it’s hard to find the beauty even in the leaves that remain, because they appear to be dried and falling already.

It happens so slowly, you may not even notice until this moment – taking time to examine the life and Spirit within you.

Even as you assess and allow yourself to be vulnerable to….yourself, the false statements begin to surface. Accusations to make you feel guilty or a sense of shame. “You haven’t done enough.” “You didn’t have such life within you to begin with.” “Such an experience isn’t possible, or is only for others.”

These are lies from the accuser. They have no place here. Imagine unplugging that speaker, or crumpling up the paper such words are written on, and tossing them in the garbage.

Instead, hear these words: (continue to read slowly – your tendency here will be to scan quickly through these words…but read them slowly, as if directly from God for you in this moment, with His intent to bring refreshment & healing to your soul)

“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Rev. 3:20) “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28) “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.  As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:5, 7-11)

Know that metaphors are limited, and you are not a tree. Smile at how silly that sounds, and yet how important it is in this moment. Because it means you do not have to wait until a better external season for life to return. You do not have to wait until conditions are less harsh, to invite the life of the Holy Spirit that is available to you right now, to flow within you – bearing fruit that offers healing.

Not by any special effort, although it may make you want to respond in particular ways. But it begins simply by allowing yourself to be Loved by a God who has reconciled you to Himself already, and forgiven everything that could have separated you previously.

Spend a moment being thankful for such Love.

Come back as often as needed, and especially when you forget such a need exists.

Amen.