Posted in Different Scriptures

missing from the “full armor”

As I spent time this morning reflecting on the days’ lectionary passage, I was struck by something for the first time. This passage (Ephesians 6:10-20) I’d grown familiar with, since I was a boy, suddenly contained truth I hadn’t noticed before. More specifically I should say – as I asked God what He wanted me to notice, I became more and more aware of this particular Truth.

I remember learning about Ephesians 6 as a kid. We’d have physical belts, breastplates, shoes, shields, helmets, and even a sword. Putting on these fake pieces of “armor”, and stomping around the Sunday school room like an obnoxious child-soldier, I had opportunity to be the class clown AND teachers’ pet simultaneously. Those moments were always enjoyable for me, as an extrovert who wasn’t always particularly good at answering the teachers’ questions. Thankfully, I’ve matured in some ways since then. (mostly)

As I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand the importance of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus. Whatever battle scenes I may have imagined Paul painting as a child have faded, and I hear the heart of Jesus in his words. He invites the church to cling to these solid foundations as vital to sustaining our faith in a world that doesn’t yet recognize/know Jesus as Lord fully.

It’s important to know and cling to the Truth of the gospel, no matter what our current experience happens to be, and live in that direction. It’s vital to remember the righteousness (the ways of justice, and right-ness) God desires, that becomes our life as we are found in Christ. We’re called to be people always ready to seek/promote the peace of reconciliation, taking it where Jesus leads us. We’re urged to hold fast to our faith, as a shield capable of deflecting the flaming arrows of the enemy (who is not a person/group, but a spiritual power or force/system). We put on our helmet of salvation, offered by the “head” of the body in Christ. We take up the sword, which is the Word of God empowered by the Holy Spirit (not words from a page, but the teaching of the gospel message).

But even in being fitted with all of this armor, there is usually something incredibly important missing. A crucial piece of being ready, and being able to “stand firm” that we don’t often include when we dress up that student in front of the class. Ready for it?

Paul is speaking with plural Greek words. Not to “you”, but to “ya’ll”.

This is not a battle we are preparing to fight alone. This is not something I can “do on my own”. This was not meant even for my family to seek to do on our own. There is something vitally important about the assumption Paul made to his audience in Ephesus – that all of this was something they were doing collectively. This comes through over and over again in his writing, especially as these words come only a couple chapters after he talks about the uniquely gifted parts of the body in Ephesians 4.

John Wesley even called this aspect of “Christian conference” one of the “Means of Grace”. We don’t discover “what is true for ourselves”, but rather wrestle together about what the Truth means for us all (and in each new season). We are shaped in His “Righteousness” as we come alongside one another, confessing our sins and being shaped vulnerably in His Light together. We promote peace graciously in the context of forgiving community, becoming a living refuge in a world where anxious communities form/bond in response to threats/fears. We lock shields of faith with those surrounding us, believing and testifying to the Love of God that has transformed us (and those before us), even when we feel attacked. We are bound together by our trust in the salvation offered in Jesus Christ, the “head” of which we are made one body. Finally, we wield the sword of God’s Word – not as something I grasp fully and completely on my own. Empowered by the Holy Spirit for understanding, we humbly approach the message of the gospel we have received and joined, with the global Church across all times and places.

May we never forget this incredibly important piece of “putting on the full armor of God”, so that we may “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”…

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Posted in Different Scriptures, Different Thoughts

powerfully weak.

In prayer with my friend and pastor this morning, we were challenged by these words of A.W. Tozer: “Part of the successful operation of that (unhealthy) church depends upon (those) with business talents and part of it depends upon (those) with natural gifts as salesman and politicians. I say that a Christian congregation can survive and often appear to prosper in the community by the exercise of human talent and without any touch from the Holy Spirit! All that religious activity and the dear people will not know anything better until the great and terrible day when our self-employed talents are burned with fire and only that which was wrought by the Holy Ghost will stand forever! Through His Spirit, God is waiting and willing to do for us or for any church what He waits to do for the entire Body of Christ!

It is a generous mystery, this dichotomy we’re invited to enter into.

On one hand, God has given us each gifts for ministry to be used for His Kingdom. If you’ve never discovered what yours could be, check out this easy test that highlights the 5 primary ways Jesus has gifted people to serve the Church. It’s good for us to discover where all our strengths are, and to be faithful stewards of the gifts God has given us. Part of the important work we do as a church is helping each person to discover how they’re gifted, and how they can join the Kingdom of God being revealed, proclaimed, and experienced. I also believe each of our homes, and each of our local congregations are gifted and shaped in particular ways to reflect and offer the healing presence of Jesus to our neighbors and our communities/world.

On the other hand, we have examples in both scripture and real life where people proclaim/experience God using their weakest areas in order to bring Him glory and do transformational work for the Kingdom. Where we are weak, we are forced to depend completely on the Holy Spirit for empowerment, instead of getting by on our own natural talents/abilities. As Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

So what should we do? Perhaps we could have a season of investigating our weaknesses, and invite everyone to serve only in those areas to ensure we’re always depending on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to arrive? Obviously not.

But we can purposefully seek practices of humility that invite us to both confess our desperate need for God, while offering our brokenness to God in ways that invite His perspective and redemptive use for the Kingdom. We should regularly be seeking ways to empower others and listening for God through them, instead of assuming God only wants to do what He has done through those He has already used. We should be willing to invite new people into service in ways that offer grace to experimenting with new skills – as a way of affirming our dependence on the One who must be our foundation and guide.

One thing the pandemic offered us, was a chance to strip back all the “extras”, and examine why we do what we do. Many have already lamented that the church, anxious to return to what was, may have missed an invitation and opportunity to be revived in ways we cannot on our own strength. What are the foundations of who we are, and what we’re seeking to accomplish as we gather, and as we are being sent out each week? Perhaps it’s good for us to completely “unplug” or “re-arrange” what seem to be our natural talents/resources on a regular basis – to light a candle, pause in silence, and orient ourselves in the presence of a God who promises He will always be found by those who seek.

What might that look like in your life today?

What might it look like if we sought such empowerment together, confessing by prayer and fasting that our own appetites and abilities to feed them will never reach that which God pours out freely?

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