Posted in Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

I hope I irritate you.

Recently I was able to preach on the word “covenant”, specifically connected to how the author of Hebrews addresses God transforming everything in Jesus Christ. As we begin a new year, it’s a time when most of us examine our lives, and re-affirm those things that matter deeply to us. Many who want to live in response to the Love of God revealed in Jesus use these early days in the year as a natural time to renew our commitments, especially in response to the covenant Love God offers to us. I was encouraged once again by God’s desire that we would be able to “know Him” in ways we couldn’t previously. (Hebrews 8:11)

In following the threads woven by the author of Hebrews, there was one text that stood out to me in a new way this time. In Hebrews 10:24 we’re encouraged, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,” I’ve read this before, and haven’t spent much time considering it because the meaning seems pretty obvious. But just beneath the surface, there’s an invitation to pause and consider the author’s choice of words.

Most of our best translations easily help us understand by saying something like “spur one another on”, “provoke each other”, or even “stimulate each other”. Some others say things like “motivate one another” or “encourage one another” toward Love. If the author had just wanted us to be “encouraging one another” to be more loving, he could have easily used words similar to the ones he uses in Hebrews 10:25 or 13:19. But here in 10:24 he purposefully uses a particular action (to irritate sharply/provoke) as a noun (something to be considered). The noun itself is only seen one other time in this form, over in Acts 15:39 to describe the “sharp disagreement” between Paul & Barnabas that caused them to part ways. The verb form is found in Acts 17:16 (the spirit of Paul was being provoked by the idols he saw in Athens) and 1 Corinthians 13:5 (Love is not easily provoked). This is an irritating provocation that we are unable to ignore.

In this play of words, we’re invited by the author to consider how we can be the kind of active presence in our world that provokes/stirs up/compels Love (agape) and good deeds. Much attention is given in our era to how businesses or even influencers can post content that “gets a response”. It also makes sense that we would desire responses that are measurable/quantifiable. But are we being purposeful as to the kind of responses we are attempting to draw out from those around us, or those who consume what we’re sharing? As enjoyable as it might be to complain about something we have the right to complain about – is it provoking others toward Love? As desirable/easy as it may be to comment or share or join in a conversation with others – is our involvement giving others permission to continue in a direction other than Love?

Into all of this, what would it look like for us to be those who “provoke/irritate/disturb” one another toward Love? There may be as many responses as there are people – which is why we need so many beautifully different and complex members/parts of one Body in Christ. But as the author urges, we get a sense that this isn’t something that will happen accidentally or inadvertently. This is something we must be purposeful about.

Several years ago, I was serving on a mission trip to Joplin, Missouri. We had a great time, and I believe we were a small part of blessing the community as they recovered from seriously damaging tornados. We cleared debris, demolished unsafe homes, and prayed together over the area. When we came home, and the dust settled, I realized I’d brought home a souvenir from all our work outdoors – scabies. I’ll let you google how horrible these little bugs can be on your own (it’s disgusting), but I’ll sum it up by saying: It was an itch I could not leave unscratched. Those little bugs burrow and irritate in ways I’d never experienced before. I have pretty strong will-power when it comes to mosquitos, but the irritation level of these things had me near tears, desperate for relief.

This is what came to mind as I prayed over Hebrews 10:24. How irritating are we being in the direction of Love? Does our presence, and do our words have such an impact on those around us, others cannot help but respond in a Loving way?

Special Note: This does not mean we go around like flower children, always smiling and handing out dandelions (although I love smiles and dandelions). Sometimes to Love someone (in the way of Christ, who is the living revealing of Love) means to invite uncomfortable examine in the gracious presence of the Holy Spirit that provokes actual Love, instead of the fluffy stuff our world sometimes misinterprets as Love.

So there you go. Where/how can you be more irritating this week? Would you pause for a moment even now, inviting the Holy Spirit to think with you over the past 24 hours – and how you may have provoked others in thought or emotion?

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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 Moments, Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

the dirt…

Whether you’re a young person who’s just returned from a summer “Youth Camp/Retreat/Conference” experience, or you’re a little older and still reminiscing on those days, there’s a draw to a particular response. It’s natural. The response we often have is “Oh my goodness, that was a great experience in the presence of God, I wish we could recreate these conditions for all of my future experiences!” It’s good for us to know – we’re not the first ones to feel this way. We shouldn’t feel shame for having such a response. When God meets with us in a particular way, the temptation is to connect strongly to that “way”.

When Sarah and I first started dating, she wore a uniquely fuzzy coat. I remember walking her to her dorm on one of our first dates ever, and giving her a hug “goodnight”, wrapping my arms around the fuzziness of that coat. Just a few weeks later, as I was home on Christmas break, I saw a men’s winter jacket that had the same “fuzziness”, and you know I just had to get it. Even far from her, when I wrapped my arms around myself, I was reminded of that hug and looked forward to seeing her again. It’s part of how God has wired us. The neurochemical responses that form long-lasting memories (especially involving music/singing) connected to our “bonding/attachment” experiences can be a blessing.

Today’s lectionary reading from scripture gives us a similar story. Namaan was a commander in the army of Aram, who’d just been miraculously healed by obeying Elisha’s instructions to bathe 7 times in the waters of the Jordan river. He was saturated in these waters of a particular experience and found himself having a renewal and healing as never before. God was faithful, and released Namaan from the chains of disease. Namaan was grateful, and wanted to make sure he had access to this same experience as he went home. In his culture, gods were often tied to particular areas geographically, so it made sense for him to make this request:

“Then Namaan said… ‘please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.” (2 Kings 5:17)

He wanted to bring some of this holy ground home so that any time he desired an experience of this God who met him in the waters of the Jordan, he could. We don’t have the response of Elisha recorded, but I wonder if he looked with compassion on Namaan as he helped him load up some dirt.

Imagine if I returned to campus after Christmas break, so thankful for my new fuzzy coat. Whenever I missed Sarah, I could wrap my arms around myself and be thankful for the warmness of such memories. But how sad it would be, if I was so contented/taken by feeling that coat around me, that I never pursued building a relationship or creating new memories of love together with her. It’s a silly illustration, but I hope you’re seeing the connection. How pitiful it would be if we came home, and tried really hard to replicate the transformational moments, missing out on the God who wants us to be aware of His presence in every moment and every location. God desires that we would not seek special moments with him alone, but abide with Him as He transforms every moment with Kingdom purposes (John 15:5).

We can be thankful for the experiences we have had of God, and even have moments where we wrap our arms around such experiences in the future. We should definitely remember these moments, and testify about them to others as we share what God has done. But let us not pursue the ground we stood on. Let us pursue the God who we met on that ground. The good news is – this is the same God who has promised to meet with us wherever we seek Him. (Proverbs 8:17) In fact, scripture says that God rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

May we seek Jesus and His Kingdom today, taking each step in the knowledge that we are entering a space He desires to make holy…