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…

Posted in Different Scriptures

An Eastertide Reminder…(you already know this)

Don’t put away your Easter Tree just yet!

Oh, you don’t have an Easter tree? That’s fine. Whatever your Easter décor or traditions, don’t shove them into storage at this point. We’ve only just begun our celebrations of Easter. It’s ok if your candy has run out, as we can now pursue much more celebrative ways to announce “He is Risen!”.

“Eastertide” on the church calendar is traditionally the 50 days between Resurrection Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. There are many traditions and connections to this season, but notice this: 50 days is just about 1/7th of a year. So in a sense, Eastertide is like the “Great Sunday” of the year! During this season, we are invited to contemplate the Resurrection of Jesus, what that means for the ways Resurrection Life unfolds & is available to us here and now, and to anticipate the future Resurrection when God brings all things to completion.

There are so many reasons for us to spend more time than we do, talking about and celebrating resurrection life. It’s literally one of the foundations of who we are as Christians. Early believers thought it was so important, they even moved their weekly gathering of worship to Sunday – believing the resurrection to be a sort of “8th Day of Creation”, or “First Day of New Creation”. It has transformed reality as we know it!

One of the keys (I think) to embracing the resurrection as something to truly celebrate, is to become increasingly aware of the difference between “coming back to life” and “resurrection”. Many people in scripture come “back to life“, meaning they return to the way of existing before they died. But this is not what happened to Jesus. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Paul clarifies it even stronger in Colossians 1:18, “ He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.” The “coming back to life” of anyone else was something to be celebrated for that person. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything. Here we see in the person of Jesus Christ, the coming together of Heaven (where God exists fully) and earth (where humanity dwells). He was given his “resurrection body” that is able to exist both where God is fully and where humanity dwells – a way of existing never before experienced by mankind. This is a reminder to us as believers that we are not ultimately looking forward to Heaven, even though it will be great to be with God fully. Even scripture reminds us that, “..in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.” (2 Peter 3:13) We all – those of us still here on earth, and our loved ones who currently wait in the presence of God – are waiting on the coming New Creation where Heaven & Earth are united as never before.

The exciting thing is: We are not waiting passively! We join today as we are literally brought to new life from the Life of the Age that is to come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” The good news isn’t that if we accept Jesus into our hearts, we will eventually join him in Heaven. The good news is that for ALL people, when we abide in the Life of Christ (who IS the beginning of the coming New Creation) NOW, we become places and people through whom the coming New Creation is bursting forth TODAY, being proclaimed and revealed in ways that announce what it will be like fully some day!

Whew. Okay. I need to take a breath and calm down. But you can see why it would be a really big shame if we spent all that time building up toward Easter throughout Lent, celebrated with a big breakfast, pretty pictures and some candy, then went about our year as usual the next day, right? We can see why an entire “Eastertide” season is needed, and why every Sunday throughout the year becomes a miniature celebration of the resurrection. We are resurrection people.

The question then: If celebrating the resurrection means revealing/embodying the ways of Jesus and His coming New Creation – how will you celebrate this week?

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