3.06.2014

We All Die


We will all die.  We spend a lot of time, energy, and resources desperately trying to avoid this truth.  Through modern medicine, safety requirements, laws, and the like, we do everything we can to avoid the reality of death - the reality of our mortality.

I stood in line to receive ashes.  I watched as a mother went forward with her small children.  They all received the ashes:
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Repent, and believe the gospel."
I'm a parent.  As I watched these children receive the ashes, I immediately thought about the mortality of my own children.  We do so much to protect our kids.  We go to great lengths and are willing to spare no expense to shield our kids from harm, especially from death.  But on this night, the words for young and old are the same, "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

I was still in line.  An older couple wanted to get in line, so I stepped back to let them in.  He entered using a cane for support; she followed close behind.  They helped each other along to the ashes, receiving them one after another:
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Repent, and believe the gospel." 
There aren't different words for different ages, races, genders.  In this respect, Ash Wednesday reminds us of the greatest equalizer of all: the reality that we all die.  Yes, we will all die.  We all know it.  We throw around the cliches, "Make the most of your time."  "Life is short."  "You never know when it's your time to go."

But what do we do with this reality?  How do we live into this reality?  Lent invites us to consider these questions anew, with greater purpose and an intensified intentionality.

We live into Lent, and the reality of death, anticipating resurrection hope.

We live into Lent, and the reality of our sin and imperfection, anticipating forgiveness.

We live into Lent, and in so doing, we proclaim the message of the Gospel - the message Jesus' proclaimed when he began his ministry - "The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Good News!"

But until the Day comes,
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Repent, and believe the gospel."

3.04.2014

In Observance of A Holy Lent

“What is one thing you could do over the next forty days that could change your life forever?”

This question was asked in Mark Scandrette’s book, Practicing the Way of Jesus.  I can’t think of a more appropriate time for us to begin to ask ourselves this important question than in anticipating the observance of Lent.

I have to admit, the idea of giving something up or even adding something to one’s life in order to think about Jesus’ sacrifice has often, in my opinion, seemed trite or not quite far enough.  “Jesus died for my sins, so I’m not going to eat chocolate or be on Facebook this month.  And on top of this huge sacrifice, I’ll be sure to tell all my friends and complain whenever the opportunity arises.”

Somehow I don’t think that’s the idea of fasting.

So what if we considered making a change that could actually impact our lives – not just for 40 days – but forever?  What if we considered making a change that not only eradicated a negative habit, but that created space for God to inhabit the space that habit once held?  [Mmmmm.  I liked that last question]

Scandrette offers some helpful instructions:

1 - Examine Your Life
Spend some time in solitude asking God to reveal where transformation is most needed. In what area do you long for healing and greater wholeness?
2 - Explore Patterns and Root Causes Identified
On a piece of paper, briefly describe the issue or pattern. What are the daily choices you make that support this habit or pattern?
3 - Decide What New Practice(s) to Adopt
An effective experiment will include both elements of abstinence and engagement—something you will stop doing and something you will start doing as a healthy alternative.
4 - Commit to Your Plan
We show what we really believe and value by what we are committed to actually do.  Share your plan with a trusted friend who will hold you accountable.  Find a way to actually chart or show your progress and STICK TO IT!  If you miss a day, don't give up!


What if we committed to observing a holy Lent, and in the process changed our lives – creating space for the Creator to enter into and reshape our habits, passions, and way of seeing the world?  Will you choose to observe a holy Lent?

2.19.2014

Listen

Isaiah 55:3a
"Come to me with your ears wide open.
          Listen, and you will find life." (NLT)

We listen ourselves to life.  In a world that is busy; that is frenetic; that is full; that encourages us to consume more, want more, get more, be more, and do more, we must stop to listen that we would find life.  Jesus offers an abundant life to those who might follow him.  He says that he is the Good Shepherd, and his sheep listen to his voice.

Listen.

I cannot escape this word these days.  In reading Scripture, conversations with friends and colleagues, and other books that have called for my attention, the theme of listening seems to be everywhere.  Why is that?  What is it about this time in my life - this space in my vocational and familial life - that God is specifically reminding me of my need to listen?

Transition.  Excitement.  Possibility.  Opportunity.

Will I listen?  Will I let God lead?

Help us to listen, Lord, that we might find life.

5.31.2013

Faith and Doubt

In conversations with students, I've been faced with the relationship between faith and doubt.  Somehow, somewhere, students seem to believe that faith and doubt cannot coexist; that the existence of doubt is the negation of faith.  Where do they get this notion?

This has caused me to wonder just how many young people, or anyone for that matter, have left faith because they were discouraged by doubt.  How many have we lost who believe faith and doubt were at odds?  Isn't it more true to suggest that doubt drives us to deeper faith; that is, when we are able to truly wrestle with and deal honestly with our doubts, we are able to arrive at a deeper, more robust faith?

In Rob Bell's most recent book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, this quote grabbed my attention:
"For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites; they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners."

Doubt is a sign your faith has a pulse.
Doubt and Faith are excellent dance partners.

I find myself agreeing with these notions.  I think this will be helpful for students with whom I work.  I am reminded of the man who said to Jesus, "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief."  Unbelief, doubt, uncertainty - this is where Jesus steps in and moves us, shapes us, changes our hearts and beliefs, our attitudes and understandings.

So why are we so uncomfortable with doubt?  Why does it seem so scary?

5.23.2013

Make It Salty

After reading the Kierkegaard parables I shared in my last post and reading/listening to Peter Rollins over the last month or so, I've been thinking a lot about the role of story in our preaching/teaching.  Rollins uses parables A LOT, and they're effective.  It's crazy how I remember these stories he tells.

Rollins says, "Instead of religious discourse being a type of drink designed to satisfy our thirst for answers, Jesus made his teaching salty, evoking thirst."  He explains this further in a video from 2011:


The Power of Parable from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

I wonder whether our Christian teaching/preaching, even our conversations with others, focus too much on giving answers or providing solutions to biblical/theological issues.

We use a lot of words in Christianity.  We have a language that we use, and many of us who grew up in church or who have been around church are quite comfortable with this language - whether we realize it or not.  But, how do we use these words, this language, in order to communicate with others - even fellow believers?  Do we give out answers?  Do we give easy to stomach definitions, black and white, that no one should dare have to think or wrestle with faith, doubt, the Bible?  Do we give self-help?  Do we peddle feel-goodism?

Rollins says,
"It is all too common for Christians to attempt to do justice to the scriptural narrative by listening to it, learning from it, and attempting to extract a way of viewing the world from it. But the narrative itself is asking us to approach it in a much more radical way. It is inviting us to wrestle with it, disagree with it, contend with it, and contest it—not as an end in itself, but as a means of approaching its life-transforming truth, a truth that dwells within and yet beyond the words." 
I like this idea of using parable, stories, that our words would be salty; thus, evoking thirst in our hearers.  I'd love to have some salty conversations where I walked away thirsty, literally seeking out the water, Jesus himself.  I'd love it if my preaching/teaching left people with questions, not of me, but of the text, of Jesus himself.  I'd love it if they walked away looking for water, searching for life-giving water.

Let's wrestle through this together.  Let's sharpen one another as we seek answers and contend with, contest, disagree with one another, SO THAT we can be transformed by Jesus.

May your words be salty.  May your words invoke thirst.

5.19.2013

A Pentecost Message


Jesus taught using parables, one author says, “So that instead of religious discourse being a type of drink designed to satisfy our thirst for answers, his teachings would be salty, evoking thirst.”

This Pentecost Sunday, as we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church, I want to share with you two parables attributed to Danish philosopher Soren Kierkagaard, that these teachings might evoke thirst for the Holy Spirit.
“There was a rich man.  At an outrageous price he bought a team of entirely flawless, splendid horses, which he had wanted for his own pleasure and for the pleasure of driving  himself.  About a year or two passed by.  If anyone who had known the horses earlier now saw him driving them, he would not be able to recognize them: their eyes had become dull and drowsy; their gait lacked style and precision; they had no staying power, no endurance; he could drive them scarcely four miles without having to stop on the way, and sometimes they came to a standstill just when he was driving his best; moreover, they had acquired all sorts of quirks and bad habits, and although they of course had plenty of feed they grew thinner day by day.
 Then he called the royal coachman.  He drove them for a month.  In the whole countryside there was not a team of horses that carried their heads so proudly, whose eyes were so fiery, who gait was so beautiful; there was no team of horses that could hold out running as they did, even thirty miles in a stretch without stopping.  How did this happen?  It is easy to see:  the owner, who without being a coachman meddled with being a coachman, drove the horses according to the horses’ understanding of what it is to drive; the royal coachman drove them according to the coachman’s understanding of what it is to drive.”
So ends the parable.  Kierkegaard follows this parable saying, “So also with us human beings.  When I think of myself and the countless people I have come to know, I have often said to myself sadly:  here are capacities and talents and qualifications enough, but the coachman is lacking.” 

Today, 2000 years removed from the day of Pentecost, we are in dire need of submission to the divine coachman, the Holy Spirit; the same Spirit that drove the Apostles to preach, heal, and serve in the face of great uncertainty and even physical harm.  We, like the Apostles, must first die to self, and die to the notion that we can drive these bodies of ours through the perils of life, on our own, without aid, without God.  We must die to self, that we might allow the Spirit of life, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit of God to be our guide, our driver, our coachman.

In John 14, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to those who would keep his commands and remain in him.  In this chapter, Jesus makes two statements I find quite interesting.  First, he says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  Even greater things.  Whoever believes in me will do not only the things Jesus has been doing, but more.  The second thing I find fascinating is when Jesus says that it is actually better that he leaves.  It is better for us that Jesus go to the Father.  He says, “If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”  This is most certainly interesting.  It seems reasonable that life would be much better if Jesus were to stay, but Jesus seems to say that it is better that he leaves, for the presence of the Holy Spirit will allow us to do GREATER things that even Jesus did.

To further evoke thirst, allow me to share the second parable.
There was a certain town where all the residents are ducks.  Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes its place, and then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible.He reads to them: "Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings, and you can fly like birds!"All the ducks shout, "Amen!"And then they all waddle home.

5.13.2013

Parable On Heaven - At Last

I can't seem to shake the power of this parable Peter Rollins shares in his book, Fidelity of Betrayal.  He shares it in the video I've posted below.  I found this parable, originally told by Philip Harrison, to be challenging and encouraging in that it surprised me, caught me off guard, and messed with my preconceived notions of the allure of heaven.  The promise of heaven is unbelievable, indescribable, even considering the amazing revelation given to St. John.  I'm interested in reactions to this parable.  I'm wrestling with what it means for us, particularly for people like me who live comfortably as Christians in this world that is not our home.



You can also read the parable from Rollins' book if a 3 minute video seems to long for you!


The other day I had a dream. I dreamed I arrived at the gates of heaven, heavy-shut, pure oak, bevelled and crafted, glinting sharp in the sunlight. St. Peter stood to greet me; the big man wore brown, smile set deep against his ruddy cheeks.

“You’re here,” he said.

“I am,” I said.

“Great to see you—been expecting you,” he smiled. “Come on in.”

He pushed gently against the huge door; it swung silently, creakless. I took a couple of steps forward until, at the threshold, one more step up and in, I realized I wasn’t alone. My friends had joined me, but they hovered behind, silently, looking on. None spoke. I realized only I could speak. I looked at them; some were Christians, some Hindus, some Buddhists, some muslims, some Jews, some atheists. Some God knows what. I stopped, paused. A hesitant St. Peter looked at me, patiently, expectantly.

“What about these guys?” I asked him. “My friends. Can they come?”

“Well, Phil,” he replied, soft in the still air, “you know the rules. I’m sorry, but that’s the way things are. Only the right ones.”

I looked at him. He seemed genuinely pained by his answer. I stood, considering. What should I do? I thought about my reference points, and thought about Jesus, the bastard, the outsider, the unacceptable, the drunkard, the fool, the heretic, the criminal, and I knew exactly where I belonged.

“I’ll just stay here then too,” I said, taking my one foot out of heaven. And I’ll tell you, I’d swear I saw something like a grin break across St. Peter’s face, and a voice from inside whispered, “At last.”