Re-Calibrate

I drank coffee for the first time, in a long time, last night. I gave it up for Lent and because Lent gave way to the Triduum season during the Holy Week, nothing was stopping me from enjoying one cup… at 7:30pm… which meant that I was up most of the night, unable to shut off my brain.

It was as if my brain was being re-calibrated to it’s full working potential. During those wakeful hours, I kid you not, I heard email notifications ding on my iPad even though the device was downstairs. I could feel the hair on my head grow (not really, but it seemed like it). I came up with 3 helpful sermon illustrations for sermons a month from now (that I have forgotten because I eventually drifted off to sleep, naturally).

The whole world seems to be in the right working order now that I’ve been re-calibrated.

Good Friday is the chance to re-calibrate. (awkward transition, I know) The question that eager persons ask is “Why on earth (or heaven) do we call the day we remember Jesus being crucified as ‘Good Friday?’”

Some folks say that Good Friday is good because it shows God’s serious commitment towards justice and mercy, that God would pour the wrath destined for all humanity on the Son, in order for it to be dealt with, once and for all.

Others suggest that Good Friday is the radical display of the love of God, in that God would willingly lay down God’s life before the most disturbing and rebellious actions of humanity. That God takes it all in, and doesn’t retaliate, but repays evil with good. Now, through Christ’s presence in the Godhead, God permanently and eternally resonates with the victim because God was the one who was victimized.

Whatever one’s assumptions may be about the significance of this day, we all have a chance to be re-calibrated, to have a moment of deep reflection and wonder about the mysterious events of this monumental day.


We Offer

The Jewish people gave offerings to God as their way of showing honor, life, and devotion. These were always meticulous offerings, giving the -

First

Best

Finest

Contrary to what some may think, a sacrifice/offering was lifted up not cast downward.

Think of a baseball player who uses his at-bat as a sacrifice fly ball to the deep outfield to move a base runner from third base to home (also known as a “sacrifice fly ball”). That player doesn’t go to the dugout feeling defeated, as if his at-bat was a waste. Nor do his teammates feel sorry for him because he suffered a loss, a wasted at-bat. No, they greet him with celebration because his effort lifted the team.

That is how an offering works. It lifts someone else and the expense of another, but it is not categorized as a waste.

An offering is a gift for someone else.

So, when a church is asked “what do you offer,” we often describe a worship service, counseling help, youth and children’s programs, etc. These items are intended to be a service from the church to benefit others.

I think that it would be good (and a step in the right direction) if we as church folks began to answer this question a bit differently.

Instead of offering services, events, etc… what if when asked about what we offer we say…

“We offer the Robertson’s. They are a great family and have an incredible story. Jim is an excellent coach in little league. Karen is an advocate for alternative housing for those in poverty in our city.

“We offer the Peterson’s. Harold has worked for the same company for 30 years and his peers suggest that he is dedicated, trustworthy, calm under pressure, and that he keeps no record of wrongs. His wife Cheryl is an amazing host and softens up the hardest heart with her famous chicken casserole and apple fritters.

“We offer Steve Williams because he has a passion for kids. He is at the top of the list for substitute teachers in our area because the kids love him and that he doesn’t mind subbing for Mrs. Hilliard’s 7th grade English class, because we know that it takes guts to be a 7th grade English class substitute teacher.

“We offer Fran Billings because even though her kids tell her it is time to settle down and rest (after all she’s 84), Fran wakes up every morning to be at the downtown YMCA to fold towels and to share stories of how things “used to be,” which makes her younger audience laugh and dream of having amazing stories to share by the time they are Fran’s age.

“We offer Greg, Sylvia, Hector, and Drew because they have committed to pool their Christmas bonuses together and buy water wells for communities who do not have fresh drinking water until (as they say together in unison) ‘everyone has fresh drinking water.’”

And on, and on…

This may not make the best promo video or mass mailer to the neighborhood, but it may be the most faithful representation of a church community. That we are not only committed to our gathering, but also to our scattering. Or, as Rick Warren has said along the way, a church should be evaluated not for its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.

 


Culture Conversation instead of Culture Wars

Wow, there’s been a fair amount of material for the wider audience to witness our in-fighting as Christians. Twitter has reminded me of that awkward opening scene of Romeo and Juliet where representatives from two sets of families are “biting thumbs” at one another. I wasn’t aware of how serious of a deal it was for someone to bite his/her thumb at another person the first time I read the great Shakespeare play so I thought the whole thing was absurd.

Which is probably the reaction of the multitudes that have to witness at the broken way we grapple and discuss what we might consider significant issues because the back and forth dominates their Facebook feeds. Then, we have to turn around and convince everyone that it is because of love that we treat each other this way.

It reminds me of the absurd scenario of kids listening to their parents scream at each other, and afterwards, the father trying to reassure the kids that he loves their mother and she is curled up in the bathroom, frightened.

No one is buying it.

I think that what may be the thing worth trying to work on is the way the conversation is framed, in general. I’m getting tired of the term culture war. Wars are terrible and nasty. Wars happen because egomaniacs can’t stand staying put and working it out. Wars happen because we push our chairs away from the table and refuse to understand the others in attendance.

The heart of Christianity is a Christ that had the guts to face his enemies and to attempt to reason with them. Christ enacted palpable, subversive discourse that lifted humanity instead of crushing it.

Paul, an early follower of Jesus, launched communities with a conversation piece, a gospel, a royal announcement that God had become king through the saving work of Jesus. All along, though, Paul insisted that the believing community serve and suffer and be comfortable with being the scum of the earth. Misunderstood, probably? Marginalized, perhaps? But, nevertheless, Paul encouraged this community to enact love and to tell a better story than the rest.

Because, after all, the freight of truth is carried in stories.

Here is the story that (appears) to be in the control tower of the some of the Christian Cultural War camp: We are going to demand being in on every conversation about what is going on in the world, all-the-while holding on to a cosmic evacuation plan to escape this world someday.

Yeah, it’s hard to be taken seriously. It’s like watching a teenager who just got his driver’s license and walk into the Porsche dealership asking to drive the fanciest car on the lot, knowing full well that a car purchase will not be the result.

Here’s the deal. The resurrection demands for us to hang in here. God raised Jesus from the dead and sent him back into the cruel world that just crucified him. So, let’s allow that to be our starting point with cultural engagement. Orthodox Christianity might just be the most benevolent, kind, sacrificial, and thoughtful camp in every contemporary discussion.

 


In Just 100 Words

A small group that I am a part of is reading Bill Hybels’ Just Walk Across the Room book together. This book is challenging us to be open to be a part of helping others see how God is at work in their life.

One of the exercises in the book is to write down a short, 45 second summary of how God has worked in your life in order to share it with someone else. Hybels challenges us to use only 100 words.

Our group is working on these this week to share it with one another the next time we get together.

I enjoyed the exercise and thought that I would share mine, here.

Hybels suggested that we find a real issue, not use a lot of Christian-ese, etc. I tried to shape my 100 words with my belief of the gospel, that it is not just me and God closing a deal, but God re-creating all things, including me.

What would your 100 word post be?

As a suburban teenager, I was always asked, “what are you going to do with your life?” I wanted to do something significant in the world, but I soon realized that I needed to be rescued, rescued from the ways I was hurting the world and hurting myself. It seemed that in order to help rescue the world, I needed a fresh start.

I found that the belief in Jesus being raised from the dead gave hope for me and for all things. I now engage the world with courage because of my hope in Jesus.


It All Belongs

Pursuit of Happyness

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was reading through one of my favorite Gospel stories, The Widow in Nain (Luke 7:11-17), and it reminded of the closing scene from The Pursuit of Happyness, that fateful moment when Will Smith’s character actually catches a break.

The widow (nameless; but the idea that one would be called a widow means some stuff has already gone down, right) is in a funeral procession to bury her only son (v.12).

A large crowd came into Nain with Jesus. (v.11).

A large crowd came out of Nain with the widow. (v.12)

You’ve seen a Middle-Eastern funeral procession, right? It isn’t the docile, lowly expression of grief that we know. There is usually unrestrained weeping, commotion, and pain. On occasion, dust is thrown in the air and clothes are torn in open expressions of grief.

So, imagine what happens when Jesus’ people and the widow’s people, get together?

Jesus touches the box and gives the woman back her son. (v.14-15)

Great news spread about Jesus throughout Judea and the countryside. (v.16)

 

Dan Ariely once shared about a study of pain tolerance. In short, he found that people who had experienced pain in their past had a higher tolerance to pain. Basically, those who had previously experienced pain could associate lower-grades of pain as signs of healing and recovery because, they’ve been there before.

Pain as a sign of healing.

As we survey the human experience, there is a certain sweetness that accompanies relief, recovery, and resolution. The sweetness is real because people have experienced such deep and profound challenges that, when the weight is finally lifted, all that remains is a deep exhale of love and gratitude.

The writer of Proverbs says, “a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12) May we find the courage to imagine that the waiting and the wondering could be signs of our dreams in the process of being fulfilled and our hearts to be encouraged.


Daily Stoke

Image

Ezra and I were killing some time last week by watching skateboarding videos on YouTube. (His idea, no joke… dad was excited) The video had 5 skaters from different parts of N.America skating in different environments, using whatever was around to create unique courses.

What was awesome about the video was how kind the skaters were to one another. In a world where one is only as relevant as their next sponsorship, these guys showed incredible hospitality for one another and raved about the ability of the other skaters with authentic appreciation.

We struggle with giving authentic affirmation of others. It’s strange, isn’t it? Have you ever been given a compliment and begin to realize that the compliment was given in order for you to feel obliged to return the favor? Who would have thought that receiving affirmation would be a job enlistment…

In a Christian environment, this takes on a whole new dynamic. The virtues of hospitality, kindness, love, honoring others, placing the needs of others over ourselves provoke us to get busy affirming people. This activity, however, needs to be checked. Is the fulfillment of the virtue (honoring others) the primary need and the person who we are honoring the means to end? In the process of wanting to “apply the Bible” we need to make sure that ideas (honoring people) take the place of actual people. For some reason humans have a high-tuned radar to know when sub-authentic kindness is given to us.

We should take some queues from the skateboarding world. These guys had developed their own game and their appreciation for their sport that they were just thrilled to share it with others. They seemed to be content with the idea that they were not being threatened by others; all they had to gain by getting together is learning and growing. Their own skating game gave them access to meet people with their same passion.

We woke up today and now share something with over 7 billion people, life itself. We are all the nephesh, living beings that are animated by a loving God. I wonder what would happen if that was enough for us to go out and make their world a bit better instead of worrying about ways to push ahead of all of them. 

This type of posture takes practice. Here is what the Skillen’s are going to do:

At dinner time, we are going to go around the table and give a “Daily Stoke,” an opportunity to give someone else a no-holds-barred compliment or affirmation. We’re just gonna let it rip. We anticipate that there will be ears burning every night from 6:00-7:00pm CST because the Skillens are gonna insist on letting each other know about the awesome people that are all around us.

Blessed are the stoke makers for they will inherit the earth.


NT Wright: Prayer from Matthew 6

I am reading the “Lent For Everyone” plan on the Bible app. It’s been a great read and I’ve appreciate the devotional content that accompanies the reading. Here is the short write up for prayer that NT Wright supplied this morning:

WEEK 1: TUESDAY

At the very heart of Jesus’ vision of the kingdom — of heaven’s kingdom coming on earth — we have a picture of one person, secretly in their own room, praying.

Prayer is a mystery. I’ve often heard people saying, with a sneer, ‘It doesn’t go beyond the ceiling, you know.’ But the point of prayer, at least the way Jesus saw it, is that it doesn’t have to. Your father, he says, is there in the secret place with you. He sees and knows your deepest thoughts and hopes and fears. He hears the words you say. He hears, too, the things you can’t put into words but want to lay before him anyway. Prayer, in fact, isn’t a mystery in the sense of ‘a puzzle we can’t understand’. Prayer is a symptom, a sign, of the mystery: the fact that heaven and earth actually mingle together. There are times when they interlock; there are places where they overlap. To pray, in this sense, is to claim a time and place — it can be anywhere, any time — as one of those times, one of those places.

If prayer is about heaven and earth overlapping in time and space, it’s also about them coming together in matter, in the stuff of this world, the clay from which we are made. To pray, in this sense, is to claim — think about it and realize just how daring this is! — that the living God, enthroned in heaven, can make his home with you, within you. To make this point vividly, go into your room in secret and pray there. Take God seriously.

But, when you do so, realize one more thing. If prayer is about heaven and earth coming together at one time, in one place, within the lump of clay we call ‘me’, then it’s going to change this person called ‘me’. In particular, it’s going to make me a forgiver. Jesus was quite clear about this. All of us have been hurt, wounded, slighted, annoyed by other people. How much more have we ourselves done that to God! Yet we want him to be with us, to hear us, and — yes! — to forgive us. How can we not be forgivers too?

So the great prayer comes together. Utterly simple, utterly profound. A child can learn it; an old, wise saint will still be going deeper into it. Heaven is not far away, and it’s where we meet the God who, with breathtaking confidence, we can call ‘Father’. Familiarity must not imply contempt. His very name is holy, and we must honour it as such. And what we most want — the strange phenomenon of which prayer itself is a supreme example! — is that his kingdom should come and his will be done on earth as in heaven. When we pray, we pray for that goal but we also pray within that promise.

We then place our needs, whether simple or complex, within that framework. Bread for the day ahead. Forgiveness of debt — the debts we owe to God, the debts too (this may surprise some) we owe one another. And then, importantly, rescue: rescue from the time of testing, of trial, whether that be personal temptation, frequently repeated, or the ‘tribulation’ which Jesus, like many others of his day, believed would come upon the world before God’s deliverance finally dawned.

And rescue, too, from the evil one. Much of Jesus’ public career was a battle with the powers of darkness. That isn’t surprising, since he was announcing that God was taking back control of the world from those powers. When we pray this prayer, we are caught up in that battle, too. But we don’t face the danger alone. We claim his victory, his rescue, rather than face danger alone, his deliverance. The mystery of prayer. This prayer lies at the very centre of the ‘sermon on the mount’. It should be at the centre of our life, our own kingdom-obedience.

TODAY
Lord, teach us to pray; teach us to forgive; make us your people. Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory

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