Once upon a time it was a huge surprise. That first Easter morning the resurrection was a huge, shocking surprise to all the people who experienced it firsthand. However, since that day 2000 years ago, it's no longer a surprise. Sure, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has been debated, doubted, believed, and treasured by millions the world over - but it's not an out-of-left-field story anymore. So everyone knows what I'm going to preach about this Sunday. As much as I want to be fresh, and compelling in ways no one's ever heard it's not gonna happen.But here's the thing about the message and the reality of the resurrection (and yes I believe the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical reality) - familiar and unsurprising is not equal to non-momentous. Something can be very familiar and unsurprising and yet be very momentous. For instance, my wife tells me she loves me all of the time. Her message, and the reality behind it, isn't a surprise anymore, the way it was the first time she let herself say it, but it's still momentous to me. Sure I may get pretty familiar with my wife telling me she loves me, but to not have that familiar message, and the reality behind it, would tear a piece of my heart out. So I'm just going to admit that I probably won't have anything new, surprising, or shocking to say this Easter, But I will be able to say something that is momentous because it has everything to do with hope that even death can't destroy.
Here are two great insights for those of us searching our hearts before God during Lent. Often our Lenten explorations move in the direction of how we fall short of the glory of God. While these things are true, what is also true is that God values us, and has a calling and a vocation for every one of us that matters to Him. Here are a few quotes that help explain what I mean.And now Lord, with your help I shall become myself - Soren KierkegaardHelp me, O God, to listen to what it is that makes my heart glad, and to follow where it leads. May joy, not guilt, your voice, not others, your will, not my willfulness, be the guide that leads to my true vocation - Ken Gire Windows of the Soul
On Monday I had the sacred privilege of gathering with a few local Santa Cruz pastors. We've met together a few times over the course of this year, to seek spiritual nurture and care under the guidance of a spiritual guide. It's been sweet, and wonderful to meet with other pastor's who aren't faking in any way, sharing their whole hearts and their whole lives with one another so that they might be whole people in their ministry. One of the beautiful moments we had together on Monday was when we shared worship prompts with each other. One led us in a time of listening to a classical piece of worship music, another in a guided time of breathing and listening to God's word, another in a different kind of focused prompt. Each man prompted worship in a different, and quite lovely, way. I thought I'd share with you my prompt. It's this song I've been singing a lot recently. I can get so busy hurrying forward in my "go mode" that when very good things happen I just blast by it, treating it like it's what "should happen," rather than stopping in gratitude to reverence the blessing of God. Just listen to the song and see if it reflects what's on your heart this week.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6Y91axwxfI
They're starting to pop in my front yard again. Our California poppies are starting to bloom in our yard, as the first sign that every other plant is about ready to burst out with vibrant color and beauty. Spring is another reminder, on the long list of so many reminders, of the very thing C. S. Lewis once observed, "We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.”
It's an interesting question to consider. If people were to look at your life and marvel at who you are, or what you've made of yourself - how do you think they would marvel? Would people marvel, and would you want them to marvel, by saying, "Look what she's done with her life?" Or would people marvel, and would you want them to marvel, by saying, "Look what Jesus has done with her life?" So I ask you today, is your life looking like the best thing that a human being could pull off, or the best thing that God could pull off? Just curious.
Today I want to share something that I recently stumbled upon and found powerful. On April 17, 1970 Johnny Cash found himself invited to sing at the White House for then President Nixon. Of course it was an honor, but the fuller context was the fact that Johnny found himself caught between a president who was trying to leverage Cash's credibility and fame in wider America to further his presidential agenda, and Cash's personal desire to still be a patriot of his country in very troubled times at the height of doubts about the Vietnam war. What do you do in times like that? Johnny Cash wrote a song called "What is truth?" and he sang right in front of Nixon at the White House mere months before the lies and deceit of the Nixon administration brought it down. It's an interesting song at an interesting point in history which I think serves to help us see how we too can stand up between strong political polarities and still represent truth. This video is Cash's performance of that song on his once popular TV variety show. See what you think?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HFUSft_I9s
Mondays are funny days for pastors because it's the day right after so much human interaction at a Sunday worship gathering. Therefore, Monday are usually filled with lots of feelings for pastors, and usually in the extreme. You're either high based on what you feel went well the day before, or you're low based on what you feel didn't go so well. I still remember hearing one of my seminary professors say, "All pastor's feel horrible on Mondays. So don't take Monday's off and take it out on your family. Work on Monday so that you can work through your dark feelings." So I took his advice and I've worked on Mondays, and I've taken Friday's off, ever since I started pastoral ministry.There was one other sage bit of wisdom from another seminary prof. He said, "Feelings don't authenticate truth, but they do authenticate our understanding of the truth." Allow me to translate. What I feel at any given moment does not necessarily square with reality. For example, I may feel like airplane travel is unsafe but that doesn't mean it actually is unsafe. Feelings instead authenticate (or reveal) what we're actually believing, whether or not that belief is true. So when I face, or you face, a Monday loaded with uncomfortable feelings we have to use those bad feelings as an opportunity to explore what we're truly believing, and then if we're way off from what is true, take it as an opportunity to get back to what is true.
We're living in a time when we're all thinking about power and, most recently, the misuse of power. We're seeing power abused in politics, business, systemic oppression, #metoo stories, and pastoral leadership. Here's a very thoughtful quote for all of us who have been given some form of power by God, that He's asked us to steward in the best way possible."Power is a gift—the gift of a Giver who is the supreme model of power used to bless and serve. Power is not given to benefit those who hold it. It is given for the flourishing of individuals, peoples, and the cosmos itself. Power's right use is especially important for the flourishing of the vulnerable, the members of the human family who most need others to use power well to survive and thrive: the young, the aged, the sick, and the dispossessed. Power is not the opposite of servanthood. Rather, servanthood, ensuring the flourishing of others, is the very purpose of power." - Andy Crouch "It's Time To Talk About Power"
This morning I'm waking up to a strange brightness on the horizon. There's this bright, brilliant light casting beams of yellow and orange over my back fence. I'm also looking up at a sky I haven't seen in two months. The sky isn't grey but this strange, yet lovely, color of light blue. What is happening? We've had the longest two months of grey, drizzle, downpours and storms in our part of the world that any of us can remember in quite some time. They grey skies and drizzle have been going for so long that it's strange to see the sun this morning. It is kinda weird but I'll tell you one thing - it's nice to see the sun! I guess don't realize how much I take for granted how frequently I get my needed vitamin D from California sun exposure. I guess when things get taken away, you start to realize how wonderful, how blessed, and how necessary those things are in your life. As George Harrison once sang, "Here comes the sun . . . And I say - It's alright!"
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day Christians enter into the season of Lent. It's a day when many of us enter into thoughtful introspection about the reality of our condition (called sin) which prompted God's final solution through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus. It's also a time many of enter into a time of fasting as we await the celebration of Christ's resurrection on Easter. Why do we fast, be it from food, technology, or certain activities?Here's a great explanation by NT Wright: "We need to take time and make the effort to bring our lives into line with the new reality. We do not fast because we commemorate some great national disaster. We fast because, as those already caught up in Jesus’ kingdom-project, in God’s new world, we need to be sure that we are saying a firm goodbye to everything in us that still clings to the old."
I just got back from speaking at a men's retreat this past weekend. Obviously I go into these times of ministry praying that God would use me to help others, but this weekend I don't know who was encouraged more - the men I spoke to, or me. I think I was the one who was more encouraged because literally every man, who spent a little time with me, told me amazing stories of redemption, stories that were living examples of Jesus power to completely transform lives! When you hear stories of men putting needles in their veins, beating their wife while their kids watched, and then after meeting Christ become a pastor on the streets of a large city, with the son who watched your dark side serving by your side to reach homeless teens - you find yourself amazed. When you hear about how God can meet a man in prison and turn his life from meth addiction, and hear about meeting Christ in lock down, and hear about men's hopes and dreams to serve Jesus - you find yourself marveling at the power of God. When you hear all of these stories coming out of different churches, in different communities all throughout Northern California, you walk away with a renewed awareness of the fact that God is moving powerfully in people's lives. Sure God's work may not be working on the scale I'd like but I cannot say He is not at work!
For a long time in my life I've asked the question, "Why me Lord?" when things weren't going my way. An unexpected car repair, illness, and conflicts all tended to lead me into a head space of whining out loud to God, "Why me Lord?' But in the last few years I've been trying to reframe the question and ask it in a different way in a different context. These days when I get a nice tax refund, I can pay an unexpected bill, I enjoy good health, and the love of my family with whom I enjoy that good health, I've stared asking "Why me Lord?" In this way I'm learning to stop complaining so much, and learning deeper levels of gratitude by recognizing the many ways God continues to prove Himself so good towards me. Who am I to enjoy the health God has given me thus far? Why do I, of all people, get to experience the amazing wife God has brought into my life? How is it that God made it possible to give me three amazing kids, the home I live in, the church I get to serve and the long list of blessings God has given me? Who am I to be given eternal and abundant life, and my eternity is secure, when I haven't in any way earned such grace? Try it today. Instead of asking "Why me?" as a complaint, ask "Why me?" as an act of praise.
It's funny how low my motivation has become in writing this blog. Once I made the decision to get out of the blog-space at the end of April, almost as quickly I began to feel the drag of doing it. It's funny how this thing that was once a joy became a chore so quickly. But the fact is - "not feeling it" doesn't mean the thing I'm doing isn't full of meaning. Emotions go up and down but the meaning of our work doesn't change. Even a half-hearted honest blog confession, like this, can be the thing that produces a smile in someone, or the feeling that they're not alone in the rat race of life. So, though I don't write this morning with great passion, I still write because the process of writing shapes me, and my writing is always put out there with a sense of hope that it might help someone beyond me. Happy Monday!
I just read this insightful interview about the nature of the church's mission in post-christian North America. This Christianity Today interview is with Pastor Colin Smith and there are two issues he addressed I absolutely agree with in my own experience.Church Size vs. Church Health:
Question: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading, and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?
Colin's Answer: Church health is not the same as church size. I come from the U.K., where secularism has made deeper inroads into the culture than here in the U.S. Church attendance has dropped dramatically but, in my opinion, church health in the U.K. is better than it was 20 years ago.
One reason for this is that as nominal Christians abandon the faith and leave the church, those who remain realize their dependence on God in new ways. When numbers go down, spiritual temperature can go up, and I have seen new resilience, new cooperation, new faith and new venture in many U.K. churches.
If that happens here in the U.S., we may be in a better position than before and, like Gideon’s army, more useful to the Lord than when our numbers were larger.
A Patient View On Our Mission:
Question: What does evangelism look like today, and how can we begin to develop a passion for showing and sharing the love of Jesus on a daily basis?
Colin's Answer: The first priority is always that a person becomes one of Christ’s sheep. Evangelism today needs to begin further back. For much of the 20th century, Christians were able to assume a basic understanding of who God is, what sin is, and why we need a Savior.
When people rebelled, they usually had some knowledge of the God they were rejecting, and when they chose not to believe, it was the God of the Bible they chose not to believe in. So when Christians shared the gospel we could assume a basic understanding its categories. But today, many of the people we are called to reach do not understand the basic categories of the gospel—hence the need to begin further back.
Some years ago, I met Tony Howarth, a pioneer missionary, sent by his church in the U.K. to an unreached people group in northern Thailand. He described the long process of gaining the trust of the tribe he served, and then of learning to read and write their language.
When I asked him where he began in sharing the gospel with these people, he said, “We tell them the Bible story.”
This answer made immediate sense to me. The Bible begins with God introducing himself, and the Old Testament builds a framework for understanding who we are, why we need saving, and what a Savior would need to accomplish.
God has given us all that we need for explaining the Gospel to any person, at any time, in any culture, and I am convinced that we need to rediscover the longstanding practice of pioneer missionaries, and learn how to evangelize by sharing the storyline of the Bible.
My wife and I were watching our son play baseball at Harbor High this weekend. We were sitting in the stands enjoying the game when, all of a sudden, it started dumping on us. When I say dumping, I mean pouring! All of the ball players scrambled to the dugouts, and all of the really smart parents ran to their cars. Aleta and I just sat there under our big golf umbrella. We sat there thinking, "Of course they're going to call the game. This is baseball. It's the sport where you always call a game in a downpour." So we sat in the deluge thinking that at any moment we'd be making our way to the car and heading home to dry out. At least that's what we thought.Here's the thing. Harbor High has a 1.2 million dollar fake grass field. The major part of the investment is deep underground channels of drain pipe and gravel that rapidly channel water away from the field. It is the most coveted local high school baseball diamond during the early part of the season because it drains so well in rainy weather. Because that field drains so well, the coaches just waited out the 15 minute flood knowing the field would be immediately good to go the instant the rain stopped. I didn't know this! Aleta didn't know this! So we sat in the rain only to find out they were going to keep playing baseball. When the game ended, we were chilled to the bone. But I have to say I'm impressed by that baseball field. It was drenched to the point of flooding, but was good to go the moment the rain stopped. I guess I want to be like that baseball field, where lots of work has been done by the Lord under the surface of my life where He's invested in building "good drainage" in my life, and He's made me strong for the storms, so that when I get dumped on, I get through it, and I'm back in action almost as soon as the storm stops.
We've heard about the sexual abuse in the Catholic church along with all of their attempts at cover-up. Now we hear about the largest Protestant denomination - the Southern Baptist Church. The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News are in the process of publishing a large, three-part, article on the abuses in Southern Baptist churches over the last two or three decades. You can read more about it in this Christianity Today article. I'm tired of the cover ups, and overlooking the abuse of power by people in authority in our churches. The damage it has done to boys who are now men, and girls who are now women, is unfathomable and wholly unacceptable. Though these new findings are hard to hear, and though we will (I know) discover more abuses as time goes by, I'm gladdened that the church, be it Roman Catholic or Protestant, is having an important reckoning. It's time we face the hard reality that very sick people do infiltrate our ministries and places of worship to prey on trusting people and we all - church people and church leaders - must be diligent to protect our people and be transparent about abuse when it happens.
Our church is working our way through the New Testament letter to the churches of ancient Galatia. Galatians does a beautiful job describing the fact that The Gospel (Good News) is not us performing our way into God's acceptance, nor is it being forgiven by God and He just barely putting up with our presence forever. The Good News is this shattering message that God loves us in the midst of our sinfulness, and that God has concocted this crazy plan - which would wound Him deeply - to bring us back into relationship with Himself. So any person who is vulnerable enough to trust Him for forgiveness and salvation is now permanently placed into the same position of safety and love Jesus enjoys within the Trinity, and if a person rests in that new spiritual reality it transforms them inside and out.Someone recommended to me the movie "The Heart of Man" and I would highly recommend watching it to hear the real-life powerful stories of how this Good News about a radiantly beautiful God renders beauty in very broken lives. It's currently available on Netflix.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZPy_WRywzY
I recently stumbled upon this great African Proverb:"If while climbing a tree you insist on going beyond the top, the earth will be waiting for you."I've spent so much of my life trying to go beyond the top of so many projects and plans I've had. I've done these things in hopes that I would somehow be more to others, God, and even more to my own self. But every time I pursue these "beyond the top" projects my pride, spurred on by my insecurity, comes before my fall.
Yesterday one of my friends, and members at our church, faced a very difficult experience. During the downpours of this past weekend, the creek beds nearby overflowed and clogged a big drainage culvert. Once it plugged it sent a 2 to 2 1/2 foot high wave of water and silt right at him, almost knocking him over, then hitting his house to finally flow down the street to damage all the other houses. He put out an APB to all of his friends in our church community. It was so cool to see so many people show up to just help out, and blow away my friend's neighbors with how much help he got from his church people. I got out there scooping up sludge and hauling it away. Everything was fine, and then while I was washing down the walls of their house I happened to turn my lower back in just such a way that a muscle spasmed out - hard. "Are you kidding me!?" I thought. I was there to help out, there to be strong for my friend, and now I had a wall-washing injury. Truly embarrassing. So while all the other real men with strong backs (which I used to think I had) continued to work, I knew I needed to bow out and take care of myself. The good news is that this morning my friend's house in a much better situation, and my back is feeling a lot better. But that tweak in that one muscle in my back is my reminder of my weakness. So I enter today like I have to everyday, offering all of me to God which includes offering my weakness and pain to be used by God as He sees fit.
A good friend of mine just shared with me this awesome insight from the late Dallas Willard. I guess a few years back my friend's friend, who was a pretty significant pastoral leader, was meeting one on one with Dallas Willard. He was sharing the pressures of his ministry and all the important projects he was working on. At that moment Dallas gently reached toward the guy, put his hand on his knee, and gently said: "Remember your projects are not God's project. You are God's project." Think about that today.