When Jesus Altered Scripture

“Yeshua, would you do the honor of reading the text this morning,” the synagogue attendant softly asked, as his outstretched arm was offering me the scroll.

I walked to the front of the room feeling a strange mixture of excitement and nerves. For the past few weeks I had been traveling around Galilee doing this exact same thing, but today is different. These are my people. This is Nazareth. This is where I grew up. These men here know me, and they know my rather checkered upbringing and all the scandal surrounding my birth.

But still, I’m feeling light today.
I’m feeling full… full of my Father’s Spirit.

After all, it was only a few weeks ago that I returned from my time of fasting and prayer in the wilderness. 40 days of not eating was bad enough, but then I had to spar with the Satan at the end of it. So many temptations… but each time I was able to pull from the Scriptures to resist. Even when the Satan tried to use the Scripture against me, to twist it, I still outfoxed him.

And since then, since getting back to civilization, I’ve been on a roll. People are finally starting to respect me. Admire me. Listen to me.

My hands trembling slightly, I take the scroll and turn around to see the faces of friends, family, and other people I’ve come to know and trust and love. Looking down I could see that I was handed a section from Isaiah.

Phew. I’ve always liked Isaiah. I’ve always felt strangely connected to his words. As though he was able to sense in some way the mission I feel called to. He got me.

As I’m unrolling the scroll I can feel the butterflies inside me speeding up. My eyes come up from the scroll one last time to scan the room. Will these men hear me? Will they listen? Will they respect me like the others have throughout Galilee? Or will I continue to feel their patronizing crooked smiles as they placate me as the “illegitimate son of Mary the UnFaithful.”

Nervous, and seeking escape, I look back down at the scroll, determined to not look up again.

I take a deep breath, and begin to read:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me
because the Lord has anointed me

I knew that was true.
I’ve been more keenly aware of that recently that ever before.
From that strangely beautiful baptism by my cousin John, to the time spent in the wilderness… I definitely feel God’s Spirit upon me.

Anointed… yes, that’s the perfect word for how I feel right now. I read on…

to bring good news to the poor,

Wow… yes… absolutely! I have always felt drawn to the outcast, the forgotten, the poor. Like I said, Isaiah gets me…

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound

This is it.
This is why I’m here.
I just know it.

My whole life has been leading up to this moment, and I can feel it. This is who I am, this is what I’m called to do. Now is the time, I just know it, when God is announcing healing, and love, and freedom… Good news! Okay, Yeshua, keep yourself together… keep reading…

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

And then I stop… mid sentence.
Crap. Hold on… wait…

My eyes are glued to the scroll, refusing to look away just yet.

Proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, yes, good… I’m down with that. So far so good.

But I knew what was next.
I had this section memorized, but somehow it has still caught me off guard.

Suddenly, though I’ve read this sentence and said these words countless times, suddenly it no longer feels… right? Good?

What began, moments ago, as a mixture of excitement and nerves, has now morphed completely. The nerves have partnered with fear and resolutely wiped out any and all excitement. I don’t want to be here any more. This is not going to end well. I can’t read the next line. I won’t read the next line. Everything else resonated so deeply with me… within me… but not this. No, not this.

I stare at the words as I feel the stares of the men around me. I roll them around in my head again and again, refusing to say them aloud:

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… and the day of vengeance of our God.

No.
I can’t do it.

I don’t know exactly what Isaiah had in mind, but right now, in this moment, I don’t agree.

If the Spirit of God is upon me, and if the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor and proclaim the arrival of the Lord’s favor, then that makes sense to me. That I can do.

But I am not here to announce the vengeance of God.
Sorry, Isaiah, that does not resonate with me.
I can’t go there with you.
That’s not me.
That’s not my Father.

I finally compose myself (and, I think, finally closed my mouth… I’m pretty sure it hung awkwardly open this whole time). My mind was made up. Even though everyone will be wondering why I stopped mid-sentence, I know that’s what I have to do.

My fingers found their strength again as I rolled the scroll back up, preparing to return it to the synagogue attendant. He seemed a bit confused as I moved towards him; the rolling of the scroll was complete, but the reading of it obviously wasn’t.

Finding my courage again, and remembering the space I’ve been in lately, walking in God’s Spirit, I turned back around and sat down. Feeling the eyes of all, and sensing that they were expecting me to finish the Prophet’s sentence,  to announce the coming vengeance of God, I slowly scanned the room, making sure I connected with each set of eyes before I spoke next.

Butterflies gone.
Fear chased out by love.
Peace had arrived.

That’s when I said,

“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

- – – – – – -

A creative imagining of Luke 4:16-21

 

 

 

Louis C.K. and Cellphones; Jesus and Wine

If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest you borrow 4 minutes from your day to listen to this mini-sermon delivered by comedian Louis C.K. on Conan.

In it, he reflects on the parenting decision to NOT let his girls have cell phones. Which, in a (crude) nutshell he says that parents often struggle with the idea of, “well, all the other kids have a phone… so my kid has to, too.”

To which Louis says, how about you let YOUR kid be the better example to the other kids. “Just because the other stupid kids have phones, doesn’t mean my kid has to be stupid in order to not feel weird.”

A bit harsh, but that’s Louis.

The real gold comes, though, when he unpacks how he feels in general about cell phones. About how they are toxic, and how they shield us from dealing with that existential angst in our soul that threatens to remind us that we are alone.

We are so afraid of being alone, admitting that we have a “forever emptiness” in us (as Louis says), that we turn to the crutch of our phone to instantly “connect” with someone else.

Which is all well and good, and I think just THAT naming of reality makes this video worthwhile. Because yes, my cell phone is what I turn to when I don’t want to just sit with “me.”

Yesterday I walked my three oldest boys down to a block party. We arrived at the tail end of the party, so the bouncy house was largely vacant. My boys wasted no time in filling that empty space with screams, yells, Power Ranger kicks, and other such shenanigans. I meandered over to where I heard my name being called… whispered… summoned.

The free beer.

Filling up my cup with a nice Pale Ale from Thorn St Brewery I surveyed the party area and recognized no one. Content with this discovery (because I am, after all, socially awkward at times and definitely not good at small talk or meeting new people) I took my cold draft and walked back to the bouncy house.

Though I WANTED to go inside and join my boys, I decided they were having too much fun to risk being kicked out because of me. So, instead, I sat down on the sidewalk and just watched them bounce.

And you know what my hands INSTANTLY did, once I sat down?

Likely the same thing YOURS do: reach in my pocket for my phone.

Sadness then hit me when I unlocked my phone and discovered I only had 10% battery left. I thought, “dang… I don’t know how long I’ll be here, so I better conserve this 10%. Who knows how long it will have to last me. I’ll check email and FB now… wait a few minutes… then check football scores… wait a few more minutes, then maybe post an Instagram…”

I didn’t want to just sit. Alone. With just ‘me.’

Let alone (obviously) go out and mingle with people.
Yeesh.

So yeah, Louis, I’m tracking with you. Cell phones medicate us from having to just be with “us.”

But he doesn’t stop there.

He tells a story about driving down the road, alone, and suddenly becomes overwhelmed with a sense of sadness. When he felt it coming his FIRST instinct was to grab his phone and start texting people. To connect with someone. To not feel alone, or sad.

Instead, he rejected that instinct, and chose instead this:

“Just be sad. Just let the sadness… stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck…. I pulled over and I just cried… I cried so much… and it was beautiful… sadness is poetic, you’re lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings because of it. When you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies. It has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness… and because we don’t want that first bit of “sad,” we push it away [with things like our cell phones]. (editor’s note: He mentions other things we do to distract ourselves, and it’s funny, but I don’t feel like typing it. HA!)

And I just find all that so absolutely, beautifully, and truthfully profound.

We don’t want to be sad.
We don’t want to feel alone.
And our phones are wonderful happy devices that connect us instantly.

But more than just phones, we live life like this. We try our damnedest to avoid feeling sad. And when we do, we certainly don’t elect to “just stand there and let it hit us like a truck.”

If you need confirmation about this human reality, just listen to the audience when Louis is talking.
You can hear the crowd laughing as Louis is telling his story. And yes, partly because he’s funny, but mostly you can sense it’s a nervous laughter.

It’s the type of laughter when you’ve just been exposed, and it’s uncomfortable.

But we do that, don’t we?
We avoid facing the full trauma of our sadness.
We numb ourselves.

I’m reminded of Jesus on the cross. In Mark’s gospel he tells the story of Jesus’ humiliating walk to Golgotha. And shortly after Simon of Cyrene is grabbed from the crowd to carry the cross for Jesus, Mark says, “The soldiers offered Jesus wine mixed with myrrh to dull his pain, but he refused it.” (Mark 15:23 The VOICE)

Jesus had the option to take the edge off.
To dull the pain a bit.
To medicate.
To grab the cell phone and avoid feeling sad.
Alone.

But he refused it.

And I think that point is important because Jesus’ knew on some profound level that he had to fully be present and fully face the upcoming sadness. He needed to face the full force of the trauma that was happening.

To truly absorb the weight of humanity’s collective wickedness, to fully expose the myth of violence, to ensure a defeat of the powers of sin and death, and to thoroughly demonstrate the weak power of love, mercy and sacrifice, Jesus had to just be sad.

This full engagement with the trauma allowed then for a complete and total break through on the other side.

Resurrection.

And resurrection can ONLY come after we have endured the tragic.
Resurrection comes after death.

In the words of Louis, “happiness comes rushing in to meet the sadness.”

But the happiness won’t come if we refuse to engage the sadness.

Resurrection life becomes merely a half-dead, barely-living, zombie type of existence if it isn’t first accompanied by a full embracing of the tragic.

I wrote this post a while back about the experience of losing something. And I concluded with these words, and I still like them, and it sort of applies to this post:

If we lose something in life that was dear to us, and we are sincerely led to believe that God was involved in the process of initiating or directing this loss, then let us choose to first engage with that loss. Experience it. Know it. Let it stare at us in the depths of our soul and let us not move on to quickly. But when we do, when we begin to move from crucifixion to a time of resurrection, then let us begin to believe that no matter what comes next, whether or not what we initially lost will ever be replaced, that we will be better because we engaged with Christ and participated in his crucifixion and are now living in his resurrection. And that, ultimately, is life.

Thank you, Louis, for making accessible such a beautiful spiritual truth.

Be sad, my friends, when sadness comes. Don’t reach too quickly for the cell phone, don’t numb the pain with wine and myrrh. Like Louis said, “you’re lucky to live sad moments.”

Because the eternal life (abundant life, life of the ages, or, as Louis names it, happiness) that is waiting for you on the other side is infinitely better than numbness, avoidance, or pretending all-is-fine.

Jesus: The Original Hipster

If one of the hallmarks of a good Hipster is being “ironic,” then perhaps Jesus was the original Hipster.

Christy Wampole, of Princeton University, says that irony is the ethos of our age, and that Hipsters are the archetype of ironic living.

Irony, in part, is when the surface meaning and the underlying meaning of what is said are not the same. So a 25 year old Hipster wearing a “I ♥ Justin Bieber” shirt is being ironic because, well, there’s a solid chance that he/she doesn’t ACTUALLY love the Biebs. The surface meaning says, “this is true!” but the underlying meaning is more of a “wink-wink… not really… but ain’t it cool?!”

So then, how was Jesus a Hipster?

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” -Mark 1:15

Jesus was about the business of announcing the Kingdom of God had come. His life and ministry and teachings all pointed to this reality. God’s Kingdom had arrived, and it is time to orient yourself around it.

But here’s the deal: Jesus’ t-shirt that said, “The Kingdom of God is Near” amounted to the same thing as “I ♥ Justin Beiber.”

Because God’s “Kingdom” isn’t really a kingdom.

“The time has come,” Jesus said, with a twinkle in his eye. “The “Kingdom” of God has come near,” he announced, while placing air quotes around the word “Kingdom.”

Kingdoms are about ruling people.
God’s “Kingdom” is about serving people.

Kingdoms are about hierarchy.
God’s “Kingdom” is about equality.

Kingdoms are about dominance.
God’s “Kingdom” is about openness.

Kingdoms are about control.
God’s “Kingdom” is about freedom.

Kingdoms are, ultimately, about power.
God’s “Kingdom” is about weakness.

You see, the kingdom of God is not like the Kingdoms of this world. In any way, really.

John Caputo writes:

God chose the outsiders, the people deprived of power, wealth, education, high birth, high culture. Theirs is a “royalty” of outcasts, so that, from the point of view of the aion, the age or the world, the word kingdom is being used ironically, almost mockingly, to refer to these pockets of the despised that infect and infest the world. For this is a kingdom of the low-down and lowborn, the “excluded,” the very people who are precisely the victims of the world’s power.  -The Weakness of God

This is why I won’t be surprised, once I finally kick the bucket, to find Jesus chilling outside the entrance of the Pearly Gates, sipping on a PBR and offering me a swig.

What Was So Scary About Jesus?

As we go through the book of Acts this summer, I hit chapter 4 last week, and it’s the first time the early movement started to see some opposition.

Acts is a crazy story about the growth and the spread of this movement centered around Jesus. But at the same time, it also tells a parallel narrative of opposition and persecution.

So in this sermon I am interested in exploring what it was about Jesus and the Gospel message that was so scary, so threatening to the systems of the day. Of course, what we also find though, is that these same things were also amazingly compelling to so many people.

The message of Jesus truly does change everything.

What’s So Scary About Jesus? (right click and “Save As” to Download)

 

Stop Acting Your Age

On Sunday I preached from Matthew 18:1-4

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child, whom he placed among them.
3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4Therefore, whoever takes a humble place–becoming like this child–is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

I talked about such questions as:

  • Why did the disciples ask this question?
  • Why did Jesus choose a child to illustrate his point?
  • What does it mean to ‘enter the Kingdom of Heaven?’
  • How can we become like children?
  • Who then IS the greatest in the Kingdom?

You can read the manuscript here.

Or to download the .mp3, go here.

To stream it, well, just click the play button below.

Changed for Good: Move Toward the Other

Wicked

Last week Kate and I went up to Portland’s Keller Auditorium to experience the Broadway show, Wicked. And believe you me, it’s as good as people tell you it is!

If you don’t know much about Wicked (which I did not), it tells the backstory of some of the characters from The Wizard of Oz. The story focuses on the Wicked Witch and Glinda the Good Witch. We learn that these two, before becoming witches, met one another as young girls at school. And they could not be more different from each other, and yet they develop a relationship that blooms into a friendship.

Elphaba (the Wicked Witch) is a social pariah. People strive to stay away from her.
Glinda is the most popular girl in school. People strive to be in her company.

Elphaba’s skin is a strange shade of green. The only one in her school.
Glinda’s skin is perfect and white. Just like every one else in school, but better.

Elphaba is super smart.
Glinda is… well… super pretty.

Elphaba comes from a life where she grew up being despised by her father.
Glinda was the prize jewel of her family.

Elphaba grew up with the primary responsibility to serve her sister’s every need.
Glinda grew up where people served her every need.

I could go on and on. But it is clear that these two are dissimilar in just about every way. If you were to imagine the opposite of one, you’d picture the other.

And that’s precisely what they were: the OTHER.

I Have Been Changed For Good

The show was ripe with brilliant  music, but my favorite came towards the end. During the climactic moment, when it looked like Elphaba’s doom was just around the corner, Glenda and Elphaba share a moment together and sing the song “For Good.”

Here’s a sampling of the lyrics:

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…

It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made from what I learned from you
You’ll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend…

Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good

(Elphaba):
And just to clear the air
I ask forgiveness
For the things I’ve done you blame me for

(Glinda):
But then, I guess we know
There’s blame to share

(Both):
And none of it seems to matter anymore

Who can say if I’ve been
Changed for the better?
I do believe I have been
Changed for the better

Because I knew you…
i belive I have been changed for good…
i have been changed, for good

Both witches came to this place of realization that their lives had been greatly affected by each other. That they both believe they are now better people because of their friendship. That they have been changed for the better because they know one another.

And isn’t that one of the most beautiful things that happens when we engage with the OTHER?

When we step outside of what’s “normal” to us.
When we intentionally seek out those who are different from us.
When we move towards the other.

Jesus Knew This

As much as some of you would prefer there to be a Bible verse that says, “and God declares it good that you shall move toward the other” (preferably by Paul, but we’d take it if it were Jesus), nothing really comes to mind.

But what DOES come to mind is, I believe, even better.

Rather than Jesus just TELLING us that there is value in moving toward the other, he SHOWS us.

He moved toward the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.
He moved toward the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
He moved toward fisherman and a tax collector in Luke 5.
He moved toward a leper and a Roman centurion in Matt 8.
And the list goes on…

We see in Jesus what the Way of Love looks like, and it involves (in part) our willingness to seek out those who are different from us. But not so that we can change THEM, not with some ulterior motive or agenda, but because something beautiful emerges when two people who are so very different from each other learn to see each other as something more than just a label or a stereotype. When they are no longer the “them,” or “those people.” When we move toward the other, we make an effort to tear down the superficial walls that separate us and we open ourselves up to learn so much about who they are, what makes them tick, why they are so different… and in turn, we learn that much more about ourselves.

Wicked tells the story of two people who couldn’t be more different from each other, and yet the closer they moved toward one another the more changed they both become FOR THE GOOD.

Democrats, move toward Republicans and see them for who they are.
Whites, move towards Latinos and Asians.
Straights, move towards a gay person.
Young people, move towards an older person.
Rich, move towards the poor.
Healthy, move towards the sick.

You will be changed for the better. I promise you.

“You’re changing that boy’s life.”
“No… he’s changing mine.”
-Leigh Anne Tuoy, to her friend, talking about Michael Oher, in The Blind Side

 

Fish & Loaves: God is not a Withholder.

A few weeks back, I listened to Mars Hill’s podcast (the gooder Mars Hill, not the sorely misguided/misogynistic/chauvinistic/homophobic led Mars Hill), and to my great delight they had a guest speaker that morning: the wonderful Ian Morgan Cron. Ian is an Epicsopal Priest and author of books such as Chasing Francis. A friend of mine connected me with Ian back when I got fired from The Grove, and Ian was a blessing and his words were a gift to me at the time.

Ian speaks often on the subject of the Eucharist. Communion. Holy Supper. The bread and the wine. And his time at Mars Hill was spent accordingly. His text for the morning was probably not your typical selection when teaching on communion. He chose the story of Jesus feeding the many thousands of people (the only miracle, besides the resurrection, that shows up in all four gospels). We’ve all probably heard the sermon that focuses on the boy in the story who gives up some barley loaves and a couple sardines. And in that sermon, we are encouraged to give all that we have to Jesus (just like the boy), and no matter how small or insignificant we may think it is, Jesus can do great and mighty things with it.

And I think that is true. There is certainly truth (or Truth, if you must) swirling within that aspect of the narrative.

But Ian did something different with the text. Something I’d never heard suggested before.

He talked about how people in that culture, when traveling great distances (as many in the crowd would have been), would, if they could afford to, travel with plenty of supplies. Lots of food. The people of means would travel with provisions, enough for the journey and perhaps even the stay.

And so, spread among the thousands of women, men and children that day (or days), would have been a smattering of families that had LOTS of food. Many more might have a little food. And perhaps most of them were poor and didn’t have anything on them.

With that in mind, Ian suggested that perhaps the true miracle of the story is not that Jesus magically created fish and loaves out of thin air (although he’s careful to not dismiss this possibility, if that’s what you believe happened), but the true miracle is that Jesus used the dramatic action of the boy to challenge and change the hearts of ALL that were there. So that those who had plenty (and might previously NOT have shared it), were now embracing the way of love and providing for those who were in need. God changing the hearts of people. A much more impressive (and beautiful) miracle, if you ask me, then God simply making food and feeding people for a day.

He closed by suggesting that one of the major causes of sin in our lives is because we believe in scarcity rather than abundance. We believe that God is holding back from us, and so we strive to acquire, to keep, to hold on to. We live as though we think that God is withholding from us.

But God is not a withholder.

God is a giver. God is a blesser. Out of the abundance of the endless Giver, God blesses.

In turn, we recognize that we are blessed to bless others.

I am (have been) struggling to live this way. The myth of scarcity is convincing. Powerful. And its siren-song has lulled me in to a season of distrust and despair. Not truly believing that God is NOT a withholder. Rather, I’ve found myself accusing the Lord lately of holding back on me.

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday.
Katie is the love of my life. And in HER, yesterday, I re-discovered that God is not a withholder.

No, God has given me more than I could possibly imagine. Much more than I deserve.

God has given me my wife.

And in light of THAT, how can I ever buy in to scarcity, ever again?
For she has been my rock, my strength and my source of hope these past few months.
Her faith has sustained us, sustained ME. And I will be forever grateful for her and to her.

No, God is certainly not a withholder.

And my bride is my proof.
I love you, Katie.

 

Celebrating her Bday by seeing The Lorax with our boys.

Opposing the Already Oppressed

Nothing says “un-Christian” more to me than the responses of some Christians, organizations and churches to the recent ruling in Washington and to today’s announcement that California’s Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

When thousands (millions?) of American-Christians start to rally up the troops once again to combat any progress the LGBT community makes.

I just can’t fathom the spirit that says, “oh yeah! you think you gained some steps toward equality and respect and dignity in this country!? Well we will just see about that! We’ll rally together enough people to shoot you back down again! And if you don’t stay down THIS time, then we’ll just keep trying! Every time you take two steps forward, we’ll gather enough support to push you three steps backward!”

It just feels unChristian, doesn’t it?

I realize I’m bias. I realize that since I’m a straight-ally, and in full support of human equality when it comes to the rights people ought to have regardless of their sexual orientation, that my opinion on whether the above posture is “Christian” or not is going to be slanted. My version of Christianity, in my mind, takes after its figurehead: Jesus. And Jesus, as best as I understand him, was concerned about things like love, justice and unity. Not so much concerned with fighting to oppress the already oppressed. And certainly not concerned with a persons sexual orientation.

Nonetheless, when people who profess to also follow Jesus actively fight and campaign to continually keep gay and lesbian couples as second-class it makes me question their fundamental understanding of Jesus’ message, his Way, and his Kingdom.

Part of me can kinda-sorta understand a Christian’s commitment to what they view as the only acceptable form of marriage, and how that leads them to actively support movements to protect that belief. I don’t agree with them, but I respect their actions as coming from their convictions. But at some point, on some level, to just continue and continue to fight and campaign and appeal and argue, it just feels mean. I realize this sounds contradictory, and I’m okay with that. But to me there is a difference.

What am I proposing, then? I’m not entirely sure. I suppose it’s silly to say, “if at first you don’t succeed, then happily give up and go home.”

It’s just the immediate sense that I get from reading people’s response. The instant state of, “quick, assemble the crew, the enemy has gained some ground and we need to respond immediately!” I guess there’s just something innate to that that rubs me the wrong way, and feels less “Christian.” Less “Jesus-y.”  (Although, to be fair, I think opposing gay-marriage in the first place is not Jesus-y).

Some day, in the (hopefully near?) future, arguments like this will be behind us. We’ll reminisce about these days with a strange sense of, “wait, why did our country not let gay people marry?” in similar ways that we now reminisce about the days when blacks and whites had to drink from different fountains. That doesn’t make any sense to us now. And one day this won’t make sense to us either.

In the meantime, if you find yourself to be one of the millions of followers of Jesus who don’t think gay people should be allowed the same basic right as you, then I ask you to hold that conviction kindly. Handle it with love. If your sense of “what’s right” is so strong that you just have to fight gay-marriage, then please do it with grace and humility. Don’t immediately rush to kick the man again who just started stumbling to his feet.

I guess that’s what the above movements feel like to me.

If you love Jesus, MUST you hate religion?

So, you’ve probably seen it. This video where the spoken-word poet talks about loving Jesus but hating religion. I’ve watched my FB blow up with people sharing this, and tried to avoid it just because… but I decided to watch it today.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

Since this IS my blog, and all, here are my thoughts on it (as you read this, picture me standing somewhere cool, looking in to a camera, attempting to do “spoken-word.”)

So I see that this video has been going around,
tickling peeps ears with the spoken-word sound.
Almost 7 million views of this one video,
and so to stay relevant, to YouTube I go.

Watch it and listen, is what I just did,
but honestly it left me slightly sordid.

Was Jesus REALLY anti-Religion?
Or just anti the purchase of a temple-sold pigeon…
I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive
in the same sort of way that the this dude on YouTube did.

Jesus was angered by EMPTY religion,
seeing the poor and the hurting who lived in,
the time when God’s people were called out to bless,
but they cared for their purity and said “to hell with the rest.”

I guess what I’d rather this poet had done,
was emphasis Jesus as being the one,
who said,There IS a religion in the Kingdom of Heaven,
See for yourself… James 1:27.

This video creates false dichotomies,
but since it’s done real pretty we say “yes please!”
Before you click ‘share’ and repeat this sensation,
perhaps in your status place this iteration:

“In Jesus I’ve found the way of truth, love and peace
A religion that offers a hope for all things.
In Jesus we seek no hypocrisy,
cause THAT is what drove this Teacher crazy.”

Not “religion.”

(or something like that…)

 

Trusting in the Emmanuel

“Behold, a virgin shall conceive in her womb, and she shall give birth to a son. And they shall call his name Emmanuel, which means: God is with us.” -Matthew 1:23

This statement by an angel, to the frightened carpenter Joseph, is one of the standard issue Christmas verses. And lately, it won’t get out of my head. But not because of it’s presence, rather because of it’s absence.

Here’s what I mean. This Christmas season has been the hardest for me to live within the reality that “God is with us.” Instead, I find myself wrestling almost daily with believing that God is truly near, that God is here and present with me. I realize and fully admit how narcissistic that sounds, and I try to guard myself from making such individualized statements about God (i.e. it’s all about God’s presence with ‘me!’ and then I may or may not choose to acknowledge God’s presence with ‘us’). But this season my heart is going there whether I want it to or not. My mind argues, and wants to hold tight to the knowledge of the presence of God, but my heart wars against it and finds reasons to doubt. Finds reasons to argue, reasons to latch on to the parts of my life recently that have been excruciatingly hard. The other day I wrote about some of this battle as it was reflected in attending church for the first time in a while.

And what’s curious to me is that lately I have had several very powerful reasons to accept the reality of the presence of God in my life right now. And yet, my heart still resists. It’s as though I’m living the chorus of the Mumford & Sons song, “Winter Winds”

And my head told my heart
“Let love grow”
But my heart told my head
“This time no”

So what has my head been telling my heart lately?

My wife is one week away from giving birth to our 4th boy. And what a beautiful reminder of God in so many ways. The God who creates and gives life to Creation has blessed us with the ability to create 4 miniature humans of our own. And the advent of THIS baby boy comes at the same time of year that the God who emptied God’s-self became clothed in humanity. What a perfect reminder.

And yet my heart resists.

The other day I had a conversation with someone who shared with me an incredible story of how I had been used by God to show up in someone else’s life at the exact right moment. I sent this person a text (someone I’ve texted maybe 5 times before in my life) letting them know I was thinking of them and pausing to pray for them. Come to find out, they received that text at the exact moment that something extremely difficult was happening in their life. There was maybe a 5 minute window that this moment even existed, and THAT’S precisely when I felt compelled to text them. There’s more coolness to the story that I won’t share here for the sake of anonymity, but suffice it to say that it was definitely a powerful indicator of “God with us.” And I know that the person who received my text was impacted by the presence of God. And I know that I, too, ought to have been impacted in this way.

And yet my heart resists.

A month ago we threw our kids, dog and a fish in the van and left our home in Arizona. Like many in this country, we are upside down with our mortgage. And like many, we were needing to sell our home quickly. For those who have been there before, you know the stress and strain that latches on to you when you move to a different state and leave behind a home that you hope and pray will sell. Two weeks ago, on Monday, we put our home on the market. By Tuesday we had five offers. By Thursday we accepted an offer and it went to the bank for approval. I can’t say for sure whether God assisted this process for us or not, but probably at another time in my life I might have easily attributed this moment to a blessing/presence of the Divine.

And yet my heart resists.

What I’m discovering is that while my mind has been presented with numerous evidences for the reality of God’s presence in my life, my heart seems intent on rejecting such notions. My heart is still lumbering along at a frustratingly slow pace since it was crushed several months back. My heart is still, at the very best, resisting God… and at the very worst, blaming God.

During the Advent season we are invited to a time of waiting. Of anticipation and expectation. The four words oft associated with Advent are Joy, Hope, Peace and Love.

But this season I might add a fifth word: Trust.

Better yet, I might just replace the original four with Trust.

You see, perhaps God (if God is at the moment doing such things) is inviting me in to a learning season of Trust. Perhaps God sees in my life areas where Trust is lacking, and during this season I get to lean in in a whole new way.

Trust, as I’m learning, isn’t the same thing as Faith. Here’s what I mean…

The author of Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). Or maybe you could say, faith is what you cling to when your heart has a conviction about something but you simply can’t wrap your mind around it. But Trust? Maybe trust is what you cling to when your mind has a conviction about something but your heart can’t acquiesce.

Faith for me right now isn’t necessarily the issue. I believe in the ever-presence of the Creator, the always-thereness and always-nearness of the Divine. But right now I’m struggling to trust in that which I believe in. Or, to put it more simply, I’m struggling to feel what I know. We lean in to faith to help us overcome our lack of knowing. Right now, I need to lean in to trust to help me overcome my lack of feeling. Maybe the feelings will come… maybe not. Feelings are pretty flighty like that. But as finite humans we nonetheless rely on them quite a bit.

So, for this Christmas season, I might stick with the author of Hebrews, but go backwards to the second chapter. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor… I will put my trust in him” (2:9,13).

I may not know what that looks like. I certainly don’t know how to do it. But just being able to step back and see a glimpse of what God might be calling me to right now in my life is enough. I will lean in to that, and by doing so, lean in to God. Lean in to the Emmanuel, the God who is with us. The God who, I am led to believe, is with me.

And then, maybe then, I’ll move from the chorus of “Winter Winds” to the final verse:

And if your strife strikes at your sleep
Remember spring swaps snow for leaves
You’ll be happy and wholesome again
When the city clears and sun ascends