Enemies at Home

“…a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matthew 10:36 NIV)

Matthew quotes the prophet Micah, both of whom are talking about the end times. But when I hear this passage these days I hear the part about my own household – the places and people closest and dearest to me.  Eugene Peterson in his translation of this segment puts it thus:

“—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.
Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies.” (The  Message)

I spent a few days with people who include some of my dearest friends. They are not biological family members but are family in the sense of affection and loyalty. Among them are also folks who test me mightily! I crossed paths several times, for instance, with someone about whom I wrote in an earlier blog and whose betrayal and breaking of trust still hurts deeply.

I know that I am ripping this verse out of its context. But part of what I think Jesus meant by the startling words about family is that family and friendship will be where our Kingdom commitments and character will be most sorely tempted.

Some of us face or will face great public trials of our faith. Some followers of Jesus will experience great hardship or unimaginable tragedy. Some will have to affirm or deny Christ in dramatic ways. But most of us will live out Jesus’ ways in our homes, offices, schools, and neighbourhoods.

The people we most love and with whom we spend the most time are often also the people we struggle to forgive and to love as Jesus demands (and not as our feelings or inclinations alone may lead us). While enjoying the renewal of friendships this weekend I also was tried in my commitment to love, to forgive, to extend grace.

Eugene Peterson wrote in a book on teenagers (maybe something I should read?) but something that applies broadly to families and family-like relationships:

“The biblical material consistently portrays the family not as a Norman Rockwell group, beaming in gratitude around a Thanksgiving turkey, but as a series of broken relationships in need of redemption, after the manner of William Faulkner’s plots in Yoknapatawpha County.”

Eugene H. Peterson, Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up with Your Teenager
(Eerdmans, 1994), pp.110-11

Let the redemption continue…

Categories: Faith Journey, Forgiveness | Leave a comment

Outside In or Inside Out?

Earlier this week I caught this story on NPR:

‘Mass Mobs’ Aim To Keep Pews Full At Old Churches

Each Sunday, a crowd of worshipers descends on a Detroit church that used to be filled with people but now faces closure and death. The pastor and administrator in me listened with interest but also with concern.  What happens next week when the pews – and the offering plates – are again empty? How does one Sunday of great attendance improve the viability of the local church in any meaningful way?

What really caught my attention was this line:

“People are upset that the churches are closing, but the simple reason is, people don’t go…”

The speaker meant that people don’t go to the churches and therefore the churches are empty. I wondered if the real problem lies in the very words he spoke but seen from the other side?

In the interest of fairness, I do not know these churches, their leaders or their congregants. But when did keeping the physical doors of the church open become a passion worthy of the church? Worthy of the sacrificial nature of a Christ who gave himself if others and not for himself?

This story troubles me because – honestly – much of my work as a pastor is directed to this very thing — keeping the church open, moving the church forward in growth, etc. And guaranteeing that I have a salary and a home and a retirement account.

What this story says to me is that the church will survive and thrive when its people – when Christ’s people – go rather than lamenting that people don’t go to church. Not a new thought for me or for many but a thought energized by this sad story.

I certainly hope the churches in this story stay open. I hope, even more, that they and we go instead.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 16:25 NRSV

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Broken Dreams and Callings

This week I read one of the most unsettling – and liberating – things I have ever read:

Discovering Your Calling Won’t Make You Whole

It is troubling because it speaks to so much of what we spend our adult lives pursuing… purpose, meaning, calling. Why am I here? What am I here to do? We believe that if we find this calling all will be easy – or at least clear.

Andrea Lucado in the above post bursts that bubble. And it should be burst.

So much effort spent on finding our unique calling. So many books written, seminars given, and (yes) money spent on this dream. So much agonizing over my place and purpose. Not pursuing this unattainable dream in a fallen world can free us for better things.

What if our purpose is rather to particularize God’s vision for the world in our lives and relationships?  This is enough of a dream for most of us! I wonder if our striving for our calling and purpose is a slightly off-course attempt to do this very thing? Another sign of the brokenness of the world. But also a source of hope.  As Andrea Lucado quotes Jesus in her blog:

“But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33c

Jesus has done so… therefore I do not have to overcome it. What could be more liberating and hope-filling than that?

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Can’t Complain

“The dominant impression we have of our journey to freedom was that it was filled with complaints. The complaints started in Egypt, when Pharaoh responded to the first stirrings of liberation by making life more miserable for our people. The complaints continued at the shores of the Red Sea when we seemed trapped there. And, they pretty much continued all the way until the day Moses died.”

 

The same might be said of many of us – certainly me! We LOVE to complain. Like the people of Israel on their wilderness journey. if we aren’t careful it might be the thing that people most remember about us, too. I certainly do not want to be remembered as a great complainer. Or to have complaint as the defining trait of my character. Complaint excludes the possibility of other things taking center stage -
hope, affirmation, love. It drives out any possibility of gratitude.

Last year I attempted to give up complaining for Lent. Let’s just say I am revisiting this flawed area of my character. Last Sunday I challenged my church to join me in the  21-day Complaint Free Challenge   I offered a basket of simple rubber bands and asked folks to take one and put it on their wrists. When you complain… when you are sarcastic (ouch – this one is where I fall the most)… you move the band to the other wrist. The goal is to change this behavior by not moving the rubber band for 21 days. I have yet to develop a tan-line on either wrist if that tells you how I am doing on week into the challenge.

I believe one of the keys is to replace complaining with something rather than simply removing it from our speech and thought. To speak grace into every situation. To share hope in the face of every challenge. To bless with love every person with whom we interact. And to speak with love about every person whose path crossed ours before this moment.

“Gracious speech is like clover honey — good taste to the soul, quick energy for the body.” (Proverbs 16:24, The Message)

 

On the journey of Christian discipleship we have an ally in this attempt — the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit can squash our temptation to complain. The Spirit can shape our words and transform our hearts in the face of real challenges and people who try our patience (and our desire to not complain about them)! At the core of this ministry of the Spirit is love. To love and not complain… something to strive to achieve. But not alone.
 
If this call to cease complaining speaks to you today, take a look at these articles and resources –
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The Other Thing…

Last week I wrote about Tolkien’s notion of Eucatastrophe and a Christian hope that, in the end, God will bring about a surprising rescue.

The other thing lying behind this post and that I swing around to consider today is that on an individual level it does not always work out (at least not in this life or world). Sometimes things go disastrously wrong – not around the corner or  to someone in a far away place – but to me. To you. To my family and friends.

This state of affairs need not surprise us. Jesus speaks several times about the likelihood of persecution from following him: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”( Matthew 5:11 NRSV). Jesus says that good happens to everyone and so does evil: “… for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5;45b).

Evil in all its forms may – often does – come our way. Sometimes we delude ourselves that it will not. Sometimes the Christian witness gets corrupted into a promise that everything will come out swell in the here and now. Or that following Christ means following him to a place of prosperity and physical blessing. The pundits of positive thought and hard work make similar claims. Work hard. Work smart. Do what I suggest and you will thrive.

But you may not. I may not. People get cancer and die. Companies eliminate jobs and cast off hard-working people. Hurricane strike cities full of faithful, positive thinking people. Accidents of nature and senseless acts of violence (in every sense of that word) come our way.

I have been working with someone who encouraged me to read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search of Meaning (I recommend you read it, too!). In the Forward Rabbi Harold Kushner summarizes Frankl’s observations from the horror of the Nazi Holocaust -

“Finally, Frankl’s most enduring insight, one that I have called on often in my own life and in countless counseling situations: Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”

I am living into this compelling observation in this season of life. I cannot – you cannot – control what happens by any amount of positive thinking, strategic preparation, or correct belief. I can – you can – respond in faith and hope and with a sense of purpose. In this life it is all we have.. and it is enough.

 

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Eucatastrophe

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11. The fact that almost anyone can write or say “9/11″ is sufficient proof of the enduring effect 9/11/01 has had on our national psyche.

So often we look toward the next disaster, the next catastrophe. Today, the day after such a somber remembrance, I am in need of a eucatastrophe. Today in the light of what sometimes feels like cascading brokenness in the world I need a eucatastrophe.

“Eucatastrophe” appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.” It means when the protagonist in a story faces certain doom but is saved in the end from that doom. For Tolkien, the Christian Gospel offers the ultimate eucatastrophe — the Incarnation the eucatastrophe of “human history” and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation.

I long for eucatastrophe in my life and our world. 9/11 reminds me how broken our world remains – and how insoluble these problems seem. We are about to launch air attacks against ISIL, for instance. The human story doesn’t seem to be one that can end well.

But it does. It will. It must. The hope of the Gospel is more than that my soul will survive into eternity with God. It is that the unfolding and endless catastrophes of human history will end in eucatastrophe.

So this Friday after 9/11 I look for that day, I long for the echoes of its arrival. It will come. It has to.

 

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What Season Is It Anyway?

(This week’s post is my monthly newsletter article for my church’s newsletter. While these articles aren’t always appropriate to my slightly wider reading audience, this one applies to all kinds of organizations as well as our personal journey.)

Like many of you, the weather is often on my mind. And the seasons. As I’ve mentioned a few times I love fall. But we have barely had a summer! Oh it’s been hot a few times (here lately mostly).  But it has been more fall-like than summer-like these past few months. But fall will come soon and relentlessly the season will turn.

How do we know what season it is? We can probably rattle off the signs of the seasons (snow and cold in winter, hot and green in the summer, for instance). Sometimes a single day or even week don’t fit the pattern. 50 degree days in January throw us off the mark, as do 50 degree nights in July. But the pattern of the days and nights… the appearance of the natural world around us… our sense of time and season are enough to assure is we know where we are.
How do we know such things about the church? How do we discern the season in which our church is living? Are we in a season of renewal and growth? Are we in a time of seeking and discerning? Are we in a period of decline and death?

It isn’t as simple as the recurring seasons of the year. Sometimes a single Sunday may make us think “Wow! We are really going places!” Another Sunday – sometimes the next Sunday – leaves us wondering “Wow! How did that happen so poorly?” But we can look at the consistent things (How many are showing up to worship? Who is in our classes and groups and ministries? How are people supporting various ministries with their time, their treasures, their talents? – and others like this).

I don’t have a clear answer myself to what season we are experiencing. But after a few years with you I am starting to ask the questions and wonder. Just as we need to know what season it is to know which clothes to pack away (and which ones to replace or bring out of storage), so the season of our church’s dictates where we should focus our efforts and what we need to do in response to the time and season and circumstances in which we find ourselves.

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Dream a Little – No, A Big – Dream

The word “dream” has arisen several times over the last few weeks of my life. Dreaming can mean wishful thinking about what could be. Or fantasizing about what is unlikely but would be welcome. Or those strange movies that play in our minds while we sleep.

In ancient times people saw dreams as God’s messengers. Interpreters of dreams were held in high regard (at least as long as their interpretations proved true or matched the hopes and wishes of the dreamer).

The Bible tells the stories of dreams and dreamers – Joseph, Daniel, Joseph the father of Jesus, Paul. How did they know that God was speaking and not last night’s dinner?

In all of these stories, God intrudes. God invades the dreams and lives of people without warning. God uses dreams to get their attention or to leverage a change in course.

God’s dreams are grander of ours. We dream of an easier life – God dreams of a fulfilling life. We dream of more of what we love – God dreams of more love. We dream of no cares – God dreams of our caring as deeply as does the One in whose image we are made.

One of the ways to know where our dreams originate is to ask whom they resemble. If they are inflated versions of us, then we know they come from inside. If they look as big, as holy, as loving as God… they are something beyond and outside us. They are God’s dream.

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One Man’s Death

Much has been written this week about the death of Robin Williams. Sadly – and not surprisingly – not all of it kind or helpful or insightful. But much, especially among the community of faith, has been. If you struggle with depression  and especially with suicide (or know someone who does), please see the links below for information, thoughts, and resources.

At the same time there are bigger things happening than the death of a single beloved comedian: the unrest in Ferguson, MO… the Ebola epidemic in Africa… the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria… you get the picture. Terrible things. Unimaginable things. Perhaps that is now and always the point.

The death of a single person is something we can grasp. And the unfolding story of depression, illness, addiction overlaps with many of our own experiences. Our tendency to identify with lovable stars and to think we know them deepens the personal sense of loss.

I hope this also reminds us that we make a difference – most of us – with other individuals. We don’t have the influence to change the course of cultures or history. We lack the stature to have the President or our Senator take our calls (not that we should not speak out and speak up however!).

People around us need our love and understanding. They need to connect with people of faith who demonstrate in real-time and real situations the love of Christ. It is not a coincidence that God’s great plans came to fruition in real people – Abraham and his crazy extended family, David and his flawed descendents,  and ultimately in Jesus of Nazareth who lived in a particular place and at a particular time in human history.

Somewhere near you someone needs you. Somewhere near you may be the person you need. God works that way. And it works.

RESOURCES

In Which Depression Is Not Your Fault 

After The Laughter The Waves of Dread

NAMI What We Can Do About Depression

Categories: Depression, Faith Journey | Leave a comment

Lessons from Wednesday – Learning to Forgive

This past Wednesday, something happened that left me in a storm of emotions -anger, hurt, regret, loss. A friend — someone in whom I confided and with whom I was very open about a subject on which we disagreed but whom I counseled about how to lead in a touchy situation at his request —  turned out to be a Judas. I learned in a very public way that my trust was misplaced and that this person not only was not my friend but lacked integrity and honor. I was – and am – devastated.

I hesitate to write such harsh words. And you would be right. But I share such a harsh tale to talk about the spiritual and personal issues is raises for me.

Today – on Friday – I am struggling a bit with forgiveness. It will be a long journey. This person will likely not be my friend ever again. I certainly won’t trust him. Nor, I think, does God or inner peace require that I do so.  But I have to come to a place of forgiveness. Today I want to be angry and self-righteous. But I need to move toward forgiveness and charity.

This is not the first time I have faced betrayal – probably not you either. And it won’t be the last. But I have learned at least that bitterness only takes root and grows. Regret becomes a sinkhole into which we fall if we are not careful. Unforgiveness poisons our spirits and shrivels our own experience of God’s grace and forgiveness.

After all these years I am still devastated when these things come. But I am learning better all the time how to live into and with that pain and move toward forgiveness and newness. If you struggle with this I am with you… but the struggle is worth it. Grow up with me into forgiveness and graciousness.

 

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Mmathew 5:18 The Message

 

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