Archive for May 2016

Who Are the Heroes of Faith?

Who Are the Heroes of Faith?
Today is Memorial Day, a holiday of rest and celebration. It’s a day when we in the United States remember those who have suffered and sacrificed so that we might enjoy freedom and wholeness. Memorial Day is often given over to displays of nationalism and militarism, but for those following in the way of The Lamb Who Was Slain, there is another story to tell.

This Memorial Day, I’m calling to remembrance that faithful cloud of witnesses whom the author of Hebrews points me to. I’m giving thanks for the women and men who provide me with examples of courage and faith. I’m honoring those who have shown me how to walk in the challenging and beautiful way of Jesus.

Today I’m invited to examine my own life. Do I have the courage to follow the example of those heroes of faith who have passed before me on this journey? Everything I have that is of any value, I’ve received it from the hands of these faithful witnesses of the Lamb. Am I willing to pay it forward? Am I prepared to take up the cross of Jesus, to bless the lives of others just as his love has transformed my own?

This holiday presents an opportunity to pay special attention to the trail that has been blazed by our mothers and fathers in the faith. We remember their lives, their deeds, their love – not for the purpose of deadening nostalgia, but as an invitation into bold action. Participating in the life they have shown us, we find a faith that transforms us into the image of Jesus.

How are you celebrating this Memorial Day? Who are you remembering? How will those you remember shape your life in the days to come?

Thank God for the lives of the faithful and true witnesses, who have inspired and nurtured us thus far. Let’s re-commit ourselves to embodying the love, power, and compassion that God has already poured out on us through his saints. In the name of Jesus. Amen!

Related Posts:

Will You Become What They Call You?

I Will Remember

Will You Become What They Call You?

We humans are story-telling machines. We tell them about ourselves, and about those around us. We use the power of words – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to paint a picture of who we are, and who we expect others to be.

We tend to live into the expectations that others have of us. When I was a kid, I got a reputation for being a weirdo free thinker. I got made fun of constantly, both by other young people and by adults. That was all the encouragement I needed to really dig into all sorts of unpopular thinkers and causes. I became a radical because they told me I was one.

This didn’t always lead to happiness. Quite the opposite. I spent most of my childhood on the margins of my social circles. I was an outsider, first because I was told that I was one, and eventually because I chose this role for myself. The story was just too strong for me to escape its gravitational pull.

As I grow older, it’s easy to see how reactive and self-defeating all of this was. I let the words of others shape who I became. Their story became my story, and it hurt me. But now I know that there’s another story to tell – a deeper one that doesn’t rely on the praise of my friends or the taunts of my enemies. It’s a story that springs up like living water. It’s the story that God’s Spirit is telling within me. I’m finding a solid place to stand in the midst of all the competing stories of this world.

What’s the story that you’re living in? Who told it to you, and why did you believe it? Is there a deeper story that you’re being invited into?

Related Posts:

Even I Have My Limits

Blessed Are those with Nothing to Lose

Even I Have My Limits

The last few weeks have been so full that I can barely keep up. I’ve been forced to take each day on its own terms, without much planning, recreation, or wandering. I’ve been doing important work, and I’m grateful, but this isn’t the way I’d like to live my life most of the time.

Still, the almost overwhelming intensity of this season has certain benefits. It’s a reminder that I’m finite and have limits. There’s only so much I can do in any given day, week, month. As I find the boundaries of my own strength, I get in touch with a deep gratitude for the way the world keeps turning without my help.

I like to think that my life is important, and it is. God has created me to bring a gift to the world, a gift that no one else can bring. But I don’t have to do it all. I just get to play my little part. When I can really accept that, I find such freedom. I don’t have to fit the mold that the world has created for me. I don’t have to accomplish all the things that I wanted to get done today. I just need to be attentive to the vital work that God is giving me. The Spirit is equipping other hands to carry the rest.

When are times that you’ve encountered your limits? Have you experienced these limits as a burden, a frustration, or a liberation? What does it mean to rest in God’s purpose for you?

Related Posts:

You Don’t Have to Earn It

Can We Learn Faith Like A Child?

Do You Love Me?

The culture we live in tells us a story about love. It’s a story about passionate feelings, the drama of fiery relationships. Ultimately, it’s a story about our own ego. It’s the satisfaction of getting what we want, when we want it.

Our world runs on consumerism, so it’s not surprising that the vision of love it sells us is a self-centered one. But as friends of Jesus, we are invited to a much deeper story, one in which personal satisfaction takes a back seat to serving others.

Jesus points to this kind of love with the way that he lived, and the way that he died. He shows us what true love is when he disrupted his culture’s financial system, flipping over tables in the Temple marketplace. He shows us this alternative path when he called out the greed and hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He preaches a vision of hope for the poor. He invites us to embrace it for ourselves.

Above all, Jesus shows us what love looks like. We see it in the way he treated his closest friends, the original disciples. Jesus loved them in the way that God loves all of us. He laid down his life for them. He protected and cared for his friends, watching out for them rather than defending his own interests. Even when they weren’t ready to follow him, he was willing to die so that they could see the truth. No one has greater love than what Jesus showed us when he laid down his life for his friends.

Love isn’t a question of feelings. It’s about relationships of care and service. It’s about doing justice and caring for those who are most vulnerable. When we put the well-being of others before our own desires and passions, we demonstrate the love that Jesus teaches.

In a world that teaches us that love is about our own happiness and gratification, Jesus opens a window into an entirely different story. True love is about mercy and justice. It’s about service to others, even when that means hardship and suffering – or even death.

This isn’t the love of Hollywood movies. It’s not even romantic. But despite all the challenge and pain, this is the kind of love that heals the world.

What does real love look like? There’s only one way to find out. Are you ready?

Related Posts:

You Don’t Have to Earn It

Life is Absurd. So is God.

Can We Learn Faith Like A Child?

Making Prayer Flags
Faith and just got off a plane, coming back from the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering near Indianapolis. I’m exhausted from the trip, but I’m so excited about what God is doing in our community. I want to share with you about what we experienced this weekend.

From Thursday night to Sunday morning, we came together with friends from across the country – coloring, composing, coloring, discussing, worshiping, singing, and exploring. It was a truly intergenerational gathering. We had folks ranging from toddlers to retirement age, and every generation in between. There was very little need to divide ourselves by age; even the very youngest in our community were able to participate fully in most of our activities.
Playing at Friends of Jesus Spring Gathering 2016
For this year’s Spring Gathering, we made a very conscious effort to be family-friendly, and it paid off in a big way. I was delighted with how our son, George, was able to connect with the children of two other families during the gathering. It was fantastic to watch our little ones become friends, and learn more about God in age-appropriate ways. We we adults learned so much from them, too. The children provided their own unique energy that shaped the gathering into something richer. Our community felt more organically whole than at any other time I have experienced. I am hopeful that this is just the beginning of a process in which Friends of Jesus becomes infused with the joy, energy, and simple honesty of children – who Jesus says we must emulate if we want to participate in the reign of God.

We are learning to see the world through child-like eyes that encourage creativity, an openness to discovery and wonder. This weekend we practiced praying in color, wrote collaborative prayer-poetry, sang together and played instruments, went for a nature walk, and created prayer flags to decorate our worship space. We ate together and shared in deep worship. We met together in in small groups to support one another as we seek to be faithful and joyful in the way of Jesus.
Worship Space at Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering 2016
This gathering had a gentle beauty. It was the quiet, slow beauty of flowers opening and roots growing deeper. It was the blossoming of faith in the midst of challenge. We felt a deepening of commitment to face the darkness that we all experience, and a hope that God will provide us with child-like hearts to support one another in this journey.

This weekend, we re-discovered what it means to live in the image of God. Honoring the God-created child within each one of us, we are growing in compassion, joy, and the calm reassurance that God loves us and will care for us. We don’t have to be afraid anymore. We don’t have to bend to the world’s way of intimidating and distracting us. We can become children of light.
Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering 2016 Group Photo
I’m feeling such gratitude for my brothers and sisters in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship – both those who were able to be with us this weekend and those who couldn’t make it this time. I’m encouraged by the movement that I see the Holy Spirit gathering. Little by little, the seed of God is being sown and little sprouts of life are rising from this good earth. Thank you, Jesus. And thank you, friends.

Related Posts:

A Quiet Power in Our Midst

A Baptism Into Courage

Why is Church so Hard?

For the last couple of years, this blog’s tagline has been: “Religion is easy; discipleship is hard.” I’m starting to think that perhaps this slogan is only half right. Discipleship certainly is hard, but religion doesn’t seem to be such a piece of cake, either.

I recently read a really tender, honest post from my friend Hye Sung, in which he wrestles with the fact that he rarely attends church, despite his strong faith in Jesus and his belief that Christian community is very important. What does it mean for him, and the millions of others like him, that faith in Jesus should be so compelling and yet finding healthy, life-giving Christian community is so hard? What does it mean for me that after spending years in seminary and nearly a decade in Christian ministry, I find myself resonating with Hye Sung’s dilemma, too?

Why is church so hard? For hundreds of years, the Sunday-morning congregation has filled a vital role in the life of God’s people. Yet in my generation, it may be that there are more Christians living their lives outside of the traditional congregation than those who remain within it. And many of those who remain are struggling.

We are in the midst of a monumental shift in the life of the church, one that is just as significant as the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago. Our entire culture is changing, and all of our legacy institutions – government, media, business, and the church – are straining under the pressure. We’ve set out on a new sea, but instead of oars, we have shovels. How long will it take for us to craft the tools we need to thrive in this new environment? So much hangs in the balance.

It’s reassuring to remember that we’ve been here many times before. This coming Sunday is Pentecost, when we remember the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit that formed the first Christian community in Jerusalem. Pentecost was a moment when God made a way out of no way. In the face of stuckness and confusion, Jesus drew together a new community that could speak to the spiritual hunger of the people of the Roman Empire. The old order was fading away, and it was frightening, but the Holy Spirit brought the creativity needed to bridge the gap. She revealed the new order of God.

This new order played out differently in 1st-century Palestine than it did in medieval Europe. The body of Christ looked different in the days of St. Francis than in those of George Fox. The way that the Holy Spirit is guiding us in our time, place, and culture, is bound to be different from anything that humans have ever experienced before. We’re being given new wine for the new wine skins of our day and age.

I won’t sugar coat it: These are hard days to be living in. Everything that our grandparents thought they knew is being turned on its head. We are in the midst of a great confusion as a society, and it’s not clear where we are headed. And yet there is a blessing in such a moment, the promise of the Holy Spirit to guide us into a new expression of faithfulness for our own day. Just like on that most famous day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago, we are being invited to participate in a brand new experiment, the likes of which the world has never seen.

I don’t know where this road leads. I’m not even convinced that I’ll like it when we get there. But I do have confidence that God is in control, and that the Holy Spirit has not abandoned her people. This is a time for the patient endurance of the saints, for us to be actively partnering with Jesus in his ministry of reconciliation and peace. It’s not easy, but it can be joyful. Let’s stumble down this road together.

Related Posts:

The Mightiest River

Blessed Are those with Nothing to Lose

You Don’t Have to Earn It

Throughout my life, I’ve had this itch, this need: to be someone who earned his keep, who produced enough to justify my existence. Simply being isn’t enough.

When I was a student, I imagined that once I got out into the workforce and had a full-time job, I would feel justified. I would be producing value, making a difference. Then I would feel like I had earned the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the gas I burn.

Then I got that job, working at a bank in Wichita. I helped people – especially folks in the Spanish-speaking community – carry out their financial transactions. I was doing good, necessary labor. I was giving back to society in tangible way. And yet, I still felt a deep emptiness inside. No matter how hard I worked, it didn’t feel commiserate with the abundance of goodness and comfort I enjoyed.

I’ve grown a lot since my job at the bank. Part of that growing has been learning to be less hard on myself. But to this day I have a tough time believing that I really deserve to live on this beautiful earth, to enjoy good food, safe housing, and rapid transportation. Billions have worked so hard to provide me with material wealth that I enjoy. It seems impossible to give back even a small portion of what I receive. I want to repay the debt I owe to so many, but I can’t.

And my debt isn’t just to other people. The reality is, every single one of us relies completely on the amazing gifts of the creation. All of this wealth and beauty that we as a species enjoy – we didn’t make any of it. We’ve never created a single tree, rock, or bird. All of the food, fuel, plants, and animals that we rely on come from something beyond us. It’s a pure gift that we could never have possibly earned, and can never repay.

For so long, I’ve felt a compulsion to repay all the good things that I receive, to somehow get square with the Creator. But I’m realizing that all I really need to do is say, “Thank you.”

I don’t have to earn my daily bread, to justify my existence through the work that I do or the value that I provide to human economies. God provides everything as a pure gift. Our job as human beings is to receive that gift, and to pass on the gift to those around us. What a beautiful reality, and how different from the stress-filled visions that our culture often feeds us!

In contrast to God’s economy of love and gratitude, we are frequently surrounded by messages of guilt and consumption. We are taught to think in terms of who owns what. We to live in a world governed more by property rights than by thanksgiving and wonder. Rather than embrace the awesome beauty of God’s reality, we are blinded by a mindset that sees the whole created order – even human beings – as property to be owned, and disposed of, as the owner sees fit.

This distorted vision has far-reaching implications. Our need to justify our own existence, our fixation on equal exchange and ownership, is the ideological foundation for environmental destruction. Our world is an unearned, unwarranted gift from God – a gift we should honor and cherish. Yet as long as we cling to the false story of debt, ownership, and self-sufficiency, we will continue to ravage this planet, seeking our justification in work that never was ours to do.

What would it feel like to rest in the knowledge that every single moment is a pure gift from our Creator? What would change if we truly believed that we don’t have to earn God’s love, our daily bread? How might our lives be different if our starting place was an acknowledgement of the gift, and an intention to pass on that gift to those around us?

Related Posts:

The Mightiest River

We Don’t Have to be Afraid Anymore