I pray that the glorious Father, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know Christ better.
-Paul (Ephesians 1:17)
My life is boxes right now. Our house is just a pile of boxes everywhere.
In one day we will be moving about 8 miles north of our current home. There’s a whole beautiful story of how that came about, but I right now I want to talk about boxes.
My wife Bethany is excellent at all this. She’s organized beyond belief and she’s been labeling and filling boxes for too many hours for over a month. Honestly, even though we try to live simply, the amount of downsizing we’ve done in the past 6 weeks reminds me of how much unnecessary clutter just adds up, even when you seek to resist it. But back to the boxes.
In the early stages of packing up, labels are easy to make. Everything stays inside it’s own box. One box says, “Keith’s theology books” (well that’s 10 boxes, who are we kidding), another box says “painting supplies,” and another, “cups and bowls.”
But inevitably, the deeper you get into the process, the less clear the contents become. A box gets labeled “bathroom supplies and stuff from that one drawer,” or “items from the garage + dining room.” Bethany just made one that has vinegar and refrigerator magnets in it, and I just filled a box with bird feeders... and a pair of scissors. It’s hard to keep our boxes straight and separate because some things can’t fit into just one box, and other boxes are big enough to hold lots of different items. It gets complicated, and honestly, there just comes a point where what really needs to happen is to keep stuff moving. So it matters less that every box is perfectly distinguished. That's how it starts- but the more important task is moving to a new place. So it gets a little messy.
This is a glimpse of continuing to move in our lives with God. At the beginning, it may be easy to clearly label each of the boxes in our lives. Each belief is neatly labeled and described. Every Bible passage has one obvious interpretation, and each question of faith has a clear answer. Then, as we continue to move through the years, we find that certain things that fall into one box may also fit into another. The deeper we get to Jesus, sometimes the less sure we are about making clear lines between the “us’s” and the “them’s” of the world. Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes it's confusing. And that’s ok, because the end point isn’t knowledge. The end point is faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love (I didn’t come up with that.) So it's ok if it's hard to label each box clearly. With movement comes messiness, and God will help to bring both freedom and order to our mystery.
There’s something else that happens with our boxes as we move deeper into finding our home with Jesus. It’s not simply that we learn how to hold tension and mystery with humility. It’s that our compartmentalized life becomes completely destroyed. No longer is there a sacred and secular box in our lives. No longer is there the church box and the separate work or parenting boxes, each with an allotted amount of time and energy. There aren’t boxes for my money and then another one for resources to be given to God. A life in Jesus is completely integrated. Jesus spills into all of our boxes- Jesus even changes the content of each of our boxes. All we do, all we say, all the interactions that we have- they all become a part of this beautiful and challenging life of discipleship. It goes beyond labels. Every fiber of us becomes formed and transformed by the good news that Jesus is at work to make all things right.
If your boxes feel a little cluttered, or their contents are mysterious, or even if you feel like they might be breaking down a little… it’s alright. Simply make sure that no box is sealed off from the influence of Jesus, and you’ll be alright.
Jesus, let me welcome you into all of the mysterious compartments of my life and faith today, so that in every area, you would be Lord.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
A few weeks ago a friend posted this image of one of her baking pans that had been dropped on the floor a few days earlier. It was really disappointing because she really liked it and had used it regularly for years.
As she collected the broken pieces, she took a look at them before throwing them out. A thought came to her. She realized that in the past she had never been able to use it in her toaster oven because the muffin pan was too big. She always had to use her large oven, even if she only needed to bake a few muffins.
The lesson was this: Surprisingly, the newly broken pan was going to prove to be more usable than ever before. Now it could fit into multiple places, and it could be used for smaller numbers as well as larger ones. Initially she had thought was that there was no more usefulness when it shattered. Now, my friend noticed that new things were possible- precisely because of the brokenness. She immediately started using it in new ways.
This is a hard lesson to grasp, and one that we must learn to receive time after time throughout our lives. The pain we experience as a result of the brokenness of life will open new doors if we allow it. New doors of empathy, of growth, of compassion, of maturity. There will be spaces in the lives of others that we could not previously fit into until we are broken. But now we can sit in that space, understanding and walking alongside. We may also find that when our own capacity feels more limited, it is in these moments that we become more available to the supernatural strength and power of the Spirit of Christ that Jesus has breathed into us.
Sometimes the more capable I am, the less trust is required, and the less of God I grasp.
But the less capable I am, the more I identify as poor in spirit, and the more available I am to be blessed and used by God.
So let’s follow the arguments that the Apostle Paul responded to in his ministry:
Does that mean that we should seek after brokenness so that we can be closer to God as a result? Should we try to go through pain and heartache and even sin so that we can say, look how much God is growing me afterwards!
Obviously not, friends.
Brokenness is one of the things in life that we don’t need to seek after. It will come. We will get dropped on the floor and fall to pieces. That’s the reality of a broken world and real people with real choices to choose right or wrong.
What we can do, though, is decide if our broken pieces should simply be thrown away. We will decide the level of our worth as we take stock of the shattered pan on the ground.
Will we hear the words of Jesus as we do?
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered.
Then neither do I condemn you.
Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness...
My friend decided not to throw away her pan. She decided to keep owning it. To keep using it. To even see new value that wasn’t there before. What a beautiful image.
Our pain will either make us more sensitive or more calloused.
Our frustration will make us more compassionate or more harsh.
Our losses will create empathy or bitterness.
Our failures will fill us with grace toward others, or convince us we are no longer useful.
Those possibilities will be determined based on one thing, and one thing alone:
Will we invite Jesus to transform our broken lives?
If we allow God’s grace and love to enter into all the areas in our lives that are not what we wished they were… then we will become people who overflow with love and humility and gentleness. The world will be drawn to us… and drawn to Jesus in the process.
Our brokenness will no longer be a liability. It will indeed be the reason that God can work through us. What kind of a God is this, who chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the strong!? (1 Cor 1:27).
It’s ok to sit back in wonder at all of that today. Amazing grace.
Jesus, take what feels broken in me today and use it for good. I trust you.
Last week I returned from a two week long trip to India to get to know some of the widowed women that our church has given microloans to over the past few years. There was far more to it than that, but you can expect that several upcoming TFG reflections will mention this trip and the things God was stirring during my time.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
Late in January, I found myself in India, sitting in a one room flat belonging to a family of 5. Actually, that happened nearly every day while I was there.
Without getting lost in details, much of our time was spent visiting families that Advocacy Global (the organization I was working with) had built relationships with over the years. So there were many visits to be made.
When people heard that our group was nearby, they eagerly anticipated us coming to their homes. That’s why I want to talk about bananas and orange soda.
Over and over again, our group of 5-6 people or so piled into a space that could barely hold that many- plus the families themselves! I sat on beds, leaned against walls, and squatted in corners. With almost no room to shift our bodies, we were welcomed with huge smiles and a barrage of snacks- whatever was available. Often, it was a banana and a cup of soda.
In our cultural context, so many things can limit this sort of hospitality. If your house is too small or too simple or too cluttered, you feel bad about having people over. If your shelves are bare, you have to go out and buy a bunch of fancy food in order to really feel like a host.
But over and over again (one of us tried to say no to a banana after having eaten one only minutes ago, but our host refused to hear of it), we were welcomed into tiny spaces with simple snacks.
But it had the feel of something even more honoring. It felt like we were being loved beyond what a banquet could provide.
Because that’s what true hospitality is. It’s about the spirit, not the body. It’s about being welcomed into each other’s spaces with warmth and joy.
We asked to hear our friends’ stories. We told our own. We showed pictures and prayed for our brothers and sisters and asked them to pray for us. It felt like a holy privilege to sit on a crowded bed and be invited into the lives of many people I had never even met before.
What if we embraced a hospitality of bananas and warm soda? What if our daily lives were focused on inviting people into our lives, offering what we had, but more focused on being together than anything else?
We are burdened with attitudes of perfection and control over invitations to connection. And I’m afraid it’s killing the mark of hospitality in us.
There’s something about receiving true hospitality that immediately transcends any externals. When you know you are wanted, neither party cares about being fancy. And when we simply offer what we have, then what we have is transformed into the richest of foods. Bananas cannot be distinguished from creme brûlée. Orange soda is just as beautiful as champagne.
This is what Jesus offers us- he welcomes us into a world of his presence, which transforms our daily tasks and our daily struggles because we know we are loved and we know we are not alone. And this changed heart opens us up to show hospitality to our world in simple ways. We initiate a kind word, we open our doors, we welcome a stranger. We need neither fancy dishes nor fancy spaces- because Christ has the capacity to transform anything into a banquet when our spirits are postured toward love. And we never know who we might end up meeting along the way 😇.
Jesus, break down any barriers that are keeping me from welcoming others into my life today.
Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
Recently during one of our meal community gatherings, a friend was talking about the exhausting and often frustrating world of parenting little ones. As a parent of a newly walking toddler, she was expressing a reality that every single parent has felt at one time or another. She also happens to be a “hands talker” (I can relate to that), so as she shared her thoughts, she expressed them visually. In one of those moments, she just kind of threw her hands up in the air as a way of mentioning how everything was just. too. much.
Oh, friend. I understand. Parents, do you remember those days of having a kid whose entire goal in life was to grab every breakable and dirty thing in the house and drop it on the ground or put it in their mouth? It’s as if they’re briefed every morning that they have one task in life: absolute destruction, but with a silly smile on their face so no one knows the truth.
Anyway, back to the point. The moment my friend threw her hands up in the air, it struck me as eerily similar to a posture of worship. Some of us have those personalities where when you’re singing and you sense the joy of God, you've just got to throw your hands in the air. And in that moment, it looked like my friend was worshipping.
And then I thought, well maybe she is.
It struck me, as my friend threw her hands up in the air with a laugh and mentioned how sometimes she just feels done… that hands up in worship isn’t so much different. Worship (whatever posture we take) is simply admitting that we’re done, but not in a defeatist way. It’s admitting that we’re in need and that we’re so full of thanks that we do not have to bear everything on our own. We walk through experiences that we simply don’t feel equipped for. Parenting. New jobs. Relational problems. Figuring out finances. Health crises. And we are overcome with moments of feeling like it’s too much for us to be the ones calling all the shots.
That’s because it is.
It’s too much to have the weight of the word on our shoulders. It’s just too much. It’s overwhelming to constantly draw on our own strength. We need something more. Someone more. We need someone beyond us, so that we can remember that we’re not the top of the food chain, and rest gratefully in that amazing fact. It’s not all up to us. And that freeing knowledge moves us toward worship.
So, what do we do in the moments that we feel overwhelmed? We throw our hands up in the air! In frustration. In surrender. In praise. All of it. Maybe we even raise the roof a little and dance. Because it’s not all on us. There is grace. So much grace, friends. Grace upon grace upon grace.
You might have a moment of throwing your hands up this week. In exhaustion, in frustration, in being overwhelmed, in feeling like you’ve just got nothing left. Go ahead and throw them. Let those hands remind you that that you have Jesus with you, and you don’t always have to have strength. You don’t have to have it all together to be loved. You are allowed to be overwhelmed. You’re allowed to be broken and messed up. And you can cast your cares on a loving father, who meets us where we are, walks with us, and leaves us changed every time. Your world doesn’t have to be peaceful to be given the peace of God. What incredibly good news that is.
Jesus, when I am overwhelmed today, give me a reminder of your grace and presence.
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
-1 Corinthians 13:12
Every Sunday morning during our LifePath gathering, we have a few unpredictable things that we do where we never know exactly what's going to happen. One of those elements is when we speak aloud something we call Common Prayer. Throughout the morning as we sing, people walk to the back of the auditorium and write down prayers of thanks, of hope, of heartache… it can be anything. Later, they are read aloud and after each one, we all say, “Lord, hear our prayer” together. It helps us be the Church together, and reminds us that these worship gatherings are real life with real people, never a prefabricated show.
I was captured by something that happened recently during this time. Embedded in the middle of the prayers read aloud from the front was this one:
"Lord, we thank you that you fulfill our hopes and prayers…. most of the time."
The prayer caught us all a little bit. There was a pause, and a few chuckles… and then we responded enthusiastically, “Lord, hear our prayer!”
It was a funny moment. But it was profound at the same time. Because we all knew there was truth there.
This is real life and faith, isn’t it? That simple-yet-complicated prayer exposed a challenging, wonderful, frustrating dirty little secret of ours. And that secret is this: our theology isn’t airtight. We don’t have everything figured out. There are times that we just don’t quite understand exactly how God works and what prayer does or doesn’t do. There are times that we’re not sure what is God’s will and movement, and what is just people being good or bad. There are times that the scriptures have gaps or diverse perspectives and we’re left wondering what we’re supposed to do with it all in order to be faithful.
There are times where prayers are answered, and then times that other prayers that we are sure would line up with God’s heart… remain shrouded in silence and mystery.
We can ignore it. Many do. We can try to explain it away with a nice little bumper sticker slogan like God answers every prayer, just not in the way we think. Or we can just lay it out there honestly.
There’s something freeing in being able to rejoice in the moments that we see it and get it… and chuckle at the moments that we have no idea what is going on. Because in those moments, we can actually reach new levels of faith.
First, they teach us honesty and mystery. There are times where Christians are tempted to be dishonest with God about their own feelings, doubts, or uncertainties because they think God gets upset at them for asking questions. This is not God’s posture. If God can’t handle your doubts and big questions, then God is not the loving and grace-filled Father that Jesus reveals.
Secondly, when we acknowledge that hopes are unmet and prayers feel unheard… we learn what it means to see Jesus as enough. I have no doubt that the Apostle Paul prayed for freedom and open doors during his imprisonments. Sometimes that happened. At other times, like when he was in jail writing to the Philippian church, he declared that he had learned the secret to a full life, and the circumstances didn’t matter. The secret to contentment was that Jesus was enough (Phil 4:12-13). Nothing else had to be answered. That’s where the joy was.
Yep, there’s mystery. Yes, sometimes we will find answers. Other times we won’t. But something continues to draw us to the truth of Jesus, even when when we don’t have everything packaged neatly. How beautiful that our hope comes from the grace of God, not our foolproof understanding of all questions in the universe.
When you don’t know, it’s ok to laugh. it’s ok to be grateful. It’s ok to be unsure. Just make sure you keep telling God about it all. One day, all will be understood.
Jesus, give me peace the mysteries, and joy in your presence with me today.
“Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him …”
- Deuteronomy 11:26-28
Earlier this winter I decided to go out for a run along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal trail near my house. I like to think I'm a tough all weather runner, so I was confident. I felt a breeze as the sun was setting and decided to start by going against the wind before turning around later. It wasn’t until I had descended to the path along the river that I realized how powerful the bitter wind was that blew in my face. It whipped across the water and took my breath away. I ran for miles with my head down and shoulder slightly turned to brace myself, as if I was preparing to tackle an invisible opponent. Body parts began losing feeling. With no human within miles, I remember my frustration reaching a breaking point as I screamed at the top of my lungs to no one about nothing in particular. I was cursing the wind! Ah, how horrible that wind was.
However, after I got the screaming out of my system and began thinking about it for a little, I realized that it was actually the wind that was cursing me. It was making my path much more difficult, making my progress hard, and filling me with frustration. I felt cursed. It was exhausting.
But then! Then, I finally turned around. Almost miraculously, there was a sense of stillness as I ran in the opposite direction. My body warmed up slowly, and my movements became less forced. The wind was still blowing, but this time I was moving with it in the right direction, and the experience was completely different. The running was bearable because the wind was no longer my adversary. In fact, it strengthened me. The wind was blessing me.
The Bible speaks frequently of blessings and curses. In the Old Testament, God’s people understood life through what we call the Deuteronomic Code (because it was rooted in the book of Deuteronomy). The code is quite simple:
Obedience to God = Blessing
Disobedience to God = Curse
These blessings and curses were often portrayed in very physical ways. If people were obedient, they usually ended up happy, healthy and wealthy. This worldview was no different from every other ancient worldview at the time. If you pleased God, God would reward you. If not, you would be cursed. When Jesus comes onto the scene, he shifts perspectives by declaring blessing without reservation to even the most broken and marginalized. Yet he still warns those who are full of greed, pride, violence and selfishness. He says that “great sorrow awaits them” (Lk 6:24-26), for those things are passing away.
The more I journey with Jesus, the more I am convinced that the blessing and curse reality still exists today, but it's less like God getting angry and taking it out on us, and more like the windstorm I was running against recently.
God has formed the world to flourish in a certain way. Jesus reveals it to us through his life and teachings. If we choose to posture ourselves against the way of life that Jesus reveals, then we will find ourselves working against the wind. Our progress will be pushed to a halt. When things like anger, violence, pride, greed and selfishness are the direction we move in, there will be negative repercussions in our spirit and lives. And we will feel cursed. The curse isn’t sickness or poverty. It will be a hollowness of life, a constant discontentment, and an emptiness that even health, power, and money can never fill. That's the reality of moving against God’s vision for the world. I’ve seen it happen over and over again (and plenty of times in my own life).
But when we turn toward the Jesus way, we encounter a different story. Jesus teaches us what it looks like to love God and love others. We move in the direction of grace, generosity, patience, forgiveness, self-control, kindness, compassion, and love, to name a few. When we join with Jesus to receive these things within ourselves and express them to others, we experience the “abundant life” that Jesus talks about.
It may look different from Deuteronomy. But today we still face the same choice between walking with or against the grain of God’s world. I know it’s hard, moment by moment. But together, let’s choose blessing.
Jesus, help me to turn in your direction today and experience the blessing of life with you.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
-Paul (Romans 12:1 MSG)
Happy new year! A certain day has passed, which fills us with hope and expectation and resolve to tackle another year better than ever before. Good luck with that! Today, just two days into our new experiment, over 80% of people who have made rock-solid resolutions have already begun the slow slide to defeat, which will sputter out over the next month or so. Don't get me wrong, resolutions are great... but somebody has to ask the question:
If it's really worth doing, then why'd you wait til the new year to start?
We have all these big goals and lofty ideals. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, this coming Sunday I'll be encouraging our folks at LifePath Church to be bold and brave this coming year.
But as I've reflected on the self-improvement phenomenon of new year's resolutions, a thought began to stir in me. At the turn of a new year, Christians often (rightly so) ask Jesus to help them determine what those big tasks and priorities should be.
God, what enormous and amazing thing am I supposed to do in 2020???
Now, I'm not going to claim I heard God's voice. But I'm not going to deny the possibility either. Because I heard this simple phrase as I considered that question so many are asking...
Big things are great, but I really want folks to do the dishes.
So I've been thinking about this. And I think "doing the dishes" is about more than just doing the dishes. A heart and mind that is being transformed in Jesus looks at every person, moment, and task in a new way. Dishes and laundry around the house are completely thankless jobs that most people avoid. They never end. The moment you take care of them, another meal comes along, another day wears through clothing, and the pile comes back again.
IT WILL NEVER GO AWAY.
Am I inspiring you yet?
But that's just it. What if the biggest change we sought after this year was about inviting God to transform the smallest moments that repeat over and over again? What if we, as a entire group of people, submitted ourselves to being changed by God's love while doing dishes or while driving to work? What if we decided that the mundane moments of our lives that everyone complains about would become, in us, opportunities to serve in joy? Opportunities to show love? Opportunities to enjoy God, even? What if I willingly served my family or roommate by stepping up to do the dishes, and then took it a even further by seeing each dish as a metaphor for how Jesus continues to renew me every day in my ability to receive and express His love? Is it possible this would shift how we view those days that leave us feeling used up, broken down, or just plain dirty? What if each day we remembered that we are that dish, but grace is constantly renewing us?
Don't you think that would change your life? As a disciple of Jesus, this year's greatest fulfillment will not be found by reorganizing each of your closets, but by redeeming each of your moments.
I hope you look to the new year with resolve and expectation. I hope you have grand goals and I hope you achieve them. But might I encourage you to make one of those goals a willingness welcome the in-between moments of life with joy and intentionality, so that there would be no area of your life where Jesus is not Lord.
Because maybe this year, Jesus just wants to you to do the dishes really well.
Jesus, transform today's normal moments so that every minute might be an experience of your love and grace.
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
Happy new year!! If you aren't aware of the Church calendar... our year began this past Sunday. It begins with the season of Advent, which is the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas.
That's right. The year begins with a time of waiting. What's with that? What value is there in waiting around when there is work to be done? Waiting seems wasteful. We take pride in our busyness, and we tend to secretly resent those who have more time to be still than we do. Like Rembrandt's famous depiction of Jeremiah, waiting feels.... uh, not victorious.
Yet the church declares that God is worth the wait. We are waiting expectantly for God to act, aren't we! But even with that mindset, we may miss the point. Maybe it's less about waiting for God to act, and more like what Brian Zahnd suggests...
"We are not so much waiting for God to act as we are waiting to become contemplative enough to discern what God is doing. God is always acting, because God is always loving his creation. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always inviting us into their house of love. But when we are consumed by anger, harried by anxiety, and driven by impatience, we are blind and deaf to what God is actually doing in the present moment."
This Advent I'm not waiting for God to act. I'm waiting for my spirit to slow down and become aware enough to notice where God is already making rivers in the wasteland, turning night to dawn, and transforming stone hearts to flesh. I'm waiting long enough so that I can become active in God's world, rather than re-active to whatever is loudest. Contemplation and action are equal partners in the kingdom of God.
We wait with expectation on these wintry days by listening to the word of God, listening for the Spirit of God, and listening to the stories of each other.
As a church, LifePath prepares together by sharing our own stories. We are trying to practice the holy calling to wait, watch, and listen through these daily readings leading up to Christmas. Because of these readings, I'm putting our Thursday Together For Good reflections on pause until after Advent. Whether or not you are physically connected to LifePath, I invite you to journey with us through these daily readings.
You can download the pdf here.
This year we're inspired by Jesus to tell simple and profound stories about Light and Life. I'd love for you to join us. We'll join up again here after Christmas.
Peace in the waiting,
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
-Jesus (Luke 10:27)
Great news everybody! Black Friday now starts on Wednesday at 10pm online! What’s so wonderful about this is that now, after we buy things, we will finally have something to be thankful for when Thanksgiving morning rolls around! And to make things even better, Walmart has also announced that Thursday night at 6pm the stores will begin their deals as well, so we can get right back at it before the gratitude wears off. Because, honestly, one day is NOT enough to contain Black Friday!!!
"Black Friday must become greater, Thanksgiving must become less."
I think John the Baptist might have said something like that? Hmm, I might be mixing it up a little. You should definitely look it up in John 3:30 just to be sure.
[For those who are less familiar with sarcasm, let me make it clear that I feel the opposite of everything written above.]
Friends, we are expanding the wrong things.
Black Friday is getting larger and larger. And our gratitude is shrinking. Our celebration is shrinking. Our margin for joy and peace is shrinking. Our space for spiritual transformation is shrinking. Our contentment and our rest…. it’s all shrinking.
And this should not surprise us, because it’s how humanity works.
What we truly value will always take up more and more space in our lives.
And what we worship will always expand into other areas and push out everything else.
So the cultural phenomenon before us at the end of every November becomes an opportunity for us to sit up, take notice, and ask ourselves…
What do I value? What’s taking up the most space?
What do I worship? What is creeping into all areas of my life?
The temptation is to join with the movement of the crowd, as consumption slowly eclipses thanksgiving. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The beauty and freedom of being in Christ is that we have the power to make decisions for ourselves because our hearts and minds are being made new. We are not pawns or lemmings. We are little Christs, tiny representations of the one who creates, invites, and makes a way for the good life to be experienced now and forever. At least, that’s what’s available. Whether it expands in us or not is our call.
Lately I’ve decided to re-engage with the practice of gratitude. I’m turning it into a lifestyle, letting it take up more space and expand into other areas of my life. I’m trying to not let a day pass without writing words of gratitude to God, and expressing words of gratitude to others. I’m attempting to let Thanksgiving start early this year. Take that, Walmart! I can do it too.
The Church is called to live in such a way that wakes people up to the reality that God’s upside-down kingdom is at hand. We get to live with a love, a contentment, and a sense of purpose with Jesus that continually takes up more space in our lives. It expands beyond our worship gatherings and into our workdays. Beyond our meal communities and into our family meals. Beyond our prayer times and into our friendships.
This isn’t about Black Friday. Make your own choices on how to handle all that. It’s about what’s expanding in your own life. What is being given room to grow and take over? Jesus spoke of the kingdom as a mustard seed- an invasive plant that would expand and take over everything around it once it got rooted. I love that image. Together, let’s invite the values of Jesus to get larger and larger and permeate every area of our lives. Let’s remind Walmart that our kingdom can expand even more broadly than theirs.
Jesus, expand into every area of my life. Let no moment be untouched by your love, grace, and hope.
After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
-1 Kings 19:12
Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
Last week I became aware of a glaring error in my parenting. With two 11 year old boys and an 8 year old girl, my children had never been exposed to the classic 1990’s sports movie, Little Giants.
So four dollars later, I took care of that omission. I hadn’t watched the film for years, and if any of you haven’t seen it, it follows the path of a classic underdog story. A small crew of rejected kids get passed over for the new hot shot pewee football team. They form their own squad and challenge the bigger, stronger, and meaner all-stars to a showdown. They are severely outmatched in every way, but they have heart and creativity.
To cap off an unlikely comeback during the defining game, the movie culminates in a last-second trick play called “The Annexation of Puerto Rico.” The kids snap the ball and then put it on the ground and no one notices. Everyone chases after the star running back until they realize that’s not where the ball is… but by then it’s too late. One of the big, slower lineman boys had picked up the ball secretly and run it all the way in to win the game. That was the plan all along.
The play became so infamous that an NFL team even borrowed it a few years later.
What I found most interesting as I watched with my kids was the reasons everyone missed what was going on:
They made an assumptions about where to look, and they never considered the unlikely people who would be involved.
The same thing happened 2,000 years ago, and people totally missed Jesus among them.
I’m learning more and more that following Jesus in my life requires me to check all of my assumptions about where to look. Our conversations and prayer lives are often filled with our own ideas of exactly how and where God should work. And it can lead us to overlook the moments and opportunities that don’t fit into our boxes. Over and over, the gospels use the imagery of having eyes to see. We need eyes to see Jesus, and we need Jesus to give us eyes to see our world. Sometimes that means checking our assumptions at the door and simply asking God to help us see the “on-the-way” opportunities to love God and love others in each of our moments.
Recently that a friend of mine was hit from behind in a fender bender… but his initial frustration quickly gave way to God opening a door for him to offer compassion and kindness rather than anger toward the driver. I wouldn’t be surprised if that interaction becomes a life changing moment that the driver looks back on. If we are keeping our eyes open, God will use unexpected moments to bring his kingdom to come into our world. And he’ll often use unexpected people in the process.
Last week I heard a leader give a helpful perspective on our own formation as disciples. He said that although people make the conscious choice to be formed into the Imago Christo (image of Christ), everyone is born with the Imago Dei (image of God). Therefore, if we are looking, there is something that God wants to teach us about God’s character… through every single person we interact with. Even those who aren’t Christ followers yet.
What does God want to teach you through your neighbor? How will you see God in the face of the next homeless person you interact with? What about in a person with a different gender/race/orientation/economic background from you?
Do we expect that Jesus is just as able to speak to us during a time of morning stillness as during our morning commute? Do we expect that Jesus can use our children to reveal himself to us as much as our pastors? We should. And if we are keeping our eyes open in expectation, we won’t accidentally miss those unexpected moments to be shaped and sent by Jesus.
Jesus, keep me open to the unexpected movement of your Spirit today. I know it may involve people and places that don’t always fit into my boxes.