So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
-1 Corinthians 10:31
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
- James 2:26
A few weeks ago I heard an inspiring story from my parents. On July 4th, they decided to dust off their old fishing poles for a outdoor fishing date at a local park in Pennsylvania. Despite the busy holiday, they were able to find a beautiful, quiet fishing spot away from the crowds to enjoy time with each other and see if anything was biting.
Before long, a young man walked over, coming from the nearby picnic area. After stopping to watch them, he began to talk fishing a bit and asked if he could look through my father’s tackle box. As time went on, my mother started asking him a few questions about himself. He shared a little about his relationship with his family (not so great). He also asked questions about them. When he found out that my parents had been married for more than 4 decades, he told them that was his life goal. And then, as the conversation continued, something really beautiful happened. He noticed an extra fishing pole lying on the ground beside the tackle box. It only took a moment before he was invited to use it and cast along with them for a while. He felt loved.
And in one small pocket of creation, the kingdom of God was at hand.
In hindsight, my dad wasn’t particularly sure why they had even packed a third pole. It was never their actual intention to invite someone to join them. But along came a lonely young man in need of connection, and a new plan became necessary. Because that’s what disciples do. They are always open to holy interruptions. Sometimes those are small and momentary. Other times they are long-term and costly.
As disciples of Jesus, our hope is that our own hearts will reflect Jesus’ heart each day, and that our actions will reflect Jesus’ actions each day. This is the meaning of discipleship. We are formed internally in the way of Jesus, so that others might also join into this everlasting life. If this is truly our hope, then we must understand several things:
Opportunities to be shaped by Jesus are all over the place.
And opportunities to reveal the love of Jesus to others are equally abundant.
Following Jesus isn’t something that we turn on and off depending on our schedule. It’s an identity, a state of being, and it involves being aware of the little places that we can be agents of God’s love in our world. Spoiler alert: That’s everywhere.
What if bringing an extra pole became a mindset in the lives of Christians? What if we walked around ready to be radically inclusive of outsiders? What if we went through our days understanding that little acts of love add up over time, and can transform people’s lives and turn them toward Jesus? What if our compassion and hospitality is so compelling and beautiful that people can’t help but ask why we live in such a unique way?
These are great times to for a spiritual check-in with Jesus…
Does every person I run into feel like an inconvenience to me?
Am I looking to the Spirit with eyes to see opportunities to practice Jesus’ love?
There are many different ways to bring an extra pole with you as you go. Take a moment to consider what it could look like this week for you.
Jesus, shape us. Give us eyes to see.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. - Romans 12:18
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. -Galatians 6:9
Greetings from Toronto! I'm spending my week up north as a part of my current seminary work. While most of my days here are filled with workshops and seminars, we will occasionally get out of the classroom for a variety of experiences. Yesterday we toured a former First Nations residential school that has become a museum and cultural center. We learned that Canada, like the United States, has a deep scar in their past due to forced assimilation of indigenous people into western culture. Native children were taken from their families and land and forced into English speaking schools, where they lost their language, their cultural traditions, and their stories. They were also terribly abused and mistreated. It was heartbreaking to hear the stories of a survivor who remembered this as a child. However, in the wake of this terrible sin, an effort is being made by the Hodinohshoni people to reclaim their beautiful culture and help the world understand their people.
As they shared their stories with us, I was captivated by one of their practices. When a peace treaty was made, a gift called a Wampum Belt was offered from one clan to another. Wampum are white and purple tubular beads made from the inside of Conch shells. They are very small, and even a skilled worker can only make about 4 every hour. These beads are then woven together and presented as a symbol of living in peace together.
Here's the thing. There are a TON of beads in a Wampum Belt. I did the math. The one I was looking at took about 900 hours to make! NINE HUNDRED HOURS. If you only made beads straight for 40 hours a week, that would take almost 23 weeks!
The labor intensive process made a wampum belt very special, and it symbolized a timeless truth...
It takes hard work to make peace.
And don't we know it!
Repairing broken relationships requires immense time and energy. Seeking understanding with others is incredibly time consuming. Choosing love over winning an argument isn't just something that easily happens. It can only occur if we are working for hours, days, and weeks to let Jesus soften our hearts enough to be formed in a new way. We must sit with Jesus, inviting him to chip away a lot of stone.
Central to the good news of Jesus is the understanding of making peace... in so many ways. Jesus, through the process of entering into humanity, revealing what God is truly like, and absorbing the sin and violence of the world, makes peace with us by extending radical forgiveness and love. From there, we are also called to make peace with one another, to seek to live in unity and gentleness, moving beyond the labels, assumptions and selfishness of our culture and into a life of everyday reconciliation. Spoiler alert: That's going to take even more than 900 hours. That's going to take all of the hours. So let's get to it. Thank goodness we're not doing it without the Holy Spirit.
Jesus, you gave everything to make peace with us. May we commit to the long term work of weaving your love into something beautiful in the world. Form us into people who make peace.
Peace to you today,
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. -Philippians 2:4
We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. -Romans 12:5
I recently heard a story on our local NPR station about the work of Suzanne Simard. Simard is a Canadian ecologist who has spent the last four decades studying forest floors and tree survival.
Thirty years ago, based on lab experiments, Simard decided to go out into the field and test how trees were connected by placing a bag over fur and birch seedlings individually. Then she injected a bag with radioactive carbon 14 gas and waited for the tree to soak up the carbon, turning it into sugars, and sending it to its root system. She used different carbon gases on different plants.
What she discovered was shocking. Over and over again, the tree which had received a large doses of carbon (a good thing) passed it on underground to it’s neighboring tree. The results could be noted on the neighbor tree with a geiger counter! Trees shared their resources, and it was discovered in the coming months that they would even send carbon back and forth to each other depending on whichever tree was lacking it more during that season.
This led to years of new discoveries about the interconnectedness of the forest. Trees are not nearly as isolated and competitive as we once thought. In fact, we now know through isotope tracing that larger, established “mother trees” can send carbon and other nutrients through an underground pathway of fungi to new seedlings far away that are cut off from the sun and need additional help to survive. Astoundingly, there was even information from older trees passed to younger trees that allowed them to be more resilient in the face of future stresses.
Simard learned that trees are not primarily competitors… in fact, they are communicators and collaborators. Amazing. See where we’re going here?
Trees talk. Trees can even care for each other.
It’s kind of embarrassing that we often don’t, huh? I mean, we have brains and opposable thumbs, after all.
We are all too quick to embrace a competition over cooperation mentality. We look at what other people have, what they think, what they believe, and how they look- and our first instinct is often comparison and critique. We are convinced we are in competition. Maybe we need to keep learning from God’s good world around us.
Jesus offers us a different way: one that reflects our truest identity as beings created in the image of God. We are called to care for one another, to see ourselves as connected, and work for each others good. We are not isolated individuals, even though we may try hard to convince ourselves of it. Jesus constantly gave a vision of people that, rather than being in competition with each other, were moving toward radical cooperation instead.
And today, as everyday, we are presented with a choice.
We can choose to see ourselves in light of Christ’s mercy, or we can try to go it alone. If we chose the former, then we are given the ability to see others through that lens of grace as well. We look for the best in each other. We call out the good. We seek understanding in misunderstanding. We seek forgiveness when we wrong another. And we look for opportunities to serve. We are, after all, cooperative beings, who can only survive if we choose cooperation. Competition will kill us all- body, spirit, and soul. But Jesus brings life.
Thoughts for today:
What resources do I have that could benefit and encourage those around me?
Am I more prone to look critically at other people, or look cooperatively at them?
Do I find joy in knowing that I belong to God’s transnational and transhistorical family?
Jesus, don’t let me believe the lie of isolation.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
We recently received note that one of the heavily traveled roads near our house is going to be closed for 10 weeks in order to do repairs and restructure a bridge. Many of us who use that route regularly will quickly find that it is no longer available, and we have to find a new way to get where we’re going. There are other routes around it, but it will require a little extra thinking and planning on all of our parts.
Road closures happen. It’s a part of life.
Many of us deeply desire to know God. We have practices we are naturally drawn to that have helped us get to a point of connection with Jesus. Sometimes it’s reading the Scriptures, sometimes sitting in prayer, sometimes singing songs of worship. Sometimes it’s a walk in a park, making art, listening to music, or having meaningful conversation over coffee with friends.
But what happens when your primary way of experiencing God closes for a season?
How do we respond when the thing that used to work is all of a sudden shut down? We take the route we’ve taken regularly, but we find that we can’t get to the destination we used to easily be able to access.
One way the early saints described this was to call it a “dark night of the soul.” There wasn’t always an explanation for why it happened, but the reality was that God just seemed absent. Prayers were prayed, verses were read, sermons were heard, and faithful actions were lived…
yet the feeling of God being distant remained.
If you’ve had moments like that in your journey with Jesus, I want to encourage you today.
First, don’t live in guilt….
Now let's be honest that sometimes we claim that God feels far off, and the reality is that we are so distracted by selfishness, sin, and unlove in our lives that we wouldn’t be able to hear God’s voice if it was coming from a megaphone. We need to get our hearts right with God in those cases. But when we are seeking after God and the silence comes, we cannot let guilt control us. We walk by faith, and not by sight- so sometimes we keep walking faithfully even when it feels dark. We make the next Christlike choice at each moment, regardless of if we're feeling it or not.
Second, don’t be afraid to take a detour if the path is blocked.
The promise of God is that God is always accessible, never far from us, and longing to connect with us. Don’t lose trust in God. Faith is hard, but God is present. Sometimes we simply have to be willing to do a new thing, try a new discipline, adopt a new practice. For far too long many Christians have lacked the creativity to explore vibrant ways of being with Jesus. Here are a 8 possible detours to consider if you find that a road seems closed for a season seek to be available to the presence of Jesus...
1) If prayer feels empty, use someone else's words and pray the Psalms. That’s been the Church’s prayer book for centuries.
2) Try making art. Write poetry or a short story of your own faith journey.
3) Read small bits of scripture slowly for a fresh look, rather than large chunks for information.
4) OR (ha!) Read large chunks of scripture rather than little single verses to see the bigger story.
5) Go on a short walk every single morning to make yourself available to being present with God before you accomplish a thing.
6) Ask a friend who is also on the journey with Jesus to get together once a week and share about how the journey with Jesus is going. Sometimes when we are lacking in faith, we need to borrow someone else's for a bit.
7) Sit in silence with God without expectation, and simply be at peace.
8) Go out and love others in a practical way. Help a neighbor, do a random act of kindness, or volunteer somewhere. It may awaken you to Jesus in a new way.
A life with Jesus is a life of constantly navigating ways to to explore and express God's love. If you get stuck, don't give up.
A simple prayer:
God, reveal yourself to me today.