Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near.
-Acts 17:27 (The Message paraphrase)
Good morning, friends. As of yesterday, we have entered the season of Lent. It’s the 40 day preparation period before Easter. Some of you may not even have noticed that it’s begun, and some of you have.
Actually, that’s kind of the point.
It’s pretty easy to walk through our lives and not notice. We don’t notice where God might be because we have places to go and people to meet. We don’t notice the nonverbals of those around us who are having a tough time of it. And interestingly, we don’t notice what’s happening in the deep places within our own hearts and minds due to distraction.
I’ve come to the conclusion that lent is really about awareness.
If we are unaware of what’s within us, we can’t possibly open those places to Jesus.
I have a child who deals with anxiety that comes in intense waves. It’s been alright, even when we moved into a new house last week, but last night was the night before the new bus ride and everything rose to the surface. The problem was that our increasingly independent offspring wasn’t aware (or willing to admit) that this was the issue. So it was expressed in major problems with homework, with siblings, with bedtime, etc. That happens a lot. One thing is THE thing, but a lack of awareness projects that struggle into many unrelated areas.
We do that as adults, too. We walk through our lives unaware of our own internal worlds, or unable to face our struggles head on. We ignore our frailty and live as if we are machines. Or we ignore our potential and live as if we are failures. But it affects everything.
Lent is when we find the spiritual place within ourselves to identify with the frail and powerful Jesus, and when we invite Jesus to identify with our frail and powerful humanity.
We are broken people in need of a savior.
We are also Spirit-indwelled disciples who are capable of ongoing transformation.
Lent is a chance to be honest about our need, but also to trust that with Jesus, we can be transformed.
Lent comes from the Latin word for fortieth which is also where we get the word quarantine. Centuries ago, people caught in sin would be quarantined from the church - removed for a time of purification in preparation for the major celebration of the year, Easter. That might seem harsh to us, but there was purpose in an intentional time to lean on Jesus in the wilderness. Soon, others in the church began to honestly say, "we are in need of a time of renewal too, for we all sin!" They began walking alongside the quarantined brothers and sisters, and the church eventually adopted a church-wide season of reflection, trust, and transformation. Together, they walked in honesty and frailty with Jesus, so that they were able to fully celebrate the hope and joy of resurrection. To experience the fullness of life, we must become aware of the deadness in us. We have to become aware of our need in order to allow Jesus to meet it.
Lent is not a New Years Resolution: Part Two for people. Sometimes people give things up so that they can conquer a vice or become healthier. Let's go deeper.
Instead, whether you give something up or not, I want to encourage you to take the time to embrace quarantine. Find time to yourself, find time for meaningful spiritual conversations away from the busyness of the approaching spring. Get away with Jesus and become aware of what is deep within you. Choose to embrace your need for God, but also choose to trust God in new transformative ways. Become aware.
Lent is not a self-improvement project. It’s a journey with Jesus in a fresh way. It will indeed leave us changed, but the goal is more of Jesus, not simply a better version of ourselves.
The pressure is off. You have a companion inviting you to dive a little deeper into the type of life that is possible- where joy and beauty live together with pain and frailty, yet always full of hope.
Embrace lent this year by getting away with Jesus. He’s not remote; he’s near.
It’s worth the effort.
Jesus, open my spirit to new levels of honesty and trust with you today, so that I can reflect your image.
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.