Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions.
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
-Jesus (Matthew 7:1)
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
-1 Corinthians 13:7
A few months ago I was curious if we could find a way to baptize people right at the school we meet at. I had heard that some churches have used birthing pools, so out of curiousity I asked Melanie, our Administrative guru, to price a few out on Amazon. So she did. Little did we know that this simple search would convince the interwebs that MELANIE WAS GOING TO HAVE ANOTHER BABY!!! But it did. Amazon saw that she was searching for birthing pools. They immediately came to the conclusion that the only explanation was a baby on the way. And thanks to Amazon’s search algorithms, Melanie was being offered every variety of baby accessory every time she opened up an internet browser for quite some time. I thought it was hilarious. Melanie, not so much. Now I’m considering asking her to to price out some adult diapers just in case I, uh, need a sermon illustration sometime....
All it takes is seeing one action, and we’re sure we’ve got the whole story, aren’t we?
All it takes is hearing one comment, and we’ve got the other person pegged as “one of those,” don’t we?
We don’t have to ask why. We know why. IT'S OBVIOUS.
She didn’t call me back. She must not care about me.
He raised his voice at his kid today. He must be a terrible parent.
I heard she’s a conservative/liberal. That means she must hate _____________.
It’s so tempting to assume we know the motives of the people around us. It’s tempting to see a part of a story and fill in the rest with our critical and fearful imaginations. But the reality is that we don’t know the whole story… and when we don’t know, we need to be really careful about what we think we know. It can hurt others, and it can turn our own spirits sour.
The extraordinary Mr. Rogers was once quoted saying, “there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you've heard their story.”
I believe he’s right. Walking around assigning motives to people’s actions usually accomplishes one thing: It makes it harder for us to love them.
If you’re going to make assumptions about others, I invite you try this:
Make the most gracious assumption you can possibly make about others. It will protect you from unfairly passing judgment, and it will give you grace to treat each person with love.
I’ll never forget a conversation in Ecuador with a missionary who shared that the best way he had learned to love people was to walk around with an awareness that each person he met that day might be having the worst day of their life.
Would it change how you viewed someone if you imagined that they were having a terrible day? What if that person who just cut you off in traffic was absent-minded because their child was sick and they were heading to the hospital? What if that coworker that drives you crazy has no one that treats him with kindness in his life?
What if we made gracious assumptions about others, and refused to critically decide the state or their hearts?
Jesus made these profound statements that seemed to suggest that our ability to receive God’s love and grace would only be as robust as our ability to offer it to others. We should pay attention to that.
You may be tempted to join Amazon and think you know exactly what’s underneath the surface of someone else this week. But if you'd rather not have someone else assume they know your whole story, I invite you to extend the same grace to them. And maybe you’ll even hear the Spirit’s nudge to invite them out for coffee! A story heard is a life understood.
Jesus, teach me compassion and grace toward others.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
Has your drivenness ever taken you beyond what’s healthy?
Earlier this year I was in Florida for a short retreat for soul rest and prayer. I keep things very unstructured during these times, focusing on stillness with Jesus and time to enjoy God’s beauty in nature. I spent my last full afternoon birding in some beautiful state parks. It was a blast. But I’ll be honest, when I'm identifying new birds I've never seen before, it can become a bit like a sport. And for someone like me, there is the tendency to go a little overboard (Yes, obsessive birding. Just roll with it).
Near the end of the day, after talking with another birder, I was told there was a special bird that had been seen nesting nearby. It’s rare in the US, and it’s called a Crested Caracara. Great name, right?! The crested caracara is only found in a tiny bubble of Florida and south Texas. And I was in the bubble, people!
Immediately I went looking all over the spot that I was told it had been appearing, but with no luck. At dusk I drove back to my lodging, wishing I had caught a glimpse.
The next morning I woke up with a couple of hours before flying home. I had carved out that morning to be still and invite Jesus to prepare me for the crazy months I was heading into.
But you know that the little voice in my head was saying?
You should go chase the crested caracara! That would be awesome to accomplish before you leave!
Have you noticed that there is always another task on the to-do list and always another adventure to go on? There’s always the next thing crying for our attention. Our lives of full of choices about what to pursue next. Some are fun, and some are obligatory. Either way, in the midst of the next pursuit, we have this tendency to steamroll the practices that we say matter the most to us. We want to rest in God, but there’s always a crested caracara out there to chase after.
We are getting deeper into Lent. You have every reason on earth to start chasing whatever your crested caracara might look like as the spring emerges. The honeymoon is over and those grand lent ideas of growing closer to God have given way to the to do lists. Amirite? Maybe they are fun, and maybe they are work. Certainly, many of our pursuits are worthwhile and honoring to Jesus. But do we understand when the best pursuit is to simply be still with God? When do we prioritize the deep places in our souls that need attention?
In our community this week we reflected on the phrase in Psalm 23:3, "He renews my strength." David imagines what happens when he rests under God’s loving care. That phrase in Greek can literally mean: he returns me to my substance.
God offers us limits of time and energy as a gift, not a constraint. We are given permission to stop endlessly chasing what’s next. We are encouraged to take a break from getting that next item checked off our list, however exciting or exhausting it may be. What good is it to gain the whole world if we lose our substance?
Beyond the voice pushing you to chase the next thing, there is another voice voice within you, spoken by the one who made you. That voice is trying to restore you to your substance. That voice is suggesting that you are allowed to dwell for a bit with no agenda but being loved.
You are invited today to breathe deeply.
You are invited to sit with Jesus.
Maybe we even need to make appointments with God on our calendars to help us move beyond the language of presence and into the practice of presence.
Is there something today that can wait until another time, so you can dwell in God’s restoring rest for a few moments?
In a rare victory of spirit that day, I didn’t chase after the crested caracara when Jesus was inviting me to be still and listen. I don’t regret that decision. You won’t either.
Jesus, return me to my substance today.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
-James 1:2-3 (NLT)
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them brought out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves."
-Jesus, Matthew 5:43-45 (The Message)
I’m so frustrated I’M GONNA SING!!! Said no one ever. Except my daughter.
Last Friday my 7 year-old daughter had a day off from school and was with me while I worked from my home office. Sometimes we let our kids use a creative color-by-number app, where they select colors that correspond with a picture and then tap on each tiny section to make something beautiful. They take time to complete, which is the perfect activity when daddy really needs to finish writing a sermon (spoiler: I did not finish the sermon that day).
So she’s sitting in my office on the other chair, quietly giving commentary on literally every. single. thing. she. does. That’s genetic though, so I have no stone to throw. On this particular picture, there were 29 different colors that she had to pick to finish her bird, and dozens of sections for each color. Each unique shade took a couple minutes to complete. And she started singing her way down. All the way down. For like 30 minutes.
At one point the project started to get long and frustrating for her. She made a few mistakes that needed to be corrected. Then all of a sudden she stops and shouts out,
"Agh! I’M NOT GOING TO STOP SINGING TIL I GET IT!!!”
. . . . . .
"...I only only have three left, three left, three leeeeeeeeeft...”
Well, my work came to an abrupt stop, and I think I caught a glimpse of Jesus. That is most definitely not what I would have done to express my frustration. Sing until you get it? Letting off steam by singing my song?
What can we learn here, friends?
What if our perseverance in the midst of frustration sounded more like singing than complaining? What if it sounded more like a melody than a litany of accusations? Sometimes our songs are sad and sometimes they are joyful, but isn’t singing so much better than shouting or complaining?
As Jesus people, we live lives committed to eradicating all that breaks shalom (peace) in our world. That goes for what’s inside each of us as well as what happens in our broken world. And both of those areas can bring anger and frustration on our part when things don’t change like we want them to. It’s especially tough because there will always be broken shalom in us and in our world. We will never reach the ultimate shalom of God on this side of eternity. The task will feel never ending. It can be unbelievably frustrating.
But where is our hope? Jesus walks with us. God is at work to make all things right one day. Therefore, our exhausting work can be pursued with the grace and awareness that God is love and God working with us. We are simply making bricks that will one day be a part of God’s ultimate city. What if we whistled while we worked? What if we lived with the conviction that we were not going to stop singing until we get it? That might just transform us and change how the world sees the people of Jesus. We are working on unfinished pictures. We’re in it for the long haul. There is beauty in the process, not just the final product.
I’m not suggesting there is no place for anger at injustice or brutal honesty during the struggle. But sometimes we act as if there is no reason to be hopeful in our world as we struggle. If our spiritual brothers and sisters could keep singing to God through various generations of slavery, oppression, persecution, and loss, then surely we can recognize God’s goodness today even as we struggle to bring God’s kingdom to bear on earth as it is in heaven.
Don’t stop singing today, even if you’re at the end of your rope. Jesus is with you.
Jesus, help me hear the music even when my heart is heavy.
We have freedom now, because Christ made us free. So stand strong in that freedom. Don’t go back into slavery again.
-Paul, Galatians 5:1
Yesterday Lent began. If you need a reminder, Lent is the 40 day season of the Christian calendar leading to the Easter celebration. It parallels the very human journey of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness for 40 days in Luke 4. I used to ignore Lent, but now I see it as one of the best opportunities for growing closer to Jesus.
Hundreds of years ago in the villages of medieval Europe it was common to mark the beginning of Lent with a huge bonfire in the middle of town. The fuel for the fire was whatever people could find that wasn’t needed. Bonfires were made of old broken wheels, dead bushes, furniture with missing parts, and other useless items left over in everyone’s houses after being cooped up all winter. I can also imagine that there were clothes and items that had become covered with the diseases of winter, which needed to be cleansed for the health of everyone. The fire was a statement of passion in direct opposition to the drudgery of winter's dirt, disease, and clutter. It was time to look forward to spring.
Lent is a time for self-reflection and slow transformation. I keep going back to the bonfires of Europe because in the northeast this year, most of us are feeling the effects of the long, cold winter. It’s been cold and dark for too long. We are so ready for a change! But the change is indeed coming with the approaching spring. The earth will become new again, as the dead branches give way to new buds and the chill is removed from the air. That will all happen in a few weeks, regardless of what we do.
However, the clutter and numbness that builds up in our spirits are a different story. That only gets burned off and warmed up if we make a choice. The weeks of Lent are the time to choose what needs to be put in the bonfire. When you think about celebrating the resurrection of Jesus this Easter, what are the distractions and hangups in your life that need to go in order to really party on April 21st?
What needs to be tossed out?
What are the diseased clothes to be burned?
What needs to be forgiven? What needs to be turned from?
How can we prepare ourselves for the beauty of God’s coming season?
What are the things that bring you immense joy to imagine burning away?
(You could go in a really dark direction with that question. Don’t do that.)
Bonfires are a passionate expression of life. In the flicker of the flame there is often laughter and dancing and food and celebration. That’s how it still is every Lent in Belgium and Northern France. Something gets freed in the letting go of things that have gotten in the way.
When I was a kid I burned stuff in my garage all the time. Most of the time my parents didn’t know. Gel deodorant gave off a dazzling blue dripping flame. Socks mostly just melted and made a lot of smoke. It wasn’t a great habit, but it sure was fun.
What if you did something a little quirky today? What if you marked a new season with a concrete action?
I invite you to choose one specific thing that you're asking Jesus to burn away in your life. Identify some soul clutter that is hindering you from moving around freely with God.
Then, find something to actually burn as a symbol of that. Seriously.
Don’t do it inside, though. And apparently garages count as inside.
Of course, you could do all this in your mind if it sounds juvenile. But lighting something on fire is so much more fun.
Jesus is leading us from winter into spring. It’s time thaw out and come alive in a new way. So, what’s one place to start?
Jesus, help me identify what needs releasing, and give me strength to do it.
For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
My wife is an actor. She recently finished a production playing the mother of a 15 year-old boy who is very special. Christopher lives with autism spectrum disorder, and the Tony award winning play is told from his perspective. Though the story moves through the difficult relational complexities that emerge due to Christopher’s uniqueness, it’s not ultimately a story about autism. The play is about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing new way, thanks to our opportunity to enter into Christopher’s reality and experience life has he does.
Christopher is quite brilliant, and his mind never stops working. He remembers facts and figures meticulously and is rigid in his understanding of truth and lies. But his commentary about noticing things in ways that others do not is truly profound. He makes this clear during a monologue on a train, when the audience is able to hear his thoughts...
"I see everything. Most other people are lazy. They never look at everything. They do what is called “glancing,” which is the same word for bumping off something and carrying on in almost the same direction. And the information in their head is really simple. For example, if they are on a train looking out of a window at the country side it might be:
'There are some cows in the field’ […] And then they would stop noticing anything because they would be thinking something else like: ‘I wonder if Julie has given birth yet.’
But if I am sitting looking out of the window of a train onto the countryside, I notice everything. Like: There are 19 cows in the field. 15 of which are black and white and 4 of which are brown and white…"
Christopher makes note of all that he is seeing, rather than simply taking a glance and moving on. It got me thinking about a life of glancing from one thing to another.
Regardless of if we should know better or not, we are constantly drawn into frenetic ways of thinking and doing. We can have 17 different thoughts race through our heads in just a few minutes. Our attention bounces off of one thing to the next and we don’t even notice who we're walking past. And often, at the end of the day, we haven’t really thought about anything because we’ve thought about so many things.
Are you with me?
In the passage above, James is urging his ancient readers to hear what God has said (through Jesus) and sit with it long enough to be changed, rather than hearing and simply moving on to the next thing. He follows his comment by challenging his readers to use words to bless and not curse, and to use energy to care for widows and orphans rather than acting religious in a superficial way. They had already heard those teachings of Jesus before, but they had glanced off of them without changing direction toward loving action.
If the central gift of life with Jesus comes from loving God and loving others, we need to do more than glance. Perhaps our lives should be described as people who are always taking notice of God and others in new ways.
Take a long look at Jesus this week. Read his teachings. Let them change the direction you’re traveling. Be filled with hope and love and purpose as you rest in the your identity as a dearly loved child of God.
And take a long look at others today. Don’t just glance (but don’t actually stare either because that just freaks people out, and I think you might be missing the point). Notice the people around you long enough to consider what they might be going through. Let God’s love fill you with love for them. Notice them long enough to be aware of what’s beyond the surface, so that you can treat them with the depth and dignity that every human being deserves. Every person is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
It’s easy to go about our world glancing at things and glancing off of things. But be inspired to see things differently. Take notice of details that draw you to love God and love others. And if that means you don't always fit in, remember: that's ok.
Jesus, slow me down enough to really notice.
(photo credit: Scott Serio)