I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
Well, what did you expect would happen?
That’s a comment that I’ve made to my children more times than I can count. Unfortunately, it’s usually in a negative context, where my kids do something less than intellectually sound and then deal with the consequences.
When you stood on that wobbly stool holding your dinner plate, what did you expect would happen???
When you threw the football in the living room right beside the lamp, what did you expect would happen???
Or, for us grown ups:
When you started that heated facebook debate with that person you never talk to in real life, how did you expect it to go?
What exactly did you expect to feel like after binge-watching three shows and drinking a bit too much wine every night for two weeks?
When we ask our kids or our friends or ourselves these questions, we’re not actually asking a question. We’re making a statement:
Maybe you didn’t expect this result, but really, you should have.
So today I’m thinking about about that question: As Christ followers, what should we be expecting right now?
Spending time defining our expectations as disciples of Jesus can bring about both realism and hope in our lives. Realism for the way that the world often works, dominated by greed, power, fear, or self-interest. We shouldn’t be surprised when we see these values elevated.
But our expectations can fill us with hope as well, if we know what it means to be in Christ. Because it means that the very Spirit of Christ is actively at work in us moment by moment, changing who we are and the world around us.
Disciples of Jesus ought to live a life of great expectations. After all, many of us have already seen the amazing things that Jesus has done in our lives, the lives of those around us, and in our faith communities. It should help us expect God to be constantly at work. Can you imagine the disciples waking up the day after Jesus multiplied the loaves of bread to feed thousands? I like to imagine they had expectant eyes, eagerly anticipating how Jesus would meet their needs and send them out in compassion again.
Except, well, that’s not at all what happened. They still hadn't learned what to expect when you’re with Jesus (look up Matthew 16:8-9).
To be a disciple is to expect that God will be shaping and sending us all the time, because that’s what Jesus does. And when we expect something, we look out for it so we don’t miss it (Amazon package analogy, anyone?).
As we follow Jesus, we expect to be changed into something new. As we pray, we expect to hear and sense the presence of God with us. As we look to the living scriptures, we expect to see Jesus come to life in new ways.
I can’t tell you how many people have shared with me that the scriptures have been springing to life in new ways during this season. Why? Because the scriptures were written to a people dealing with complicated, uncomfortable circumstances. There was a need for God. And when there is real need, we look expectantly. And right now people have real needs— emotionally, spiritually, and economically.
It is time to expect God to show up in our lives more these days, not less.
So the question I ask you, my brothers and sisters, is this:
As you lean into prayer, scripture, and compassion each day, what do you expect will happen?
I hope we’re expecting to be changed every single day. Because if we are, I think we will be.
This requires both faith and humility. The humility to suggest that we haven’t arrived, and the humility to admit that we often act out of our own pain, insecurities, and past wounds— but are very short on grace for when other people do the same.
And the faith to believe that Jesus is powerful. The faith to believe that we will be given courage and conviction to make loving decisions. The faith to believe that another world is possible, and that Jesus wants to use us to build it. The faith to believe that pandemics and quarantines and divisive social platforms and technical exhaustion will never be sharp enough to cut apart the Body of Christ.
Most of us are facing hard, complicated choices as we walk forward each day right now. Do we subtly expect that we are alone in this? Or do expect that in our need, Christ illuminates our way and gives us power, love, wisdom, and perseverance? I’m expecting to see that this week. I want to invite you to expect it too- it just might tune your eyes and ears to grasp what’s been available the whole time.
Jesus, I expect you to change me today, and I’m here for it.
My friends, you were chosen to be free. So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.
- Paul, Galatians 5:13
I learned about vortices and movements this week. Every time we move, we create little flows of circular air that follow behind us (I’m not talking about droplets or transmission, here. Not everything is about coronavirus!) Those flows of circular air are moving, creating slight currents that affect other things that we didn’t even touch. Think about running through the woods and having leaves swirl behind you in your wake. That’s a vortex you created.
Point being: Motion creates motion. Movement creates movement.
I’m guessing you’ve felt blah at some point lately. If not, congratulations, you’ve won at life. If you have though, you have been through times where even meaningful practices may have lost their sheen. Especially when it comes to the more intentional practices of actively loving God and loving others, you may just feel like you’re going through the motions. Or you’ve stopped going through the motions altogether because your heart wasn’t in it. I get that.
I have some Jesus-loving Catholic friends who sometimes joke about what they call “Catholic guilt," that deep-seated feeling that one is never doing enough. I've had friends go through hard seasons of being pressured to “go through the motions” of church stuff even though their heart wasn’t in. It can be really damaging, specifically when legalism takes root.
Most of us believe passionately that our faith is founded completely on the grace of God to rescue us. All we do is receive God’s love and respond in faith accordingly with Jesus. We’ve been set free! We don’t have to do anything! There is beautiful truth there.
Except of course, if that truth gives us freedom to stop moving.
Hear me out. I think there might actually be a case for "going through the motions” sometimes even when our hearts aren’t in it. There’s a case to be made that if we keep moving, more movement will be created in our wake, and our hearts will be sucked back into motion.
In our local church, we are doing movements that are intended to keep us healthy. We’re doing simple daily practices with Jesus that involve reflecting on a shared prayer or Scripture. And we get together weekly on zoom to pray and hear the scriptures, though sometimes it’s really annoying, as it was last week. Any of those practices could be tossed out because we just don't feel like going through the motions. And no, God does not love us one bit less if we chose not to do them because they’re exhausting or we’re not motivated. But many times, like a vortex, going through the motions is the only possible way to create movement.
Sometimes when we’re feeling blah, we have to do some motions, even if we don’t want to, so that we can get other things moving in our lives that help push us to the place that (deep down) we desire to be. It can be hard to find the strength to be disciples, and to be God’s Church. It’s easier to simply not do the things that are difficult at the moment. And there’s grace in those moments- God is quick to understand our struggles. And then other times, well, we need to not use our freedom as an excuse to do whatever we feel like (paraphrasing Paul).
Every time we choose to keep turning to Jesus, we create movement that changes the flow of air in our spirit. Every time we choose to continue to gather awkwardly for worship, we create a flow of movement that affects others around us because we know we are doing this together. Every time we continue to reach out and encourage other people, even if we don’t always feel like it, we create a vortex of spiritual energy that God uses to fill ourselves and others with hope and connection.
There are ways to live right now - in fear, annoyance, or isolation- that keep the focus squarely on ourselves. Together, let's be aware that sometimes, if we don’t go through the motions, we forget how to move.
The more I’ve been thinking, the more important I believe this season is in our lives. Life has no pause buttons. One minute is the exact same length today as it was in February. We are becoming something right now, that will deeply affect who we are in the future. Life hasn’t ground to a halt - only our normal plans have. This is a hard and unique and important season of discovery and work, even when we don’t always feel like it.
This isn’t intended to be a kick in the gut… it’s actually a message of good news:
It’s ok if you just feel like you’re going through the motions sometimes right now.
You’re given permission to feel that way. There is grace upon grace upon grace. But, like Paul had to say over and over again- don’t let that grace lead you to selfishness or stagnation. Don’t give up doing good. Don’t give up on pursuing real relationships. Don’t give up on practicing the presence of Jesus every single day. I promise you… even if you have to go through the motions for a bit… Jesus will move you somewhere new and somewhere good.
Jesus, give me motivation to move toward you and your kingdom today, even if it’s hard.
I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
-Jesus (John 17:21)
It’s rare that Saturday Night Live will portray a Christian experience. They seek to connect with the broadest audience they can to make everyone laugh, so they usually focus their sketches on things that the largest amount of people can relate to. And as we know, to talk about a common church experience across the country is about as realistic as trying to swat flies with a fishnet.
That’s why their most recent sketch on "Zoom Church" caught my attention. Other than just being highly entertaining and too relatable, I was struck by the fact that apparently, there is enough of a broad audience experiencing this reality for SNL to deem it skit-worthy.
I had to literally laugh out loud when the pastor of "Mt. Methuselah Baptist Church" (Kenan Thompson) yells, “MAN THIS SUCKS!” at the end of the sketch, while still on the Zoom Service with his congregation. While I have seen much beauty in the past 9 weeks of zoom church, I’m not going to lie that there are plenty of moments that I feel you, Pastor. And that’s the point.
The frustration and limitations of “digital church,” whether it’s a live zoom meeting, a pre-recorded service in an empty building, or a livestream with an invisible audience, are a shared experience right now across the Church in the US. Like, across all churches. Millions of people.
Do you understand how rare that is? Whether we like it or hate it or whatever our opinions are on anything (and we have so many of them), this might be the most unifying Christian experience we’ve had in decades.
Black Gospel churches, charismatics, quakers, mennonites, baptists, catholics, methodists. Liberal churches and conservative churches and house churches and megachurches and everything in between… nearly all experiencing the challenges and joys of the digital adjustment. Specifically, the challenges.
And it's not just the tech. It's the emotions, and the spiritual challenge of it all. We're all stumbling our way through all of this, together.
For a moment, can we embrace the fact that as we all seek to love Jesus faithfully and experience community, there is a uniquely rare shared experience across the Body of Christ right now? (I say this knowing that some of my friends in countries like India and Zambia do not even have the technology right now to be able to gather at all. I pray for them, because being the church is even more difficult for them during this time.)
It’s hard right now. And that doesn’t change in any way whether you’re in favor of or opposed to the current state of things.
Shared struggles help us move toward compassionate attitudes if we direct our eyes to Jesus through them. Jesus transforms our hearts day after day. It’s the only hope we have of living well in God’s kingdom. And the way Jesus transforms our hearts is by meeting us in our suffering with unconditional love, and then reminding us that other people are deserving of the same grace, because other people suffer too. In fact, suffering may be the most universal of all human experiences. If you haven’t suffered, just wait a bit.
I say that not to cause deeper depression, but to remind you that God meeting us in our need is the basis of God’s church and our ability to have compassion. Jesus meets us in our human frailty. ALL OF US. If we let that change us that, we can relate to other people and love them where they are.
Our capacity to love is limited only to our ability to be loved by God.
If we open ourselves up to the fullness and restoration of God’s rescuing love, then our ability to love others will have no limit.
Because it’s not our love we’re giving out. It’s His.
"I work hard and struggle for this goal with his energy, which works in me powerfully”
(Paul, Colossians 1:29. Italics mine).
In the midst of yet another week of stress for many of you, in a country that continues to be divided over everything imaginable, be reminded that God’s people are all trying to figure this out together. And be reminded that Jesus’ prayer for us was a unity of spirit, and Paul’s instruction to the church was for gentleness and compassion.
Every time that we model understanding and love and graciousness in our relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ, we train ourselves in discipleship and we provide a radical alternative to the onlooking world about how to live. We get to show that a third way is possible beyond the trenches of our constant dualism. Jesus doesn’t play by our rules. Thank God for that.
Yeah, the experiences of this season can be maddening. They can also be hilarious. They can be depressing and they can be beautiful. Sometimes it all happens within the same two minutes. But we’re all experiencing it. Take heart in that, and let it help you have grace for the next person. We’re going to make it. The Spirit has not left the building. God is here for the long haul. We’ll get through this.
Jesus, thank you that my struggles can help me relate to others in their struggles. Make me a person of grace as I remember that today.
And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?
-Jesus (Matthew 16:26 NLT)
TobyMac is a Christian musician whose hip-hop/hybrid music was my jam about 15 years ago. One of his compilations with Kirk Franklin and Mandisa was titled, Lose My Soul.
Go ahead. Get your groove on for 4 minutes.
The main line of the chorus, echoing the words of Jesus in Matthew and Mark is this:
I don’t wanna gain the whole world, and lose my soul.
I’ve been thinking about where we’ve come from and where we’re going, and what the coming months may hold as things keep changing. Certain regulations will remain for a long time, and certain regulations will loosen. And people will have to continue to navigate all the challenging opinions and situations out there. It will feel excruciating at times, and people will continue to have vastly different perspectives. And how we handle that can do a number to our souls.
If TobyMac did a reboot these days, I wonder if he might echo the words of Jesus by adapting the chorus to: I don’t want to live through Covid, yet lose my soul.
Because a soul is a terrible thing to lose. Our sense of who we are and what we are about is a horrible thing be in danger of forfeiting.
When Jesus talks about losing our soul, he’s talking about anything that takes the primary focus in our hearts and minds… anything that doesn’t resemble the self-giving, cross-bearing love of Jesus. He speaks this at the end of a statement about laying down our lives so that we can join Jesus in taking up a better one with him.
And the whole statement begins with this:
If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways….
Oh boy. That’s hard. I love my selfish ways. And you want to know what I really love these days? Knowing I’m right.
A soul is a terrible thing to lose for the sake of needing to be right.
We’re immersed in an armchair expert culture. We can do a quick google search (graciously tailored by google to match our natural bias that it has learned) and then become quite confident that we are right about any given subject or situation in a matter of minutes. That’s not to say that there isn’t objective truth out there. But what I’m wondering about today is the way we hold those opinions about who is right and who isn't.
This week we of LifePath Church are leaning into the profound Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.
It’s a loaded poetic prayer that speaks of being an instrument of God’s peace. That phrase alone is incredible.
Near the end we pray that God would help us "not so much seek to be understood as to understand." What a desire. Seems like Francis understood that if our highest priority is to convince others why we’re right, we might miss the opportunity to love them by listening well.
That sounds like laying down your life to me. That sounds like “turning from my selfish ways.”
I want to love so boldly that I don’t need to win arguments (I think Paul would even say it's better that way because then we get to practice the character of Christ). I want to care so deeply that I understand all my different friends and their different reasons for pain, even in the moments when I believe their thinking might be flawed.
It comes down to this simple theme of Jesus:
In God’s kingdom, being right is not as important as being loving.
I don’t want a virus or people’s response to it to harden my heart during this time. I don’t want a government to either. I want everything to soften my heart. To make me more able to see people’s stories and their vulnerabilities and say, “what a load you have to bear. I will bear it with you.”
Nothing has changed about how we get there. We submit to Jesus again and again and let ourselves be changed by him. Simple to say, hard to do. Because surrender sometimes feels like death.
But, as St. Francis wrote 800 years ago as he thought about the Jesus way, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Jesus, protect my soul and make me an instrument of your peace.