Surprised by God
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
This past Sunday was Pentecost. And I forgot.
Let me say that again. As a pastor who finds real value in the church calendar, I forgot to even mention that this was Pentecost Sunday and why it's so important! I thought about it several times the week before but it never made it into my notes, and my message wasn't specifically on that theme... and I just outright overlooked it. Maybe it was that I was distracted, or I wasn't feeling overly charismatic, teaching alone in my basement studio (thankfully for the last time!). I don't know. Either way, though, it's horribly embarrassing.
And now it's got me thinking.
Pentecost is the day that the Spirit came down on the early Church. The disciples were all together, trying to figure out what was next, and waiting on Jesus. First came the sound. It was like a blowing wind (contrary to cinematic depictions, Acts 2 never says that there was actually any wind... only a sound like blowing wind). Then a flame-like substance entered the room, separated, and came to rest on each disciple. The Spirit gave them each the gift of unique languages, and they began to speak of God's beauty in the native tongues of the diverse people who were nearby. Those people were astounded at hearing their own native tongue giving praise to a God they didn't even know! And more people trusted Jesus.
A Christian worldview that values the Holy Spirit as a fully equal member of the Trinity (the wildest member, I should add), understands that there's something Pentecost must teach us over and over again. And it's about openness.
The disciples had no idea what to expect when Jesus told them to hang tight and keep alert for his coming gift. But we can assume they didn't expect a flash course in multilingual communication. Yet look at what God did through this surprising moment! And it wasn't just a moment. It's worth noting that we are never told that the Spirit left them afterwards.
That's because the Spirit never left. Ever.
James Smith, in his book Thinking in Tongues, writes about a pentecostal attitude being one that "makes room for the unexpected" with God. It is linked deeply to an attitude of receptivity. If I want to interact with the Holy Spirit, I'm going to need to be receptive to surprise and expect the unexpected. In other words, I have to acknowledge that God might actually work in new ways.
We are slowly emerging from a whole year of unexpectedness. The things we had come to expect changed dramatically in our work, family, and social lives.
Now, as we begin to look up to the year ahead, how open will we be? What unexpected or surprising things did God teach you? What things were revealed in your life? What new directions or priorities are emerging? Where is Jesus challenging your assumptions of what life must consist of?
Every disciple of Jesus would do well to become a little more Pentecostal this season. Our world is being remade right now, and Jesus will want to teach each of us something new as we participate in it. Is your desire to go back to the way things were, or is your desire to listen for the Spirit's sound and receive whatever surprising direction that it may lead you in?
Far too many Christians have lost space for God teaching them something new. They are sure of everything, and as such, miss the sound of the wind when it blows. They have decided what the rest of their lives should look like (which is often just identical to basic American values) and struggle to imagining Jesus teaching or sending them somewhere fresh and new new. It's quite possible to say we follow Jesus, but in reality we've already mapped it all out ourselves.
Today we take a moment to ask ourselves how much room we are willing to make for God's unexpectedness.
What if the Spirit is blowing you toward new caring relationships in you neighborhood?
What if the Spirit is blowing you toward a new career?
Toward a healthier rhythm of life that honors your limits?
Toward adopting a child?
Toward learning about a different culture so that you can love better?
Toward giving a ton of my money away to those in need?
Toward initiating new spiritual friendships?
Toward crossing a cultural boundary that you've never entered into before?
Toward a new deeper experience of God's grace toward you?
Are you open? Are you available?
Or did you forget that the surprising Spirit came down at Pentecost, like I did this week?
Jesus, I commit to making room for whatever surprises your Spirit may have for me. Help me be receptive to your Kingdom today.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Content Warning: Image of really ugly feet.
I run far. And sometimes it takes a toll on my body. I've come to peace with the fact that becoming a foot model is no longer a viable option. I've got a perpetually black toenail, things are a little asymmetrical, and I have been told by those closest to me that they love me more easily when I wear socks.
But my ugly feet tell a story. They tell a story of the adventures that I've been on and the places I've been able to go. And in a very unique way, that makes them sort of beautiful (well, at least to me. My wife remains unmoved).
One of the images that continues to pop up throughout the scriptures is about feet. Multiple times in the Old Testament, and then again in the letter to the Romans, is the phrase "beautiful feet". And what exactly is it that makes feet beautiful? They bring good news. They carry people to proclaim peace and wholeness. They offer the hope of a God who loves them and a Jesus who redeems them.
Beautiful feet are feet that move people to enact God's love in the world.
The legendary story about Mother Teresa has now been confirmed. Many people who spent time with her noticed her deeply deformed feet, but never knew the story behind it. In the leper colony where she served in Kolkata, India, there was always a need for shoes. Boxes of used shoe donations were regularly shipped to the community, but not always enough to go around. Mother Teresa had made it a point to distribute all of the nicest and best fitting shoes to everyone in her care. When those needs had been met, she would wear whatever pair was left over, even if they were too small or broken down. Over the years, her feet began to be misshapen by her radical love for her sick neighbors.
She had beautiful, holy feet that expressed God's love for the poor.
All feet tell a story. Maybe not in some visual way, like the examples above. But they hold the memories of where we've gone and what we've done. And there is a new page that is added to that story daily.
As disciples, it's worth asking ourselves: What story are my feet telling these days? Where are they taking me, and what posture am I holding? What impact is my presence having on others? What story are my hands and heart telling as well? Have I embraced my identity of a beloved child of God, leading my hands and feet and words to be good news and care for others? Is the story my body tells one of good news, or something else?
Of course this image moves beyond the places we walk. Isaiah could have just as easily said, "how beautiful are the mouths of those who use their words to build up," or "how beautiful are the hearts of those who long for every person to have enough," or "how beautiful are the hands that clasp together to pray for one's enemies."
It's been a long year of isolation for many, but we are slowly emerging. Maybe your feet haven't traveled very far. But there are many ways that we can express God's good news of compassion and redemption these days. We can type. We can call. We can give. We can listen. We can walk.
Those things may hurt a little do so, because they often require some sacrifice. It can feel uncomfortable to giving up our comfort or our time for the sake of active love and obedience to Jesus. It feels costly to not participate in the tribalism of our world for the sake of loving each person and being true to Jesus. Sometimes you'll feel the impact, and you'll feel worn down.
But the story being written with each action of Christ-centered love Is the most beautiful, wonderful story ever told. Your feet tell a story. Where have they been? Where are they going? What is the news they bring to others?
Don't despair. You're not alone. Jesus walks with us in our attempts to express his peace and rescue. Our feet are not intended to lead, but to follow. We need only to remain connected, humble, and willing to be people of good news moment by moment.
Your imperfect feet/hands/heart/mind can be used in absolutely beautiful ways. Keep believing.
Jesus, posture my heart and hands today so that my simple actions might help others know Your good news.
...seek, and you will find...
- Jesus, Matthew 7:7
What is The Seeker?
1970s: Hit song by The Who
1990s: Target audience for the Church Growth Movement
2000s: The Quidditch member who tries to catch the Golden Snitch
Always: Someone looking for something.
Let's think about seeking for a minute.
I remember getting started in ministry around 20 years ago on the tails of the "seeker sensitive" church movement. Churches like Willow Creek and Saddleback realized that if they focused their energy on making a really fun and compelling church service every Sunday, then they would attract "seekers." A seeker was someone outside of the church but who was looking for God in some way. The seeker sensitive movement really grew. Churches put massive amounts of money into rock band worship teams and drama ministries. The lights got turned down low, and people showed up by the thousands for the Sunday morning experience. There was a boom in church attendance.
A few years later, there was a dark side that was discovered. While many people loved showing up to church (and even made a commitment to Jesus), few had become changed in any real way as the years passed. Discipleship was not the focus, so people had a great time but didn't look much more like Jesus than when they started.
Another thing happened with the whole "seeker" movement. When Christians decided that they wanted to attract "seekers," their choice of wording created a philosophical line of separation. Those folks out there are seekers. But not us. We've found it, and we're set.
If we want to become more like Jesus, we're going to have to embrace a different mentality about seeking. Perhaps we need to revisit the basics of discipleship in the Bible. It appears that those who met Jesus learned that seeking is a way of life, not a one time journey.
Jesus says to disciples in the book of Matthew,
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Seeking is a way of life.
Jesus says of himself in the book of Luke,
For the son of God came to seek and save the lost.
Seeking is a way of life.
Peter writes to the early church in one of his letters,
For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.
Seeking is a way of life.
A helpful question for every disciple, then, is this:
Do I see myself as a seeker every day? What exactly am I seeking?
I'm trying to learn to be a disciple. I've been working at it for a few decades. And each day, I want to wake up seeking God's heart in all my interactions. Each day, I want to seek out the presence of Jesus so that I don't lose track of what matters. Each day, I want to seek the kingdom of God so that I can participate in real actions of compassion and mercy.
We can't sit on our arrival, because Jesus is still moving. And he has a habit of showing up at unlikely places and among unlikely people.
There is finding along the way, certainly. But there's more to discover of God's kingdom. There is more joy to be had. There is more to learn about how to love our neighbors. There is more healing to receive and offer.
So each day, I want to be a seeker.
Until I die, the seeking will never end.
And each day, I am assured that Jesus is seeking after me too, like a mother whose kid gets distracted and runs all over the place at a carnival. And I know that if God is seeking after me and I am seeking after God, we will find each other frequently, and I will be able to live in grace and with purpose.
This week, let's be a Church of seekers. Let's pursue what is good and true and never think we are done with the pursuit. Let us be known as people who seek what is most beautiful, pure, merciful, and true... every day. And let us do our seeking in grace and freedom, for what we've already found in Jesus changes everything.
Jesus, help me embrace the identity of a seeker today, listening for your spirit and looking for your movement.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The leader of the band is tired
and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
to imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band
I grew up in the eighties, but in many ways I am a cultural child of the sixties and seventies, thanks to my parents' influence. In my adult life, I find myself drawn over and over again to the music of my childhood- James Taylor, CCR, John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel, and countless others. There is a peace about their music that connects with me these days. This weekend I was streaming a station in our living room, introducing my daughter to this genre. But when Dan Fogelberg's single Leader of the Band played, it stopped me in my tracks.
I'd heard it so many times in childhood, but never in the way I did this weekend. It was written as a tribute to the artist's father, reflecting on his father's life and how it continued to impact his own music.
But as happens with good art, I heard the song through a new lens this time. Perhaps it's worth a 4 minute pause to listen to it yourself in a quiet space:
Go ahead and listen in, and then come back to this.
Did you hear it? How it speaks to a life of discipleship?
Sometimes I do wonder if God gets tired. Yes, I know that on the biggest theological level, God does not grow weary. Yet I also see the heaviness in Jesus in the gospels. The spark of passion for the kingdom is often tempered with exhaustion as his disciples struggle to grasp how big and beautiful and transformative it all is. They want to follow, but selfishness, violence, fear, and pride often get in the way. As Jesus says, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
Yet Jesus continues to trust the imperfect ones to play the music of his kingdom. That's all of us who are children of God but don't always live up to the family heritage. He breathes his spirit into them, loves them, sends them.
I love the image of Jesus as a master musician, even though my cover version of the songs can't compare to the original. But what I found profound about the song this week was that the artist did not dwell on his feelings of inadequacy nearly as much as the gift the father gave him. Yes, the attempt to imitate was very imperfect, yet he still new his life was a living expression of the legacy he received.
Today's encouragement isn't for the victorious. It's for the ones slogging a bit right now, who feel like they just can't quite live up to Jesus' example even though they try. It's for those who are walking through the grey times of exhaustion and might be at risk of forgetting their identity as the beloved of God. It's for those who have forgotten that the spirit of God flows through us and we have received it to share it with the world. It's for those of us who, as we get older, realize that who we become and how we love is infinitely more valuable than what we accomplish or how we are perceived by others.
I cannot count the many times that my own life has been "a poor attempt to imitate" Jesus. Yet a child of God I continue to be, and so do you. And both of us are invited to continue the mission of Jesus, sharing his love, grace and rescue with the whole world.
His blood runs through my instrument
and his song is in my soul....
I am the living legacy to the leader of the band...
Is there any more beautiful way to see our lives in Christ? I pray that today, the song of Jesus might be in the very depths of your soul. And that you would walk forward full of grace and wonder, knowing that you are a living legacy of the love of God.
Jesus, I trust you to keep giving grace as I try to imitate you. Help me express your kingdom through my life.