Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
I am fortunate to have a great connection with my Uncle Dan in Indiana. He served as a pastor for many decades, and we've always had a shared heart in the area of shepherding our communities toward Jesus. We get together regularly on zoom to talk about pastoring, church life, stress, family, and anything else that comes up.
A few days ago we were talking about the different elements that churches use during their gatherings. And I mentioned how at LifePath we do "common prayer." During our musical worship space, people can walk to a table and write down prayers on little slips of paper. Then someone reads them later on and everyone says aloud, "Lord, Hear our prayer." We get so many unique voices every week writing prayers. It's inspiring.
It's also a little risky, because you've got a lot of different people and a lot of different life experiences. People's understandings of what is appropriate to pray for (and how!) can differ greatly. Even their very understandings of God can differ! You never know what might pop up on one of those papers (especially from the kids!). And what do you do if what someone writes seems a little....off base?
I told him that over the years, our culture has held up pretty well, but every now and then a prayer comes up that I might not particularly resonate with, and that can be a little awkward.
"Oh, yes," my uncle said, clearly understanding. "Those are the sorts of moments where you just kind of cover your mouth and whisper, "Lord, hear HIS prayer."
We both laughed pretty good. But it got me thinking about something important for true Christian community. Sometimes the best we can do is just be thankful that God is hearing someone's prayer, and that God gets to sort out what to do with it all. We can really confuse what unity means. We mix it up with uniformity. We think our goal is to fix everyone and get them on our side... whatever "our side" happens to be in any given area!
As our church keeps growing with new faces and perspectives, I'm learning that it's both impossible and unnecessary for the goal to be that everyone thinks about everything the same way. We've now got people with Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Mennonite backgrounds. We've got skeptics, "don't-put-me-in-a-box"ers, and more. We've got deeply churched folks and people who are new to this whole Jesus thing. We've got people who come from traditional backgrounds and those who are the opposite of that. And they all look at the world in wonderful, challenging, unique ways.
When Paul encouraged the young church in Ephesus to be "like-minded," he was encouraging them to use their different gifts and stories in a cooperative way rather than a destructive way. He wasn't actually requiring them to have all the same opinions or perspectives. The goal of having "one mind" for them (and for us) was that they were all moving toward having the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2). If Jesus is what we're moving toward, that center will be more defining than sharing all the same opinions and approaches to everything. It's an important distinction.
Now of course, if your understanding of following Jesus is in direct opposition to others, then you are probably not going to thrive in that community and it's not a good fit for you. But there are many shades between that, and part of the journey of discipleship is making space for one another. This is radically countercultural, and requires a shared commitment on everyone's part, or else it doesn't work. But it's a beautiful vision.
I want to be able to say with a smile... "Lord, hear his prayer. It may not be mine, Lord, but I know you understand his heart." Because the Lord knows he's probably thinking the exact same thing about me! Love and unity are still possible.
Let's be learners. Let's have healthy and robust conversations in love. But let's absolutely make space for one another's unique faith journeys as we look to Jesus together.
Jesus, be our center.
Show me loving-kindness, O Lord, for I am in trouble. My eyes, my soul and my body are becoming weak from being sad. -Psalm 31:9
"Our minds can trick us, but our bodies are honest." My coach (I'm in a pastoral cohort) said this the other day as we dove into a really complex conversation about pain, trauma, and how stress gets held in our bodies. And for a week, I've been thinking about it.
You can say you're not afraid of heights, but your heart races and your breath stops when you reach a ledge. Or maybe after the divorce, you tell yourself that you have made peace and dealt with the anger. And then you drop your kids off with them and as soon as the door opens, the skin on the back of your neck stands up and you are in fight mode again. Your body remembers.
The Psalmist speaks about how emotional stress and fear were making his body ache. The Proverbs are full of reminders that certain behaviors "bring life to the bones" and other experiences make us weary. The writer isn't talking about how hard leg day is. He's talking about how we feel our pain, our worry, our fear, our past hurt... in our bodies.
God created us to be integrated beings. When Jesus said that we should love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30) he was reminding us that we are not disembodied spirits. Bodies participate in the joy and heartache of life. When Jesus is in the garden, we can see the weight of the world bearing down on his body. We're told he was "in anguish." Some scholars think that when Luke mentions Jesus sweating like great drops of blood, he was writing about hematidrosis. That's an actual condition where under intense stress, a person's blood vessels dilate and rupture. But that isn't the point. The point is that we get a glimpse of Jesus having a physical experience of an emotional weight. Anguish. Jesus understands this stuff because he experienced it.
We humans are quite skilled at removing our bodies from our spiritual lives. The Gnostics did it 2000 years ago, and we modern day Christians do it today. Sure, we talk about having healthy bodies, working out, and eating well. But we spend a relatively small amount of time allowing our bodies to speak to us about our spiritual state and our wounds. And we get really skeptical if someone suggests that some gentle stretches or breathing exercises might enable us to release to God some emotional stuff that's built up in our joints.
Our bodies accumulate and remember pain and trauma (book resource: The Body Keeps the Score). They reveal where we are vulnerable when our minds might not. So in order to be in tune with what God is saying to us, it's important to pay attention to the gift of our bodies....since God gave them to us.
Most of my life I've thought that when I have sore shoulders, it's because I was sitting at my desk all day. Only recently have I started to realize that those aches are more about the pressures and expectations during that office time, than the sitting itself. And that awareness is helping me do some internal work with Jesus about how I handle pressure and expectations.
If you took some time to listen to your body, what would it tell you? Where do you need slow down? What do you need to give extra sensitivity to? Where are anger and stress and shame and guilt affecting your health? Where does God want to invite you into healing?
When we deny our how we're affected by hurt and stress, it gets compounded. But when we acknowledge it, we have a chance to keep moving toward healing (both in the shoulders and the soul!). Thank God that Jesus is an incredible healer.
Today, take a moment to get out of your mind and prayerfully sit with your body. It's a truth teller.
What is it saying?
Pay attention to what you're hearing, and allow Jesus to be a safe place for you to rest and recover.
Lord, lead me to awareness, hope, and rest in you.
“John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
I'm thinking this week about how many times Jesus was a disappointment. About how many times Jesus could not meet the expectations of others.
John the baptizer comes onto the scene, proclaiming that the One is coming.... the One who was prophesied about. And when he arrives, John says, he is going to clean house. With Elijah-like fury, this one would come and destroy evildoers, striking the land with total destruction (Malachi 4).
And when John sees Jesus, he immediately senses it. He proclaims to everyone: this is the guy!
And then the months pass. And no one has been burned to a crisp. No revolutions have begun. And lots of people are being shown compassion. And well, it's just not what he expected. It's confusing. So John the Baptizer sends a couple of his disciples to let Jesus know that they've got some questions. Did John get this wrong? Maybe you're not the one we thought you were?
I wonder how Jesus felt hearing that. What a human moment.
This wasn't the only time Jesus left people disappointed. Jesus may have been a healer, but he also needed sleep when the sun went down. There were unhealed folks left out there plenty of days, I promise you. Disappointment.
Jesus refused to be made king when his people wanted to start a revolution and force him to lead them. Disappointment.
When Jesus talks mysteriously about taking his body and drinking his blood (a glimpse at how he would replace ritual religion with himself), a bunch of his disciples started to walk away. He just wasn't what they expected. Disappointment.
Philip looks at Jesus and says, "show us the father, and that will be enough." Sometimes we forget what was under the surface of that request from Phillip. Jesus was not enough. Disappointment.
I wonder how Jesus dealt with it all. He disappointed so many people, even while being perfectly faithful. What hope do WE have???
This is an issue we all deal with. Are any of us really what others expect? Universally, all of us have experiences with expectations and disappointment. Either we will disappoint those around us because we don't live up to their expectations, or we will disappoint ourselves for not living up to an unspoken set of expectations (that we have absorbed from the culture around us or from our own need to make everyone happy). Sometimes it doesn't even matter if the expectations are realistic or not. We still feel the sting of not meeting them.
I remember during the pandemic, how skilled I was at disappointing people. Every decision felt like a lose/lose as a leader. It was nearly crippling to know that even doing my best, others would be disappointed in me because I couldn't meet their needs and expectations. Now I can see that I never could have met every need, nor was that even my role. But I felt like it was. Expectations. And it almost destroyed me. I felt like giving up.
Have you felt that way sometimes? Home, work, school, marriage, family, friendships?
As we think about expectations and disappointments in our own life, I see Jesus coming to us in two ways. First, Jesus is our example. In the moments that others are disappointed in Jesus, he was able to remain deeply rooted in his identity and calling. He was able to continue walking forward without constantly needing to defend himself or change his purpose. He was loving, but firmly aware of what was his to do and what wasn't his to do. And it was all because of his constant connection with the Father. He was secure in his value, and independent of the expectations or disappointment of others.
But Jesus isn't simply our example. He is also our source of grace. There are times that we truly will fall short and disappoint people. We will make mistakes. We will act selfishly. We will lack wisdom. These moments of disappointment can lead us to paralysis, or they can lead us to the cross. Knowing that Jesus sees us as we are and still calls us beloved is a transformative reversal of crippling disappointment. Knowing that we are loved and given grace, we can walk forward beyond condemnation, fixing our eyes on Jesus and living to follow his call with confidence and love.
Wherever you may feel like a disappointment today, Jesus understands. He receives both the unfair expectations and the honest imperfections and reminds you that your worth is based on God's image in you, not others' expectations of you. There is grace upon grace to lift your head up and life a life of love today, fresh and free.
Jesus, thank you.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Have you ever heard a multi-instrumentalist play? Recently I was at a banquet that had live jazz music. The young man providing the entertainment was extraordinary, switching effortlessly between instruments throughout the songs, even playing them at the same time.* Imagine a sharply dressed musician playing an oboe, with a saxophone hanging around his neck, while tapping a snare with his foot and then using his free hand to hit the keyboard during off beats. And there's a guitar beside him on deck for the next song. Yeah. The music itself was beautiful, smooth, and flawless. There was a fullness to it, because this gentlemen was integrating all these ways of making music. So many gifts were on display. It was beautiful to see the depth of music that resulted.
That image came to me today as I thought about one of our LifePath conversations this weekend. As we explore various pathways to Jesus (spiritual disciplines), this week our topic was reading scripture.
Yes, reading the Bible can be very complicated and confusing, because of the many interpretations and the many ways that it has been wielded to harm people. But like many complicated things, it doesn't mean we should give up on the incredible gift of the Spirit-infused word of God that ultimately points us to Jesus.
I know many of you are not a part of my local church. But I'd like to share/remind thisTogether for Good crew of one of the opportunities this week that is worth leaning into. I want to invite you to embrace the many different ways that scripture can help us encounter God. God has given us a variety of avenues to encounter God's story. It's not all percussion... it's not all brass. And if we use all of these gifts that are at our disposal, we will open ourselves up to encounter Jesus in a fresh way that is wholly beautiful in its various expressions.
We often act like there's only one way to make music when we encounter the Bible: Read something. Think about it. Continue with your day.
But there are many unique ways of engagement that can bring depth and richness. God has given us various avenues to hear from the spirit in the scriptures. It's time to play more than one instrument.
So at the risk of being overly practical and less inspirational this week, I want to encourage us to get pick up some new approaches and see what sort of music God brings forth. Trust that God is active and longing to speak into your life.
Take a passage like Ephesians 3:14-21, or a story from the gospels.
One day, try "Lectio Divina" (sacred reading)- Read the passage 3 times, slowly. What word or phrase does your mind stop on? Pause. Ask God why this is coming to the front and what God may be stirring in you.
One day, turn the passage into a prayer throughout your day.
One day, read the passage in different translations than you're used to. What are you noticing and what hits you fresh about the love of Jesus?
One day, memorize one or more verses. We often don't talk about the power of having God's faithfulness etched in our minds during the moments when we need them most. It's a powerful practice.
One day, share with a friend what you are hearing/learning, and ask them the same thing. Learn from each other and go beyond your own perspective.
The ultimate purpose of Scripture is to point us to Jesus. At least that's what Jesus said (John 5:39), and I believe it. Let's trust that as we encounter the grand story with that expectation, we will indeed find what we are seeking. Let's step into it with fresh eyes and this week and in fresh ways, trusting that Jesus will keep shaping us into the sort of people who love God and love our neighbors more each day. There's always more of God's goodness to discover. What a gift.
Jesus, transform me through the story that ultimately leads to you.
*Aaron Quarterman was the musician I so admired. Please check him out here!