So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.
Today my streak climbed to 130 consecutive days of Spanish lessons on Duolingo. If you're not familiar with Duolingo, it's a language learning app. It has collected a cult following because of its immersive approach, game-like lessons, and unorthodox marketing techniques. I get a notification regularly from a cartoon emo teen girl named Lily telling me maybe I should do today's lesson...."or don't. whatever. what do I care." And for some unknown reason, I desperately want her to think I'm cool. But I don't want her to know that.
Anyway, I am on a quest to spend a few minutes each day reclaiming my old Spanish skills and forming new ones. But because I'm cheap, I have the free version. That means I only get five "hearts," and each time I make a mistake, I lose one, so I need to be very careful. And if I lose them all, I am shut down for hours for my hearts to get restored. ¡Ten cuidado, amigos!
The free version also means that I have to watch a brief advertisement every time I complete a 5-minute lesson. And the one that runs most regularly is (you guessed it) the ad for the paid version of Duolingo, creatively titled: Super Duolingo.
And in the video, every single time I sit through it, they mention the same incredible perk: Try Super Duolingo! With infinite hearts, there are NO LIMITS to the mistakes you can make!
How inspiring. Seriously, every time I hear them say that, I am discouraged at their lack of faith in my linguistic skills. But also, I can't help but think: would infinite hearts actually motivate me to try? Aren't I motivated to focus particularly because if I don't, I'll be shut down?
But they back up their offer with stats: Super Duolingo learners are four times more likely to complete their courses than the rest of us! Apparently the statistics show that the best learning environment includes the freedom to fail regularly, rather than the pressure to perform.
It appears that Jesus agrees, as he seems to promote the view that there's no limit to the amount of times we should forgive each other, and that God's acceptance of us is never based on our lack of mistakes. And the early church seemed to support this as well, with Paul proclaiming that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not mistakes, not struggles. Nothing in all the world. It's all grace upon grace if we're walking with Jesus.
The Lent season is very much about embracing our humanity with Jesus, and coming to grips with our frailty. It's about admitting that we are in need of a doctor, and graciously receiving the truth that Jesus said he specifically came for people who can admit their need. Infinite hearts! No limit to the mistakes you can make...
The upside down part of God's kingdom, however, is that receiving grace for our imperfections will not give us license to do whatever we'd like. As people who experience radical grace constantly, it's the very power of that grace that inspires us to stay the course, moving ever more toward the way of love and faithfulness, even when we fall short of our ideals. The freedom to fail moves us toward a deeper commitment to learn, grow, and love more deeply, rather than 1). crushing guilt, or 2). a free-for-all to act however selfishly we want to.
Have you remembered that there is enough grace today for you to walk freely in love and trust? When the heart is postured toward Jesus, the knowledge of God's infinite grace for us creates a culture of unlimited growth in us. And by God's grace, it will lead us to speak fluently the language of love to all those we encounter each day.
Jesus, help me live out of the gift of grace again today.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out...
For the season of Lent at our church, we're reflecting on the healing stories of Jesus found in the gospels. We're considering what God might be speaking to us today through those encounters about our own need for healing in so many ways. On Sunday we read a story from John 5 of a man who was disabled for 38 years, waiting with others at a pool that he thought would heal him if he got into it at the right moment. Jesus sees him, asks him if he wants to be well (that seems insensitive), and just a few moments later, the guy walks away healed. There's more to it than that (at least I hope so- I turned it into a 35 minute sermon). And there's much to be explored about our own desire for healing and willingness to move toward it, especially during the lenten season. Now, our conversation wasn't really about physical healing. It was about whatever ways we find ourselves in need of wholeness.
In the story, it wasn't just what happened, but what didn't happen that caught the notice of some in our community. We frequently have a Q and Eh? dialogue time after our messages, and this week was really good. Some issues were brought up that we don't often mention in stories like these, because it's just so darn... messy.
Like: If there were a ton of sick people there, why did Jesus only heal that one guy? Did he heal the others too?
Like: Why do some people get healed and others don't?
Like: An instantaneous moment of healing is wonderful, but God doesn't seem to work like that very much anymore.
Like: How do we think/speak about moments where we feel God worked (healing, protection, etc) when it could cause real harm to others whose experiences with loss are not like that?
And here's my big, wise, insightful pastoral response to those questions:
I don't know.
And I'm ok with that.
These kids of questions can paralyze us, especially if we have been exposed to a worldview where the idea of having dynamic faith in God got linked to having adequate answers about all the things.
I love asking questions. Yet I also know that some of those questions will never be resolved. How much does/doesn't God intervene in the laws of physics? How much is God's work more subtle and internal? How should we feel about situations that we are absolutely sure God is opposed to, yet we see very little change-- where powerful people, natural disasters, and illness continue to do great harm?
We can just give a broad sweep that if God is all powerful, then God is somehow behind both the good and bad, and we just don't see the big picture. This might make us feel consistent, but it leaves us with a character gap. Because every time that we see Jesus encounter brokenness (sickness, suffering) he offers compassion. Plus, the guy cries because of how broken the world is. So we simply cannot put God as the author of the same stuff that breaks God's heart. It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't feel like Jesus.
So we are left unresolved. We are left without having everything airtight, wrapped up in a bow, and systematically organized.
And I want to tell you, friends.... that is alright. It's ok to have unresolved elements in your faith. It's ok to believe that God is good and at work to renew all things... yet not understand how evil and brokenness persist. It's the same posture the Psalmist had so often, so you are in good company. It's ok to walk in a faith that's full of beauty and full of unanswered mystery, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
On some level God will always be beyond our understanding. And yet we have God in a person, living out accessible stories of love and instruction, so that we have enough to go on. I don't know exactly how God works outside of what I see in Jesus. But what I see in Jesus is compelling enough to commit my life to trusting and following.
There is beautiful peace that emerges when we can know God while not knowing everything about God. And maybe as Christians admit that a bit more easily, others will welcome their perspectives into the conversation more often. I recently heard a comedian give a bit where she said, "the think I miss most about being a Christian is looking down on everyone who didn't have all the answers." Oh Lord, forgive us.
A core of these lenten weeks is learning honesty and trust in the desert season with Jesus. I can't think of a better way to practice that than holding the love of God and the mystery of God together as we center our lives on the way of Jesus.
Jesus, help me trust you, even in the unresolved places.
*Just to be clearly affirming to those who raised these questions this week: I think it's so valuable to do that, and I applaud you for leaning into this. Humble wrestling is an integral part of active faith.
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 a regular practice to begin Lent with a huge bonfire in the middle of town. In fact, in Belgium, France, and Germany, the first Sunday of Lent is still known as "Sunday of the Great Fires." But the old stories go that the fuel was more than trees. It was anything that villagers could find in their houses 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. No doubt disease carrying clothing was also tossed in there, to enact both a literal and symbolic act of purification. The fire was a statement of passion in direct opposition to the drudgery of winter's dirt, disease, and clutter. It was time to clean house and look forward to spring.
Lent is a time for self-reflection and slow transformation. I go back to the imagery of European bonfires every year because most of us north-easterners can relate to the effects of the dreary, cold winter. It’s been dark for too long. We are so ready for a change! And the change is indeed coming with the approaching spring. The earth will become new again, as bare branches give way to green 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 build up in our spirits are a different story. They only get 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 9th?
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 around the world. 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 family didn’t know. Deodorant gave off a dazzling blue dripping flame. Socks weirdly melted and made a lot of smoke. It wasn’t a safe habit, but it sure was fun.
What if you did something a little quirky today? What if you marked the 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."
We lit candles last night at our Lent service for that. You can do that too.
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 nudging us down the path from winter into spring. It’s time to 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.
"God had formed out of the ground every wild beast and every bird of heaven. He brought them to the man to see what he would name each one, and whatever the man called each living thing was indeed its name.”
I love reflecting on the powerful words of Genesis and why beginnings matter. One of the catchphrases that I've gravitated to over the years has been, “Words Create Worlds.” There is great beauty and mystery of the first story of our Bible. But there’s one part that doesn't get very much air time we talk about the Genesis narrative. It’s about name-calling, and it’s really important.
I’m not a big fan of name calling.
I raise 3 kids and coach another 60, so I’m familiar with the creativity that can be used when calling someone a name (it’s not usually the good kind of creativity). In our house, we frequently talk about avoiding the “you’re so…!” statements that tend to label a person as negative, rather than address a specific action.
In the Kabbala, the Jewish mystical teaching that is passed down through generations, there is an understanding that the name of everything is its life-source. The Hebrew letters carry God’s power in a unique way, and when put together in different formations they give life wherever they are applied.
In other words, according to Hebrew thought, something’s name, or the words they are called, directly affects what or who it actually becomes. Name calling is incredibly powerful. Maybe that’s why God renames Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah by adding the Hebrew letter "he" (ה) from his own name, signifying the new partnership. God renames Jacob after their wrestling match too. Each has become something new. Maybe that’s why Jesus speaks a new name to Peter as he commissions him to lead the first generation of his Church. And maybe that’s why John reveals in his vision that each faithful person will receive a new name as they enter the fullness of the kingdom (Revelation 2:17). Each represents a new start, full of life with God. Wild stuff, huh? Names are a big deal.
That’s why it’s so crazy that in Genesis, the job of naming all of creation is given to a human. Seems like the sort of thing that would best be left in God’s hands, if you ask me. I’ve heard the names that we come up with when we think it’s our job. It’s not pretty, friends.
Many Jewish interpretations hold that even when God formed the animals in Genesis 2:19, they weren’t given the breath of life until their names were spoken by Adam. Then life and purpose began. And taking things a step further in chapter 3, Adam names Eve, reminding us that people have been given the task of even naming one another.
God’s partnership in this way… that’s a lot of responsibility. Words can destroy and maim, or words can build and heal (read James). And that power has been entrusted to us. Let’s not screw this one up.
What if we looked around our world daily with a focus on name calling everything we see in both the natural world and the world of humanity? And what if our name calling is in line with the value and beauty and dignity that Jesus teaches us to model*?
Maybe it starts today by noticing the name badge at the cash register, and thanking Jessica for serving you. Maybe it extends to declaring the good you see in your children and coworkers. Maybe it extends to telling someone that you believe in them...to reminding someone that they are loved and valuable...to noticing the image of God in someone and then calling them that name. And in moments when we see someone that we are unable to find a name for? Maybe those are the times that we, like Jesus with Peter, speak to what could happen when that life becomes more aligned with God's world. Because in God’s world, everything and everyone is created with value.
Jesus, help me give names to the overlooked, forgotten, and mundanely beautiful things and people in my life today. May my words bring your life into each one.
*I’m fully aware that when Jesus named things, not all of them were positive, particularly when speaking to oppressive and religious power structures (brood of vipers, sons of hell, and whitewashed tombs come to mind). There is a place for naming hurtful and unhealthy realities in our world, especially when harm is being done to others. However, Jesus had authority and insight into the heart that we cannot, and Jesus also laid down his life for those people in forgiveness of their wrongdoing. The call to love must always be front and center in our lives, so if those names are the first ones we're drawn to... we need to walk with self-awareness and humility, and see it as an opportunity to pray for them.
Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it?"
I spent this past weekend up in Pennsylvania as the main speaker for the Zeteo student conference. It's a unique event, pointing hundreds of teenagers toward Jesus through a weekend of worship, teaching, and a dramatic performance that unfolds across three days. This year's title was "STORYMAKERS" and the drama followed the fictional lives of a number of young people as they wrestled with their own unique stories, learning how to interact with and embrace connection to the "storymaker" (God). In the end, their stories became intertwined with each other and with the Storymaker. It was provocative and inspiring and beautifully performed.
So my teaching for the weekend kept pointing back to the foundational story of God's redemptive heart for the world, unfolding through each page of scripture. I've come to see "story" as one of the most powerful lenses by which we can see our faith, and the scriptures.
Too often, the Bible is viewed as a series of statements to pull out when they are most helpful for personal inspiration or to argue one's perspective. At best, that can be nice to make us feel better or remember key truths. At worst though, they become weaponized and completely miss the forest for the trees. But when we see the scriptures as telling a grand story, and ourselves as participants in God's story, we begin to interact in a fresh way. Instead of a number of isolated books/verses/teachings, the Bible becomes a comprehensive story, heading toward an ultimate point of revelation: the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Stories involve characters going on a journey and changing. We see people's understanding of God constantly growing throughout the Bible as they eventually encounter Jesus as the full revelation of God. And we ourselves are constantly changing on our journeys as well, as we learn more about ourselves and experience more of life with God as the years go by. Characters walk away different at the end of a story than when they began. We should also be walking differently as we grow and develop in our faith journey.
I began the weekend asking the teenagers this:
If your life was a story, what would be the title of the chapter you're in?
If they saw me between sessions they were supposed to share a three word title that I wrote down in a little notebook. I got all sorts of titles, but most of them were intense.
Very Very Scared.
The Ink Well's Dry.
Crying Every Night.
The Sorrow Gun....
Naming our stories brought uncomfortable honesty to the surface. But as we entered into God's story each session, we leaned into some beautiful truths as well.
In God's story, we are invited. In God's story, we are known....and loved. In God's story, we are redeemed. In God's story, we are sent (even in our brokenness).
The story of God is a constant invitation to join in relationship. It's not about knowledge or complete answers or fixing everybody or even perfecting yourself. It's about receiving grace, embodying love, and entering into the most unlikely partnership imaginable: joining God in the mission to embody a world of wholeness, now and forever.
It was beautiful and inspiring to see what happened after a weekend of diving into the way of Jesus and his love. Before the final session I again asked for chapter titles... but this time I asked what they sensed the title of their next chapter will be as they walk forward with the Storymaker. And there was a shift.
Let's Get Going.
Strength and Perseverance.
My Scars Heal.
Rise of the Fallen.
The Small Steps.
New Beginning Again.
My Next Leap....
This is what happens as we allow our story to be found within God's grand narrative. When we see ourselves as participants in the story of God that continues to unfold, we see things differently. We are able to receive fresh hope for tomorrow. We lean into what actually matters. We stop trying to write overtop of other people's stories. We understand we are not alone. And we see Jesus as our director, author, and co-actor in a story of love for the world.
So slow down for a moment. What's the title of your chapter right now? Be honest. It might be uncomfortable to name it.
But the story isn't over, and it's moving toward redemption. As you move toward Jesus who is lover, healer, friend, brother, savior, and guide...
What chapter title is on the next page that you're co-authoring?
Don't be afraid to let it be hopeful. After all, the story is all about hope restored after it looks like all hope was lost.
Jesus, may our footsteps match yours and may our hearts be open to your storymaking presence in our lives today.
I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
Most years around this time I'm able to get south for a few days on a silent retreat. My time consists of very few things. I read, journal, and pray. I take my days slowly. I move my body. And I spend time enjoying the natural world. And God renews me and prepares me for the year ahead.
Of my trips over the years, last year might have been my most profound experience of natural beauty (except the 2019 run-in with an angry alligator). I was out birding, sprawled out on the ground with my camera lens along a marsh line. And all of a sudden all these extraordinary birds started approaching me. Wood storks (pictured below), roseate spoonbills, tri-colored herons, and sandhill cranes, all within several feet as I held my breath and clicked the shutter as quietly as I could. I got some beautiful photos. But I also remember feeling the presence of the creator in that moment, God's beauty and peace with such vivid detail that a sense of well-being washed over me. During those minutes, I was able to receive the beauty of God's world, but also capture some small glimpse of it to be shared with others.
The next day I traveled home. And then life got busy. And each time I meant to go back to process those pictures on my camera, something came up. So they just sat there, on a memory card, unprocessed. Spring came, then summer, then fall, then winter.
That experience came back into my head again recently. I've been thinking about this for a few weeks, so I was surprised this morning when I finally plugged the sd card into my laptop and saw that these pictures were taken exactly one year ago to the day that I'm writing this (Wed).
There are so many things that go unprocessed in our lives, aren't there? The pace of society and the never-ending spray of news and social feeds support the myth of constant urgency and zero margin. And because of it, significant moments in our lives come and go, remaining unprocessed.
We often highlight the fact that we have unprocessed trauma and negative experiences which need to be addressed in order to experience healing. So true. But the same can be true about the things that make our hearts sing. These are the moments where we sense the Spirit of God close at hand. They are the times where we notice ourselves being full of peace and joy, the absolute best versions of who we were made to be. All too often, we don’t sit down to remember, to process what brought us to that point, or what God might want to do as a result of it. And as such, a lot of the beauty is left on the table, and it doesn’t result in the transformation and encouragement that it could. Maybe we need to slow down and take the extra time that we don’t feel like we can afford, in order to process what is sitting back there in the memory of our minds.
The scriptures are full of God's people pausing to reflect on stories of God's beauty and God's deliverance in their own lives. The Psalms are a brilliant example of taking time to personally process both pain and beauty. And as the experience is reflected on, the gratitude becomes deeper, the faith becomes richer, and (I would suggest) the eyes become keener for the work of God the next time.
Because I haven't taken time to process those old pictures, the beauty that was captured has been limited. If I would sit with the experience and do a bit of meaningful work, I might be inspired to be even more intentional in seeking out that sort of gratitude-inspiring beauty. I'd also be able to move into the next phase: sizing them right, framing them right, and sharing those moments with others.
When we sense a thin place in our spiritual journey, where God is close at hand, may we learn the practice of pausing and processing. May we pay attention to the moments that we are the most alive, and invite God to teach us why he created us in such a way. And may be able to walk from those moments looking for deeper rhythms of connection with God and love for others.
Jesus, help me make space to process the work you have done in my life.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
We've been working on "norm engineering" in our church lately, together learning that our "normals" are each unique and different. That helps us walk in humility, value different expressions, and constantly learn from each other as we follow Jesus together. There is so much to learn from the world and people around us. As I was thinking about this, a story came to mind from the First Nations people outside of Toronto a few years ago while working on my masters.
My cohort toured a residential school that has become a museum and cultural center. We learned that Canada, like the United States, has a deep scar in their past due to forced assimilation of indigenous people into western culture. Native children were taken from their families and land and forced into English speaking schools that stripped them of their language, cultural traditions, and stories. They were terribly abused and mistreated. It was heartbreaking to hear the stories of a survivor who remembered this as a child. However, in the wake of this terrible sin, an effort is being made by the Hodinohshoni people to reclaim their beautiful culture and give the world a glimpse of who they are.
As a new generation of Hodinohshoni shared their stories, I was captivated by one of their traditions. When a peace treaty was made between tribes, a gift called a Wampum Belt was offered from one clan to another. Wampum are white and purple tubular beads made from the inside of Conch shells. They are very small, and even a skilled worker can only make about four per hour. The beads are then woven together and presented as a symbol of living in peace together. Each design tells a unique story.
Here's the thing. There are a ton of beads in a Wampum Belt. I did the math. The one I was looking at took about 900 hours to make! Nine. Hundred. Hours.
And you thought my last sermon was long.
If you only made beads straight for 40 hours a week, that would take almost 23 weeks. The labor intensive process made a wampum belt very special, and it symbolized a timeless reality...
It takes hard work to make peace.
(moment of silence to sit with a challenging truth) Repairing broken relationships requires immense time and energy. Seeking understanding with others is incredibly time consuming. Choosing love over winning an argument isn't just something that happens. It can only occur if we are working for hours, days, and weeks to let Jesus soften our hearts enough to be formed in a new way. We must sit with Jesus, inviting him to chip away a lot of stone.
Thankfully, this is what Jesus does best. Central to the good news of Jesus is the understanding of making peace in every meaning of the word. Jesus, through entering into humanity, revealing what God is truly like, and absorbing the sin and violence of the world, makes peace with us by extending radical forgiveness and love. From there, we are also called to make peace with one another, to seek to live in unity and gentleness, moving beyond our labels, assumptions and selfishness and into a life of everyday reconciliation. Spoiler alert: That's going to take even more than 900 hours. That's going to take all of the hours. So let's get to it. Thank goodness we're not doing it without the Holy Spirit.
May we trust the work of Jesus in us, and carve out time in our lives and spirits to be peacemakers. May we weave our internal moments together with external expressions of mercy, compassion, and reconciliation. And may our work tell a story to the world that peace and understanding are more valuable than dominance and competition.
Jesus, you gave everything to make peace with us. May we commit to the long term work of weaving your love into something beautiful in the world.
Peace to you today,
Pray for damar
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. [...] Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
-Romans 12:12, 15
I happened to be one of the millions of people watching the Monday Night NFL game on January 2nd with my sons when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsed in cardiac a few moments after making a tackle. I won't offer more details now, except that for many minutes, CPR was administered on the field, and as the ambulance drove off across the grass to the nearest hospital, the watching world held its breath. It was as if all of the athletes, coaches, commentators and officials were actors who had suddenly forgot their lines. Something had just happened that was so significant that the game, the production, the conversations.... had completely lost their meaning. A man's life was in limbo. Athletes lost composure as they processed emotions, and it became clear that continuing a game of football was no longer possible or relevant. We sat there watching an empty field, not being able to think about anything else. When they updated that Hamlin had left in the ambulance 28 minutes earlier, my son said, "that was the fastest half hour I've ever experienced." We were just frozen in one unending moment of fear and heartache.
Not knowing what to do, the network continued to send the broadcast back to the football analysts in the studio. But these commentators had no idea how to handle the moment. They spoke in short, hushed phrases. Every time one of them would try to start a conversation, it would fail, and there would be a heavy silence left behind. Because sometimes there are no words, and the only authentic thing is holding silence together. One commentator even spoke a simple prayer aloud because no other words seemed right.
Here's what I saw in the anxious silence. I saw an entire community value a life (a black life) above profit and above comfort and distraction. I saw a country, for just a moment, believe in the power of compassionate prayer and understand that a life is more important than millions of dollars (even USA Today ended up writing on prayer after that night). I saw a country acknowledge our twisted priorities. I saw a country view a professional athlete as a human being and not simply a commodity for entertainment. I saw a world publicly wrestle with the discomfort of sorrow.
And all of that is giving me hope today. Every now and then, in a world that still lacks equity and justice and does not value each life, we get a glimpse of what is possible when compassion reigns. Yes, this was a sports star on prime time television, and millions of God's children are in crisis each day that do not receive compassion and attention. But perhaps we should let certain moments in our world illuminate would could be true of all humanity if we choose to put love and compassion over consumption, tribalism, and distraction. What if we all were willing to pause our regularly scheduled lives when we knew someone was suffering, to reprioritize things until we knew they were ok? Even if it's uncomfortable?
After days of intensive care and millions of people praying, Hamlin began to make a miraculous recovery. From what we can see, it is the best possible outcome of one of the worst possible moments a person can experience. It's not always like that, but praise God for such a beautiful journey of healing. It's incredible.
It's so easy to look around and complain about all that's wrong in the world. Yet on this week, only a few days after celebrating the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, may we have courage to pause and hold in reverence the heavy weight of sorrow and pain, and at the same time find hope in the moments where we see light and love overcome despair and distraction, and where we see compassion win over profit. And may we live into that world more and more every day, working to bring about a humanity that reflects Jesus' vision for us all.
The next time the Bills suited up for a game a week later, Hamlin was well
enough to tweet out from his hospital bed a simple message:
"GameDay … Nothing I Want More Than To Be Running Out That Tunnel With My Brothers. God Using Me In A Different Way Today..."
Indeed, Mr. Hamlin. Indeed.
I'm prone to think that Jesus was heartened when he saw a world that was broken by compassion, and touched that young man's life. I don't know. But I do know that there is great beauty in a humanity created in God's image, as we continue to work toward the ultimate ethic of love that Jesus revealed. In the darkest moments, may we contribute to our world looking just a little more like God's beloved community.
Jesus, give me a vision for a world that reflects your compassion, and turn me into a healing presence.
That's an event
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 7:2
So Bethany and I changed to a new car insurance a few months ago in an attempt to save a little money. One of the elements of our new company is that we get these little transponders that stick to your windshield and connect to your phone each time you get into the car and drive somewhere. In the background, an app connects to the transponder and monitors your driving. It makes note of acceleration, speeding, sudden braking, sharp cornering, and other stuff. Every time you do one of those infractions, they call it an "event." Each trip tracks "events" to give you an overall score, which can then get you extra discounts on your next insurance payment if the score average is good enough. I do like saving money. But I have to tell you, it's annoying to be constantly judged by a machine. That stupid app should try driving on Cleveland Avenue in rush hour AND while thousands of college kids are getting out of class without slamming on the brakes! It's impossible.
Currently, Bethany and I have slightly different ways of approaching this. I've been trying to leave a little earlier for places and be very gentle going around corners. She turns off her bluetooth when she gets in the car. In the end, both approaches have helped our score improve. ;)
But I realized in December that every time Bethany and I were driving together and she was in the driver's seat, inevitably I would mutter, "well that's an event" under my breath (but totally loud enough to hear) many times throughout our drive. It wasn't particularly helpful for our marriage. Then I noticed something else. When I was the one driving our family and I'd accelerate too quickly or need to lean heavy the brakes while approaching a stoplight, I would chuckle to myself, "well, that's an event..." Good times.
Judgement for her, grace for me. That's a great formula for a whole lot of broken relationships, friends.
Different people skew different ways, and certainly, sometimes we can give more grace to others than we give to ourselves. But often the flip side is true. We understand that our own lives are complicated and that God loves us anyway, but then pick apart another person and highlight all of their faults (in our minds, even if not in our words!). This is the opposite of a grace-filled life, and it's something Jesus is constantly turning us from. The answer is not found in either of the above attitudes. It's found when we are able to extend grace and love and gentleness to one another precisely because we know that God has extended his grace, love and gentleness to us.
Jesus helps us understand that judgmental attitudes toward others have a way of curving back in on us. The more we withhold grace from others, the more we are hindered from experiencing grace. The street runs both ways.
We will not experience perfection on this side of eternity. Yet God's perfect grace allows us to live freely and lightly even so, and helps us release others from the crushing pressure to constantly measure up. I'm going to change my tune the next time I'm tempted to be hypercritical of the "events" in other peoples' lives. Because I sure know I could use a lot of grace these days... and that means everyone else could too.
Jesus, move me away from the temptation to be critical and move me deeper into your grace-filled presence each day.
*Bethany approved my sharing of the intimate details of our driving relationship.
Back to the Flocks
The shepherds went back to their sheep, praising God and thanking him for everything they had seen and heard...
And the next morning the one shepherd said to the others... "Hey, did you guys see that yearling this morning? Stupid lamb must have wandered off again last night.... ugh. Sheep gonna sheep, I guess. *Sigh* " And he went over the hillside to find the little troublemaker.
Ok, that part isn't in the bible. But I think something like that certainly could have happened.
Happy new year, friends. Although the 12 day season of Christmastide lasts through tomorrow, the Christmas hubbub is on the way out as we enter January (it seems like this happens every single year!).
I'm aware that the holidays can be very difficult for people. But so can re-entry into regular rhythms of life again: school schedules, work schedules, cold and dark out the door every morning. We celebrate the coming of Jesus with lights, rich foods, music, celebration, and candles (and sometimes a snowball battle). It's intended to be a spiritual high point as we remember with wonder God coming to earth. And then, just like that, it's Monday morning, and everyone is walking back to their flocks.
I find it interesting that Luke reminds us that the shepherds' future was still out on the hills- that they returned to their same flocks after seeing Jesus. They didn't just sit at the manger forever, nor did they make a dramatic career change. The Magi came and went too. Goodness, after a few scary years of living as refugees, so did Mary and Joseph and Jesus, as they resettled back in Nazareth for his whole childhood. After all those wild moments... life continued on.
I find this all to be an encouragement, since it's very easy to get discouraged by the "going back to normal" of this time of year. Even the eyewitnesses of Jesus' birth returned to fairly normal, (possibly) uneventful lives right after the big events, as far as we know.
What we don't know was how their experience of encountering God's presence in the flesh changed how they experienced those normal, mundane moments. We aretold they walked away filled with fresh faith and gratitude. And that's where I think the power is.
Over the years I've come to trust that when we meet Jesus in fresh ways, the real magic happens when we get back to normal and return to our flocks. The high points, the encounters, and the wonder are all beautiful. But as ambassadors of the love of God in the world, it's what we do with those moments that lasts. What areas are we now free to live with hope in the place of despair? What situations are we moved to offer a hand of kindness when otherwise we may have walked on by? What new peace will we have as we face an uncertain future? What forgivenesses will we extend now that we have been face to face with a God who will overcome any obstacle to help us move into a restored relationship?
Today might look like a normal Thursday morning the week after the holidays have ended. And yet we have just been reminded that Jesus has come for us. We have been face to face with the presence of God entering a broken world to redeem it. What are you going to do with that all that? How will it affect the mundane activities you'll do the rest of the week? How will it transform your interactions? There's great power in the events of that first Christmas. But there is even greater power in how God continues to be born in our lives each day that we open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit, inviting her to give us fresh strength to walk in newness, grace, and compassion each day.
Jesus, may the story of your coming continue to spring to life in me today as I leave the manger and return to my flocks.