Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection.
I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but at some point over the past few years my wife and I became fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think it was those extra pandemic nights at home that got us enjoying the 20+ movies that all work together in an unfolding superhero storyline. Now we look forward to the release of each new film or series. Anyway, regardless of what you think about the sometimes less-than-profound storylines in the various Marvel screenplays, it's fairly easy to agree that Tom Hiddleston is a compelling actor. He plays Loki, the god of Mischief (and Thor's brother), and is the kind of villain that steals the show when he's onscreen. He was so fun to watch in his role that his own spinoff series is being released right now, with his name as the title.
The main premise of the show is that Loki is in prison, but he agrees to help his own captors track down other delinquents in order to hopefully free himself. That's oversimplified, of course.
But the thing that makes the show so compelling is this: every character knows that every other character can't be trusted. It's impossible to know what to believe. Which emotions and statements are genuine, and which ones are simply scheming in order for someone to get what they want? Loki is brilliant at deceit. Every act of kindness ends up being a strategy for his own selfish gain. Yet one cannot deny that there seems to be a goodness and humanity (and even sadness?) within him. But maybe that's just him getting people to let down their guard!
Is it real? Is any of it real?
So we keep watching to find out.
Deep down, the viewer wants to discover the humanity in Loki, but we're not positive it's there because it's covered by so many layers of strategic appearances.
Well that pretty much sums up our world, doesn't it?
Interestingly, the exact thing that makes the show so compelling is the reason that we often struggle in relationships. We may not be out to destroy all that is good and rule over all the beings of the universe like Loki, but there is a lot of posturing and a lack of trust that play a major role in how humans relate to each other. Even when our motives are mostly good, our actions are not always done out of sincere love. This can happen in friendships, in work environments, and among family.
Sometimes we act in certain ways because we want to please everyone.
Sometimes it's because we want them to like and accept us.
Sometimes it's because we want to accomplish something and they might be useful.
Sometimes it's because we see others as a nuisance in our lives.
And sometimes we haven't learned to trust the sincerity of others, so we keep our own guard up.
Now, there are certainly times and places where it is appropriate to guard ourselves. Not everyone needs to be within our smallest circle of trusting relationships. Yet we can also use that reality as an excuse for a lack of sincerity with others in our lives.
The discipleship question in front of us is one of genuineness. Are we rooted enough in the love and character of God to truly care about the people in front of us as our first response? Or do we more readily see others through a lens of judgment, selfishness, or annoyance? When we ask someone how they are doing, is it genuine, and are we ready to offer a caring response? Do our words and actions match the heart and spirit within us?
When Jesus rescues us from death and the destructive patterns of death, we are made new for a reason. And that reason is to dwell fully with God and express God's kingdom in our relationships.
That leads to more honest and genuine interactions with others, because the spirit within us is becoming more loving and genuine at the same time.
In other words, when Jesus forms us into his image, then the realest thing in us will be genuine love for others, and nothing else. In that case, it's easy for our love to become sincere, because sincerity is all that's left in us.
We give others a gift when we go first in this way. We open the door for them to become more real with us, when they experience something that is undeniably genuine. But that requires our own formation in Christ every single day.
Jesus, help me be sincere today, and change me from within so that sincerity looks more and more like love.
And serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts.
-1 Peter 4:10
The Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland is a breathtaking world of rugged beauty and island isolation. And with only a 3,000 person populace over 340 square miles, people get to know one another pretty well. I've never been there, but it's compelling enough to be on my bucket list.
There's a unique feature about the island roads on Mull. Nearly all the roads have only one narrow lane. They pass through mountains and along rocky coastlines, weaving their way in and out of towns. About every 500 yards is a small pullover, big enough for one car. When cars meet, someone has to pull over. And sometimes, someone has to do a little backing up to make way for their approaching neighbor. That requires some real skill.
That means that all movement on Mull is a constant negotiation between people. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who loves to travel to Mull, makes an observation about this need for what he calls "cooperative trust". Because of the narrow roads, island life is a constant give-and-take. He says that if you stay on the island for long, you begin to realize that the people all have a sense of each other's strengths and weaknesses, because they have learned to negotiate well for years with each other. They know when to move forward and when to back up.
Hauerwas also points out that this "cooperative trust" is the exact thing that we have attempted to eliminate from our American lives. We don't want to slow down and pull over for others. And we don't want to have to be humbly grateful for someone else pulling over on our behalf to let us pass. We'd rather each have our own paved lanes and live productively at fast speeds, without needing cooperative relationships.
And yet this is so much of the core of what makes us human, and the core of what it means to live as disciples of Jesus. Learning to trust one another and make space for one another is one way that love becomes tangible in our world. A life deeply formed in Christ sees another not as a nuisance or an asset to our own movement, but as a fellow image-bearer of God who gives me an opportunity to learn love simply by being with me. Perhaps my friend likes to talk a little too much. Jesus can teach me to be a more patient listener. Perhaps I have the tendency to talk too much. Jesus can teach me to ask good questions and put my friend's needs before my own. Perhaps my friend has a unique gift that I don't. I can ask for their assistance and freely offer mine in areas that I'm capable. And cooperative trust emerges.
Within the church, cooperative trust like this is beautiful. I begin to make space for you and learn what your needs and strengths are, as you learn mine. Sometimes it will work beautifully together, and sometimes we'll meet head to head and we have to learn how to back up a little bit so that we don't block the way for each other. Cooperation is humility, because we realize that we are sharing this road. And we did not build this road, nor do we own it. We inherited it, and it will last after we are gone. So we we joyfully and willingly encourage each other's travels, knowing that it is a gift to be able to move slowly sometimes, because Jesus is with us on the journey and at the destination. And life with Jesus is the goal, so there is no need to rush past each other or run one another over. It's quite the opposite.
But that may be easier on Mull, where everything has to be slower. For most of us today, a life of slow, cooperative community will feel out of place in a fast paced world. Asking one another for help will feel out of place in a fiercely independent world. Pulling over to care for someone else will feel radical in an efficiency-and-achievement obsessed world.
But Jesus pulled over time and time again. Jesus saw the people in front of him and made space. Sometimes he challenged, sometimes he was gentle. But he was always seeking to help them keep moving, often at great cost to himself. May it be so in our own hearts today as well.
Jesus, give me discernment about when to move forward, and when to pull over for the sake of my brothers and sisters. Teach me to build cooperative trust in my relationships.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
-Jesus making it clear(ish), Matthew 7:12
(Warning... some sarcasm is present throughout this piece)
The world would be a better place if everyone was a bit more in tune with the Golden Rule, wouldn't it? If everyone would simply treat others the way that they want to be treated, then we would all be safe and happy and cared for! Well, mostly. There's just one challenge with how we often think about this important statement of Jesus.
What happens when what you would have them do to you..... isn't at all what your neighbor actually wants done to them?
If that confused you, consider this real life example.
We're in the wacky, in-between, sometimes-awkward-and-also-really-beautiful season of emerging from a year defined only by the pandemic. Mouths are visible again and we can smile at each other (or at least tell if someone was actually smiling at us or just doing the nice eye thing this whole time while keeping the scowl beneath the cloth). And hugs! In many spaces, we can give hugs again, which everyone wants! Right???
Since we've finally begun regathering as a church a few weeks ago, one of the things we decided to do was have a pile of yellow silicone wristbands at the table near the entrance. If someone chooses to wear a yellow wristband, it means that they are more comfortable maintaining some distance, and not having physical touch. That way we can honor each other without creating uncomfortable situations. In fact, believe it or not, some folks were uncomfortable with social physical contact even before Covid! In light of this, assumptions like "everyone wants a hug" can actually feel very unloving to a lot of people... and very much not in the spirit of Jesus' golden rule.
Now some of us may have trouble understanding this reality. It may strike us as silly or unnecessary or hypersensitive. I mean, if I treated everyone how I wanted to be treated, I'd give out hugs to everyone and everyone would feel loved and the world would be awesome. Plus, I'd be directly obeying Jesus' command!
Ironically, an attitude like that still places ourselves at the center, rather than the one we are actually seeking to love. When we make unconscious assumptions that everyone thinks and feels like us, we can actually be very unloving in our behavior toward others... and this goes well beyond hugs and wristbands.
But rather than simply disregarding the words of Jesus, the solution is for us to broaden our interpretation of these words from a list of actions to the spirit in which we act. That makes Jesus' command even more central in our lives, not less.
Let's consider the spirit of what we all want. We want to be treated with deep respect. Most everyone wants their desires to be acknowledged and honored. We want to be listened to, to have our complex experiences validated by others, and to not have assumptions made about us. We want to feel empowered and we want to feel comfortable in our own unique personalities.
How that looks specifically is going to play out differently for people. So loving our neighbor as ourselves means less about treating them specifically how we want to be treated, and more about treating them as they desire to be treated (within the Christlike ethics of love, of course). This fulfills the true spirit of the law that Jesus is speaking of, which is loving our neighbor. Asking my friend, "are you cool with a hug?" and totally respecting him when he says, "not really, thanks " is one way to show Christlike love.
And the layers continue. When we consider friends who have different cultural/racial/religious backgrounds, we break down barriers and build trust when we practice the slow process of learning what loving and caring actions look like for them-- because they may be very different than what you assume. This is the epitome of other-oriented, Christlike love. It takes humility, because sometimes you will learn that one of your statements or actions felt very unloving to someone, even though that wasn't your intent. And in humility, you can change it the next time around and love them better.
The bonus? Learning this way of life will transform your own character into a more humble and considerate person as well.
What assumptions might you be making about other people? What questions do you need to ask to create a loving environment for them? Where might their experience of love look different than what yours is?
Jesus, help me become perceptive and sensitive to the individuals around me, so that my ways of showing love truly feel like love to those receiving it.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you.
- 2 Corinthians 6:11
Writer Anne Lamott recently wrote about a conversation with a stand up comedian friend of hers. He told her that when people meet him, most of the time they are actually meeting his bodyguard.
I'm thinking about that this morning.
The bodyguard is the self in front of the real self. It's the first layer of defense to the vulnerable soft skin of our humanity. Consider bodyguards for a moment. They travel with celebrities, going ahead of them and behind them and making sure that no harm will come to them. But they can also stick too close, making it difficult for authentic interactions with others. The bodyguard gets in the way of vulnerability and creates a barrier to honest, personal connection.
We all have a bodyguard self that walks along with us and comes to the front in different scenarios. We all have moments where our truest self is held back a bit, for protection or ego or comfort or convenience. There are so many reasons. The bodyguard self sometimes sees things in very black and white terms, because the messy gray areas of life are complicated and require more in-depth connection with others. The bodyguard can offer a quick label of, "good or bad" and immediately direct us to treat people accordingly.
I think times of exhaustion and upheaval can change how much our bodyguard shows up in our interactions. In trauma or pain, our bodyguard can move to front and center. It smiles at people, creates small talk, and moves on. And the vulnerable spirit behind is kept unaffected.
But pain and heartache can also break down our bodyguard, sending it away. Our souls have already been laid bare; keeping up appearances is far too much work. In our pain we learn to be at peace with our vulnerability, imperfection, and losses. We let others in.
What has this year done to your bodyguard? The pandemic, the isolation, the addiction to social and news media, and the added stressors of daily life can build up or break down our walls of protection. Is your bodyguard more or less active on this side?
Let's be clear: vulnerability isn't appropriate for every interaction. Not everyone needs to be invited into our interior lives, and there are times that it is healthy to protect ourselves from emotionally unsafe environments. But if that is the constant default, life will be so very exhausting, and we will live at arm's length from others. Jesus invites us into something better.
The Church (or the Society of Jesus as I like to think of it) should be a place where bodyguards are increasingly unnecessary in our lives. If we believe, as Jesus told Paul, that God's grace is sufficient, then the doors of our true selves should be able to open to one another. Imagine a church gathering where everyone has a bodyguard standing in front and behind them. Imagine attempting to love one another well, listen to one another, and encourage one another... when you can't even really see the one you're speaking with. What an unfortunate picture! And yet, the experience of so many is that church is the place where honesty and vulnerability are more dangerous than anywhere else. What a tragic failure in God's family.
When Paul writes to the Corinthian church, he shares with them that he and his companions "opened wide our hearts to you." I find that phrase to be infinitely beautiful, and something to always aspire to.
The more secure we become in how infinitely loved we are, the more we have the ability to open wide our hearts to others. And my goodness, we are loved so infinitely.
It's possible that traveling behind your bodyguard has become your primary way of life. And perhaps, Jesus is inviting you to step forward with others in a new way. Maybe it's just one person, maybe it's a smaller group, or maybe it's learning to interact with a new layer of authenticity with people as a whole.
But to move toward a culture where we have honest, transformational interactions, we have to be a part of establishing it for others as well. Consider the little statements you make, the small assumptions or labels you might use when talking about things. Do your words make others bring out their bodyguards when interacting with you? Today, let's use words of graciousness with hearts wide open, so that those around us can give their bodyguard some time off.
Jesus, help me live in the freedom of your grace today, while truly opening my heart to others as well.
How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures!
You had to know that a cicada post was coming one of these weeks, right?
If you live in the mid-atlantic region like many of us, then chances are you have experienced cicada mania this month. (similar to Beatlemania, but without the great hair). And if you live in a different part of the country, then it's likely you've heard the news stories. Billions of Brood X periodical cicadas have emerged from the ground to take up residence in our... everywheres. They've been underground for nearly two decades, and after 17 years they want to experience all that the above ground world has to offer. And they are getting all up in our business.
They aren't here to hurt you. Some of you are terrified of them (that's ok) and some of you are fascinated by them (that's ok too) and some of you are collecting them in buckets and dying their empty shells blue with berry juice (that's a little excessive, kids). But if you live anywhere near trees or lawns, they're hard to miss. And then there's the sound. A constant humming is always noticeable around the clock right now. Sometimes it's so loud around our house that it sounds like a distant ambulance forgot to turn off its siren. Their music defies labels. It feels like it's always building. There are choruses within the choruses, pulsing in many parts, yet one sound.
They've spent 17 years living underground, just waiting for these 6 weeks of flying, mating, laying eggs.... and singing. If you waited so long to emerge, wouldn't you want to sing around the clock as well?
It's as if the cicadas know that they are fully alive, with a short time to live, and they refuse to live silently.
Socrates was really into cicadas, at least according to the (likely fictionalized) conversations Plato wrote about his former teacher. In Plato's Phaedrus dialogue, Socrates makes a note of the spot that his friend has picked for their conversation: “How lovely and perfectly charming the breeziness of the place is! And it resounds with the shrill summer music of the chorus of cicadas.”
Socrates believed the lore that cicadas were of divine origin. They were once human beings so filled with delight that they sang and sang, neglecting food or water, until they died and returned as these messengers. They continued to sing constantly and bring a report back to the Muses of the most honorable humans who were concerned with divine and noble thoughts and actions. In the above conversation, Socrates is intentional to speak of valuable and honorable things with his partner within earshot of the cicadas so that “perhaps they will be pleased and give us the gift which the gods bestowed on them to give to men.”
That's super weird. I don't believe any of that.
But this idea that the cicadas sang constant praise to (g)od, and bragged about the beauty of other humans... that's interesting to me. What if I heard the cicadas in that spirit? What if it inspired me to do the same?
What if I lived like my time here is brief and valuable and worth making noise in all the right ways?
Though I believe that I will live forever with Jesus at the renewal of all things, I still long for these years of my life, birthed out of the dust and before returning to the dust... to be a resurrection song, much like the cicadas. I want it to be bursting with sound.
I want to be so aware of the fragile gift of life and the sacredness of those around me that I am constantly singing praises to God, and constantly reporting publicly about the beauty that I see in the people as they bear God's image. Why do we have such a tendency to do the opposite of both of those things? Complaints about life and complaints about others can dominate our waking hours.
Far too often, like the story Jesus tells of the seed that fell among thorns, worry and stress rob us of the joy of singing freely. We become distracted and forget the gift of life that we've been given and the gift of salvation we have in Christ. In our stress we become more critical of others instead of more complimentary of the beauty we see in them (there is beauty in everyone). And we remain far too quiet in this brief time we're given, instead of singing our hearts out (note: extroverts and introverts will practice this is vastly different ways).
This may be an odd image for you today. But what would it look like for you to hear the constant hum, or see the cicadas flying around you, or simply notice the abundant sunshine of the approaching summer.... and begin praising God more fully than ever before for the gift of life? How might that transform how you relate to your neighbor, your brother, your child, or your coworker? This week, let's delight that Jesus has given us new life, and let's love accordingly.
Jesus, stir my spirit to rejoice in you and speak in praise of others.
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.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
- David, Psalm 51:12
The spring migration is almost here. Our backyard is near a state park forest, giving us wonderful access to wildlife. As the warblers and other song birds move south during the springtime, dozens of species pass directly through our yard. It's exciting to see the new and interesting colors that flutter through our bushes and rest at our feeders. I count them and identify them as best I can, coffee in one hand each morning, binoculars in the other.
Of course, we also have species that are around every day of the year. Common birds like wrens, cardinals, and blue jays.
I keep peanuts out a lot, a favorite of the blue jays, so they are almost constantly in the yard. Oftentimes, I look right past them, focusing on less common birds.
I've been thinking about that this week. Because the blue jay is a spectacular sight, with electric blues and dotted wingbars.... if you don't take it for granted.
I remember several years ago in California when I finished my masters degree, how thrilled I was to catch a glimpse (and photo -->) of a California Scrub Jay. This special, exotic bird was amazing! Do you know where I found it? Perched on the roof of my hotel, and hopping around the parking lot. Why? Because they are all over the place out there. No one else leaving the hotel even noticed them.
Hmm. Both beautiful birds. Both overlooked by those who see them most often. Why?
Why is it that the more common something is in our lives, the less likely we are to notice its beauty?
This is more tragic than one might think, because recognizing beauty is one of the gateways to transformation. The less we notice beauty around us, the less transformed we become as people. Let's move this toward Jesus.
Given this truth, it's not hard to see that the longer we've been around Jesus, the more common the grace and rescue and salvation of Jesus becomes in our lives. And the more common it is, the less we are changed by its breathtaking beauty.
We take it for granted. We cease to be thrilled with how magnificent and freeing the love of God truly is. We hear about it with our church, we sing about it in our songs. It's right in front of us, so what is common actually becomes commonplace.
But being common doesn't mean it isn't breathtaking. And when we miss the beauty of God's rescue, we miss the chance to walk away changed a little more each day.
This is especially likely in times of stress, disappointment, and sadness.
We've grown tired this season. Possibly, we've stopped noticing (or seeking out) the beauty of Jesus in our lives. It can quickly become background noise in the exhausting barrage of current events, family responsibilities, job and school transitions, and pixelated distractions. Jesus invites us to slow down, look up, and be filled with wonder and joy again at God's gift of life. This does not remove us from the pain and struggles of life and our world. Remarkably, it actually equips us to deal with it all in the right spirit, so that anger or despair doesn't take root. You will walk away changed when you linger on the beauty of God's grace for you. Every relationship you have will be healthier. Every situation you encounter will draw your mind toward God's redemptive hope.
King David lost his way many times, and had to cry out to God to restore the joy of his salvation... because he had lost sight of it altogether. He knew he needed God's recalibration.
Years after his own conversion, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, "thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Cor 9:15). He knew that sitting with the beauty and wonder of God's rescue will always take our breath away if we don't overlook it. It will always lead us toward transformation, because we know we are loved that much. It is beyond what words can even describe.
So lately I've been pausing at the wonder and beauty of the blue jay. I think it's even more beautiful than the scrub jay. It's easy to overlook, since it's around every day. But I'm letting it remind me of the joy of my salvation, letting it lead me to be freshly inspired to love God and love others, because God's love for me is beautiful beyond words.
What's your thing? What is both beautiful and commonplace in your life that can remind you of God's beautiful everyday grace? See it fresh today.
Jesus, open my eyes to the joy of your salvation today. Set me free to live out the radical love of your kingdom.