Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Putting Aside Our Desire To Be Right In Order To Love.

I want to be right. Who doesn't? In a debate you rarely see one side say "That was a great point that challenges my view and makes me rethink my position." It's laughable. No one does that. And in the age of the internet, the fight to be right can get downright ugly sometimes. 

When being right is the goal, we leave casualties behind. We aren't sensitive to others viewpoints, opinions, or life experiences. We aren't interested in open dialogue because we're right and they're wrong and we want them to say we're right. Even if they don't think we're right, we'll just keep yelling louder and louder that we're right. 

But as I reflect on 1 Corinthians 13 I can't help but wonder if being right shouldn't be our aim. 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

If this verse is true, nothing trumps love. Our knowledge, giving, faith, all mean nothing without love. 

The great thing about the internet is everyone can communicate with everyone. The problem with the internet is everyone can communicate with everyone. And we're all trying to have the loudest voice or the bigger platform to communicate to the world about how right we are and how wrong they are. We fight to bridge this gap, eliminating us and them, only to create new us vs them parameters. I see people whose work I like take to twitter to speak out against fellow believers who are "wrong" only to see those fellow believers strike back. We defame and defraud people we've never met, never read their work, haven't talked to in the name of being right. Isn't the best way to speak truth into someone's life is to be in relationship with them? Isn't someone you know and who knows that you genuinely love them going to be more open to accepting truth and rebuke in their life than someone whose blog you skimmed and decided they were wrong? 

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says we are one body with many parts. What if we could see those who we don't agree with or understand as a foot or a pinky finger? And what if we choose to walk in "the most excellent way" of love?

Paul closes 1 Corinthians by saying Faith, Hope, and Love will remain. Not our books, podcasts, blog posts, opinions, or knowledge, but faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

From Ugliness, A Beauty Emerges

This isn't my idea. This comes directly from Brian McLaren's "We Make The Road By Walking." I read this a couple of weeks ago and it's been stuck in my spirit ever since. And it's too good not to share.

"But don't need to stop there. We can turn to other voices in the biblical library who, in different circumstances, told competing stories to give a different - and we would say better - vision of God.

For example, take the passage in Deuteronomy 7 where God commands Joshua to slaughter the seven Canaanite nations. They must be shown no mercy. Even their little girls must be seen as a threat. Then we can consider a story from Matthews gospel that offers itself as a respond to the earlier passage. There, we meet a woman who is identified by Matthew as a Canaanite. This identification is significant, since Canaanites no longer existed as an identifiable culture in Jesus' day. Calling this woman a Canaanite would be like calling someone a Viking or Aztec today. She asks for the one thing that had been denied her ancestors: mercy...mercy for her daughter who is in great need.

Up until this point, Jesus has understood his mission only in relation to his own people. After all, they're pretty lost and they need a lot of help. So he hesitates. How can he extend himself to this Canaanite? But how can her refuse her? In her persistence, he senses genuine faith, and he hears God's call to extend mercy even to her. So he says yes to the mother, and the daughter is healed. From there, Jesus goes to an area to the northwest of the Sea of Galilee. He teaches and heals a large crowd of people there who, like the woman and her daughter, are not members of his own religion and culture. Their non-Jewish identity is clear in their response to Jesus' kindness: 'And they praised the God of Israel.' What was an exception yesterday is now the new rule: Don't kill the other. Show them mercy.

Then, Jesus repeats a miracle for these outsiders that he had done previously for his fellows Jews, multiplying loaves and fish so they can eat. In the previous miracle, there were twelve basket left over, suggesting the twelve tribes of Israel - the descendants, that is, of Jacob and his twelve sons. In this miracle there are seven baskets left over - suggesting, it seems quite clear, the seven Canaanite nations that Jesus' ancestors had been commanded to destroy.

Matthew's version of this story makes a confession: Our ancestors, led by Moses and Joshua, believed God sent them into the world in conquest, to show no mercy to their enemies, to defeat and kill them. But now, following Christ, we hear God giving us a higher mission. Now we believe God sends us into the world in compassion, to show mercy, to heal, to feed - to nurture and protect life rather than take it."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Embracing Where You Are

When we were deciding to move to Philadelphia, it was a struggle for me to get on board. For five years before, during nine months of pregnancy and four months of maternity leave, I (and later Amanda) had been praying for full-time employment so I'd be the breadwinner and she would be able to stay at home with Emily. Moving to Philly meant a pretty definitive "no" answer to those prayers.

Plus, we love the DC area. Our best friends (most of them) were there. I was playing guitar in a band again. And we LOVED our church community! There was a lot of talk about family and being a body and community that would raise kids together. It was tough leaving that.

But we did. And we now live in Philadelphia and there's no changing that.

As I was cleaning our old house in Virginia and praying this past weekend I felt conflicted. Because I still don't understand why God called us to leave in the way that he did. But I feel unburdened in Philadelphia. I'm not agonizing with God over His seeming unwillingness to answer a prayer for me I watched him answer countless times for friends of mine. I'm not feeling bitter about the situation we're in. I'm just enjoying learning more about God. I'm enjoying being home with Emily and our new neighborhood. I'm trying to get back into some more creative things. I've lost weight!

But it could've been different. I could have grown more bitter. I could be constantly questioning God. I could keep praying the prayers I've prayed for years and let disappointment and discouragement and anger rule my life.

We're always waiting for something. A job, marriage, children, retirement, new homes, etc. And we can enjoy the journey and the waiting or be bitter, constantly asking God "Why not yet?" The why questions should be asked. And there is a time and place to bare your heart and soul and grapple with God. But sometimes you need to let go and enjoy the present moment.

There's going to come a season when I'll get back on the horse and be on the job hunt again. But who knows what I'll miss if I stress about that now.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Letting Our Prayers Reshape Our Lives

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” - Soren Kierkegaard

"I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me." - CS Lewis

Reflecting in yesterdays post, along with some other things brought me to the idea of prayer. And the above Kierkegaard quote stuck out in my head. Because a unified church has to start with each of us personally. My prayer needs to be, "Lord how can I better live out Jesus' prayer that we (the church) be one as You and Him ar e one?" Our lack of respect or unwillingness to discuss, openly without judgment, the convictions and thoughts of others is something we have to take a personal responsibility for. 

This Kierkegaard quote always brings me back to Moses. 

The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’” So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people. Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God himself. When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!” But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.” When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it. Finally, he turned to Aaron and demanded, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” “Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!” Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, “All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.” And all the Levites gathered around him. Moses told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.” The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day. Then Moses told the Levites, “Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!” But the Lord replied to Moses, “No, I will erase the name of everyone who has sinned against me. (Exodus 32:7-33)

This isn't the first time Moses has had to intercede for Israel. I've posted before and I'm sure I'll say it again, Israel was a major thorn in Moses side. They kept him from enter the promise land by not believing Caleb and Joshua and trusting that God had their back. And I honestly believe it was frustration with the Israelites that led Moses to disobey God with the waters of Meribah.

But I was thinking about these stories with this new perspective in mind. What would have happened if Moses hadn't interceded for Israel? The first time Moses says "Ok ok I'll pray for you." The second time he says "Ok, ok guys, once more." But maybe the third time Moses just stays silent when God wants to wipe out Israel. What would happen? Would God have wiped Israel off the face of the Earth? Would Palestine currently be fighting with the descendants of Moses? Or would Moses have been punished for not praying for his fellow Israelites? Was it a test of Moses character?

We'll never know the answer to that, but I have some thoughts. Those prayers shaped Moses. They had! Most of us would gladly let God destroy the people who are causing us so much strife! But Moses asks God to remember his promise to the faithful who came before. Moses "reminds" God that he doesn't want His (God's) own name to seem powerless by wiping the Israelites from the face of the earth. Why would Moses keep praying for the Israelites? I don't know for sure but I have some thoughts.

Moses got to spend time in the presence of God! He got to see God face to face and talk to God voice to voice. Moses had a special relationship with God. It would've been easy for Moses to feel special and superior. Why shouldn't the descendants of Moses be the ones to enter the Promised Land? But Moses had already done hard time in the desert. He'd seen plenty while living with Pharaoh and he'd seen hardship, tending sheep as a fugitive in the wilderness for his father-in-law. And God found him, to call him back to Egypt to be the guide for his people Israel. Moses understood God's character. Moses knew that God's promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still mattered and wasn't going to go unfulfilled. It probably didn't hurt that at one point early on God wanted to kill Moses but Moses' wife intervened. (Exodus 4:24-26) Having to deal with Israel kept Moses pride at bay. Yes, he spoke face to face with God, but the people he was leading were just as stubborn and disobedient as they were when they left Egypt. While it was frustrating, I'm sure at times Moses felt bad for them. There had to be some love for them. And I believe Moses knew that Israel getting to the Promised Land was much bigger in the grand scheme of life than just someone getting there with God's blessing.

I talked in my last blog about praying for the Islamic State. That's a tall task to ask someone to pray that a terrorist group would come to Jesus because we've all witnessed and been upset and hurt by their actions. I wrote a post years ago about Love Wins and touched on the idea that there are people we don't want to see in heaven. And that's a personal issue. I struggle with certain biblical teachers, TV news anchors, and politicians I disagree with. But in wanting to see us unified and one, I have to pray prayers that don't ask God to change others, but to change myself to relate better with others. How do I engage in conversations with a healthy respect for someone I might not agree with? How do I love them and truly hear them out, and present myself and my case, without getting frustrated and calling them awful names? How do I interact with people at the grocery store, coffee shop, or homeless guy on the street in a way that shows a genuine interest in their life that reflects God's love and care for them? What should my response be when I watch TV and see terrorist killing my brothers and sisters? How do I pray for someone I'd just as easily see destroyed?

I need to change my prayer life from asking God for blessings and things, and find a prayer life that reshapes who I am and how I interact with those around me. Because those will be the things that matter more in the end. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Praying Like We Believe It Could Make A Difference

"About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered.
So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him.
Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!”
When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed." - Acts 12:1-16
What if the church collectively prayed? What if the Church - Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, etc, put aside our differences and came together under what unites and bonds us and prayed together? Could we see real change in the world?
I love this story in Acts 12 because of the simplicity. James had been killed and Peter is in jail awaiting the same fate. The church is being persecuted and those who are left could very easily be next. And they gather and pray. Imagine this happening right now. #PrayForPeter Everyone changing their avatars to Peter's mug shot. Social media activism. But probably not a lot of all church prayer meetings. 
But the church in Acts gathers to pray for Peter. Not just for an hour or two. The church was praying all through the night. I imagine they would have prayed into the next day, through Peter's trial and execution. But God hears their prayer and Peter has more work to do. The church is still praying when Peter shows up and knocks on the door. It's quite funny because they don't even believe it could actually be Peter at first. 
What would happen if 75% of the American church was so deeply moved and affected by the stories of the brothers and sisters being killed by IS and Al-Shabaab, that we stopped arguing silly laws about who should bake a cake for who and united as Christians, under the blood of Jesus that set all of us free, to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world suffering real persecution and who could lose their life at any moment? What if we believed the words of Isaiah 24, that God will turn spears into pruning hooks and swords into plows and prayed for revival in the lives of those hunting down and killing our brothers and sisters? (Instead of hoping we bomb the country and send them straight to hell) Imagine what would happen if churches across America didn't hold Saturday, Sunday, or Wednesday night services, but instead devoted themselves to praying for revival and changed hearts, and peace where there has been war and terror for so long.
Can you imagine turning on NPR (or CNN or Fox, whatever your poison is) and hearing reports that IS has destroyed all their weapons and were asking for forgiveness? We wouldn't believe it. It would be, wait for it, a miracle! 
Is it wishful thinking? Sure. Not because I don't believe God could turn the hearts of the "enemy" to him, but because some days it seems like the bigger miracle would be a unified American church. But just imagine with me, a world where our differences didn't divide us, but we stood together based on what we had in common, our status as the sons and daughters of God. What if that mattered more than what side of an issue we stood on? We would be instruments of change and bearers of peace! 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Loving Without Borders

Last week I read a story about a high school in New York celebrating National Foreign Language week. In a celebration of different cultures and in the spirit that America is a country full of diversity and citizens from around the world, Pine Bush High School decided it would have a student recite the Pledge of Allegiance in a different language each morning that week. 

Things went off the rails when they asked a girl to read the pledge in Arabic. Because apparently when we hear Arabic in America we instantly think terrorist. No, for real. Mere moments after finishing reciting the pledge, a poor high school girl was called a terrorist by fellow students. The ignorance of "This is America, speak English" began to fly. The class president who allowed the girl to read the pledge has been stripped of his duties as pledge reader each morning and will face possible impeachment. Because he let a girl read the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. There is no lack of hate in America.

As an American, I usually think about what the Bible says about how we relate to foreigners in terms of undocumented immigrants. But this morning when I read Deuteronomy 10, I had another thought. 

“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. - Deuteronomy 10:17-19

This girl is in need of love. How many mosques were vandalized after 9/11 and could have used a loving hand to help them clean up. How many new citizens enter this country feeling lost, lonely, and rejected? I think we forget that people are not our enemy. If there's a living, breathing person, God loves them. There are sons and daughters of God who aren't home yet, and it's our love that will help show them the way! Race, language, nationality, non of these matter to God. We need to find a way of having them not matter to us. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Kind of Joy That Makes You Smile

Going from living in the suburbs with a nice back yard, to living in a loft in the city, I knew changes were coming. One of those changes was the dog. With no backyard, I could no longer simply just let the dog go outside so relieve himself or burn off some energy. If Charlie needs to be outside, I have to take him. It's a minor annoyance at times. Because taking the dog outside isn't just me putting the leash on him and going outside. It involves having to make sure Emily is dress appropriately for whatever the weather might be. Because she has to go outside with us. And we live on the second floor in a building that doesn't have an elevator. So you can forget ever using the stroller when mommy's at work. I don't have enough hands for that! (I know, I know. First world problems for sure.)

But I've come to enjoy these little trips outside. Because Emily loves them! The moment we step out into the hall, her little face lights up and the chatter machine kicks into high gear. It's a new and joyous experience for her every time.

If I could bottle the joy she gets just from seeing our dog, I imagine I'd sell enough of those bottles to retire in six months. People would want that kind of unadulterated, pure, and simple joy.

Emily gets excited about and is filled with joy at everything. And yes, I understand that's mostly because her world is opening up to her more and more every day. But it's fun to watch. It's infectious! I'm not sure what it would take to get me that excited or joyful. And that's the saddest thing of all.

Jesus said unless we become like little children (Matthew 18:3), we won't enter the kingdom of heaven. Most people say to have faith like a little child. But I think we also need to be joyful like a little child. The miracles of God are all around us and we've become so accustomed to them that we don't even notice them. We walk into that hallway at least twice every day and Emily is overjoyed and excited every time! We need more fresh eyed discovery. We need innocent and pure joy. We need to find ways of taking in the world around us better so we notice the miracles happening each and every day.

Because if we, as adults, have that kind of joy, we could make a difference in those around us!