Monday, June 28, 2010
After I teach Tuesday morning, our family is driving to Amarillo for a family reunion with Kayci's side of the family. Two boys in a car for that long...thank you whoever invented the portable DVD player!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
We know the dude walked away sad: maybe he embraced Jesus' challenge and changed his life...maybe he rejected the teaching. Either way, he asks a question and Jesus gives a response that has been messing with people for centuries.
When it comes to spirituality, the guy is concerned about one thing--"eternal life."
Matthew 19:16, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?"
The answer Jesus gives the young-rich-guy-with-power has nothing to do with eternal life.
Jesus says, "If you with to enter into life, keep the commandments."
After a brief dialogue about rethinking the commandments, Jesus says, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
Jesus doesn't seem to be too concerned with the original question about "eternal life".
He gives all of his attention and time to "this life".
This is what bugs people. Actually, it can tick them off.
The easist thing to do is to spiritualize the passage. That is, make it all about the heart being right with God. And this way, we can keep "our stuff" out of it.
The other thing to do is to water down the words of Jesus to only address priorities. Again, this way we can keep our stuff out of it.
I don't think the words to "sell everything" are a direct command for everybody, but I also don't want to dismiss the fact that Jesus is pretty passionate about speaking challenging words into cultures of materialism and greed.
But here's where I think we really miss the point of christianity. Sometimes we are too concerned about "eternal life" and not as tuned in to the fact that Jesus is seriously invested in what happens in this life. Our image of God is that we want him to prepare a great place when this world is over, but we want ultimate control over our stuff and time while on this world. This doesn't seem to line up with the story of Jesus in the NT.
Case and point--I think we can talk about heaven easier than we can talk about the activity of God in the here and now.
I taught three classes at Harding Uplift yesterday. I had a few hundred in the first class. I couple of hundred in the second and about a hundred in the third. I began each class with this statement, "I need two people to raise their hands." Immediately, like 20 hands go up before I even told them why I wanted volunteers. Then I said, "I need two people to share with me how God has worked in your life this week at Uplift." Every hand went down and everyone was trying to avoid eye contact with me in fear that I was going to call on them.
I simply wanted to hear testimonies. It wasn't meant as a test.
And...the kids couldn't do it. I had one raise their hand in the first class. After a long period of silence I had two raise their hands in the second class and I finally had one in the third class.
Now, do these kids love Jesus? Absolutely. They were great kids who had a hunger for Jesus. It was evident. But, when it came to articulating what God was doing in their lives, they didn't know how to talk about it.
I've received the same silence with adults both in worship services and in small group settings.
Why is this? I don't know how well we are doing at teaching people how to speak about God in everyday life. When it comes to articulating the activity and movement of God in the here and now, I'm afraid we are often mute on God. We can quickly go the end of times and talk to people about what they will miss if they don't prepare for eternity (and don't get me wrong, this is important) but I think there are people all around us who are eager to experience the abundant life right here...on this earth...where they are walking and sleeping today. I think one of the greatest challenges for Jesus-leaders today is to empower people to speak about God in everyday life. How do we teach this? How do we model this?
Sunday, June 20, 2010
As someone who has been planning worship services for nearly a decade, the question always comes up, "Where do we place announcements this Sunday?"
No doubt that announcements can be beneficial. It's information about "body life" and it can serve in a way to help the body pray and function together.
On the other hand, announcements can easily disrupt a flow. Sometimes announcements are nothing more than reading everything in the bulletin which is already in the hands of everyone in the church.
So here is my question: What should be the function of announcements within the public assembly? What is the best way to inform people of things going on within the life of the church?
Thursday, June 17, 2010
I was talking about how God has chosen to join us in the crossroads and intersections of life and what this means for us. I began sharing the impact this has had on my life in 2010. I told them that on Feb.3rd my sister, Jenny, sent me a text that she was running a fever of 105. We exchanged a few text messages and the last one I received from her, it was actually the last coherent conversation I would have with her, was Jenny telling me that even in her sickness, she was praying for our home to sale and for us to find a great place to live in inner-city Memphis. I told the kids that on February 4th she went into the hospital and was immediately placed in ICU.
One thing I realized in this moment was that if you talk about a sick sister in ICU, you get every one's attention. :)
I talked about this for a few moments and then I said, "On February 22nd, she breathed her last breath."
I never expected what happened next.
Someone yelled out, "We love you Jenny!"
Then, the place started clapping and people began yelling:
"We love you."
"We were praying for you."
"You are loved."
"Our church was praying for you."
I was stunned. Shocked. Frozen.
It was moment in which the grace of God rushed over me.
I'll never forget it.
Malaya was baptized last night at Bammel Rd. As soon as I get pictures, I will post a few.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I'll get back to this picture in a moment.
First, the good news of Jesus spread like wildfire in the 1st century world because it spoke a word into people's emptiness.
Jesus was a magnet for empty people.
So, this bleeding woman approaches Jesus in Mark 5. She's been bleeding for 12 years. According to Leviticus 15, she is unclean and anything she touches becomes unclean. Unclean kept you at a distance from society. There'd be no intimacy with a spouse or lover. No synagogue. No sacrifices. No contact with a priest. Basically, life sucked for you. 7 days of this was bad...try 12 years.
Funny story. A.J. Jacobs (the author of "The Year of Living Biblically") spent 1 year attempting to follow every single command in scripture. Most of the book is absolutely fascinating because he's not a believer, but to follow every command means you have to pray and do other things that connect you with God and it really started to mess with him. There are funny stories like throwing pebbles at people in Central Park because they were breaking the Sabbath and the OT commands people to be stoned for doing it.
One night, Jacobs and his wife got in an argument. The next day he came home from work and he went to sit on the couch and his wife said, "I sat on the couch."
She was fully aware of Jacobs 1-year commitment and she knew that the OT teaches that anything a woman touches while she is bleeding is unclean.
So, Jacobs went to sit in the recliner. Again she said, "I sat there too."
Jacobs attempted to sit in one of the chairs at the kitchen table. Again, "I sat in all of the kitchen chairs."
Jacobs had no where to sit. He ended up having to buy one of those folding camping chairs, which he began taking with him everywhere because as far as he knew, every chair in New York probably had a bleeding-woman who sat in it over the past week.
She knows if she can just touch Jesus' clothes that she'll be healed. So, she begins maneuvering her way through the crowd. Have you ever realized the risk she is taking by doing this? She's in a town in which most people probably know her as the bleeding lady...I mean...she has been bleeding for 12 years. I'm assuming she is veiled to cover up her identity. But anyone she touches is unclean. She touches Jesus and she immediately knows that she has been healed. End of story, right?
No! Jesus then exposes her by asking, "Who touched me?" Jesus asked a question in a public setting that exposes this woman for who she is. Is this a merciful move on the part of Jesus, or not?
The woman gives in and confesses.
Here is where it gets interesting. Jesus could have...and SHOULD have...sent her to the priest. He SHOULD have sent her to the place where she would offer sacrifices to make her right with God and with the synagogue.
But he doesn't.
Jesus skips straight to SHALOM. He goes straight to "peace."
Mark 5:34, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. GO IN PEACE, and be healed of your disease."
The peace that is found in SHALOM is more than Truitt meeting me at the front door when I go to work...holding up his two fingers while saying, "Daddy, PEACE" as a way to say, "Peace out."
Shalom meant wholeness, completeness, harmony, rest, rhythm, etc.
This is what Jesus gives Ms. Bleed-a-Lot.
I preached on "peace" this past Sunday. While preparing this sermon, I felt compelled to take a prayer drive through my city (Memphis) to think and pray about peace.
There are so many things about Memphis to love: pork bbq (yes, Rick Atchley, it actually qualifies as bbq), music, history, culture...a special place of the "King's"--Elvis, MLK, Don & BB.
There are also valid reasons that Memphis has received the reputation it has today.
-We are ranked #2 when it comes to violent crime. Thank you Detroit for surpassing us last year.
-Forbes magazine listed us as one of the top 3 most miserable cities to live in.
-Racism is still rampant.
So, I went on a prayer drive because I was eager for God to speak a word of peace into my life.
My journey took me to Caritas Village.
This is one of my favorite restaurants in town. It is a community set within an impoverished neighborhood that exists to bring hope and change. You can see a bunch of wires to the left of this picture. They are in the shape of a human. If you were to count them you would get the number 147. Two weeks ago, a prayer service was held at Caritas. In the last year, 147 people were murdered in Memphis. The focus of the prayer service was to pray for peace/shalom to come to our city. Passionate prayers were prayed for God to come and end cycles of violence.
From there I went to Hope House.
Hope House is a daycare that serves families who suffer from the AIDS epidemic. To qualify for Hope House, one of your parents must be infected and you have to be under the poverty line. Walking into this place will rip your heart out. You are staring into the eyes of 6 month to 5 yr-olds...1/3 of them were infected from birth...and most of the kids either will lose their parent before they turn 16 or they will die before they turn 16.
Peace? Shalom?Then, I went to Babyland. This picture at the beginning of this post is from Babyland. #1092 means nothing to most of you, but it represents an infant who died in Memphis whose family couldn't afford a burial. So, there is a field in Memphis where these infants are buried. Most of them don't have a name on their grave...they have a number.
There are more than 17,000 infants buried here.
If you want to read about a nurse who knew some of these babies personally, you've got to check out my friend's blog, Callie, who wrote about Babyland. You can check it out here.
One of our zip codes here in Memphis has a higher infant mortality rate than some 3rd World countries. Every 43 hours an infant will die in Memphis...and most of them die of preventable problems like no prenatal care, abuse and malnutrition.
I spent a while praying in this field.
I saw hundreds and thousands of discs with numbers.
I saw a few stones with names.
Here's what gets me...it's Jesus.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
He doesn't bless people who stand for peace or those who love peace or those who pray for peace. He prays specifically over people who MAKE peace.
So, if we are not creating peace among those around us, we are not being true to our baptisms, which enlist us as agents of peace.
The resurrection of Jesus has invited us into God's Shalom...we are called to join in his ongoing work of implementing the wholeness and harmony of peace in this world...here and now.
I'll tell you this, prayer-drives to focus on peace will smack you in the face and challenge your values. Enter such prayers at your own risk. Jesus might just do something to you.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
But we do it.
Remember, stiff-arms are all about creating distance, space, and separation, and we often do this with God...sometimes intentionally...sometimes subtly. I might not be too far off in saying that keeping God at a distance is where we like to hang out and camp.
What so much of spirituality boils down to is this--what are your expectations of God?
High expectations--means you live with the faith that God is very much involved in every day affairs and that He is eager to intervene and intercede in this present world.
Low expectations--means that you believe that God will take care of everything in the end, but that he's not concerned about interceding in every day affairs. One day, he'll make the world right.
Here's the kicker, if you choose to live with high expectations of God, moments will present themselves when you will feel like God has let you down...
...like he has made a wrong turn...
...like he has turned a deaf ear...
...like he has been silent and still.
So, let me give a little advice IF you want to save yourself from ever feeling like God has let you down...live with low expectations of God. Expect him to make things better in the end. But don't expect divine intervention in day-to-day life.
Many people call this "deism". It supposes that God has a plan for the universe, but that divine intervention isn't on his radar or agenda. For years, I thought that deists were crazy. After February of 2010, I've come to see that many times people become deists (even though many people wouldn't admit it) in order to protect God. Some things happen in life, and there's no way to describe it, but that God has his hands off but one day he'll set the world straight.
But, if you choose to live with high expectations of a God who is still eager to participate in a world in which he is deeply concerned about day-to-day life, then know this, there will come moments when we'll be forced to ask, "At what length do I want to keep God?" Because ultimately, the stiff-arm will inevitably become a form of idolatry, which is where many of us are in our prayer lives, because we use God for our purposes, plans, and agendas. And if we keep God at a distance, we can free ourselves from ever feeling like God could let us down again.
Call my faith small if you want, but today it is with hesitation that I choose to live with high expectations, and I have faith that God can do something with that.
What about you, do you have much experience in trying to keep God at a distance? Do you struggle to live with high expectations of God?
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Our staff from SVC hooked up with her for lunch last Tuesday. One of the cool things about hanging out with Kerry is that you get to take a picture with her "I Love Memphis" sign. Below is our team from SVC.