A couple of years ago, based on a recommendation, I read a gritty crime story, written and set in New York City of the 1970’s by Lawrence Block called The Sins of the Fathers. It is the first in a line of books about a depressed former detective, turned private investigator. There was a passage that struck me then and stayed with me all this time and seems especially fitting now, in our new COVID-19 reality.
“Take care. It seems to me that people have only been saying that phrase on parting for the past few years or so. All of the sudden everyone started saying it, as if the whole country abruptly recognized that ours is a world which demands caution.”
“Take care” – we all say it to friends and acquaintances alike. That phrase is now infused with new meaning today.
Taking care is our occupation right now. Our world is a world where caution is needed. Where patience is needed. Where faith is needed. Faith, in the Hebrew understanding, is not a conceptual idea (noun), but an act of trust (verb). IN the face of this world, where caution is needed, we can still trust in a God whose grace is sufficient.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
Please know that even in these difficult times of health concerns and social distancing, that God is concerned for you and not distant. God is often found when all our distractions and illusions of control and power are stripped away. Similar to the biblical character Job on the ash heap, we find our true situation that it was always about a God who gives us life, loves us, and longs to be in relationship with us. So, the best way to “take care” in these trying times is to: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.” (Psalm 55:22)
Please take care by calling upon the God who is the creator, redeemer and sustainer of your life. Taking great care in our great God will help you find great and lasting peace.
I came across this video (below) while I was … well, you know … consuming content on my phone. It’s from an advertising company out of England, commenting on how to reach and engage potential consumers. This has become increasingly difficult for them since most of us (as they say) are “time poor and content rich.” So, in order to break through the noise, they say that an advertiser must be “relevant, evoke an emotion, be creative, and have a purpose.” Well, yeah, that goes for followers of Jesus too! So, how can Christians and the Church get the story of Jesus’ love, compassion, and mercy to cut through the everyday noise of our distracted society today? Watch this video and see my take below.
Jesus preached, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” (Matt 7:1). This was as radical as it sounds today. They, like us, lived in a profoundly judgmental culture. Jesus is not saying that people are perfect, but is calling attention to our hypocrisy when we judge other, we conveniently forget our own sins. Living out non-judgmental lives will have a deep and lasting effect on those at the edges of the church. Taking a non-judgmental posture toward others is a beautiful expression of faith as we do not seek to control others and forget our failures. We, like the other, are not free from sin and in humbly acknowledging our moral failures; we grasp anew the nature of God’s forgiveness. So many people have walked away from the church because they have felt judged as inferior sinners by so called “Christians.” They are not. True followers of Christ don’t judge, but trust in the sacred gift of God’s mercy to forgive. We should all see ourselves as the grateful woman with the Pharisees house who washed Jesus’ feet with our tears and expensive oil (Lk 7:36-50).
2. Evoke Emotion
Jesus showed all the emotions that make us human: sadness, gladness, anger, pain. But the teachings and demonstrations of Jesus’ love are the most enduring. We are to love God and then our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:37-40). This will evoke a powerful response in a culture that seeks only self-preservation. Yet, even the religious legal experts knew this. So one wanted clarification on exactly “who” Jesus saw as his neighbor. Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan, underscoring the idea that it wasn’t about neighbor as a noun, but being neighborly as a verb! Making the hated Samaritan the hero of the story deemphasized the “who” and made clear God’s intention on what we all are to “do.”
3. Be Creative
The two creation accounts of Genesis emphasize the goodness of creation. In the first creation account, God creates in seven days and at the end, blesses it, and pronounces that it is good. Did you know that in Exodus, God gives Moses seven detailed sets of instructions on how to build the tabernacle or the Meeting Tent? At the end, Moses blesses the tabernacle and pronounces that it is good. You see, the wandering Israelites now have a moving tent meeting where God can come and be present with God’s people. What a creative and powerful symbol of God’s presence in creation: God is looking for a body to embody! And just like God made creation, the Covenant people are told how to build a tent for God to inhabit. Their community meeting reflective of the cosmos! We as Christians, see a further progression of the story of God’s faithfulness and love with the coming of Jesus, God dwelling quite literally within one human. Creativity is at the heart of God’s unfolding revelation to humanity.
4. Have a Purpose
Jesus’ purpose was to usher in God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). Jesus said repeatedly that the “Kingdom of God was at hand!” Then after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, the church was started. Clearly the Kingdom of God is not yet completely present with all the pain and suffering in the world, but we are here to reflect the light of Christ into all the corners of the world. This light was eloquently expressed by Paul as the Fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified self with its passions and its desires.” (Galatians 5:22-24) Why wait till you die to enjoy the wholeness of God’s Kingdom? The purpose of your life should not be deferred till after this life. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) He’s talking about your life! Living abundantly is God’s desire for your life. What that looks like for you, only you can say. What enlivens you? What are you passionate about? The church must be about helping people to give expression to the God given talents and passions that we all have. That is when earth begins to look like heaven!
Have you ever been in a situation where you were meeting someone, for the first time and only had a vague description of what they looked like? If you were lucky, maybe they let you know what they were wearing. As Christians, if we are going to follow Christ throughout our lives,, then it would be important to answer the questions, how do we recognize the risen Christ? Looking at the New Testament, that was an important question for the early church. In several passages we read about encounters and metaphors that help us identify how Christ is present in our lives.
Recognition of Christ is sometimes slow in coming. Consider the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They travel for miles talking with Christ without recognizing their friend. Yet, it was only when they broke bread together that they recall, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” (Luke 24:32). Consider Mary Magdalene, where she is the first to discover the empty tomb and the risen Lord, she does not recognize him, assuming that he is a gardener who has moved the body. It isn’t until he says her name that she truly sees who he is.
Have you ever been touched by the compassion of another? Perhaps the risen Christ was extending you compassion through that person. Have you ever had a profound conversation with someone about suffering, death, and meaning, a conversation that awakened intensity in your thoughts and a general feeling that put your whole life in a richer, deeper, wiser perspective? Perhaps the risen Christ was moving through that person toward you. Have you ever found a community that revealed an abundance of life (John 10:10), a way of living overflowing with grace and delight? Perhaps the risen Christ was moving through them toward you.
How do you recognize the risen Christ? We listen to what is awakened in our hearts through deep conversations. We attend to the voices of compassion we grow to trust. We participate in a community of abundant life. Then we know that Christ is risen indeed! Through this Lenten time, I will be preaching a series called: Encountering Jesus. We will look at several encounters that Jesus had and how they can lift our hearts, empower compassion, and reveal abundant community. Please join us as we Encounter Jesus together!
We've been studying the Prophet Isaiah here at First Baptist since September and will continue on through November. We have looked at key passages that instill a sense of hope in the face of the Israelite despair at being taken into exile. The Babylonians had destroyed their temple, captured their king, and destroyed their city. Today, we too face a metaphorical exile of sorts with severe feelings of dislocation from cultural identity and disconnection from one another is more real despite the hyper technological connections found within our phones and social media. Studies show that Americans are literally dying of loneliness. And yet, out of the darkest of nights, hope remains possible with God! Then suddenly, in the midst of a desolate refugee camp of despair, far from home in a foreign land, Isaiah speaks: a change is finally going to come! They are not forgotten; in fact the opposite is true – the dawn of a new day is breaking!
Isaiah helped the Hebrew people to imagine reality differently, the possibility of a different world, a world that God has waiting for us! Jesus embraced this dream of a new reality. I am inspired to image the Body of Christ that is compassionate to the world’s forgotten and left behind. Whether that’s a dozen refugees on a rubber boat in the Mediterranean, a scared and lonely child separated from her family at our southern border, hungry kids in our community, a family huddled in a Syrian basement praying to survive another night … “For unto them a child is born, unto them a son is given.” (Isaiah 9:6). That’s the Gospel. That’s the dream God has for our world.
That calls to my mind the hopeful song, A Million Dreams, from the musical, The Greatest Showman –
I close my eyes and I can see
The world that's waiting up for me
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one's been before
But it feels like home
They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say I've lost my mind
I don't care, I don't care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design
'Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all its gonna take
A million dreams for the world we're gonna make
There's a house we can build
Every room inside is filled
With things from far away
The special things I compile
Each one there to make you smile
On a rainy day
However big, however small
Let me be a part of it all
Share your dreams with me
You may be right, you may be wrong
But say that you’re bringing me along
To the world you see
To the world I close my eyes to see, I close my eyes to see!
(by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)
Do you see the world that Isaiah and Jesus dreamed? Pray that you might be open to the realities of the undying dawn of God’s Kingdom to enter our world through Christ in you! God has a beautiful vision “for the world were gonna make!”
I recently came across this beautiful song by Sara Bareillas, from the musical "Waitress". It speaks to the critical importance of a nurturing environment for dreams to be cultivated and grown. Basically, the song shares that dreams need a "Soft Place to Land."
It is my goal, everyday, as Pastor of First Baptist, to foster this reality in our congregation! We can be that "soft place to land" for God's dreams to grow inside and take hold of you! We can be that sense of place where God's dreams can shape and mold you into who God sees you can become! A place where hurt and shattered dreams can be mended. A place that knows that with God, "Nothing's impossible child!" That's what dreams need. That's what we are fostering here at First Baptist!
If you're "someone" longing to find your "song" this Holy Week, this might just be it. #JourneyToResurrection #DontLetTheLightOut
We celebrate the Risen Christ this Easter! Please join us as we not only hear the familiar story of Jesus’ resurrection, but also hear a lesser known passage written in Isaiah to the devastated exiles who had lost their land, their king, and their Temple. The disciples and followers of Jesus felt heartbreak and despair on that Sunday morning, like the Hebrew people in bondage in Babylon. As Jesus shows himself to be alive once more, the passage in the 49th chapter of Isaiah speaks of a God who has answered them, who has helped them, who has kept them, and has given them as a covenant. God calls on them to courageously say: “to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Appear.’”
As we celebrate Jesus’ coming out of the tomb and appeared before the whole world demonstrating a power and love that the world had not yet imagined, Isaiah’s usage of two little Hebrew verbs also suggest the cosmic purposes of God for his people. The two mandates are first to “come forth” and free the prisoners- free people from their fear, anxiety, despair, hunger, poverty, shame and guilt. Second, we are to announce to the invisible, those in the shadows, at the margins of our society, “Appear!” The power of the resurrection and the life of Jesus is to authorize all persons, all exiles, all marginalized to be fully present and visible, to be fully reconciled to life in community.
So, as we celebrate the reality of Jesus’ coming forth out of the tomb and appearing to the world, we also understand our new role to utter and enact these two little verbs: come forth and appear, so that we might become the covenant that God is seeking in the dawning Kingdom of Heaven!
We now come to Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem this Palm Sunday! He has just come from Bethany, where his raising of Lazarus from the dead made made him a first century rock star! The crowds shouted “Hosanna!” as a word of welcome greeting. Today, we use this often as a word of praise, but it was originally a word of pleading. It welcomed the one who arrived and called for the fulfillment of promises. Realizing this, we can see why the crowd who was so excited on Sunday shouting “Hosanna!” did not oppose the crucifixion of Jesus by Friday. Perhaps many of these same people, seeing that Jesus had not upheld their expectations of a political-militaristic messiah would have become disappointed to the point of shouting “Crucify him!”.
We have a similar problem with “Hosanna!” today; as we make God in our image, contort God to our desires, connect God to our tribal expectations. Let’s not limit the work of God in our lives and relationships with shortsighted understandings. Let us shout “Hosanna!” in faith and trust that wherever God wants to lead us, we will go! Let us welcome that reality this Palm Sunday!
What does it mean to be anointed? Anointing was a common ancient cultural practice. Shepherds often poured oil on the heads of their sheep in order to protect them from insects that would burrow in their ears and kill them, contributing to anointing becoming symbolic of blessing, protection, and empowerment. The Jewish people anointed the altar when making sacrifices. Spiritually, anointing was related to the idea of strength or blessing. Priests were anointed with oil, later followed by Samuel anointing both Saul and later David (one of our texts this week) as kings of Israel. This anointing signified a person as a chosen one among the people.
In the New Testament, we are told God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor" (Luke 4:18.) In Acts 10:38 it says, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power." This was a term used to emphasize Jesus as the chosen one of God.
In our texts for this week, we see the anointing of David and also Jesus with expensive perfume by his friend Mary, the sister of Lazarus. What do these passages say about the calling of the anointed? What is God calling you to become? What have you been anointed to do? Come and worship with us this Sunday as we explore these questions.
(This reflection is drawn from Jeremiah 2-:7-13)
When Jeremiah was called to speak to the devastated people of Israel, he had “something like a burning fire shut up in [his] bones.” He had a prophecy too explosive to tamp down and a God who prevailed alongside him against his fear. But when his warnings of judgement landed him in chains, Jeremiah’s faith was tested and he responded with lament. Jeremiah even speaks of God overpowering him, as if his opponent is the Lord! Once Jeremiah expresses his grief and anger over what has happened to his country, he is freed from its grip upon his soul and is able to remember that God is warrior at his side who will not allow the enemy to prevail!
I believe the Church in America has lost the ability to lament. Property gospel vendors quip, “count it all joy,” as if our troubles are mere illusions. Just “name it and claim it” and the blessings will roll in as if lament is an evidence of failure and sinful shame. Scripture contains many voices of people crying out to God in their despair and anger with God; and there is much to lament in our world. Theological factions wage “culture wars” against one another defying God’s call for unity. I join Jeremiah as he painfully writes, “I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”
I, too, am weary of gun violence in our schools, our houses of worship, our night clubs, our concerts, in our streets and homes. I want to cry out, “Why, O God, is it deemed acceptable for people to own fully automatic assault rifles?” I am saddened by the “lock-down drills” my children have to practice over and over. I want to angrily denounce our political leaders who allow very little restrictions around gun ownership or universal background checks. I am weary of the country we are becoming: a land where violence toward our children is an acceptable cost of protecting a “right.” How did we get here? How can we enact common sense gun laws that the majority of Americans and gun owners already agree with?
In the life of faith, we are given permission to lament, crying out at injustice, to scream “Why God!” God is big enough for our questions and our laments. God knows of our pressing need to get it out and yet many of us are afraid. We fear that we have somehow failed in being faithful. But we have not. We are being honest. And God wants an open and honest relationship with you more than anything! It is in this act of honest surrendering to God that we discover new hopes, God’s enduring presence, heartfelt praise and meaningful prayer. Did you know that there are over 40 Psalms crying out to God and all but one turn to hope (Psalm 88). God turns our sorrow into redemptive possibilities!
In the midst of so much struggle and sadness in the world, the Church has an opportunity to speak biblically and faithfully without ignoring reality, and we must start within. I must start within. If we fail (if I fail) to do this, the world will not see the hope that the gospel can bring to such a time as this. Indeed, this “time” is dark. Yet, despite the darkness of gun violence in our nation, we can and we must raise our prophetic voices and our actions to bring about reforms to our gun laws now. Is it possible? Indeed, it is: “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” (Lamentations 3:24)
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)