Monday, November 26, 2012

Not Dead Yet...

"You guys are still at R Street? I heard things were really weird..."

"I heard you guys were shutting down"

It's funny, the things people will say... Sometimes others' version of your story is so convincing you begin to worry that their version is the correct one... and that you are simply delusional. I am really glad that the R Street story is not my story but that it is our story. Glad that I need not trust my version of the story because we are telling the story together.

And I am thankful.

Thankful that we are still here.  With loss of place and loss of some who began the story with us... we are still here.  When logic seemed to indicate a splintering and scattering... the wagons were circled instead.  When it seemed that the last of the day's sunlight was calling us away from the playground and home to wash up for dinner; instead, we locked arms and started a new game of red rover.

I am thankful for the family i have chosen... for the family that has chosen each other. I am humbled by the fierce determination to remain a family when it would be easier, and maybe even more prudent, to scatter and join other families.  I am thankful for a community who needs and loves one another because of the life we have already lived together and for the commitment to live through the story to come... together.

And so we change... Faces change. Places change. But WE remain. And we are strong; not because we are made up of strong individuals but because we are a family who knows our individual weakness and has found that we are only strong when we are connected.  Everything changes... everything but the things that still define us...

community... mission... inclusion... worship...

And contrary to what you may have heard...  We are not dead yet.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

i still like mike

i first read this maybe 5 or 6 years ago. it is one of those articles i seek out and re-read every few months.  Mike was the founder and owner of Youth Specialties... arguably the most used resource in youth ministry over the last 2 or 3 decades.  over the last few years, virtually every conversation i have had involving youth and children s programs leads me back to this article written by the man who invented modern youth ministry.


A Better Idea Than Youth Ministry
by Mike Yaconelli

Youth ministry is a good idea. But there’s a better idea.

Before we go there, let’s look at what’s good about the good idea of youth ministry.

Good Youth Ministry

Relevance. Relevance is good. It means students can think, talk, write, and sing about the gospel in a language they can not only understand, but incorporate into their lives now. That’s good. Very good.

Relationship. Relationships are good. Youth groups are places where kids can learn something about relationships, about friendships. They learn the value of praying together, working together, being together, and serving together. In healthy youth groups they learn how to be less cruel toward those who are different; they are confronted with a gospel that asks us to love each other—even when the person to be loved is uncool, ugly, uncoordinated, overweight, or a geek. That is good. Very good.

Youth ministry is about safety. Safety is good. It gives young people a glimpse of grace. At its best youth ministry is a place where students are safe: safe to be honest, to be real, and to express what is deep in their soul. Not all youth groups are safe; but where there is safety, it is good. Very good.

Youth ministry is about fun. Fun is good, too. Very good. Young people have very few places where they are encouraged to have fun. Students should spend a lot of their childhood laughing. Youth ministry helps young people rediscover genuine laughter and fun. Fun is good.

Youth group is good.

But there’s a better good.

It’s called church.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"did god really say...?"

Reflection is dangerous. Necessary… but dangerous. Most of us have some vision, some picture of our place in the world; who we are, who we wish we were, who we are supposed to be. Those of us who assume an active deity, a god who participates and leads, often find themselves the recipient of this whispered question… the same question uttered by a serpent in a garden in our creation myth.

“Did god really say…?”

Usually we hear this question and remember that, in the creation myth, it was a trick; a manipulation meant to push the story’s heroine away from the story she was meant to live and into a new and much messier story.  We remember that this question planted a seed of doubt that grew into full rebellion. We remember that to entertain this question was to bring about the fall of the human race before it had much of a chance to stand. And in this remembering I sometimes ignore another important reality; what if this is a fair question? What if this is the question we most need to ask?

“Did god really say…?”

Sunday, July 29, 2012

rooted and grounded

r street community church ~ july 29, 2012

Ephesians 3:14-21
14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Rooted and grounded. Solid. Secure.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

07.22.2012 ~ r street community church

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

So… some of you may remember that we were looking at the gospel of Mark a couple of weeks ago. You might remember that we had just seen Jesus sort of “strike out” in Nazareth, his home town. Maybe you also remember that he followed this by pairing his disciples and sending them out on their own for awhile; with instructions on how to respond if and when any of them had their own Nazareth experience. 

Interestingly, it is not clear in Mark’s gospel where Jesus was or what he was doing during this time but the news of the disciples travels reaches Herod and causes him to remember John the Baptist – and gives Mark a moment to tell the story of John’s execution as a bit of an aside.

When we return to the narrative, the disciples have returned to Jesus and immediately began to tell him the things they had seen and done. Imagine this scene. Any of you who have sent a kid to camp can probably see it clearly...

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Shaking off the Dust

or... all that you can't leave behind

07.08.2012 ~ r street community church

Mark 6:1-13 (NIV)

6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
These verses have always come in handy when I am feeling particularly put upon or under appreciated. There is a certain comfort in the idea that anyone who does not see how wise or how awesome or how amazing I am is unable to do so because, after all,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”
Certainly a better conclusion than to consider the possibility that I am not so wise, awesome, or amazing.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shut Up and Listen...

I have said on more than one occasion that this is, without a doubt, the most terrifying passage ever spoken in scripture.
“Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” ~Job 1:8
Thanks, God… appreciate the ‘atta-boy’… thanks so much for noticing…

God is having what almost looks like morning coffee with Satan and somewhere between “pass the sugar” and “did you see last night’s game” he sort of dares Satan to mess with Job. God touts Job’s goodness and his great character and Satan reminds God that it is pretty easy to be one of the good guys when you are healthy, wealthy, and have never suffered for even a day. God strokes his beard and considers Satan’s point and finally says, “Ok. Do what you want… bring it on. You got full access to screw up Job’s life… just don’t do anything to Job, personally”. Satan chugs the last of his coffee and says, “You’re on!” and likely mumbles to himself as he walks away, “this should be fun…”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


It is a pretty common practice to re-pot a plant because the current pot is too small and the plant is in danger of becoming root bound. But… what if the pot is too big… or simply the wrong kind of pot?

6 months ago, we sold our old church building and moved out. Many churches outgrow their facilities and need to move to a larger, more accommodating space. This was not our story. Instead, we found ourselves in a facility far too large with tons of wasted space and a mortgage that had begun to define us more than our stated mission.  In short, our space had begun to require virtually all of our resources and left little or nothing for the mission we claimed to value.
Most folks know, even those with nothing resembling a green thumb, that you sometimes need to move a plant to a larger pot in order for the plant to remain healthy. Roots without room to spread become bound and tangled; choking growth. Fewer are aware that too much space can be equally unhealthy. Planting in a pot too large often allows too much soil to hold too much water. The result is root rot and disease.  The roots decay and become diseased and the plant may even die.

Our pot was too large. We were losing the strength of our roots and watching them weaken and wither. And so… we decided to re-plant. We sold the old building and moved into a smaller, borrowed space. Our community did not so much grow larger but the roots strengthened and we have begun to show signs of health and life.  We have turned our resources from the maintenance of a pot that was not right for us and have, instead, poured them into things that matter to us. Things we hope matter to Jesus. We have replaced the transmission in a local van that carries supplies to the homeless. We have built a covered patio on a transitional home for formerly incarcerated women.  We have built gardens and sorted clothes. We have sent support to missions in Africa and India. We have handed out fresh packs of cigarettes to our homeless friends. And… we have removed ourselves from an oversized pot and we have seen our community begin to bloom and bear fruit. We are becoming the plant that the seed packaged promised.

We are learning to be church re-planters.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

so... we do not lose heart (r street ~ 06.10.2012)

2 Corinthians 4:13-18

The Voice

13 We share the same spirit of faith as the one who wrote the psalm, “I believed; therefore I spoke.” We also believe, and that belief leads us to acknowledge 14 that the same God who resurrected the Lord Jesus will raise us with Jesus and will usher us all together into His presence. 15All of this is happening for your good. As grace is spread to the multitudes, there is a growing sound of thanks being uttered by those relishing in the glory of God. 16So we have no reason to despair (we do not lose heart). Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day. 17You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. 18So we do not set our sights on things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on.
So… we do not lose heart.

Here we are… half a year, 6 months into this new r street experiment. In so many ways we have already exceeded our hopes and dreams for this community. We have become more than we believed. And yet… there is maybe some disappointment; some regret for the faces we hoped we’d see along the way; over those we had hoped would walk with us out of the old reality and into the new. Maybe we even see faces we thought might join us; new faces – new voices to join us in this new journey. Wherever we find ourselves, almost half way through 2012; perspective is always helpful and we cannot hope to evaluate where we are without remembering where we started.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

i am not Tenzing Norgay... yet.

Who are you looking for? 

Miles Massey: 
Tenzing Norgay. 

Tenzing Norgay? That's someone she slept with? 

Miles Massey: 
I doubt it. Tenzing Norgay was the Sherpa that helped Edmund Hillary climb Mt. Everest. 

And Marilyn knows him? 

Miles Massey: 
No, you idiot. Not the Tenzing Norgay. Her Tenzing Norgay. 

I'm not sure that I actually follow that. 

Miles Massey: 
Few great accomplishments are achieved single-handedly, Wrigley. Most have their Norgays. Marilyn Rexroth is even now climbing her Everest. I wanna find her Norgay. 

But how do you determine which of the people on here are... 

Miles Massey: 
How do you spot a Norgay? 


Miles Massey: 
You start with the people with the funny names. 

~Intolerable Cruelty 

Last January, as folks talked of resolutions, weight to lose, bookshelves to organize; books to read; I thought of two words: Confidence and Humility. Six months in; I am still working toward that goal. I am still climbing toward that peak. I have determined that, at least for me, these are the two most needed attributes of healthy, effective leadership. And oddly… they are the two attributes that have seemed most elusive for most of my life.

It might seem strange that a human could so completely lack confidence and yet walk with so little humility. But, in fact, it is really not that unusual. You need little more than to have watched a single “Dr. Phil” show to know that most arrogance and braggadocio tends to mask deep insecurity and low self-esteem. And it is equally predictable that the folks who suffer this self-worth bi-polarity seem to often end up in positions that feed one or both of these extremes. Artists, musicians, writers, pastors, etc. seem to feed on the adulation of others and are equally starved when the adulation is withheld.

But not the Sherpa. The Sherpa, I am finding, is perhaps the most complete embodiment of Confidence and Humility. Most have heard of Sir Edmund Hillary but only the most rabid Everest enthusiasts are familiar with Tenzing Norgay. The Sherpa is typically the most skilled and the most competent climber on any Everest expedition and few, if any, climbers reach the summit without the leadership of a good Sherpa. And yet… they are invisible. Sherpa do not become famous. Sherpa do not sit down for television interviews or appear on late-night talk shows. Sherpa lead others to the summit and then let those they lead bask in the glory of the summit.

Confidence and Humility. I don’t expect to get there in the single turn of a calendar year but it is still the summit on which I have set my sights. Maybe a funny name would help…

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Pushing Back – and Coming Out

I pastor a small community in the heart of the Bible-Belt. The following email conversation occurred a few weeks ago between a friend and me.  Given the conversation and the much deserved push-back from my friend, I decided to read the following to the community I pastor a few Sundays ago…

I got this e-mail from a friend that I work with today. I know the friend that she is talking about. Read this and let me know what you think. I'd like to give her your e-mail address if you say it is okay. Peace!

“…do any of you guys know of a gay-friendly church in the central Arkansas area? A friend of mine wants to be baptized and she stepped out on faith, to ask my extremely Pentecostal father-in-law if he would do it, but he’s not comfortable with that. So, I’m trying to find somewhere she might feel valued and included. Would you let me know if you know of someplace that might be a good fit?”

sure... have her contact me.
our "church position" is somewhat nuanced - will explain when i have a little more time but, bottom line, everyone is welcome.

I've thought about this. I can't do "church position" is somewhat nuanced." I have done that. Love ya'll. Always will. Can't do hidden agendas anymore. Why doesn't God love us all with no "nuance"? 

what i mean is that all of our community are not in lockstep on this issue (or any other) one of our values is that we do not have to agree on theologies or doctrines in order to love one another. so, by nuanced, i simply mean that i can't promise that everyone in our community has the same opinion or view on homosexuality - we are too small and organic to have an official "church position" on anything.

that said... MY position is that we are affirming of anyone seeking god; gay, straight, black, white, liberal, conservative, democrat, republican. Also, i have emphatically stated that inclusion is one of our core values and have explained that position like this:

when you hear the word inclusion, when I say "everyone", if you are asking yourself "do you think he means ______..." whatever you put in the blank - the answer is yes! That is exactly who i mean.

so... as a tiny little community with very little official structure, we have no written policy on the issue of homosexuality but the PASTOR's position is that he will baptize, serve communion to, and happily follow jesus with anyone who shows up at r street.

so, again... i would love to meet her and talk with her... and would love to have her be a part of our community if it felt (to her) like a fit. regardless of theology, i can promise you that she will be loved and treasured by all in our community because that is how we roll... family is family and we do not exclude or segregate anyone from our family.

so... my initial response was inadequate but the best i could do with limited time. i hope this clarifies a bit. thanks for pushing back and making me think through my response. it helps me and i hope it helps you as well. families are messy and we have embraced the mess. "church positions" are tidy and we don't do tidy very well. what we DO do well is love god, love each other, and love our neighbor. everything else is secondary.  peace...

 “there are some who see it as their job to stalwartly guard the boundaries of the tent to keep it from crashing, and some who think it our job to be bravely inclusive and stretch the tent.
Either way, it’s misguided because …it’s not our tent.  It’s God’s tent. The wideness of the tent be it the church or society, should only concern me insofar as it points to the great mercy and love of a God who welcomes us all as friends. And of Jesus who welcomes all to his table.
You think I like that?  You think I want to sit at the heavenly banquet next to Ann Coulter?  Not so much.
But that’s what I’m stuck with because I’m in the Jesus business.  And in the Jesus business there is not male or female, jew or greek, slave or free, gay or straight, there is only one category of people: children of God. Which means nobody gets to be special and everybody gets to be loved.”  ~nadia bolz-weber

Most in our community received this well… some did not… but we are all continuing to love one another and trust one another to let love lead and overcome our doctrine. It is a journey well begun.

his kingdom come...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

no, seriously... love one another

John 15:9-17
New International Version (NIV)
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
So… like… seriously – LOVE one another.

I mean it… love one another.

Thomas… pay attention… love one another.

Monday, April 30, 2012

When All We Need is Not Enough

1 John 3:16-24
New International Version (NIV)
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children,let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

I grew up in a church tradition where phrases like “born again”, “saved”, and “sinner’s prayer” were as common as the rain.  These words and phrases carried deep meaning for me… still do, I guess (although I probably understand them differently than I did as a kid.) Another phrase that takes my back… way back to 1st Baptist Church in Monticello… is this one:

“Personal Relationship with Jesus Christ”

Me and Jesus…

Jesus is my Co-Pilot…

When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; who is by my side?

Jesus… Just Jesus… Christ alone… All I need.

Jesus plus nothing… A personal relationship.

And I wanted that. I wanted the personal, intimate, “me & Jesus” kind of experience. I pursued it. I prayed the prayer. I received Him in my heart. I believed that he was with me and that he walked with me and that I didn’t need anything or anyone else.

Me & Jesus…

He was all I needed; until I lost him.

My world began to come apart my last two years in high school. My parents divorced when I was 5 and my mom remarried when I was 7. I rarely saw my dad after my mom remarried but reconnected with him when I was about 16.  So did my mom.

When I was 17, my mom told me that she was leaving my stepfather to return to my dad (who was also married at the time). Leaving my home and my school and my friends to return to the man she had left some 12 years earlier.  Things got very real very quickly… my mother realized the foolishness of her actions and my dad realized that he did not really want a “family”. My step-dad took her back and all was forgiven; the crisis was averted… except he didn’t… and it wasn’t.

Over the next year, my step father’s bitterness grew and in the spring of 1982, he left my mother for another woman. My family fell apart and my mother came undone.

And I realized that my personal relationship with Jesus was not enough. I lost my faith… I lost my trust… and I was completely alone.

Genesis 2:18
New International Version (NIV)
18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.

Throughout the creation story, at the end of each day, God uttered this simple and beautiful phrase: “it is good”. Everything he had made was good, perfect, right. Until he looked at the one he had made in his own image… Until he looked into the eyes of the man he had created with this beautiful idea of a personal relationship with his own creator. And for the first time God said: “it is NOT good”

This man; this image of God, was alone. He walked with God. He had a personal relationship with God. He knew God intimately; and yet he was alone.

When I left home for college, I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life. My family was wrecked beyond repair – and would never really recover. And I had lost, not my belief in God, but my trust and my relationship. I was alone.

I fell in love, married my college sweetheart, and tried to find something to fill the empty space where Jesus used to live. I loved my wife. She loved me. But I was still alone. Lonely. Empty.

I could spend hours telling you what happened over the next few years, about how my wife met Jesus, about how I at first recoiled from her faith and then; found my own faith again. Those are beautiful stories but they are simply the seeds of what God had planted in me… only the beginning of a beautiful story that would soon begin to unfold.

As I re-found my lost faith, I discovered something new… something surprising… something strange. It was no longer “me & Jesus”. Jesus alone was no longer enough. I needed others. I needed family. I needed community. I needed to experience the love of God as it was poured out on me by others. I needed to pour out his love on others.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
The phrase “one another” appears over 50 times in the new testament.

“be at peace with each other”
 “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
“serve one another in love”
“be patient, bearing with one another in love”

and over and over again…

“love one another”
“love one another”
“love one another”
“love one another”

We are each image bearers of the God who made us. Each of us carry that spark.  It is when those image bearers, those tiny sparks, come near to one another that Christ’s glow becomes the light of dawn. It is when those sparks come closer still that He shines like the light of noonday. It is when we love one another best that he is most visible to us and to the world.

“This is how we know…”

My journey back to my faith did not truly begin to transform me until I brought my faith into community. He did not become fully visible until I saw him in the faces of others - In my wife, in my kids, and in my faith community. I saw him in the joy of birth. I saw him in the grief of death and loss. I saw him in acts of great faith. I saw him in acts of desperation and doubt. He became greater as I became less; and I became less when I became part of a community. Less… and yet more. Not just me and Jesus… not just a personal relationship… Not Christ alone… He became greatest when I began to not only to see him, but to experience him in others. I began to know him as I began to know others. I began to love him as I began to love others.

And… I began to believe that He loved me when I began to be loved… by others.

“This is how we know what love is…”

Over the years, other disappointments have come. Death and loss, dreams unfulfilled. I have faced other circumstances where my faith was in crisis… even in question. I have even experienced the loss of my personal conection to Christ… just as surely as I did when I lost Him in the wreckage of my broken family… but with this difference… even when He is far away, I am not alone. When Jesus seems to have abandoned me… he is still beside me as he is seen in the faces of my community. When I doubt him, my community loves me. When I despair… my family carries me; and by their hands, Jesus carries me. 30 years ago, to lose faith meant to walk alone. Today, when I lose heart, my family sits with me… hopes with me… and waits with me… waits for me to find my way back to Him.

And so… if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, who is by my side..?

Jesus; yes. But not just Jesus…

You are by my side… and you… and you

And when you reach your valley; I will be by your side.

Many of you have heard me say this…

It’s not about me… it’s about us... It’s not about you… it’s about us.

One of my favorite verses:
Psalm 68:6
6 God sets the lonely in families…

Humanity has two issues… brokenness and loneliness… Christ heals our brokenness and we heal one another’s loneliness. He heals our loneliness when He “sets the lonely in families”.

He sets the lonely in families and then - he brings families together. Small families join with other small families… and his light shines more brightly… more beautifully… more intensely.

We attach ourselves to one another to bring our small and tiny sparks together. We are warmed by the light we see in one another. And one community journeys 80 plus miles to share their sparks with the spark of another community; a beautiful family holding their own fire close to their own hearts. And we bring our fires together… we feel the warmth of the sun… of the SON. and we see Him… we know Him… we experience Him… and He is beautiful.

His kingdom come.

*sunday ~ april 29 - new mt pleasant missionary baptist church ~ cotton plant, ar

Monday, February 13, 2012

Out of Touch

Mark 1: 35-45 (NIV)
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

Last time we met, Jesus was speaking in the synagogue and then cast an unclean spirit out of a man in the crowd. In the following verses, Jesus’ fame continues to grow as he heals Simon’s mother of a fever and as others brought their sick loved ones to Jesus for healing. We read today that Jesus went away from the village to be alone; to pray in solitude. Even there, he found only a short break as Simon and the others went out and found him, interrupted him to tell him that “everyone is looking for you”. And then Jesus replied “Let’s go somewhere else”.

Not TO the ones looking for him, but to go somewhere else. Make a note there… we’ll come back.

They left the area and went to other areas of Galilee. Preaching – in the synagogues – casting out demons – but notice… no mention of healing.

And then, while in Galilee, a man with leprosy falls on his knees before Jesus and says:

“If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

And Jesus was “indignant”. Indignant?

It is interesting that the NIV uses this word. Most other translations say something much softer; “filled with compassion” or “deeply moved”. But the NIV says “indignant”

So far in our story, Jesus has called his disciples and begun to teach in the synagogues (no mountaintops or wilderness sermons… yet.) Jesus was walking the path of a Rabbi; a teacher. And yet his teaching, his rabbinic ministry, is constantly interrupted by the sick or the possessed or the needy. Even in moments of needed solitude, in private moments with the Father, the press of need would not leave him alone. Look again at verse 38.

“Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Is it possible that Jesus’ understanding of his call was being challenged? Is it possible that this is why he was frustrated… indignant… because his plan was being interrupted… by his Father’s plan? With those questions in mind, read the rest of the story:

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”
41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
My oldest daughter just turned 22. That is a long time to be a parent. In those 22 years (and 3 additional children) I cannot tell you how many times I have been engrossed in some task I deemed important; reading a book, watching a movie, writing a sermon… only to have a child enter the room and say “hey Dad!?” or, maybe from another room, “daaaaaaaaa-dy…”

I, of course, always put my work aside and look approvingly into my son or daughters’ eyes and say something awesome like, “yeah, honey. whatcha need?”

Right… always… that’s what I do… except when I don’t.

I am a bit ashamed to say that my response is, too often, to forcefully set my work aside, peer over my glasses, sigh, and say… “WHAT…?”

Maybe not exactly indignant, but you get the idea

Jesus had a plan. He had some revelation of his mission but maybe he had not yet seen the whole thing… did not yet know all that he was called to do or be. Maybe he did not see himself as a healer or a miracle worker. And yet what he saw, even if limited, could not limit who he was. And who was he? I don’t necessarily mean his power or his ability to heal. I mean who he really was, as a human. Compassionate, loving, merciful, empathetic.

The world is filled with powerful people; people with the power to make a difference, to change the circumstances of those around them. Power to end hunger or sickness. Power to be a friend to the lonely. Power to see and acknowledge those others do not see. Humanity has power. All the power we need. In fact, Jesus said that our power would allow us to do more and greater things than even he had done. But our power is not who we are. Our power does not define us. Who we are is what is inside. Our acceptance or our intolerance; our mercy or our judgement; our kindness or our cruelty. Power is a tool but the end of power depends on who we are and how we chose to use our power. Are we heroes or villains?

Perhaps Jesus was frustrated; perhaps even angry. But… we was also a man of deep compassion; compassion that would not allow him to turn away anyone in need, no matter how much they might interrupt his plans. The man asked Jesus “if you are willing?” and Jesus replied, “I am”

And Jesus touched this man, a man that was actually illegal to touch, and the man was healed, made clean. A man who had spent maybe years with little or no human contact. A man who had been forced to draw away from society, away from the villages and away from community. Jesus touched him, healed him, and made him clean. Jesus restored this man to the community and gave him back his connection to the human race. And then Jesus makes an odd request.

“Don’t tell anyone.” Why?

Now… remember verse 38?

“Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Maybe this is a clue?

See, the story ends with the man telling EVERYONE and Jesus’ desire to move through the villages, to preach and walk among the people… that wish is off the table. In the end we are told that:

“Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

Jesus healed this man and then… they traded places. The man was restored to his community and Jesus was forced to “stay outside in lonely places.” Jesus moved from one vision of his calling to a larger vision based not on his great power but on his great love for his people… a love that would ultimately drive him further from his people and a love that would ultimately drive them to crucify him. They would crucify him because they too had a vision of his ministry that was interrupted and frustrated. They too became indignant at this man whose heart led him to use his power in ways that would continually frustrate their expectations.

May we be open to the power he has given us and may we find the mercy and love and compassion to use those powers to see his kingdom come.

Friday, February 03, 2012

sarcastic swearing

Nadia Bolz-Weber is one of my "must read" blog heroes. (she had me at "sarcastic")

Great post today that includes this quote:

"I’m not a role model. I’m not really that nice (but I hope that I am kind). I’m just trying to figure out what it looks like to confess the truth about being deeply faithful and deeply flawed at the same time – and how to have humility in all of it without being self-apologetic."

Pretty good place to stand for all of us who are trying to lead (whatever that means) and a really encouraging word for me in light of my 2012 mantra/prayer: "confidence with humility"

his kingdom come

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Prove It

Mark 1:21-28
New International Version (NIV)
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Integrity. It’s one of those words that Ward Cleaver might have used in a heartfelt lecture to Wally and the Beaver. Or maybe a word you might see featured in an investment ad during a televised golf event. Most of us seem to think we have some sense of its meaning but we are ultimately hard-pressed to point to many examples. Integrity has become one of those high-minded ideals that most of us don’t really believe is still possible.

Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied and even disgusted by those who govern. The president, the congress… across the board the disapproval ratings seem to stay at - or near - historic highs. And the disappointment does not seem to be closely tied to party or ideology or even to positions on the “hot button” issues. I think our disapproval has grown out of a realization that there seems to be so little integrity among those who govern. We watch them debate or make speeches and we slowly begin to suspect that they don’t really believe most of what they are saying. We watch again and again, cycle after cycle as presidential candidates lean hard right or hard left to gain their party’s nomination and then move quickly to the center during the general election. We see this, we recognize it, and perhaps most tragically, we have more or less made peace with it… until recently.

So; if we do not find the standard of integrity met within government, then what about the church? The scandals make the headlines and certainly tell a damning story to those want to find fault with the church. But those are mostly easy targets and are really not fairly used as evidence of an integrity problem in the church. But… what about the rest of the church? And if we are going to really examine the church – and ourselves – we need to look hard at the questions we are asking and how we apply the standard of integrity.

In today’s passage, Jesus showed up at church on the Sabbath and he spoke, he taught them. And because of his words, only his words, the people were amazed “because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”
“NOT as the teachers of the law”
It could not have been his seminary degree or his education. The teachers of the law had this and more. It could not have been his title, the teachers of the law had titles (and it was Jesus’ title that would eventually get him executed). It wasn’t his money or the impressive men that made up his entourage. So what was it?

They say that the best salesperson is a man (or woman) who uses the product they promote. I think this is true whether the potential customer knows it or not. We are able to sense it… to feel the passion and authenticity. This is the reason that although virtually everyone in Hollywood is an exclusive Mac user, Apple has never had a more effective spokesman than Steve Jobs. Jobs was not an actor, not a trained public communicator, not a gifted orator. What Jobs was, and maybe what Apple misses most with his death, was a true believer. No one believed more in Apple products and innovations than the man who ran the company. Jobs was not necessarily the smartest or most technologically gifted individual at Apple… he simply believed harder and more completely – and it showed. Job’s authority and integrity came, not because he was right about Apple’s marketplace superiority, but because he completely and fully believed he was right and then acted boldly on that belief. True belief leads to vision and vision… to action.

Jesus spoke, not in dry religious recitation, not in slavery to his culture or traditions. Jesus spoke - He read the scripture, as the man among all humanity who most truly and deeply believed every word. He spoke not as an academic master of exegesis but as the author who understood the deep and mysterious meaning of the words. Not as a high-school American Lit teacher trying to explain the structure of “The Sound and the Fury” (and pretending to understand it) but as Faulkner himself explaining not only what the story means but why he wrote it in the first place what he was saying beneath the story. Jesus spoke, not as an educated observer of creation, but as creator!

And the people heard it… they saw it… they knew that he was different. They knew he had authority. And then…

A man with a demon walks into the room and challenges this authority… authority already established simply by Jesus’ teaching. Jesus speaks firmly to the demon and orders it to leave its host. The man shakes violently and the demon leaves prompting a second astonished response from the gathered crowd:

“What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”

Even with the demonstration of power… the focus remains on the authority of his teaching. Jesus’ actions point back to his words… to his teaching.

There is little point in debating the fact that much of our society has lost faith in the words of the church… they no longer believe our message. I wonder if they doubt us because they are no longer convinced that WE believe our message. I suggested earlier that we need to look hard at the questions we are asking and how we apply the standard of integrity. Are we asking the right questions? Are we setting the standard where it needs to be set?

To an outsider looking in, it may rightly appear that the church no longer even HAS a message to those beyond our walls. It might appear that we have stopped trying to share the message of Christ with those who have not experienced his love and mercy. Instead, our energy, our money, our passions are spent shouting at one another… shouting messages and words, not for others, but for those within our larger family who we deem HERETICS. We shout over heaven and hell, over competing atonement theories, over whether or not women should be allowed in ministry or even have paying jobs! We have stopped trying to convince the guy with the Dell PC that Mac makes a better computer… we are, instead, expending our energies by arguing over whether or not the black iPhone is cooler than the white one. And in the process, we miss the simple genius that caused Steve Jobs to offer the iPhone in two colors.

We have a message… a message that we must believe and live if we are to speak it with authority. A simple and yet profound message:

“Jesus loves you”

“GOD loves you”

True belief leads to vision and vision… to action. The first step to integrity, to the authority that Jesus carried, is to believe these words – to believe them fully and deeply and to allow the words to reveal our path forward. And then… we must act. If we believe, we must act. And if we believe, the opportunity to act will follow.

When we speak of God’s love, we should expect to be interrupted by demonic voices daring us to “prove it!” The demons of poverty and hunger… The demon of lonliness… The demons of prejudice and bigotry. Homelessness. Addiction. Abuse. All of these demons will step into our line of sight when we speak of His love and they will say “prove it”. And then… we act. Or; we step around the unclean spirit and move forward, with Jesus’ words still warm in our mouths. Words slowly turning from hope into a type of toxin. And the demons mock us. The demons mock us because we have proven that we do not believe in the love of God; because we have shown that they are only words – spoken with no authority.

“Jesus loves you…”

If we believe this – if we truly and deeply embrace the magic and the mystery of these words… then THIS community can become all that He has called us to be. If we live, and breath, and move, and have our being within this truth, then we will become who we say we are. People of Deep Community – of Generous Mission – of unlimited Inclusion – and of worship born in spirit and in truth.

May we believe deeply and fully in the love of Christ.

May we speak of his love with integrity and authority.

May we prove our words by the work of our hands.

And may we cast out every evil voice that would distract us from our mission to share his love with one another… and with the world.

His kingdom come.