Together ...

Do you ever read a passage from Scripture that feels like you've never read it before?

I am making my way through 1 Corinthians and landed on a very familiar section this morning...

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

I have been trained to read that passage from an individual point of view. I am God's temple. God's Spirit dwells in me.  I have always approached this whole topic from the perspective of me, a singular individual.

But you know what?

It is not about me. It is about us.

Read the last part again... "God's temple is sacred and you together are that temple.

What a beautiful reminder this morning (out of the blue!) of the beauty of God's people... together, we are the place where God's Spirit dwells.

And we should be careful to not destroy or damage that temple... We should treat it as sacred.

Certainly puts a new twist on the church, doesn't it?

There is no one but us ...

In the Old Testament, a trio of people are often cited as deserving special protections from God and God’s people … The fatherless, the widow, the orphan. Often, the foreigner is added to this list.

God knew these people were at risk in the society of the Old Testament … at risk to be marginalized, neglected, oppressed, victimized, even killed.

And so God commanded his people to take special care of these particular people in their midst. He gave special commandments, even made special rules that protected them, gave them chances to enter mainstream society again, helped them escape the noose of generational poverty, protected them from oppression and violence.

And these rules spoke to God’s people and said, “I care for this group of people in a special way, and if you follow me, you must care for them, too!”

Who are the marginalized among us today?

Might they not fit into this same descriptive trio (or quartet)? The fatherless, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner.

It matters not your political persuasion, if you are a follower of God, you are to live in such a way that you protect the marginalized, speak up for them, watch out for them, care for them, serve them, give to them, pray for them.

Often, when confronted with the marginalized in our midst, we hope for someone else to help them.

Annie Dillard addresses this common deferral of responsibility:

There is no one but us. There is no one to send, not a clean hand or a pure heart on the face of the earth or in the earth --- only us … unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and uninvolved. But there is no one but us. There has never been.”

There is no one but us.

Rule of Life

I was reading through some old notes last night and came across this little snippet of wisdom from Dallas Willard,

“To drift in this society is very dangerous.”

It reminded me why the ancients used to create and then adhere to a “rule of life,” which was a term used to describe specific practices, or habits, that each person wanted to intentionally include in their days. Some monasteries had specific communal “rules” that each monk followed. Others created their own individual “rules” that were unique to them.

Here is an example from Pope John Paul XXIII. Notice how simple it is:

* Spend 15 minutes in prayer first thing in the morning

* Spend 15 minutes reading spiritual literature

* Before bed, spend a few moments examining my conscience and making a confession to  God; then identify the issues I want to pray    about in the morning

* Set aside time for prayer, study, recreation and sleep

* Make a habit of turning my mind to God in prayer throughout the day

What do you think of this?

Do you have a “rule of life?”

Most of us do, whether it is an intentional one or not is really the question.

Pay attention to your life this week and see where your time and attention are going …

Are you drifting and hoping you will just float to where you want to be?

Or is it time to provide a bit more gentle intentionality to your days and weeks?

Why Judge?

I have often wondered how the church, which was founded on amazing grace, became a place of judgment for people struggling with sin.

Which is really all of us, if you think about it.

 Here is a thought:

I think the church moves toward judgment of those outside our walls because it is much easier to judge others than it is to love, and to submit our own darkness to the transforming ways of God.

And so we judge. Despite what the Scriptures tell us is our main job.

Paul says that love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

He says that the only thing that really counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)

The writer of 1 John says:

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (1 John 4:19-21)

Jesus said:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)

(Not to mention his summary of the greatest commandment … love God, love neighbor.)

We, by the nature of who we are as followers of Christ, are first of all called to love.

Here is a little section of 1 Corinthians that I am not sure many of us have even heard before:

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”(1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

Far easier to judge than to love…

I think Paul knew that.

I often ponder what might happen if the church became known again as a place of great love and grace, rather than a place that makes hurting, broken people feel worse than ever about themselves.

O, the tongue ...

James writes, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” (James 3:2)

Jesus says, “… for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)

I have been pondering these passages of Scripture in light of a couple verbal interchanges I experienced over the last week or so.

Let me explain:

I have been teaching on Sunday mornings at Orchard Hill Church for 15 years. Because of recent retirement and staff changes, I am now one of the senior teachers at our church. I suppose you could even call me a teaching pastor. And don’t forget, I happen to be a woman.

Despite this seniority, I still find people (mainly men) who speak to me in ways that are not meant to be demeaning, but that, in actuality, are demeaning.

One man, on a Sunday morning before I was to teach, approached me and said, “I’ll be in there evaluating you this morning!”

Another man approached me during the week and said - (and I fully believe he hoped this would be complimentary) - “I told our senior leader after your last few teachings …. ‘I think we should keep her!’”

Now listen, I am a joker. I love a little light banter; am unoffended by casual sarcasm. I don’t consider myself overly sensitive. I don't walk around demanding respect or privilege in any way.

But I wonder about these kinds of comments.

I wonder what is underneath them.

I wonder about my own words to others. How careful am I with what I say? Do I ever use my words – intentionally or unintentionally – to “keep people in their place” or to demonstrate power?

And I wonder, in the church, when I feel diminished by words from a brother or a sister, what would be an appropriate response?

Silence ...

I went out to lunch with my parents yesterday, which is always a treat.

My parents are almost 80 years old. My dad still works full-time as the senior partner in his law firm. My mom works for my dad most afternoons. They go out to lunch together almost every day. Occasionally, I get invited along.

We had great conversation. They are some of the only people besides my husband who love hearing about my kids … in detail!

However, during one part of our conversation, I noticed I was not listening well to my mom. She (a nurse) was trying to explain something medical to me, and I kept talking over her, explaining to her that I already knew what she was trying to tell me.

Yuk.

Why did I do that?

Why do I often do that?

I use my words to try to control people. To try to explain to them how much I know. To try to correct them; fix them, even.

I want to be a better listener. Do you?

First, then, we must start with silence.

“Silence frees us from the need to control others … A frantic stream of words flows from us in attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the Spirit because it puts the stopper on that.” (Richard Foster)

Oh silence, will you be my friend?

God's Mission ...

I remember sitting in a class listening to people answer the question, “What is God’s mission in the world?”

To be honest, I was really disappointed by the answers.

They were almost all kind of individualistic in nature.

Many of them were violent and kind of “end-times” oriented … the idea that all God cared about was getting a bunch of individuals into heaven before he blew the rest of the world to bits.

There were no answers that seemed big enough to be God’s, you know?

My heart and soul were uninspired.

And so I went searching, both in the Bible and from great thinkers: Where could I find a richer, deeper, truer understanding about what God’s mission is in this messed up world?

I went back to one of the modern day classics, NT Wright’s book, Simply Christian, which many compare to CS Lewis’ classic, Mere Christianity.

Here’s how Wright spells out God’s mission:

“Christianity is about the belief that the Living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this – the finding, saving, the giving of new life – in Jesus. He has done it.

With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all. A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been keep chained up.

We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access.

In particular, we are all invited – summoned, actually – to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.

In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along.”

Now that … that motivates me!

The Only Thing That Counts ...

I wonder if I really understand the challenge Jesus gives when he tells me the most important commandment is to love God and love neighbor.

I often convince myself the call to love is too simple, too shallow, too easy. I make up other goals, other things I believe matter more. And I aim for those things rather than aiming to become more loving.

But to love in the way Jesus tells and shows us to is not only of utmost importance, it is truly the challenge of a lifetime.

And one I must admit I am not very good at yet. I have so much more to learn about what it means to love like Jesus loved.

Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement says it so clearly:

“If we could only learn that the important thing is love, and that we will be judged on love – to keep on loving, and showing that love, and expressing that love, over and over, whether we feel it or not, seventy times seven, to mothers-in-law, to husbands, to children – and to be oblivious of insult, or hurt, or injury – not to see them, not to hear them.

It is a hard, hard doctrine … We have got to pray, to read the Gospel, to get to frequent communion, and not judge, not do anything but love, love, love. A bitter lesson.”

Paul writes, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

What might today look like if your sole purpose, your only goal … was to love?

Stepping on toes ...

This is what I read today in Mark Labberton’s book, The Dangerous Act of Worship:

“At a worship service I attended a couple of years ago, my attention was drawn to the enthusiastic worship leader. He opened our time with prayer, asking God to meet us … Then he turned to face forward, standing just in front of the first row of worshipers with his eyes closed and the band playing. He lifted his hands to God and offered a joyful noise to the Lord.

That’s when I really took notice, for as he sang … he kept stepping all over the feet of the people behind him. Not just once or twice, but repeatedly … he kept ‘tromping in the Spirit.’  No apology. No sign of acknowledgement.

He was just praising God while oblivious to his neighbor.

This illustration metaphorically and practically depicts a significant part of our problem [with worship.]

I have no doubt the worship leader would say that what he was doing was unintentional … He was just so caught up in his own experience of worship that he lost track of others.

In worship, he lost his neighbor. That’s exactly the problem.

For all of our apparent passion about God, in the end, much of our worship seems to mostly be about us. We presume we can worship in a way that will find God but lose track of our neighbor.

Yet it was this very pattern in Israel’s worship life that brought God’s judgment.

Biblical worship that finds God will also find our neighbor.”

Have you ever thought about this?

Does your worship help you find your neighbor?

Or do you worship God, all the while figuratively stepping on your neighbor’s toes?

 

Meanness ...

I wrote yesterday about the power of kindness.

Today, I want to write about the power of meanness.

While roaming the halls of the hospital where my son was recovering, I overheard a patient spouting the most mean-spirited, vile opinions about immigrants to a custodian who was cleaning his room. I believe the custodian was of Hispanic origin.

Later, as Will and I chatted with a young nurse in charge of the floor, she let us know that this same patient had yelled and screamed at her for 15 minutes that same day.

Two days later, I heard him yelling at the woman who brought him his food, telling her how terrible the food was and letting her know not to bring him his dinner; he was going to get his food elsewhere.

Now, I don’t know this patient’s situation. I don’t know his history. I don’t know anything about his story.

But this I do know: it seems as if our nation has become meaner.

Our radio hosts are mean.

Many of our news channels and reporters are mean.

For Lord’s sake, the political ads over the last few months were much meaner than they were factual or helpful.

People at church can sometimes be really, really mean.

It seems as if even Christians have decided that if we believe we are right about something – something cultural, or theological or political – then we have every right to be mean about it.

When we behave this way, Dallas Willard calls us  “righteously mean Christians.”

Ugh.

In the same measure that kindness is beautiful, meanness is ugly.

Just a few words from Philippians 2:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

Shine, my friends … shine!

I saw it ...

Two years ago we went to South Africa to visit my daughter who was studying at the University of Cape Town.

The natural beauty was jaw-dropping.

The culture was rich and fascinating.

The food was drool-worthy.

But the spirit of the place was something I had never felt before.

There was a vague sense of dread in the air. Everything felt a tad unsafe. Unsettled. Unmoored. Festering.

The bed and breakfast at which we stayed had multiple locked, gated entries.

Razor wire was everywhere.

We had to buzz in to a really nice restaurant … the neighborhood was too dangerous to have an unlocked entrance.

My daughter’s home had a security guard. If she was at the library late at night, she always called a car to drive her home.

On a wine tour just outside a township, we got stuck in a traffic jam and armed guards showed up on the edges of the highway, protecting us from possible car-jacking.

This was South Africa 20 years after the horror of apartheid.

“The sins of the fathers …” is what I kept thinking of.

To see black and brown people living in shanty towns that spread as far as the eye could see, while white people lived in relative luxury … well, it was just shocking.

But it should be no more shocking to me than living here. I guess sometimes you have to travel to begin to see your own situation with new eyes.

I read these statistics this week and they brought me to my knees for my brothers and sisters in this country:

“The US incarcerates a higher proportion of blacks than apartheid South Africa did.”

“In America, the black-white wealth gap today is greater than it was in South Africa in 1970 at the peak of apartheid.”

It was Christians who brought apartheid to South Africa. They thought God condoned it; even mandated it.

As a Christian in America today, I wonder what role I might be playing in the pain and suffering of my neighbors.

Of all the questions I might ask myself these days, this might be one of the most important.

God is for the poor?

I taught yesterday at one of our satellite venues.

I stated that the way the incarnation happened demonstrates (as does almost all of Jesus’ life) that God's heart, as Philip Yancey writes, tilts toward the underdog.

I shared the Scripture from Isaiah that Jesus read in Luke chapter 4 as he inaugurated his earthly ministry where he announces that God has anointed him to:

“… preach good news to the poor,

to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

recovery of sight for the blind

to set the oppressed free …”

After the service, a woman approached me quite vigorously as I tried to sneak out to get home to my family and my warm and comfortable home.

She looked me right in the eye and said,

“I have a question for you:

If God is for the poor, like you said he is, why am I still poor?

Why doesn’t my car start?

Why does my heat get shut off and no one seems to care?

If God is for the poor, why doesn’t he help me?”

“Um,” I said … “I don’t know the answer to your question. God never promised to make you ‘not poor’ but he sure promises to be with you, no matter what.”

Cheezy smile … hoping this answer will appease.

“Well, that is no help to me,” she said.

“I just want to know why I am still poor if you say Jesus came to give me good news. Where is my good news?”

When I got home I told Chuck that Jesus had confronted me about how smoothly words about God’s concern for the poor had dribbled out of my middle-class mouth from the pulpit.

I am still unsettled.

How would you have answered Jesus had he asked you this question in his “distressing disguise?”

Leadership ...

“Perhaps the most central characteristic of authentic leadership is the relinquishing of the impulse to dominate others.”

(David Cooper, Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry)

Free to love ...

The greatest commands are to love God and love others.

This is Bible 101.

Yet, we fail at this over and over; especially the second one.

I should say, I fail at this over and over...

Sometimes we think we just need to try harder and get more serious in order to do this.

I wonder if instead, we need to drink in more of God's grace for ourselves in order to be a better lover of neighbor.

Listen to this:

"God reminds us again and again that things between he and us are forever fixed.

They are the rendezvous points where God declares to us concretely that the debt has been paid, the ledger put away, and that everything we need, in Christ we already possess.

This re-convincing produces humility, because we realize that our needs are fulfilled.

We don't have to worry about ourselves anymore.

This in turn frees us to stop looking out for what we think we need and liberates us to love our neighbor by looking out for what they need."

(Tullian Tchividjian)

The more fully we allow ourselves to sink into the unearned Good News of God's grace for us, the more we will be able to live into his command to love our  neighbors as we love ourselves.

Isn't that cool how those two things are inextricably linked?

To drive back our dark ...

"I believe he [Jesus] says it to all of us:

to feed his sheep, his lambs, to be sure, but first to let him feed us -

to let him feed us with something of himself.

In the sip of wine and crumb of bread.

In the dance of sun and water and sky.

In the faces of the people who need us most and of the people we most need.

In the smell of breakfast cooking on a charcoal fire. 

Who knows where we will find him or whether we will recognize him, if we do?

Who knows anything even approaching the truth of who he really was?

But my prayer is that we will all of us find him somewhere, somehow,

and that he will give us something of his life to fill our emptiness,

something of his light to drive back our dark."

(Frederick Buechner)

Those who humble themselves ...

For the last 2 days, I have found myself in a court room watching jury selection for a double-murder trial  take place.

I was not there for fun. I was part of a group of 75 citizens called in to potentially make up a jury pool for this case.

I was one person away from having to sit in the semi-final pool of 36 from  which the final 14 were selected. Due to the fact that many folks were stricken from the pool for various reasons, we all had to stay in the courtroom until the jury was finally selected and sworn in,  just in case...

Most of this was boring.

But when the lawyers, both for the defense and for the state, started to question the potential jurors, things got very interesting.

Here is what I noticed:

All of a sudden, people who had grumbled previously about "having" to show up for jury duty, seemed to want to give all the right answers, to please the lawyers, to demonstrate their brilliance, their knowledge of the law, their fair-mindedness...

It was fascinating to watch people try to describe themselves... only a few admitted flaws.

Many really liked talking about themselves, telling part of their life story, even describing the organization style of their closet!

But you know what happened in the end?

Not one of the "look at me! look at me!" potential jurors got selected.

Not one of the "I would never be biased one way or another" people got selected.

Not one of the "thank you for asking me a question about ME!" people got selected.

The final 14 -- those selected to provide justice in this case -- were the quiet ones, the humble ones, the ones who answered questions honestly, who said things like, "sometimes my mind wanders..." or "sometimes I don't make good decisions" or even (God forbid!!) "I don't know."

It all seemed very biblical to me...

"Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. And those who humble themselves will be exalted."  (Jesus)

I was pleased for both sides when I walked out of the courtroom yesterday free of jury duty... I believe justice will be served.

The right people - the humble, the honest, the real - got selected.

Godspeed to them!

A constant evasion ...

TS Eliot said,

"Poetry may make us...

a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being,

to which we rarely penetrate;

for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves."

 

Exactly the opposite ...

So, I am reading a book called "One-Way Love" by Tullian Tchividjian, who happens to be Billy Graham's grandson.

It is a powerful book on grace.

This morning I read about how Tullian was kicked out of his home by his parents when he was 16.

To say he was a bit of a rebel is an understatement.

But he tells a story about how he used to wear earrings, and how it drove his parents crazy.

People then ask him, "Well, how did your grandparents respond? How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat you during your rebellious phase?"

This is what Tullian writes:

"They treated me exactly the opposite of how I deserved to be treated. 

For example, I wore earrings back in those days... It used to drive my parents nuts.

Every time my grandmother - Ruth Graham - came down to visit, she would bring me a fresh set of earrings to wear!

They were always funny.

At Christmastime, she would bring me ornament earrings and make me put them in and take a picture.

At Thanksgiving, she brought fork and knife earrings, and she took a picture.

She made light of it. 

She wasn't making fun of me.

She was saying, 'This isn't a big deal He's going to grow out of it.'

It may sound pretty trivial, but it meant the world to me.

Everyone else was on my case, and instead of giving me one more thing to rebel against, my grandparents drew me closer."

Beautiful...

How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat their rebellious grandson?

Exactly the opposite of how he deserved to be treated.

Meaning, they treated him like God treats all of us.

Who are we to judge?

It is pretty stunning to me when people believe it is ok to publicly question another person's faith.

Of course, I am thinking of certain politicians... and our president.

It is actually a very ugly thing to do.

Who are we to say?

The world watches and, I believe, finds it repulsive when folks who automatically assume (of course) that their faith is beyond question and "how it is suppsed to be," believe it is ok in the eyes of God to announce that other people may or may not be "true Christians" based on a checklist of their own choosing.

Of all the human behavior that God appears to chastise most severely in the Scriptures, arrogance, self-righteousness and judgment of neighbor sit pretty high on the list.

Kindess, humility, mercy... now those are some of God's favorite things.

Politicians or not... stop the judging.

Speak kindly of others.

Assume that perhaps you are wrong.

Remember the mercy with which God treated, and still treats, you... 

And then... out of wisdom... shut your mouth.