Summer bloody summer: A Lectionary Reflection.

BAHRAIN-1-articleLargeOccasionally, I have the chance to write for Folio, a fantastic lectionary resource from Beacon Hill Press (check it out here). Below, you will find my August post.

This past week was a difficult one for me. I’m a Ferguson, Missouri native, and from a distance I watched as the streets I called home, and the streets in which I frequently drove were marched upon, bled upon and wept upon.

Now, this post isn’t about the riots. We have neither the space nor time to do this unrest justice. However, in the midst of my pain last week, I found myself comforted by the weekly lectionary passages. Funny how the lectionary does this over and over again, right?

Preaching through Matthew 15, and reflecting on the Canaanite woman, I was reminded that every single one of us approach Christ with a deep unworthiness.

While we are tempted to view ourselves and others through the lens of the law and our ability to obey the rules (our modern day cleanliness law), we must quickly realize we’re never going to be the product of the things we do or don’t do. Our abstaining from [insert item/rule/law/socially acceptable behavior here]

The Canaanite woman reminded me of one simple, yet profound, truth: It is our humility before God which holds the weight of holiness.

In Matthew, it is a nameless gentile woman who reminds us that this humble approach is enough. In a world filled with ego-puffing, self-aggrandizing, political division and instagram-filtered faith, our words hold a greater meaning than the image we project. It is our words, after all, which betray our inner-most thoughts. We are what we eat say.

In the midst of this bloody summer….

Read the rest of this post here.

(Edit note: I changed the post picture due to a feeling that I was possibly propagating a false stereotype and a false understanding within this conflict)

Lectionary Reflection: When “Dogs” are greater than Pastors

 

 

Today we’ll be wrapping up our Lectionary series.

Our passage this week comes from Matthew 15:10-28…

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

So, what’s going on here?

In this passage, we’re reading two conversations. One with the Pharisees, and later on, one with a Canaanite woman.

These conversations look somewhat isolated, but in many ways they are also connected.

The Pharisees

Jesus and the Pharisees have common thread that runs through nearly ever one of their disagreements.

Law versus heart.

What is the reason for your commitment to God? What is your attitude? Are you humble? Are you gracious? Loving?

You see, within the Pharisaic world, there was a belief that the Messiah would come when Israel fully obeyed the laws of God.

They believed it was the laws that brought redemption and purity. This was the background of their fervor. The future was at stake, and the pharisees viewed the Jewish people and their actions by these unrealistic and unattainable standards.

This thread runs to the heart of the argument we begin with today. They are arguing about food, and what food makes you unclean.

Jewish people had, and still have today (if they follow the Jewish Orthodox faith) extremely strict rules for what they eat, and how they prepare their food.

To eat something forbidden is and was to defile themselves. To defile themselves meant they needed to offer sacrifice or risk a falling away from their family and religious community. There is incredible social and religious pressure here.

For Jesus to have this debate with the Pharisees is for Jesus to go against hundreds, and even thousands of years of law and tradition.

The Disciples

This conversation is so shocking even His disciples aren’t sure if Jesus really means what he’s saying. Because of this doubt, the disciples come up to him afterwards and ask, Jesus, you sure that’s what you mean?

And Jesus, frustrated they’ve once again missed the point (this happens quite often, doesn’t it?) replies, “Are you still so dull?”

Which is a fantastic response. He says, “really, seriously? You STILL don’t get it?!” ::Insert messianic facepalm here::

He goes on to explain that what goes in doesn’t define a person. After all, it’s just food which will get broken down, and released into the toilet. A dirty and unclean end.

What comes out of our mouth, however, that has a deeper meaning. It unveils the secret parts of ourselves. It shows what we try so hard to mask.

It shows our heart, and unlike our the food we eat, our heart endures.

We see this in a far more deep and meaningful way.

First, though, let’s continue the story now:

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Tyre and Sidon

Immediately after leaving the Pharisees, Jesus and His disciples went to the land of Tyre and Sidon. What’s important to know about Tyre and Sidon is that these towns were Gentile cities, and were located some 50 miles away.

This journey wasn’t an accident. Jesus went all this way to meet this one Gentile woman’s need.

A Canaanite woman

To understand the full magnitude of who she is, and where they are, it’s important to know that Matthew included “Canaanite” here for a reason.

Matthew wanted his readers to know that she was an unclean, and unwelcome woman. Her people were historically the ones who broke the laws of purity and worshiped other gods. They had a name and reputation as those not welcomed.

When this unknown Canaanite woman first calls out to Jesus, she calls him the Son of David- a public statement of who she believes him to be. She believes He’s the Messiah. Shocking because this is an understanding most Jewish people, as well as most religiously educated leaders, could or would not believe.

With this woman having such a deep understanding of who He is, you’d think Jesus would have jumped at the chance to heal this woman’s daughter who was afflicted by a demon, right?

He doesn’t.

The Canaanite is calling. Calling. Desperately calling.

Jesus, however, doesn’t respond. It’s important to also notice the passage doesn’t say He doesn’t hear…only that he is silent.

This is strange, and Jesus’ disciples pick up on it.

They tell Jesus, “Send her away…” the word for “send” having the understanding of a request being fulfilled. In other words, they said, “Give her what she wants Jesus so we can have some peace and quite!”

He responds, honestly, rather coldly. He tells the disciples and to the lady who is now next to him, that he wasn’t sent for the gentiles. He was sent for the Jews.

Undeterred, She comes back by dropping to the ground, kneeling before him, and pleading with him. She pleads, “Lord, help me!”

Seeing her dedication, Jesus rebuffs her one more time.

Jesus says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

Here you will find some cultural baggage. It was common in the Jewish world at the time, to compare gentiles, or those outside the Jewish faith, to dogs.

So, this is a bit disconcerting, right? I mean, if Jesus is truly concerned with care, love and compassion, why would he compare this poor woman to a dog?

Two thoughts:
1. 
It’s not quite as bad as it appears. If you dig down into the language of this comparison, you’ll find that Jesus softens this word. Instead of comparisons to mangy street dogs- the typical comparison- Jesus compares her to a house pet. An animal which is cleaner, cuter, and more acceptable of love.

Many commentaries even suggest that, were we to hear the tone in which Jesus spoke these words, they would have been in a more playful and soft manner. Not hard and calloused as it seems by text alone.

However, we will never know that for sure.

What we DO know brings us to our second point.

2. Jesus is working towards an end goal here. He is moving this woman to a particular place. He’s not being calloused and he’s not being cruel. He is being true, and he’s being King.

In front of this crowd, Jesus lays this woman bare. He names her for what she is; a woman, without hope of acceptance at the table of spirituality. He names her as unwanted (by Jewish standards) and without any place and without any worth. He says, you’re not quite as bad as most people say, but what makes you think you deserve a miracle?

Jesus is leading this woman to a place of his choosing. He’s calling and inviting, and she responds magnificently.

In response to this calling her a dog, the Canaanite woman says: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

This is as beautiful a response as could be given.

Jesus publicly names her as the woman she was; a woman without hope of a future. She had no name, no religion and no Jewish social standing. This woman was, in every sense of the word, worthless to the world. And I’m sure to her, in her heart, she felt worthless to God as well.

She really, truly gets it

Jesus puts this into words when she says, “Jesus, you’re right. I’m not worthy. I’m not a child of the King. I understand you’re focus isn’t to people like me. I know there are more worthy people to save. I get it.”

She goes on to say, “even if I am a house pet, that’s worth something, for even a dog will themselves privy to a few scraps here and there. Yes, Jesus, I get it. There’s many who are higher than I. But even if it’s possible to be blessed with the scraps from your table, that’s more than enough for me.”

Boom. A moment of theological depth and understanding.

This woman without a name, and without a background, understood what those who studied the Law never could; We are all without a name. We are all without a title. We are owed nothing. Hope isn’t a luxury people like us have.

This truth was spoken, and from this womans mouth came who she really was.

We come back full circle to this conversation with the Pharisees.

The pharisees believed they were defined by their ability to refrain from the things that turned them into common dogs.

The Canaanite woman understood that no matter what she did, she would never be enough, and through this humility, spoke the truth that only God can make right.

The sum of who she was added up to the worth of a common household pet.

Only God can invite to the table, and only God defines who is welcome.

Because of this Canaanite woman’s faith, her daughter was healed.

This story comes to a close as Jesus tells this woman that her faith has healed her daughter. He says she is a woman of great faith, and because of this, because she gets it, her daughter- her offspring- will reap the benefits.

The Pharisees and the Canaanite woman both came into contact with Jesus, and only one found the gift that Jesus was offering; the gift of life.

The Kingdom of God is a backwards place. A place where dogs are the greatest and the religious leaders are relegated to the latrine.

#Ferguson, the church, and a call to unity

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Full disclosure: I’m a white male.

I lived in, and attended school in Ferguson, Missouri, and as a result have a deep love for that beautiful city.

One blogger recently wrote, “I keep hearing that “violence erupted” in Ferguson, Missouri after a police officer shot an unarmed black man. This headline is a bit misleading, seeing as how Ferguson is one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden towns in America, so violence is already in a perpetual state of “eruption.”

This is not the Ferguson I know.

The Ferguson I know is beautiful brick houses, delicious food, ethnic diversity, a local farmers market and a unique cultural ability to shop and rub elbows with those who look different than you, speak differently than you, and were raised differently than you.

This has created a community stew that is unique and beautiful.

Experiences may vary.

While I grew up in Ferguson, I also realize that I didn’t experience the same Ferguson that others experienced.

Never did I experience racial profiling.

Never did I experience harassment.

Understanding this, when I watch these riots, and hear the story of Mike Brown and how he was fatally shot by a police officer, from an experiential standpoint I simply cannot relate with the pain and experiential hardships of those who live in Ferguson and the country at large.

I can’t relate because the color of my skin sheltered me from this difficult reality.mourning

White like me

These days, I am the pastor of a church in Northern California which has taken me far from the neighborhoods of my youth. These brick-built neighborhoods, however, still own significant real estate in my heart. This hold has kept me glued to my computer watching live feeds, reading twitter trends and reading Facebook posts in search of news.

It is what I’ve read that breaks my heart.

I watch as fellow white people dismissively cite “black-on-black” violence to downplay the issue of police brutality and profiling.

I watch as Dr. King quotes are passed, from white person to white person, as a protest to the rage those in Ferguson feel.

I watched as white people cite twitter posts which talk of “looting” white neighborhoods as if they’re the cultural expectation and norm.

I watch, and am brutally reminded that the senseless death of a 18 year old young man has re-opened the wounds of racial division in our country, and we Caucasians have no idea how to handle the discussion of race in America.

As a result, I want to share a few [incomplete] thoughts and words with my Caucasian brothers and sisters:

1. The riots and burning buildings do not represent the African American community in Ferguson:

Yesterday, I watched press conferences led by African-American leaders (local pastors and councilmen, as well as national NAACP leaders) calling out their own community; asking them to protest, but to do so respectfully and non-violently.

These leaders called for community care and respect. They called for a renewed dedication from mothers and fathers to instill family values in their children. They called for the police department to create more accountability.

These passionate speeches resonated with the depth and brilliance of Dr. King. These were speeches that went unreported, and discussed.

2. If you’re having conversation about the Ferguson protests with only white people, you need to expand your cultural circles or stay silent.

As much as we might try to disagree, the reality is that we cannot learn the struggles and pain of others when we are unwilling to enter into their world and listen. We’ve been afforded a cultural leg-up, and as a result, must accept that not all reality is our reality.

So, to share our reflections on another culture, we’ll only be spreading misinformation…and that will only serve to further divide. It will never help. Only harm.

3. If you are a church leader

I plead with you to find a way to use these moments of pain and suffering to begin the process of reconciliation and unification between African-Americans and Caucasians in Ferguson and St. Louis as a whole.

Pastor of an all-white church? Find a neighboring all-black church, give them a call, and ask how you might love and support them during these moments.

Serve. Love. Support. No conditions.

Fight the temptation to stay inside your church walls.

While the city of Ferguson bleeds, the church has a beautifully unique opportunity to model reconciliation and love and to do so inter-racially and inter-culturally.

The church must lead on the issue of cultural reconciliation. Pastors, it’s on us…so embrace this opportunity! It may not be given again.

4. Refuse to racially stereotype

Our African-American brothers and sisters are not the sum of the stories our news and media share.Police Shooting-Missouri

They are a beautiful people, many deeply committed to Christ. They love their family. They love their children. They are passionate about life, art, and their culture.

They are no different than you and I.

Our brothers and sisters have however experienced generational pain and cultural/systemic exclusion which is completely, and altogether foreign to us in the white/middle class majority.

Understanding this, we must unapologetically refuse to discount them as “those angry black people.” Even if they are angry, we must remember that anger is a natural response to the experience that something is not right, or that some injustice has been committed. When we come across someone who is angry, instead of discounting their emotions, we must question along-side of them and seek understanding.

We must ask permission to enter into their world, learn about their lives, and seek out ways in which we might find unity and support for one another.

Ours cities will never heal if we’re not first willing to listen, mourn and empathize together.

*Edits made to correct Mike Browns age, and a statement dealing with the rioters.

When walking on water is hazardous to your faith

Photo credit:  Massimo Strazzeri

Matthew 14:22-33:

Jesus Walks on the Water

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

What’s going on here?
We learned last week that Jesus was tired and in mourning. He was grieving the loss of his friend and cousin, John (The Baptist). We learned, in response to this grief, that Jesus was sailing across the lake to spend some time alone.

We also talked last week that this was time alone that Jesus didn’t immediately get due to the crowd being present when Jesus arrived, and because Jesus was compelled by compassion to feed and heal those around him.

After the meal and miracles, Jesus then sent the disciples away so that he might have some time alone.

He needed to recharge. He needed to be alone with his Father. He needed time in solitary prayer.

There is also thought that possibly Jesus sent the disciples away to let things calm back down. Maybe this was an effort to keep people from working themselves into a messianic frenzy. After all, he had just broken every physical law known to man.

No matter the reason, we see Jesus sending the disciples across the lake.

A season of rain.

During this time, the land was in the midst of their rainy season. Much like we experience here, the rain came in bunches in Israel. They had rainy seasons, and they had dry seasons.

As the disciples crossed the lake, they were met with storms so violent and rough that the disciples were blown off course from their original destination.

These were men who grew up on the water, and were familiar with boats. They were accustomed to storms and the violence that came along with the storms…so for them to be blown off course, this had to be a terrifying moment for them.

This terror was compounded when they saw Jesus walking towards them on the water.

Imagine if you were the disciples.

Sure, they had witnessed many miracles. They were just coming from one of the greatest showings of Christ’s power with the feeding of the 5000, however, they still had a difficult time processing what they were seeing.

Maybe it was because it was late. The Bible talks about the Disciples seeing Jesus on the 4th watch. Meaning, they saw him between the hours of 3-6 am.

There is something about Night-time that turns the friendly into the terrifying, right?

Darkness. Lightning. Thunder. Waves rocking the boat. The creaking of the wood and the cold spray of the water.

Into the middle of this chaotic moment enters a phantasma, a phantom. A ghost walking ever closer to them.

Seeing the terror, Jesus tells them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

It makes you wonder what the disciples’ response was.

They probably said, “we’ve seen some stuff, Jesus. We’ve seen you do some incredible things…but this, this walking on water thing…this takes the cake.”

Then we have Peter.

Peter. The one who is always eager to talk, speak and volunteer for actions that have consequences for which he’s not fully prepared to handle or deal with.

Actions like walking on water. Why did he ever believe he could do this?

As readers of Scripture, I don’t think we fully grasp the magnitude of what Peter asked to do.

The disciples had witnessed Christ performing miracles. They had witnessed him healing the blind, the sick and the lame. They watched him feed upwards of 25,000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.

So, while it’s a stretch to think about Jesus walking on water…it’s not really THAT big of a stretch, right? After all, he’s JESUS!

What’s incredible is that, in a fit of brilliance or stupidity (or both), Peter decides he wants to get in on the fun, too.

And so he tells Jesus that he’d like to try. Asking Jesus to Invite him to walk on water, too!

Of course, Jesus offers the invitation.

And of course, Peter does what no other human had ever done…. He walked on water. For a brief and glorious moment he defied the laws of physics. He was a water-walker.

I often wonder what it felt like to walk on water. Did it feel like walking on a water-bed?

Or splashing in a puddle?

When his faith grew weak, did he sink like a man in quicksand? Or was it more like a hole opened beneath him and he plunged into the dark, rough, cold of the lake?

No matter the speed and no matter the depth to which he sank, Peter, after a flash of Christ-following brilliance, was up to his neck in it. Literally.

Sometimes it’s called “stepping out in faith, or maybe it’s called “Stepping out of the boat.” Whatever it’s called, these teachings are almost always accompanied by promises that we’ll “do the miraculous.

Believe in God, they say…follow his calling, they urge…and you will do things you never imagined!”

And this is true.

If this story also teaches another lesson. The lesson is that, while stepping out of the boat can create a brilliant demonstration of faith, there is another level of faith the soon follows. A faith that requires our belief to remain steadfast.

For faith in God must always remain in the present tense.

If this passage teaches us anything…it’s that past tense faith is a stale faith. And stale faith will never be enough to keep us above water.

Let’s explore the issue of faith a moment.

Faith is a fleeting thing, isn’t it? At least, the kind of faith often taught and defined by the Western church, is fleeting.

This sort of faith is emotionally based and feeling driven.

This sort of faith is the kind of faith one might have when they are claiming and believing that God will bring a Rolls Royce their way. This is the kind of faith that a person has when the decide they need to break up with someone because it’s what Jesus told them to do.

It’s instantaneous. It’s emotionally driven. It’s cheap.

This faith is almost always focused on what we get out of the deal. It’s about how I walked on water, and how the world will see me differently.

However, it’s not just cheap because of our selfish expectations. It’s also cheap because this sort of faith doesn’t cost us anything.

It only takes a minimal amount of faith to jump. Anyone can talk themselves into do anything.

The truth is that it takes real, sustained, Christ-centered faith to stay focused on Christ in the midst of the storm.

To keep the course, to stay focused on Christ, and to never waver, no matter what…this is the faith we’re called into.

Rebuking of Peter
I have often wondered how Jesus could rebuke Peter in this story, and I wonder why Jesus spoke such harsh words towards him when it was Peter who possessed enough courage and faith to step out and do the impossible.

The difficult truth in this passage is that Jesus rebuked Peter because his faith in Jesus was strong enough to get him out of the boat, but not strong enough to stand up to the storm.

And another difficult truth is that we are all like Peter, aren’t we? We all struggle with faith when “the rubber meets the road.”

It’s easy to have faith, to trust in Jesus, and to walk the path of faith, when there is no opposition and nothing to create doubt.
But the moment the winds pick up, the moment the waves begin to roar, and the thunder booms, our faith is left shaken.

This storm is where Peter’s doubt is rooted.

This isn’t a lack of faith in himself, and it’s not a lack of faith in Jesus…rather, it’s a shift in his focus from Jesus towards the storm.

In that moment, in Peter’s mind, Jesus and His power lost centrality and supremacy in Peter’s heart.

Peter no longer focused on Christ alone…rather, he began to see the chaos around him and allow that chaos to take hold of his heart.

How easy that is for us, right?

For me, the struggle begins with the busy-ness of life. As stress picks up, my calendar fills, and as the meetings, struggles, and worry accumulates, the first, it seems, to go is my focus on Christ.

Whether that be devotions, personal prayer, or a singular focus on Jesus throughout my day…the temptation is always to refocus on the problem rather than on the giver of the impossible.

Like me, it was the case, as well, with Peter.

So we see in Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, a beautiful and relevant insight into our own lives; When our faith wavers, when doubt increases, and when our hope is losing steam…Jesus teaches us to question ourselves.

When Peter begins to sink, Jesus questions him.

Jesus questions the root of Peters doubt. He asked, what made your faith disappear?

Jesus called Peter to deeper self-awareness and that awareness invited Peter’s re-commitment.

While it’s not specified written here, I like to believe that, after Jesus reaches down to Peter, and after he helps him identify the cause of his faith crisis, Jesus and Peter walk back together, on the water, to the boat.

And like to believe that this moment being the result of Peter having remembering where his faith should rest and with a renewed understanding that the storm around him pales in comparison to the power of the one who gave him the ability to walk on the water.

And so we arrive at the climax of our story

Though, it’s not what you would guess.

If you thought logically about it, a story that involves two men walking on water, one sinking, and another rescuing him…the climax should be the rescue, right? It would only make sense.

This story has all the makings of a “in-the-nick-of-time, hear-stopping, will-he-get-there-in-time moment.” And it’s almost guaranteed that, were this on TV, station would cut to a commercial break right at the moment Peter begins sinking.

However, the climax of this story isn’t Peter walking on the water, nor is it Jesus’ daring rescue of Peter.

The climax of this story is centered on the worship of the disciples, and it’s in this worship that we’re reminded of a beautiful and significant truth:

Our faith, our struggles, and Christ’s redemption of our faithlessness, creates in others an attitude of worship. Our story matters, which is why it’s so important for us to share our stories with others and why it’s so important for us to invite others into our lives.

Our stories, and more specifically, our moments of faith-crisis, allow for others to connect with what God is doing in their own lives. These moments where Christ intersects with our doubt, create in others, moments that allow others to see Christ for who he is; King.

On Gungor, doubt, and the new creation within us

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There’s a scandal brewing in the Christian music world.

Gungor, a musical duo consisting of the talented husband/wife team, Michael and Lisa Gungor, have been propelled into musical notoriety over the past few years due largely to the success of their single, “Beautiful Things.”

Over the past week or so, Gungor has come under fire for recent comments in which they wrote:

“If you try to find some value in them as stories, there will be some people that say that you aren’t a Christian anymore because you don’t believe the Bible is true or ‘authoritative.’ Even if you try to argue that you think there is a truth to the stories, just not in an historical sense; that doesn’t matter. To some people, you denying the ‘truth’ of a 6,000 year old earth with naked people in a garden eating an apple being responsible for the death of dinosaurs is the same thing as you nailing Jesus to the cross. You become part of ‘them.’ The deniers of God’s Word,” he said.

These comments, among others, have opened Gungor up to a barrage of criticism from those within the Christian community.

While some comments have been encouraging, many have been filled with criticism and hurt.

It’s easy to see where this hurt is coming from, too. After all, Gungor was to be “The One” who would lift Christian music out of the realm of cultural irrelevancy and into the difficult-to-achieve world relevance.

“Was” being the key word here.

For Gungor is quickly being pushed out the evangelical door.

Why?

Gungor is no longer invited to be part of the evangelical party due to their newly admitted (though, long-experienced) religious doubts.

Doubt? Doubt is something the church just can’t handle.

The unspoken reality is that we will gladly take adulterers, drunks, gluttons, and cheats…but we won’t accept the doubters (along with a few other groups…though, that’s a discussion for another day).

With all this out-the-door pushing, it’s no surprise people aren’t anxious to spend time with us.

Why is there no interest in the words we preach? Why do people run when they hear we’re people of faith? What is behind the cultural resistance to Christianity?

I would ask a different question:

What if nobody wants to hear about the Gospel because they believe there is no room for them? Or, if we make room, we’ll soon push them out because their journey towards faith looks different than our own?

What if the people around us have seen, far too often, what happens to those who fall out of step with the presiding theological majority? Maybe it leads them to ask, “If they’ll do that to one of their own…what would they do to me?”

There was a day, long ago, when Christ followers were once known as the people who ate with prostitutes, thieves, war-mongers, the theologically conservative, and theologically rebellious (Jewish versions of Che Guevara), and they all found a place at the table.

Their inability to understand the language Christ used (how many times they got it all wrong!), and their inability to succeed never damning them to the future others might think they deserved. This inclusion and welcoming of doubters created a table the world was climbing over themselves to join.

The church needs to rediscover Christ’s table. A table build on grace, and the centrality of Christ…not focused solely on theological discourse.

I would contend that rediscovering this table is imperative for the success of the Church moving forward.

Gone must be the days when we’ll #farewell after disagreements.

Gone must be the days when flipping tables is a viable response to anything other than injustice of the oppressed (and no, American Christians do not count as the “oppressed.”)

May we remember as the Community of Believers:

We proclaim Christ and the power of His resurrection.

We proclaim it is Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection, not our theological beliefs, that provides the forgiveness of sins.

We proclaim, just as God created a new world out of darkness, he’s also creating a new thing from the darkness within each of us.

We proclaim that the Bible, the inspired words of God, are perfect in all things dealing with Salvation. They give us a beautiful picture of who God is, and paints a beautiful picture of what God wants to do within us.

May we remember that the rest are non-essentials. Many of which we will most likely discover that we were wrong about anyways.

Finally, instead of focusing on the differences, may we find unity in the essentials.

And may we discover that, as we give grace in the non-essentials, and as we welcome the skeptics, people are willing to sit down and eat with us once more.

Barley bread and the best from the rest of us

common

Today, we are moving on from Romans and back to the Gospels, and will be taking a few weeks to look at the life of Jesus.

Today, we’ll be reading from Matthew 14:13-31

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

A familiar story

We’ve all read this story before, and chances are, if you’ve ever been part of a Bible study, Sunday school class, or VBS, you’ve studied the story.

It’s a feel good story. If it was around at the time, this would have been turned into a lifetime special.

It involves children, food, and miracles.

How can this not be good?

So…What’s going on here?

Most of us know the specifics of the story.

We know that Jesus, tired and wanting a break from the continual pushing and emotional pressure from ministry and the ever-present crowds, got in a boat and attempted to sail across the lake and find peace and recharge.

But why leave now? What is driving Jesus towards solitude? This is a question we often breeze though, however there is depth here that must be named before we move on.

If you read the chapter immediately prior to this, you’ll read in Matthew 14:3-12…

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

Jesus isn’t just trying to take a break from the daily grind…

The overwhelming probability is that Jesus is in mourning. He is mourning the loss of his cousin. He is mourning the loss of a powerful ally and voice within the same movement.

And so Jesus draws away.

It had to have taken a toll on Jesus, at the least taken him a moment to regroup, after hearing about the murder of John, by Herod, at the request of Herodotus.

But it’s not just about John.

While John’s death is significant, it’s just one note in a symphony that is growing more and more dark, and one that is inevitably leading Jesus to the cross.

It’s almost palpable.

We can sense it all around Jesus and his disciples.

There has been a tangible shift in the ministry of Jesus and how he is being perceived by those around him.

The Honeymoon is over.

During the early ministry of Jesus We see Jesus being received in joy by the people. This was the honeymoon period. The period when he’s giving free wine to people.

Who wouldn’t like him?

Current to this story: We see people, especially the religious institution, becoming increasingly hostile and resistant to Jesus and his teaching. They scheme and plot for his death. They argue with him, and call him names. They question his authority, and his spiritual standing.

Still the crowds came

And Jesus sailed across the waters.

Hoping to find empty beaches ringing with the sounds of solitude, he found people. The crowd having run ahead of Jesus, were there waiting for him when he arrived.

Take a moment and imagine being Jesus.

While Jesus was 100% divine, he was also 100% human.

This was a man filled with emotional connections. In the Bible, we’re told that he felt all that we feel, and dealt with all we deal with. His earthly experience was filled with all the emotions and baggage we all deal with. He just moved through it all perfectly.

Placing myself in Jesus’ shoes, I would surely have been frustrated to the point of furious.

I would have asked, “why can’t I have a moment alone?”

“Can they be so selfish that they don’t realize what I’m dealing with?”

Each of these responses would have been reasonable, and would have been, possibly, in the right.

But Jesus never blinked.

It’s always, only, about others.

The scene has been set:

Jesus is surrounded by 5,000 men, plus an unknown number of women and children. While nobody knows for sure how many where there that day, this was a crowd numbering in the thousands.

All are tired and hungry, but none have a bite to eat…and there are no reasonable places in which they can hope to find food.

Not wanting to deal with the situation at hand, the disciples speak to Jesus first. They say, “Jesus, really, it’s late. We’re tired, you’re tired. We’re all hungry.”

“Let’s send the people away,” the disciples say.

At this point in the passage, they were in the middle of nowhere. The only cities in the area were small, wall-less settlements that would be completely unable to handle the crowd standing in front of them.

Yet they still asked Jesus to make it the crowd’s problem to solve.

 

But Jesus, filled with compassion, was having none of that.

He passed the problem back to the disciples. He says, no, we’re no sending them away. Instead, he says, you figure out how to feed them.

In this interaction, Jesus is saying, no, you can’t dismiss the need that is staring you in the face. He is telling them, sure, this isn’t convenient. It’s not how we drew it up, but here they stand. Here they are. Men, women and children who all have needs for sustenance and no way to fill this need.

We’re not sending the poor to be taken care of by the poor.

No, you and I…we’re going to deal with this together.

And in this moment, Jesus is placing the responsibility of the people on the shoulders of his disciples to see what food they are willing to provide.

I wonder if he is hoping they will remember back to the miracle of Cana and hoping they see the possibility of Heaven and Earth touching. Maybe Jesus is hoping that they ask Him, in faith, to meet the need that they so obviously cannot meet on their own.

But they were unable to see the potential for a Kingdom moment.

So Jesus met the need, using what was present and available.

These loaves presented to Jesus where not the artisan bread we’re used to seeing. This bread was made of barley. It was cheap and it was knowng for being coarse.

This was the bread of the poor, and where the disciples saw limits and inconveniences, Jesus saw a feast.five-loaves-two-fishes2

So we see Jesus, in the midst of his pain, and in the midst of his sadness, blessing and creating a meal for those who were looking for love.

He broke bread with the people around them, and took the little they had, and out of it, created abundance.

This is passage has an obvious connection with the Eucharist.

In this passage, we see the message that the Messiah’s supply is so lavish that even the scraps of his provision are enough to supply the needs of all who are hungry.

That the belief that we must have the best to offer is a fallacy.

Christ will take our Ramen noodles and create a feast worthy of a king. Because, after all, Communion has nothing to do with us, does it?

It’s always about Christ- pointing each of us towards him and his sacrifice- and it’s a reminder that we’re there, poor, hungry and without a penny to our name, and we are, by his hands, fed.

This isn’t a feast for the kings, for the elite, for the 1%. Rather, it’s a feast for all of us.

A feast and the beauty of communion with our savior.

The leftovers

When it comes to the Kingdom life, when Christ asks us to follow him, and when he asks us to sacrifice ourselves, our plans, our opinions, and our will, often we believe that it will take all we have and leave us with nothing.

Who are we if we lose ourselves?

However, when we sit at the table, and when we make the focus of our attention the bread of life, we realize that after all is said and done, we’re left with more than we ever could have imagined.

We’re left with more love.

More joy.

More peace and patience.

More concern.

More humility, and a deeper drive for justice within the world around us.

To feast at the table means that we’re all equals, and that we’re all driven by the same goal; to participate in the redemption of the world.

When we’re at the table, the best we can offer, our barley bread, is taken, broken, and with it Christ feeds the world around us.

Thanks be to God.

Confession and the beauty of being known, Part 3

Thanks for stopping by as we bring our series on confession to a close. I hope to hear back from you, and would love to read your thoughts in the comments section below.

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keep-calm-and-confess-your-sins-2Confession brings us out of the darkness

Sin grows, and gains strength in the darkness. 1 John says it like this:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Part of what makes sin so destructive, and how people find that their lives have spun out of control, is the fact that they took the brokenness in their lives, shoved it in a closet, and hoped it never resurfaces again.

But that just doesn’t happen does it?

To suppress is to allow infection

When we refuse to bring the issues in our heart out into the open, when we refuse to admit that we are in need of help, the rottenness will continue to spread and in the end will cause more damage than we ever imagined possible.

But when we bring our issues into the light, when we admit our mistakes and ask God and another for help, we will watch as that rot and decay begins to be removed and heal. Instead of festering in the dark, you’ll find healing in the light.

We are a people made to live in the light. And confession is one of the main ways this will happen!

Confession allows us to participate

“Honestly, once you realize that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is less about the sin and more about Christ’s death and resurrection having victory in a person’s life, the sins lose all of their luster, and Jesus’ victory takes center stage.”

Discretion is necessary

I believe it actually goes without saying that the practice and sacrament of confession isn’t a free license to share everything with everyone. The harsh reality is that no all can be trusted. Not all are ready to bear a burden from another.

But there are people ready and willing to shoulder what you have to share.

And through prayer, God wants to bring that person into your life and allow you to share your story with another.

Very often, rules of confession dictate that if you’re a man, find a man to talk with. Same goes for women.

If you’re married, there are times when it’s healthy and beneficial for you to have your confessional partner be your spouse, however there are also times when your confessions will cause harm and pain to your spouse.

Often times, meetings like AA will encourage you to find a sponsor who is outside your family system. During your steps, you will approach your spouse, admit to wrong doing, and ask for forgiveness (then work hard to earn their trust again!)…but sometimes it takes starting with another before working back into the home.

Take away:

Find a person with whom you can begin that process of confession. Maybe that person will be in this church, maybe they wont be.

Maybe you will need to find a counselor or therapist (and in that there is no shame!), or maybe you’ll need to join a recovery group like AA.

But I plead with you to find someone with whom you can be truly honest about your life.

And commit to being in that relationship with them. Weekly or bi-weekly. It doesn’t so much matter how often as much as it matters that you’re consistent.

And in this consistency, I know you’ll witness the power of grace in a way you never expected.

Benediction:

In closing, I want to read the serenity prayer. It was written in 1943 by Reinhold Niebur..it goes like this.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it,

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

 

Confession and the Beauty of being known, Part 2

keep-calm-and-confess-here-9Confession Humbles

In Isaiah, the Lord describes the attitude of man when he says…

“These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.

It is nearly impossible to truly apologize, admit wrong doing, and to do so in an arrogant way. Sure, it’s possible to use an apology out of coercion or as an attempt to manipulate a person or situation, but that’s not what we’re talking about today.

We are talking about, face on the ground, tears from our eyes, know we’ve done things wrong apologies.

When you honestly go before someone and admit your mistakes, and ask for forgiveness, that has a way of revealing the weakest parts of yourself. It shows what we, as people, so rigidly try to disguise: our humanity.
I believe this is one of the reasons why we’re told to confess to one another. It’s a daily reminder to the church that there isn’t a person alive who isn’t in need of grace. There isn’t a person who is beyond needing help, and there isn’t a person who can survive without community.

To confess as a practice means more often than not means that we’re living out the life of a humble Christ follower.

And like baptism reminds us of our resurrection in Christ, confession reminds us of our constant need of forgiveness.

In simple, confession makes sure we don’t get too big for our britches.

Confession Heals:

James 5:13-16

13Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

When one reads this passage, they could easily get lost in the first half of the passage. It’s one that is quoted often, and used any time a person is feeling ill, struggling with disease or is in need of God’s miraculous healing.

A body can break down, fall apart, and decay and it’s not considered uncomfortable to ask for prayer.

Is there shame in asking for this healing? Is there reason to be embarrassed about asking for prayer?

Absolutely not!

Spirit like body

In the same way, in the same verse, we see the spiritual parallel the physical. We are instructed to pray in the same way for our spiritual/emotional needs as well as our physical ones.

Confession connects us with others

Have you ever heard soldiers talk about the men and women then go to war along side? If so, you will hear them talk about shared experiences, shared stories. They will say things like, “So-and-so is my brother” or “I would die for them.” Many soldiers do die for a fellow soldier.

What brings them to a place of closeness or to share such a tight bond with one another?

Is it the fact they make the same money, or dress in the same way?

They’re close because they have shared a similar stretch of road. They’ve experienced difficult challenges, learned to rely on one another, and trust in each other. When a person experiences a life-altering experience, it’s difficult for others to really grasp why that matters. Often, family and friends will begin to grow tired of the old “war stories.”

But have you ever seen or heard two soldiers together? They nearly always fall back in to remember days they were together.war

While the situation is different, and the stories won’t be the same, the act of finding a person and sharing life’s deepest and darkest moments with them, will draw you together in a way that no other will match.

When you find someone that you can share your mistakes and your failures with, you will begin to understand grace and how secure that grace can make you.

There is nothing better than bearing your soul to someone, sharing something you always believed would push you outside of all relationships, and having them come back with “thank you for trusting me. You’re loved.”

That moment is life changing!

Swing by tomorrow as we bring our series on confession to a close.

 

Confession and the beauty of being known, Part 1

keep-calm-and-confess-nowThe terror of being known

We have difficulty admitting our mistakes.

We feel like people won’t accept us as we are.

This leads us into isolation. Some might call it a cave.

We hear talk of the forgiveness of God and the power of God to change our hearts, but we find we never can live in that victory.

We read the Bible, do Bible studies, and listen to preachers hoping that somehow life will become different. That somehow we won’t feel the oppressive guilt deep inside of us.

The feeling that, when the pastor talks about the problem I so deeply struggle with, everyone is looking at me.

Our efforts don’t matter, do they?

And, it’s not as though you don’t try. You try hard and often. You invest blood, sweat and buckets of tears to this. Asking God to take this cup from you.

We hear about the forgiveness of God and the power of God to change our hearts. But we find that we can never live in that victory.

And the level or the scale of “life-altering issues” can be wide sweeping. Maybe you are a closet alcoholic, food-aholic, sex-aholic, or gambling addict.

Maybe you secretly inflict pain on yourself. Wishing to punish yourself for the things you’ve done wrong. Or because you want to feel something…anything.

Maybe you steal because you want the control, or you feel entitled.

Maybe you give yourself away to others because you want to feel wanted. Even if for just a moment.

Maybe you find your attitude is your stumbling block.

Out of nowhere, you will find yourself exploding with anger. Raging against the person closest to you.

Maybe you judge people relentlessly (yourself included).

You feel such anger and resentment against people different from yourself. (race, religion, political affiliation, or gender.)

Maybe you are always looking for the latest news, gossip or info on your friends and co-workers…and maybe the best part of your day is passing that info on to another.iStock_000013094923Small

Maybe someone abused you verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually. Maybe they took something that wasn’t freely offered and maybe they gave something that was never wanted.

Maybe you’re addicted to consumption. Maybe all you think about is the next pay check and what you’ll buy when you get it.

Maybe your experience is much darker than what I’ve even spoken.

And maybe…just maybe, you think there’s hope is not a possibility.

And probably you feel that confession is the last thing on earth you want to participate in.

After all, to confess is an incredible risk.

To put our life out in the open, to describe what’s happening inside of us, using words, and entrust those words with another person is a risky venture…isn’t it?

So, this begs the question… why should we confess to one another?

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Swing by tomorrow as we continue our conversation about confession

On the importance of asking “Why”

When I was a kid, I asked questions. A lot.

I mean, all of the time.

My parents now laugh about the fact that they would often reach their limit of answers and struggle to maintain their sanity. (which, to their ever-living-credit I never remember them exasperated or frustrated.)

But they aren’t abnormal. Having a son and a daughter myself, I know that I have a future filled with a million questions.

As a church, we’re beginning a sermon series on some of the difficult questions that comes along side, or before one comes to faith. And it has me wondering what our response is to people when they come with questions; especially questions to which we don’t have answers, or questions that make us feel uncomfortable.

The truth is that there is something about questions, asked often, that puts us on the defensive, or that makes us feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because we don’t have the answers. Maybe we struggle with the questions being asked, and we don’t like to be reminded of our uncertainty.

So, instead of engaging the question we brush them aside under the belief that people just need more “faith.”

And so people are left asking, wondering, questioning alone. Feeling their questions are not welcomed and unwanted. That their questioning will keep them from their Heavenly Father.

As a church, we are all guilty of this, aren’t we?

Can you imagine the beautiful ways God might move if the church engaged our culture and our people’s questions concerns and doubts?

In my experience, creating a culture of questions will do three things:

It will remind us how big our God really is.

Every Sunday we worship, pray to, and talk about a God who created the heavens, the earth, conquered death, and offers that power to us. However, that is where our practical belief of God ends. We become afraid that a question is too big, and God is too small. (Maybe we’d never actually say it this way…but we all have felt this, and wrestled with this.)

When we embrace big questions it gives God the chance to come through in big ways. Our questions remind us that in all ways, we serve a King who is all-powerful, and a Father who is all loving. And that we can come to him with everything.

Remind us how small we really are.

Let’s face it. We get a little big in the britches sometimes, don’t we? We think we’re big stuff, and that we have all the answers. Armed with this belief, questions become threatening to our worldview because, the more questions are asked, the higher the chance we will come across a question we don’t have answers for.

Terrifying, indeed.

These questions remind us that we’re human, imperfect and in need of a Father who is all-powerful, all-knowing and always present. It’s a reminder that we can crawl into his lap and trust we are in the safest place in the world.

Teach people that they can be themselves before God.

There is nothing more beautiful than a child’s innocence. They have no shame in their not knowing. A child just wants answers to what they don’t know. They are curious, and they ask. There isn’t a belief that they need everything to be in order before coming to God, and they don’t believe their self-worth is tied in what they know. They know they belong. Period. And it’s that belonging that gives them permission to ask.

So, as a church, let’s be a place that gives people permission to ask questions. Let’s not be afraid of what might happen if we don’t know the answer. We can rest in the truth that our Daddy knows…and that our only responsibility is to point people to him.

He will take care of the rest.