Monday, July 30, 2007

Movies and Drivers

Two things to share on this Monday:

First, Taylor and I went to see The Simpsons movie last night. I have to be honest and say that it made us laugh pretty hard at times. Besides its typical irreverence and meandering plot it is filled with a ton of comedy which I think makes it a must-see movie this summer (as if my opinions are worth anything!). The spotlight--as it is in most of their tv episodes--is focused squarely on Homer for the majority of the film, but it periodically wanders over to others including Lisa, her new environmentally-concerned friend, Flanders, and of course Bart. If you're not a Simpsons fan, you may want to pass this one up. But if Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie (or any of their friends) have made you laugh in the past, they'll make you laugh even harder in the movie.

Second item, and quite a shift from the first, is that as I was driving home from work today in rush hour traffic I was struck by an interesting insight and wanted to throw it out there for you to ponder. I was behind a car who was going 10-20 miles per hour slower than the rest of the traffic around it, which was indicative of a driver who did not know their way. Eventually, after about a block, the driver pulled into a parking lot that seemed to bring a sense of relief to not only the driver but to those behind her, including me.

As I thought about this situation, I was struck by how often Christians are like the drivers behind someone who doesn't know their way. The lost driver (i.e. a Christian who is just beginning the journey) often frustrates those who are more familiar with the road (i.e. the journey of faith or the kingdom way of life). I wonder why those of us who are a little more familiar with the Christian life don't catch ourselves more often and step back to come alongside those who are just beginning the journey. Many Christians, unfortunately, do not slow down for anyone new, and I wonder why anyone would want to become a Christian if they know they're going to viewed as a nuisance by the very group of people they are seeking to belong to and become like.

Anyway, I was convicted of my own impatience as I am continuing to grow myself and I pray that we all will look out for those who are just beginning their journeys and come alongside them as supporters and friends rather than just pass them by and hope someone else with nurture and care for them.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

And the winner is...

Lori M.!!!

Congratulations Lori on winning the first Just-for-Fun drawing. Please email me with your address and I'll get your $45 TGI Fridays gift card in the mail right away.

Thank you to everyone who submitted responses. It was a lot of fun getting to know y'all better.

And just to whet your appetite, the prize for the Just-for-Fun drawing for August is a $45 gift card to Kohls! Look for the first post on Friday, August 3.

Have a great weekend.

Peace


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Just for Fun #5

It's the final Friday of July, which means that today is the last day for you to submit a response to the Just-for-Fun question of the day in order to be entered into the drawing for a $45 gift card to TGI Fridays. Be sure to submit your responses by the end of the day Friday so that I don't have to exclude anyone from the drawing (and then feel bad about it and include them anyway).

So without further ado, today's question is...

(drum roll please...)

If you were going to be on the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and you had to choose one person for your phone-a-friend lifeline, who would you choose and why?

I'll be sure to post the winner of this month's prize by Monday morning.

Enjoy your weekend!

Peace

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Gospel on the Ground

First off, thanks for sharing your comments on the kind of person you want to be known as after you breathe your last breath. I pray that you are intentionally taking steps toward becoming that kind of person. As one of my coaches always said, "if you don't know where you're going, you'll end up going nowhere."

Next, I'm finally starting to work full-time this week with Union Rescue Mission. I've been working there part-time until I finished up both my degree and my other part-time job. Anyway, I'm anticipating that I won't have much time to blog this week (don't worry, I won't miss Just-for-Fun Friday!) but I've been thinking a lot about something and I'd like to read your feedback about it. The question I've been asking myself lately is this: What difference does the gospel make in the world?

Now as a seminary student I'm aware of how quickly we can relegate the meaning of the gospel to the cognitive realm (which is necessary at times), and Jesus does spend some of his time encountering others at that level (primarily through his teachings). But Jesus also spends much of his time bringing about significant, concrete change in the lives of others, particularly through his healing ministry. If nothing else, one thing the Gospel writers are clear to point out is that peoples' lives change after they meet Jesus, whether through healing, repentance, or both. I could go on about this, but for the sake of space I'd like to end by simply asking you about the concrete difference the gospel of Jesus Christ has made in your life or in the life of someone you know. Feel free to share at any level you're comfortable (this is a public blog after all). I look forward to reading your stories.

Have a great week!

Peace





Friday, July 20, 2007

Just for Fun #4

I'm taking a break from writing a research paper and I figured I'd throw out Friday's just-for-fun question a little early. Actually, it's not so much a question as it is a statement, so I'm inviting you fill in the blanks below using any words or phrases you want.

At the end of it all, I'd like others to remember me as a person who was __________ and ___________.

Be sure to fill in both blanks and, as always, feel free to provide any information on why you chose what you chose.

Make today a great day.

Peace

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Risk and Growth

In Matthew 16:13 we find Jesus and his disciples entering the district of Caesarea Philippi, a place 25 miles away from the Sea of Galilee (where Jesus carried out much of his ministry) and a place where worship of the Greek god of nature, Pan, was prevalent. The disciples were a long way from home both geographically and religiously, and yet they trusted Jesus enough to follow him to what some considered a dangerous place. If it's true that some of Jesus' original disciples were only teenagers then I'm pretty sure their parents would not have approved of them going to Caesarea Philippi; it's not a place where young Jews would go to hang out. But Jesus leads them there, to a place where their beliefs are challenged and where they are confronted by a world quite unlike their homes in Galilee and Judea. And in the middle of their time in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus essentially asks his disciples if they trust him, if they trust in who he is, and they come away with a deeper trust in him as the Messiah.
I think Jesus sometimes leads us into dangerous or uncomfortable situations far away from our familiar surroundings so that we can learn to trust him more deeply. Leaving home and encountering different religions sounds risky to many of us, but I wonder if they're just opportunities for us to grow in our faith.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Newness

In reading through Paul's letters in the New Testament I'm amazed at how many times he urges his readers to claim their objective identity as people found in Christ. He's constantly reminding them that they are "in Christ" and belong "to Christ" even though they may not be living in a Christ-like manner at the time.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul sums this idea up when he writes, "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation." Now in the original language, we don't find the words "there is a" included. So the way it reads in the Greek is, "If anyone is in Christ, new creation." This sounds a little strange to English speaking people, but I think it's a powerful reminder of the newness we are offered whenever we encounter Christ, or should I say, whenever Christ encounters us.

Think about the encounters Jesus had with people in the Gospels and about the newness he offered them in those moments. In Luke 19:1-10 Jesus encounters a greedy man (Zacchaeus) and offers him a new way of living-a generous way of living. Matthew 15:29-31 reveals the newness of a healthy life that Jesus offers people living with physical ailments. Wherever we find Jesus, we find newness. They are inherently connected.

Some Christians think that being found in Christ is all about having our sins forgiven. It's true that forgiveness of sin comes with being found in Christ, but it's only part of the larger image of newness and salvation that Jesus paints for us. To be found in Christ is to encounter a newness so complete that it touches every aspect of our being. Some call it a "fresh start" or a "blank slate." Paul calls it "new creation." No matter what image we use, the whole of our being is offered newness in Christ.

So what kind of newness could you be faced with in Christ? Could it be physical healing? Could it be a new lifestyle of generosity? Could it be a new compassion for those on the margins of society? Because we're broken human beings and because our brokenness runs deeper than we can ever realize, the options are endless; and in case we want to surrender hope that newness will ever come to us, we have the promise of Jesus that newness is on its way. In Revelation 21:5, Jesus declares, "See, I am making all things new." If anyone is in Christ, newness.








Thursday, July 12, 2007

Just for Fun #3

Today I was driving down the freeway on my way home from work and I noticed the cars in the right lane coming to a stop about 1/2 mile from the next exit. Thankfully I was in the far left lane and didn't have to mess with the back-up. "You gotta love traffic" I thought to myself. Then I saw something that has become one of my biggest pet peeves: there will be a long line of cars waiting to take an exit off the freeway, and rather than waiting his/her turn in the long line of traffic, a driver will fly up on the lefthand side of all the backed up traffic, obviously thinking that the rules of driving don't apply to him/her, and after passing a long line of people patiently waiting in line, the driver will merge at the last possible second, cutting in front of dozens, if not hundreds, of other drivers, not having to wait his/her turn. Now, I understand that some people aren't the best at following directions and have to sneak in at the last second, but this stunt happens far too often for it to be an honest mistake. It drives me nuts.

So my fun question of the day is, What is your biggest pet peeve? And feel free to expound on why it bothers you so much.

Have a great Friday!


Friendship

I recently started working at a family center where women and their children receive holistic, rehabilitative care. As I was chatting with one young girl who recently moved to the facility, I asked her if she liked being there. She shook her head without saying the word "no." I then asked her if she missed anything about where she came from, like her friends, and she responded, "Yeah, I miss some things, but I don't miss friends because I didn't have any." My heart broke right then and there.

What kind of world do we live in where children can grow up without having any friends?

Jesus' words in John 15:12-15 are a powerful reminder of the kind of people we are to become. Followers of Jesus are called to be people who extend friendship to those who most desperately need it.

My prayer for you and I is that we will become people who seek out those who have no friends and offer our own friendship to them just as Jesus offers his friendship to us.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Promises

I was chatting with a friend today about a situation in his life that is causing some anxiety. After explaining some of the details and confessing the fear he had about the future, he concluded by saying, "But God will do what's best for me." I didn't think it at the time, but later I thought, "Is that really true about God? Does God really do what's best for you or for me, an individual human being?" I tend to believe that this kind of thinking is a bit wacky and not so true of the God we read about in Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture can I find a promise from God to do what's best for me or any other individual. God seems to have something else in mind when he makes his promises.

One promise that I cannot escape when I read Scripture is God's promise to always be with us. In Isaiah 41:10, God says, "Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." And at the end of his ministry, Jesus promises his disciples that he will be present with them as they go out and make more disciples (Mt. 28:20).

In the times of our lives when we're feeling anxious about something, I wonder how much we really want God's best for us. We think that if we can attain some degree of certainty then the anxiety will go away. But I think that rather than wanting God's best (whatever that is) what we really want is God's presence. We want someone to join us in the trenches of life; we want a friend to go through hell with; we want to know we're not alone. And that's what the Incarnation teaches us, that God IS present with us in our lives.

So may you, as you face many uncertainties in your life, believe in the depth of your being that God is with you and that he "will never leave you, nor forsake you" (Heb. 13:5).

Friday, July 6, 2007

Just-For-Fun Friday #2

I apologize for not posting sooner in the day. Hopefully those of you out east will have a chance to respond before your Friday is over.

Anyway, here's the just-for-fun question of the day for Friday, July 6, 2007:

If you could have a conversation with just one person from the past, present, or future, who would it be and what would you want to talk about?

Remember that those of you who respond will be entered into a drawing at the end of the month for a $45 T.G.I Fridays gift card.

Enjoy your Friday...what's left of it.

Peace!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

An Image of Community

A friend of mine passed on this link to me. It's a video of a baby buffalo being attacked by lions and alligators, only to be rescued by its large, extended family. Be sure to watch the whole thing (it's about 8 and 1/2 minutes long). It's a great image of what it means to be surrounded by a community of people who love you and care for you, a community who is willing to put their lives on the line in order to save yours. But be warned, the video is not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Freedom part 2

Isn't it amazing how many of the images and messages we take in on a daily basis actually entangle us and add weight to our already heavy burdens, telling us that we need to change something about ourselves in order to be somebody? I don't need to mention any specific messages because you can just turn on your tv or look around at the magazines in the line at the grocery store and find more than enough images. Many of the church's messages (spoken and unspoken) are the same way-they don't encourage freedom, but instead promote shame and guilt for not living a certain way. That's not to say we don't need to be convicted of destructive behaviors in our lives, but most of us already know what those behaviors are and don't need to be reminded of them. What we desire is to be free and we just want a little help.

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul finds himself in a similar situation. Toward the end of his letter, Paul writes, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). What was this "yoke of slavery" Paul was warning against? One possible answer (and one I think has quite a bit of merit) comes from recent research on ethnicity that shows how widespread the phenomenon of identity switching and situational ethnicity was in the Galatian province during this time. People were changing identities just to fit in to whatever context they found themselves. So what scholars perceive the issue to be in the Galatian church is that the Gentile believers were being pressured by Jewish believers to become like them, which meant they had to be circumcised, and this is something they were actually considering doing just to fit in (a bit frightening for the older males, no doubt!)! But Paul steps in and argues that because of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, the demand for the Gentile believers to be circumcised is ridiculous. Through faith in the resurrected Jesus, all demands to become like someone else or to achieve a certain lifestyle are gone. Jesus encounters us right where we are at, with all our issues, and declares to us, "You're free!"

Paul's encouragement for the Galatians was to live as free people, to not succomb to the expectations of others, and that's is Jesus' encouragement for us.

So when the world spins out of control, and the expectations of others (or even of yourself) come flying at you, know that in Jesus you are free from those expectations. May we become a people who learn to live more fully in our freedom.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Biblical Freedom

Yesterday I did a little studying on the concept of freedom in the Scriptures. Here's what I found:

In the Old Testament, freedom is most commonly understood in relation to the Exodus, where God rescues, or frees, his people from captivity, slavery, and oppression in Egypt. In Judaism, this episode of freedom is considered the central narrative of faith-a narrative in which God demonstrates his faithfulness to his promises for his people as he sets them free and calls them to set others free. Essentially, Israel is to be for the world who God is for them. But since Israel does not always embrace their calling, God sends prophets to them in an attempt to correct their course. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah are two who get pretty riled up about Israel's lack of freedom (read Isaiah 61-65 and Jeremiah 34 for a taste).

Hundreds of years after Isaiah and Jeremiah, another prophet appears on the scene, one who a group of Jews considers to be the promised Messiah. His name is one that means "God saves" and in his own description of the purpose for his coming, Jesus says he was sent by God "to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free" (Luke 4:18). Freedom is at the heart of Jesus' ministry and if we read the Gospel accounts of his activities while on earth, we find that he did indeed free people from captivity and slavery in a myriad of ways. In this way, Jesus can be seen as ushering in a new Exodus of sorts. If anything, Jesus demonstrates that God is a God who loves to set people free.

The Scriptures have much more to say about freedom, particularly in the letters of Paul and Peter, but I have some questions before we go any deeper:

1. Living a life of freedom necessarily entails that someone has been enslaved, so if we consider ourselves to be people of freedom, from what have we been freed?

2. Along with #1: In your own journey, in what ways has God freed you?

3. Finally, are enslaved in any way in your life right now? Maybe it's a financial difficulty, a relationship that's not healthy, a prolonged illness, or something else. In light of your current situation, what does God's freedom mean or look like for you?

A great song with the theme of freedom running through it is "Changed" written by a worship leader in our Mars Hill church community in Grand Rapids. Click here to listen to it (the other songs are great too!).

I look forward to reading your thoughts. Make today a great day!

Peace!