Category Archives: five minute friday

What Is Your Image of God?

God uses us to feed each other. Sometimes bodies. Sometimes souls.

I savor Lauren Winner’s words, in her book Wearing God, Her observations and exegesis offer up an abundance of new understanding of God’s character. This image, in particular, lingers:

“When I think about the hard work of labor, I realize that my unreflective assumption is somehow that redemption is easy for God. Because God is all powerful, I somehow imagine redemption being a snap of the fingers. But Isaiah’s image tells us how hard the laboring woman is working to bring forth redemption, a kind of hard work that many of us are unaccustomed to in our technological, twenty first century world.”

My jaw drops as I read this. How have I glossed over this image through the numerous times I have read through Isaiah? Why is this image not emphasized more often? God taking on such a human posture leaves me speechless. Awed. It reminds me that birth pains are always going on behind the scenes. God is always working on our behalf to bring forth life. The laboring mother is present with us, entering the painful transition with us.

Scripture bears witness to the breadth of God’s persona yet earthly narratives greatly shape how we perceive them. We can only expand our understanding when we “feast” with others on the same quest. Coming to the table, sharing our God shaped lives and the ways scripture speaks into them. That requires sharing the ways we connect with God through our personal narrative and the bigger one being written.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see— how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him. Psalm 34:18

What is your newest image of God?

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Recognizing the Opportunities We Have to Bless Each Other

We belong to each other.

Currently, in this surreal season of change, I am working as a Door Dash driver. God has repurposed me numerous times. Not surprisingly, I am led down a path that I never expected. And I am always blessed in ways I never expected.

Originally, it seemed as if I was simply performing a task for someone. And truthfully, I have never been a fan of our ever increasing byte sized interactions with each other due to digital conveniences. But, as I thought about how I might be used for God’s purposes in it, I realized that there might be so much more going on behind the scenes than I realize. Maybe it’s the exhausted parent who simply wants a break. Or someone who, for various reasons, doesn’t want to venture out in public right now. Whatever the reason, God uses us to bless each other-however that takes place.

So with that mindset, I scurried to deliver an order last night. As I arrived, I could not find the address and called the customer. She came around the corner with her child. And as I handed over the pizza, her daughter handed me a hand drawn note with an attached ziplock bag of candy. Certainly shared from her own stash.

Byte sized moments of interaction resulted in large amounts of blessing. For both of us. In this age where connections with each other seem hampered more than usual, we still have the capacity to see the imago dei in each other. Sacred connections can still take place. Even if it looks like a hand drawn note and some tootsie rolls.

How could you bless someone today?

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When God Speaks in the Sound of Silence

A few weeks ago, my 38 year old neighbor died unexpectedly. I didn’t know him well, but we have literally crossed paths. However, even in those seemingly insignificant encounters, his life impacted mine.

While I didn’t know much about the intimate parts of his story, I was privy to some public ones. From my back porch, I gaze upon his backyard adjacent to mine as well as the yards of his sibling and parents. Their houses and big open green space form a “corner” at the end of the street. Sounds of life coming from that direction abound in the summer.

Parties, fireworks, and the sounds of music and people chatting into the wee hours of the morning characterize warm summer evenings. They live life loudly. And people around here know it. Though I didn’t always appreciate the noise, it somehow became a familiar soundtrack to our family’s life. There is something comforting about the familiar.

But the weekend of his funeral, the soundtrack came to a holy pause. And I noticed. No loud sounds. Not even a few random voices carrying over from across the yard. I understood the sound of silence. It speaks volumes at times because it communicates that something changed. In this moment, it was the sound of grief.

We often take for granted the connections we have with each other. What we don’t realize is the way God speaks into the world through the sounds, tastes, smells, and touches of each other’s lives. We are reminded who created all of us and that we belong to each other because of it.

In these recent weeks, I sit in the sound of silence with them. Recognizing I can’t fix the pain or erase the reality that we travel lightly here on Earth. But I know that God is in it too. “Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” Romans 8:26. Tonight, I cling to that promise.

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The Implications of Tasting God’s Mercy

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”

 Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” Matthew 9:10-13

Jesus is not addressing an issue of social etiquette. He isn’t even encouraging sympathy for the lonely. He makes a political statement at a table during an ordinary daily routine.

However, for the Pharisees, nothing about this scene is ordinary. Middle Eastern culture emphasized hospitality. In fact, God specifically instructed the Israelites to feed the foreigner and stranger. But this rebel rouser initiated this moment. He has the audacity to not only invite an unorthodox cast of characters to follow him but publicly displays sharing a meal with more of them.

Sharing a meal has sacred implications. It points to our common need to be nurtured in body and soul. And offers us the opportunity to taste the “Bread” that provides both. It can become a catalyst of reconciliation when we come to the table estranged. From God and each other.

Jesus’ feast speaks volumes. The Kingdom of God has arrived. Look. Ponder. Embrace. It does not thrive on oppression but liberates. And when you taste of it, you want to invite everyone else. Every One. To savor this life “on earth as it is in heaven”

N.T. Wright, in his book, “The Lord and his Prayer, writes “After all, we are ourselves only at Jesus’ table because he made a habit of celebrating parties with all the wrong people. Isn’t it about time we start to copy him?”

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Why We Can Never Escape God’s Presence

“Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” 22 Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”” Isaiah 30:20-21.

We see ourselves in the Israelites’ narrative. While they gripped onto their faith in God’s promises, they also lay vulnerable to reaching toward earthly gratification. In the midst of waiting, physical and mental hardship, and persecution they were tempted to feast on things that brought quick satisfaction to famined bodies and souls. Though God’s presence was constant, it didn’t always bring the contentment expected. And they turned away.

Consequences make us regret our faux feasts. Like the Israelites, we experience the taste of a broken covenant. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

Even when we change our posture in resistance, God does not. Left. Right. Up. Down. Front. Behind. He is there. Ancient ideologies emphasized the “right” as the side of favor and the “left” being associated with evil/ fighting off danger. Yet, Isaiah’s prophetic words tell us that God’s presence shows no spatial preference. His voice and posture hem us in from all sides. Regardless of circumstances.

Thanks be to God.

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Re-Evaluating the Definition of Progress

Unexpected circumstances can lead to a holy pause.

We easily become creatures of habit. Our days operate according to a somewhat regular liturgy. And when seasons transition, we adjust to a new one. Typically, what they all have in common is aiming toward some measure of progress.

It manifests in different ways. For some, progress is measured by the amount of tasks completed in a given day. For others, clinching a business deal, witnessing a student achieve a prescribed benchmark, or achieving a fitness goal becomes the target. And all too often we run on a treadmill of progress with an assumption that it informs our identity.

But is it accurate?

The last few months have interrupted what we thought individually and nationally was what defined us: making progress. Certainly remaining stagnant and comfortable does not shape our character or lead us to become better versions of ourselves. But what is the end goal and who informs it?

Perhaps, this interruption can challenge us to evaluate what we identify as the end goal. How is progress manifest? In standardized test scores? Financial bottom lines? Educational degrees? Church attendance? Digital platforms? Organic relationships? Character transformation? Awareness of a world outside of ourselves?

Sometimes a holy pause is an opportunity to do just that. Stop. Listen. Evaluate. And believe that even if change happens, God still has the world in his hands. And it doesn’t depend on human defined measurements of progress.

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How I Recognized That My Son is Walking Toward Adulthood

Sometimes ordinary things speak in unexpected ways.

This week I shopped for clothes with my son for his senior pictures. He is my youngest. This is the last time I will be shopping for this rite of passage. Buying my son’s clothes has been part of my routine for over 20 years. But, as he prepares for his senior year, I know all to well that he is transitioning into adulthood. My roles as a parent are blatantly changing.

Dress clothes have never been his favorite attire. As a young child, he complained about the stifling feeling and sometimes scratchy fabric. His sensitivity to material and routine are part of who he is. And he has worked on adjusting to both.

So it hit me, as I talked with him that night about ironing his pants, that this pair is different than any other pair. He is unlikely to outgrow these and the replacements will probably be purchased on his own. They are accompanying him into a new season: adulthood. As college looms a year from now, I wonder: where these pants will go? Possibly a date, new church or social events with friends he has yet to meet. Most likely an internship, or job interview. They will literally walk with him the path to independence and a community apart from his family.

I ironed them knowing that my days of doing it are numbered. I touched them wondering what stories will unfold in their midst. As he sat nearby, I reminded him that a day is coming in his future professional career when he can no longer get away with wearing sweats. “I know,” he replied. “I will just have to find comfortable pants.”

My son is ready for the transition into a new place, both figuratively and literally. I trust in God, who loves him more than I, and claim this blessing for him: “You go before me and follow me.You place your hand of blessing on my head.” Psalm 139:5.

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Why We Must Find Other Ways to “Smile”

My attempt at communication failed.

As I stood in line, I made a simple but profound gesture to the woman in line next to me. But then it hit me. My smile was invisible. Something that can so simply signify kindness in a polarized culture, can no longer “talk.”

Smiles convey humanity. They say “I see you.” When a child is acting out their frustrations and I empathize with the mother who feels the weight of judgement, I smile.

When I see a neighbor in the store and sense they are in a hurry and cannot converse, I smile.

When I dropped my daughter off at a community driver’s ed, and I saw a new friend of hers wave and smile, I cried. It spoke volumes into her narrative.

When I substitute teach, and I see my former students walking down the hallway, I smile.

Never did we realize the value of a smile until now. We share this place where we interact in bytes of real time. We underestimate the way a smile penetrates the heart. Without knowing our neighbor’s story, we love them. With a smile.

So we must find new ways of communicating “welcome.” Nadia Boltz Weber writes, “And that when my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the cashier may it be counted as passing the peace.”

Let us display the hand of the creator friends. We are image bearers after all. Nothing can keep us from “touching” others with God’s presence. May we show it through posture, eyes, action. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us[a] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1.

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Who are We Reflecting? Thoughts on Micah 6:8

How we treat others matters. Who do we reflect?

God called Israel to be partners in the journey toward restoration of this broken earthly kingdom. The purpose for everything they did was to point others to “I am.” But, unfortunately, the reflection became tainted with sinful characteristics. Greed. Lust. Pride. Coveting. Oppression. Cheating. They compromised their identity and It wasn’t a good look.

God reminds them:

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.
 O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
    what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
    that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”
Micah 6:4-5

What they did:

Can I tolerate wicked scales
    and a bag of dishonest weights?
Your[c] wealthy are full of violence;
    your[d] inhabitants speak lies,
    with tongues of deceit in their mouths.
” Micah 6:11-12

What God wanted:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God
” Micah 6:8

Being shaped into God’s fuller reflection involves some contorting. We adapt to the posture of sinful choices. Until we realize, like the Israelites, that God loves creation too much to leave us misshapen.

N.T. Wright writes about the distinctive way that people viewed early Christians, “They picked up their rule of life from the Jews, via Jesus of course. The Jews had those texts, those scriptures, which kept on circling back to the belief that there was one God who had a special concern for the poor, the sick, the outcast, the slaves….Their communities, by and large, practiced a kind of extended family life. The early Jesus followers got hold of that, but extended it to the increasing and increasingly diverse, “family” of believers. People watched. Wanted in. Sought to replicate it.

He has shown us what is good. Lord, shape us into your people.

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Why We Can Adapt to a New Normal Again

“That’s not how we normally do it.” As a substitute teacher, I am often confronted with that phrase as I begin a task in the classroom. The teens, seem to roll with the change. The younger kids? Not so much. They thrive on routine as a framework of security.

All of us, to some extent, need regular rhythms to inform our days. They remind us of purposes outside ourselves. My kids don’t always want to take the garbage can to the curb every Monday night but they do it because it shapes their purpose in our family and contributes to the helpful rhythms and functions of a community.

However, sometimes, the routine changes. If a holiday falls on a Monday, garbage day moves from Tuesday to Wednesday. It means we adjust by writing it down and changing our routine. We recognize that the extra day benefits the garbage collectors so their work week doesn’t start until Tuesday. And we learn that flexibility is an important learned skill.

Currently, everyone around the world is grappling with flexibility. The perceived “normal” structure which frames our lives is changing. Truthfully, without a pandemic, it can happen at anytime. Nothing is guaranteed. And if we reflect on our lives, we recognize that we have encountered numerous seasons of “normal” that all look different from each other. And without realizing it, we adapted. Even when those “normal” places felt exhausting, inconvenient, and confusing. We did it because Jesus breathes life into us through all times and all places.

This “new normal” may look different for us as individuals, communities, and nations. But rather than clinging to the familiar frameworks as idols, let us instead cling to God’s mercies as we learn to adapt again. We have been there before. And so has God.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~Joshua 1:9

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