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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 People Must Recognize the Pride Problem in the Church

“Watch your step when you enter God’s house.
    Enter to learn. That’s far better than mindlessly offering a sacrifice,
        Doing more harm than good.

Don’t shoot off your mouth, or speak before you think.
Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear.
God’s in charge, not you—the less you speak, the better.”
Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

Pride. People have struggled with it since the beginning but it comes disguised in righteous forms. Just a bite of fruit. Cain’s offering. Liturgical practices of high priests. A human transaction. The “I Am” becomes a self designated title.

From the outside, all appears good. But God’s eyes penetrate beneath the surface, revealing the state of the heart. It’s not pretty.

“The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do.”
― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

Whatever sanctuary God leads you to, take off your sandals. You are on Holy Ground.

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Why Understanding God’s Word Requires Letting Go and Leaning in

When Jesus left the field, he entered their meeting place. There was a man there with a crippled hand. They said to Jesus, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?” They were baiting him. Matthew 12:9-10

Leaning in is dangerous. Especially when it pertains to worldviews and theology. It can lead to becoming enlightened and transformed. Consider the pharisees, who were steeped in the law. Since children, they spent their days memorizing God’s word and becoming familiar with Jewish Law. They knew the Messiah was coming to fulfill scripture.

However, who they encountered wasn’t what they expected.

Therefore, a series of ideological conflicts proceeded with the man who claimed to be him. Certainly, others had claimed that identity before. Yet, Jesus demonstrated authority over things of this world that the others couldn’t. The pieces began to come together. But to embrace God’s vision for a new Kingdom meant letting go of the securities found in the earthly one. Status. Earthly identity. Perceived power. Relationships. Worldview.

Jesus’ message was intimidating. threatening. Everything would change for them if they leaned in. So, instead, they tried to push him away. With their “weapon.” Authority. But that didn’t hold power to his. Heavenly rooted authority defines earthly ones.

He replied, “Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn’t, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out and it was healed. The Pharisees walked out furious, sputtering about how they were going to ruin Jesus.” Matthew 12:11-14

Jesus challenged them to think outside the ideologies that had become their truth. The Pharisees knew the worth of a lamb. It provided a means of food, income, and sacrifice. The shepherds watched their flocks meticulously. The loss of even one had significant implications. Their livelihood would be impacted. Jesus knew the real issue with the healing. And it wasn’t about the Sabbath. They knew that.

Jesus pointed them back to God’s word. In context. The bigger story. Not the evolved narrative developed in attempts to cling to earthly securities. At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.  Matthew 12:1-5

The Temple arrived. But they missed the point because they refused to let go and lean in. To God’s voice, not theirs.

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” Matthew 12:6-7

What do you need to let go to lean in?

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The Practice of Lament Offers the Gift of Asking “How”

God is used to hearing our “Hows” and “Whys.”

Living this side of Heaven leaves us in moments reeling with confusion, anger, and disappointment. We simply do not have the whole view. Resurrecting the practice of Lament gives us language to express our sorrow and sit in the uncomfortable place that cannot be resolved quickly with human answers. Our ancient spiritual ancestors understood this place which is who scripture is filled with examples of prayers of lament. Job, Psalms, Lamentations bear witness to people wrestling with living in this place of in-between.

How long, O Lord, will you look on?
    Rescue me from their ravages,
    my life from the lions!
18 Then I will thank you in the great congregation;
    in the mighty throng I will praise you.
Psalm 35:17-18

Western civilization moved away from sitting with the unknown and quickly embraced rationalism as the opportunity to find answers. While our Imago Dei certainly affirms a God who infuses his human creation with creativity and diverse gifts and skills, we cannot solve everything. And that is a good thing. Because recognizing our limited human power can catapult us into His presence. And we become like a children unhibited and vulnerable clamoring for comfort from their parent in a state of despair and posture of surrender.

It’s time to resurrect the practice of lamenting. To acknowledge that we can’t always fix suffering, whether intentionally inflicted or not, with pat answers, platitudes or “microwave” solutions. Sometimes we have to sit in the pain and recognize that God is in it with us.

Aubrey Sampson, in her book, The Louder Song, writes, “Lament says, “God you have described yourself as one thing, but my life, my community, and my city currently reveal something totally different. Please! Help me see your hand in this. You broke the power of evil on the cross and at your resurrection-so please be victorious again! Show me your goodness again!” Let us offer up our questions unhindered to God who “sees” us in our pain. He’s waiting.

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Why Adjusting Right Now Feels Like Straining Forward

The world feels shaky for some of us right now.

We have encountered something in the sphere of our earthly residence that is unprecedented. And knowing how to approach it feels confusing and frightening. In March, questions emerged: How long will this last? How do I protect myself and others? What does the future look like if I am unemployed? Who do I listen to?

Uncertainty remains. Despite the dip in COVID19 cases in some parts of the world, proceeding from a collective quarantine raises more questions: What does “normal” look like now? How do I adapt to this new territory? This place feels new for many of us. But the truth is that historically and globally, collective hardships (even pandemics) are nothing new. Some parts of the world experience them on a daily basis. In the midst of the uncertainty, how do we respond?

Paul’s prophetic words speak through hard times: Not that I have already obtained this (Philippians 3:10-11) or have already reached the goal;[g] but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[h] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[i] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[j] call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14.

It’s not easy to let go of securities. They shape our earthly narratives without realizing it. There is a reason why Paul uses the word “straining.” Recognizing that obedience to God’s redemptive plans supercede anything else we thought brought identity and safety: career, financial status, church infrastructure, educational setting..doesn’t come naturally. .Without a doubt, life as we knew it will change for a while….or longer.

None of this is easy to embrace from a human perspective. But recognizing that facing hardships is nothing new and embracing the blessing (whatever that looks like) as we “strain ahead” reminds us that God is still at work in his world. We just must expand our view.

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Embracing the Breadth of the Church: What We Can Learn From Each Other

“Are we doing ourselves a disservice when we raise our kids in a “church bubble?,” asks Traci Rhoades in her new book All Who Wander (spiritually) are Not Lost. She throws out an interesting question. Certainly, we don’t want our children to become “church consumers” where multiple congregations repeatedly become one stop shops to meet spiritual cravings. On the other hand, what do our children miss when they do not experience the diverse traditions that make up the the Church (with a big C)?

Learning About the Church

As I read her book, I realized the ways my own encounters with multiple churches have shaped me. As a child, my family found roots in a Methodist church about 20 minutes from my home. Mostly our rhythms consisted of Sunday trips for Sunday School and worship but occasionally we attended other events. Initially, this building and it’s members were the only images I had of the Church. To me, church involved developing relationships with people who had a common goal in a confined setting.

Expanding my Narrative

The location of our church extended beyond our neighborhood. I saw no one from school there or anyone in my periphery. Several of my friends got out of school early once a week for catechism class at the local Catholic church. I felt a bit jealous that a) they got to leave school early and b) they got to be together at school and church. For me, church was a once a week destination.

But then my eyes opened up to a bigger picture. Friends invited me to a vacation bible school program at a local congregation. The language was familiar and I learned that walls do not define a church. They too spoke of God’s love and shared the same Bible stories I knew.

The Importance of Organic Connections

This new church building became a familiar place not only to attend VBS but also the location of my girl scout meetings. Though these encounters never resulted in my family changing congregations, they shaped my faith journey in ways I didn’t realize at the time.

Despite the brief “back door” interactions with this church, I experienced repetitive interactions with Pastor Andy. He was friendly, funny, and seemed well liked. I even remember him preaching one time (probably at a VBS centered Sunday service) and he talked about Bozo the clown. My understanding of God, the body of Christ, and its mission expanded through these seemingly small interactions. In addition, I felt comfortable engaging in more church settings outside my own. Church represented a safe space where I felt welcomed and where I could explore the vast and diverse Kingdom of God.

Identifying the End Goal

Often, congregations lurch toward the big gains of inviting people into their midst. How many people will be added to our number? What will be the financial benefits? When programs and building usage do not result in seeing the participants return for regular involvement, the church is discouraged. Shouldn’t fruit appear from the investment?

It depends on what kind of fruit is being sought. My experience as a child, disciple, parent and pastor informs me that any interaction with the church acts as an introduction/touch point through which Jesus is made known. Even opportunities to use space for community events. Those who cross the path may or may not result in settling at “our” church but that’s not the end goal. We as the Church are in this together.

Traci Rhoades’ question points to the need to be mindful of a bigger narrative of Christ’s church than one with which we are familiar. Her own journey through multiple traditions witnesses to the beautiful ways we can connect with God and others when we step outside of comfort zones. When I do pulpit supply, I find blessing in experiencing the breadth of the church. My children come along as well because my husband and I want to expose them to this beauty.

As we learn to embrace these differences rather than responding with fear, labels and avoidance, others will see God’s love tangibly. “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25.

When God’s Mercies Appear In a Mother’s Day Gift

Beauty radiates from this basket. And I’m not just referring to the goodies.

My nineteen year old daughter bought these gifts for me. With her own money. I told her that dad could have paid for them when they went shopping. But she resisted, stating that she specifically wanted them to be from her.

Her choice of items here represents her intimate knowledge of my likes. She knows from a lifetime of shopping trips together that I have occasionally dropped a bag of iced animal crackers into the cart. I have negotiated with her about sharing the peanut butter snickers from her Halloween bag. And, together, we have taken advantage of Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee Happy Hour more times than I can count. Plus we have enough syrups at home that we could open our own coffee shop.

Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. We try the best we can but inevitably words said in anger and postures of withdrawal rather than embracing wound. And guilt ensues. Questions fester. Why did I say that? How did I get to this place? The temptation is to let those moments define us and our relationship with our children. But God’s mercies abound.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

So we forge forward, securing our feet in God’s promises. Today, I am thankful for the grace offered to me through my daughter’s gift. Sometimes a healing balm looks like peanut butter snickers,a coffee cup, and iced animal crackers.

What We Learn When We Change Perspectives

Perspective matters. And sometimes we forget that there is more than one.

In an age of virtual non-stop, often one-way communication, the competition to win disagreements is fierce. Unfortunately, the temptation to participate in group think social clusters makes hearing other points of view limited. The trade off of comfort for knowledge results is damaging. We decrease our understanding of God’s character and weaken our connections to one another. There is beauty in diversity.

Author Michael Kimpan shares his observations on the ways he sees Christians communicating with others who think differently than us. He calls these people the “others”. He writes, “We struggle to “put skin” on the words and message of Christ with anyone who thinks differently than us. Too often, we demand conformity prior to connection. When we approach one another as brothers and sisters—image bearers of the God we claim to serve—and celebrate what we have in common, we better position ourselves to participate in helpful dialogue in the midst of disagreement. ”

We naturally begin discussions out of our own narratives. It’s what we know. But what if we come to conversations in a posture of listening for the unknown? How would that action not only expand our view of our world but our own identity?

Listening does not require agreement. But it does require submission to pride, presumptions, time. We may walk away with unchanged minds but we also may recognize that we only saw part of a picture.

The photo up above? What’s your first guess? It’s actually an image of snow covered pine trees captured from above. But if your view of pine trees is usually ground level and in warmer temperatures, pine trees may look differently. Both images are accurate. Yet, awareness of landscapes outside of yours is necessary to see both.

We live in a vast world, with different landscapes, cultures, and experiences. May we open ourselves up rather than shutting others out. There’s much to learn if we change perspectives.

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Re-imagining the Church in an Age of Quarantine

What does church look like?

This crisis has challenged all of us to reflect on the framework of our lives. And, in some cases, begin the process of deconstructing of previously held world views. Being stripped of familiarity has a way of catapulting us into figuring out where we find security, identity and purpose. Maybe it looks different than we thought.

In a season of quarantine, “Church” as we define it has been altered. Sure, we are aware that Church is not defined by a building. Of course, we recognize that Church knows no borders. Yet, our rhythms and definitions are often informed by culture not necessarily scripture. Suddenly, our Church nuances became disrupted. What does it mean to be in community with each other when we can’t be together in one place?

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25.

My friend Michelle Van Loon, in her book Becoming Sage, takes us “out of the box” when understanding these verses. “We remember that commitment to a local body of believers is the primary way in which these relationships are formed, as well as the place in which we share together in corporate worship, learning, communion, and service. But we must also remember that Hebrews 10:24-25 isn’t a goad to get us to attend church. It describes the nature of our lives together, whether we meet at church or run into another believer in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store.” And I would add: on a zoom call, an online worship service, through a letter, text, or a social media interaction.

Because our “church” experience has been transformed, we have the opportunities to create new ways of connecting. For me, I have been blessed to watch other congregations’ services online. I also have been able to share time and resources through joining other members of the body of Christ.

The “Church” has always had to learn to be flexible and hold together in challenging circumstances. Christians living in other countries and/or through previous generations and even in certain parts of our country are well aware of this truth. Most of us have held onto familiar rhythms with other believers and security in a culturally informed view of the church. Change becomes the pathway to which we can reflect where our identities and purpose lie. Thankfully, the good news is that following Jesus and bearing witness to our passion for building his kingdom here on earth knows no boundaries.

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How God speaks “more” into our “less”

Amidst the confusion and fear of the coronavirus, a truth emerges that we have known along: we cannot control everything.

Waves of panic flood through us when we encounter that reality. Fear permeates in the air. As we inhale the heavy air, our lungs struggle to regain their regular rhythm. How will I survive this storm? Where do I seek refuge?

The disciples knew a bit about feeling helpless.

“One day he and his disciples got in a boat. “Let’s cross the lake,” he said. And off they went. It was smooth sailing, and he fell asleep. A terrific storm came up suddenly on the lake. Water poured in, and they were about to capsize. They woke Jesus: “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” Luke 8:22-23

Storms were nothing new. But being trapped on the water in one? Terrifying. How will we survive this storm? Where do we seeks refuge? Left to our their own minds, hopelessness blew with a powerful force.

But they weren’t alone.

“Getting to his feet, he told the wind, “Silence!” and the waves, “Quiet down!” They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.” Luke 8:24

The storm calmed. But that really wasn’t the point. The one who has that kind of authority had not left their side. And never would. Then he said to his disciples, “Why can’t you trust me?” Luke 8:25

We live in a broken world. Escape from the pains in this place is not guaranteed. In our moments of panic, our desire to control our circumstances kicks in. And sometimes we realize we can’t. We simply have less control than we want to acknowledge. But Jesus meets us there. In the storms. And the voice that can silence the raging winds can make us “unshakeable.”

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33.

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