Take Time to Give Thanks

It is an absolutely. Gorgeous. June. Day. And yes, since it’s the weekend, I have a ton of chores to do. It’s also still the busy season at work, and it won’t take much for my mind to wander to all I haven’t done yet there, as well. But you know where I am right now?

20170604_155713Yep: my backyard hammock, enjoying the soft breeze, the high-80s warmth, and a chance to reflect on what’s going right, instead of obsess (as I always do) about what’s not. A partial list:

  • There’s two racks of ribs in the smoker that will be absolutely delicious later this afternoon.
  • It’s Pentecost, and we had a spirit-filled service this morning, welcoming Tim back off the mountain and celebrating his Emmaus walk.
  • My high-school daughter passed her state Chemistry test, despite much angst, and she says her first SAT this weekend felt good too.
  • Both the kids participated in the (school-)year-end lock-in at church last night, reconnecting with people of Christ.
  • Twenty-four years of marriage–to the same wonderful woman, no less.
  • Being done with the lawn earlier than I’d feared it would take.
  • Making plans with my college roommate for a guys’ weekend golfing and etc. together this September, to mark our respective birthdays, and being able to grace him with free airfare (yeah, I had a ridiculous amount of miles).
  • My own connection with the Emmaus community, which I got to celebrate yesterday.
  • A roof, food, and love…what more, really, do I need?

And yet, how often do we actually stop to thank God for all that’s going right in our world, instead of just bringing to him our concerns? As Garrison Keillor wrote: “Thank you, dear Lord, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.”

Jesus, you are amazing, awesome in power and love, and I start by celebrating you. But I also celebrate all that’s going right in my life, and I thank you for your hand behind me every day. Forgive me for the times I overlook your grace and your bounty. Free my heart to rest in those times that your love surrounds me, those times that things are going well, and leave me reminders often of how to turn back to you. In you precious name…Amen.

Expanding the Kingdom Through Emmaus

I’ve written previously about my amazing Emmaus experience, which was only about a year ago now…how time has flown….

Last weekend, I had the chance to introduce another brother to this experience, when I sponsored my friend Tim from church on his own Emmaus walk. It did my heart such good to see another heart opened to Christ in a whole new way; in so many ways, even just as a sponsor, I felt like I was walking again with Tim at his closing worship.

It’s led me to reflect on the growth I’ve enjoyed over the past year. Before my walk, I knew Christ was after my heart, not just my mind; since then, I’ve seen it over and over, how absolutely central the heart is to Christ’s kingdom. I’ve started teaching a Sunday school class for adults seeking their first steps in a deeper connection with Jesus, and I know I’d never have done that if I hadn’t had this experience of his love last spring.

The point of an Emmaus weekend is not only to grow in one’s own appreciation of God’s love, and to experience him in perhaps an entirely new and fresh way, but also to create disciples: people willing, or even on fire, who will go back to their home churches and help make a difference. In that regard, I’m already seeing changes in me, and I pray I will in Tim as well. At the monthly Emmaus gathering that occurred while Tim was “on the mountain,” I put in my first teaming application, with an eye towards perhaps guiding other men through their weekend this fall: something else I’d never have thought of before.

Who knows what the next set of Fourth Days will bring? Jesus does, and I look forward to seeing what he has in mind for me!

If you’re interested in taking your own walk with our local chapter of Emmaus, let me know!

Surprises Since My Book Came Out

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by two things since my book came out:

First, that people have actually bought copies! I honestly didn’t know what to expect, and to have had sales (OK, not New York Times bestseller status, but still, sales!) is a wonderful surprise and I am humbled and honored that anyone should put down their money on it. Related: people have actually asked me to sign their copy. Wow, is *that* ever an odd feeling!

book cover

Second: God’s prevenient grace is already at work. Among the sales are two to close people in my life–people who have never, or very very rarely, darkened the door to any church. Yes, yes, I know, they’re buying it just because it’s me. But still: I am hopeful that they are able to enjoy it, and find themselves wondering if there’s really more to this Christianity thing than they’d given it credit for. If at the end of the day even one person buys this, reads it, and it helps them on their journey to come to Christ, then the whole thing will be worthwhile.

So as Jay Sherman says, “Buy my book!”

 

“Can You Really Be Christian and Support This Regime?”

“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

You might not have noticed it, but the recent change in Administration in the United States has occasioned a little bit of comment on social media. I know, shocking, right?

Recently, a non-Christian friend of mine posted this question on social media. He quoted Leviticus 19:33-34 and asked (in part), “Christian friends – what do you think about this? Can you really be Christian and support this regime?” I was struck by the genuineness of his question. He genuinely seemed to be coming from a place of trying to understand Scripture and what Jesus would have taught, instead of merely trying to make a political point. In hopes of meeting him at his place of honest searching, I tried to respond: what would be a Christian response to that? Here’s a slightly expanded version of what I told him.

I start from a place of affirming that Christ came to call humanity back to a full relationship with God, and that through grace and his death on the cross, the path back to God is open again for you, me, and anyone else to choose it.

Nowhere in what I just said–indeed nowhere in the Gospels–do we see Christ coming for the Republican party, or for anything having to do with temporal political power. In fact, he taught in Mark 12:13-17 that we’re to render appropriately to the powers that be, but that’s not the same thing as his core message of repentance and the kingdom of God–not at all. And so I as a Christian should obey the laws of my country, but my focus needs to be on God. I do that in part by seeing the essential humanity in everyone, the trace of “let us therefore make humanity in our image,” that started so long ago.

Changing my focus to God means seeing, honoring, respecting all of humanity, without regard to immigration status. But it’s essential to remember that at its heart, Christianity isn’t a call into politics, in either direction. Instead it’s a call back into holiness, back into one-ness with God the Father, who created all that we are. Part of what confused the Hebrew people of the time of Jesus was that they were expecting a political messiah, one who would demolish the Roman state and institute a new world order in political terms. Jesus came to open the door to a new world, but it wasn’t the one we were expecting: it wasn’t a political door, but a spiritual one. There’s a distinction that needs to be made between the two.

And so, Christ came for everyone. He came for me, he came for you, and he came for the immigrant, with or without papers. He came because we are of absolutely incalculable worth to the Father, and that same God who bemoans our human weaknesses still loves us enough to send his son to die for us. That’s the Christian message, of hope and love for all humanity. That’s what Christ still speaks into the current morass: not preferring one party over another, but honoring the institutions that exist while working to save lives, one at a time, for the Kingdom.

So How’d It Go?

I wanted to loop back on my last post about my daughter and godson heading off to Chrysalis, and share that God was most definitely on the move that weekend!

I lost track of all the God-sightings during the time. It was great to have them share the time, and my godson even commented in his testimony at the end how meaningful it was to spend it with his sister in Christ. It was moving, frankly, to have prayed over their crosses after I dropped them off, and then to see them wear them home at the end. It was wonderful to share Candlelight with them, and to have been able to bring my wife up to be a part of both Candlelight and Closing, her first exposure to the Emmaus community and hopefully a positive experience for her that might plant, a little deeper, the seed of wanting to have that same experience. It was tremendous to hear each of the kids testify about what the weekend meant–both the kids I know, and some of the ones I didn’t. One, who said he really hadn’t wanted to be there, found his heart transformed by the Spirit over the weekend, which was just so powerful to hear. It was so, so thrilling to join with everyone in Closing and singing “Great I Am,” the kids’ theme song of the weekend, in one gigantic circle of love. And then on coming home, to hear them telling so excitedly of their experiences, sharing with their moms, and talking of wanting to go up on team sometime. And it didn’t end there: my godson’s Facebook posts have been sharing bits of his weekend ever since!

The more I see God move, the more I feel my own inadequacy at trying to wish for anything specific for them ahead of time. He knew exactly what each of them needed, and he came through in his own way for each of them, just the way he always intended. I thank God for the chance to have been at the periphery of it, and I look forward to what he will do in their lives next.

Thankfulness

We celebrated another Thanksgiving yesterday. The usual: the turkey (18# this year), the stuffing, the gravy, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes, the peas, the green beans (French style), the rolls, the cranberry sauce, the onions….  Brought my mom over, and College Boy was home for the week, his first time home in three months. All in all, a Thanksgiving like so many others.

Once we push back from the table, once we start “trippin’ on tryptophan,” do we rush into the next season and start decorating for Christmas? Or do we continue in thanksgiving?

To be thankful ought to be more than an annual occurrence. It ought to be daily, hourly–it ought to be a continual prayer of thanks to God for all he’s done for us. Stopping down once a year to be thankful ought to feel embarrassing: if this is the only time we’re thankful, there’s so much we’re missing in our life with God.

I’m thankful for

  • the opportunity to have experienced God’s love so vividly at Emmaus this spring.
  • finding Mom a nursing home that will take her next month, where she can get the kind of care she needs and can be safe.
  • College Boy and his adventures of the past few months: there’s a new maturity I see that heartens me, that makes all the struggles of high school worthwhile.
  • my daughter, despite being in the midst of the aforementioned struggles with high school. Her commitment to the Lord is strong and I appreciate all that she is.
  • my bride, for putting up with me nearly 24 years now. ‘Nuf sed.
  • grace, without which thankfulness is meaningless, and without which so much of the last year would have been impossible.
  • friends, family, coworkers, fellow pilgrims on the trail
  • my dog. I mean, who wouldn’t be thankful for her?
  • anyone reading this. Seriously: if you care enough to be following me and reading these words, I’m thankful that God has led you across my path.

The list, really, is endless. And isn’t that the point? Shouldn’t we live our lives so that they are a testament to how grateful we are to God for all he’s already done for us, instead of asking for the next thing?

Discipleship?

Had an interesting e-mail conversation among folks from church this week around the question: What is discipleship?

It’s one of those church words that gets tossed around, and for those exploring or unfamiliar with the church, it doesn’t mean anything. But even for those who are longtime members, you can get an interesting conversation going around that question. Fundamentally, it refers to being like a disciple: being like one of the original followers of Christ, who gave themselves to him and to spreading the word of God. But what does it mean?

On the one hand, discipleship can be a noun–it’s the process, the stages and steps, by which someone comes from the first inklings of curiosity about Jesus, through learning about him and what he did for us, through committing to be a follower, to growing and knowing what following Christ means, through to a mature disciple. It’s a process of spiritual growth and transformation that follows the threefold nature of grace.

Or is it? Or instead, is discipleship an adjective describing the state of being a disciple? Is it better understood as the end state on earth, the goal of the process if you will, in which grace is operating to bring us to that state?

What do you think? Should we think of discipleship as a process, or as a goal?