Fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Romans 12:2 MSG

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hold Nothing Back

That is what I see in Matthew 20:1-16, a story of the landowner and his workers in the vineyard. 
But wait, our worldly wisdom tells us that this will not work. Whoa to that landowner, because tomorrow no one is going to show up in the morning! Everyone is gonna be sleeping in. Some may sneak in just before happy hour.
Well we know that this is not the major point of the story that Jesus is diving into here. But it is part of our human experience. It ties into how we relate to things and view our world. It speaks to the underlying tone of jealousy – comparison – and happiness within each of us.
Do you remember going to gym class? Two captains are chosen. You stand in a line – just waiting to be selected. And with each selection, if you weren’t picked, you wondered why did she not choose me? Or even better, are you kidding me….she chose him – her – over me! And then you play the game and kinda forget about that selection process. Until it happens again…and again..and again.
Well gym class represents much of our life. It is played out in the adult realm of things all the time. College applications and Job Fairs…Dating, friendship circles, business meetings, Community and leadership boards, Renting and buying of places to live, Economic engines, government systems, family drama, etc. As a pastor I have seen siblings torn apart. Siblings and relatives who won't speak to each other ever again because of who got what nick nack in the house when grandma passed away. I was here helping all the time. They did nothing. You love them more than me. You gave them more than me. And we stammer and stammer and stammer. Life is not fair! 
And your right… this world….the World’s Story…..playing by the age old rules of things….Life has its ups and downs. The words of Forrest Gump sum it up well. Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you are going to get. It’s true. How many of us have hovered over that box and made that very careful selection….Only to end up at times with that dreaded bitter chocolate that we were hoping to avoid? And Grandma says… have to eat it…you chose it….you can only have one! Oh life is not fair!
On a grander scale, some of us believe that six primary world stories shape our lives, and if we have these then we will have peace and security. Or we will get what we have worked for or always wanted. These six stories can be summed up in the following: Domination – do whatever it takes to be number one - Seek power – Bully – Bark the loudest – create fear. Revolution – put down any voices from below - Silence the poor, the powerless, and disenfranchised - Rule with an iron fist – keep those below you in chaos. Purification – chase away anything that does not look like me - Or think like me – or act like me. Isolation – Drive people away – Pull yourself up - Individualism always over community. Victimization – in order to be victorious you rise above the rest and in order to stay on top you keep others under your feet. Accumulation – the one with the most toys wins – greed goes unchecked - it's a dog eat dog world – I got mine good luck getting yours.
In naming them we begin to notice something. These stories are broken. They do not bring life to us or the world. These stories simply do not work. They serve to drive us apart. They create more and more suffering. And they fail to answer the question of how to make a better world. 
Thanks be to God that Jesus’s story is something all-together different. Jesus does not live by these worldly constructs. He lived pouring out life. He sought to tear down the things that conquer and divide creation and humanity. He sought to build up a new humanity where real life and real love would be experienced by all. Jesus cared deeply about bringing heaven to earth. Jesus came down to show us this. In him we see a vision for what life is to really be about. When the world’s death knell sought to silence him God raised him up. Because He lives we can live too.
This whole parable of the laborers points to a brand new story - a whole different way of living and loving. I love it when Jesus asks, “So you are angry over me being generous? You are saddened by me pouring out generosity on all?” The crowd had to shake their head Yes! And you see….that is exactly what is wrong with the world’s story. With Jesus, if one rejoices – we all get to rejoice. If one suffers – we all suffer. Jesus rejoices when all are fed, clothed, and housed. Jesus rejoices when all have dignity and worth and value.   Not because of what we have done but because this is what God desires! That is God’s story. And it is unlike anything the world typically lives by. But this is how God calls us to live. We are called to write new stories of life and transformation!
We have an abundantly generous God. Our God does not make change. All are gonna receive. All are gonna be blessed. All are gonna be raised up. Not because we earned it – deserved it – or had it coming - only because Jesus will make it so. 
Another kid’s game that you will remember…..when we were in young love in elementary or middle school. He loves me he loves me not!
Ripping off petal by petal we wondered, will he or she love us? Jesus never plays that game. No doubt – he loves us – he loves us – he loves us!
May we be like Jesus and do what Jesus does. Hold nothing back and give our all – to all – with all – for the sake of all! Amen!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Shared Journey

So often in life we are tempted to go it alone. It seems it is easy to focus on me, myself, and I. When challenged, a voice within us says pull yourself up. When in the midst of darkness, our voice says try harder. When burdened with the weight of the world, and sinking in doubt, self-help thoughts flood our brains. And in the midst of it all, the lonelier and lonelier we get. God reminds us all along the way that we are not made to do life alone. 

Whose voice will we listen to? Our own? The self-help section of Barnes and Nobles or The individualized drive-thru lane of another fast food restaurant? Or the God of all life?

Did Jesus do life alone? No. Jesus worked hard in developing a community of people that would lead transformed lives. They gathered as often as possible to deeply invest in one another. Those first disciples needed constant reminding of who and whose they were. It was in community that they thrived!

I am not sure who stated it, but it goes something like this, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” 

I experienced that life in the body of Our Savior’s last weekend through our Family Camp. A multi-generational and multi-ethnic grouping of people coming together – going away – to intentionally spend time with one another. It was time well spent in going deep on our discipleship journey – not alone – but together. We ate together – played together – opened the Scriptures together – talked about and with Jesus together – sang together – wrestled through tough questions together – and came home more alive because of it. We indeed are better together. More alive! More whole and well! Ever ready to take on the challenges that the world throws our way.

Everything that we do as the church is to equip us for life and service in God’s world. But it all starts in a community that is centered in Jesus. It’s why we come together to eat together! At table we experience the real life and love of fellowship in Jesus. All tables at Our Savior’s are tables of life and love. It’s why we do faith formation. Intentional times of being in community to grow and learn together. We don’t just throw Bibles out there and say enjoy reading it on your own. Why? Because Jesus is most experienced in and through the gathered Jesus community!

The temptation…isolate…try harder…wrestle in loneliness…fumble in darkness…do life alone. It does not work. 

To seize on the life that really is life…engage…work together…share our stories…be a vitalized part of the body…live in the light…do life together. This is what Jesus had in mind for us.

Families that eat together, play together, work together, serve together, worship together…are strengthened families. The same is true for the church and community. 

Come out…draw one another together as the church…be made strong again…and live…really live!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Equipped To Live

“Who do you say that I am?”  Jesus
Imagine today being asked this question by Jesus himself. What would your reply be?
“You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  Jesus
Could this same statement be said to you? How does that sit with you?
“If you want to become my follower, deny yourself and take up the cross.” Jesus
Have you been denying yourself? How so?
“What will it profit you to gain the whole world and forfeit your life?” Jesus
How much are you forfeiting in order to gain what is deemed important in our earthly culture?
These questions and our response to them are life defining questions. They are not easily answered. They are not to be taken lightly. As a matter of fact, any quick knee jerk response is insufficient for the gift that they offer to us. 
Jesus articulates that he is our everything – he is our Messiah – he is the Son that will undergo great suffering – he is the one to be killed – he is the one who will RISE – and it will be all for US! This is divine! Our human constructs could never even begin to attempt this kind of redemption for the world – only Jesus would – only Jesus.
And so knowing the gift that is poured out for the sake of the world, we are not to get in the way – but rather only on the way of the Jesus life. That is why these questions are presented to us. Jesus desires for us to grow into this life of discipleship. He knows, like Peter, we can’t just instantly get it – believe it – live it. We are however divinely invited to immerse ourselves into it. The ‘it’ is the faith life of a disciple of the living Christ. The ‘it’ is the struggle, the wrestling, the questioning, that comes when we follow to where it is that Jesus is leading us. 
That is exactly why we as Our Savior’s create and offer the opportunities for faith formation. Every week through a myriad of opportunities, we gather as faith community, to listen, to read, to reflect, to ask, to speak, to experience – all for the purpose of more fully living into the gift of real life that Jesus invites us into. Every kid and every adult, through the work of faithful parents, peers, mentors, and rabbis’, hear God’s story for them. 
God’s story shapes and grounds us. God’s story invites us into the questions. God’s story equips us to live – truly live! May we all fully immerse ourselves into God’s life shaping ministry.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

We Are Blessed To Be A Blessing

May the light at the core of your being illuminate the world.
Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and 
glorify your father in heaven.
                       Is the light of your life blessing others? Be Specific.
May you always be aware that you are loved beyond measure and may you be willing to love unconditionally in return.
           God loves you and you can’t do nothing about it.
                       How is God’s love for you being poured out as a blessing for others?
May you be reminded that we are all ONE. UBUNTU!
The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as: 
"It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them."
We are blessed to be a blessing! 
           How we doing at blessing each other and our world?
May we always remember that it is in giving that we receive….the greatest gift.
           What gifts are you daily receiving?
           What gifts are you daily giving?
May every doubt and fear be replaced by a deep and abiding trust as you behold evidence of God who is all around you.
           Name the greatness of this God who is all around us.
Let’s become a Church of hunters of blessings………actively seeking them out in every experience and person you encounter!