Monday, October 15, 2018

From Rubble to Riesling…Concrete to Champagne…Mess to Merlot

This past Sunday I preached on the book of Micah—a prophetic book about the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem. It’s a hard book to read, full of devastation, suffering, and hardship, but also full of hope. After three chapters of impending doom, chapters four and five offer the promise that one day God will right all wrongs and bring about his ultimate redemption.

God doesn’t bring calamity and disaster just for the sake of being cruel. God is always interested in the restoration of all things.

I didn’t mention it in my sermon, but there’s a strange verse in chapter one that seems to make this point. Micah 1:6 begins, “Therefore I will make Samaria a heap of rubble, a place for planting vineyards.” And then Micah proceeds to explain this destruction in further detail. So, at first glance, this line about planting vineyards doesn’t seem to fit with the overall story of judgment. What does ‘planting vineyards’ have to do with anything? Why would God bother to share these words through the prophet Micah?

I think it’s because destruction and judgment is never the point. Restoration and renewal is always the point.

Even in the midst of this diatribe about devastation, calamity, and being hauled off to exile, Micah offers us a hint of restoration: this tearing down process is going to make room for new growth. The heap of rubble will make space and fertile ground for a vineyard to rise up in its place. It actually sounds really nice: less concrete and more wine.

While it can too often be taken out of context—essentially that God will make everything good for Christians—I love Paul’s words to the Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” When you face struggle, pain, and suffering, take heart that God is with you and is working to bring about goodness from your grief. It may take time, but God loves you and is actively working on your behalf.

So, as we endure our own personal devastation, calamity, and ‘heaps of rubble,’ may we hold hope that our God is One who takes those places of destruction and transforms them into places of beauty. May we have eyes to see the restorative work of God in all circumstances—even in the midst of pain and suffering. And may we not lose sight of God’s presence and activity in the midst of our seasons of struggle.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Doing 'Nothing' for the Kingdom

Yesterday afternoon, in conversation with Mandy about how my week was going, I said the phrase, “I’ve done nothing all week.” That was both a true and false statement. Let me explain.

The first two days of my work-week had been constantly hijacked by life. Watching kids who were off from school, multiple parent-teacher conferences, playing basketball, attending Mandy’s opera rehearsals, running errands, cleaning the house. Lots of activity…minimal ‘work.’

And even the actual work I did all took much longer than expected. A quick lunch turned into two hours at the restaurant, a training event unexpectedly turned into a networking opportunity, and some unexpected news from an unexpected source meant a two-hour trip to visit two of our homebound members.

So, by Tuesday afternoon, the weekly email hadn’t been sent, no worship had been planned, and my sermon wasn’t started. Nothing had been crossed off my to-do list…thus, I had done nothing.

But think about what I’m calling ‘nothing.’ I sat across the table from one of our new members and heard about his life, work, hobbies, and faith for two hours…what a sacred privilege. I sat in the room of a dear, faithful woman and helped her grieve the death of her son…what a sacred privilege. I sat with one of our long-time, faithful members as she told stories about her life, family, work, and adventures…what a sacred privilege.

So, while none of those things were on my to-do list when the week began, they most certainly were work—and sacred, pastoral work, at that. I wasn’t very productive, I didn’t get my tasks accomplished, and I still have a lot of work to do this week, but I most-certainly haven’t done ‘nothing.’

And, in case you haven’t picked up on it yet, my point is that we too often focus on what we’re doing or how much we accomplish, while neglecting who we’re with and how we are with them. I’ve been reminded, this week, that relational work matters way more in the Kingdom of God than the tasks we accomplish or the things we produce. Who we are is more important than what we do. We are human beings…not humans doing.

Often, it seems, the actions we would consider ‘nothing’ are the most faithful actions we could take—and shouldn’t be denigrated or ignored in their importance.

So, may we be committed, this week and always, to slow down and be faithfully present with all those in our midst. May we not be so concerned with our to-do lists, achievements, and production, that we miss opportunities to be a blessing in the lives of others. May our ultimate success be measured not by performance or accomplishment, but by people cared for. And may we be okay doing ‘nothing’ for the Kingdom.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Lost Art of Integrity

I recently heard a radio commercial for an online mortgage company. They were trying to communicate why a home-buyer should use their lending company over another, and the marketing language they used to make their point was that their company would give you the “strength of a cash buyer.”

Which, if that were true, would be awesome. But, unfortunately, it’s not. When I heard this advertisement, offering the “strength of a cash buyer,” I rolled my eyes and scoffed at their untruthful and misleading claim. Because you know what gives you the strength of a cash buyer? CASH!! And only cash. And any claim otherwise is disingenuous, deceptive, and dishonest. You may or may not be a good lending agency, but right now…you’re trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

I can’t stand a scam. Lying drives me crazy. Spam phone calls send me through the roof. I just need you to be honest.

I despise “bait and switch” marketing in all its forms. I simply wish organizations would tell the truth when telling their story. Tell me who you really are, what you really do, and what you really stand for and you’ll probably get my business. But, if not, I’m out.

And, unfortunately, the church far-too-often uses this same form of deception and dishonesty when telling its story. We may not have evil intentions, but good intentions don’t always result in integrity. I know of churches that tout themselves as being new and cutting-edge, yet are the same old thing as everyone else. I know of churches that talk incessantly about being welcoming and friendly, while being anything but hospitable in reality. I know of churches that pride themselves on being “gospel-centered” (aka ‘good news centered’), but the ‘gospel’ they are spreading is anything but good news for the hearer.

More than ever, our world craves integrity and is hyper-sensitive to any person or organization that is hypocritical or disingenuous. So, we must be ruthlessly committed to being open and honest about who we, what we’re up to, and what we care about. And if we demonstrate a deep-seated integrity in how we live out and talk about our faith, I’m quite confident that people will be interested in what we have to share. Because this really is the best possible news for the world.