Monday, March 12, 2018

The Spiritual Discipline of Trying Stuff

I'm not sure about you, but I can easily be a pretty cautious person. I like to know what I'm getting myself into before I commit. I want to be able to weigh the risk and rewards before embarking on a new adventure. I like a predictable outcome. 

But that's not often how faithfulness works. When Jesus was searching for his disciples, he didn't hold job interviews and check references. He simply invited people to follow him. When asked, by one potential disciple, where Jesus was staying, his response was not passive and informational, but active and committing: "come and see." There's no room for deliberation, as the disciples don't get to cautiously ask questions and weigh their options. Heck, they don't even get to say goodbye to their families or bury the dead. They just lay down their nets and follow. They jump in with both feet, because faithfulness often carries an element of risk and adventure.

It's the spiritual discipline of experimentation. 

As I've been preaching the spiritual disciplines over the past month, I've been constantly reminded of how following Jesus almost always takes us out of our comfort zones and asks us to try things we aren't comfortable with. I preached on fasting this past Sunday, which is something I'm terribly uncomfortable with...and I'm sure our church is too. But the invitation is to risk giving it a try -- even if we hate it -- in an effort to connect with God in a deeper, more profound way. Jesus is always poking, prodding, and stretching us -- trying to take us from our place of ease and comfort to a place of depth and abundant life. 

And the spiritual disciplines are a fantastic way for us to move toward deeper spirituality and faithfulness, but they will require us to venture outside our status quo and try something new and potentially hard. So, in an effort to utilize the spiritual disciplines as a means to greater connection with God, let's be willing to undertake the spiritual discipline of trying stuff -- the willingness to take risks and experiment with new ideas and practices. Try something new. Experiment with a new practice. Read a book you normally wouldn't read. Watch a documentary instead of binge-watching that sitcom. Introduce yourself to someone you've never met. Have a conversation with someone you might disagree with. Work on being a better person and follower of Jesus. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the blessings you find from those risks.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Thankful For My Tribe

[a letter to my church after the passing of my grandma]


Most of you know, by now, that my grandma passed away last week. She was incredibly special to me and I will always miss her. I spent the first 24 hours in tears, after hearing the awful news, but those initial tears have passed. I'm sure they'll return when I first see my grandpa and while I'm speaking at the funeral, but for now, the intense grief is gone.

There have been other tears shed over the last week as well, but not tears of pain and sorrow. I have been moved to tears on seemingly countless occasions this week by the beautiful and heartfelt words of comfort and encouragement from you all, my church family. I have been grateful for your friendship in my life. I have been blessed by your presence. I have felt the power of your prayers. 

I have been preaching about the significance of community for years now -- about the importance of being a group that truly knows one another and allows ourselves to be known. I have often spoken of the incredible power in this sort of relationship -- that through fostering intentional community we are able to be present with each other through all of life's circumstances -- whether joyous or painful. We have tried to foster this sort of communal space.

And I have certainly felt the blessing of your friendship, but until now, I had not personally experienced the encouragement and joy of a family of faith through a time of grief and hardship. Your kind and thoughtful words have buoyed my spirit. Your cards and hugs have reminded me of the goodness of God and His Church. 

Thank you for that beautiful reminder. Thank you for loving me and my family through this painful time. Thank you for being a church of prayer. Thank you for being a family of faith. I love you all greatly.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Our True Identity

Very early in the book of Mark—at the beginning of his ministry—we get the story of Jesus being baptized by his cousin John, the first Baptist.

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

This is a passage about calling and identity. As Jesus hears the voice of his Father, he is confirmed of his reason for donning skin and emerging on earth. He’s here for a reason. The “spirit like a dove” and the “well pleased” lines are throwbacks to Isaiah 42, where the messiah is promised as the bringer of salvation. The “son of God” language is first used in Psalm 2:7, where King David is spoken of as the son of God. So, when Mark pens this passage, he is demonstratively declaring that Jesus is the New David, the perfect king who has come to save the world.

But look closer at the passage. While all this is true, and there are most-certainly tasks that Jesus has come to perform, those tasks do not encompass his full identity. The way I see it, Jesus’ true identity comes not from what he does, but who he is. First and foremost, above all else, and apart from anything he does and says, Jesus is loved…and he is pleasing to God. It’s his true, central, undeniable identity: he is loved by God.

And of course, right?! I don’t love my kids based on what they do or accomplish. Sure, they have a God-given calling and identity that I pray they fulfill. But, first and foremost, regardless of anything they ever achieve in life, I love them. I am pleased with them. And God loves them too.

The same is true for you: despite anything you’ve ever done or not done, you are loved. The God of the universe created you, is pleased with you, and is deeply infatuated with you. I pray you will know—deep in your bones—that your central, core identity is as the beloved child of God, who is profoundly pleased with you and always will be. May we learn to trust this calling and identity. May we believe in our beloved-ness. And may we extend that same love and delight to all we encounter.