Monday, January 13, 2020

The (Peaceful) Hero We Need

In a world rife with anger, retaliation, violence, and war, we desperately need people of peace—both historic and current—to guide us into nonviolent ways of being human together. In a period where the most wealthy, powerful, and famous people in our world too-often ascend to their station through greed, corruption, lies, and deceit, we need new sorts of heroes—from both the past and the present—to demonstrate and steer us toward a better direction.

I’m suggesting that one such historical figure is the biblical character of Esau.

For those unfamiliar with the earliest stories of the Bible, Esau was the oldest son of a man named Isaac…but only by a few seconds. Esau had a twin brother, Jacob, who was born grasping his heel, desperately striving to emerge first. It was this act that earned Jacob his name (which means ‘trickster’), but this trick would pale in comparison to his future hijinks. Two deceitful stories stand out.

The first devious and dishonest deed came in the form of Jacob robbing Esau of his birthright for a mere bowl of soup, as his brother died of hunger. Jacob took advantage of Esau’s desperation, stealing from him the blessings that were promised to the firstborn son in this ancient culture. Jacob’s second fraudulent feat was pretending to be Esau (all the way down to wearing fur on his skin to emulate his hairy brother) in order to trick their father into blessing him instead.

Jacob was a cheat and a swindler—and his actions could have ruined Esau’s life. In fact, Jacob assumed they had; which is why he runs away in fear of Esau’s wrath and freaks out when he’s coming home and hears that Esau is marching out to meet him, with 400 men at his side. Jacob is terrified, devising a plan to split up his camp so Esau can only murder half of Jacob’s family. He trots out to meet his brother, prepared to offer him a massive peace offering and perhaps meet his death.

But instead, when Esau saw Jacob from far off, for the first time in years, he “ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”

Esau was a person of peace. He had been angry, but he learned to forgive. He didn’t harbor his bitterness, waiting for his opportunity to exact revenge. He showed mercy and love. And even more, when Jacob offered Esau a peace offering of flocks and herds of animals, Esau’s response was, “I already have plenty.” How great is that?! The text doesn’t say anything about the quantity of Esau’s wealth, but that line seems pretty unambiguous about the quality of Esau’s life. He’s living a good life. He’s a person of peace—both internally and with others.

Which is why Esau is such a perfect example of the type of people we need in our world right now. We need people who will forgive when wronged. We need people who don’t seek retaliation, but peace. We need people who don’t avoid in fear, but embrace in love. We need people who aren’t always striving for more, but can confidently and contentedly say, “I already have plenty.” We need more people of peace.

So, may we learn to be like Esau—at peace within our soul; and at peace within our world.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Who Is This God?

The Bible is a lot of things. But one important aspect of scripture is that it is a long, arching, metanarrative about the true nature of God. What is God like? How does God act? How is this God different than all the other gods? How does God behave differently—more just, loving, kind, and redemptive—than us, His creation? It’s one of the major, recurring themes of scripture: who is this God?

The book of Genesis offers us plenty of (often obvious) ways to think about the nature of God, but as I was re-reading the opening chapters of the Bible this past week, I noticed an example of God’s true nature that I’d never seen before.

In Genesis 9, just shortly after the flood waters have receded and Noah’s family has emerged from the ark, we read about a pretty strange, undetailed story. Noah has planted a vineyard, harvested the grapes, become drunk on the wine, and passed out, naked, in his own tent. But here’s where the text seems to leave out some details. Noah’s son, Ham, sees his drunk, naked father and tells his two brothers, whereupon they proceed to moonwalk into his tent, eyes closed, and cover his naked body.

It’s a weird story, sure, but the details we receive in Genesis don’t seem to justify the response that follows. Noah proceeds to curse the youngest son of his youngest son. For some reason, Canaan, the youngest son of Ham, is cursed by his grandfather, Noah. He wishes for him to be a slave to his brothers and uncles. It’s an odd reaction from Noah—a strange story about someone we applaud as a hero of the faith.

But if we fast-forward a few hundred years and stick with this theme of ‘Canaan,’ we catch a glimpse of what God is really like. In Genesis 12, when Abra(ha)m emerges in the story, Canaan re-emerges. When God yanks Abram from Ur and leads him to the land He will show him, that final stopping place ends up being Canaan. The great covenant of Abraham—the promise of great land, name, and people—originates in Canaan. What a crazy twist in the story!

The land of Canaan was cursed by Noah, but blessed by God. God has giant plans of blessing the entire earth through Abram and his family, and it’s all going to begin…in Canaan.

Because that’s what this God is like. He’s a God of blessing, not curse. He’s constantly taking what we mean for evil and using it for good. In all things, He’s working for the good of those who love him. He’s a God who works blessing into all the places we are prone to curse. He takes the so-called ugly, broken, no-good, overlooked, underappreciated people and places of our world and reminds them that was never what they were and they, too, can be people and places of blessing. That is who He is.

So, in our efforts to serve God and follow Christ, may we also be people of blessing—who step into the cursed places of our world and transform them into places of beauty and hope.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New Goals for a New Year

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s Resolutions, as they too-often set us up for failure and disappointment. We arrive at December 31 having not been performing certain activities or maintaining certain habits, and then put pressure on ourselves to suddenly flip a switch on January 1—start a new behavior and maintain it faithfully for the next 365 days. And when we don’t—inevitably failing at keeping our resolution—we beat ourselves up over our lack of discipline.

But I do believe in setting goals for the coming year. I think it is helpful to decide on a few things, personally and professionally, that we want to consciously strive for in the year to come. Doing so helps us to not aimlessly float through the next 12 months, just keeping the status quo and trying to survive.

So, here are some personal and professional goals I’m setting for this coming year. Some of them have a starting date of January 1, but most are things I’m hoping to accomplish by the end of 2020.

Personal Goals:
  • Wake up at 6:30am everyday
    • I stay up too late and sleep in too much. I've never been a morning person but always had a desire to be so, especially because on the rare occasion I do get up early, it is peaceful and serene and a wonderful way to start the day. So, this is the year...finally!
  • Read scripture daily (devotionally, and not just for sermon prep)
    • I read a lot of scripture throughout my week, but almost none of it is done for personal or devotional reasons. So, I'm planning to read scripture daily this year, using The Bible Project's app called "Read Scripture". Join me if you'd like.
  • Read 3 novels
    • I don't read much fiction, but always enjoy it when I do.
  • Explore and further understand the Enneagram
    • I continue to hear wonderful things from trusted friends and colleagues about the power of the Ennegram in being a way to understand yourself and others, but I've never dove in to understanding this helpful tool. I've taken the test and sort of have a number in my mind about what I might be, but I'd like to do a little more research and see if this resource isn't really helpful as a person and pastor.

Professional Goals:
  • Read 12 non-fiction books
    • I read quite a bit, but always wish I read more. And I even have a new reading recliner in my living room, so no excuses!
  • Be more intentionally pastoral
    • This was among my goals last year too, but I am still committed to being more intentionally pastoral in my life and work. I let all sorts of excuses, including my relatively young age, keep me from boldly speaking prophetic, encouraging, and wise words over people and I want to get better at embracing my role of pastor.
  • Connect with local pastors
    • I still don't know enough of my my local pastor colleagues, and certainly don't have a strong enough support group of people in my vocational network.
  • Start an alternative worship gathering
    • This goal doesn't involve changing how we currently worship on Sunday mornings (although it could down the line), but I'm experiencing a desire and sensing a need for some sort of alternative worship offering at our church (and for our community). I don't know exactly what this will look like or when we would meet, but there are a number of us beginning to talk and dream about this project. I'm thinking it would be more experiential, communal, and practical, and that we would begin this experiment next Fall.
  • Help our church faithfully navigate the chaos of an election year
    • This one is tricky. I'm definitely not interested in telling people who to vote for or promoting partisan politics of any kind. And as the pastor of a politically diverse church, I want to properly shepherd all of my flock. But I also know that this next year is going to get very heated, politically, and I will feel a strong temptation to never say anything controversial. So, I'm trying to figure out the most faithful and helpful way for me to engage politics. I want to be a pastor who promotes good, healthy, helpful conversation about things that matter. I want to be a pastor who reminds his church that neither party has a stranglehold on faithfulness and that the kingdom of God is almost always in contradiction to the kingdoms of the world. I want to be a pastor who is willing to talk about issues that are too often seen as 'political' -- things like creation care, poverty, peace/violence/war, and God's love for all people.
Now, what about you? What new behaviors, habits, or activities are you being invited into this year? What goals do you have? What would you like to accomplish or change by the end of 2020? Let’s make this another year of being open and pliable to the ways in which we can be transformed as healthy, holistic people and as more faithful disciples of Jesus.