Monday, April 16, 2018

The Spiritual Discipline of Home Buying

Some of you know this already, but Mandy and I are in the process of buying a new home. Barring some very unforeseen circumstances, on May 10 we will become proud residents of the Brentwood neighborhood of Bozeman, and will be moving all our belongings about 10 blocks east of where we currently live. We feel incredibly blessed that we are able to use the increased value our current home to afford a slightly larger home that we can stay in for a long time.

We’ve hesitated in sharing this news too openly, however, because there are a million hoops to jump through and you never know when the whole process might fall apart and send you back to square one. Even now, we aren’t completely out of the woods. Buying and selling a house, simultaneously, has proven to be a much more complicated process than we experienced when simply buying our home five years ago. Double the inspections; double the appraisals; double the offers and counter-offers; double the hassle.

Throughout this process, however, God has been teaching us a lot about patience, trust, mindfulness, and seeking His will. Buying a home is a constant process of ‘hurry up and wait.’ You make a million quick decisions…that are immediately followed by the need to patiently wait with almost no control over the situation. So, we’ve had to learn to trust God’s leading and guiding with each step of the process. We’ve had to learn to listen to what he might be communicating to us, paying attention to how our hearts feel about decisions that need to be made, trusting that the Spirit often works through these sorts of gentle nudges of either peacefulness or discomfort.

I didn’t expect buying a new home to turn into a process of spiritual growth.

May we always be open to how God might want to speak to us and shape us through the ordinary things of life like buying a home. May we have the eyes and ears to listen to God’s prompting and allow him to mold us into more devout followers of Jesus. May we be molded by God into people of patience, trust, mindfulness—people who seek and follow God’s will.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Counter-Cultural Way of Jesus

Each Sunday morning, we gather together to do a number of things that our modern, Western world would consider extremely strange. We get up early on a weekend morning, rather than resting and relaxing. We head to church instead of the ski hill or hiking trail. We read from a book written thousands of years ago--insistent on its contemporary relevance. We sing songs together--aloud--despite the fact that most of us would feel too self-conscious to even sing in the shower. And then, essentially, we sit and listen to a live podcast. I'm perfectly aware of the strangeness of our Sunday gatherings.

But, even weirder than worship, is the fact that we gather together at all. So much of our world is steeped in solitude and isolation. We work from home, we barely know our neighbors, and the vast majority of our social networking happens through a tiny computer we store in our pockets or purses.

So, perhaps the most counter-cultural aspect of church isn't our devotion to a murdered prophet who rose from the dead 2,000 years ago, but the fact that we would actually gather together, with our peers, to deeply and intentionally share our lives with each other.

It's just not something our culture does. We don't bare our souls. We don't share our secrets and struggles. We don't seek counseling, even when we need it. We keep it to ourselves.

I've been reminded of this fact twice now in the last half hour, as I'm sitting at McDonalds doing my work. First, when I went to order, they now want me to order and pay at a kiosk, rather than from an employee at the counter. It seems like a strange and non-social business decision. And then, later, when an employee was walking around making small-talk with the customers and seeing if he could assist them in any way, I found myself annoyed that he was interrupting my writing.

You got that, right?! I'm actually upset about having to talk with someone...while writing an article about needing to be more communal!

In our isolated and privatized world, the communal nature of Jesus and his church is incredibly counter-cultural. So, may we be willing to embrace the communal calling of Jesus--to actually know our neighbors in a way that we can show them love. May we be increasingly open and vulnerable with one another as we commit to sharing each other's loads and bearing each other's burdens. May our openness, honesty, and vulnerability with one another be a public testimony to a new way of being human--a way that embodies the counter-cultural way of Jesus.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Gospel of Foolishness

As I write this, we are four days from April…and equally as far from Easter. You see, for the first time since 1956, Easter falls on April 1—and it won’t happen again for another 11 years. So, with this strange coincidence, it seems ‘foolish’ to not reflect on the inherent connections between Easter and April Fool’s Day. And I don’t think I’m stretching to find these connections.

Now, I enjoy joking around and the occasional prank as much as anyone, and pride myself being humorous, but my humor pales in comparison to the massive joke Jesus enacts on Resurrection Day.

The religious and governmental elites thought they had their obnoxious and pervasive issue put to rest. They had rid themselves of this prophetic insurrectionist and they could once again enjoy the perks of unchallenged power and authority. By Friday night, all was made right…by might. Jesus is dead, his followers had scattered, and the normal social hierarchy had been restored. While those closest to Jesus spent that Saturday in grief, the religious and political leaders spent that Saturday in relief.

But, of course, that wasn’t the end of the story. Sunday comes, the tomb is empty, and the Son of God gets the final laugh. Jesus pulls the most elaborate prank in human and cosmic history through defeating death and raising to new life.

“Ta-da! You thought I was gone. You thought you had won. You thought your problems had been (literally) buried away. Well, I’m back. Death couldn’t hold me down.”

The resurrection of Jesus is the most well-crafted and astonishing April Fool’s Joke ever.

But to take this line of thinking one layer deeper, Jesus’ resurrection also reveals the foolishness of thinking that violence is ever the solution to the world’s problems or that death could ever triumph over life. Jesus adamantly declares the incredible wisdom found in what the world would call utter foolishness: that peace doesn’t come through the sword, but through non-violence; that murderers and terrorists are not overcome through violence and war, but through love and generosity; that evil is not conquered through military might, but through the sacrifice of one’s self.

This upside-down paradigm most-certainly seems foolish through a worldly lens, but the Resurrection proclaims the wisdom in this backward way of thinking. Jesus has come bringing a new kingdom of love, grace, generosity, sacrifice, and powerlessness—and the joke’s on anyone who fails to recognize the inherent goodness and truth of this new, radically-different sort of kingdom.

All hail our Mischievous Messiah; our Playful Prince; our Spirited Savior. May we truly embrace the upside-down, mess-with-your-head nature of the resurrection—the foolishness of the cross.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Keeping Holy Week Holy

The donkey has been saddled, the palms have been waved, Jesus has entered Jerusalem, and the week we know as 'Holy Week' has begun. It's a week of mixed emotions, as we teeter between the frivolity of Palm Sunday and the desolation of Friday, which is anything but 'good.' It would be natural for us to be emotionally and spiritually shaken during this hectic week, but the frenzy of church activities that we wedge into this 8-day period can even leave us physically discombobulated.

Holy Week can pretty easily become anything but holy.

Holiness is about being set apart; about things being special and sacred and meaningful. So, I always fear that trying to sandwich so many events into a short period of time does not allow us to properly reflect on the special-ness, sacred-ness, and meaningfulness of the triumphant entry, betrayal, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus in the original Holy Week. 

Let's remember to keep Holy Week holy.

Let's commit to the spirit of contemplation, repentance, and worship that a week of this level of significance deserves. Let's take time to reflect and pray. Let's take time to process our own culpability in Jesus' death. And ultimately, let's take time to celebrate the great hope we have in the resurrected Savior, who has saved the world and opened up resurrection potential to us all. Let's allow the holiness of Holy Week to govern our hearts and minds throughout this week -- allowing this week to truly be special, sacred, and meaningful -- not just frenetically busy.