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.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Difficulty of Discipline

Spiritual commitments are easy to make and terrible hard to keep. Maybe you all are stronger humans than I am, but I really struggle with staying consistently devoted to my vows of discipline. It's so simple to fudge; to say "I'll get back on track tomorrow." And before we know it, it's been a week or a month or a year since we last kept to our promises.

Discipline is difficult. 

Just a few weeks ago, in my Sunday sermon, I talked about my desire for holistic health and the practices I was taking on in order to finally get healthy again. And now, just a few weeks later, I'm already tempted to neglect some of those important health routines.

Or...a few months ago, I set a recurring timer on my phone to ring at 9:00, 12:00, and 3:00 each day -- as a rhythmic reminder to pray. But already, just a few months later, I often find myself ignoring the alarm and neglecting to pause for prayer. 

Or...just yesterday in my sermon, I challenged many of you -- my congregation --to be committed to prayer throughout this week. Yet already this morning, as I awoke, for some reason my first thought was not one of prayer. I was was already undisciplined. I already failed to practice what I preached.

Discipline is difficult. 

And yet, that is the point. Life can be so hard sometimes, so we need spiritual disciplines in our lives to reground us in those moments of difficulty. So, I'm reminded to keep at it when it comes to being spiritually disciplined. And I'm inviting you to the same. Don't worry about failure. Forget about your screw-ups. Brush off your lack of discipline and keep trying. And see if God doesn't form you mightily through that process of failure and re-dedication.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

An Unusual Connection

There are a number of major events coalescing on the same day this Wednesday, with the two major ones being Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday. But if you know me very well, you know I'm crazy about baseball -- and more specifically, the Seattle Mariners. So, one of the things I'm really excited about is that Wednesday is the first day of Spring Training. America's pastime is back!

Now, at first glance, you're probably wondering what baseball has to do with Lent. Let me explain. This time of year, as a Seattle Mariners fan, is an interesting time of year. On the one hand, the Mariners have been bad for so long -- 17 years since they last made the playoffs -- that it's easy to be pessimistic about their chances this season. And yet, this is the start of the new year and anything is possible. So, this is a really hopeful time of year, as well.

And the season of Lent is the same way. Lent is a time of self-discipline -- a time to focus and center ourselves on our deficiencies and worldliness, temptations and shortcomings. We are reminded that we came from dust...and to dust we shall return. And yet, Lent is also a time of hopefulness. No matter how dark life gets, how challenging the trials and temptations are, or how destructive and unhealthy our lives have become...there is always hope. There is always resurrection on the horizon. No matter how dark and depressing Friday seems...Sunday is coming.

So, the impending baseball season -- which always brings me equal parts joy and sorrow -- is a perfect reminder that life is the same way. But no matter how hard the past season was, there is always hope for the season to come. No matter how much 'death' we have experienced, there is always the hope of new life. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Call to Holistic Health

Last week I visited my doctor for my annual physical, and like each year, I was reminded of the holistic nature of health. In many ways I am a really healthy person. I'm not overweight, I play basketball multiple times a week, I play soccer and mountain bike all summer long, and am generally in good shape. Yet, once again, my blood-work showed that my cholesterol and triglycerides are high and I have some work to do in order to get healthier in that area. My diet must change, my soda consumption must lower, and my vitamin usage must increase. Just because I'm healthy in some ways does not necessitate overall, holistic health.

And it is the same way with every part of our lives. We may have good physical health while our mental health is eroding. We may have healthy families while our spiritual health is severely lacking. We may be killing it at work and while our marriages are falling apart.

But God wants us to be holistically healthy. We are challenged to love God with our heart, soul, strength, and mind -- which means that we must be strong and healthy in all of these areas. So, I was reminded, last week, that God wants us to be healthy in every aspect of our lives. Let's celebrate our strengths and commit to working on our weaknesses. Let's commit to the spiritual discipline of being healthy in every way imaginable.