Monday, February 25, 2019

Insanity Illuminators

“A rabbi is hired by a community to point out their insanity.”
~ Lawrence Kushner ~

I ran across this quote from famed Jewish rabbi Lawrence Kushner a few months ago…and I love it! It’s funny and provocative, but I also think it’s insightful, wise, and true—and not just about rabbis, but about pastors as well.

When you hired me as your pastor three and a half years ago, you hired me to do a lot of things. I’m part worship leader, event planner, teacher, and lecturer. I do my fair share of administrative work, graphic design, lawn mowing, and taking out the recycling.

But, as Kushner illuminates, for some reason you also hired me to speak into your lives. You hired me to know who you are and ask questions about your lives and spend time with your families and be present during significant events like baptisms, weddings, and funerals. You hired me not just to preach broad sermons about generic passages, but to specifically preach into your lives and offer relevant help, advice, and wisdom. And you even hired me to provide you with spiritual counseling.

So, as Kushner points out, you hired me to point out your insanity—the ways in which your lives (and mine) don’t perfectly align with Jesus—and help you (and me) get back in sync with the ways of God’s Kingdom.

Why would you do that?! Why would you hire someone who’s role is to poke and prod at your personal lives and invite you to grow and change?! You’re insane!

But I love that this is one function of church. I love that we get to be in one another’s lives in vulnerable, intimate ways. I love that we are encouraged to know each other and be known. I’m grateful I get to play this role in your lives and I’m even more grateful that you play the same role for me. Thank you for helping to point out my insanity. Thank you for helping me to grow and mature as a man, husband, father, and Christ-follower. And thank you for allowing me into your spheres of insanity.

This is an important role we play for one another—the insanity illuminators.

So, let’s commit to always allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and open with one another. Let’s commit to always holding each other accountable. Let’s commit to graciously calling each other out when we aren’t living the way we should. Let’s commit to always spurring one another on toward love and good deeds. And let’s commit to always helping one another live more and more into our God-given calling to live like Jesus.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Being an Honest Community

I recently read an article called Grief Hides in the Bathroom,’ about how churches too often sweep grief and pain under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. The article began with these words:
“A friend of mine recently lost her daughter, an 8-month-old baby who was just beginning to get to know the world around her. I saw my friend at church not long afterward, a grieving mother holding so much in and around her. As we entered the sanctuary, I could feel something in the air. It felt like grief lingered all around us. 
In the middle of worship, while the congregation was preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas, my friend left the room. I followed after her. We ended up on the church’s bathroom floor, weeping together, as people came and went, unsure what to say to us. We chose to grieve together in that moment instead of holding things together for the sake of others’ comfort. Church is often like that. We celebrate together in worship but grieve alone.”
 And that’s been my experience of church as well—and I have no excuse because I’m the person who primarily crafts our weekly liturgical hour. As the author says later in the article, “We cover up grief and hope that it will go away, because our sanctuaries are meant to be pristine and our services are meant to be planned and coordinated, not sloppy with tears and sadness.” I prefer my worship services to be neat and organized, happy and cheerful. It’s more fun that way.

And yet, I’m aware that those who walk through the doors of our church on a Sunday morning, myself included, enter with baggage and pain and hurt and grief. We sometimes enter the service happy and content, excited to sing God’s praise. But there are a lot of Sundays where we come to worship distracted, stressed, tired, sad, and burdened. We come with a million other things on our minds. We come with hurtful words still ringing in our ears. We come with hearts that have been ripped asunder. We come with minds that are confused and unclear about the future.

And generally, there’s no place for this range of emotions to be explored and expressed on a Sunday morning. It just gets stuffed down and ignored, too often replaced by manufactured contentment and manipulated happiness.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all our Sunday worship gatherings be transformed into slow, somber services of lament. But I am reminded of the need for all of us, myself especially, to acknowledge that all is rarely well with our soul when we show up on Sundays. Life has a way of battering and bruising ALL OF US. No one is immune. So, while we need not devote each service to the vulnerability of grief, let’s at least do away with the need to pretend that everything is always great (or even fine). Let’s be honest with one another. If someone asks how your week was, it’s okay to say “I’m struggling…would you pray with me.” That’s not weakness, but great strength. Let’s be a church of honesty and genuine community, where we truly know one another and allow ourselves to be known.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

They're Always Watching

Peyton surprised us in the best possible way recently. What happened came out of nowhere, but maybe we shouldn’t have been shocked.

Our family, like many, is pretty consistent about praying before meals. So far in our kids’ lives, however, we’ve typically said a pretty simple prayer together: thank you Jesus for this food and for this family…amen. As our kids have aged, we have begun to pray more complex prayers together, but most of the time we still say our simple family prayer.

But just the other day, when Mandy asked if we were ready to pray before our meal, Peyton spoke up and said she would pray. We both assumed she would simply lead us in our typical prayer, but instead, she prayed her own prayer. And it was awesome. Simple and juvenile, but still serious, thoughtful, and heartfelt.

We were blown away! Where did that come from?! None of us were expecting that to happen—and even Zoe was floored by Peyton’s great, spontaneously-led prayer.

But later that night, as Mandy and I processed the occasion further, we determined that maybe we shouldn’t have been so stunned. I mean, I DO pray for a living! And we are a very spiritually active family. While we have never forced our kids into spiritual practices before they are ready, they both have witnessed our spiritual practices on countless occasions.

I guess Peyton has been paying attention!

Which is the main thing we took away from this fun, spiritual moment: our kids are paying attention. They are sponges, soaking up the way we live, talk, and treat one another. They are always learning, whether we want them to or not. And to make the point more universally applicable: everyone’s always watching. We far-too-often watch each other in order to judge and condemn when someone fails, but still, we watch. And because of this voyeuristic tendency in our culture, we have the opportunity to bear witness to a watching world of a new way of being human—a life infused with the grace, peace, and love of the gospel of Jesus.

Our responsibility is to be models of right living for a watching world. We can’t make new disciples of Christ if no one actually sees us living as disciples of Christ, so let’s commit to living boldly and publicly for Christ—bearing witness to the new, alternative existence we have found through Jesus’ salvation. The world is paying attention, so let’s make sure they see Jesus in and through us.