Friday, October 25, 2019

A Good Word for our World

Our church's College Group is currently studying through the book of James on Tuesday nights, and a few weeks ago we tackled the last section of chapter one. The passage begins with a really famous verse of the Bible, one that continues to rattle through my heart and mind weeks later.

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” ~ James 1:19

How good is that?! And how appropriate for our present world?! I’m pretty convinced that verse might be the most important and relevant verse of scripture for our current cultural moment.

In a world that rarely listens, speaks too much, and is constantly on edge and up at arms, these words from James are a balm to our collective soul. In a divided world where difference is to be debated and opinions are to be argued, the challenges of listening, silence, and peace are revolutionary concepts.

Which is why these words have failed to fade over the few weeks. I need them. I need to be reminded that listening is way more important than talking. I need to be reminded that when my first inclination is to spout off knowledge or opinion, being slow to speak is the wiser course of action. And when my low-grade frustration with different ideas and challenging people percolates, James’ words are a beautiful reminder that anger is antithetical to God’s peaceable kingdom.

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” ~ James 1:19

So, may we ingest these words and be shaped by their wisdom. May the pace of our lives be slow enough that we actually listen to those in our midst. May we resist the urge to always speak our minds and make our point. And may we be people who are not conquered by the lure of anxiety and anger, instead choosing the kindness, peace, and love of Jesus as we engage with our world.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Overlooking What's Important

Sometimes we can be so focus on the target—on money, goals, successes, achievements, accomplishments—that we overlook what’s really important. Sometimes our eyes are so fixed on the future—on our task lists, getting things done, getting that job, finishing that degree, getting to retirement, finishing that project—that we miss out on all the goodness hovering around us.

I love this picture. It’s funny, but it’s also illuminating. It reminds me of the need to slow down, look around, and pay attention. Our sights can so easily be fixed on the wrong things that we fail to see the beauty in our midst. It happens to all of us.

Maybe we’re so focused on providing for our family, that we waste the fleeting time we have with our kids. Maybe we’re delaying our passions and callings—whether it’s volunteering or traveling, serving or starting that new adventure, adopting that kid or taking that risk—for another season of life when we have more time, energy, and resources.

We look to the future and miss out on the present. We worry about things that may or may not happen, and leave ourselves too exhausted or anxious to be fully present in this moment.

And that’s why there’s so much wisdom in the rituals of Leviticus—because we need built-in rhythms that ground us in the beauty and goodness of God’s presence here and now. We need practices that allow us to recognize and remember what’s really important. We need routines that help us notice God, one another, and our world.

And that’s why scripture—both Old Testament and New—is so adamant about the significance of Sabbath. Sabbath gets us back on track. Sabbath realigns us with what’s important. Sabbath reminds us that there is a God, and we are not Him. Sabbath is a bold declaration that the work is done, even if it’s not. And Sabbath allows us to pause, look around, and notice the beauty and goodness of God that we too often miss when we are immersed in the world of productivity and success.

So, let’s not allow the allure of the future—success, achievement, money, and goals—to distract us from the goodness and godliness of the moment. Let’s be faithfully present each and every day, awake and alive to an awareness of God in the moment.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Building Toward Bigger Risks for God

What you’ve just witnessed is me jumping and clearing a 12-foot gap on my mountain bike.

Now, if that sounds big…it is! And if that seems a bit crazy…it is! And if you’re surprised that I both tried and succeeded at this big, crazy feat…you should be! Because I don’t normally try those sorts of things and I’m a little shocked, myself, that that’s really me in the video.

I like to go fast and push the limits, but there is a threshold to my adventures and it’s usually well short of 12-foot gap jumps.

The interesting thing about the daring feat in this video, however—and the reason I’m sharing all this with you—is the process it took for me to be mentally ready to take this risk. Like I said before, normally I don’t do things like this. If I were to walk up to this jump, look at its size, and ponder its difficulty, there’s no way I would ever try it. But the reason I felt comfortable and willing to tackle this obstacle was that there was build up to this jump that you don’t see in the video.

This 12-foot jump is actually the final (and largest) jump in a series of about 12 consecutive gap jumps in one short trail. You start small—with an easy jump that spans only about 2 feet—and then proceed to encounter 11 more gap jumps, each of greater length and difficulty than the last. But you’re building up speed and confidence throughout the run and by the time you reach the more-daring of jumps on the trail, you feel like they aren’t much harder than the jump you just cleared, so why not give the next one a try.

Seriously, I would have been freaked out to try that longest jump cold-turkey.

But when it was the climax of a series of obstacles strung together in a way that built courage and reassured confidence, it was suddenly no big deal. Of course I would hit that jump after everything I’ve already tried and succeeded at!

And I think that’s true, as well, of the great risks and adventures that we are called to as followers of Jesus.

Following Jesus is hard. He asks much of us and there is great risk of failure and pain. I’m not sure I can sell my possessions and give them to the poor. I’m not good at feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and caring for the outcast. I don’t always want to love my neighbor as myself. I really don’t like the idea of loving my enemies and praying for those who persecute me. And the ultimate challenge of Jesus is to lay down our lives and take up our crosses—which seems daunting and scary and way too hard—especially when we approach a challenge like this cold-turkey.

But what if we start small, with simple ‘yeses’ to the invitations of Jesus? What if we begin with random acts of kindness that require almost nothing of us—a dollar to someone on the corner or a smile to someone on the street. And what if we allow these simple ‘yeses’ to being the hands and feet of Jesus in our world to foster fearlessness for trying the next ministry adventure that God places in our path?

Let’s build up some confidence in small, simple, easy ways of following Jesus and see if it doesn’t bolster bravery in more difficult demands of discipleship. Let’s work our way up the ladder of love and service and see if we aren’t shocked, in the end, at what we are willing to, and capable of, accomplishing for the Lord if we say ‘yes’ to the little things and build up confidence as we travel the trail of life with Jesus.