Did You Notice?

Caravaggio paints the scene of the Emmaus with dramatic realism, like he does all his other works.

This scene depicts the moment of recognition.  The two disciples, dressed in dark clothes are slack jawed.  One disciple’s hands fly out to the sides in surprise. The other is bolting from his chair.  The light in the picture seems to radiate from Christ and illumines their features.

Caravaggio adds a character not present in Luke’s story, a servant who does not know Jesus, who stands dully by watching this scene as the risen Lord of the new creation blesses the sacred supper with two lesser known disciples.

Caravaggio reminds us will always be those who are unaware at best or oblivious at worse to the presence of God.  The good news is Jesus keeps showing up at the table.

Published in: on April 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm  Comments (2)  
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Susan Boyle Kind of Church

Everyone has something to offer everyone else.  We all have gifts of the Spirit.

Susan Boyle surprised us because she was a homely Scottish woman who lived her whole life in poor, small village taking care of her mother, and had grown to forty-seven years and never been kissed.  She took YouTube by storm as she starred on the British version of American Idol.  When she opened her mouth to sing, what came out brought the whole crowd to its feet and a smile of joy to that chronic curmudgeon Simon Cowell.  She reminded us everyone has something to offer.   Click here to be inspired again by her mind blowing performance.

The church must make sure each of us and all of us have our chance to contribute to the fellowship of faith.  If there are persons who are not contributing then we are all hurt and at fault.  Churches full of people taking steps toward each so that everyone is able to offer their gifts; are churches who sing songs that surprise.

Don’t ever stop offering yourself waiting for something new or to change.  Volunteer where needed, call persons whom you have missed, write notes to the homebound or infirmed, go on a mission trip, join a choir, become hospitable, take a turn  caring for under-served children or  preschoolers or engage in any number of opportunities right near you.  Don’t just stand there; we need each other and God needs you.

Carve out wider clearing in the forest of your world; colonizing your part of the world for heaven’s sake.

Back to Work!

“After Easter”

We went and saw Tom Shadyac’s new documentary “I Am” on Easter night.  He is the director of cult comedies like “Ace Venture”, “Nutty Professor”, and “Bruce Almighty”.  This film is much different!  It’s powerful message capped off our Easter Sunday.  Check out the trailer by clicking here or below.

Shadyac documents the emerging story of our interconnectedness which technology is starting to describe in quantum like ways.  Science is starting to acknowledge our DNA is wired to cooperate not compete.

Then on this (Monday) morning, I listened to what Peter Rollins, a new social media acquaintance, had to say on Easter morning.  So poignantly he speaks of all the ways we deny the resurrection when we act like what we are separate from others.  Check out his message  by clicking here or below.

I wondered yesterday in my message what would be different “After Easter” this year.  Shadyac and Rollins put it together for me-I deny the resurrection every time I deny my connection to every living creature fashioned by the hand of God.

So, I laid my head down last night and asked myself the question, what would be different “After Easter” this year.  I experienced a simple revelation.  What would be different “After Easter” this year… ME!

Your Sunday Name

When I hear someone yell, “SIR!” my attention is not roused; they’re calling an older man.  Then I hear again: “SIR!”  To my surprise, he comes toward ME with my keys.  “Hey, sir, you left these,” he says.  I wonder when did I become “sir?”  I see myself as a “hey”; but not “sir”.  When did I say bye to my carefree days of being a “young stud.”  I don’t want to accept I have entered the “hey sir-hood” of my life.  My name has changed.  A name change speaks of a new stage marked by a new identity because of a change in our lives.  No matter how welcomed the change, it’s hard to let go of the old name that describes a previous reality.

Mary Magdalene was still holding onto Friday names of sorrow, despair, and death when she returned to the Jesus’ tomb to spread spices on the deceased body.  Mary knew the space separating her from Jesus was infinite; yet sitting a near Jesus’ familiar earthly form was comforting.  She came there to relive “good old memories” that didn’t hurt or “good old feelings” experienced with him.  Yet, she was stuck in that old reality.

The stone was rolled away and the body was gone when Mary arrived.  She interpreted this surreal scene using the old reality.  She assumed it was a mistake; someone moved the body; or it wasn’t a mistake and his body stolen.  Never mind Jesus clearly said he would be raised after three days.  Never mind the angels sitting in the tomb clued her that something marvelous had occurred.  Even Jesus could not break Mary out of that old reality. she thought he was the gardener.  Finally, she got it when Jesus said her name.  He said, “Mary,” and she understood.  Or did she?

The first thing she said was “Rabbouni!”; means “teacher.”  Jesus said in reply, “Do not hold on to me.”  It’s peculiar since there is no evidence Mary was holding him.  Perhaps Jesus wasn’t speaking of physical embrace.  Perhaps he was referring to her calling him, teacher; his Friday name.  Maybe he was saying let go of the way we were.  “Teacher” meant limited, fallible, and vulnerable.  Sunday had dawned; new life was possible.  Old categories no longer fit because Jesus Sunday name was “Risen Lord”.  The event of Jesus’ resurrection fundamentally transformed those limited, fallible, and vulnerable Friday names. 

I have trouble sleeping on the night before a big day; a lot stewing in my subconscious.  That often equals weird dreams.  Some dreams are so real we check to see if there is evidence they happened.  Dreams can become realities if we allow our limited Friday names to be changed to a Sunday name by a resurrection power that transcends it all and is real and available when any or everything needs to change.

Is this your story?  You knew Jesus; respected for his teachings; yet you had your arguments with the church.  There came a day when you realized something was missing.  So, you enrolled in a class, attended a Walk, participated in a spiritual activity and encountered the power in knowing the risen Christ.  You were transformed from being an agreement with a set of beliefs to being in a living relationship that brings daily strength, power, and joy that is visible in all you do.  Everything, including your name changed when you met the Christ of Easter.  Do you know that person?

The church equips people; providing tools needed for serving the world.  We offer classes, model ministry, and point to examples.  I fantasize about passing out a pill of theology or of waving a wand of biblical lessons so people can experience fully Jesus’ resurrection power.  However, if I led you to believe all is well if you are acquainted with the teachings of the Jesus; I would be do harm-misrepresenting the faith by reducing Jesus to his Friday name, ‘Rabbouni’.  The essential idea of the Christian faith is on that first Easter, Jesus the teacher, underwent a name change.  Jesus’ Sunday name became “Risen Lord” so our Friday lives might experience his Sunday resurrection power and our names may be changed.

The Stockholm Syndrome is when captives identifies with captors.  It’s the reason Patty Hearst assisted in robbing banks; Elizabeth Smart denied she was the missing and claimed to be a daughter of her captors.  Captives identify with their captors assuming they are less likely to be harmed if they fade into the background or mouth their ideology.  Citizens of liberated nations prefer previous despots rather than new-found freedom.  We want life to be predictable, and the older we get, the more predictable we want.  The spiritual version of the Stockholm Syndrome occurs when we can choose to remain in the tomb of an old predictable and safe life, rather than step toward new life because it seems unknown and risky.

Thanks be to our God who comes to us in surprising ways to disrupt when we are stuck in our same old ways.  God’s love never fails to call us from the tombs of our own making.  Our response to a God who surprises us with a persistent call is not to adopt or relearn teachings from a good teacher to get us to the next place in life.  Easter requires a vivid spiritual imagination to be in relationship with the risen Christ.  People with an Easter imagination walk with the living Risen Christ into all parts of their lives knowing in Christ they can experience the power to break loose from any grave entombing them in their old reality.  Resurrection changes everything; our name and our identity as we are reborn and remade.

This sermon was inspired by Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones, who told of a man who changed his middle name to “After.”  After experiencing Christ, he reasoned, everything was different; so he added this reality to his name.  After we encounter the risen Lord we move past our Friday names to something infinitely better as we are changed in the process.  We get Sunday names that describe a new power in our lives that defines us as a whole new person AFTER encountering the Risen Christ.

An operator whose job was to assist airline passengers in making calls began her day quite routinely.  At 9:45 a.m., she received a call from a passenger on United 93.  The passenger told her the plane had been hijacked.  He asked her to call his wife.  He said, “Promise you’ll do that for me and let her know how much I love her and the boys.”  Then he asked her to pray with him.  The operator was asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him.  After he was sure she would talk with his family, he told her they were going to try to stop the hijackers.  The phone dropped and she did not hear any more from the passenger.  In a matter of minutes, that woman’s name changed.  She went from “operator” to “minister.”  Her Friday name was “work as usual”; her Sunday name was “God’s instrument.”

Call Jesus by his Friday name, “Teacher”, and you can get by because he was a good person with good advice.  Call him by his Sunday name Risen Lord, and you will be changed.  Your Friday name may be “Business As Usual”, but your Sunday name can become “God’s Instrument”.  Your Friday name may “Sadness”, but your Sunday name can become “Joy”.  Your Friday name may “Prejudice”, but your Sunday name can become “Openness”.  Your Friday name may be “Weakness”, but your Sunday name can become “Strength in the Lord”.  Your Friday name may be “Despair”, but your Sunday name can become “Hope”.  Your Friday name may be “Fear”, but your Sunday name can become “Peace”.  Your Friday name may be “Death”, but your Sunday name can become “Resurrection”.  Friday is over.  Don’t hold on.  Let it go.  This is Sunday you have a Sunday name because Jesus Christ is Risen Indeed!

Christ the Lord is risen today!  He is Risen Indeed.

Happy Easter

Saturday Comes Before Sunday

Holy Saturday is a time of waiting.  We are in that in-between time when everything actually is happening and yet everything feels so still and stopped.  We wait, like a child waiting for any big day, unsure if it will ever get here.

Richard Rohr said, “One cannot just jump from Friday to Sunday in this case, there must be Saturday!”  On this day of the Jewish Sabbath, even the dead body of Jesus rests, waiting for God to do whatever God plans to do.

Waiting is an act of faith and submission, mixed with the authentic hope.  We do not wait and hope with a “namby pamby” faith that recites a weak mantra that “It will be ok.”  We wait with an assured hope God knows what to do with a life offered in love for the sake of others.

This means we may find new meaning in an unexpected way of place, different than what we wanted.  Yet, we wait with a courageous hope, trusting God is up to something creative and redemptive again.  We wait with our ears peeled ready to hear those ancient words, “God saw everything God had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

Published in: on April 23, 2011 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lingering a Little Longer in Holy Week

Some words needs no improvement.  Instead, the rest of us should just shine the light of Christ on them so they may live.

Richard Rohr is such person whom few could improve on his inspiring words.  His writings speak of the Christian way in the midst of suffering; reminding us of the dark side of passion week.  I need to hear words which remind me of the shadows of Good Friday; so I may more resiliently sing the bright sounds of Easter on Resurrection Day.

I feel deeply that much of our expressions of Christ’s way are watered down because of our proclivity to move quickly past the reality of darkness experienced on that Good Friday afternoon.  Rohr’s words, like Rembrandt’s painting, help me stay long enough to ponder what makes our redemption possible; love offered in the midst of awful hate, and light shone into the real darkness.

I share them with those who need them, like I.  They can be read in their entirety in his book Hope Against Darkness, p. 38.

You alone, Lord Jesus, refused to be crucifier, even at the cost of being crucified.  You never play the victim, you never ask for vengeance, but you only breathe forgiveness.  While we, on this fearful earth, murder, mistrust, attack and hate.  Now I see that it is not you that humanity hates; we hate ourselves, but mistakenly kill you.

I must stop crucifying your blessed flesh on this earth and in my brothers and sisters, and in every form of life, whether innocent or guilty, worthy or unworthy.  We are all your blessed Body, and you have always loved me precisely in my unworthiness.  How can I not do the same to others?

Give me courage to practice these Jesus ways to all I encounter on this holy week.

Open Love Letter

Terri and I will celebrate one of our four children’s first wedding.  Tara and David will be wed this weekend.  We welcome into our family a new member- a son-in-law; but better yet a “good man” who loves our daughter very much.  We think they are lucky to have each other.

This high occasion in our lives has caused me to pause and think reflectively about the essence and energy of love.  I share these thoughts thinking of Tara and David; but they are words that speak to my love of Terri and perhaps they speak to you.

Getting married is like mailing a letter with irrevocable commitments.  That kind of passionate action causes us to lose ourselves in something bigger than ourselves.  Loved promised at that altar is marked by a kind of passion offered that moves beyond the point of no return.  The beauty of real passionate love will escape us if we are preoccupied in preserving self interests.  People who experience passion, are passionately self-forgetful.  They’re absorbed in the other, and not in themselves.  Love grows in giving ourselves to what is beyond us rather than fixate on what is near us.

To David and Tara: You will always be children to us no matter how old you grow.  I pray you will always remain child-like; for children have no problem with passion.  Children don’t worry about what others think of their passionate childish ways.  So, resist propping your feet up as the years go by; allowing the blood flow to slow in your relationship.  Always dance throughout your life like children twirling passionately in the wind.


Published in: on April 14, 2011 at 9:11 am  Comments (1)  
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Is Education Worth It?

Sub-Prime Goes to College

Education is on the last things we truly believe in America.  We say invest in education and it will always pay off.  Will it?

This is a question we are asking in my own family.  I have four college age children in my family; each pursuing their life goals in their own way.  I am proud of each and affirm that there are many ways to a career.  I myself have returned to do D. Min work at Perkins School of Theology to fulfill a life long dream and pursue a future call.

This is a question we should be asking in many professional careers.  In my profession, many women and men are assuming over a $100,000 debt to attend Schools of Theology for a career in ministry.   I know many of them are asking the questions about this level spending and incurring this much debt.

I have intuitively wondered if are on the brink of an education bubble.   Steven Eisman has confirmed my intuition with hard data.  Eisman predicted both the tech and real estate bubbles (We thought tech growth was endless and everyone should own real estate.  Thus, we invested wildly and borrowed madly.) He is now bringing forth research that suggests we are on the brink of an educational bubble.

At the Ira Sohn Conference he cutely sub titles his presentation Sub-Prime Goes to College that delineates how for profit educational institutions are creating more debt for underemployed students who are beginning to default on loans at an alarming rate.  His data suggest they are marketing to students with lesser means, assuring them education pays.  In reality, what is happening is they are being allured into higher costs institutions by monopolizing Title IV funds.  You can read more HERE

The question for the coming generation-How much debt are we willing to incur to accomplish our life goals?

In Between

At any moment, someone is crying, someone is laughing.  At any moment, someone is yelling, someone is whispering.  At any moment someone is lifted up, someone else is torn down.  At any moment, someone rejoices, someone mourns.  At any moment, someone is finding, someone is losing.  At any moment, someone is born, someone is dying.  At any moment there are many good times of undeserved blessings from above.  At any moment there are also difficult times living in a fallen world with broken people.

We are promised one day everything will be put right and made whole again.  Until that day, we live in in-between times, waiting for hopes to be fulfilled.  Some wait for the disease to run its course eventually passing from life to death.  Others wait for the external scars and internal wounds to heal.  Others wait to win battles waged within their warring natures.  For these and others, we wait.  These are the in between times in our lives.

Jesus’ learned his close friend Lazarus was ill.  When he arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days; beyond resuscitation.  The rabbis believed the soul hovered for three days and after that, there was no resuscitation.  This is a specific moment of life and death.  It’s a moment, deliberately prolonged.  It is a moment where some cry, some hope, some believe, and some criticize.  There is a plethora of ways to unpack this moment.  I want us to hear the gospel message of living in the in-between moments.

The disconcerting problem was Jesus hadn’t shown up.  His sisters seem passive aggressive since their initial message only informs him of illness.  They each, separately, run out and lay a guilt trip on him. “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”  His words are cloaked with meaning, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it“.  He isn’t saying he’ll be admired.  He alludes to his resurrection and how raising Lazarus speed his own death, which leads to his resurrection, which we participate.

Jesus says “Your brother will rise again“, they think he means last days.  Belief in the resurrection of the body was introduced in Daniel, espoused by Pharisees, and accepted by the people of Jesus’ day.  Mary thought Jesus was saying something we say at funerals to comfort the grieving.  He isn’t just assuring her of the resurrection at the last day.  He is affirming eternal life begins at the moment we accept Jesus’ offer of relationship.

We realize it is an in-between time for Jesus as he approaches Lazarus’ tomb.  Jesus is at a moment between life and the death that awaits him on the cross.  Though he will rise again, like Lazarus; that does not negate the pain, suffering and dying he chooses to walk through for our sakes.  Jesus was walking into the heart of conflict, hatred, accusations, false witnesses, whippings, beatings, thorns, nails, and swords.  There were those who squawked, “Where are your followers now?”  He didn’t stop the process.  He didn’t save himself.  He continued on into death and the tomb.  We see how to walk in the between times as he waits in his own in-between time?

1.  One thing Jesus does in the in-between time is weep.  Jesus knew he had the power to raise Lazarus.  He knew Lazarus was safe in heaven with God at that very moment.  Yet, still he wept.  When John says Jesus was deeply moved and troubled, his words literally mean Jesus groaned violently and was shaken to the depths of his being.  Everyone loses their breath when they stand at a grave and cannot deny its reality.

Tears are shed in the in-between time.  No matter how sure we’re of God’s promises or how strong our hopes, we cry when someone dies.  Death isn’t a sunset that gives way to sunrise; death makes us stand still.  Every grave marks people we have loved, and our hopes are embalmed there and our dreams dashed.  Accepting death in theory is not the same as accepting it in fact.  In those moments when we weep and it is not a lack of faith.  Mary, Martha, and God as human self; wept tears at the sorrow of the in-between time.  Whether we’re at a funeral, witnessing injustice, hearing bad news; we can cry as we live with the reality of the confusion and chaos of this world.  There are in between moments when we will find ourselves in tears.

2. In the in-between time there is work to do.  Even as Jesus gave earthly life back to Lazarus, Jesus still had the cross ahead of him.  Jesus could have raised Lazarus any number of ways.  Instead, he chose to ask others to roll the stone away and he asked others to help take off the linen shroud.

God seeks human cooperation in accomplishing heavenly purposes.  God doesn’t have to, God chooses to.  Jesus invites his followers to join God in the work of redemption; be part of rolling away the stones and removing the grave clothes from those entombed in fear, loneliness, failure, resentment, or wounds.  We don’t raise people to new life in Christ but God lets us help.  That is a privilege we share with heaven, and it is not to be taken lightly.

Joining a faith community is accepting God’s invitation to join something bigger than ourselves than what’s going on in our lives.  Connecting to people of faith is God’s idea of how to have the richest experience of life.  This happens as we tell our story to those who might find their longings met by God through us.  The body of Christ is the place where we roll the stones away and take off grave clothes for each other.  Church work is good work if you can get it and it is what we do in the in-between time.

3. In the in-between time there is hope even when certain events of life and death take our breath away.  Hope is the one thing we cannot give to ourselves.  We are usually self-reliant.  Eventually, all of us will be a victim sooner or later.  Life can become over our heads before we know it; and someday it will be six feet over our heads.  What do we do when we become lifeless or unable to help ourselves?  We cannot muster any amount of effort to create our own hope in a difficult in between time?

Hope comes to us in the between times as near as a friend who listens patiently, or a teacher brings out the best in us; or a person who helps us to see other things are possible.  Hope can be engendered from kind words spoken; reconciliations made; people reunited or any act of goodness offered.  It is through others that come along beside us and help us hold onto hope in the in between times because they helps us believe things will be different because of their concern or expression of love.

A snail started to climb a cherry tree?  Birds in a nearby tree sniped their ridicule.  “Hey, you dumb snail, where do you think you’re going?”  “Why are you climbing that tree?” others chimed in.  “There are no cherries on it.”  “There will be some by the time I get there,” replied the snail.

This illustrates the truth that no matter how helpful others may be in buoying our hope, hope cannot be based exclusively what other people can do for us.  Genuine, deep water hope is based on a foundational trust that God walks with us in the in-between time.  God sees us weeping, enables us to keep on working and trusting God to do what only what God can do.  As we creep, creep, creep, God is the one who makes sure everything we are creeping towards will be there in all its fullness when it is time.  Even when a moment may feel like our last moment, there is not a grave beyond the reach of God’s resurrection power?  God’s resurrection power doesn’t come from us; it happens to us!  It happens as God’s spirit is the breath that speaks to give us hope; bringing us back from the dead.

A Pulitzer Prize winning photo shows Randall Champion hanging lifelessly upside down from a power pole in Jacksonville, Florida.  He has just taken 4,160 volt.  J. D. Thompson is straddling the pole in full harness, holding his partner’s head and giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Photographer Rocco Morabito took the picture, ran to call an ambulance and made it back in time to hear Thompson shout, “He’s breathing!”

Imagine a moment when we don’t even have enough life in us to try but God comes to us and gives us back our breath.  Imagine the joy in heaven God gets when he hears the angels shout: He’s breathing! She’s breathing!  At any moment God can surprises us in our lifelessness with new hope.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Master’s Thursday

Another magical or mystical masters moment.  Watch the video again and be amazed.  Click here to see it again.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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