Month: January 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Reads of the Week | 01/30/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

When the Coffee Machine is Just a Human by Andrew Pilsch

Pilsch shares about the qualitative difference of coffee made by humans as opposed to the instant pod one cup. I agree, coffee made by humans tastes better.

Re(de)fining Purpose by Carlie Galla

Carlie calls readers to look beyond goals, careers, and dreams to start as the question of character. Many of us need a little more focus on who we are becoming as opposed to where we are going.

Tuesday Reflection: Who Knows How to Listen? by Seth Haines

Last week, I read Haines’ book Coming Clean, and I highly recommend it. His short reflection invites to experience silence so that we can hear from God.

One Day I Stepped into a Puddle and Disappeared by Becky Martin 

Becky just started blogging, and her first posts have been fantastic. She wrote a remarkable post about motherhood and finding her identity in Christ.

Our Prayer Instincts are Backwards by Andrew Wilson

Wilson makes a phenomenal observation on prayer:

The topsy-turvy order of the Lord’s Prayer is one reason it is so remarkable. Jesus’ disciples knew the Scriptures, so they probably already knew how to ask for rescue, forgiveness, necessities, and God’s action in the world. What they didn’t know, and what Jesus wanted to make sure they never forgot, is that prayer is not intended to move from action to relationship.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Roman Mager.

Interruptions

Henri Nouwen said in Turn My Mourning into Dancing, “…I realized the interruptions were my work…” This statement baffles me on many ways levels. We start our day with a well-devised schedule and plan. Then the phone call comes. The person stops by unannounced. Sometimes one huge crisis diverts our attention and other times several little incidents detour us through the day.

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Taking on the interruptions seems like a recipe for disaster. It breaks the routine. Pulls us off our goals. We have pitted people against tasks. Budgeting time requires the wisdom to know when to say “yes” or “no.”

The larger question we have relates to our devised lists, schedules, and plans. I wonder if we incur debts to our budget of time because we overspend it. We jam our day full of tasks without ever having margin for an interruption. Then when we fail to finish what we planned, then we live accruing anxiety on our time.

Gordon MacDonald in Ordering Your Private World makes this observation about Jesus and time:

Although His everyday world was on a much smaller scale, it would appear that He lived with very much the same sort of intrusions and demands with which we are familiar. But one never gets the feeling when studying the life of Christ that He ever hurried, that He ever had to play “catch up,” or that He was ever taken by surprise. Not only was He adept at handling His public time without an appointments secretary, but He also managed adequate amounts of time alone for the purpose of prayer and meditation, and for being with the few He had gathered around Him for the purpose of discipleship (pg. 82)

Jesus took time for the interruptions of healing people and discussing life in addition to the time He took away to pray and simply be present for the disciples. In His confinement of space and time, He models for us how to invest our time.

Busy can seem like a badge of honor. In a moment of honesty, though, we long to live life unhurried. Accomplishing our responsibilities while still having space for what matters. Part of our frustration with interruptions comes from our tension between wanting to respond and the realization we overbooked ourselves.

As we begin today, I think we have a few questions to ask ourselves about our time:
What has Christ called me to do today?
What tasks need my attention today and what can I plan for another day?
Do I have a margin of space for an interruption?
Do the most important people in my life feel valued by the time I have given them today?

The wisdom of interruptions does not mean a lack of direction or organization. Rather it means having the wisdom to invest time what matters for the day and leaving room for the people situations God might bring into our lives.

Photo credit by Veri Ivanova.

Table Talk: Conversations on Scripture

A professor from a state school invited me to a biblical literature class. The students discussed the David and Absalom narrative from 2 Samuel on that day. I attended a Christian college full of classes interpreting, debating, and engaging scripture. This context intrigued me because it allotted me the opportunity to compare my experience with this class’ experience.

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Their discussion wrestled with David’s motives in 2 Samuel 15. The professor and students brought to the surface how David asked God to thwart Absalom, but how he devised his plan to do the same. For this class, King David wasn’t necessarily a hero but a flawed man of mixed motivations. Anyone engaging this passage has to grapple with the writer’s ambiguity of the characters’ motivations.

These students came from various faith backgrounds. Each one of them had a fascinating viewpoint to offer from the passage. This experience challenged me to read Scripture through their lenses of what they saw and heard. Often, we can find ourselves engaging Scripture out of our biases and preconceived notions.

I meet people apprehensive about reading the Bible. People fear misunderstanding the text and then misinterpreting it in discussion with others. Some of us have lost the imagination of experiencing the story of Scripture. It can become another task in the day.

Part of our problem comes is that we were never intended to engage God’s Word on our own. Community becomes a place where we wrestle, interpret, and discuss Scripture. We open ourselves to listen to other’s perspective because we recognize our limitations to understanding the text.

Galatians 6:6 says, “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.” What we see people in the Bible discussing the Scriptures: Jesus with Nicodemus, the Early Church in Acts 2:42-47, Peter with Cornelius, Paul with various churches. Engaging Scripture becomes a practice participated in community.

Students of Martin Luther recorded their conversations with him in the book Table Talk. The book references discussions at the dinner table. Table Talk gives us a picture of engaging the Bible in community. We sit at the dinner table with each other discussing passages learning from each other. It becomes part of our everyday life. Table Talk gives us a picture of engaging the Bible in community. We sit at the table with each other discussing passages learning from each other. It becomes part of our everyday life.

Eugene Peterson in Eat this Book says this about Scripture:

Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son (pg. 18)

My class visit reinforced the value of engaging Scripture in community. Not just an academic or intellectual pursuit, but in the realization that we mature not just by engaging scripture on our own but with each other. God speaks to us while we sit at the table together.

How do you engage the Scripture with the people around you? Where do you have your table talk with others on Scripture?

Photo credit by Aaron Burden.

Comebacks

Philadelphia loves the Flyers, Sixers, Phillies, and especially the Eagles. In living that area for seven years, I will never forget the summer of 2009. The Eagles signed Michael Vick to their team. He had just come out of prison for his role in dog fighting. His coming to the beloved Eagles had mixed reactions. Callers debated him on sports radio, and comment sections on online articles brought the discussion to the internet.

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Soon the season started, and Vick sat quietly on sidelines. Early in the 2010 season, Vick rose from a backup to starting quarterback. The Philadelphia fans embraced him. I would listen to the radio shows which once debated his arrival, now ecstatically cheer for him.

We love comebacks. Beyond the outrage of a person falling from grace, a part of us hopes for them to rise again. It’s not just in sports. Jean Valjean personifies it in Les Misérables. Bands after years of fighting will get back together. Some political figures even experience redemption.

Comebacks do not negate the evil perpetrated, but they call people to experience confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Why do we embrace comebacks? Because these stories embody the Gospel. Whether we realize it or not, we identify with the person who falls from grace. Their worst moment displayed for all the world to judge. Grace surprises us. Rather than condemning, Christ forgives us and redeems us. Putting ourselves in someone like Vick’s shoes realizes our need for grace and mercy.

Chuck DeGroat, author and professor, recently shared a quote on January 25th by John Calvin in the Institutes saying this:

The image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.

The idea of the image of God invites us to see others and ourselves as Christ sees us. Perhaps, this is why a falling out with a friend bothers us. We feel the need to right our wrongs. You and I long for freedom from guilt and shame. The hunger for forgiveness and reconciliation originates from God created us in His image.

Comebacks reveal the justice of wrongdoing, but the hope for redemption. You and I live in that tension. We look in the mirror recognizing our brokenness, but we find our value in the redemption God has given to us in creating and forgiving us. Experiencing the Gospel means realizing our comeback to the Father like the prodigal. Furthermore, seeing God’s grace bring comebacks in others.

In what ways do you hope to experience a comeback today?

Photo credit by David Straight.

The Mind

What were your first thoughts this morning? The to-do list of tasks emerged. You might have thought about the people you will see and the future conversations. Yesterday’s success and failures jogged in your self-conscious. Somewhere in there, we wonder about lunch. We have more thoughts than we can ever realize.

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When we begin to examine our thoughts deeper, we uncover reoccurring messages. These messages range from the following:
Lies we believe about ourselves.
Anxiety concerning what we have to do or what people think.
Fear of failing.
The bombardment of criticisms we have heard from the past.
Hurts surface and re-surface.

What we think affects what actions we take and what we say. Grasping our thoughts means uncovering the positive and negative narratives. It takes time to sort through our thoughts to recognize the truth, reality, and feelings. Ultimately, what we think matters, but it might not paint a complete picture.

Paul in Romans 12:2 calls us to “renew our minds.” The previous eleven chapters detail what Christ has done for us in His death and resurrection: the Gospel. Through Him, we have experienced reconciliation, and we no longer have to walk in guilt and shame. Renewing our mind becomes the nuts and bolts of experiencing the Gospel in our everyday lives.

Dr. James B. Richards in How to Stop the Pain explains the correlation of the Gospel and a renewed mind from Romans 12:2:

The Gospel reveals faith-righteousness from beginning to end. We must start renewing our minds to it by accepting the fact that we are righteous in Jesus. We are completely accepted by God. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves more loved or accepted. Because we are righteous in Jesus, we are loved and accepted. Through these feelings of love, safety, and peace, God can walk us through a life of transformation without us feeling afraid or condemned (pg. 88)

Renewing our minds does not mean the removal of negative thoughts, rather it’s the process of seeing these thoughts through the Gospel, as a person loved and accepted in Jesus Christ. The pressure of transformation moves from our ability to the grace Christ offers us. The Gospel allows us to exchange our fears, anxieties, lies, hurts and the past for the reality of Christ in us.

What thoughts in your mind need to experience the Gospel in renewing your mind? In what ways, can seeing Christ give you a new mindset?

Photo by Jacob Sapp.

Reads of the Week | 01/23/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

6 Bible Verses When You Feel Stuck in Life by Jeff Martin

Jeff makes a remarkable observation here:

When we shift the focus of our prayers from our will to his, things change. Our eyes start to open to new possibilities. This year could hold the fresh start we’re looking for—and it starts with realigning our hearts.

All Christians are Biased Voters by Christena Cleveland

The political season is upon us. Cleveland shares about how our views come from biases. This article invites us to listen to others and calls us to humility.

6 Tips for Cultivating the Practice of Reading Scripture by Joel Green

Green provides six suggestions for reading Scripture. He gives us a glimpse of the Bible shapes our lives in personally and in community with each other.

Why Some People Take Breakups Harder Than Others by Lauren Howe

Not just breaking up, but How examines our internal narratives. This piece opens people to see a redemptive reaction to rejection.

The Founder of TOMS on Reimagining the Company’s Mission by Blake Mycoskie

Mycoskie shares how he recaptured the “why” of TOMS, rather than focusing on the “what” and “how.” A fantastic insight for people who lead organizations.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Aleksi Tappura.

Unmet Expectations

Words seem cheap. When we experience a “No” from God, we grasp for the platitudes and pillow stitched verses. People in their kindness attempt to provide hope. The simple clichés never speak to the angst and the amount of effort we have asked God to intervene. You and I petition God for the healing, removal of the pain and struggle, and He answers us with a “No.”

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If each of us had the opportunity to share of unmet expectations in prayer, we would recall the painful situations. Some of us would reflect on the beauty from the ashes. Others of us would still interrogate God on the question of “Why?” The pain of a broken world does not exempt us from unmet expectations, especially in our prayers.

Isolation becomes the lie we believe in these circumstances. God says “Yes” to everyone else. People reticently amplify the good news of answered prayers. Perhaps, we have lost the ability to weep with those who weep. In the all good news, does anyone want to tell the truth of the bad news? Disappointment happens to all of us.

I wonder if we need to hear more stories. Not for advice, but to experience the “me too” of life. Debunking the lie of isolation falls flat when we encounter someone in a similar situation.

Seth Haines in Coming Clean courageously and eloquently shares about his journey. The book outlines the ninety days of recovery from alcohol while his young child Titus fights for his life in a hospital with a rare disease.

In one of the most remarkable sections, Haines speaks of unmet expectations. He reminds us that David received a “No” in losing a son in 2 Samuel 12 and so did Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when He asked not to suffer. If you and I receive a “No”, we’re in good company. I would encourage you to read the whole book, but Haines sums up this section by saying this about prayer and unmet expectations:

The invitation to make our will known to God, to beg for his intervention, is an invitation to act like the blood-sweating Jesus in the garden. Bending the will, though, requires the Christlike willingness to endure the cup of unmet expectation. Bending the will requires Christlike faith, a faith that says, “Father knows best.” Bending requires Christlike knowledge that even in the shadow of every valley, God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28) pg. 158

A perspective like this does not negate the agony of unmet expectations. Rather, we need the reminders of faith. Many of walked through these dark valleys and that includes Jesus. It moves us from faith in circumstances to one directed towards God.

I look back at my prayers that resulted in unmet expectations. In the bending of my will, I learned to know Him in a different way. His promises met me in surprising ways. In my disappointments after the weeping, I began to realize that Jesus walked into the same dark places. Our Savior hears our prayers as someone who sympathizes and emphasizes.

Today, you might be in the midst of hearing a “No” from God. My prayer for you today is that you sense Christ in the dark places and that you could find the hope of joy in the morning. May you feel the prayers of the saints and may their presence encourage you to sense God’s presence.

Photo credit by Elliott Engelman.

The King of my Heart

“What did you think of the song on Sunday?” Jason, the worship director, asked the question about a new song. A group of us sat in a debrief meeting for the church service this past Sunday. The question hit me like a high school pop quiz when I forgot to do the homework. I heard the song during the week played in Jason’s office and even a portion during practice. It never occurred to me to take notice of the song.

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Sunday was exhilarating. Browncroft, the church I serve, embodied the Gospel. A group of passionate volunteers assisted people in getting connected to a community. These Browncrofters affirmed and encouraged others to take the next steps in their spiritual growth. Not in a forceful way, but an empathetic and encouraging way that said, “I took this step too, and Christ worked in my life.”

I spent that day frantically sweating the small stuff. My mind ran through the to-do list a thousand times. Each moment brought a worry that I had forgotten something. Rather than pausing to see the Gospel displayed by God’s people or listening to the new song, I rushed in my anxiety.

Honestly, I identify with Martha more than Mary. Sitting still to listen to Jesus seems foreign and unnatural. In a Martha tone a voice, I can hear my thoughts, “Jesus don’t You see the work needing to get done.”

Somehow the lie of earning God’s love and grace reoccurs in me. If I’m not producing, then I’ll disappoint God. The Gospel says otherwise, but old habits die hard.

Jason asked about the song called King of My Heart by John Mark and Sarah McMillan After the meeting, I looked up the song and listened to it. The following lyrics stopped me:

Let the King of my heart be
The wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves;
Oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart be
The fire inside my veins
And the echo of my days;
Oh He is my song

You are good, good, Oh
You are good, good, Oh

I wonder how often God calls us to simply be with Him. We worry ourselves with unnecessary concerns. Our hurry from task to task can cause us to neglect seeing the beauty of Christ presence all around us. As I look back at Sunday, in my busyness I overlooked the chance to recognize Him by listening to a song.

Christ, who anchors our souls through the waves, invites us to know Him. What if at one moment today, you stopped to recognize His presence with you? What would you see?

Often, we remained tunnel vision by what we do and accomplish. Grace stops us to take notice of what we could never make happen on our own. Christ has reconciled us through His death and resurrection. Sometimes He calls us to sit like Mary because we need to pause to meet with Him.

Last night, I listened to the King of My Heart. At some point in the day, take the time to listen to this song and ask God to give you the vision to see Him. Perhaps, Christ has called you to do less so that you might rest in Him.

Photo credit by Thibaud Vaerman.

Jocks, Nerds, and Punks

What group did you run with in high school? 1980’s movies depicted high school segmented into cliques. The jocks exerted their athletic authority. Nerds attempted to walk the hallways without getting shoved into lockers losing all their books. Punks wore their cut off jean jackets while trying to stick it to the man. It seems these three groups got the most attention in movies with the Brat Pack or even in Back to the Future.

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Each plot line of these 1980’s high school movies followed the same premise. The jocks, nerds, and punks started separated. They might bicker with each other. One group would pick on another group. At a particular scene, they would have a genuine moment where they identified with each other. Soon the labels would not matter. The acts dropped.

We may have graduated from high school, but we may not have graduated from groups. Many of us still try to maintain our membership in labels.

The Gospel challenges us to drop the act. Jesus’ first beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount begins in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meekness misunderstood seems to imply timidity. It’s not the first character trait we follow. Christ’s calling us to meekness welcomes us to see ourselves as God sees us: accepted and loved by God.

Meekness releases us from embodying a group or persona. We can exhaust ourselves living up to an image. Just like a 1980’s high school movie, we experience the realization of authenticity. A.W. Tozer makes this observation in the Pursuit of God:

To men and women everywhere Jesus says, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for that we are and cease to pretend. It will take some courage at first, but the needed grace will come as we learn that we are sharing this new and easy yoke with the strong Son God Himself (pg. 110)

When we follow Christ, we no longer have to pretend or maintain an image. Christ’s grace offers accepting ourselves and others. Not based on pretense, but founded in the rest of experiencing Christ in our lives.

Whether you label yourself a jock, nerd, punk, or another label, Christ offers rest in finding our identity in Him.

Photo credit by Ryan McGuire.

MLK Day 2016: A Prayer

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Today, we remember the life and influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
His life embodied Your words on the Sermon on the Mount,
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
He had the audacity to believe that You bless those who repay evil with good, rather than evil.

Almost fifty years have passed since King’s death, and we still face similar issues.
At times, we have overlooked injustices.
We sometimes lack the compassion to walk in another’s pain.
Political affiliations separate us from each other.
It seems now more than ever; we need the peace that You offer.

Lord, forgive us.
Forgive us for not seeing each other as created in Your Image.
Forgive us for continuing the fight rather than seeking reconciliation.
Forgive us for not practicing presence by listening to others.
Forgive us for not moving towards each other in love.

The Gospel reminds us that You bring peace.
Though sin alienated us, You brought us near through Your grace.
Thus, You removed the wall that divides us from each other.
We stand at the same level at the foot of the cross.
We realize the message of the Gospel brings us closer to You and each other.
You are our peace.

Give us hearts motivated to bring peace.
Move us to have empathy for each other.
Teach how to extend the grace you have freely given to us to each other.
Let us love each other in words and deeds.

Prince of Peace rule in our hearts and lives.
Let us reflect on this day how to embody Your peace and reconciliation in remembering the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo credit by Michael Wilson.

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