We pray that this Christmas season, you are able to not only embrace the gift of Jesus, but also experience his amazing peace!
I hope and pray that we all had the kind of Christmas that we wanted (and needed) – full of rest and gratitude and all the love we can handle.
This week is one of transition – Christmas has passed (the date, not the significance) and the New Year is around the corner. Maybe 2018 was the best year of you life… and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe you want to make some changes, and maybe you need to make some changes. Maybe you’ve endured more than you thought you could handle, maybe it’s been dark, lonely – or maybe the optimism you’ve chosen is coming out of your ears, and everything feels possible.
The truth is, no matter where you stand, where you’ve been, everything IS possible.
Every new year message I have ever given is based on this possibility. Where are we? Who are we? What do we want? Who have we been created to be? Who do we want to be? (And are the last 2 the same?) Are there things we need to pick up? Or put down? Start? Or stop? What about our relationships (with God and each other), are they healthy, life-giving? Or are we in desperate need of boundaries?
It’s exciting and terrifying, probably in equal parts. We’re standing on the edge of a precipice… It’s awesome, really, we can see for miles and miles in all directions.
The season following Christmas is called epiphany. It “commemorates both the revelation of Jesus Christ as God and his manifestation to the Gentiles,” “a moment of sudden and great revelation.” In other words, the baby has come, now what does it mean? To our world? And to us? What does it mean?
This is Sunday’s message, 10:30am at the Bridge. I invite you to come and we’ll walk into this together.
As you know, this time of year, I get reflective and mushy – so I have some thoughts on church, God, grace and gratitude.
On Sunday, we had 2 extra events – a pancake and eggs breakfast in the morning and caroling at the VA hospital in the evening. I had virtually no part in either. In fact, I was unable to go to the caroling at all (and a special thanks to you for accepting that with grace and love). These events were well-planned and went off without a hitch. The men (Dan Boyer, Jeff Buvoltz, and Danny Dubble) served us all from beginning to end and it was wonderful. Later, the women (Joy Graeff, Muriah Pennycoff, and Althea Cirillo) took us into the VA and served those folks in presence and sweet, sweet song.
I had far more trouble with this than you’d imagine, as one who speaks every week on ‘you don’t have to’ theology. I don’t have to, but there is a common traditional model where everything that happens in a church is planned/led/at the very least attended by the pastor, and even though I don’t come from any common traditional models of church (in fact, I ran away from those models), I easily fall into the mindset where I ‘have to.’
Don’t misunderstand, there is almost nowhere I’d rather be than with you, being the hands and feet of Jesus, but like all of us, some days…
My body, soul, and spirit said absolutely not, but the part of me that is driven by obligation and the weight of should (and the draw of my brothers and sisters) made the evening increasingly difficult.
Grace is like that, I think. We have been so conditioned to believe we must fit into certain expectations/common traditional models – what we can earn/produce, how full our resumes are. We sometimes are governed by who we think we should be. And Jesus says, “no, right now, here, as you are.” No should’s, no expectations.
Of course, we have responsibilities – we won’t always want to, but we do anyway. Because we have decided there is value in a thing or practice. We might be tired, but come to church or work out or go to work or brush our teeth anyway, right? We have events (on weekdays, Saturday mornings, Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, etc) and sometimes they’re not always the most well-attended, and that can be pretty disappointing. But we couldn’t have it any other way. I imagine those of us that walk away from Jesus are terribly disappointing to Him, too. But the cost of turning it into a ‘have to’ instead of a ‘get to’ is waaaaay too high.
We are a home. We are just like your dinner table – a place where you meet/are encouraged/refreshed/can question/honestly express yourself/love and be loved freely, and the base from where you go out to change the world.
When days like Sunday go off without my direct involvement, it changes my heart and reinforces one of our first values of the Bridge – it is not yours or mine, it is OUR community. I’m so thankful to be a part of something as beautiful as this, and belong to someOne as beautiful as Jesus.
Black Panther is a brilliant superhero movie, exciting and sort of fresh, introducing new characters, new places, new conflicts. Honestly, I didn’t lose my mind over the movie itself, like so many did. I did, however, lose my mind over the social/cultural implications.
But these implications are not what I want to talk about, right now. I’d be happy to do that another time. But in Open magazine (where she expanded on an idea I read in the entertainment magazine I faithfully read), Lupita Nyong’o, who played Nakia in the movie, said, “I feel very encouraged with where we are, the fact that a movie like this exists. There’s a lot of shifting going on in culture that is very encouraging. But I think that change is not an event, it’s a process. And so that is what I’m focused on, and that is what I want to participate in, the actual process of change, and not just an event where somehow we think that we are all fixed.”
Yesterday, I wrote a post called Surrender. Last night, I read this quote: “Change is not an event, it’s a process.” The post and this quote share the same perspective. (I may have mentioned that I was being pursued by this teaching – EVERYWHERE I look and listen, almost as if by accident, it’s there, with a new facet to be held.)
So. We do not change overnight – we learn to surrender, forgive, release, or anything else that truly matters. This learning is full of stops and starts, chutes and ladders, and the ground we’ve covered can really only be seen in hindsight, when we look back and notice that who we are now bears small resemblance with who we were then. The view is exhilarating and getting there/noticing it requires great intention and attention, and should be appreciated, not overlooked.
Currently, we’re discussing work/rest rhythm on Sundays, and this is of course intimately related. We rest, we stop and breathe, look around, notice where we are, where we are going, where we have been, engage in the journey of our lives,
and enjoy it.
Ecclesiastes says, “People should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.”
Obviously, sometimes, the structures around us are broken and need to be confronted and corrected – and this confronting and correcting we must do. And in the words of Nyong’o, “that is what I’m focused on, and that is what I want to participate in, the actual process of change, and not just an event where somehow we think that we are all fixed.”
We are not all fixed, everything is in transition. The Bible is an account of movement, of participation. The story is going somewhere, we are going somewhere – and in the midst of all of this transition, where we often get and stay so busy and blind to the process, we have to pause to take in all of this beauty and wonder.
(This is an exciting time for me. I wonder what I’ll come across today…Maybe I’ll write again tomorrow.)
At our Advent retreat on Saturday… First, these retreats never fail to affect me deeply. I leave a changed man every time. Anyway, at our Advent retreat on Saturday, we held hands with the concept of surrender. This is fascinating, because it’s sort of a continuation of a conversation I’ve been having in my soul for months. This must be my season to finally make some new steps in understanding what it means.
It usually turns out that I don’t really want to surrender. I want to grip the wheel of whatever, white-knuckled and breathless, and control what happens, carefully place where it goes. I just want some input in the outcome. But the truth is that I don’t really have any. I can only offer what I have to offer, I don’t get to decide where it lands, if the soil is soft and rich or hard and full of clay.
I know this (but I don’t have to like it, right?), so I sat in silent contemplation with this truth, wrestling with it.
Yesterday, during the message, I made what I thought was a hilarious joke about 2 VERY similar Hebrew words (one meant ‘holy’ and the other was ‘prostitute.’) The words were similar because they meant ‘set apart for a particular purpose,’ and could describe both. Well, it wasn’t as funny as I thought it was, it fell flat and I moved on quickly. In my life, I have a long and embarrassing history of telling mis-placed jokes and saying the wrong thing, so it wasn’t too out of character.
But let me tell you, the time between when I say the wrong thing and when I know it is the wrong thing is getting shorter and shorter all the time. Now, it’s almost immediate that the words are out that I wish I could catch them and shove them back into my mouth.
I think it may be the same thing with most areas of spiritual growth. Surrender, release, forgiveness, saying the perfect thing, or any number of others are not natural to me. Maybe they’re not natural to any of us. Maybe control or resentment or vengeance are so common and so powerful, they have become our default settings. That when we choose to forgive someone, it is in such conflict with our instincts that it is a complete re-programming that must be done. And that takes time. The more we do it, the more comfortable we are with the uncomfortability of it all, and the time between when we grasp and when we let go shrinks.
I don’t know if I’ll ever feel a stressor and say, “hmm, I’ll just let that go,” and actually let that go before it rearranges the furniture in my head. When people say ‘Let Go and Let God,’ that’s probably why it’s not helpful at all. A. We know we should, and B. It sounds like it’s just easy to do, like we hang on because we want to, like we somehow enjoy the pain of anxiety or worry. We don’t want to, it just takes time to re-learn an entire cultural system that’s been fed to us since birth. It’s a process and it takes a lot of attention.
But we’re getting there. I think it’s probably a lot like food or fitness. Today, if we have a bad day and eat a bunch of bad food or skip a workout, we feel like we are worthless and that the progress wasn’t really progress at all. Like, the numbers on the scale are up or we still tell bad jokes or go to bed angry or struggle to surrender and it’s so maddeningly frustrating and depressing. But, if we look back, with a wide lens, we’ve come so far and have changed so much, it’s cause for celebration (that we’ve sadly never acknowledged.)
In that retreat, I realized that I was wrong; I do want to surrender – the guy I used to be didn’t. I’m not that guy anymore. The truth is, I often don’t release the weight of control very quickly, if at all, but I want to, now, and that ‘want to’ makes all the difference.