Jesus

A Woman I Know

A woman I’ve recently met lost her husband last year. I didn’t know her then, I never met him. She began coming to a small group after her tragedy, as a broken-hearted widow trying to hold on to God, to other people, to meaning, to today, to life. She sometimes looked tired, sometimes like she had just finished weeping (which she probably had), yet she always shows up.

I stay quiet, muted in my Zoom box, watching and listening, fully present to her suffering. You know, in the book of Lamentations, the author wails “Look! See!”, simply seeking a witness to this searing pain. The crushing hurt of loss and abandonment has overtaken her, “Look at this affliction!” In Lamentations, the God she knows has “broken my teeth with gravel; He has trampled me in the dust.”

This woman I know understands Lamentations, I bet, only too well. She said last week, “I don’t trust God so much right now.” I don’t know how she felt about saying it. Sometimes, we can get so wrapped up in what we are “supposed to” say, “supposed to” do, who we “should” be, that we ignore who we are. And from behind that facade, we ignore who God is.

When I was in seminary, studying the Bible and writing research paper after research paper, more than any particular story or verse, I was surprised at what I was finding over and over. The overwhelming theme was God’s desire for honesty. Even as He was commanding rites and rituals, He was reminding us that the rites and rituals meant nothing at all without heart. If they were just sacrifices, just songs sung and hands raised in church, just plastered smiles and rote prayers, they were nothing more than hypocritical performance. The Scripture tells of a God who wants us, who we are, how we are, right here, right now, instead of our hollow dog and pony shows.

This woman I know sees the value in showing up in her weary brokenness. Which looks exactly like grace, His grace as well as her own. I think when she says, “I don’t trust God so much right now,” He probably smiles, because in her courageous authenticity, she is displaying that she does. She trusts Him enough to tell Him the truth, confident He won’t leave her, that He’ll keep His arms around her. And if she doesn’t feel it this second, she will.

And she has chosen to trust us. We have been this woman’s witnesses. We almost never get the answers we think we want, but we do get hands to hold. We get people to love us and hold us up when we just can’t do it ourselves anymore.

This is an online Bridge post, but it’s also a love letter to her (that she may never read). I want to thank her. I want to tell her how much she’s meant to me, how she’s inspired me, how she’s given me courage and strength by simply being a warrior everyday and letting me watch. I guess that’s why we were given The Church. Showing up and taking one more step is nothing to do alone, our gift is that we get to take those steps and live these lives as a community. And if we keep showing up, keep opening our eyes, hearts and hands to each other, we get to experience these moments of immeasurable beauty and love up close.

Into The Light

Sunday we discussed marriage, single-ness (if that is even a word…it doesn’t feel like it is), and sex. The Apostle Paul writes about these subjects often, they’re found in many other spaces in the Bible, yet every time a sermon in church is based around sex, it’s met with a certain level of surprise and/or uncomfortability. This unease increases even more when the topic becomes sex between married couples. I suppose I know why, but it’s points to an early breakdown that has led us all down many different, unhealthy paths having little to do with sex at all.

The cracks begin with a bizarre learned aversion to conversation, especially about the most important topics. This aversion leads to a pathetic lack of communication that gives rise to the lie that sex is dirty and obscene and should be kept out of view. Obviously, this secrecy (like all secrecy) is the doorway into any number of dark rooms that are steal our dignity and are dishonoring to our hearts, souls, bodies & spirits.

When we build entire structures around the notion that some things need to be hidden in the darkest places, guilt and shame grow like mushrooms. Shame isolates us, and we stay sick with imaginary diseases. Sex isn’t shameful, isn’t dirty or obscene. It can be, but just because something can be misused doesn’t mean the thing is defective.

I can’t say the first talk I gave on sex didn’t give me deep pangs of anxiety, but I can absolutely tell you that it doesn’t now (any more than anything else. I still get butterflies of excitement every single Sunday, and I hope they never stop.)

The more we talk openly & respectfully about anything, the less power it has over us, the less fear-inducing it is. The more we can drag into the light, the less mold can spread. The 30th difficult boundary conversation is much less threatening than the first, and as it loses power, we can much more treat ourselves and each other with kindness instead of control. That need for control is rooted in fear. And control and love simply cannot coexist, so the more we can remove that fear, the more love we can display, the more love we can freely give.

If I don’t need you to see everything my way, vote for my candidate, behave the way I want you to, I can then allow you to be you, listen, actually listen, and maybe exercise some empathy (in some cases long dormant) and find the common ground that is always there. Common ground and understanding are nearly impossible to discover from behind thick walls of fear.

If we can talk honestly about marital sex and it’s many gifts (intimacy, connection, affection, I could go on and on), then maybe it won’t be a monster in the corners of the church. The Church has long been afraid of human sexuality, maybe she should be more concerned with secrecy and isolation. But again, just because the Church & religion have been misused, doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Quite the opposite. They are perhaps more valuable, more important, now than ever. But we can’t ever get to reclaiming the actual divine picture of The Church if we’re too proud or too frightened to mention Her and/or address the ways She’s been defaced. Think about the violence done in the name of Jesus, and imagine the horror and hopelessness if we threw Him away because of the offenses done in His lovely Name.

So we’ll keep talking about the beautiful purity of sex and the way it’s been dragged through muddy alleys. We’ll keep screaming about the immeasurable joy of marriage and mourning the damage too often done in the context of a lesser view. We’ll keep having these discussions with hands open in love, reclaiming these life-giving words and concepts, and we’ll do this all together.

Resolutions

We’re nearly 2 weeks into the new year and the vast majority of New Years resolutions have fallen by the wayside. The new faces at the gym have disappeared, new diets have crashed, we are hopelessly behind on our devotional plans. That’s not unusual, resolutions historically aren’t so resolute.

However, the interesting thing to me is the question behind them. We are responding to a prompt or a call, a desire to address a problem area, or a pull forward into needed growth. The catalyst that leads to the resolution remains long after the resolution is forgotten. It’s vital that we not forget the catalyst, too.

The focus word we discussed is different from a resolution because there’s no failure, perceived or otherwise, involved. If we’ve not decided on a word, we can do it now. If we have one, and haven’t moved towards it, towards making it a part of our lives, we don’t have to wait for next January, we can pay attention tonight, right now. We’ve been prompted, called, given a desire, whether we act on it doesn’t change the fact that the Spirit moved in us.

I’ll often begin long discussions with myself to talk myself out of this reality. Maybe it was just me, a delusion, vanity, maybe I was following a trend, heard somebody say something on a podcast, or a Sunday sermon, maybe it was indigestion. But it probably wasn’t God, right?

Why do I do that? Maybe you do, too, and maybe our answers are very very different, as different as we are, but I’m thinking that instinct is, and has always been, misguided, grounded in a misunderstanding of our value.

The prophet Samuel had to be called several times before he could acknowledge that it was actually the God of the Universe saying his name. I wonder how many fishermen and tax collectors Jesus had to ask to “follow me,” before the 12 came to grips that He wanted them, was asking them on purpose.

Sometimes we don’t continue on this path because we don’t think we’re worth the time and energy and care to give to our own growth. We are what we are, and we’ll always be. I used to think that way, but it’s strange, the more time I spend in the Scriptures, the more I’m convinced of His love for me. And for you, no matter who I am or who you are. The seeming conflict in that – that we are all loved so extravagantly, like we are His very favorite – makes us big and small. It fills us with confidence and humility. We understand that the refrigerator is His and our picture is on it. Mine, yours, everyone’s, picture is on it. He’d die for us, why is it so hard to believe He’d want to spend time or call us into the life He promises, the life He created us to live?

So, maybe your devotional calendar says January 3, skip ahead to the today, 13, and start again. Then start again when you get behind. Go back to the gym, make dinner a good one, reach out, connect, go to bed early, turn your phone off, whatever is sticking in your heart. Listen to that, listen to Him. You are loved beyond reason or limit. And maybe you did make it up, maybe it was dehydration, and that’s ok, too. Start anyway. As Paul writes in Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And remember, we’re worth it, and I know because He says we are.

New Years Worksheet

Yesterday, we continued a discussion on the Story we find ourselves in, as well as our role in it. I can’t think of any better day than New Years Day to look back, reflecting on what has past, and look forward, considering the future. Where have we been, where are we going? What have we learned, where have we grown, where have we fallen, where have we soared?

Where Christmas was a discussion of THE GIFT, New Years is one of response. As we move through Advent and Christmas, we enter a new season: Epiphany. The significance of Epiphany, The Christ child is here, what does that mean? He has come, so what now? Our lives are our answer to the question of Epiphany, our answer to His coming, our rescue, our salvation.

A great, meaningful life (which we can also call a faithful response) doesn’t happen by accident. We don’t get where we’re going without an idea where we want to go, or a knowledge of where we’re called to go. Again, this conversation is about the call, what Story, Whose Story, we’re in and what our part is.

Each person’s individual calling can be different, but one thing is always certain: It’s God’s Story, and He gave us all a call in common.

This common call is found in the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

GO and MAKE DISCIPLES. We talk a lot about the first part (“As we’re going”), not as much specifically about the 2nd (“make disciples.”) How exactly do we do that? How do we make disciples? With our words (1 Peter 3:15 “Worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to give an account”), song, beliefs, doctrine, time, $, energy, and I’d suggest, most importantly, with our lives.

So, what kinds of lives are they? New Years is a great time to ask these questions and set path forward. Years ago, a woman opened my eyes to the value of a ‘word for the year’ to set my focus upon, to set this path upon.

What’s important with any path is that we’re on it. We need to start, take a step, move, join, jump in. Where is yours? Where are you being called to take steps? What do you think?

Here are our questions to ask: What kind of life am I living? What needs attention? What needs to change? What needs to be fed?

The cool thing about living a life WITH Jesus is that no one has to give us much direction here. You are probably feeling something very specific to you and your circumstances, listen to that. God is speaking, we simply aren’t listening too much. Or we’re ignoring what we hear, for whatever reason, usually fear. We just might need to stop and be quiet long enough to listen to the Spirit moving within our souls.

We are the artists of our lives, what sorts of lives will we create???Where do we start?

Zechariah 10 contains the idea of a plumb line. A plumb line is a string with a weight designed to set a straight line to build walls. We’re not building walls, we’re building something much more important. He is our plumb line. He is (according to the scholar Creasy:) “the straight line by which we measure our crookedness.”

The idea of a plumb line is to have a YES – something to look & move towards.

What makes your heart sing? What excites you? What stirs your heart? What are you being called into? As you answer, let your community help, encourage, spur you on, and love you as you go out from this awesome Dinner Table.

There is one more idea in Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…”It is NEVER too small, God loves when we start, when we take a step towards Him and His Story. The greatest achievements all have 1 thing in common: somebody started. How do you build a temple? A brick at a time. How do you build a life? A brick, a step, a bite at a time, on purpose.

1 last (not always obvious) thing before we get to some more questions; To use a plum line requires we have one. To line ourselves up to Him, we need to know Him and what He says. We need to walk with Him, read His Word, pray, spend time, let His Spirit guide us and speak to our hearts.

The word of the year for the Bridge is “Love.” What does it mean in our lives to love Him? To love each other? What does it mean in & for this community?

So what’s yours? (And no reasons why not!! Who knows what’s possible when nothing is impossible?) What kind of life are you building? Where will you give your attention? (And tell someone – tell me;)

What I do know is that we’ll keep our eyes on the plumb line, dreaming, praying, listening, building this Bridge, and getting our love all over everybody. That’s the thing that set apart the early church and it’s same thing that sets us apart today.

Great Things

Christmas Day is this Sunday. Everyone you see asks, “are you ready?” and the answer is nearly always, “I guess we’ll have to be.” If Christmas was in February, or June, we wouldn’t be ready then, either. There’s so much to do, so much to buy, so many extended family members we don’t see throughout the year to schedule, avalanches of year end duties we work a little later to complete.

We’re finished, but finished or not, every year, on the morning of Christmas Eve, I go out shopping by myself for 1 more thing for my boys. I sort of like the energy of the deadline. The message for Saturday evening is done, as well, but I continue to work on it in the same fashion, with that bass note of nervous energy in the background. It’s very exciting, and as far as my work, it’s reserved for 3 weeks during the year; Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday, and Father’s Day. Those 3 are the days that so clearly illustrate Who God is, who I am, and they remind me from where I’ve come, where I was when He rescued me and loved me back to life.

Yesterday, I prayed, thought, meditated, wrestled and wrote for hours for Saturday night, many of those words typed through tears on this iPad that has seen and been through so much with me.

Next week is New Years and that’s only slightly less charged for me. I love to look forward, dreaming of who I will become, who we will become, what we will experience, how we will grow, listening for the guidance of the Spirit in me.

But yesterday, as the emotions swirled and swelled, it was as I thought of who I was and who I am now. It was in pictures of those who walk with me. It was of the God Who was the same last year and will be the same this year and the next, the same 2,000 years ago and 2,000 years from now – faithful, loving and awesome.

Next week is for what will be, this week is for what is. It is a week, a season to, as written in 1 Sam 12:24, “…consider what great things He has done for you.”

So, my question in this relatively unusual post is: What great things has He done for you?

And as you probably already know, the real ask behind that question is: Are our eyes open to the great things He has done for us? Are we awake to the sacred in our midst? Are the blessings acknowledged as divine blessings or simply ‘things that happen?’

It is a week for reflecting on great things.

I know full well that this year has included more than it’s fair share (as every year does) of not-so-great things. There are newly empty chairs. Brand new fears and anxieties. Illnesses, wounds, scars. Suffering floating in floods of tears. Heartbreak. Disappointment. Unanswered questions and prayers. Sadness. Depression. Isolation. I know. We all know, more intimately than we’d expected or probably would admit.

I think the verse asks us to “consider” the great things because the not-so-great sometimes sit so closely to the surface. It takes intention and effort to consider the great things.

That’s the invite here. Take a moment out of the mad scramble of the days before Christmas morning to consider. Consider the people who held your hand while you wept, the people who asked how you were and listened, actually listened, when you told them. Consider the once empty chairs that aren’t empty anymore, filled with new family members.

Maybe the great things will be stuff or promotions or pay raises, but for me, as I consider, almost every one of the great things in my life are people. You are The Great Things. The ones who showed up and stayed. The ones who prayed for me and held me up when I couldn’t get up on my own, who celebrated with me when I could.

I now truly understand why God didn’t answer Elijah’s questions in that cave, but instead, told him that there were people nearby who would love him, even as he broke down.

We will worship The Baby That Changed Everything, we will praise Him with all we have. And we will do that together, because That Baby became a Man Who gave us The Church when He left. You are not ‘things that happen,’ you are divine gifts sent from a spectacularly loving God. And when I sit down to thank Him, I will thank Him for you.

Dialogue

I just received a new book as a Christmas gift from a very good friend who buys me books I always love. Not this Christmas. This was a gift from last Christmas, but we couldn’t find the time to get entire families together to exchange presents and, more importantly, presence.

I’m embarrassed to say we couldn’t find the time, but all I can say now is that I won’t say it again.

The book is called Daily Prayer, and there’s a passage I want to share with you: “Most of us are in dialogue when we read a book. I know I am. That’s the point, I think; to listen to the writer, to listen to yourself and to listen to the space between where things said by neither are nonetheless said. The things we take away are the things that we were already looking for. What you seek is seeking you, said Rumi, and while this is a frightening concept, it can be a consoling one if we listen to the desires that will feed us, not destroy us. Rumi asks us to trust that wisdom waits, and might be found in unlikely corners.”

We talk a lot about these conversations with the Bible. We find what we find, sometimes it’s in the text and sometimes it’s not. But it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge this dialogue and listen to what is being said to us in this personal space. Every now and again, someone hears a talk of mine and comments on what they heard and it’s impact on them here, now, and I wonder where they heard that because it sure wasn’t in my message. It hardly matters, it’s awesome either way.

[An unrelated observation: “the desires that feed us, not destroy us” – can you think of any 1 piece of advice more important than learning to tell the difference between the 2?]

This passage is in the How To Use This Book chapter, then on the page called 30 (for the day of the month): “May we listen to our hearts when they burn with life knowing that You are speaking with us. Because You are with us along the way in the faces of many strangers.” That is what’s called a Benediction, which is a sending off with a blessing, and often it’s just words. But today, as I read it and talk back and listen, I’m thinking of the times when I don’t listen to my heart, don’t know it is God who is speaking. In my distraction, leaving those words unnoticed, I take this beautifully sacred divine moment and treat it like it was no more than hollow noise. And I’m thinking of the stranger’s faces that I ignore, walking past the very face of Jesus. Maybe there aren’t ordinary moments, just spectacular holy moments that we miss.

I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe there is ordinary time, but as that time is truly lived, fully present, it becomes holy. And spectacular.

I’m having dinner with close friends tonight and it’s “just” dinner on a Wednesday evening in November. No event, no real reason to get together, nothing special. Hold on, “nothing special?” We are brothers and sisters sharing a meal, what could be more special? That’s the event. That’s the reason. Lives lived together. If only that would be the ordinary.

I will remember this passage, will notice my heart burn, at dinner. Then, afterwards, at a high school basketball scrimmage. Then, at 1am, as the Angel and my boy Samuel arrive home from a school trip to DisneyWorld. I’ll hug and kiss them both (and then I’ll do it again.) The more I think about it, how could I miss anything? This morning I sat with a brother and listened to his soul cry out. Tomorrow I’ll go to the gym, eat a salad and tapioca pudding, and work in the weight room before the 4 of us (together again!!!) sit down to dinner. Can any of this really be called ordinary?

Or maybe it all is ordinary, unexceptional, until we turn our eyes and hearts and jump in with our whole selves. We participate in this Story happening all around us, and in the engagement (in the dialogue) it becomes…actually, it crackles and hums with meaning, significance, with life. The Spirit sings and in the listening, we finally hear it.

It’s a pretty good book so far.

Giving Thanks

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. It has become everybody’s favorite holiday because the day includes all of the best parts of Christmas without the commerciality and gift drama. In my case, my immediate family gathers in New Jersey at my sister’s home and we eat too much and laugh the perfect amount.

Sadly, we were missing my aunt and cousins, which feels a little like going outside without a coat – incomplete and a little chillier. They weren’t there because my cousin’s boyfriend had recently lost his father, this was the first Thanksgiving without him, and they all chose to stay in and celebrate (and mourn) with his mother. This was the right decision, of course, but I can’t help missing them.

That’s the thing about holidays, right? They can serve as a sort of magnifying glass, bringing the sadness we can carry all year into focus. We picked up my mom early, and I purposefully drove the neighborhood streets my dad used to drive – the streets that are ancillary, totally unnecessary, only adding time and distance to the trip. I did that because there is an empty chair at Thanksgiving forever. He loved to eat as much as I do, though he was much messier leaving corn, crumbs, and anything else in his mustache. (I have no hard evidence for this, but I believe he had that mustache because Magnum P.I. had the greatest mustache and my mom, like everyone else, loved the way Magnum P.I. looked.) I miss him and I feel his absence on holidays the most.

This isn’t a terrible thing, by the way. It only feels like it is for the first few years, then that searing pain become an ache, which dulls over time, never fully disappearing.

So, I love my sister’s dog, Ty. He loves me, too. You might think you’ve met the best dog, but you’re wrong. He is. He’s a pit bull mix that looks a lot like the living gargoyles in the first Ghostbusters movie. He’s a gentle giant, who could shred bad guys but who probably wouldn’t. The odds are very high that he wouldn’t, but not zero, which only makes him more and more awesome. Every time I get there, I hug the humans, then settle in with my dog and pet him for as long as we do.

He is aging, he’s a big old guy now, and when we left, I stayed after everyone went outside and kissed him on his nose and told him through tears how much I love him and how thankful I was that he was there, just in case. One of these holidays, he won’t be there.

Ty isn’t my dad, or my cousin’s boyfriend’s mom, or the many empty chairs in our homes and lives, but let me tell you why I said earlier that it ‘wasn’t a terrible thing,’ which I intentionally understated. Not only isn’t it terrible, but it is one of the absolute greatest gifts we can ever receive.

You don’t remember everyone, people pass away every minute of every day. We remember, we mourn for, and our hearts break out loud for those who made space (and who we made space for) to live in our lives. We shed those tears, our stomach’s hurt, our chest tightens, because they mattered to us in ways very few do. Their impact was heavy and left/leaves us forever different, forever transformed. My dad’s passing broke me and when I healed, broken pieces still visible just not sharp anymore, I was very very different. Most of the parts of me you like best were forged in that season, where, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jesus was in the fire with me, holding me, comforting me, whispering in my ear that this suffering was a gift, too. I didn’t exactly believe him then, but I sure do now.

When Ty isn’t on his bed for a future Thanksgiving, I’ll miss him, and as I do, I’ll thank the God of Everything that I do. I will have loved this dog, this beautiful blessing, and what could be better than to have loved? Nothing, that’s what.

And this is why I hug so well, why I tell you how much you matter so much (and sometimes so uncomfortably), why I hold hands too long, why I cry often, why I ask so many questions, listen, overshare and allow my emotions to rest on the outside of my skin. Because I am finally awake, and being alive and awake means that I am grateful for all of it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Re-Feed

Let’s talk about 2 quick things before we get into the point of this post.

First, I follow a man named Aadam Ali (physiqonomics.com) online who talks about fitness and nutrition, and he uses a beautiful term to describe the increase in calories following time in a deficit (I don’t use the word diet anymore, it doesn’t have positive baggage in my head): Re-Feed. It’s great, right? When I eat a little too much (over the number my tracker tells me should be my intake), the Angel & I and now my boys call it a re-feed.

I’m going to use it in a slightly different context here.

The other is that I follow several other people virtually; some churches, pastors, artists, podcast hosts, comedians, experts in different things I care about (like Aadam Ali). It’s one of the best things about the internet. 3 weeks ago I emailed a podcast for the 2nd time, they read both on air, and now we’re best friends. A woman in Denver and I comment on each other’s posts on Instagram like we’re neighbors. This complex network connects us in ways we couldn’t have imagined only a few decades ago. It also gives us the sense that these screens and “friends” and connectivity are community, but that isn’t exactly true.

Following a church online is not the same thing as belonging to a local church. It can supplement, but it can not substitute. Having said that, those supplements are very important to living lives of faith, and can serve as spiritual re-feeds. We add devotionals, emails from mailing lists, sermons from around the world, instructional articles & videos, practices to our usual routine, and they give us fresh perspectives, inspiration, encouragement, and a voice different from the local every-week pastor (no matter how compelling that voice is;).

This is Thursday’s email from someone named Justin at WiRE (clever alternative spellings are not necessary, I guess, but they sure help – maybe from here on out, we’ll be “thaBridGe?!”):

“. . . build up the ancient ruins

. . . repair the ruined cities – Isaiah 61:4

Three relationships broke when man fell, so long ago: the relationship between man and God, the relationship between man and himself, and the relationship between man and other men (and women). Our jobs now, are to repair and rebuild those relationships, in our own unique ways, as much as we can during our lifetimes . . . and to encourage and assist others in doing likewise. Our King, Jesus Christ, gave us our instructions—love “God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and love “your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 27:37-29). His two-part directive covers all three relationships: love God more than anything else; love yourself sufficiently; and love other people at least as much as you love yourself. It’s all there.

So how do we begin? Well, we restore relationships with God when we soften our hearts, decide to trust him more than we trust ourselves, and bend ourselves toward obedience. We restore relationships with ourselves when we soften our hearts and decide to care for ourselves as God intends, finally dealing with self-condemnation or idolatry or addiction (to work, to food, to alcohol, to pornography, or anything else). And, we restore relationships with others when we soften our hearts, decide to look around for people who need us, and bend our lives toward loving and serving and forgiving them.

Okay, so what do we do?

Take a moment to survey your life. Which type of relationship is most broken? If none is obvious, take time for listening prayer. Ask your counselor, God the Holy Spirit, to guide you. Once you’ve focused-in on what’s most in need of rebuilding, what’s most in need of repair, you’ve got your own, individualized blueprint for “what’s next.” Begin working on it this week. Start with something practical.”

Right??? How are those 3 BIG relationships in our lives? What a great question, and a very important one. Most days I read this Justin’s message quickly, distracted by something or other, just moving through it as fast as I can so I can delete it. But on other days… Last Thursday I read this and it stopped me in my tracks, yanked me away from my distracted mind, and remained stuck in my head since. I’m reflecting on the answers to his question “So what do we do?” and creating my own blueprint.

However, this particular email, these 3 important relationships, or practical blueprints aren’t the point. The point is that we are learning how to build lives of faith, individually and corporately, to re-feed. Our local community provides the community, a shared place, and a common vision to walk together, and as we grow, the community grows. You can picture the early churches meeting for meals, sharing Gospel teaching, discussing theology and it’s practical application, reading letters from Paul and Apollos and social media cultural influencers, holding more and more hands in prayer each month. It’s an idea that probably has been hi-jacked by so many cultural factors, damage, misinformation and misinterpretation. Now it’s time to reclaim this beautiful tradition and create lives based in/on Jesus, the Gospel, and faith, plant and nurture communities, let every step be taken in love, for Him, each other, and ourselves. Revolutions like this don’t happen by accident, they happen through intention. We’ve been rescued, now what?

Like a Nice Chili

2 weeks ago, on the Saturday retreat, Patricia quoted de Chardin, “Don’t try to force them on as though you could be today what time (that is to say grace & circumstances acting on your own free will) will make of you tomorrow.”

There’s so much here, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Pulp Fiction, one of my very favorite films, was revolutionary for so many reasons, but the most striking is it’s use of chronology. The first scene is somewhere in the middle of the narrative, the last is later, but also in the middle, the beginning and the end liberally cut-and-pasted elsewhere. That’s what we’ll do here now, hopefully not to such a jarring effect.

“…will make of you tomorrow” implies movement. We (and everything) are becoming something else, growing, maturing. Right about now, as my boy is 2 weeks into his senior year of high school, it’s easy to want nothing more than things to stay exactly the same, as if he would be here forever. We sometimes don’t want to change, it’s uncomfortable and full of scary next steps into unknown realms. Even if now isn’t the greatest, it is familiar, right? We know what to expect, even if those expectations are squashing our spirits.

The other reasons we might not be moving forward are simple: apathy and distraction. Either each day is so full of relentless routine, requiring nothing of us, we’re set to autopilot, bored, listless, uninspired. Or we are distracted by our devices and/or numbing escapes, focused on entertainment, seeking nothing more than pleasure or, at least, a reprieve from the pain.

These few gigantic enemies of growth are illusions. Nothing can ever stay the same. There’s a saying in the business world – “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” It isn’t only the business world.

“Don’t try to force…” What is more common to the human experience than our predilection for control? We want to be there, now. We want to bypass the 10,000 hours, jumping right to mastery. When I officiate weddings, I read 1 Corinthians and every time I say “Love is patient,” I look at the couple for any small sense of honest recognition. We really hate patience, we write nasty reviews if we sit in the waiting room for 5 minutes. Don’t try to force? I didn’t want to start with those words because they include a built in anxiety that can be overwhelming.

How do we reach that promise of tomorrow, then?

“Grace & circumstances acting on our own free will.” It’s a triangle with the pressures, trials and celebrations of the world around us and our desire to step into who we will be as the 2 shorter sides. The longest, most significant side being the grace of God (grace means gift, or gifts, blessings, the unreasonable undeserved unending love of God). All of these work together as a sort of forge to create a new me & you, like a nice chili. Great chili doesn’t happen in the microwave, right? That triangle is called “time” by de Chardin.

So. Now. Who are we today? Who will we be tomorrow? What kind of future is possible if we partner with God?

We’re talking about this today because Sunday I referenced another thing Patricia said, “You will find meaning where you give meaning.” And I think this principle works to replace “meaning” with anything: significance, grace, care, trust, kindness, honesty, peace.

Where are we giving our attention, or our own free will? I want it to be these beautiful lives, families, communities of ours. I want to know what kind of future (my own as well as the future of all things) is possible if we’re intentional, careful, patient and extraordinarily loving. I believe if we give these things, we’ll find these things, and with God’s extravagant grace and love, the tomorrow we make will be a million times better than we ever could have imagined.

Sausage

There’s a saying I love about “seeing how the sausage is made.” We usually only consume the final product, without a thought as to how it gets to that point. We eat and love sausage, but most of us have no idea how that delicious meat gets to the shelves of our supermarket (and in the case of sausage, maybe that’s a good thing.) Hot dogs, McDonald’s ‘chicken’ McNuggets, any number of foods fall into this category, but this expression fits many more areas. You have a beautiful garden that we all admire and appreciate, but have no idea how many hours went into the planting and care to achieve such beauty. Slash is the guitarist for Guns N’ Roses and his solos are transcendent. His playing looks glamorous and natural, but we don’t see the 10,000+ hours of practice in his bedroom alone that makes it possible.

I’m not Slash, not particularly glamorous, and this isn’t a beautiful garden, but I wanted to give you a small peek behind the metaphorical curtain for the upcoming series at the Bridge.

I decided months ago that we would study the epistle to the Ephesians after the Sermon on the Mount concludes (which will be this week). I asked for suggestions, because if there was an interest, maybe we could adapt. I also mentioned we would jump into Ephesians or 1 Corinthians (and I don’t know why that came out of my mouth that morning 2 weeks ago, it was totally unplanned and I thought, “that’s interesting. I wonder what that’s about.”)

So I finished reading Job (the book I had been reading) and turned to Ephesians. Why I never got there, again, I can’t say. But I flipped to 1 Corinthians and went no further.

My Bible has introductions to each book, and in this particular one, it read: “The Christians in Corinth were struggling with their environment. Surrounded by corruption and every conceivable sin, they felt pressure to adapt…They were free in Christ, but what did this freedom mean?”

Then, in some specific notes on chapter 1: “[Corinth was] fiercely independent and as decadent as any city,” and “arguments and divisions arose [within the church.]”

Yet, the people were “called…made holy…given every spiritual gift.”

And now I know why.

Looking at the notes in my Bible and the ones I took, I can’t tell where they’re describing, Corinth or America. There, then, or here, now? They were called and given every spiritual gift, yet also fiercely independent, decadent, with all sorts of questions about what being “called” means and why it matters.

I wanted to talk about being God’s “masterpiece” and the armor of God. Ephesians has some of the most gorgeous language and profound Gospel teaching, it’s no wonder I would want to spend some time there (and maybe we will afterwards.) But we’re not talking about the Ephesians. We’re going to dive into the letter to the Corinthian (American) church and splash around in this deep water that, I’m now convinced, will be absolutely vital to our lives.