Thursday, July 17, 2014

Courage in 2014

Just after the first of the year, words started popping up on my social media. Single words shared what my friends, colleagues, and family members were going to focus on in 2014. I embraced the idea since this year brought a whole lot of new to my life – new church, new home, new role, new people. And every new beginning gives the opportunity to grow into who we’d like to become.

Looking for the origin of this idea, I found One Word 365 and MyOne Word. One Word 365 said: “Forget New Year’s Resolutions. Scrap that long list of goals. Choose just one word. One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on every day, all year long. It will take intentionality and commitment, but if you let it, your one word will shape not only your year, but also you. It will become the compass that directs your decisions and guides your steps.”

God is my compass, but I also know the power of words to shape us and the world we live in. After all, God called creation into being through the Word. So I prayed, asking God what I would need in the year ahead, how I might grow, who I might become with all the opportunities and challenges ahead.

COURAGE is my word for 2014. You can read the original post about that here. This is the word God is speaking into my life that I’m confident will not return empty, but accomplish what God has in mind (see Isaiah 55:11). 

This all came to mind because our church is in the midst of our Disciple’s Eleven series. God’s revelation to us is not just a story about a divine being, but about divine love and God’s desire for relationship with us. To live healthy, whole lives as disciples, we need relationships!

Last Sunday we talked about Barnabas, the son of encouragement. En-courage-ment. Courage - from the Middle English corage, equivalent to the Old French cuer which means heart. If courage is to have heart, then encouragement is to put heart back into someone when life has left them battered, bruised, and bleeding. If I am to have courage, then I also need a Barnabas (or ten) who encourage me, who slap me on the back and make me take a breath when I’ve stopped breathing deeply in the Spirit.

This next Sunday, we’ll talk about Peter and Paul, focusing on how we all need a Yoda. Yoda is, of course, the Jedi master and teacher of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars

For Christians, we see this principle in Peter and Paul as they become mentors, coaches, and spiritual teachers for the fledgling church. We need people to look up to – wiser, God-energized guides who help us find our way through challenges that aren’t for faint hearts or weak stomachs.

One way I’ve seen courage playing out in my life this year is in my search for Peters/Pauls. In my new role, I’ve realized how much I don’t know about tax code, electrical systems, and so many other things. And although it sometimes stings my pride or makes me shove things around in an overloaded calendar, I’ve sought out mentors.

In a culture that glorifies busy and hurry, it’s hard to have the patience of presence to allow the gradual work of learning to occur. A lot of life is just osmosis as we soak up wisdom and experience simply by being with another. Osmosis was how protégés like Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Erastus, Epaphras, Silas, Luke, John Mark, and others learned from Paul. They traveled with him, watched what he did, and then were given their own assignments to see how well they were developing their potential.

In another church I served, the senior pastor gave this blessing to each baptized person, “(Name), your church loves you. We make this vow in your presence, to surround you in steadfast love. Who you are is God’s gift to you. Who you become is your gift to God. Amen.” I always found it such a succinct, beautiful summary of life. Spending time with our Peters/Pauls helps us grow into the gift we ultimately offer to God. And that takes some courage.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independent, Free, & Brave

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...”

I imagine, like most people, that I often observe traditions without giving them too much thought.
That’s been the case for me with July 4 most years. The day would find me in typical celebration of this American holiday – enjoying a barbeque with friends and family and ooo-ing and ahhh-ing over fireworks.

But this year I spent some time with my good friend, Google, digging into our collective roots, reading our Declaration of Independence, and ruminating on what our unique society has created and taken over the course of nearly 240 years of being.

The quotation above is just a small snippet from the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, laying the groundwork for setting forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country in the eyes of the world. While a vote in the Continental Congress severing our ties actually happened on July 2, 1776 and there is some dispute about when the Declaration was signed, some suggesting dates as late as August, July 4 has come to be the date when we celebrate this document and the foundation it laid for our country.

As much as we celebrate, I wonder how much we believe the words of the document itself? Do we really believe that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?” Of course, Mr. Jefferson, as chief author of the Declaration, speaks in the mode of his day. I would hope that our postmodern sensibilities would include women in our belief of equality, although we’ve had voting rights for less than 95 years. And there are so many other glaring inequalities that you and I could cite.

Even as I write this, I wonder where to take my stand. The 56 signers of the Declaration obviously felt compelled to take their stand, to stake their reputations and their lives with bold strokes of ink. A wise colleague of mine differentiates carefully between “kingdom issues” and the sensationalized issues we see bandied about by pundits. He takes his stand on matters of the kingdom, those things that are close to the heart of God. The other he lets fall away like dross.

I appreciate his wisdom because I’ve seen too many good and godly people take their stand and alienate people left and right. Our magnificent nation staked its claims on these self-evident truths of equality and yet like so many of us, individually, has wandered, strayed, and sinned with startling regularity. Jesus cries, “"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).

I wonder what Jesus cries when he looks over our nation. Are we willing? As Barbara Brown Taylor wrote, “If you have ever loved someone you could not protect, then you understand the depth of Jesus’ lament. All you can do is open your arms. You cannot make anyone walk into them. Meanwhile, this is the most vulnerable posture in the world - wings spread, breast exposed - but if you mean what you say, then this is how you stand.”

Jesus chooses to identify as a mother hen - no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles - who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. Which Jesus does, arms spread, breast exposed.

I believe God’s Word still speaks, seeking to gather us in, guiding us in the ways that lead to life. If we mean what we say, let’s take our stand. May we use our independence in ways that glorify God!