Within the Gospels, there are very familiar stories that generally follow the same theme.
For example, one time Jesus went to a man’s house for dinner. Many of those gathered were disliked, thought to be less than, and were certainly considered to be sinners because of prior and current actions. The most religious people present that night were not happy Jesus would eat with such off track folks, let alone be around them.
On another occasion, some of Jesus’ disciples began to eat. They did not wash their hands before doing so. Some nearby religious leaders chastised Jesus for enabling his followers not to follow strict religious rules and guidelines around food consumption.
Story after story after story in the Gospels, we find a pattern. Jesus does something and the folks that have a problem with Jesus are either religious leaders or just people of faith who claim they strictly live according to biblical laws. People who had a problem with Jesus thought of themselves as religious, faithful, upstanding, righteous, and on the right side of issues.
Those who challenged Jesus the most and in fact were responsible for killing him were religious people that were too certain and too confident about too many things, especially about biblical law. Their certainty and overconfidence not only made it impossible for them to understand Jesus, placed them in opposition to the love of God, but prevented them from following Jesus and building God’s kingdom.
From the beginning of the Old Testament through the New, there is a way of living, an approach to all aspects of life, that God calls us to embrace. And that is humility.
Humility is upheld all over scripture. For example, Paul writes in his letter to the people in Rome, “Do not be wise in your own sight.” In the letter of James we find, “Humble yourselves before the Lord.” In the Book of Jeremiah, “Let the wise man not boast in his wisdom.” And there are dozens and dozens of other examples.
When we are too certain and too confident about too many things when it comes to our faith, we end up getting in the way of what God is wanting to do and we end up following ourselves instead of Jesus. I believe we are called to be confident and certain about some things but that much of what occupies our attention, our actions, and our zeal is in fact better left out of the confident and certain realm.
For example, I am confident that Jesus is God in the flesh, that he died on the cross of our sake, was resurrected on that first Easter morning, and that his spirit, the Holy Spirit is living within each of us. I also believe he actively leads, heals, and shapes us as the years go by.
Over the years I have found my relationship with Jesus has deepened the more I yield myself to him and gain comfort in the unknown because I am confident in Jesus and less confident in what I believe about this issue and or that. I am confident God has it all covered.
In my experience, the more we become confident about more and more and more things, the more we put ourselves at the center of our lives instead of God.
The point, if we want to follow Jesus, we are called, I believe, to attitudinal humility not self-righteousness. Paul warned early Christians about self-righteousness because he knew that the more we make room, more room for people who might be very different than we are, we end up being more faithful than if we do the opposite.
When we are not self-righteous and too certain, we begin to listen far more than we speak. We don’t spew out whatever comes to mind. We are clear about what is central to our faith, but willing to be open to the periphery. We avoid getting into litmus testing people about their faith. We allow God to be God even when it makes us uncomfortable.
Prior to last night, things have been bone dry in Snowmass Village and across the Rocky Mountains. Above average temperatures, intense sunlight, and long daylight hours have wilted plants, turned lawns brown, and trails have begun to look like the Chihuahuan Desert.
The other day, an hour or so before sunset, I took a hike along the southern Rim Trail. It is a great trail with breathtaking astonishing views. As I walked along, I quickly noticed that I stirred up quite a bit of dust with every step. There was so much dust I began to feel like Pig-Pen in the Peanuts cartoon.
About 30 minutes into the hike, something caught my attention. A magnificent wildflower which is pictured in this e-letter. Given how dry everything had been, I was surprised to see such a beautiful flower. But there it was.
As I thought about being surprised by seeing a flower despite drought conditions, I began reflecting upon the many things that have caught me off guard, the unexpected events that have come into my life, both good and bad. I then thought about God and how in some ways God is much like that wildflower.
Our God is a God who continually shows up in unexpected ways and in surprising places. Sometimes God’s presence is subtle and it can be hard to see God walking right alongside of us. But unlike the wildflower whose existence is transient, God’s presence is not and God is with us regardless of the conditions we are enduring. There is no place, no circumstances, where God is not.
I love the words found in Psalm 139. “I can never escape from your Spirit. I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, and if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night – but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.”
As we journey through life this week, I pray that like seeing a wildflower on a dusty trail, each of us will encounter God in surprising ways and places. That we will be given the eyes to see God acting through whatever challenges we are faced with. And that even if things are feeling barren, lifeless and hopeless, that we will trust that God is with us no matter what.
An important marker in the lives of young people is the transition from child care or Sunday School to worship. This workshop will help prepare children and their parents for children’s full participation in the community of faith. We’ll go over different parts of the worship service and prepare young worshippers to participate and lead. All ages are welcome, though this is especially designed for those entering 6th grade and up.
- Identify the parts of the worship service
- Tour “secret” places in the church and identify their uses
- Practice saying or singing the parts of the liturgy
- Talk about ways they can be involved in worship
There is little doubt we live in a time filled with immense challenges in virtually every domain. Little is easy, much is arduous, and levels of conflict and hostility are extreme. Like the terribly dry conditions in the Rocky Mountains this July, it often feels as if things might just explode. In the midst of such realities, much of what we have known and counted upon is on shaky ground. Not much is certain and social trends are morphing faster than 24 hour news cycles.
Even how people spend idle time is quickly shifting. Service clubs like Rotary often struggle to find members. The numbers of people playing golf, going to movie theaters, taking time to browse in a bookstore or a shopping mall, or taking the time to have lunch during a busy work day is diminishing. And of course, across the nation, fewer people are active in a community faith and not as many folks as in the past are willing to engage in much that requires consistent participation over the course of time, let alone a sacrifice.
In response to all of this, one Christian writes, “if we are going to survive, if we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world.” I disagree with this perspective.
Certainly what I have outlined in terms of our current zeitgeist is difficult at best, Yet I believe as Christ followers we have an astonishing opportunity as we move into the second half of 2017. I don’t believe we are called to retreat from the world, but rather to do just the opposite. This is not the time for us to circle the wagons.
It is time as Christ followers we take our faith and our walk with Jesus seriously, that we keep our eyes on Jesus, and that we follow him out into the world. Jesus was not partisan nor did he drop out of the immense social conflict surrounding him. Rather he focused on what he was called to do which was to demonstrate that God is love, to heal, to bring about justice, to confront misdirected religious folks, to forgive humanity, to offer a path forward, and to initiate changes so the world could begin to look more like God, the Kingdom of God, etc.
We are in dark times. Jesus is the light of the world. As things darken, we have the opportunity to offer Jesus to those around us. The darker things become, the brighter the light of Christ will appear.
In a short weekly article it is impossible to be concrete with how to follow Jesus more fully out into the world. Hence I begin a two part sermon series this week to get into this topic more fully. And, immediately following each worship service we will gather for an informal discussion and Q&A. I look forward to hearing from you on this important topic as well.
That said, the takeaway from this short piece is to invite us all to focus more and more on Jesus, engage more fully in prayer and in our faith communities, disengage from conflict and partisan hostilities, and take the love, healing, forgiveness, and message of salvation out into the world which desperately needs to hear the good news. I pray we will not retreat, but rather engage filled with love for God and for each other.
As you all know, the last two years working at the Chapel have given me many opportunities to spend time with kids. Indeed, there have been more than a few weeks where I feel like all I did was spend time with kiddos. This week at the Chapel has been no different. Currently, we are halfway through Vacation Bible School (VBS) and loving every minute of it. VBS is always a highlight of the year for many, but recently I saw something pretty special that I want to share with you. Yesterday we were talking about the great wisdom of Solomon (check out 1 Kings 3 if you want to brush up on the story). We went on to tell them how King Solomon, presumably the wisest man ever, wrote down much of what he learned in the Bible. It was at this point that I saw something in a kid that challenged me personally. As soon as this little guy realized that there was this great source of wisdom to be found within the Bible he started asking me questions. “Where can I find it? How do I know what it all means? What do all these little numbers mean? What is the difference between Ecclesiastes and Proverbs?” And throughout all of these questions (some of which I could answer and some of which I may need to do some further learning myself) I found that I was being challenged by the way this young person was eager to apply the wisdom found in the Bible in his life. Why aren’t I always hungry to open the Bible and make sense of how its teaching applies and changes my life? You know, I think this is one of my favorite things about working with children. Every time I start to think that we at the Chapel are teaching them really well something happens that makes me realize that I am as much the student as they are. In fact, I think God uses younger people and older people to teach each other.
This has been such a valuable experience for me I’ve decided to share it with you. The recipe is simple, combine one part Biblical wisdom with one part interaction with children. So here is your homework: First, find a child in your life to spend time with. Read a book. Go on a walk. Try to find sleeping ants. Anything you like. Secondly, read the following Proverbs one per day until Sunday. When you read them, try to find an example or area within your life that could be changed in some way due to the wisdom found within the Proverb. After all, like my little friend challenged me to consider, we should be thankful and eager that we have a book that gives us all some pretty awesome hints on how to live well in this life.
Thursday Proverb: Proverbs 3:5 —Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding
Friday Proverb: Proverbs 4:23 — Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Saturday Proverb: Proverbs 27:17 — As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Sunday Proverb: Proverbs 15:1 — A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Jesus instructed people to become like little children and that’s exactly what’s happening this week at Snowmass Chapel. I don’t know who’s having more fun at Camp SMashBox, the kids or the grown-ups. One thing that always catches my eye is the focus on kid-friendly instructions. If you stop by the Chapel grounds you might see signs around campus like this:
We are in full swing with 85 kids making joyful noises outside my window and the very best kind of kid chaos. But fun should not be confused with foolish. In order to keep everyone safe and happy there is definitely some structure and a few ground rules written in language all kids can understand. “Drink Water. Wear Sunscreen. Eat Yo’ Food.” There is also a positive slant to everything – as in, provide information and tell them what to do not what to don’t: “Slippery when wet. Please dry off. Please walk.” Short, sweet, and as easy to follow as a yellow brick road.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all directions in life offered such simple advice in plain language? There’s a Colorado Department of Transportation sign that I’ve spotted on Highway 82 which is particularly convoluted, and I have to think not helpful, for anyone visiting our fair state: “MOVE OVER LAW ENFORCEMENT AREA.” It took me two miles just to figure out what that sign was trying to tell me the first time I drove by it. (If you can’t figure it out after re-reading this a few times, click here. It saves lives and it’ll save you a ticket.)
The Bible is also often difficult to understand with its list of obscure ancient laws, tricksters, prophetic dreams, and head-scratching parables. To keep me from sweating the small stuff I keep a scrap piece of paper in my Bible with the following quote: “Much of the Bible is confusing, but the most important parts are not.” Can I get an Amen? Jesus whittled it all the important parts down to this one: Love. When we can’t figure out what something means, or how we are supposed to behave, or why Jesus did what he did — just assume love is involved. Somehow, some way, Jesus is directing you to love regardless of Old Testament battles and randomly circumcised cities.
The Message version of the Bible, which puts scripture into easy to understand language, reinterprets Romans 13:8 this way: Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other…The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others.
Now that is about as plain as it gets! Even a child would understand those simple ground rules, and I think, after all, that’s what God wants. For us to become like children so that we enjoy the silliness of our surroundings, laugh easily, and love well.
We did it! We graduated from seminary, you and I. And don’t you dare say you didn’t do anything because that is FALSE. As I trudged my way through 1,800 hours of homework, more than 100 textbooks, and some 165 miscellaneous readings these past three years, of one thing I am certain: YOU WERE WITH ME. You offered your support, prayers, guest rooms. You asked hard questions that I promised to get back to you on, and offered insights of your own for me to ponder. You gave me tips on better preaching and your two-cents on whether I should wear a robe and a collar in the pulpit (sorry to disappoint). You built me up when I was tired and you cut me slack when my plate was so full things were tumbling from the edges. You were the very presence of Christ’s love and grace these past three years.
At the worship service the day before commencement, each graduate was asked to bring an item that represented our journey and to place it on the altar. I put you there. Really! Three years ago, as I departed Snowmass for my first week of seminary classes and retreat time with my cohort at Iliff, Snowmass Chapel sent me off with a blessing and basketful of the sweetest cards, letters and emails. I took them with me to my room in Denver, read each one (which took some time and a few tears), and decorated my room with them for the week. It was a visible reminder to me that first week that I was there by the grace of God and the good people of Snowmass Chapel. It was only fitting that you make the journey with me one last time. I hope you liked the view from up front!
Until three years ago I was getting pretty good at saying no to God when I felt that holy nudge. I wrote about my reluctance (and what finally got my attention!) here. I was so intent on where I thought I was headed that didn’t realize how AWESOME it is to be led one surprising step at a time. That’s what I reflected on today as I walked across the stage to accept my degree. The Spirit of God has whet my appetite and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next. We walk by faith, not by sight, scripture says. Yet so often we still want to be in control. One thing is for certain — if God had left it all up to me, I’d still be pushing and pulling my way and I most certainly would NOT have suggested I go to seminary! So graduation today is, for me, this beautiful example of opening up to God’s plan whatever it might be, and then stepping out in some cute high heels and saying, “Ok, God. Where to now?!”
I recently came across a very interesting article entitled, “9 things that make you unlikable.” The title caught my attention and it turned out to be one of those websites where you have to click through several pages to get through each of the “9 things.” But I thought the content was actually worth the effort. If you have the time, check out the article and see if you’ve fallen into any of these 9 pitfalls.
As I read through the list, I came to the realization that Christians really should be the most likable people in the world, because the Bible addresses pretty much all of the practices that could potentially make you unlikable. I created a quiz that pairs the 9 traits with Bible verses that are (hopefully) on topic. Take the quiz and see how many you can guess! Feel free to share your scores and comments after you finish.
In a world where love is generally contingent upon our likability profile, it’s pretty amazing to know that God loves us no matter how unlikable we are!
Best wishes for your journey!
Music & IT Director
Manchester, England. The severe famine in South Sudan. Syria. Drug cartels. Gang violence and homelessness. Roughly 10 percent of the population in Pitkin County, Colorado live below the poverty line. Times are beyond tough and as followers of Jesus we have much to do and many actions to take along with surrounding all sources of pain and despair with continual robust prayer.
Yet in the midst of all of this, there are the boundless loving actions people engage in everyday to help out friends, family members, and complete strangers. Indeed life is a complete mixed bag, always has been and will be.
I believe it is essential in the midst of responding to the tough realities that surround us, it is important to keep a sense of humor and not take ourselves too seriously. While humor can be defensive and shield us from pain, it also can be a helpful habit that is not defensive, but rather enables us to continue to respond to the needs around us.
Perhaps for this reason, recently, I have begun to enjoy silly solar powered objects. Like a solar powered Sumo wrestler or a solar powered Einstein. Such objects distract me, lighten my spirit, and foster creative thinking about how to respond to the crises that surround us.
Each of us is unique and therefore what we find funny and humorous will vary between us. That said, I encourage each of us to intentionally seek out and engage humor as a habit of faith. A habit that can energize us to do more each day for those who are hurting. As Mark Twain once said, “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”