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A Time Before Certainty

Matthew 13:1-32

I worked on an organic farm for 4 seasons. It’s interesting how many factors go into having a fruitful crop: the seed, the soil, the sun, the water, the bugs. Some of these can be controlled. We can add water, we can spray pesticides (technically not in organic farming).

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Much of farming maintains a level of uncertainty in regard to how abundant a crop will be. One thing you can count on though is you will get what you plant. Another certainty is: it does not matter how abundant a crop is, if no one harvests it, no one gets anything.

“You reap what you sow,” is familiar sentiment in Scipture and as much I hate to admit it, in life it is often true. But it is just as true that we may also reap what someone else  sows.

I am both grieved and adulated at the concept of sowing and reaping. I am grieved because I know what I deserve in some areas of my life. I am adulated because of the goodness God allows me to reap despite my efforts. I am also perplexed as to why God would give us so much good.

Why does our Creator, who owes us nothing want good for us despite the bad we choose for ourselves? And how can I become more poor (desperate) in my posture to willingly receive good things?

Psalm 51:17 states:

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

This verse gives me an indication of what God looks for. He doesn’t want a puffed out chest or a lofty, knowledgeable mind that thinks it knows best. His utmost priority is not even my greatest talent. God’s desire on his way to death and resurrection and God’s desire today is my heart in its most vulnerable condition:

A heart when it is broken, a heart when it is sorry, a heart when it feels like it can’t love right, a heart that seems uncertain how to love, a heart that gets giddy at the sight of friends and significant others. God is so keenly and intimately close to this hidden organ. This unseen imagination is the place God chooses to meet us.

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God meets us behind the doors of our skin, so when we step out into the world, the light of God’s Kingdom might shine forth through us.

I have a hope as I read Matthew 13 because I am reminded that as much as I am responsible for what I sow, I am also responsible for what I harvest. When the harvest comes, what will I choose to reap? Will I gather weeds or damaged fruit or will I gather what is best and what is abundant?

I can be forgetful of the seasons. I can be afraid of abundance and things working out well. (I know that’s weird). Which is why I am the type of person that is keenly aware that I need Jesus more (even if it is really only just as much) when things are going well than when things are bad.

But even when things are going well, things are seldom certain. That is the limbo of my life currently and for the next month, perhaps the next year… so much uncertainty. And for some that can be daunting, but I’ll be honest, this is where I thrive, or rather this where God thrives me and sustains me.

The best seasons of life have been the uncertain ones because my reliance and trust has been heavy on God, while a sense of urgency to obey is tangibly at hand. I am thankful.

I am thankful that I have a Father that sustains me and knows exactly what is happening even when I am not certain.

Saint Listener and Hearing Different

If you are looking for a good cry, I would suggest seeing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the new Mr. Rogers documentary.

If you’ve been wanting to feel like you’re endeavor to love and to be a compassionate human being falls far short of perfection, I’d also suggest watching the movie.

What I found most amazing about the film itself, was how the director managed to make the movie feel like it was listening to me, as I watched. The movie feels like it wants to draw real identity out of the viewer while withholding judgment.

And through viewing the film, I felt both extremely inadequate yet aware of the essentials of feeling known in any given relationship.

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The essential component is listening, it’s always been that. Waiting or giving pause before you give an answer or assuming I know better has consistently been more effective than rushing to a conclusion.

This also is my dilemma as of late. I’m afraid to listen to God because I’m afraid it will require much time only to lead to a painful answer. And as I am prone, I’d rather just take the pain than hear the answer. Because the answer or direction of God is  unchangeable whereas I have this enduring sense that I can get used to the pain.

But it is not the way of God to keep us in pain. It is not the way of God to extend our suffering unnecessarily. He would rather us joyful in loving obedience than wallow in unwarranted suffering.

Yet this is what humanity, as well as myself, frequently chooses. And more frequently, we choose this by assuming the worst in others without understanding them. We also assume the worst in ourselves without hearing God’s perspective on reconciliation and comfort. We are prone to ignore desperation and are hesitant to relieve another’s burden. We want people to get what they deserve before we actually know if they really deserve it.

Whereas Jesus wants to give what we don’t deserve even when we don’t realize how much we don’t deserve it. This is the whole point of the cross and the offer of resurrection life.

Live in light of the goodness and generosity of God.

But this burns us.

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It’s unfamiliar to be in that bright. It’s both freeing yet scary to live that vulnerably. To live completely unshackled or unhindered is easy until we remember our own wounds. Then we succumb to  moments where we hear the wrong voices, the lies and perhaps even our own self-destructive opinions of ourselves.

And then this leads to our “lacking in confidence” choices or simply our indecision. We paralyze ourselves or harm ourselves or harm others and we spread the wounds rather than relieving them. Healing hands rush to the side but are cautious yet gentle to the touch.

Urgency can lead us to the who or what but patience must check us before we assume we know what the problem is. And this is my problem, slow to the who or what and then hasty to assume the problem.

I think the season and vocation I am entering into is both intentional and essential. I will be with people everyday who I will have no idea how to minister to, while trusting that Jesus has gone before me to minister to them already. I will just step into what He has already been doing.

Now to embrace that work in myself. Step into and agree to what God is already doing. I have known that God is at work in a place of depth I am unfamiliar with and because I am unfamiliar, I encounter more fear of the unknown and I’m tempted to fall back on the familiar. I hope God continues to be relentless in breaking through me because I know it is for my good.

Whether it is the difference in someone else or difference in yourself, in order to demonstrate love both to self and other, discovery is required. We must risk our time and presence in intimacy (not romantic, but sometimes necessary depending on the relationship) in order to have compassion and to enjoy the other.

The Catching Gospel: Assured to Shore

John 21:1-14 – The Dive-in Depths

It never ceases to surprise me how quick I am to stumble, how at such arbitrary times our struggle with sin seems to affect us and leaves us without excuse. I am prone to wavering in my affection and in those moments I feel as if I forget myself. I forget who I belong to, who I live for.

Yesterday, on my way to work, a car in front of me slammed into the back of another while trying to switch lanes. I surveyed the damage and eased my way past both cars to keep pressing down Route 1. Less than 30 seconds later on the road a guy flags me down and asks me for a ride. I’m pretty secure, so I gave him a ride 3 stoplights down to the complex in which he lived.

It’s actually amazing how much can happen in five minutes.

In five minutes we can ride high, then fall to temptation. How easy it is to lose focus, to take your eye off the road, to miss your shot when aiming for the mark.

But I also write this to remind us that through a story in the Gospel of John, in the urgency of a moment, our eyes can be so opened to what was right in front of us that nothing else in the whole world matters as we lay side everything to chase it down.

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In John 21, this is Peter in a boat while fishing; he wraps his outer garment around himself and dives in, swimming desperately to shore to meet Jesus, his Lord, his loving friend, and the one he denied. He does this after Jesus calls out to the disciples to let them know again where to let their nets down in order to catch some fish.

Why do our hearts or actions ever deny him? Why do I even after Jesus proves He is always good to me? He does things and shares things with me that I don’t deserve at the most surprising of times, yet my response is forgetfulness or disobedience. I let doubt dictate a decision in a moment and am reminded quickly of how empty it is.

But Peter’s story and action teaches me two things. The first isn’t as important but fascinates me:

People will always follow people with passion and charisma even if they make terrible mistakes. Peter says he’s going to fish and 6 other disciples go with him.

and Secondly:

when you make terrible mistakes or sin, sometimes you are so self aware of the pain you cause yourself and the grief you bring to the Spirit that when you encounter God in a moment afterward, whether you feel forgiven or not, you run after or in Peter’s case swim toward God with abandon.

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Peter understands or at least hopes a sentiment I’ve recently heard in song on the album Garden by Untied Pursuit on the track “Beautiful” by Andrea Marie. The lyric goes:

“Though I am weak it doesn’t change the way you think about me
And when I fall, I fall on you
For your grace surrounds me”

In the second half of this chapter, Peter will experience a slight painful sting but will realize the full truth of the way the Godhead feels about him and us. He’ll realize that the whole point of this program of life, of creation, of the crucifixion is the loving reconciliation of God and creation, the renewal of unrestricted relationship with the Father.

So all I want to leave you with this morning, and to remind myself this morning is a picture of child running, stumbling and falling into the arms of their Father. And after falling into their Father, they get up and run again laughing,  full of love, confident in pursuing the presence and power of a relationship with God.

Father, thank you for forgiveness, for the sacrifice of Jesus, for resurrection life, for the better things you have in store for us your children.

The Charleston Chapter: Chaplaincy

As of this writing, I am 50 days away from moving to Charleston, South Carolina.

If that is news to you, I’m sorry I did not tell you. I’m moving, to start a chaplaincy residency, which will be my first season of full-time ministry, God-willing. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I have a decent idea of what I’ve chosen.

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I already have my apartment reserved, have made some cool friends, and found a church I really like. That all stemmed from 2 separate 48 hour visits.

In a lot of ways this post is a prelude to what I imagine will be a season of a lot of newness. It’s about what I’m expecting.

Here is a paragraph I wrote in my application packet regarding what I expect out of my next year:

“I hope to learn to be both present and immovable in faith for those going through crisis, while offering hope and encouragement. Specifically, I hope to learn how to discern in moments of crisis when to listen, when to pray, and when to advise in an environment where others are learning and listening as well. I also hope that processing these experiences in discussion with peers and supervisors within the context of Clinical Pastoral Education will provide fertile soil to grow in confidence of the ability of God to work through ministers.”

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My goal is devotion to learning and serving from a posture of listening, discerning, and willingness to act. I am excited about the opportunity I have to give my life to Jesus in this way.

But I’m also surprised in the now. I’m surprised by how often over the past 8 months that saying yes to the unknown when I’ve asked God first, has resulted in a contented normalcy regarding the adventure of following Jesus. I would highly suggest trying this out.

But it’s also weird. It’s exposed something ugly in me. It’s exposed that in the past, I’ve expected the bottom to fall out. Whether that expectation comes from circumstance or was learned I can’t wait for that part of me to completely die.

I want to live like God is always for me not waiting for a reason to knock me down. I think that mindset has caused me too often to not take fun risks or steps of faith.

I want to live like my faith in God is flowing from a vibrant relationship that is also evident to others. But even in the season it might not be evident to others I want to be the kind of man who cherishes the will and ways of God even if it hurts.

Because in this next chapter, I think that is who God is asking me to be for others. I’m hoping, I’m up to the challenge.

 

The Appearing Gospel: Look Who Showed Up

John 20: 1-23 – Stay in Awe

When was the last time you stood in awe or wonder of something?

When was the last time something left you dazed and confused?

IMAG1053In the Gospel of John chapter 20, individuals are still living in the shock and shadow of the death of Jesus. Early, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of Jesus, finds it empty, and ran to Simon Peter and another disciple, presumably John himself.

Mary relays to them an incorrect story. She thinks someone took Jesus’ body and now does not know where it is. The disciples run to the tomb and notice strips of linen and a cloth that covered Jesus’ head. Surely no one would take a corpse and unwrap it first.

This line of thinking brings John to write that in that moment he believed. The disciples go home but Mary stays by the tomb.

At the tomb Mary weeps, bent over near the tomb until she sees two angels. Mary has a conversation with the angels still supposing Jesus had been taken away by the “they”. Who know’s who the “they” were? Who knows if Mary was rational in this moment?

She neglects the clues.

Then, Jesus shows up, and she doesn’t realize. Perhaps, she is too overcome by emotion in this moment to look at her surroundings. Maybe she finds it hard to see through her tears.

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Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener, and she says something that I don’t quite understand why it makes my eyes water while I write this at work. She says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

And Jesus says back, “Mary.”

At the sound of her name coming from her Lord and friend, her disposition and perception changes instantly.

Have you ever so misinterpreted a situation that it muddled your outlook on life to the point where truth became very difficult to comprehend?

For Mary, the death, the empty tomb, the angels were for her, all reminders that Jesus was not there. Yet in the mind and heart of God, these were all to serve to remind that Jesus has always been there. To the end, his love was present and powerful.

And it wasn’t until Mary heard her name from Jesus that this came into view. Hindsight flooded her, and Jesus sends her to deliver a very good message: “I have seen the Lord!”

I like to imagine Mary frantically out of breath recounting this story. “I went and saw the tomb empty and talked to people dressed in white and then I saw the Lord. I thought he was the gardener, but it was Jesus. He said my name. I knew as soon as he said my name. He is really alive.”

I imagine in that moment Mary felt alive too, more alive than ever before.

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Later, that same night, Jesus appears to his disciples, who are hiding from the Jewish leaders. He reveals himself and they are overjoyed. He breathes on them while giving them instruction to receive the Holy Spirit and to forgive.

This chapter moves from surprise to surprise, but the surprise doesn’t at this point lead to unction. Jesus tells them to receive the Holy Spirit, but I’m not sure they do in this moment. That’s not to say they don’t, but later he will tell them to wait for the Holy Spirit.

In moments of awe, we are to embrace the surprise and wait for instruction. If something awes us, it should change us even if only slightly. Moments of awe make way for the eventual unction to move.

And when we move, we likewise, appear.

The Finishing Gospel: Death of the Saves Man

John 19:16-42 – Are We Living or Dying?

Yesterday, I taught my second to last class on the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). We discussed the crucifixion and the resurrection.

What is interesting to me about John’s gospel is the things he notes about Jesus during the crucifixion. Jesus is deeply concerned for his mother. Jesus also pronounces “It is finished.” That phrase in the Greek denotes that a transaction took place.

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The transaction was one that paid the debt of sin, through the exchange of a perfect life for the lives of imperfect humanity. The other Gospels draw out Jesus’ death; whereas, John shows the ways Jesus fulfilled OT Scriptures in his death. John also shifts the tone in his writing. Normally his Gospel is laden with emotion, but for this series of verses, John is presenting facts.

In V. 35 John even writes, “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.” John is using this tone shift to say, “this is reality, and I’m using this reality to lead to an even greater reality that is harder to believe.” (We will look at that next time)

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John wants us to take in the reality of Jesus’ death while we contemplate the implications. And while we contemplate he writes about the two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who prepare his body for burial.

Death Thoughts

Without being morbid or long-winded, I want to say a word about death because in about 2 months I will be entering a vocation where I am expecting  to become more familiar and perhaps more comfortable with it. I believe the only way to be comfortable with death is to take away its sting.

I think that is done through restitution, eager expectation of eternity with Jesus, and gratitude. I also think living life not afraid of death or rejection is liberating.

My prayer is to be a person that shows others that death does not have the last word, rather our life in Christ echoes after a last breath.

Laid There

Chapter 19 concludes with Jesus’ body being laid in a tomb. It is written with a sense of rest in order to prepare us for the final two chapters which recount resurrection life. The suffering and death Jesus endured made room for life.

Now we live it until we’ve finished.

Wait For It

5 months through 2018, I have accomplished 5 of 18 of my goals for 2018.

  • Go to India
  • Go to the Royal Rumble with my brother
  • Land a standing back-flip again
  • Teach through Book of Revelation
  • See Hamilton on Broadway/ (and Avengers Infinity War)

This Saturday 6/2 I will accomplish my 6th.

  • Wrestle my last wrestling match (Give up the hobby)

4 other goals are in progress and are can be reasonably completed

  • Bond with Dad and brother (Rangers Game)
  • Read more books for pleasure (Lord of the Rings Series, Poems that Make Grown Women Cry, The Last Arrow)
  • Obey my next big ministry step (Chaplaincy)
  • move once in less

4 other need considerable improvement

  • Legitimately clean up my diet
  • Introduce 3 people to Jesus
  • have more fun with my grandma
  • more time in prayer and worship

The other 4 hopefully will happen

  • go to another concert (maybe 2)
  • take another hiking trip (with Brian and Josh)
  • let myself find romance
  • 18- I haven’t decided what this one is yet

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Goals have this way of lingering in a state of being within reach and waiting for an opportunity to accomplish them.

I went to see Hamilton on Broadway this week. In reflecting on the show, there were two things that surprised me.

I came away liking Aaron Burr’s character and the actor that played him most.

The song I was most excited to hear live, Satisfied, was overshadowed for by Wait for It.

I liked Wait for It most because it explores when one waits for opportunity or potentially watching life pass by as opposed to grinding and fighting for what you think what you want.

It plays well with Burr’s internal struggle of his evaluation of an underdog, immigrant, in Alexander Hamilton. He questions how and why Hamilton keeps taking opportunities that Burr assumed were meant for him while Burr plays it safe in the middle.

It also plays well with Hamilton’s My Shot, which in the end lends itself to the suggestion that Hamilton throws away his shot in a duel when Burr does not. Burr’s shot hits leading me to wonder, “Is this what Burr was waiting for?”

What I love most about the story Lin Manuel Miranda chooses to tell is the power of moments to make legacies, the power of choices and the choices of others to shape our future.

In the last 30 minutes of the show, Hamilton is depicted as a humbled man who throws away his shot whose legacy is only preserved by his wife Eliza and her sister Angelica.

It’s the most powerful moment for me.

The woman he hurts the most, chooses forgiveness and chooses to tell a version of the story that makes beauty out of his life by living a better story.

I love how these women are portrayed in spite of the time in which they lived, and I love how powerful it portrays the foreigner. I love how it challenges entitlement but it also explores the power of unction to overcome.

I would argue though, that the unction to overcome as an underdog and entitlement to hold onto what you feel you deserve are two sides of the same coin. One is trying to take, the other is trying to keep, both are subject to grasping at power.

And as I reflect I realize something about myself. At some point in my life, I chose to be the type of person that persistently surrenders areas of my life that others might perceive as powerful.

And I do this because I have a belief whether it is true or not that my power is found in the time, mercy and forgiveness I offer to others. And I find this painful.

I find it most painful when it affects my hope or rather when it exposes that my hope has been misplaced or when my hope has been deferred.

I hate that the pain that shakes my hope feels and affects my chemical composition more than any other pain. I hate how it sends me into introspection searching high and low for where I went wrong only to potentially realize that what I was looking for doesn’t exist.

Somehow its easier to accept that I did something wrong to affect my hope rather than accept that there was nothing I could do to keep it right.

But to end this Wait for It piece on a positive note, the truth about hope is it is resilient and versatile because you can shift its place. Hope in what demonstrates to you that it won’t leave once it arrives. Then wait for it.