Deep Water- Reflections from this week’s sermon.

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We are going to wade in some deep waters today.  The woman at the well references the deepness of the well.  So much of the story of God happens around the water, at the water’s edge.  The edge of rivers, seas, pools, and this well.

Today I invite you into the deep water.  The water that feels unsafe.  The water that wells up around you and offers life and fear.

This past week, I took the youth from the church to a water park.  I have an irrational fear of waterslides, especially the ones that are all enclosed…. When you can’t see where you are going.  And even though the water is maybe just an inch deep, it feels infinitely deep.  You twist and turn, you fall, and water splashes into your face.  And, to me, it feels like drowning.  It feels like deep waters.

This week felt like deep waters.  I started this week by driving 11 nervous young people up to camp.  It was a long day.  It was a good day.  I prayed and prayed for those kids on the way home, hoping that they would have the kind of week that changes their lives.

And then it was the Fourth of July, a beautiful day.  Where we celebrate the freedoms that this country affords us.

And then it was Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday.  Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Dallas.

It was like barreling down a waterslide, through the deep water, twisting and turning and dropping.

From God’s Word

-John 4:1-30

This scripture, the story of the woman at the well, is a story for today.

Jesus was talking to a woman, a woman who, simply because of her gender, was considered nothing, property.  Men didn’t just ‘talk’ to women.

This woman was also a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans did not get along.  This story is a story about race.  It is a story about oppression.   Jesus stood with her, a woman.  A Samaritan.  He stood with her, he talked with her.

She was not less then.

She was not an object of pity.

She was not a project.

She had dignity.

Jesus didn’t restore anything.  He stood alongside. He was human, because she was human.

And he asked her for something.  He needed something from her.  Fill up my cup.  I am thirsty.  Bring me some water.

Jesus didn’t have to be there.  He didn’t have to say.  But he did.

He had multiple opportunities to excuse himself from the conversation.  He has so many opportunities to walk away from this mutual interaction.

“I’m a Samaritan.”  She said. But Jesus stayed.

“The well is too deep.”  She said.  But Jesus instructed.

“I am a sinner.”  She said.  Jesus didn’t condemn.

The disciples returned and raised their eyebrows.  But Jesus remained.

The woman went and brought her community back.  And he showed them.  He was with them.

Jesus stood with her and with them.  He was not afraid to stand in the place of discomfort.  He was not embarrassed to need something from her.  He was not afraid to stand with her.  To be a Christ follower means standing with the oppressed.

 

This story is connected to another story… another interaction with Jesus and a woman.  Just a couple chapters over in John 8.

It is the story of the adulteress woman.

Jesus stood with her.

The law said she should die.  The law said she should be stoned for her crime.

But Jesus stood with her.

Jesus stood with her until every accuser put down their stones.  He stood with her until she was no longer in danger of dying.  And then he put his own stone down.

To follow Christ is to stand with the oppressed, regardless of their crime, their reputation, their race, their gender.

 

Challenge

This week I watched two men die.  Two men who were human.  Two men who should have been guaranteed a trial, a jury of their peers, a judge.  Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

I then watched chaos in Dallas as bullets sliced through a crowd of people – people who were standing with Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.  Police officers who were standing with protestors, holding up their rights to protest.  I watched as police officer lay on the ground.

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We are called to stand with the oppressed.

When I heard the news about Philando Castile, I was heartbroken.  His death took place just blocks from where my children used to go to school.  Where their friends live, where our life took place.  Philando Castile was three years behind my husband in high school.  He worked in the St. Paul Public schools.

When I saw the video, the news, I wondered if I should go stand shoulder to shoulder with my friends, my neighbors… I talked to my clergy friends serving in the community where the shooting took place.

When I asked if I could do anything to support their work, I was asked to pray.

So I organized a prayer vigil at Little Prairie.  Here.  In Dundas. It was clear to me that I needed to stand for justice, stand shoulder to shoulder here, in this place.  Bear witness in this community.

I invited the pastors of another church in town.  I emailed our law enforcement (before Dallas happened) and told them that we would be praying for them.  This week I am also the on call police chaplain.

So we gathered.  We were a small group.  But we prayed.  And we sang.  We held space in this community, standing shoulder to shoulder in this town for the hurt in our nation.

Northfield can feel very far away from the Twin Cities.  Certainly if feels very far away from Baton Rouge.  This town can feel very insulated, except when we are going to Wild game or a Twins game or a concert.  Then the city is just up the road.  But when something like this happens, it might as well have happened across the ocean.

If we call ourselves Christ followers, we must do what Christ did.  This community needs us to hold the light of life, to stand up for the oppressed.

This past week I watched as my friends who parent African American sons, I watches as they mourned and cried out in fear for their children.  Afraid to let them walk down the street, or drive across town, or go out with their friends.

I have never had to fear that simply because of my sons’ skin color they might be in danger. I have never feared that their skin color might escalate a situation to violence.  Never.  I have never had to talk to my children about how their very appearance can be dangerous.

But my friends have and do.  And they have for generations.

It is because of this, I don’t get to say how a person protests.  I don’t get to say that blocking traffic or boycotting commerce is wrong.  I can say violence is wrong.  But as long as it is peaceful, I don’t get to say, “Oh, you’re overreacting.” “You’re methods aren’t working.”

I had someone say, it’s hard to pick a side.  It’s not about picking a side; it’s about being on the same side.  It’s about coming together because we want this world to be a better place for everyone.

A black clergy friend of mine quoted Martin Luther King Jr,

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

When I picked up kids from camp yesterday, I was surprised to see one of the boys, an African American boy, who lived in my neighborhood in St. Paul. He had come up with my previous ministry setting. And this boy, who now looked like a young man, this boy who spent much of his summers in my back yard, this middle schooler hugged me. A genuine hug. He was so happy to see me. And I hugged him back, like one of my own. I hugged him and told him I loved him. And I didn’t want to let go because I want this world to be better for him.

And then I found my brother in law, my husband’s brother, a camp counselor this summer. My brother, also African American, was goofing around with my son. And I hugged him. Wanting so much more in this world for him. The uncle to my children. A young man, on the cusp of adulthood.

If you don’t feel like you can stand for people in another town. Then maybe you can stand with my brother. And if you don’t feel like you can stand up for my brothers. Then stand up for your own children, grandchildren, that they might know what it is to follow Christ because you followed Christ. That they might know what it is to follow Christ and stand with the oppressed.

These are deep waters. And it is uncomfortable. It is complicated. There are no easy answers and we don’t know if we are even close to a way out, but we are Christ-followers. We are called to stand with the oppressed.

Come to the well and stand. Shoulder to shoulder. Be in the deep water. Offer the deep water. Take the deep water. Follow Jesus.

 

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I Broke Up with Netflix…

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So I am a glutton for binge watching on Netflix.  I love a show that I can start from episode one and carry all the way through for two, three, eight seasons.  I love to see how the writing grows, the character development deepens.  I love the mindless escapism into a story, especially if it was created by the BBC.  (Although there are plenty others that I have found. ) But, Oh. My. Goodness. BBC. 

I love all things British crime or drama or history… (Josiah I blame you for this addiction!) And I am truly embarrassed to admit, I can watch for hours while ‘putting away laundry,’ or ‘cooking dinner.’  Sometimes I get so caught up in a show, I stay up waaaay too late to finish a season or a plot line.  I mean, late like, I’m-a-mother-of-four-and-work-full-time-and-have-no-business-staying-up-so-late, late.

Now, I recognized that there are worse addictions in the world, and in the grand scheme of things it’s not the worst thing in the world.  But as I reflected on preparing myself for this year’s Lenten season, I realized that I was spending too much time in front of a screen.  And I was distracted from productive things and meaningful things as a result.

So I decided to break up with Netflix for Lent. 

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When I say it like that, it feels a little pathetic.  But there was intention behind this decision.  Lent is a season where we fast from something as a way of identifying with Jesus’ suffering.  It is a way of identifying with our own humanity and sinfulness, our own weakness and therefore our need for a savior. 

Watching Netflix is not a sin, but my lack of self-discipline is.  My inability to moderate myself to the point where I lose sleep and productivity, is a problem.  We are called to “Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) For me, the decision to break up with Netflix for Lent, is an exercise in making more room for Jesus.

So it has taken me some time to get there, but I found a fantastic replacement… Binge watching (or listening) to sermons.  As a middle-schooler in the late 80’s and early 90’s, back before all things media were ‘On Demand,’ I used to listen to Christian talk radio in the mornings.  The voices of Chuck Swindoll, TD Jakes and Tony Evans echoed through my bedroom every morning as I curled my bangs and fried them with hairspray. –  I will just let that sit with you for a minute.  Ladies, do you remember that special smell of fried hair and hairspray?  Those were the days…

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Yep, that’s me in middle school. 

 

Remembering these voices that floated in the background of my adolescence inspired me to revisit them.  I have found the most suitable replacement for binge watching Netflix is binge listening to sermons. 

The challenge of making more room for Jesus is a difficult to say the least.  There is a saying out there, that 90% of life is just ‘showing up.’  What does it mean to show up for Jesus?  Making time to pray.  I mean – I’m a pastor, I pray a lot during the day… but intentionally making time to pray.  It’s not always consistent for me… it’s hard.  Or taking time to read my Bible?

But then I started listening to Tony Evans sermon series, The Power of the Cross.  I was challenged.  The power of the Cross, or the power of Easter doesn’t end with the cross, it begins with the cross.

Evans got to the root of the Christian ‘problem’.  It’s not just about ‘showing up.’  Showing up at church is different than carrying your cross.  And Jesus, Jesus invites us to carry the cross.  To carry all it represents into the world with us, into our families with us, into our hearts, our minds, our relationships, our finances, our politics. 

The cross represents sacrifice, it represents sin, it represents intentionality, it represents love.  If we are going to show up for Jesus, Jesus calls us to carry our cross.  And the cross is not easy, it’s not about convenience.  It’s not about personal fulfillment or a special feeling we get during worship.  The cross is not about getting what we want, it’s about submitting to what God wants.  It’s not about a ‘get out jail free card’ or a ‘ticket to heaven card,’ it’s about walking in the world in a way that embraces the loss of life and the new life which it promises.  We are called to pick up our cross, the harsh, cruel cross and allow it to set the world free from the evil it contains here and now. 

And there is plenty of evil in the world… Just turn on the news, or flip through social media.

Making room for Jesus requires that we take Jesus with us, in every part of our lives.  If Lent is about identifying with the suffering of Christ, then it doesn’t end with Easter, it is where it begins.  It is the beginning of everything that matters – Our salvation and our sending, our crucifixion and our calling. 

So even though, I was only half way through ‘Call the Midwife’ when I broke up with Netflix, I’m glad I did.  I mean, who would have thought that by making room for God, God might actually teach me something?  What are the chances? 

If you are interested in following Tony Evans podcast, it has been a really good Lenten practice.  You can find it here: http://tonyevans.org/category/tony-evans-radio-broadcast-the-alternative/

A Better Kingdom… a thought on our allegiances.

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My father fought in Vietnam.  He was drafted.  I don’t recall him ever speaking about war growing up, except for the few stories of adventures he had in the jungle. He spoke about animals, insects, and bananas.  But he saw and did things in the name of ‘democracy’ that cannot be forgotten. Recently I found a picture of my dad in Vietnam.  I look at him and the men with him, and I wonder where they are today.  I see sons, brothers, husbands, fathers.  I wonder how war changed them.  I wonder how coming home from war changed them.

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(My dad is in the center kneeling, looking like a total badass with no shirt and a cigarette.)

He came home to a world that, because of government red tape didn’t allow him to actually go home for another six months.  He came home to a country writhing under the pains of civil discoursed.  He came home to a country that in one hand was embracing what it meant to be free and in another what it meant to be free.  It was not restful; it was certainly not peaceful.   

And I think about the countless men, women, families who have given everything to protect the freedom of this nation, and I look around and wonder what freedom we are protecting.  Ultimately, I have decided it is the right to vote.  It is the right to determine our own way as a nation.  Everything else hinges on this one action.  The things we uphold or change, the people in power who make the decisions, the ‘freedoms’ we maintain or loose, all of it comes down to our vote.

This past week was Super Tuesday.  As a pastor, it is my calling to listen and then speak.  I have been listening for some time.  Listening to the rhetoric on both sides. Trying to discern the issues that have polarized this nation and why they are polarizing.  These issues have caused division, rejoicing and even fear.  There is genuine fear of what the next presidential election could mean for this country.

This conversation is particularly interesting during Lent.  Just before Passover. 

Lent is a journey of understanding our humanity, embracing our responsibility, and gratitude for God’s grace. It is a journey of recognizing the ‘state of things’ so that we can move forward, better.

I would offer that first and foremost, our “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

I would also offer, that we are called to “Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations and exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

So we are not to be afraid, we are to recognize that there is a Power beyond us, beyond this world and the principalities it contains.  We are to approach this world with love and a sound mind.  We are to rest in the knowledge that God is God. 

With that said, everything about Jesus’ ministry was about disrupting ‘business as usual’ wherever it was a threat to God’s Kingdom.  When Jesus began his ministry, in Mark 1, Jesus was baptized, tempted and then after John was taken into prison, Jesus made a declaration.  “The time has come.  The Kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe.”

And with this he began gathering his followers.

The Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God, from what I can gather from Jesus’ own teachings and ministry was about reconciliation.  It was about reaching the marginalized and including them into community.  It was about offering healing.  It was about feeding the hungry.  It was about relationship.  It was about breaking down cultural and physical boundaries.  It was about challenging the authority when it oppressed others.

There was no system sacred.  No person off limits.  No place he wouldn’t go to proclaim the Kingdom of God. 

So when we consider the Kingdom of God and our world today, this is my starting point.  I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t come to replace the government of his day.  He could have, and certainly most expected, that the Messiah would come and sit on a literal throne, overthrowing the unjust leaders of their day.  He didn’t lead a mass exodus, defecting to a neighboring country where they could start over.

But Jesus didn’t do that.  In fact, he submitted to their authority, to the point of death.  He stood up for what was right, but he didn’t overthrow anyone.  Instead, he started a revolution in the hearts of his followers.  He offered a soul freedom, an allegiance to something greater than any government this world could offer.  He changed the way people interact with one another… offering a better way here and now.

So what does this mean for us today?  It is a reminder that, if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we are called to higher allegiance.  Our ‘soul freedom’ is bigger than an oppression this world could offer.  I find real comfort in that, considering the leadership ‘choices’ being offered by our political system. 

It is also a reminder that Jesus did not compromise his commitment to the Kingdom, ever.  Jesus stood up against every and all oppressors of his time period.  He challenged the wealthy to think deeper about their ‘treasures.’  He challenged the poor to see the humanity in their oppressors.  He challenged the church to open its arms.  And he challenged everyone to make every interaction count, offer love and grace to every person they met. 

When I consider the circus that is our current political situation, I start with Jesus.  I look to the Kingdom of God.  And when it comes to my vote, I start with Jesus.  I look to the Kingdom of God.  Who matches most with what Jesus taught and did?  Who is most in line with the Kingdom of God ethos? 

And there is no ‘perfect’ choice.  Here’s where I get political…  I cannot accept the argument that a human document demands our allegiance over the Kingdom of God, not even the Constitution.  (Before you gasp and write me an angry note, please hear that I love this country, I am grateful for it.  Appreciating the Constitution is different than accepting how people interpret it.  Appreciating the sacrifices made for it, call me to defend it when people to misuse it. -Including my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and my brother in law – of whom I am insanely proud.) 

Therefore, I cannot accept any argument for a wall, deportation or discrimination.  I cannot accept racism, gun violence or injustice by anyone.  I cannot accept calling others out of their name, belittling language, sexism, or exploitation.  I cannot accept denying people of their basic needs like food, health, and housing.  I cannot accept greed, protecting self-interest, or ambition. 

I do not and will not accept these things.  And I certainly won’t affirm them in my leaders.  And no matter what happens in November, I will continue to champion these things that Jesus championed.  I will continue to ‘fight the good fight’ no matter the policy or opposition put in place by whatever government is ruling.  Because my allegiance is to a bigger Kingdom.  A better Kingdom. 

Because the solution for a better Kingdom, for God’s Kingdom was never to flee, rather to engage.  It was never to dominate, but to heal.  And I pray for healing.  I pray for other Christ-followers to accept this challenge to engage and heal, rather than dominate or withdraw. 

I seek the Kingdom of God, not for this government, but for the people governed by it.  I seek wholeness, and wellness, and reconciliation so that the sacrifices made for freedom where not made in vain.   I look to the eyes of the men in that photograph with my dad, and I hope that in spite of whatever this government may bring, that they would know the love and grace offered by a Kingdom of Heaven, bigger and better than any kingdom on this earth could ever offer.   

And that cannot come from any political leader, it can only come from Jesus people doing Jesus’ work, sharing Jesus’ words, living for a bigger Kingdom, a better Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.

 

Seeds and Beads

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Every Sunday, really almost every day, I wear a simple wood cross hanging on a string of seed beads. Nothing fancy, but a reminder of my calling and who has called me.  The beads were given to me by a dear woman, who I only knew by first name, “Hildy.”  A woman who had long ago lost her memory, except for a few key memories of her childhood.  I visited her weekly, as part of a volunteer opportunity set up by my college.  I was 19.  She had nothing, living in a state institution.  She gave me a necklace given to her by a group of volunteers who had come to do crafts with the seniors.  She gave me a necklace made of seed beads, tiny little colorful beads, because she thought I was beautiful and she wanted me to have something beautiful.

This time with “Hildy” helped to form me.  And the necklace held her memory securely in my heart, her generosity and love.  It reminded me of her neighbors that I also visited… the farmer dying of cancer who drank black coffee, ate dry toast and a fried egg for every meal… the Ojibwa woman who was 101 years old, with beautiful long silver hair and a smile that could light up the room.  This simple string of beads reminded me of them.  Reminded me of the importance of taking time to spend time with people.

There are days where I feel like I have not one more thing to say.  Between visiting with the people who are homebound to talking about homework with my kids, to leading small groups, making phone calls, lining up volunteers, making worship plans, journaling through my sermon process… Sometimes I feel like there are no more words, no more thoughts left in my day.

And then I sit and reflect on my day.

And my brain races through all of the things I saw, did and thought.  Today, I keep coming back to the Kingdom of God and those tiny seed beads.

I have been reading the Gospel of Mark and the work of John the Baptist.  I love thinking about John.  A little wild, eating locusts and honey.  He was rugged, but not in a good way.  He was out there.  I’m sure many thought he was crazy, but he was teaching the Kingdom of God.  He was teaching that if people repented, they could find forgiveness.  He was encouraging all who would listen to rethink their journey and rethink what worship could look like.

He asked people to rethink the Kingdom of God.

So often we think the Kingdom of God is far off.  We talk about it like it’s heaven or something for the end of the world.  But the Kingdom of God was something John saw as imminent.  And after John was imprisoned, Jesus continued to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  It was clear that Jesus believed that the Kingdom of God was something for this world.

Both for John and for Jesus the Kingdom of God was experienced in transformed lives.  It is transformation that takes a person and renews them, makes them more generous, more kind, more thoughtful, more patient, more joyful, more peaceful, more disciplined, more gentle, more loving.

As Christ followers, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to share the Kingdom of God.  We are called to experience the kingdom of God.  But each of these things, these evidences of the kingdom are relational evidences.  They must be observed by others.

And in order for others to observe these evidences, we have to take the time to spend time with others.

The Kingdom of God is experienced in community, in relationship.

So this brings me to Sunday afternoon.  Sunday afternoon I was exhausted.  I had been feeling under the weather, but had a great morning at church.  I felt good about the work and the time.  I felt like good about the questions answered and the sermon I preached.  And I was tired.

Preparing to head home after a busy morning at church, my four year old was my shadow.  As I transitioned him from my hip to the floor, he accidentally pulled my pectoral cross down with him and broke the line of beads that held it.  The beautiful beads given to me by a woman who I only knew by her first name, “Hildy.”  At first I started to pick up the beads, but realized it was futile.  I took the partially beaded string in my hand and dumped it in the trash.  Making a decision to spend the time saying goodbye to the last of the parishioners at church instead of on my hands and knees picking seed beads out of the carpet.

The Kingdom of God.

After we got home, after we had lunch, I went up to my room to take a nap when I heard a knock on my bedroom door.  My daughter, my 13 year old, came into my room with a simple string of beads.  My beads.  “Hildy’s” beads.  Smaller, shorter, but the same beads.  She went back into the trash and pulled out the remnants of my necklace and she salvaged all she could form the carpet.  I didn’t even know.  When we got home, she went right to work in her bedroom, restringing the beads.  She put a new clasp on it and presented it to me.

She has always been thoughtful and mature, but this was so meaningful.  So kind.  She knew that the beads were meaningful to me.  She knew the story behind the beads.  And I think she also knew why I walked away from them, putting my attention of the people around me instead of a few beads.  But she took the time for me.  She took the time.  The Kingdom of God.

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She is the transformed life.  She is the one living in community sharing the kingdom of God.  She showed me how to take the time- how to live with generosity, kindness, joy, patience and love.  As I looked at the string of beads, I realized that from one string of beads, God has brought me two experiences of the Kingdom of God.  God has shown her the Kingdom of God.

There is so much in this world that is ugly.  And often we are so busy, we don’t take the time.  We don’t take the time to understand one another, to hear one another’s stories.  We don’t take the time to do something generous or kind.  We don’t take the time to share joy or love or patience.

The Kingdom of God is found in transformed lives.  It requires that we take the time, that we spend the time.  And truthfully, if we take the time, we don’t have to work very hard or look very far to find it because the Kingdom of God is here.

 

 

More Superheros in Church, Please.

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So there are few things that this pastor momma loves more than a kid who loves to be at church.  Tonight as we celebrated Lent with our weekly Wed Learning Series, I watched one momma struggle to get her four-year-old go home at night.  Now it just so happens that this particular four-year-old is best buddies with my youngest… but together, they run the church.

As soon as they are given any freedom, they run up and down the aisles of the pews, laughing, playing super heroes.  With Iron Man and Ultron in hand, they run through the basement with their toys like they are in their own basement, in their own home.  And they are not alone.  I love an itty bitty who feels free to walk around the pews during Sunday worship.  I love kids who wave to me during the morning prelude.  I love youth who jump at the chance to light the candles.

I love a kid who loves to be in church. Because,  when a kid loves church I know we are doing something right.  I know that there is hope for the future of the church.

Now there is plenty of research that says the church in America is on the decline or that young people are leaving the church in droves.  And I have seen it.  I have seen it in my friends, my family, my neighbors.  I have seen it in church.  And I get it, church can feel irrelevant. It can feel hypocritical or judgmental.

I mean, who wants to sit with someone else’s ridiculous uncle for an hour, who tells the same joke every Sunday?  Or listen to the slightly racist comments from somebody else’s grandma?  (Disclaimer Alert – I am not referring to anyone in particular in these comments.  Please don’t think that I am speaking of anyone person in our current community.)  Who wants to associate with an organization that doesn’t embrace equity but claims to promote justice?

But here’s the beauty of it all… it’s all beautiful.  The children, the uncles, the grandmas… it’s all beautiful.  Because in a church where the children love to be at church, there is a lesson in community.

My heart swoons watching a young person fall in love with Jesus.  But in a church, kids fall in love with Jesus through community.  They fall in love with Jesus over glasses of milk and pieces of cake with someone else’s uncle.  They fall in love with Jesus running through the church basement as if they own it.  They fall in love with Jesus when they are invited to come and sit and hear a lesson that is just for them.  They fall in love with Jesus when they are lifted to the drinking fountain or told to slow down. They fall in love with Jesus when they are included in setting up tables, stacking hymnals, or are plopped into the arms of someone else’s grandma.

When children love to be at church, they are encountering Jesus the way Jesus encountered the word, through community.  They are learning to love and be loved. They are learning that the church is a good place where they can come with dirty diapers, tearful tantrums, and still be loved.  They are learning that church is more than a building, it is bigger than a tradition, it is alive.  It is organic, like family, but bigger and better.

In fact, I believe a church is more complete with a crying baby or a nursing mom.  It is more complete with crayons under the pews and candy wrappers on the floor.  It is more complete with the occasional escapee making their way to the front.  It is more complete with brothers arguing in the back row.

Jesus is well known for his grace towards children.  He welcomed them, he pulled them up front and held them on his lap, even when he was supposed to be having ‘grown up’ conversations.  When the children love to be in church, I think Jesus is just a little happier about church.

As a pastor and a momma, my kids don’t always appreciate being in church, but I desperately want them to love it.  I want them to love it so much that once they are there, they don’t want to leave.  And I want them to love it when they are two, when they are four, when they are eight, when they are thirteen, when they are sixteen.  I want them to love it when they are twenty-five, forty-two and ninety-two.  I want them to experience Jesus in community.

So mommas, papas, grandmas and grandpas, when you find yourself parenting in the pews, know that I love you for it.  Because you are teaching your children to love the church.

And those of you who find yourself sitting next to a crying baby, a busy toddler or a distracted seven year old, you have an opportunity to encourage these young ones to love the church.   Jesus certainly did.

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My Funny Valentine

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Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.  And we did the typical family Valentine’s day things.  The kids each got a small box of chocolates.  They each made their own heart-shaped pizza.  Our third child, upon finishing his pizza, took one final piece of pepperoni and ripped it in half.

“It’s like half a piece of pepperoni, like my half heart,” he said.

My heart sank a little bit. We spent the rest of the evening playing games, trying to distract from all the hearts.funny valentine

There are a lot of reasons to struggle with Valentine’s Day. I get it.  For those who have not yet found their ‘valentine,’ for those who have lost their ‘valentine,’ for those who have broken relationships, Valentine’s Day is simply a reminder of the heartbreak in the world.

For my 8 year old, Valentine’s day is a constant reminder of his heart condition.  Everywhere he looks he sees hearts.  And it reminds him that he only has half of a heart.  Born with tricuspid atresia, his heart only developed two chambers, instead of four.  He has endured three major open heart surgeries by the time he was 3 and a 1/2 .

So Valentine’s Day, a day full of love and hearts, is a very real reminder of his mortality.

I can never know what it’s like to be a child and have to face my mortality on a regular basis.  It doesn’t seem fair, when you consider what is fair in the world.  It doesn’t seem fair in the world that children suffer at all.

And this is the journey of Lent.  It is the journey to both embrace our mortality and proclaim our hope of a better way.  It is embracing the fragility of life and at the same time recognizing that this world is the not the world that God intended.  It is about understanding that by becoming human, God was able to walk in our pain and overcome its finality.

It feels odd to have Valentine’s day during lent, but there is also something very poetic about it.  In a time where we reflect on the pain in our own lives, it is an invitation to consider the people around you.

It is an invitation to love others in the midst of their suffering.

This week as a Lenten practice, take some time to consider what it is to see someone else’s pain and then what it is to love them through it.

Brave. dedicated to G.W. Carlson

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Today my second grader brought home this valentine.  It says, “You are good at living with half of a heart.  You must have been brave, right from the start.”

Sometimes we don’t get to choose where we have to be brave.  Sometimes we just have to be brave because we don’t get a choice.  My son didn’t get to choose how his heart developed.  I didn’t get to choose (I mean there was a choice offered, but I didn’t choose for his heart to grow the way it did.)  We don’t always get to choose if our job works out or if our marriage works out.  We don’t always get to choose when we get sick or how the ones we love get sick.  We don’t usually get to choose when a war starts, the rain stops, the winds come.

There are a lot of things in this life we don’t really get to choose.  But these are the things that often make us who we are.  They set direction.  They create definition.  Or they become our excuse.

I was reflecting on Moses today as I continue on this Lenten journey.  Moses didn’t have a choice in the world he was born into.  He didn’t get to choose that his family had to abandon him or that he was adopted by his enemy.  Now he did choose to kill an Egyptian soldier – and he did choose to flee into the dessert.  He used his anger and rage about his situation to make a bad choice.  It was his excuse.

And when he was found by God in the wilderness, living contentedly for 40 years, Moses continued to be full of excuses.  God calls to him and reveals his plan… I have heard the cries of my people and I will send you to them to rescue them.

Moses responds, “Who am I?”  Why me?

God reassures him… I will be with you.

Moses responds again, “Who are you?”

God responds, “I AM.”

Moses responds, “What if they don’t believe me?”

God responds, “I will give you what you need, the tools you need.”

Moses responds, “But I am not a public speaker.  I stutter.”

God responds, “I will send your brother to help you.”

Moses didn’t get to choose any of the early defining moments of his life.  But there is a sense that God spared him, protected him, and prepared him for this moment.  And Moses tried every excuse, but God was not going to quit on Moses.  Moses, be brave.

But God.  God didn’t quit.  He showed him who he was.  He showed him who God is.  He gave him the tools he needed and the support he needed.

In our own lives, we don’t usually get to choose those things that are hard.  Those things that require real courage.  We don’t get to always choose when or how our life falls apart or spirals out of control.

The call to be brave.  This call to trust in this God who is, who equips and provides, it has come again today.  Today this world lost another incredible human being.  G.W. Carlson was a friend and a mentor. And not just to me.  He saw people for their potential.  And he cared enough to take the time to teach them, encourage them, challenge them and lead them.  One by One.  Class by class.  G.W. was brave enough to be honest, was brave enough to care.  And all for purpose of encouraging leaders to do the work of the gospel, of sharing the Kingdom of God with the world.  G.W. looked at this world and responded to God’s call by inspiring generations of leaders to live the gospel, prophetically, thoughtfully, always with humor and a bit of flattery20160212_200400_resized.

And in this moment of grief, we don’t get to choose to be brave.  We must be brave.  Because we know, we know like G.W. knew, who we are in God.  We know who God is.  We can be confident that God will equip us for the challenge.  And we know we are not alone.

The little boy who sent my son this Valentine, had no idea what he was really saying.  But when I consider what it is to be brave from the start… Most of us are not.  But we can be brave from this moment… We can choose to be brave because God knows us.  God is powerful.  God gives us what need.  And we are not alone.

This is the journey of Lent.  A call to embrace our humanity and not accept the state of it.  A call to look at those hard things and challenge them, bravely.  A call to embrace the hope of a God who wants so much more for this world and the people it contains.