Loving God and Loving People are not optional even during an epidemic,
Many of you are looking for ways to help your neighbors and friends during this time. If you are still willing to run errands for people you could post it on your neighborhood social media page. You could take prayer requests on the same page. Perhaps you could circulate a card like this on mailboxes with your name and contact information.
Other ways to help:
Offer to babysit for friends or family who must still work.
Buy gift cards to small businesses trading cash now for services later.
Think of the times we party. Now think of the times we absolutely lose our mind in celebration. When Carolina wins a National Title, there is a riot on Franklin Street with trash fires and flipped cars. When Duke wins, students dance around huge bonfires built from all the wooden benches on campus. When Philly wins a Super Bowl no one and no street lamp is safe. When the Allies defeated Germany and Japan, the streets flooded with strangers kissing and dancing together.
We party on Easter, because Easter is the greatest day in history.
Greater than National Championships or even National Victories. Jesus defeated more than Germany, he defeated the actual Axis of Evil. Jesus stomped out more than the Blue Devils, he crushed the actual Devil. He defeated Death and Sin and Hell. All our enemies have been conquered and they now fight a retreating, losing, guerilla battle against God’s Elect.
We party because Jesus wins. The day Jesus died was the worst day in history – God came close enough for us to hug him or hurt him, and we nailed him to a tree, and yet we now call the day “Good Friday” and wear miniature versions of the torture device as jewelry. Why? Because God transformed the worst moment in human history into the best moment – the moment our salvation was accomplished and our sin – the very sin of nailing Jesus – was forgiven.
Easter proves it. Our sin is forgiven, our sentence served, our debt is paid and the empty tomb proves the super abundance of God’s provision. Sin does not win. The devil will not win in your life or your marriage. Brokenness is not final. Pain is not pointless. All crosses, both the ones we suffer and the ones we built, will end in resurrection. That is the point of our art projects, which transform trash into treasure. We built beauty from all recycled materials to remind us that our brokenness too will be transformed.
So we party. And maybe, must one day, our children, our youth, and ourselves will wake up after years away from church, in the midst of immense spiritual agony, and remember a little brick church that parties every Easter, because Jesus is alive, and there is hope for all broken people. Our children may not remember Sunday School lessons or sermons, but hopefully they remember art projects and shouts of victory.
My December was overwhelmed with a single thought and a single life changing encounter. You’ve heard it before, but do you really believe them?
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE WITH GOD.
THE LOCAL CHURCH IS THE HOPE OF THE WORLD.
The Monday after we canceled church for snow, I ran into Joe David, Joy, and Brittany at Ugly Mug Coffee Shop. Joy and Brittany are both educators, so our conversation turned to difficult children in school.
As a special needs teacher, Brittany explained how she’s learned to love difficult children even when they hurt her, push her away, and curse her. She’s seen that if she can love them more than they fight her, love will change them, soften them, and transform them. Love will overcome their fear, anger, and poor coping mechanisms.
Love that loves even when I fight back. Love that keeps loving even when it is rejected. Love that keeps coming even if it involves being rejected, despised, and injured. Love that risks rejection for the sake of redemption. THAT SOUNDS LIKE JESUS DOESN’T IT?!
In the church, we call that kind of undeserved, unconditional love, “GRACE, AMAZING GRACE,” and we are given grace upon grace in Jesus who chases us down while we kick, bite, scream, pout, and crucify to get our own way.
Brittany has learned to replicate Jesus’ grace even though she’s only been following Jesus in church for a little over a year. It’s so cool, how the Holy Spirit has been teaching her GRACE and using her to give GRACE for years. Grace before I know what Grace is, is called “Prevenient Grace” by theologians.
Brittany told me about this specific boy who cusses her and attacks her and other kids when he doesn’t get his way. Still, her relentless GRACE is changing him. Then she said, “It just makes me so sad, cause you know he’s learned that behavior from somewhere. Gotta be from mom and dad cause he’s not learning it at school.”
And my heart broke. It broke because you’ve taught me to empathize like Jesus rather than judge like the old me always did.
I almost cried as I said, “Brittany, I’m so thankful God put you in that little boy’s life to GRACE him as he learns a different way to communicate and a different way to get his needs met. But what about his mom and dad. Where do they learn this stuff? That boy can go to school and be changed by GRACE, but what about his mom and dad, where can they go to learn how to communicate, to love, to forgive, to be moms and dads, to be husbands, and to adult? Where they can go even where they’ll be GRACED and LOVED even while they still cuss and fight back and resent? Where can they go? Where will they learn how to love and be loved?”
Joe and Joy and Brittany all looked at each other trying to think about where in this world grown people can go to learn honesty, integrity, spirituality, forgiveness, gentleness, love, joy, peace, self-control. Where can they go to be liberated from harmful habits and unhelpful coping mechanisms? Where can their character defects be removed and lives redeemed?
There are only 2 places I can think of, and the second grew out of the first. The Second is Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Step Groups like it.
The first is the Church. A place for difficult people to be loved over and over again. Even when they try to push us away, we keep loving them. Even when they curse us, we bless. Even when they sin, we forgive. A place where train wrecks are welcome and loved even as they are transformed. A place where the only requirement is a desire to know God and let God change you. A desire not a dress code or decorum or diploma or accomplishment is the only requirement. A mustard seed of faith in God and hope for healing.
The Church is the only such place. The Church is the only hope for such families and such people. They didn’t learn it from their parents, they didn’t learn it in the Army, or on the job. They won’t learn grace and be transformed by grace by watching TV or going to counseling, but by following Jesus with other sinners. The church is the only place where the transformative power of grace can reach them FOR FREE. The only place so wonderfully, gracefully stubborn enough to put up with difficult, needy people until God’s love transforms them.
It is the only hope for them because it is the only hope for me.
It is the only hope for them because it is the only hope for me. I am one of those unlovely people who came into a church with a pile of regret and a suitcase of resentments. I owned suits and spoke refined English, but I was full of deceit, cowardice, people-pleasing, selfishness, and fear not to mention covetousness, lust, and anger. Where am I going to learn to trust Jesus not just with my eternal salvation, but my daily life and my inner character. Where am I going to learn gentleness, forgiveness, honesty, empathy, and grace? Friends, the only hope for my marriage, for my parenting, for my character defects, for my past sins, for my future failures is a real connection with Jesus and Jesus’ people because I cannot figure out how to follow Jesus without you. You are the ones teaching me how to listen to my wife, to settle disagreements civility, to subjugate my wants to others’ needs, and so much more.
the only hope for my marriage, for my parenting, for my character defects, for my past sins, for my future failures is a real connection with Jesus and Jesus’ people because I cannot figure out how to follow Jesus without you.
Church is where the prideful learn humility, where the vindictive learn forgiveness, where the greedy learn generosity. This is where the person with no friends learns to make friends, the person who has never been loved learns to be loved, the person who’s always right learns to be a sinner, the person who’s never been good enough learns to belong, the person with cancer learns to persevere, the person with an unplanned child learns to parent, where emotionally absent dads learn to be present, where the spoiled learn to serve, where the shy learn to talk to strangers, and where the blabbermouths learn to shut up.
The encounter reinvigorated my whole ministry. It reminded me and convinced me practically.
Anything is possible at Oakland, because anything is possible with God.
Oakland is the hope of the world.
In God’s Church, in Oakland, transformation is always possible. No one is too far gone to repent, too unlovely to be loved, too broken to be mended, too rebellious to be the prodigal, too drunk to get sober, too sick to get healed, too lost to be found, too addicted to be liberated, too deceived to get honest, too cynical to meet Jesus, because OAKLAND is a place to meet Jesus and learn to follow him, because Oakland is a place where the grace of God must be as tangible and visible as the wind in the trees and the sun on our skin. If we always point to Jesus and love one another like Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
We are the hope of the world. Not government, not PBS, not better education, not better rules. ONLY JESUS AND HIS CHURCH. Only the church. Only the church can teach people not to blame, hide, lie, or practice self-righteousness, but to surrender their wills and lives to the care of God, who has proved his love by sending Jesus to save us.
This devotional was written for Oakland's Family Advent Workbook. The hope is that our children couldn't think about the Grinch without thinking about Jesus. We don't want to reject all the secular trappings outright, we want to trace them to Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and reign.
Find time to read or watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as a family. Then take some time, maybe over cookies and milk or hot cocoa to chat about Jesus.
How did The Grinch remind you of Jesus or a Bible story?
Why did the Grinch hate Christmas?
Why did the Grinch do mean things?
Why do you do mean things sometimes?
What does the Grinch expect to happen when the Whos wake up?
What actually happens?
How does the singing affect the Grinch? Why?
Have you ever seen someone celebrate/sing even when bad things happen?
What does the Grinch do when his heart changes?
What does the Grinch learn about Christmas?
What is Christmas all about to you?
Every good story is good because it echoes the one great story of God’s rescuing love in Jesus that changes our hearts. In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the Grinch hates Christmas because his heart is 2 sizes too small. A bad heart leads to bad actions (stealing Christmas) and even delights in the pain caused by bad actions. This gives us a picture of Sin. Sin is a heart problem, a heart that is all about me and what I want. All the bad things we call “sins” are really symptoms of Sin, the heart condition. We all need Jesus to change our hearts.
When the Grinch steal Christmas, he expects the Whos to cry and boo-hoo, but instead they sing. The still celebrate Christmas because, “Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”
All who have come to know the true meaning of Christmas can celebrate even when bad things happen. Even when bad things happen, Christians can celebrate because God is good, and at Christmas God sent his son to rescue us. Even if we have no presents under the tree, we can celebrate the present given on a tree – Jesus on a cross.
When people see us celebrate Jesus at Christmas more than the lights, ribbons, bows, and boxes, they will learn the true meaning of Christmas, and their hearts will change like the Grinch’s heart changed. Especially, when we invite them into our celebrations.
This devotion is based on the 1969 TV Special Frosty The Snowman. It is only 25 minutes long, so find time to watch it with your family and then discuss how Frosty points to Jesus.
How did Frosty remind you of Jesus or a Bible story?
What makes Frosty different from other snowmen?
What does Frosty add to the children’s lives?
Who adds joy and fun to your life?
Why does Frosty need to get to the North Pole?
Why can’t Frosty keep Karen warm?
When Frosty has to choose between saving Karen’s life or saving his own, what does he choose?
When have you had to choose between what was good for you and what was good for someone you loved?
Does Frosty stay dead?
Every good story is good because it echoes the one great story of God’s rescuing love for us in Jesus. Frosty echoes Jesus really clearly. First, Frosty comes to really live in our world. The world doesn’t know what to with him, but he brings life and joy to all the boys and girls who follow him on the parade. He loves the children who follow him and they love him, but not everyone loves Frosty, and Professor Hinkle wants to kill him for selfish reasons.
In the same way, Jesus comes to really live in our world and brings life and joy to all who will follow him, but many people chose not to follow him. Like Professor Hinkle, the Pharisees and Romans decide to kill Jesus for selfish reasons.
When Frosty heads north with Karen, the cold is good for him, but deadly for Karen. Karen needs to stay warm or die, but if he helps warm her up, he will melt. Frosty has to decide between dying to save the one he loves or abandoning his love to save his own life. He would rather die than let Karen die.
Likewise, Jesus could either avoid the cross and abandon sinners like us, or he could save sinners like us by dying on the cross. Jesus chooses to love us even when it means he must die. He trades his life for ours.
In Frosty, Santa shows up and brings Frosty back to life, explaining that he will go live at the North Pole till he comes again. When Jesus was unfairly killed to save us, whom he loves, he did not stay dead. God the Father raised him from the dead. Jesus is with God the Father in Heaven, but he too will come again someday soon to rescue us completely. Until then, we know that Jesus, like Frosty, would rather die than live without us.
Last year, John Ortberg (my favorite preacher), preached a sermon, "Feasting as Fasting" that wrecked me wonderfully.
In it he said:
How many of you could go out right now today and run (not walk, run) every step of a marathon? I'll put it a second way. How many of you could go out right now and run (not walk) every step of a marathon today if you tried really, really hard? Not many more.
Now my guess is a lot of us, maybe most of us, could eventually run a marathon if we did one thing, and that is to train. What does it mean to train? To train means I arrange my life around those activities that enable me to do what I cannot now do by direct effort. We tend to overestimate what we can do by trying really hard and underestimate what we can do by training.As a general rule (this is just wisdom about the human condition), transformation involves training, not just trying.
This is true in athletics. It's true of music or intellectual life. It is no less true of character formation or spiritual life. This is why Paul says, "...train yourself to godliness." This is why Jesus says, "The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher." So now the spiritual disciplines are practices or activities that train us or give us power to live in the goodness of the kingdom.
I know. Words like discipline or training are awful words. They just sound really unattractive. Who wants to do that? This is really key. Spiritual disciplines are not necessarily unpleasant. What discipline you need to practice depends on for what you're training. If you're training for a race, you will need to practice running. If you were training for a pie-eating contest, what would you need to do? You would need to practice eating a lot of pie. If you eat a lot of pie every day, a year from now, you'll be able to eat much more pie than you could today by trying really hard.
As I ruminated on that insight, God showed me an incredible correlation between the Fruit of the Spirit and the Spiritual Disciplines.
According to Galatians 5:22, the Fruit of the Spirit are:
forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Are you experiencing the spiritual fruit in your life?
Which ones are not coming?
Why are these fruit not coming?
Are you a Christian? Do you have the Spirit?
Are you cultivating the fruit of the flesh?
Are you cultivating the fruit of the Spirit?
Are you trying harder or training smarter to partner with Jesus to grow these fruit?
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, the Apostle Paul writes:
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."
The Apostle Paul wants us to train ourselves and order every area of our lives to cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit. I am not saying that we can produce the fruit any more than a farmer can make plants grow - ONLY GOD CAN DO THAT. But every good farmer still tills, fertilizes, waters, and tends while depending on God to provide the increase. We do the same spiritually. The tools, rhythms, or training exercises the Bible lays out for us are often called Spiritual Disciplines.
Here is a non-exhaustive list.
Worship, Prayer, Study, Service – are basic assumed practices that inform all the fruit. But just as in atheletic training there are exercises that target certain muscle groups, so too in the spiritual realm there are certain exercises to target certain spiritual muscles (fruit). Let's briefly work through each Fruit of the Spirit and identify training exercises I can imploy to allow God to conform me to Jesus.
Service – act lovingly until you love
Community – learn to love real people in all their messiness and be loved. Be in real enough community that you know annoying habits and love anyways
Evangelism – Supreme gift of love to share the gospel.
Worship – let God love you, so you can love others.
Celebration – Music, food, people, parties, celebrate every little thing
Gratitude – make a gratitude list
Worship – Enjoy God
Feasting – the world is more delicious than it has to be
Solitude – be alone with God.
Silence – Don’t speak, just let God speak.
Confession – guilty consciences know no peace
Prayer – carry all anxiety to God in a fear inventory
Accountability – intimate community of carrying one another’s faults and pushing one another alone. Covenant fellowship.
Confession – Admit your own faults to another human being to humble yourself when you want to judge others
Silence - hold your tongue regularly so you can hold it when angry
Community – carry other’s burdens.
Prayer – resentment inventories
Fasting – wait on food, you can wait longer than you thought
Service - intentionally put others ahead of you in checkout lines and parking spaces. Delay yourself to convenience others.
Silence – hold your tongue, save your words, quick to listen, slow to speak
Mediation – Stay open, listen without presenting requests to God.
Service – Do something gracious and unseen
Stewardship – set aside money, so you don’t have an excuse not to bless someone
Affirmation – Speak life over others. Call out their God given gifts. Bless them.
Accountability – Push one another towards godliness, set standards of life and hold one another up
Submission/Guidance – invite a wiser Christian to help you examine your shortcomings and grow you in Godliness.
Confession – name failures
Study – study God’s goodness, know his holiness, hide his word in your heart that you might not sin against him.
Community – 90% of life is just showing up
Stewardship – Keep your commitments
Accountability – keep your word
Truth Telling – Yes/No
Submission/Guidance – Submit yourself to someone who is gentle and learn from how they respond to your mistakes and when you make them angry
Journaling – process your emotions before you speak and try on the words you will say
Silence – train yourself to hold your tongue
Fasting – say no and depend on God. You will not die if you do not sin.
Corporate worship– This is time in regular worship with others. IT involves singing, preaching, prayers, and fellowship. I never follow Jesus alone, and being with others trains me to defer to others’ needs and preferences, while forgiving and confessing faults.
Bible Study– We must schedule time to study God’s word. A simple method involves reading and writing a verse of Scripture and then answering the questions – What does this teach me about God? About humans? What command should obey? What example should I imitate? A more thorough Bible Study is called Inductive Bible Study and resources are available on our website and others to train one to study the Bible closely.
Prayer– Prayer should happen all the time, but I learn to pray spontaneously by praying regularly. I schedule time to pray often beginning and ending the day and at mealtimes. A simple recipe to structure our prayers is P.R.A.Y. – P.raise God; R.epent for Sin; A.sk for Others; and Ask for Y.ourself.
Service– In service, I intentionally serve other people, putting their needs above my own. I force myself to do things that are “below me” or menialto humble my pride and bless other people. I might take out the trash, clean the bathroom, or do the dishes.
Evangelism– Evangelism is the discipline of sharing God’s message with others. I train myself to do so by practicing telling my story and telling God’s story. I train myself to see opportunities to bring up Jesus in everyday conversations around my home, office, and play. Often these will come as I am honest about the ways Jesus has changed me.
Stewardship– In stewardship I budget my money as God’s money. I intentionally set aside God’s tithe and my offerings first. Then I set my savings and finally I delibertately prioritize my money to reflect God’s and my values and needs.
Fasting– Fasting is simply abstaining from food for a set period of time, during which I use my natural hunger pangs as an alarm clock for prayer. Everytime I get hungry, I remember I need Jesus more than I need food. I also replace my meals with times of Bible Study during which I feast on God’s word. I calculate the money I saved by skipping meals and give this away to the poor.
Silence– Silence is scheduled time without speaking or excess noise. These can be a few hours on a hike or a few days on a retreat. During periods of silence, I do not talk unless necessary, and I don’t turn on music or podcasts or use my electronics. This gives me room and time to hear God speak to me. I train myself to listen to others and to God. It trains me to value and measure every word I say.
Secrecy– Secrecy is the doing nice things without seeking others approval. I do so by doing acts of service or devotion that no one will ever know I’ve done. I can give in secret, study in secret, pray in secret or serve in secret because I am doing it for God and not for the approval of humans.
Sabbath– Sabbath is regular scheduled time of rest during which I refrain from my professional endeavors in order to be refreshed spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, and relationally. I am refreshed spiritually by extra time in Bible Study, prayer, and worship. I’m refreshed physically through sleep and relaxed schedule. I refresh emotionally by joy-giving recreation. I refresh relationally by either scheduling time away from people or with people depending on whether I am an extrovert or introvert.
Solitude– Solitude is not avoiding people, it is time spent with God. It is time scheduled to be alone with God, to give God my full attention. I can do this in a deerstand for a few hours or in a cabin for a few days. It is time, where I disconnect from others to plug into God. It is often helpful to disconnect from technology as well, though listening to worship music, sermons, or books can be powerful.
Journaling– There are a thousand ways to journal, but the two most common for Christians are to journal God’s Word in prayer or to write a letter to God. When journaling scripture, I write a verse and then start to write my associations with the words, imagines, and meaning of the verse. I journal questions about the verse to God and try to answer them witht the help of the Holy Spirit. I can journal “What does this verse teach me about God? About humans? What commands should I follow? What examples should I imitate? When writing a letter to God, I will parse my day, feelings, and thoughts before God. It can be helpful to follow the P.R.A.Y. recipe – P.raise; R.epent; A.sk for others; and ask for Y.ourself.
Learning– Learning allows me to make a plan to gather more information or training related to a particular area of my life. I might read a book or attend a conference or enroll in a class, but I set up a specific way I will learn more about Jesus, theology, history, or spiritual living.
Confession– Confession is telling God and another human being the exact nature of my faults. If I have wronged another person, I coness that to them and another in order to make amends.
Accountability– Accountability is a covenanted relationship among a small group of people to regularly confess sin and report on progress towards spiritual goals. This takes immense trust, because I cannot hide anything from these people.
Celebration– Celebratoin and feasting are times when I deliberately party to enjoy the Joy of the Lord. During times of Celebration, I eat good food, listen to good music, and do fun things to remind myself of the lavish generosity of God. I practice wonder and awe by attending to the beauty, flavor, and music of the world.
Affirmation– Affirmation is telling myself God’s promises and my God-given identity regularly to fight the lies I’m tempted to believe that I am worthless, stuck, and alone. I can write these messages on my bathroom mirror or Post-it notes, or I can memorize them and recite them daily.
Pondering/Chewing – In Western Spirituality (Judeo-Christian) mediation is pondering the Bible or a devotional slowly, savoring it like a meal. I roll it around in my mind like a gem in a rock tumbler. This is often less structured than Bible Study.
Mindfulness – In Eastern Spirituality (Buddhist and Hindu) meditation is a self-emptying exercise or a mindfulness exercise used to train me to be aware of my emotions and thoughts in a nonjudgmental space. For Christians, I am never alone, and so mindfulness meditation is about cataloguing my emotions and thoughts before God, who does not judge me but empathizes with me. prayer, fasting, study,
Simplicity– Simplicity is intentionally living without things I can live without. It may mean eating less decadent meals, wearing less conspicuous clothing, driving a used car, or simply not buying the newest, baddest whatchamacallit. Historically Christians might cap their income at a comfortable living wage and give all money above that figure to the poor. Though an international spiritual superstar, John Wesley gave away all income above $30,000.
Submission– Submission is yielding to the leadership, direction, and judgment of another. The closest modern equivalent might be 12-Step Sponsors, who give advice and set schedules and even make decisions for someone in spiritual recovery. I yield to my mentor in all matters as a way of dying to my will and surrendering to God’s will.
Singing– Singing is a discipline. I train myself to worship God with my whole body whether I like it or am skillful. Singing trains me to do uncomfortable things for God’s glory and not the approval of others.
Guidance– Proverbs says that the “fool listens to his own counsel and thinks himself wise, but the wise submits to counsel and becomes wiser still.” Before big decisions, I consult more mature people who love God and love me.
Hospitality– Hospitality trains me to welcome others as if they were Jesus himself. I put their needs and comfort above my own. I can do this by hosting meals, housing travelers, or fostering children. I welcome them because they are loved by God and that is a big deal.
Gratitude– A gratitude list is a common means of inculcating a thankful heart. Everyday I write down 3 things for which I am thankful.
The greatest threats [to my relationship with Jesus] are the constant BUSYNESS AND FRANTIC HURRY THAT DEMAND MY ALLEGIANCE. - Fil Anderson.
On Sunday I read you several quotes, but this one could not be more important to us:
"If you live in North America, you are a prime candidate for slow death by overstimulation. Your environment is busy depleting you with noise, distractions, and the compulsion to always be in a hurry.If I had set out to destroy my identity as a beloved child of God, I couldn’t have done better than living in America at the start of the 21st century. The greatest threats I’ve encountered are not the arguments of skeptics or the lure of drinks, drugs, or sex. The greatest threats are the constant BUSYNESS AND FRANTIC HURRY THAT DEMAND MY ALLEGIANCE…We rarely are grounded in the present moment (where God is to be encountered) because we’re always rushing out beyond it or replaying in our minds our disappointing past. Shame and sadness over our dark past drive us to strive for a brighter future, which generally winds up being busier rather than better." - Fil Anderson in Running On Empty.
In her book, The Overworked American, Juliet Schor points out that the United States now leads Japan as the longest-working nation in the industrialized world and is the most vacation-starved country in the world. Americans in general work longer hours with less vacation for more years than any other industrialized culture.
According to Tim Keller, in his sermon "Work and Rest", there are 4 things that coordinate to create this dynamic:
a.) Work security is very low. Whole departments can be shut down if they’re not profitable. There are hostile takeovers on the regular. New technology is making jobs and skills obsolete overnight, making thousands of jobs unnecessary. The pressure to be profitable is stronger than loyalty to employees, and so companies will fire anyone. So we’re staying at our jobs shorter time and we’re not guaranteed to keep our job. Knowing we live precariously, we work harder and harder to prove our value to our employers to increase our job security. Taking time off lets my boss see if she can live without me. Missing deadlines line me up for a dead end. This is exacerbated among the 10,000s start-ups, which operate with a skeleton staff and the risk of failure.
B.) Income Distribution – Those at the top of companies used to make 20-30 times what the lowest employees made, but now that number is 200-500 times. This means that the people at the top are making such astronomical sums of money, they are expected to put in ridiculous hours. If they don’t put in the hours, there is a long line of people waiting to take their job in order to avail themselves of the huge paychecks. At the bottom, people are making less than a living wage, and so they have to take multiple jobs to make ends meet, meaning they are putting in more hours. To justify their paychecks, the people at the top work all the time. To make their bills, the people at the bottom work all the time.
C.) Technology – We can now work anywhere, so we work everywhere. We set up our laptops on vacation. We even carry our cell phones into the bathroom. Do you remember the first time you heard of someone installing a telephone in their bathroom? I learned to fish with a real estate agent at the beach, and I remember the first time we fished together, he was taking calls and answering emails out in the middle of the salt marsh, while wrestling flounders. I thought he was insane, until this summer, I found myself coordinating volunteers and speakers for the ARISE retreat, from a boat in the salt marsh, while wrestling a flounder.
D.) Identity Crisis – More than any civilization in the history of the world, we have dissociated ourselves with that traditional sources of identity. In traditional cultures, your identity comes from your relationship in a family or the community – You are so and so’s son. You are a dad or a mom. You aren't just a blacksmith, but you are THE blacksmith in Clayton or the Barber in Smithfield, forcing you into community and accountability. Now, we are the first civilization in the history of humanity to say, you need to look deep inside you and find your true identity and then your success, your worth, your approval is based on your ability to accomplish that. If you feel like you should be a singer, but you can’t cut it on Broadway or the Billboard charts, then you are a failure and you have no secondary source of worth to fall back on. You have no foundation of self-value to lean into. If you are good at your job, then your worthy, but if not, then you have no value and no secure worth. So we look more and more to our work and our professional success to prove our worth. This is true even of those of you who do not work professionally. Stay at home parenting has turned into a competitive sport in the United States thanks to social media and Pinterest. Retirement competition is a growing fight.
But what is the cure?
The cure is to rest in Jesus. To rest in Jesus is to be completely satisfied with his finished work on the cross. Trust his work, rather than trying to impress him with yours. Get your identity from Jesus not from work. When you do that, you will rest as an act of trust and an act of liberty.
This week, I was asked to bless a new home. It was awesome. Claire and I have prayed over every single house we’ve lived in. We’ve walked room by room through an empty house and prayed for the people who would inhabit that particular room or the things we hoped would happen there. We prayed for the ministry we’d do and the people we’d host.
In another friend’s house, we wrote on the sub flooring before carpet went down. We wrote permanent prayers for the children on their bedroom and the kitchen under the tile. It was awesome.
Where we live is holy, and Jesus cares deeply. He spent many nights and hours and meals in people’s homes. Your house is holy. It is a ministry center and a mission outpost for Jesus’ Kingdom. He wants to use it to love, bless, and evangelize people in your life. Do you think about it that way? Does Jesus’ mission to seek and save that which was lost, to host those who are cast out, and to heal the divisions of this sinful world define your home more than the latest fashions on HGTV? I pray you tap into Jesus’ dreams for your homes even as you thoughtfully decorate and purchase and enjoy your home.
“From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live.” Acts 17:26 NIrV
As I prepared to go bless this person’s home, I found the following liturgy. I loved the guidance it provided as you move through your home. Why not pray over each room this week?
Leader: “Peace be to this house and: to all who dwell here, in the name of the Lord. All: Blessed be God forever.
Leader: When Christ took flesh through the Blessed Virgin Mary, he made his home with us. Let us now pray that he will enter this home and bless it with his presence. May he always be here among us; may he nurture our love for each other, share in our joys, comfort us in our sorrows. Inspired by his teachings and example, let us seek to make our home before all else a dwelling place of love, diffusing far and wide the goodness of Christ.
Reader: A reading from the letter of Paul to the Colossians
You are God’s chosen race, his saints; He loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful. Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; And never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. The word of the Lord.
All: Thanks be to God.
After the scripture reading, all go from room to room, offering prayers of intercession and sprinkling holy water, if desired. Some of the following prayers may be used.
At the entrance: Leader: O God, protect our going out and our coming in; Let us share the hospitality of this home with all who visit us, that those who enter here may know your love and peace. Grant this through Christ our Lord.
In the living room: Leader: O God, give your blessings to all who share this room, that we may be knit together in companionship. Grant this through Christ our Lord.
In the kitchen:
Leader: O God, you fill the hungry with good things. Send your blessing on us, as we work in this kitchen, and make us ever thankful for our daily bread. Grant this through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.
In the dining room: Leader: Blessed are you, Lord of heaven and earth, for you give us food and drink to sustain our lives and make our hearts glad. Help us to be grateful for all your mercies, and mindful of the needs of others. Grant this through Christ our Lord.
In the bedrooms:
Leader: Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch
with Christ, and asleep, we may rest in his peace. Grant this through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.
In the bathroom:
Leader: Blessed are you, Lord of heaven and earth. You formed us in wisdom and love. Refresh us in body and in spirit, and keep us in good health that we might serve you. Grant this through Christ our Lord
Leader: Let us pray the prayer that our savior taught us.
All: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will
be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Leader: Be our shelter, Lord, when we are at home, our companion when we are away, and our welcome guest when we return and at last receive us into the dwelling place you have prepared for us in your Father’s house, where you live forever and ever.
Leader: May the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (+), and may the word of Christ in all its richness dwell in us, so that whatever we do in word and in work, we will do in the name of the Lord. All: Amen.
The author of Hebrews knows his Bible better than all of us. He has learned it through study and sermons, but also through singing. We can see this immediately in Hebrews. Based on its singsong yet technical language, Hebrews 1:3 very likely quotes an early Christian hymn about Jesus. Then in Hebrws 1:5-14, he stacks up 7 different quotations from the Old Testament, and what is amazing is that 5 of them are from the Psalms and 1 of them is from the Song of Moses. So 6 of 7 quotations are lyrics in Biblical songs.
These Biblical Songs were compiled together in the Greek Psalter or Hymnal. You see, in their Greek speaking synagogues, the Jewish Hymnal was made up of the Psalms plus several other songs from the Old Testament including the Song of Moses. Greek speaking Jews all over the Mediterranean and Middle East sang these songs Saturday after Saturday. After they became Jesus’ disciples, Christians took up these songs in their own Sunday worship.
So, the Preacher knows these words, and the Hebrew Church knows these words because they sing them week after week. That is why singing is so important. Fortunately or unfortunately, we get most of our theology from the songs we sing, and so Hebrews stacks up these songs to explain who Jesus is. This is why we sing every week. This is why we carefully choose the songs we sing each week.
You may well remember my sermon, and you might even quote my sermon, but I’d bet good money, you aren’t going to thoughtlessly start singing it when you get anxious or excited. But there is a lot more chance that you will hum “Amazing Grace” or sing into the despair, “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.” This is why we all know the words to “Amazing Grace,” but none of us can quote a single sermon from the same century.
So what are you singing these days? What songs tell you who you are and whose you are? Personally, I love music, and I love country music (except modern country, it’s an abomination), but there is a big problem when “A Country Boy Can Survive” forms more of my identity than “Jesus Loves Me This I Know.”
Don’t miss the opportunity to hide truth in your heart, so that when you reach for a song to explain your experience or combat your fears or express your joy, Scripture is on your lips.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which starts the season of Lent leading up to Easter. Practically that means for the next 6 weeks you’ll hear lots of people complaining or humble-bragging about “giving up ____.” You’ll be at the office and offer someone a homemade chocolate chip cookie, only to hear, “I can’t I gave up chocolate for Lent.” You’ll go to lunch meeting and someone will order a salad because, “I gave up meat for Lent.” People will moan about all kinds of things from Diet Coke to cussing, but what is Lent?
Lent and Ash Wednesday are not in the Bible, but for two millennia, Christians have found it helpful to take the 40 days before Easter to focus on Jesus by starting, restarting, or emphasizing certain spiritual practices, such as Bible Study, Private Prayer, Generosity, Celebration, Meditation, Journaling, Serving, Secrecy, or Silence.
Each of these exercises, also called disciplines, is a routine built into the rhythm of life to cultivate a love for Christ, a faith in Christ, and a character like Christ. The exercise of Bible Study floods my mind with messages from Jesus teaching me how Jesus feels about me. The exercise of Secrecy, in which I do kind things or spiritual things without anyone knowing about them, teaches me humility and helps me die to my constant need for approval. The exercise of Generosity, fights my innate greed, while training me in compassion and growing my faith as I find God is faithful to take care of my needs.
Likewise, the phrase, “giving something up for Lent”, and the accompanying practice is really just the cultural remnants of an ancient spiritual exercise called Fasting. Fasting is the crossfit of spiritual disciplines. Simply put, when I fast, I don’t eat and then I use my hunger to remind me to pray because I need Jesus more than food (discipline of Prayer). When I fast, I use my meal times for Bible study to feast on God’s Word (discipline of Study), and I give the money I did not spend food to the hungry (discipline of Generosity). When I fast, I don’t tell anyone I am fasting (discipline of Secrecy), and when asked if I’m going to eat, I simply respond, “I already ate before I came,” because I feasted on Jesus’ Word.
During Lent i.e. the 6 weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter, Christians will commit to one or more of these practices to remind them to talk to Jesus and savor his resurrection. They will get up early for a devotional or they will serve one day a week at a soup kitchen or they will simplify their diet by giving up chocolate or they will abstain from all food for one day a week. Whatever their commitment, it is best if it is regular, scheduled, and quantifiable. The goal is not suffering, but increased spiritual awareness.
I strongly encourage you to practice some new or old disciplines and routine this Lent. You can learn more about spiritual disciplines and Lent on line or in my favorite book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. If you don’t know where to start, “Giving up something for Lent” is not a bad place. Every time you want that thing, crave that thing, or go without that thing, instead of complaining to your friend, talk to Jesus about what is going on in your day and all he has done for you.