Advent, Wk 2: On Comfort (and Joy)

I’ve been thinking about comfort for several weeks now.  I didn’t choose it. I’d rather think about pie or something funny Zac said… about pie. I was cajoled into making comfort the word of the week because of the Revised Common Lectionary. One of the intended consequences of scripture is the often bothersome effect it has on a person, and this week’s readings are no exception.  In an effort to balance the sickly sweetness of Christianity that deflates the raw reality of being who you are before God, I’d like to just say here and now that I don’t like the passages for this week.  I don’t know why, but these scripture verses bother me.  I want them to go away.

How’s that look in your Jeremiah 29:11 coffee mug?

Listen, the struggle I’m having is in realizing that I’m not a very comfortable person.  Isaiah 40 says Comfort, comfort my people…  and all ll week I’ve asked Him: how?  and when? and seriously?  I ask this with great honesty and humility, because who am I to ask anything like this?  Yet the question nags me.  If this is true, then what’s missing?  Why aren’t we comfortable?  Why aren’t we being comforted?  What’s with all the flagrant discomfort?

My tooth hurts.  I’m anxious.  I don’t like putting up Christmas lights.  I got mad at someone who wasn’t driving very well.  I worry about things I can’t control. Christmas is good and all, but why’s it gotta be so busy?  Why did that person say that?  When will I stop doing this?  What’s the deal with gas prices?  Oh.  Wait.  That’s good.  Gas prices are good right now, considering.

Yet…

Why are faithful saints dying when they should still be with us?  Why are people making fools of themselves through facebook comments about national events?  What drives a person to stab a bunch of strangers on an Amtrak train?  Why The Foolishness?

Comfort, it would seem, has become a precious commodity that is always out of reach in a broken world.

The comfort, then… the comfort comes when we tell God that we’re uncomfortable.  And then He takes it from there…

[continues Sunday 12/7/14 pfm]

Advent is for the Joyful, the Cynic, and Everyone In-Between

The season of Advent begins this Sunday, November 30 and walks us in preparation for Christmas. Some people love Christmas. Some people find it difficult. Advent is for everyone, and everyone in between everyone. During the season of Advent, we live in two worlds – the one that is joyful because Christ has come, and the one that is longing for his return and final victory. No matter where you’re at, even if it changes one day to the next, Advent for you.

In his book Living the Christian Year, Bobby Gross writes:

“Our experience of the weeks of December can vary widely, depending on our disposition and situation. Some of us are readily caught up in the festive atmosphere. Kids are released from school, lights and decorations sparkle, gifts and cards arrive, friends throw parties, we gather with extended family and a generous impulse rises in us. We do want peace on earth and feel good will toward others. All this makes us want to sing.

Some of us, however, readily feel the weight of these days – the obligations, the drift into depression, the pull of temptation, the anxiety of difficult family relationships, the resurfacing grief over those we have lost, the discouragement from daily headlines. We feel cynical in the midst of the holiday hoopla and superficiality. It makes us want to groan. The dual nature of Advent invite both songs and groans.”

I think that’s good stuff.
Are you ready for Advent?

A Month on Family at PFM

We’re working on a November series at pfm called Family.  

I’ve enjoyed the challenge and opportunity of continuing on the Revised Common Lectionary while picking out certain threads.

Week 1 will be about how the writers of the New Testament give us helpful guidelines for healthy families.  The Church functions like a family, with God as Father and fellow Christ-followers as brothers and sisters.  What can we learn from all the family talk in the bible?  What can we apply in our own family dynamic?  How does this ancient message jive with the growing diversity of family types today?  What does God want from husbands and wives?

Week 2 will be about legacy and the choice that each generation of family has to choose to serve the Lord.  We all have a family legacy.  We all leave a family legacy.  What difference does this make, and how does it all get pointed in the right direction?  How does this kind of thinking affect our families today?

Week 3 will be about how the family encourages one another.  If God the Father calls his children to encourage one another, how might that work in our homes?  What are we encouraging now?  How can a family build one another up?  In a culture that can be overwhelming, our homes should be the place where God’s love and encouragement should freely flow.  By God’s grace, any home can function like this.

Week 4 will conclude the series with a look at how God functions like a Father and models parenthood for us in the 21st century.  One particular aspect we’ll look at will be the life cycle of parenthood.  We are 1) Children to our parents 2) Parents to our children 3) Parents to our parents 4) Children to our children.  In other words, someone is always parenting, and someone is always being parented.  God the Father is the only perfect parent.  By His power, we too can be equal to the task as parents today.

I’m praying for a great month of families being strengthened.  The risk with a series like this is someone saying “well, I don’t have kids…” or “I’m not married, so…”.  This is so much more than just parenting/marriage classes.  We will be living in the story of God’s salvation, which includes the redemption of families as the Kingdom expands in our homes.  That’s church talk for “God wants to help us have healthy family relationships”, which is therapeutic talk for the gospel, which is “I’m messed up, which means I’m an imperfect spouse/parent/son/daughter, and only Jesus can heal me”.

Adios, October.  Welcome, November.

Worth The Look

Look at this.  Psalm 105:4.   

It says “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”

Look is a powerful word.   

Zac says “Daddy, look!”  I suddenly notice that my son is a caped superhero.

Emily says “Look” when we are discussing something important and it’s just not getting through my thick skull.  “Look” gets my attention and underlines every word that follows.

Malachi is taught to Look both ways for oncoming cars.  Look for yourself.  Look for them; they may not be.

“Look”.  Change focus.  Pay attention.  Beware. 

Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

Look.  Stop looking at that problem, issue, distraction. Look to the Lord.

Look. Stop looking at only your point of view and cover story.  Look to the Lord.

Look. Stop looking at your feet while you walk.  Look up, pay attention, be careful.  Look to the Lord.

What do we need? We need someone to be in charge (the Lord).  We need power to live (His strength).  We need to know God and be known by Him (seek HIs face always).

When it comes to our issues, attention doesn’t do much to change things (aka worry).  Here’s the best part: paying attention to God will change everything about our issues.

We do ourselves a great disservice by giving attention to the wrong things.

The Psalmist simply says “Look”.

Give Praise (Psalm 105:1a)

Psalm 105:1a - Give praise to the LORD…

I cannot give what is not mine.  If I have a tin of Altoids, I will certainly offer you one.   “Altoid?  They’re curiously strong, ya know…”  

I cannot give what is not mine.  I can give what is mine.  You have an Altoid, and now we both have a better kind of curiously strong breath.

David, a songwriter, poet, musician, and get ‘er done kinda guy, wrote a lyric about giving something away — praise.  Or, if you will, praize.  You will not?  Fair enough.  Praise it is.

We have oodles and oodles of noodles praise.

have praise?  Pardon my French, but Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire?

Here’s how I see it: nah, we don’t carry praise around like an Altoid, but we do carry the capacity to praise.  This ability becomes apparent every time we offer a compliment to someone:

The meatloaf you made was delicious.  

I like how you duct taped your shoes together. 

I thoroughly enjoyed your monologue about George Foreman. 

I don’t care what they say — Canada really is for lovers.  

All peoples — Atheist, Religious, and in-between — have praise to give.  Genuine praise comes from the heart and is motivated by gratitude — a recognition that someone has done something for me.  Their actions have impacted us.  We are changed because of their contribution to our experience.

When we give praise, we serve the other person who has served us.  We give a glimpse of our affected selves to the benefactor.  What you did changed me.  Thank you.

Deconstruct-Reconstruct:

Atheist, Religious, and in-between have praise to give.  This is part of our human condition.  There is something in every human being that wants to show gratitude to God.  Not everyone has found the path yet.  This is why we keep talking about Jesus.  He really is the only way.

 Genuine praise comes from the heart and is motivated by gratitude.  An emotional synapse must be made. Impression without expression leads to depression.  We feel thankful in our hearts and just gotta tell ‘em — for the sake of their heart.  We compelled to say “thanks” because we recognize that another has gone the extra mile for me.  The Christian view is that God has done something for me that I am genuinely thankful for — he has made me new.

We are changed because of their contribution to our experience.  Their actions have impacted us for the better.  God has done a great thing for us, you know?  Calling God a “contributor to our experience” is like calling air “occasionally refreshing”, as if we don’t need it every second of every day.  God sustains us (praise).  God rescues us through Christ (super praise).

Praise is a response, not a reaction.  A reaction comes without thought.  A response requires intentionality.  If anything, our reaction is guided by self-preservation.   Our response, requiring  a consideration of how things are, is an intentional move on our part to express gratitude.  To put it another way…

You don’t give until you let go.  I choose to send praise your way, God.  I realize just how good you are, and I simply must express my heartfelt gratitude.

Recognizing Jesus as the King of Givers will stir gratitude in us.  Jesus doesn’t take, take, take.  He gives, gives, gives.  And when we give, give, give, He receives, receives, receives AND keeps giving and giving and giving.  This cycle will somehow never end.  This is certainly to our benefit and ultimately to His glory.

So we respond like this:

Thank you, Lord.  I give you praise.  From all the way down to all the way up.  I hold nothing back.

To quote Bono: I can’t live… can’t live without you.

To quote Rend: Praise… like fireworks.

To quote Mary Mary: just wanna praize ‘ya.

———

Lectionary Landmark:  Year A, 7th Sunday after Pentecost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proof God Cares

Psalm 8 stuff: You made every star, yet you pay attention to human beings enough to crown them with glory and honor and put them in charge of the earth. 

God made it all and runs the heavenly noise, but earth has been put under our feet, which means that we have been entrusted to care for something that’s not ours.  All flocks and herds (I have none of these, though I think they’re delicious), all the birds (they don’t listen to me but they poop on my car), the fish in the sea (Tilapia, especially) and all the sea creatures (stay down there, you gross betentacled beasts).

When someone notices you they like you.  When someone takes care of you, they love you.  When someone puts you in charge, they like/love/trust you.  Our authority over creation comes from God.  Think about that the next time you summon your mutt or visit a zoo,  and feel liked/loved/trusted.