Spring Belongs to Easter

Yesterday, amid sunny skies and 57 degrees, Zac asked if we could set up the little blue pool in our backyard.  I seriously considered it for about it for a minute but decided it would be a lot of water for a three second experience that would ultimately make me out to be the crazy one.

We’ve had a balmy Michigan winter compared to the last few, but it was still winter and the kids were still stuck inside for most of it. Though the calendar tells us Spring is here, the weather is still in identity crisis mode, frosting our car windows in the morning but demanding those same windows be rolled down in the afternoon. This is the time of year when precipitation waits until the very last second before deciding to land as either rain or snow or ice. Transitions are usually a bit awkward, but don’t worry.  History has taught us that Old Man Winter has a succession plan, and it’s to relinquish control to brand new Spring.  Spring is new at this, so they’ll be working in tandem for a few weeks.  “Please stand by,” says Old Man Winter.  “Spring and I should have this figured out by May.”  

Spring belongs to Easter because the change in weather helps our bodies align with our spirits in sensing a new season.  Like Christmas, Easter is one of those holidays with a somewhat arbitrary placement on the Gregorian calendar, though most historians feel more confident about the Resurrection happening around March/April than they do Christmas in December.  Easter moves around the calendar because of a rather involved formula of new moons, vernal equinoxes, phase cancellation and convection ovens.  Of course, all of this becomes more complex in an election year. Nevertheless, the Resurrection belongs to the season of early Spring.  Consider the unavoidable symbolism: cold and death release their grip, warmth and life swoop in.  New sprouts grow as snowbirds find their way back home.  The days are longer and filled with greater exuberance.  We live through Winter, but we become fully alive in the Spring.  The Resurrection, spiritually speaking, makes us fully alive after waiting through the long winter of bitter cold.  Christians are Easter people, oriented toward the season of Spring because of the reminder that we are made alive in Christ.  Our souls bloom and breathe again.  Finally.

No wonder Zac wants to set up the pool.

 

Lent: Some Notes on Fasting

I preached a sermon (tried to, at least) on Fasting yesterday at pfmchurch.  Using Scot McKnight’s excellent book Fasting as a guide, I pointed out four kinds of fasting:

Water Fast: That’s where you drink water but eat no food.

Juice Fast: That’s where you replace water with juice.  Still no food, though.

Partial Fast: i.e. the Daniel Fast — cutting out certain foods (like chocolate, caffeine, red meat) but still eating other foods. See abstaining, below.

Total Fast: No food, no water. Probably not a good place to start.  Best to check with the Doc.

Fasting is not eating, whereas, say, cutting out Facebook or giving up on sweets is called abstaining.  McKnight suggests – and I think I agree – that biblical examples of fasting are simply predetermined times of not eating any food, usually as a response to something that causes mourning.  Fasting helps our body be in sync with our soul/spirit.  How?  Most of us have experienced events in our lives that have totally killed our appetites.  The loss of a loved one, sadness, stress at work — all of these are times where eating food just seems out of place.   So it can and should be in our spiritual lives.  Sin is so destructive… God’s guidance is the only way to know what to do next… divine healing is the only viable option… that it seems proper to say “I’m in mourning.  I can’t eat at a time like this.”

I’ll give you a real life example.  Emily and I were hungry and on our way to lunch when all the sudden the ol’ Red and Blue lights started a’flashin.  “Wow,” I exclaimed, as I signaled to get off the road and into the parking lot.  “I’m being pulled over.  I wonder why?”  Turns out my plates didn’t match up with the car we were driving, which makes sense since we just transferred them to my new wheels on Friday afternoon.  I thanked the Officer for the work he does and we went on our merry way to lunch.  As you can imagine, when I was in the process of getting pulled over, the last thing on my mind was Hummus.  My body was in sync with what was happening.  In a way, that’s what fasting — and other physical practices of Spiritual Formation — does.  By the way, I basically just confessed that I’m not fasting today.

When we realize the gravity of sin, the dependence on God that we have (or need to realize), and the hurt in the world that needs God’s healing, we are wise to do something tangible like, say, not eat for a predetermined time.  We don’t fast to get God to do something.  That’s called manipulation and it doesn’t work, anyway.  Why fast?  Because it’s a fitting response to what God is already trying to stir in our lives.  Besides, when we put our appetites in check, something mystical happens.  Our spiritual senses become heightened.  Our thinking changes.  Our other appetites are chilled out.  It’s… it’s like nothing else.  Whether or not God does what we’re hoping for during a fast doesn’t matter nearly as much as the amount of spiritual formation that happens when we say, with our lives as testimony, that the food we need isn’t physical… it’s spiritual, and it only comes from Him.

 

 

 

 

 

Advent Wait, Wait…

I like Advent because it’s rude.

Advent rudely pushes back against our consumer culture.  Advent pulls the reigns back and says “not so fast, pal.”  I need something to slow me down.  Advent is rude enough to do just that, like a peaceful bossypants.

The Christmas we’re surrounded by go, go, go.

The Advent we’re entering into says wait, wait, wait… because the Christmas we’re hoping to engage is one of peace, joy, restoration, hope, and celebration.  I need Advent.  You need Advent.  We need to ponder, like Mary, what it means for the promised Messiah to be born in us today.  We need to tiptoe in, like the Shepherds, to adore the newborn King.  We need to bring our gifts, like the Magi, because a King deserves nothing less.  But this requires the soul to be running at a speed that is counter to the frantic Christmas pace around us.

How does one “reclaim” Christmas?  By living in Advent space.  On purpose.  By submitting to the directive to wait.  By simply choosing one thing over another.

You’d think this would be easy for a pastor.  It’s not.  I was talking with some of our church staff yesterday about how Christmas/Advent is a collection of tasks and deadlines, and not a celebration.  But I’m not off the hook.  I have to choose wait, wait, wait over go, go, go.  I choose it now, especially as we work our way toward the last Sunday of Advent.  I want Christmas Eve to be a relief, a breaking of the tension that naturally builds as we delay Christmas until it’s actually Christmas.

It’s still Advent.  Wait.

Their Part in Pentecost

Today is Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost has been around for a long time – even longer than the New Testament.  Back in the Ol’ Testament days, worshippers would bring their offering of bread to the Temple in Jerusalem as a way of saying thanks to God.  Thanks for the bread which sustains us physically and thanks for your Word which sustains us spiritually.  All God’s people would hightail it for Jerusalem for this annual feast on the 50th day (Pente = 50) following the Passover.

The truth is that Pentecost was not new.  But God by His Spirit made it astonishingly new in a completely unexpected way. 

Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 2:1, we read that they were gathered in one place on the day of Pentecost.  Pretty normal, run-o-the-mill Jewish feast.  But then God does the unexpected in Acts 2:2, which is where the wind, the fire, the tongues, and the power all show up.  The world is forever changed.  3,000 people come to Jesus that day, and a new global and eternal movement is started.  We call it the Church.

But let’s not complicate the process.  Their part in Pentecost was simply to wait, which is exactly what those 120 believers did.

They waited because of a person — Jesus.

They waited because of an event — His life, death, and resurrection.

They waited out of obedience — simply because Jesus told them to wait.

United as one, in one space, in one Name, because of One God who is yet Three.

Mind boggling.  But not complicated.  I wait.  You wait.  We wait for the Holy Spirit.  Poured out once and for all on the church, we don’t need to hang tight until Pentecost 2.0.  Rather, we need to say “purify me and fill me yet more.”  That’s the prayer of the church.  It’s a prayer of waiting.  And that’s our part in Pentecost.

May every day be a day where the Holy Spirit has even greater influence in our lives.  May we yield to the cleansing fire and life-giving wind of the Spirit.  May we put our limitations aside and eagerly await the blessed Trinity to infuse our lives.

Spiritual transformation has many enemies.  People accused these 120 Spirit-filled people of being drunk.  Cynicism is the enemy of transformation in our world and even in the church.  Or maybe mediocrity.  Or pride.  Or spiritual disengagement.  You name it; the Spirit knows it.  Let Him tell you (not me).

Do your part today as you seek the Holy Spirit.  Wait.

Refuge is Quick // Trust Takes Time

[Ps 62:6-8]

consider:

It’s raining outside and I’m getting soaked.  “Come in or you’ll catch a cold!” and I do (come in, not catch a cold).  Water evaporates as I switch from wetting to drying.  I’m not getting rained on anymore, but I’m not instantly dry, either.  Refuge is quick but drying off takes time.

consider:

We took our kids to a new house to be babysat.  We trusted these people without a doubt and were instantly on our way to our hot date.   The kids were a bit scared as they slowly wandered into the place, finally feeling safe by the time we picked them up.  They cried when we left them; they cried because we were taking them home!

I think about how refuge is quick but trust takes time when I read Psalm 62:6-8.  Whenever a writer quotes a scripture verse, I usually skip over it and jump to the point.  Terrible, right?  You might do it, too.  So, instead of a nice italicized inline textblock for you to skip, let’s break this down.  I’m trying to make a point, here, and you need to be familiar with the verse.  When the Psalmist says that God is his rock and salvation, he’s describing refuge.  He found a good place to stand with no complaint because, well, it beats the alternative!  You would think that this would lead to instant and total trust in God, but it doesn’t.  Ps 62 goes on, saying that we need to trust in him at all times, you people! (I love that).  Trust is the willingness to pour out your hearts to God (verse 8b) because God is our refuge.

Refuge meets the need caused by an impending danger — sin — and is instant.

Trust meets the need caused by our busted up hearts — sin — and takes time.

Can I trust God with everything?  I mean, I’m glad to be safe and all, but can He really handle xyz?  That doubt, expressed by words or by inactivity, is what messes me up.  Refuge is instant, but trusting God all the way is difficult.

Remember when Grandma was looking for something in her purse?  After a minute of unsuccessful archeological dig, she’d exhale loudly and just dump the contents of her purse out on the kitchen table until she found that rogue tic tac?  That’s what it should look like as we pour out our hearts before the Lord.  That kind of vulnerability takes time, even though we’re safe and sound in His fortress of salvation through Christ.

Standing up is much easier than pouring out.  Yes?  Pour out anyway.  What’s to worry about?  You’re safe.

Be grateful for salvation but listen to the Psalm: trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. 

I Got “Emo Longwhisker”! What Kind Of Cat Are YOU??? (Ps 139 Devotional Thoughts)

I love those facebook quizzes that tell everything about ourselves by asking 5 or 6 questions. What kind of cat are you?  Who will you marry?  Which 60 Minutes reporter are you?   These personality tests tell us more about ourselves than they intend.

Meyie couldn't carrrrre less.
Meyie couldn’t carrrrre less.

Psalm 139 — You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.  Truth about humans: we want to be searched and we need to be known.  It’s all in good fun, but, as it turns out, taking quizzes that answer Which Character From Full House Are You?? (I always get Cousin Larry) feeds a deep need inside of us to be known & to understand more about ourselves.

When I go to the airport, my second most stressful part is having to fold myself into an airplane seat (Which In-Flight Snack Describes You Best??).  But the most stressful part is when I’m getting processed to go on the flight. Psalm 139:1 – you have searched me and you know me – might be a good life verse for the TSA, what with their questions and xrays and searches.  Though important, this particular kind of knowledge is not something we long for.  We want to be spiritually known.  Only God can truly know us this way.

So, in application of Psalm 139 and the reminder that we have a human need to be known, I suggest running to God.  He’s already got you hemmed in, anyway (139:5).  In fact, if you try running away, you’ll only find him in the place you eventually stop running (139:8).  Not only will He recognize you, He will love you with an everlasting love as He shapes you, which is what He’s been doing since your humble beginning (139:13).

Today is Epiphany. Care.

Today, January 6th, is Epiphany.

Epiphany observes and celebrates the day that the Magi bowed before King Jesus and gave Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh.   Remember that story about the Wise Men?  Remember the song?

Hey.   Let’s sing it together:

7am wakin’ up in the morning

Gotta be fresh gotta go downstairs

Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal,

Seein’ everything the time is goin’

SORRY.  Wrong song.  I mean:

We Three Kings of Orient Are

Bearing gifts, we traverse afar,

Field and fountain, moor and mountain

Following Yonder Star

Oooo-oooohhhh

It’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday

I think we all see what I did there.  I’m not impressed, either.

Couplea fun facts.  First, I discovered that the Greek word for Wise Men (the KJV translation) is actually Magos — or Magi.  Magi were well educated astrologers/astronomers who were experts in all things sky-related.  They knew the stars as well as one could back in the year 0.  (Actually, it was probably somewhere around 2 B.C., but we’ll save that post for another day — maybe Friday).

Gotta get down on Friday.

So, while we usually call them “Wise Men”, they were, in fact, wise in one particular discipline: astronomy.  They were scientists of the sky.  Those banners that we sometimes put up in front of our churches that say “Wise Men Still Seek Him” are much catchier than the more accurate “Ancient Astronomers Who Looked At the Stars Through Cracks Between Their Fingers Still Seek Him.”

And we’re not sure how many Magi there were.  We typically attribute the number three, but that’s only because there are three gifts mentioned.  There may have been only two Magi.  Or 7.    

7am wakin’ up in the morning.

Gold is for a King.  Frankincense is a symbol of deity.  Myrrh is a reminder of His world-changing death and resurrection. Another tradition suggests that the gifts were only medicinal in nature.  Incense and myrrh were as commonly used as Tylenol™ and Motrin™.  Gold was as common then as gift cards at Christmas.  The symbolism has several different interpretations and are all a part of the rich tapestry of church history: enlightening and sometimes a bit strange.

Trivial details aside, let me point out the reason you should care about January 6.  Just as Christmas falls every year on December 25th, marking the arrival of Jesus, Epiphany falls on January 6 every year, and we celebrate the fact that the King of the Jews came for everyone — Jew, Gentile, Rich, Poor, Trafficked, Free, Women, Men, and whoever else you might name.  Emmanuel is with us, and the world is being slowly overwhelmed with Everlasting Light.

Until His Kingdom comes, we revel in the Light.  Finally, when the King returns, it will be a party like no other.

Partyin’, Partyin’.  Fun.  Fun. Fun. Fun. 

Quite frankly, this is all very good news.  Jesus came for you.  The King will go to great lengths to save His subjects — even by subjecting Himself to a tortuous death.   Admission to the party is free, but the cost to throw this party is exhorbitantly high.

At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus is born.  On Epiphany, we celebrate that Jesus was born for everyone.

As the song (We Three Kings) finishes, so shall we:

Glorious now, behold Him arise

King and God and sacrifice.

Alleluia, alleluia

Sounds through the earth and skies.