Category Archives: Spiritual Growth and Practice

Inner experiences of God, growth, and faith expression

How Eddie Money Helped Me Pray

Let me say this right away. I am NOT an Eddie Money fan– never have been, never will be. Whenever I think of Eddie Money or hear his music, the words total cheese about sum it all up for me. Nothing more to be said.

Eddie Money March 21, 1949 – September 13, 2019

Nevertheless, when I heard today that Eddie Money died, I immediately thought of a blog post that never got written because… yeah… I thought it would be cheesier than my summation of Mr. Money or his music. And by the way, for you highly offended Eddie Money fans, I’m about to share something that just might make you smile. It’s my story of how Eddie Money helped me to pray one day. (At the very least, you’ll be smiling at my cheesiness.)

So it all began this summer on my family’s vacation down to the Outer Banks. Blairlee and I like to listen to a variety of music on long car trips, and while our tastes in music diverge at times, there’s one Sirius station we both enjoy: the 80’s station! 80’s on 8. We love it. It’s one song right after the other of every hit 80’s song you can think of, including those you’d totally forgotten and would rather remain forgotten.

Well, lo and behold, somewhere in the rotation, what should play? It was one of my absolute least favorite 80’s songs ever: Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight.” That song for me is the epitome of 80’s cheeseball music– stupid lyrics about a guy who wants to get it on with a girl he’s got the hots for, a soulless female vocal part who pretty much says, “yeah, baby, bring it on”, electronic drums with way too much reverb, a sleazy sax solo that comes out of nowhere, some weird Asian-sounding keyboard part that doesn’t fit the song at all, and I could go on and on.

After I suffered through that song– wouldn’t you know it??– that loathsome tune became an ear worm that would not go away! Every time I had a moment of quiet, “Take me home tonight, I don’t want to let you go ’till you see the light!” would start playing in my head. It was pure torture.

Every morning at the beach, I got up early before the rest of the family to have some quiet time reading and praying out on the porch. It was such a special time. The sun was coming up. I could hear the waves, the birds, smell the salt water, and have some precious moments of quiet solitude with God. Me, a cup of coffee, the beach, spiritual reading, prayer, and God. Life could not get any better.

That was until… I went to pray.

My favorite form of prayer is contemplative prayer, which is basically praying without words. I sit in silence, clear my thoughts, and focus on my breathing. Slowly but surely, my spirit comes to rest and I can feel myself sinking down into God, and into myself, almost like sitting in God’s lap, being nourished, cherished, and divinely loved. Praying like that doesn’t need any words. Stillness, waiting, and breathing are much more powerful than any words I could utter.

After reading, I went to pray, clearing my head, enjoying the silence, but then, like a ballgame beer vender at a fine dining restaurant, I began to hear, blaring in my head, “Take me home tonight, I don’t want to let you go ’till you see the light!”

I tried over and over again to push that wretched song away, which would only crank the volume even louder in my head. It was frustrating and humiliating all at the same time.

But then the Holy Spirit nudged me a bit, and I thought, clearly this song is not going away. It will not be ignored or pushed out of my head. For some reason, it’s demanding my attention. What if this song could become part of a prayer? What that make it happy???

Reluctantly, I took the chorus of “Take Me Home Tonight” and edited it just slightly to become a prayer. (I once had a friend who insisted that love songs are half-siblings of prayers. This song is more of a lust song than a love song, but could it still baptized into a prayer?)

Take me home. Don’t let me go until I see the light. That became my prayer to God. And I prayed it very slowly like this:

Take me home. Don’t let me go until I see the light.

Take me home. Don’t let me go until I see.

Take me home. Don’t let me go until.

Take me home. Don’t let me go.

Take me home. Don’t let me.

Take me home. Don’t let.

Take me home.

Take me.

By the time I got to take me, I was close to tears. A song I had scorned as pestilence became a gift from God. I clearly needed that. Then the ear worm vanished, and it never came back.

So, thank you Eddie Money and Holy Spirit for helping me to pray in a way I most definitely needed. Rest in peace, Mr. Money. May God in his infinite mercy take you home tonight.

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The Abundance of Self-Emptying

More, faster, richer, bigger. Go for the win. Those are the highest aspirations of our Western culture. It’s what drives a capitalist economy in which you and I are most valued, not for who we are, but for how much we buy and consume. And as consumers, we look for prosperity and happiness in the acquisition of material wealth.

That’s the reason why we Western Christians tap-dance around some of Jesus’ central teachings. When he talks about denying ourselves, losing our lives in this world, emptying ourselves, being content with being last and lowly, personally identifying with the marginalized, and bearing our cross, we have a very hard time even imaging what it would look like to embody those principles. I think some of us admire these qualities in the “super saints” we idealize (the St. Francis’s and Mother Theresa’s of the world), but we simply cannot fathom taking on these traits as our primal way of living. It turns out it’s much easier and less costly to idealize than to emulate.

That brings me to a Holy Week story from Jesus’ last days. He’s in the Temple courts with his disciples, and Luke tells it like this:

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 21:1-4

Let me just say right off the bat, preachers just love this passage. Oh my, do we love it. It’s a favorite go-to Bible story to turn to when we’re trying to fill up the offerings plates. Even if you’ve never sat through a “stewardship sermon”, I’m sure you can figure out how we preach from this passage.

“Now, everyone,” says the preacher, “if this poor, poor widow who had nothing else to live on could give her last two cents for the work of the Lord, then really now, what more could you give?”

After a final amen, the sermon is followed by the singing of “Take My Life and Let It Be” which contains this little gem: “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite [the widow’s mite!] would I withhold.”

Isn’t that brilliant?

You might be relieved to know that this typical approach glances off the more significant meaning of Jesus’ teaching.

Let’s look again at the timing of this story of the widow’s offering. Jesus is mere days away from his death. On that day, Jesus would demonstrate once and for all what it means to give up everything he had to live on. He gave away his entire life. Put the story of the widow’s offering in that context, and what more is he trying to say to us?

Jesus and his cross are teaching us a counterintuitive truth about life and abundance: self-emptying always leads to abundant life.

Let’s be clear, this is not abundant life the way our Western capitalist culture defines it. It’s far more profound than that. Abundant life is a pattern of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Abundant life is an intimate connection with all created things, subject to subject, enjoying it all for its own sake and inherent beauty. Abundant life is a life without ego, control needs, power-trips, self-centered wants, judgmentalism, and non-forgiveness.

The more we cling to things— to anything, really— as our private possession, the more separate we are from the rest of the world. We must then assume the stance of having things to protect, to compete for, and to differentiate from everyone else’s. It’s very difficult, it not impossible, to love unconditionally within protective, “me versus them” dynamics like these.

While shielded within our self-protective silos, giving of ourselves becomes a metered, tempered and calculated risk assessment based on merit and return instead of an ongoing, unlimited and abundantly gracious outpouring of our very best. Which of these modes do you think most resembles Christ?

Jesus was indiscriminate towards those whom he healed and gave to. He never turned away anyone (if you don’t believe me, look again), never judged anyone’s worthiness, and gave to each whether the recipient was grateful or not. The ultimate expression of this outpouring of unconditional graciousness was his death on the cross.

And just days before, an anonymous poor widow whose name we would never know, whom everyone would have missed save for Jesus, epitomized all of this in a humble act of giving.

So the rest comes down to our response. At every moment we face a choice. Will I consume and protect or will I let go and give? Will I live in full embrace and communion with all things, or will I fence off myself in the name of self-preservation? Will I judge or will I love? Will I live in the “system’s” false understanding of abundance or in Christ’s? Will I give life or withhold it (while losing it eventually anyway)?

Holy Week teaches us some invaluable, timeless human and divine truth about what it means to live, die, surrender, and thrive. We would do well to be students of the One who revealed himself to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), not merely as a religious precept, but as a total way of living and being. Then we will discover the abundance of self-emptying.

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From Judgmentalism to Compassion

It’s the comparisons game. At least that’s where it begins. I see differences between myself and you and then assign values to those differences— good and bad, right and wrong, better and worse. Often, these value-weighted differences tip the scale in my favor, putting myself, at least in my own eyes, in a position of moral, intellectual, or spiritual superiority to you. That is judgmentalism.

We do this all the time. It’s our way of making distinctions between ourselves and others in some vain effort to validate ourselves. At the root of all this self-validating judgmentalism is pride, which many of the the ancient spiritual masters say is at the root of every sin. I would carefully dig down a step deeper and say that at the root of pride itself is fear and insecurity. If not that, then why harbor pride at all?

I was thinking about all this again after meeting with a small group of folks who are about to take on the momentous task of working with a person for a whole year, to transition this sister or brother out of homelessness. It’s a coordinated effort with The Lighthouse, a local homelessness prevention charity, and The Open Table. (Take a moment to read how another local church is doing this work. It’s really amazing!)

To prepare themselves for their work, they went through an exercise in which each member was invited to take personal stock of their judgmentalism. How judgmental are they in general? What kinds of “trigger” behaviors in other people set off their judgmental attitudes? It was a fascinating discussion, and I was struck by how gut honest everyone allowed themselves to be with each other. They wrestled with how to walk the line between evaluating someone else’s behavior and being judgmental. How fine is that line? Does that line even exist? I have a feeling they will continue to wrestle through these crucial questions through their year-long journey with a homeless brother or sister.

As they were discussing these things, an oft quoted and badly misunderstood teaching of Jesus came to mind:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:1-5

“Do not judge!” I could probably write a whole book dissecting this teaching, addressing the various popular conceptions of what it means to judge versus what Jesus meant. (I’d probably drive myself crazy trying to figure it out, too!)

For now, however, what stands out to me is the second part of this passage addressing the speck and the plank. As I read it again, it has occurred to me that Jesus was an absolute genius of human psychology. He’s talking about what Freud would later call “projection.”

According to Wikipedia Almighty— don’t judge me!— psychological projection is:

…a defense mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.[ For example, a person who is habitually rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting.

Another way of saying it is this: we despise in others what we most despise in ourselves. We see this negative thing acutely in others (the speck in their eye) because we struggle with it so intensely within ourselves (the plank in our own eye). Otherwise, why would we care so much? And, considering the full range of things we could choose to judge within others, why else would we consistently judge certain things within other people?

Ouch. If that steps on your toes as much as it does mine, that’s because it’s meant to. If we want to grow and mature as people, we must stop in our tracks long enough to look within at our shadowy side, the part of us we of desperately try to avoid and deny.

This is why Jesus gives us the admonition to spend all the time necessary— usually the span of our lifetimes— to call out our own shadows, to remove the plank from our own eye. Then we’ll possess the unfiltered clarity see our neighbors more clearly, fairly, and compassionately.

This leads me to my other revelation about judgmentalism. In addition to addressing our own shadows, the best antidote I know of for judgmentalism is compassion, which I understand to be the ability to see myself reflected within another person, both my strengths and my liabilities. Compassion is a mirror. Within my neighbor I see a mirror of my strengths and liabilities, and I can choose to humble myself and offer that same mirror to them. Then we no longer stand apart; we are siblings.

How does this work?

Let me share a rather painful, personal example. I tend to despise arrogance in other people. My gut reaction to it is, “How dare they carry on like that? Who do they think they are?”

Why do I respond that way? It’s simple. We’re competing for space! For all the recognition and attention they soak up, I feel like that’s less for me. I don’t want someone to be overly recognized while I sit in their shadow because then I won’t be as deservedly noticed and appreciated. Shame on them for taking up what is rightfully mine!

Here is the plank in my own eye: it’s my “shadow self’s” need to be appreciated and recognized for the good which I self-perceive I am and do. Through years of painful shadow work, I have learned that this is a fundamental insecurity within me. When I choose to cast a light on this shadow and expose it for what it is, in other words, remove the plank from my eye, I then have the ability to “get over myself.”

It’s also enabled me to empathize with the same kinds of traits in others, the ones I happen to judgmentally label as arrogant show horses. So now when I spot what I sense to be arrogance in someone else and it triggers my judgmentalism, I can choose to turn off the judgment, empathetically gaze at that neighbor, and perhaps see a mirror of myself. And that allows me a degree of compassion. I don’t have to judge them for being right or wrong or good or bad. They just are who they are, as I am who I am.

If I’m feeling especially neighborly, I will seek out this “arrogant” person, and genuinely encourage them for the good I treasure in them. That’s my mirror back to them. Why would I bother?? It’s for one simple reason. It’s the way I like to be treated. (Love your neighbor as you would love yourself.) And if they genuinely share the same shadow I do— the need for appreciation and recognition— I might have met and soothed that same unspoken need within them. I could speak real value and love into their life.

That’s compassion. It’s the polar opposite of judgmentalism.

Now, please, please don’t hear what I’m not saying.

I’m not saying that this is easy. Along with forgiveness, and perhaps this is another form of it, choosing compassion over judgmentalism is one of the hardest things we can ever do. We cannot even begin to do it before calling out our own shadows.

I’m not saying that we throw out any sense of right and wrong. Of course, there is good and evil. There is right and wrong. There is righteousness and there is sin. We all do both good and evil, right and wrong, righteousness and sinfulness. But that’s not the point.

My point is that we must be honest enough with ourselves to ask why it is that certain things within other people stand out to us as more scandalous, evil, sinful and unforgivable than other things. Once we understand that about ourselves, we could approach the offending neighbor in a very different— hopefully much more compassionate!— way. We would be a whole lot more humble and happy, too.

So where would be a good place to start if we want to grow from judgmentalism to compassion? Start with Jesus’ warning that the measure we use towards other people will the same measure used towards us, either by God, by other people, or both.

Generally speaking, what comes around goes round. Genuinely compassionate, gentle people tend to invite that same compassion and gentleness towards them. Not always, of course! But certainly most of the time. What we plant is what we sow.

Sow the seeds of compassion, and more often than not, that’s exactly what you and I will harvest in abundance. If for nothing else, let’s allow this simple seed of truth to sink in, grow roots, and do its necessary work within our hearts, for our wellbeing and for that of our neighbors.


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Trying to Be Good Is Way Overrated

I was talking with a friend a few nights ago who told me something I have heard from many other people: “I don’t need religion to be a good person.” Of course, this is based in the widely-held presumption that the purpose of religion— and my purpose as a pastor— is to help bad people become good.

I have to admit that in years’ past, I would have attempted to push back on statements like those with some version of, “You know, no one can truly be good without God.” Or if I was feeling more gracious, I might have said, “You know, the church at its best takes good people and makes them into better people.” Isn’t that clever?

But I found myself saying something like this to my friend: “I don’t need religion to make me into a good person, either. In fact, that’s not why I am a Christian.” He didn’t respond to that, so I didn’t elaborate. (Lucky for him!)

Later on, our conversation got me to rethink something rather odd that Jesus said. The more I dwell on it, the more relieved I am that he said it.

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”

Luke 18:18-19

Christians tend to do some creative tap-dancing around this problematic response from Jesus. Was Jesus claiming he was not good? (“Of course he wasn’t!” we reply. “He was just pointing the man to God.”) Oh good… Whew! Moving on.

Heinrich Hofmann, “Christ and the Rich Young Ruler”, 1889

But what if Jesus was trying to say something deeper than that? What if he was trying to edge us out of the moralistic goodness mindset altogether?

This may sound strange, but what if Jesus was really saying, “Stop trying to play the game of being an upright, good, moral, righteous person. Your striving to be good is way overrated.”

Now I know why that may sound strange, even heretical. The church’s predominant approach to human beings has typically been sin management and growth through moral goodness. We’re the moral police… or so we think. So, through Christ, confess your sinfulness, and by grace become less prone to sin, more morally upright using the rules we give you, keeping in mind the whole time that we are nothing but sinners. That tends to be the Christian message.

However, we Christians were not the first ones to take this sin management and growth through moral goodness approach to God and life. The man who approached Jesus, a fellow Jew, asked Jesus what kind of good must be done in order to live eternally. That was his way of asking, “How good do I need to get? What specific good do I have to do to get what I want?” And he presumed that Jesus, being a good teacher, would have known the formula.

Yet the man in the story and most of the rest of us have been unable to grasp this goodness of God that Jesus pointed to and where it is to be found. The rest of the conversation which you can see here was an elaboration on that point.

So what happens when our prime goal of becoming good people is by means of rule following and moralistic perfectionism? Without fail, ego steps in, especially when we believe that goodness is something we don’t have and must acquire from somewhere external— a set of rules, a holy text, a God who is watching and judging us. So we strive for it. We try to change up our behaviors in conformity to the rules and expectations. We throw out and squash what we perceive to be bad. If we’re successful, we feel like we’re better people!

Then the comparisons begin. We reference our goodness against others.

Often, we pride ourselves for being better. Remember Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee praying in the temple? The self-righteous Pharisee thanked God he was not like other people, especially that awful tax collector praying next to him (Luke 9:1-14).

Or, we shame ourselves and others for not being good enough. God knows I’ve spent too much of my life loathing myself for not measuring up to what others or I have claimed I should be. Too often I have felt like Paul who called himself a “wretched man” because no matter how hard he tried to be good, he failed (Romans 7:14-23).

When worthiness in the eyes of God, ourselves, or others becomes a measure of how well we behave and how morally perfectionistic we can be, then we are drawing upon the worst of ourselves, which is our fragile sense of ego. The results are horrific— pride, shame, critical and judgmental attitudes, walking around with squinty eyes estimating the goodness of ourselves and others with a measuring stick that no one can possibly live up to.

Jesus is right. God alone is good. No one can succeed at being good enough.

Let me suggest something to you that is changing the way I look at myself and others:

Goodness begins with the recognition that there are things inside us all that are perpetually good because they are a gift from God, who alone is good.

Within each of us are two things which are good gifts from God— our soul and God’s Spirit. Please allow me some space to try to define what I mean from a biblical and experiential understanding. And keep in mind that these thoughts are thoughts in process!


My understanding of “soul” from the Hebrew and Greek sense is “our essential self.” We rarely see it. It’s often hidden away within us. The soul is like a blueprint from God that defines our very best self. It’s the divine schematic for who we really are. Our soul hums and resonates with peace and joy when we live into being who we were created to be, which is always wonderfully good. It guides us into our vocational and relational purposes as a child of God, and let me tell you, there is no greater satisfaction than living from within the very soul of who we are.

God’s Spirit is that divine essence which was given to Adam when God breathed into his nostrils, giving him life (Genesis 2:7). Within each of us is God’s presence, infused into our very being, enlivening, prompting, loving, nurturing, healing, speaking, guiding us into all goodness. When we tune our full awareness to God’s Spirit within us, we truly come alive. Soul and Spirit work in tandem to love and live in full communion with God, our neighbors, and ourselves.

Thus, our goodness is a gift from God, not a merit badge to be earned. It’s already within us to be treasured and lived into. This goodness is our true self. If we intentionally mine into this essential goodness within ourselves and our neighbors, we take on the humility and compassion of God. We rejoice in goodness wherever we see it, recognizing God’s good presence within all created things. We draw upon and and encourage that goodness from within them.

“What of sin?” you may ask. Isn’t there sin within us, too? Oh yes. Sin is our purposeful disconnection from God’s goodness. For some reason, we simply have a hard time accepting pure goodness and love abiding in us. So we choose what we think is safer and more accessible. We settle for power, pride, and hate, while seeking cheaper, flimsy forms of false goodness apart from the God-given treasure within us. That choice distances us from God, our soul, and others. This self-isolating, lonely distance is the true tragedy of sin.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we could only bring ourselves to accept that the presence of God conjoined with our God-fashioned soul is there all along, we would simply fall and rest into that pure goodness, reclaiming the very likeness of God.

That, friends is real goodness! Goodness is not some exterior virtue apart from us that we must acquire. It’s a treasure within— our truest self— into which we ground our mind and heart.

If you’re still not convinced of all this, look back at the story of Jesus and the ruler for a moment. Jesus’ final invitation to the man seeking after eternal life was a call to step down from his elevated social status, sell off his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor and follow Jesus. That was Jesus’ way of challenging the man to strip away his pride, riches, religious accomplishments and social pretentiousness. Abandon the false ego self that struggles to achieve goodness, value, power and distinction, and learn the way of self-giving, self-emptying love. That would have forced the man to part ways from everything false, and to live from within the goodness of God already planted within him— his living soul and the Spirit. If only he had made that choice!

After all, that’s the way Jesus lived. He emptied himself. He became nothing except a lover and servant for the sake of the whole world (Philippians 2:6-8). Jesus learned great love through trust and suffering, and from the very depth of his being, he shows us what it means to live in full loving communion with God and all people. For me, Jesus is not just some outer authority to conform myself to; he is a way of life— the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)— to emulate within being.

Again, that is goodness. And it’s a far cry from the morally perfectionistic goodness game that too many of us try to play. It turns out, God had made us good all along. It’s time to claim it and live it.

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Christchurch: We Are All Perpetrator and Victim

I woke up this morning, as many of you did, to news of the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand. At least 49 Muslims were murdered while in prayer at two different Christchurch mosques by a gunman. Christchurch is known for being a peaceful, tolerant town within a nation known for peace and safety. Once I learned that, I immediately thought back to the massacre in Squirrel Hill. There are so many similarities.

A Christchurch, NZ Mosque

Yet I admit, when I heard the news, the usual things began to happen. At first I was numb. Then as I looked harder at the news, I was shocked. Then I began to slip into numbness again. After all, it’s just one more incident in a long succession of ideologically and racially motivated acts of mass terror. What more is there to think and say? It will happen again and again. So, in my instinctual way of handling things, because all this is just too horrific to comprehend, I began to check out.

Checking back in for a bit, I noticed this “incident” was followed by the usual obligatory responses. Outrage. Condemnation. Calls for thoughts and prayers. Gun control debates are coming. My Bishop issued yet another pastoral letter. (I wonder how she can find something new to say each time. Eventually, I’m waiting for her to say, “Click on the link to my last letter.”)

That’s when I came to again.

Maybe it’s time to admit that none of our responses are working. Not a one. No one is healed. No one is protected. More violence is almost guaranteed.

No hearts are truly changed by our public outrages, our pious thoughts and prayers, and our endless debates on mental health, safety and security. All these things are blood-soaked band-aids.

I think we must step back and own what’s happening in a whole new way.

In the face of all this violence, perhaps it’s time for us to humbly and soulfully confess something fundamentally true: each of us is both perpetrator and victim.

It is not enough to simply stand in solidarity with the victims. It’s a good first step, especially when the victims are of a different ideology, religion, or race than we are. But that’s still too easy, and we can get awfully self-righteous while doing something that began as compassion. I know I have.

The harder, perhaps more necessary step, in addition to identifying with the victims, is to name ourselves as the culprits. We may not have pulled the trigger, but we all have done our share in creating the climate that leads to the kind of carnage we have witnessed in Christchurch. If we want healing, this is something we must recognize and change within our basic attitudinal stance towards our neighbors.

It’s the I vs. you, us vs. them, dualistic way of seeing our neighbors in contrast to ourselves. On the one hand, thinking like this is inevitable. In the necessary growth work of self-realization, differentiating ourselves from others is part of the process. It’s the reason why teenage children push away from their parents; it’s their first step towards developing an adult identity away from home.

As we work, play, raise families and make a name and a life for ourselves, the nature of the game is Survivor, and competition to stay on our islands is an unavoidable dynamic. We compete for life, liberty, and happiness. We want to win. We want success. And as we strive for it, we develop this us vs. them way of seeing. From fighting fellow drivers in traffic, arguing a political point, griping about the idiots and despots, and competing for that job we want, it truly is a tribal warfare life we’re told we must live if we want to succeed in the world. It’s pervasive, and for most people, it never stops.

The next, often hidden, necessary step in human maturity is to see the world, not in terms of rules, boxes, groups, classes, good/bad, winners/losers, saved/damned, black/white, red/blue… but in terms of we, as in the interconnectedness and vital necessity of all people and all things.

Practically speaking, what does this mean? As a Christian, it means that I see and recognize Christ in all people. To break that down some more, it means that I endeavor to see that every person is made in God’s image, that each one is very good (because God said we are), and that Christ is at work in each of us to transform us into God’s likeness, no matter our religion or beliefs.

Everyone. Me. You. The homeless woman walking down the street. The family crossing the southern border in the cover of night. The co-worker I can’t bring myself to like. A child born in a meth house. Everyone in my neighborhood. Everyone in Christchurch. The white nationalists. The Muslims in prayer. All are in God’s image, all are created very good by God, being transformed by Christ into God’s likeness, in God’s time and way.

That kind of solidarity gives us the freedom to love the perpetrator and the victim because each of us, in our own way, are perpetrators and victims of our world’s violence. We have all contributed to the kind of us vs. them tribalism that feeds the violence in our world. We have suffered from it to varying degrees. And we all have the choice to opt out of the game when we’re mature enough to do it.

So do we simply stop calling out evil and injustice? Of course, not.

That said, if that’s all we do, or even half of what we do, then we’re simply exhaling negativity into the air, ironically enough becoming the kind of badness we hate to see in other people.

For every negative, there must be double or even triple the positive. If we don’t or can’t do that hard work, then we continue to deepen our collective human addiction to all things negative, gloomy, dark and problematic. As they say in the news room, “If if bleeds, it leads.” In an oddly perverse way, we just love bad news.

For me, unconditional, gracious, bridge-building, self-and-other-identifying love is the only remedy to our world’s violence. It sounds so simple and naive to even type those words, but it’s true. Love for the victims. Love for the perpetrators. Seeing God and ourselves just as clearly in the victim as in the perpetrator.

We are all both monster and saint, innocent and guilty, Pilate and Jesus, heavenly and hellish, all wrapped up in a tragically beautiful, divine creation called you and me.

With the most sonorous YES I can sing— just as it was in the beginning, as it is now, and ever shall be to the end, that everyone and everything in creation is all inherently, intrinsically, collectively good, because it is in God, and God is in it. And in some mysterious way I can’t quite comprehend but know to be true, God is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).

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The Healing of Doubt

[The content of this post was written for the 2019 Lenten devotion for my alma mater, Wesley Theological Seminary. It’s inspired by Psalm 13. And due to the writing parameters for this publication, it is purposefully and uncharacteristically short. Enjoy!]

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13

In the world of religion and faith, doubt has traditionally been an unwelcome guest. After all, we typically equate faith with unwavering certainty in an apostolic orthodoxy that stands the test of time. People of faith tend to find a great deal of security in these kinds of immovable absolutes.


Yet doubt, like a constant shadow, never seems to disappear. Etymologically, the word doubt derives from the Latin duo, as in the presence of two things. Doubt is the uncertainty and fear we experience when vacillating between oppositional notions. The author of Psalm 13 was surely at this critical juncture between belief and unbelief, hope and despair, a God who self-reveals and hides, remembers and forgets. How do we navigate this terrible tension?

In the midst of our doubt stands the crucified and risen Jesus. He embodies the paradox of defeat and triumph, the failure of sin and the victory of righteousness, divine perfection and human frailty, loving embrace and hate-filled rejection, all mysteriously conjoined within the balance of his life and death. God has opened the door for the disparate tensions of our lives to find their rest in Jesus, for “…in him, all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

In Christ we find an unconditionally safe, understanding place to wrestle through our doubts and inconsistencies. Eventually, we emerge from the struggle absolutely affirmed by the love and blessing of God, in deeper, far more profound ways. Thus the Crucified One transforms our gravest doubts into lasting wisdom.

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Is There Truly an “Original Design”?

Let me tell you a story that’s been passed down in the church of the West for centuries. If you’re at all familiar with Christian religion, it’s a familiar one. It goes like like this.

God made the heavens and earth and called it good. The crowning moment of creation on the last day, Day 6, was the creation of humanity, male and female. God looked at everything he made and said that it was (note the past tense “was”) very good. Everyone and everything lived happily, wholly, and in perfect harmony within the Garden. Everything was flawlessly perfect.

But then… [cue the da-da-dum music], Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, whereupon they unleashed the curse of sin, reducing all humanity and the rest of creation to a fallen, less-than-ideal state, separated from God, from one another, and from themselves. Sin corrupted everything from its original, idyllic condition.

Skip ahead to the New Testament. To fix the problem of sin, God had to send his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross so sinful humanity could be redeemed from the curse of sin. All who believe in Jesus and repent will be restored to a heavenly Paradise upon their death or at the return of Christ, whichever comes first. In the meantime, we live as sinful, less than ideal beings in a cursed creation. But all that will go away one day when all of God’s saved people will be gathered with God in heaven. The End.

For many of us, this is the story of the Bible. It’s the traditional narrative construct that frames the whole biblical cannon into roughly five distinctive parts: creation, sin, fall, Christ, church.

Frameworks like these, often called narrative constructs, are necessary tools. They serve to hold together the massive amount of literature— story, poetry, worship psalms, books of wisdom, prophesy, and letters— that makes up the Bible. Without it, it’s hard to see how the whole thing hangs together.

However, every narrative construct is bound to have its flaws, and this one has some major ones, a few having proved to be downright deadly. Here are several of its more problematic flaws:

  • It assumes that God’s use of “good” to describe humanity and creation means “perfect”, as in fully whole, complete, flawless, sinless, and deathless. I would argue that this is a Platonic usage of the word “good”, implying perfectly ideal. But that is not the Hebrew understanding of goodness, which points more to something’s God-given, good purpose, value and blessedness.
  • It totally skips over the role and purpose of Israel, i.e. everything else in the Old Testament between Genesis 4 through Malachi. It’s simply not mentioned, back-burnered as non-essential to salvation history. This is very unbiblical, literally, since the authors of the New Testament continually pointed to the whole cannon of the Hebrew Bible, only occasionally quoting from Genesis 1-3. I would also argue that this elimination of Israel from the narrative construct is the product and one of the root causes of Christian antisemitism.
  • It reduces Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection to God’s Plan B. In the Plan B presumption, Adam and Eve screwed up. That doomed the rest of us to screwing up. So God resorted to sending Jesus to clean up our mess. However, Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection is not a Plan B. From the very beginning, he is the epicenter of creation (John 1:1-4; Colossians 1:16-17), the one who brings unity to it all (Ephesians 1:10) and the herald of the New Creation (Isaiah 65:17). His death and resurrection is part of God’s continuum of Creation and New Creation.
  • It assumes that the goal of God is to fix a problem by getting everything back to the way it was. (Milton wrote of Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.) Meanwhile, the Bible tells a different story. It always points forward to something new and better— a new covenant, a new heavens and a new earth, an Eden-esque garden within a new City of God (Revelation 22:1-3). Neither we nor creation will be what we once were. We will be transformed into something new (2 Corinthians 5:17). That’s what the resurrection of Jesus points to, as well.

But to me, the most insidious error of this traditional narrative of the Bible is its notion of “original design.” It implies that a good creation is equivalent to an idealistic perfection, and that we, as as fallen creatures, are sinfully imperfect.

I was recently in an online conversation with a friend of mine who argued (as many others have before him) that defects, disabilities, or a non-straight sexual orientation is less than the ideal norm, and is therefore the result of sin. We’re defective in a variety of ways because we messed up or someone else messed up. God can’t be blamed for a creation that is less than perfect, so somehow, somewhere, the error is within us. We’re the culpable ones.

What bothers me— strike that!— terrifies me about this line of thinking are the implications and unintended consequences.

For example, my son Jacob has Down Syndrome. This is caused by a mutation of his 21st chromosome whereby he has one extra chromosomal part, resulting in the condition of Down Syndrome. (You could argue he’s got more substance than most of us do!) Nevertheless, something like this is scientifically labeled a genetic anomaly. Jacob is classified as having a cognitive disability along with physical abnormalities.

My son Jacob

Do you see where this is going? Because of the pervasive attitude in our culture of idealistic perfection, he is seen as less than ideal, less than a whole, complete person. He’s seen as disabled, as in less-than-ideally-abled. People have called him, by words and actions, a “retard.”

My friend tried to argue that he is this way, and the rest of us are flawed the way we are, because of sin. If that’s the case, then one would have to conclude that my son’s life is less blessed than my own, since he has been inflicted with more of the consequential damage of sin than typically-abled, chromosomally “normal” people.

One would have to further conclude that Jacob is less in the image of God than most of us since his condition is further removed from the ideal of God’s “original design.” After all, is God disabled, too? Does God have Down Syndrome? Why, of course not! Jacob’s “less than ideal” condition, is by God’s judgment on our collective sin. Some have even hinted and implied that my wife and I must have sinned somehow. It’s our fault that Jacob is disabled!

Here is the truly terrifying part. (I haven’t even gotten to that yet!) This whole notion of “original design” is more than a coffee house, abstract theological discussion. It’s been acted on quite often— and still is!— to horrific consequences.

In the not-so-distant past, people like my son were left uneducated and institutionalized, completely marginalized from “normal” society. In Nazi Germany, people like Jacob were experimented upon, tortured, and murdered, all because they they were less than the “perfect” Aryan humanity that Hitler claimed to be the superior human race. People like Jacob are still excluded from mainstream education and society. If they cannot adapt to the dominant “more ideal” typically-abled culture, then they are left behind and left out from opportunities that most of us take for granted.

All of this kind of thinking is a direct result of the terrible theology of “original design,” which has its roots, not in biblical thinking, but in Platonistic idealism.

The truth is, there is no biblical notion of the “perfect ideal.” Everything is always being transformed and renewed. And even if there were a perfect “original design,” would we know what it is? Do imperfect beings such as we have the capacity to grasp what is truly perfect and ideal?

And what if, in some dramatic reversal, people we have labeled as disabled ended up being more abled, more ideal and closer to God’s goodness than typical people? Who is to say they are not? Didn’t Jesus say that to enter the kingdom of God, we must become like children— less sophisticated, less developed, weaker, and far more vulnerable than us adults? Could this be an invitation to become “less than ideal”?

His mother Mary sang of this same reality! In a great, dramatic reversal of power and value:

“[God] has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”

Luke 1:52-53

And speaking of Jesus, he said something which flatly dismisses any notion of a sinless “original design.” Look at this:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

John 9:1-3

Did you see it? There’s no sin! In fact, this man’s blindness is not a liability or a fault. It’s the other way around. His blindness would be the very thing through which God would be glorified!

Yet every time I read this story, especially the disciples’ questions, I can see the source of all human shame. Shame is a diminishing blow to our worthwhile-ness and value when somehow we don’t measure up to a plastic world of idealized beauty, power, finesse, and wealth. When we don’t— and we never do because the “original design” of perfection doesn’t exist— we shame ourselves or we allow others to shame us into believing that we’re not good enough, not valuable enough, and hopelessly flawed. It’s a fault. It’s a sin, even.

Please hear the truth: Nothing in us is inherently bad. Nothing. God created us and called us good. That does not change. Ever.

Is there sin within us and the world? Of course. Sin mars and distorts our God-given image and separates us from our full communion with God, with others, and with ourselves. Christ’s death and resurrection gives us the freedom to be our true created goodness and to be resurrected into a new glorious body- the New Creation.

Still, we are who we are. God can work in and through anything, no matter how weak or strong, to bring about wondrous good. (See 1 Corinthians 1:27 and 2 Corinthians 12:10). Everything God does, especially within the painful, weaker parts of ourselves, is amazingly glorious.

In God we move from our created good to infinite glory. That is the nature of Christ’s redemptive work. God created us as good. And then, by the merit of Christ’s death and resurrection, we and all creation become a New Creation, resurrecting all of us, including our shadowy, weaker parts, into absolute glory. By his blood, Christ reconciles to himself all things (Colossians 1:20).

True glory will always outshine shallow notions of idealistic perfectionism. That’s because God doesn’t need our delusional notions of perfectionism. I’m convinced it never really existed, anyway.

All of us— abled and differently-abled, weak and strong, gay or straight— shine with the light of God once we realize that it’s been there all along. When we see ourselves as God sees us, then we shine so brightly. We illuminate the presence of God in all people and in all things. God transforms us from our created goodness to divine glory. And the best is yet to come.

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Resolve to be Resolute in 2016

How many of you have made a New Year’s resolution to shed some pounds? Well, there’s at least one gym in America that will not allow it. That’s right. They have banned New Year’s weight loss resolutions.

In Belmont County, Ohio, Source Fitness will not honor their patrons’ goals to lose weight. Owner Justin Green says,”We are trying to get people to understand that someone making a goal of losing weight and gauging it by measuring the pounds lost… is really the wrong way of going about it since all you’re doing is throwing your body in a negative energy balance.” Losing weight badly misses the point. It’s about increasing health by setting overall health goals.
131219131204-new-years-resolutions-diary-story-topBut let’s be honest. How many of us have made New Year’s resolutions only to find them lost in the shuffle several months later? I’m guilty as charged, too. That’s the reason I tend not to set New Year’s resolutions. Why bother? Why pursue something that has a high statistical probability of failure?

As a pastor, I always see various kinds of spiritual resolutions, too. Starting on January 1, people promise to read their Bibles and pray everyday, become more regular at worship services, tithe, etc., etc. I can only imagine how much stronger our churches would be if people actually held to their resolutions. But alas.

One study I found claims that 80% of our resolutions go unkept. Wow…
So what’s the gremlin destroying our best intentions? I think I found him. The gremlin is called “Lack of Resolution.” Or sometimes he goes by the alias “No Resolve”.

Step back a bit and we can see that there’s nothing magical about January 1, 2016. Think of your last few January Firsts. They were days like any other and nothing more. Other than being the start of a new calendar year, is there really anything more inherently life-giving or distinctive about January 1 from, say, August 19? Nope.

What’s needed is a resolution to be resolute. The reason we can’t keep New Year’s resolutions is that we’re no more resolute now than we were on December 31. What’s needed is a deep inner compulsion, an unstoppable motivation that drives our goals to fruition.

For example, let’s take weight loss. It’s not a question of reducing our burden on the poor bathroom scale. It’s a question of health, and if that’s the case, then there are other things that contribute to health- things like getting enough sleep, emotional and spiritual health, and a clear sense of why we want to be healthy. What’s at stake if we’re not healthy? How can God better use me if I’m healthier?

When we look at it that way, an arbitrary date like January 1, 2016 is not the deciding factor. If the resolve behind our resolutions hinges on a mere leaf turning or the fresh start of a New Year, we will fail. After all, what’s to stop us from starting a new resolution at anytime of the year? What’s a date have to do with it? I can choose to do differently and better anytime I’m ready and willing.

I want to have the right kind of resolve behind my resolutions, whenever I make them. That resolve is the reason and purpose for them while also considering what will be lost if I fail. Combine that with accountability, clear milestone markers, and a way to celebrate my successes, and I will succeed. You will, too!

Happy New Year! May our resolutions be kept with the right kind of resolve. And may 2017 find us stronger and healthier because of it.

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How Does God Really See Us?

An Unlikely Encounter
Last year I received an unexpected phone call from a man I hadn’t heard from in several years. He just called me out of the blue. Of all people it was Rabbi Martin Siegel. He’s the most fascinating rabbi I have ever encountered and one of the most lovingly ecumenical people I’m privileged to know, too.
Rabbi SiegelSeveral years before that I had heard Rabbi Siegel give a lecture on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I would have thought that the teachings of Jesus are a rather taboo subject for a rabbi. But this rabbi found tremendous wisdom in Jesus’ teachings and wanted to show us Christians the underlying Jewish meaning of Jesus’ words in order to plumb down to the real powerful depth of what Jesus was saying. I later asked Rabbi Siegel why he was doing this. His simple answer: “I hope you’ll be a better disciple of Jesus.” Wow… (On a side note, Rabbi Siegel said that he very much respects Jesus as a teacher. “Talk about him as Lord and Savior, well… that’s above my pay grade.” Very nice.)

Several years later in the summer of last year, Rabbi called me. He wanted to check on how I was doing and to invite me on a retreat he was leading. I told him I was interested, but I would want to get together with him to get caught up and learn more about the retreat.

That began a new relationship I never would have expected. The day we got together changed everything. I began to study with him every week. And here’s the key. I wanted to be around him. I wanted to learn. I wanted to safely explore my own faith and questions with a man who could help me from his unique perspective. I wanted to grow closer to God and I knew this rabbi could help me. (And he did.)

How was a rabbi, a Jew, able to sway this Gentile Christian? It’s because he loved me. He was sincerely interested in me and in my wellbeing. He exuded patience, grace, and passion. Basically, he was and continues to be an embodiment of God’s grace and wisdom.

God Encounter
Jesus looks called woman in the eyeI share this story because I wonder why more people don’t feel the same way about their Creator? For most people, God seems to be a mere afterthought rather than Someone in the forefront of their minds and hearts. We might turn to God if we need something- if we’re desperate enough!- or we invoke God’s name as an OMG (or far worse yet, OMFG, which I will not elaborate on!) But in terms of a desire to be around God, to walk with God, to listen and learn from God… I don’t hear too many people talk like that, even many fellow Christians.

What’s up with that? Two things: religion has certainly mucked up and overly-complicated how people approach God. But I also believe there is another, much darker reason. We project onto God our own distorted views of ourselves, parental figures, and religious authority figures.

So God becomes this fussy, distant, cranky, capricious, judgmental god who blesses us when we’re good little boys and girls but punishes us when we’re bad. Or, we image God as a cosmic Santa Claus who mysteriously gives us the stuff we want if we ask him and if we’re good- well, sometimes. But be on your guard. This same cosmic Santa Clause never fails to leave us coal and switches if we get on his naughty list. Either way, this fickle god is someone to be afraid of, a god we can never understand or hardly approach except when we’re truly needy.

I believe the way to look at God in a more biblically realistic way is to first look at how God really sees us. That’s where we begin. If we know what we mean to God, we would have more confidence to look back at God to see who he really is- as much of God as we could humanly comprehend, anyway. Then we could encounter God less encumbered by the distortions and falsities we have created to imagine God.

An Important Series of Messages
How Does God Really See Us?Starting this Sunday, I’m sharing one of the most important series of messages I have ever given. I’m calling the series “How Does God Really See Us?” No, I could ever fully answer that question, but I’ve found at least five biblical ways in which God regards us, his human creation. I’ve seen them biblically and have experienced them myself:

  1. God’s Special Creation
  2. Forgiven and Redeemed
  3. God’s Beloved
  4. Chosen and Called for God’s Purpose
  5. God’s Friends

These messages really tell a story of how God creates us in his image, forgives and redeems us when we fall, all through his Son Jesus, loves us as his precious children, purposes our lives to to be included within God’s divine plan of worldwide redemption, and ultimately calls us his friends.

Why are these messages so important? Because if we don’t get this right, we can never fully experience God for who God is. We would otherwise be forever distanced from God by our own limited, negative perceptions.

If you live near me in the greater Annapolis area, I hope you’ll come and experience these messages. I would to see you. And more importantly, I would love for you to encounter my master and friend Jesus who has made all the difference in my life. That’s not mere religion. It’s a relationship with a living God, something that blows apart religion. Come see what it’s all about!

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Meeting Jesus in a Nursing Home

Confession time here… I’m a pastor who really dislikes having to visit nursing homes. Obviously I don’t regret it nearly as much as the folks whose health and circumstances consign them to live there. I always try to keep my bad attitude in check with that little piece of reality.
Nevertheless, I genuinely admire people who feel called to minister to nursing home residents– from chaplains, pastoral care givers, and many faithful laity who visit these folks month after month to bring worship, fellowship, and Christ’s love to the residents. I respect them so much for their quiet, passionate, faithful work.

I’m not one of them.

And yet, Jesus has never accepted my reluctance to venture into a nursing home as an excused absence. He reminds me, sometimes gently and other times forcefully, that nursing home residents need his love and presence, too. Okay, yup, I get it. Yes, Lord.
Old HandsSo, Jesus decided to give me another chance to address my reluctance over nursing home ministry when a colleague of mine asked if I would fill in for her this past Sunday at her church’s monthly nursing home worship service. She said it was simple. All I had to do was share a short devotion, serve Communion, and the other church folks would take care of the rest. Eager to help out a friend, I agreed. But I can assure you that that was my only motivation! [I imagine a meme of a tired, frustrated Jesus with the caption “SMH”.]

Sunday afternoon came, and as promised I showed up to the nursing home. I got there early to check in with the other volunteers and look over our order of worship. Then I walked around the large recreation room we were meeting in to see the residents who were slowly showing up for our worship service.

Off in the back corner, I saw a man playing the guitar. He was singing old revival style songs- “I Saw the Light”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Amazing Grace”, and some others. So I walked over to talk to him. Maybe he could play along with our pianist… I introduced myself, and got to chatting with him.
His name was Erik. He told me that once a month he came with his guitar to sing songs his grandmother would know and appreciate. Her dementia had gotten much worse lately, and this music was one of the ways he could still make a connection with her.

Here’s what really humbled me. Erik is devoutly Jewish. So much love was at that back corner table. It occurred to me that Erik was being far more Christ-like than I was. [A nudge in the ribs from Jesus… Yes, Lord…]

Then the service started. All the residents had song books, and our pianist picked out older songs they would know and love. Within a few bars of music, those residents transformed from quiet and withdrawn to a jubilant choir. I saw some residents whose dementia kept them from following along in a book, but clearly they were mouthing and singing words that had long ago ingrained themselves deeply within their souls.

There was a woman sitting near me, hunched over in her wheelchair. Before each song I helped her get to the right page, not sure if she was able to follow along or not. But yes, she was singing, too. She seemed frail and distant enough to be blown away by a sharp wind, but she perked right up at the sound of all those familiar hymns. That got me to wondering if I could perhaps sing with a little more spirit when I’m feeling down and weak.

[Another elbow nudge from Jesus… Yes, I get it, Lord.]

During the singing, I heard guitar playing. I looked over, and to my surprise, Erik, my new Jewish friend, had made his way over to the piano and started playing and singing along. For him, there were a lot more people there like his grandmother.

After a few songs, I gave folks an opportunity to share thanks and praises and then shared a message about joy. Many residents showed no hesitation to give thanks to God– for another day, for the health they have, for a healing, for people who come and visit them, for the other volunteers and me. At least for a moment they seemed to embody the message of thanksgiving and joy I had come to bring them. In turn, they were teaching me with their lives what thanksgiving and joy are all about. [I can do without another elbow, Jesus. I get it.]
Holy CommunionThen it came time to serve Holy Communion. Normally, I’m accustomed to people walking up to me in a procession to receive the body and blood of Christ. One of my favorite things to do in ministry is to serve them. But this time, we had to go to each of the residents, all of whom were resting in some kind of wheelchair.

As I went to each one, I asked if they would like to receive Communion. Most of them gladly took the elements. The little old lady whom I was helping with her songbook needed some help. She couldn’t quite grasp the bread and cup of juice, but she clearly wanted it. One man I offered Communion to looked up at me with a beaming smile but was unable to respond to my invitation. I blessed him with Christ’s peace; he smiled even wider.

After Communion was over, we sang one more song and I shared a benediction. But the residents were in no hurry to leave. Unlike any of my congregations who leave promptly after the service is over, these folks lingered. They wanted to sing some more! So we sang a round of “Jesus Loves Me.”

Following my second benediction, I decided to stick around and talk to a few of the residents. Several of them thanked us over and over for coming out to be with them. I found out that the older woman sitting next to me, the one I helped with her songbook and Communion is 106-years-old! What an honor to have served someone who remembers the First World War and who lived as an adult through the Great Depression…

Walking out of the nursing home, I didn’t feel drained like I normally would. I felt blessed. I reluctantly came to offer a meager gift. I gave my best, but those folks out-gave me.

They showed me something I have had to learn over and over again when following Jesus. You see, it’s one thing to get to know about Jesus. Anyone can do that by reading the Gospels, listening to sermons, reading books, and sitting in Bible studies. But, to get to know Jesus, personally, we must try to imitate his way of life, its fullest expression being sacrificial service that blesses other people. And when we do that, we find that not only is Jesus present in us and alongside of us, but he’s also present in the ones we serve. When we serve “the least of these”, there he is– in this case, within the guise of some nursing home residents.

Apparently, Jesus was trying to take me there to show me himself in the hopes that I would re-learn the blessing of serving in difficult places.
It’s a reminder to me that Jesus is perfectly willing to work with half-baked motives and less-than-rosy attitudes. All he asks is for the faith to take the first step. He holds our hand and looks at us with an assuring smile.

It’s like a friend who invites me to go on a trip with him. I’ve heard of the place, and frankly, have had no desire to ever go. But he jabbers on an on about how captivating a place it is, and so to just shut him up I go. Of course, I’m hemming and hawing the whole way there, and even when we arrive, I’m ready to ditch my friend and catch the next ride back. But then, gradually, slowly, I begin to discover how amazing a place it is. Before I know it, I’m simply lost in wonder. My friend has enough class to not rub it in. As he looks at my reaction, his joy only intensifies, and as soon as we start to head back home, I ask him when we can go back?

So Jesus, anytime you want to take me back to the nursing home, I’m game!

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