Prototype for Shelter

Prototype for Shelter

Being a single mother used to carry more of a social stigma. Now it feels fairly common or even acceptable. 2000 yrs ago, if you’re unmarried & pregnant, it could get you killed depending on how you interpret Levitical law. In Luke 1, Elizabeth was married, without kids, “past-her-prime” but finds herself pregnant with John the Baptist. She’s got morning sickness and chores. She’s moving slow and more tired. Despite all that, Elizabeth becomes a prototype for hospitality in giving shelter to a marginalized girl-on-the-run.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were in good standing. Yet, she finds it in heart to offer shelter to Mary – pregnant but not wed. Imagine the looks, the whispers, the risk to their social status. And yet, compassion to those on the margins is God’s calling for every Christian. We don’t show compassion because we have so much. We do it because we’re no different. 

History is filled with people who lived fully in God’s story…AND it was disruptive. Curiously, it’s called ‘Good News’. We all have days of peace, moments of joy, expressions of grace, feelings of gratitude — These are foretastes of heaven. They wet our appetite for God’s salvation, love, and intent. But, to be sure: following Christ is disruptive. (Anyone with a houseful of guest for the Holidays knows how disruptive hospitality can feel.)

Hebrews 13:2 says “make sure you practice hospitality, you may be entertaining angels.” Like Elizabeth, God’s chosen each of us extend hospitality. Sometimes we make room. Other times, we are learn to receive. In either case, it’s means we see who God’s prepared in advance for us. When we do this, God transforms us in ways we couldn’t imagine. Here’s to seeing Elizabeth’s story as our own!

Something About Mary

Something About Mary

Every year, we re-read the Christmas story…shepherds, wise men, angels, Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. It’s beautiful but it’s more than historical, especially when it comes to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She is unique in that, while a virgin, conceived and gave birth to the Christ child. It’s also tempting to think of Mary as unique simply because God chose her and not me. Yet, if we allow the Mary's story to end there, we miss the greater significance. Maybe a better way to view Mary is a prototype of God’s plan for every person in the world!  More than “just” the virgin birth, she represents the hope of Gospel: Christ In Us!    

Paul writes to the Galatians the point of the Christian life, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”  Paul’s singular desire is that we become people who bear and express the life of Christ. Like a mother with labor pains, I don’t want you to just look/sound/act like Jesus but to be the actual presence of the resurrected Christ. 

That’s the Gospel! Christ formed in you. Jesus paints a picture of vine and branches and invites us to “abide in me” (John 15).  He’s saying, allow your life to be filled with mine. This is the goal of Christian life! We do that that and we bear much fruit!

WHAT IF…this were your starting point? Everyday you know that Christ lives in you. What if…you went into each day with the hope, power and confidence of the resurrected Christ? Mary made Jesus’ arrival possible some 2000 years ago. But, we can hasten Christ’s return as we live into the God’s invitation of Christ in us.  Welcome to Advent!

F.O.M.O

F.O.M.O

F.O.M.O is the very real phenomenon described as the "Fear Of Missing Out". It’s a common anxiety that an exciting or better experience may be currently happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media. We’re constantly checking posts, messages, alerts, and emails in hopes of staying connected. Yet, we struggle to be present. Being attentive is a timely message. 

Before Moses became a leader of the Jewish people he was a shepherd. One day, while tending his flock, he came upon a bush that was burning but was not consumed.  As Moses stared at this awesome sight, God spoke to him (Ex.3:1-6). People usually explain that God used the burning bush to attract Moses’ attention. But, suppose you were God and could do anything you wanted – split the Red Sea, make the sun stand still, set up a pillar of fire.  Compared with such spectacular displays, a burning bush is not very impressive.  So why did God choose such a "modest miracle"?

Perhaps the burning bush wasn’t a miracle but a test. 

God wanted to find out if Moses could see the Divine in the ordinary. In order to see it as a miracle, Moses had to watch the flames long enough to realize that the branches were not being consumed and something more was happening. Once God saw that Moses could pay attention, he spoke.

We live our lives looking for “signs” when God’s all around — in the ordinary — and wants to know if we’re paying attention. For Moses and the bush, God wasn’t providing light or warmth but direction.

Capital-ism at its best.

Capital-ism at its best.

A few years ago, I met a bride-to-be for the first time. Originally from Dallas, she was living near Shanghai, China with her fiancé. They met in high school, dated through college and now he was running the manufacturing of family’s furniture business. Parents were proud – They learned Mandarin, production was on schedule, and profits were impressive. Of course I had a haunting picture in my mind of what factory work was life overseas. More than wedding plans, I was curious to hear about their work. 

“Tell me what it’s like there,” I said. “I have this idea of dorm-style housing for workers, who leave home villages, and work long hours for very little.”

“Yeah, that’s about right. They make about $2/day and work 10-12 hours usually 6 days a week. But they’d work more if we wanted” she said mater-of-factly.

“Really?… Do you ever go in the factories?” I asked. “Oh, no. It’s miserable. It’s so hot and muggy.”

Looking to inspire some imagination, “What if…you were the one company that provided air conditioning for all workers? Or, what would it be like if you were the only company that decided an 8 hour work day was enough and they’d make the same amount? Or, what about if…you were the only employer to pay them an extra $1/day?”

Her response still upsets me…”But it’s all they know.” 

“Umm…What if you gave them another day off so they’d have a weekend to visit their families? Do you think that would make a difference?”  Silence. Quiet stare.

While I was disheartened by this conversation, I knew if I went home to look at the labels of my clothing, furniture, and appliances I also benefit from to this often exploitive economy. We live in a world that God created and even said was good. But this also isn’t the world that God intended. Our “normal” is broken and it breaks the heart of God. Yet throughout history and scripture, God’s working to restore and repair creation. To do that, God looks to set a part a people – called by His name – that might align with His plans and purposes. 

In his book, Oikonomics Mike Breen outlines “Five Capitals” in scripture and in our lives. We all posses these “Capitals" in varying degrees. They serve to grow our faith and restore the world as God intended. In other words, we all have capital to work with!

1.     Spiritual Capital:  Faith is a like a spiritual muscle – it grows when used. Christ invites us to new life, which also implies we’re supposed to grow. So, how much faith do you have to invest? What next steps God might be prompting you to take in faith?  

2.     Relational Capital:  Right now, you already have influence and favor with people who are restless, in need, and searching for meaning. What next steps can you offer them?

3.     Physical Capital: Every season of life feels full. Yet, growing our faith prioritizes time and energy in service and community. Your presence matters. Being present and protecting a ‘standing appointment’ for Christian community makes a difference. 

4.     Intellectual Capital: We don’t often think of our skills, our work ethic, or achievements as gifts from God. But, where would we be without God’s grace? As faith grows, we see how our intellect, skill sets, and competencies are part of God’s plan to bless others. So, what gifts do you have to offer?

5.     Financial Capital: There’s no area that tests and grows one’s faith than finances. Stewarding wealth means we see God as the ultimate Source. Growth and joy emerge – not by achieving a 10% contribution – but by a growing response to God’s leading. How is God guiding you to begin or increase your giving?

It’s easy to want more. But God doesn’t need us to possess more in order to do more. God gives each of us exactly what we need to participate as we become people of hope, justice, mercy, generosity, compassion, and restoration. 

Here’s to being a part of God’s restoration! On earth, in Austin, as it is in heaven.

 

New Car Smell.

New Car Smell.

Ever get a new car vowing to maintain it’s pristine condition?  But…as the new car smell fades, so does the upkeep. When’s the last time you checked tire pressure, oil level, or bothered with that pesky engine light? It’s easy to think that as long as I’m putting gas in the tank — & it’s running — it’s all good. Yet, just because we can get from Point A to B doesn’t mean it’s running optimally. 

Similarly, faith has a way of fading when left unattended. Going to church once a week (if we’re lucky) is like putting gas in the tank once a month (if we’re lucky). Proper care is needed for the soul, which really benefits with daily care. The goal of Mission Hills is to develop a Living Faith – one that helps us experience the heart of God, use our faith to restore broken lives, and offer a practical way to reproduce our faith in another. 

None of these things happen without effort, which means faith can feel inconvenient, even sacrificial. But, Isn’t that the point of the Good News of Jesus?!?! "I give you my life because you gave your life for me.” Growing our Christian faith means a greater awareness of God’s presence! The more I find my life IN CHRIST, the more the journey offers hope.

Both of our cars are over 10 years old. I like to think I’m pretty good at caring for them. However, the real test comes when it’s time for a road trip. I have to ask myself, “Do I trust this car – as is — to get me there?” The thought of being in the middle of West Texas highway broke down is enough to get a tune up, a set of tires, change filters, and/or top off fluid levels.  Whether faith thrives or it doesn’t, we can still operate compassion, peace, and patience. Uncertain circumstances – like a long road trip without cellular service — don’t have eliminate generosity, hospitality, compassion, or gratitude when we practice renewal. Long after the new car smell, we can still experience a sustaining faith with a little daily attention.

Faith works.

Faith works.

Ever take a car ride or flight in severe weather without incident? Ever eat at a ‘hole-in-the-wall' meal and NOT get sick? Have you ever sat in a wobbly chair that didn’t break?

It’s amazing to think how much faith is such a part of our everyday and ordinary life. You could even argue that exercising faith is human nature. So when it comes to a belief in God — Is faith a matter of God doing something we can’t do ourselves - OR - Is faith simply doing the right thing?

In a word, Yep.  In another word, both!  Most of the time we exercise faith after we throw our hands in the air and admit we can't control outcomes. It’s easy to think of faith doing the impossible beyond our control. And yet, faith is equally seen in everyday and “ordinary" ways. 

It’s as subtle as a thankful prayer before lunch or a $1 handout that encourages more than feeds. It’s a kind-but-unexpected word even if you don’t know a person or circumstances.

Faith is reading scripture – not because every passage is interesting – but you believe it's makes a difference over time.

Faith says ‘yes' to leading a ministry despite feeling busy because God meets us in our weakness more than our strength.

Faith is showing up for church even when you’re tired or discouraged.

Faith is inviting a friend multiple times because you know the community and serving might help them heal.

Faith means serving someone even if their response lacks gratitude.

Faith believes God can transform lives in the midst of - & b/c of - struggles.

Faith gives from "first-fruits" and trusts God to meet our needs.

Faith believes the Holy Spirit guides, interrupts, comforts, and strengthens when we allow.

Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Yeah…faith grows from inexplicable miracles. It’s also in small, daily acts where it’s hard to see an immediate benefit. It’s the ordinary and everyday ways that seem to grow our faith most. Here’s to a Living Faith that's extraordinarily ordinary!

Why Not?

Why Not?

One of the most popular TED talks is an 18-min video called, Start With Why by Simon Sinek. He offers great insights as to why some companies - with great products – struggle while why other companies soar. 

Most companies start with ‘What’ product they're selling or service they offer. Sinek's asserts describing ‘What' you do is neither interesting nor compelling. Using the highly competitive field of technology, he illustrates how most computer companies sound…

  • What: We make computers. 
  • How: They’re beautifully designed and easy to use. 
  • Why: Wanna buy one? 

It’s UN-inspiring and sounds like everyone else. If you want to capture imagination you need to start with ‘Why'. On the other hand, Apple is different. They start with WHY. In fact, an early campaign invited consumers to, “Think Different”. So it sounds like… 

  • Why: Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo & thinking differently.
  • How: The way we challenge the status quo is by making products that are beautifully designed and user friendly.
  • What: We just happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?

In other words, People don’t buy WHAT you do. They buy WHY you do it. The ‘Why’ represents our belief, which is possibly the most compelling part! Using this same method for the church, ‘What’ sounds eerily familiar and UN-intriguing…

  • What: We gather like-minded people each week to talk about what we believe.
  • How: We host meetings that provide relevant teaching, good music, great programs for children and youth, small groups and missions.
  • Why: Wanna come? 

We have no shortage of churches that offer the same basic menu of programs and services. However, Jesus’ last words were an invitation to MAKE DISCIPLES. The idea is that we would develop a living and reproducible faith.

Mission Hills seeks to imagine faith and community differently. We begin with a belief that God is already at work in the world. Our desire is to align with Him. To do that, we need a faith that integrates with work, family, finances, influence, needs, struggle, and tragedies all with God’s Spirit. This is why we’ve chosen to rally around daily and ordinary “Rhythms”. We are the church whether we’re gathered or scattered. But we’re able to practice a Living Faith wherever, whenever, and with whomever!

So, let’s try it again…The ‘Why’ of Mission Hills Church.

  • Why: We believe real change is possible…in our hearts, homes, communities, and world.
  • How: We seek to be the change by practicing a Living faith (Rhythms), listening for God’s voice, responding to needs and opportunities among us.   
  • What: We just happen to gather in a neighborhood near you. Wanna be the change?

Why not?

 

Can't Not.

Can't Not.

Ever wonder how two people can look at the same situation — one person is seemingly unfazed while the other is completely undone? One responds, “Well, that’s a too bad…so, what’s for dinner?” while another says, “I’ve GOT to do something!!!”  When a hurricane devastates a city, there’s some people moved to save lives, provide aid, clean up, and rebuild. And there’s others who seize the opportunity to loot or price gauge lodging, gas, groceries, & supplies. 

There’s an important spiritual question when we have a chance to respond to revelation…What do we do with what we see?

For 140 years, the Israelites sat in exile. Jerusalem was in ruins. Some had returned to build their own lives but not their collective good. Rather than fortify the city, re-establish their national identity the remnant simply sidestepped the rubble. 1000 miles away, Nehemiah gets a report there’s a temple but no wall AND no one is doing anything about it, he mourns, prays, and answers the call. So, when God reveals the condition of a vulnerable people… What do you do with what you see?

Nehemiah had every reason to sit back an enjoy life as is. As Cupbearer, the king trusted him with his life. He also got to enjoy the lodging and lifestyle of the royal court. Now, he’s willing to throw it all away for a project with no guarantees?! Why would he leave all that and take on that seemingly impossible task?

Nehemiah knew something about God…that, God restores broken places. Ultimately, God’s vision is to restore all of creation. Restoration IS the work of the people of God – helping restore souls, families, neighborhoods, & cities. 

We are always God’s response – not government, non-profits, or social services but each Christ-follower responding to restore God’s creation. Friends, Mission Hills Austin is a church of practice & experimentation, which means we’re always a work-in-process. We just need to exercise faith by trying; Exercise faith together, & Exercise faith in restoring lives beginning in Austin.

Here’s to answering the call!

Possibilities.

Possibilities.

Culture is enamored with the idea of transformation, especially what can be captured in a 30-60 minute 'reality' TV show. Admittedly, I've been drawn in by many of these stories. But what does transformation really mean? Advertising over-promises and under-delivers with miracle diets, workouts, lotions. We hear lots of testimonies or public apologies of people "turning over a new leaf"...hmmm... It’s easy to be skeptical whenever anyone suggests anything about life change.  

A couple years ago, there was a popular video circulating around the internet about Jim Wolf, a homeless veteran who went through his own makeover. With a team of stylists, he was “transformed" in a time-lapse video from a disheveled nomad to a well-dressed, ready-to-interview gentlemen. I have to admit, I loved the outward change. But, What does it mean to go through lasting change?

Transformation IS possible, just not easy or quick. Lasting change requires constant attention of our hearts! Jesus suggests a new way to be human (Matt.5) — an interior reworking followed by sustainable outward expressions. It implies we have to create room in our hearts—like cleaning a wound before it gets bandaged. 

Jesus begins each statement with a loaded word, "Blessed…”, meaning fully satisfied, not necessarily feeling happy. Consider the process that he outlines as blessed...

  • 'Poor in Spirit' learn to see their need for God beyond their success, talents, & resources. They’re ‘blessed’ because they can identify God as the Source.
  • Those who ‘Mourn' experience how God sustains, even strengthens, them in weakness. They find comfort knowing God’s actively writing & redeeming their story.
  • The ‘Meek’ trust God with results. They ‘inherit’ the currency of God's promises and faithfulness.
  • Growing in ‘righteousness’ means God shapes the desires of our heart. Their hearts ‘filled' with hope and justice.

These first four Beatitudes describe how we nurture our hearts in light of circumstances. The second half represents an outward response:

  • Showing ‘mercy’ becomes a more natural reaction because they've already experienced it! 
  • The ‘pure in heart’ begin to see God in poverty, in crisis, in suffering…and willingly insert themselves on behalf of justice. 
  • ‘Peacemakers’ contend for a better way even if it involves more effort. Being at peace with God, they’re more able to express God’s concern. 
  • Whether consumed by a desire for righteousness or persecuted by others because of it, the ‘persecuted’ learn to see God in sickness & success, conflict & comfort, burnout & blessing. 

Life in Christ, then, is an invitation to becoming human, again. Our commitment to faith, mission, and each other is a chance to have our hearts re-sensitized  and made new. The road might can be winding. Glad we’re on the journey together.

A Holy Visitation.

A Holy Visitation.

Yesterday was a beautiful day not because it was easy, but it was a good. For nine months, we’ve responded to Austin's growing immigrant community. After visiting some of the same apartments, people’s stories and needs linger. The visits become personal.

On Monday evening, eight of us re-visited the home of a young mom from Myanmar – Ma Tee – who died of cancer last Friday. She leaves behind a husband and three kids – 12, 8, & 6. He quit his factory job two months ago to care for his terminally ill wife. She also left behind a sizable Burmese community of friends who, like her, were forced to make a life here. 

We showed up with a bowl of fresh fruit, cards with a little money to help with funeral expenses, and a desire to comfort. Most immigrants struggle to assimilate because they often don’t have any American friendships. Being overwhelmed in a new culture, high cost of living, and language barrier…most crave the familiar, something that feels like home.

Thankfully, we were recognizable faces yet we also shared a recognizable faith. Before we were done, the apartment began to fill. Their extended community show up each night in solidarity to grieve, pay respects, and pray. The only way I can describe our prayer time is as a vibrant, full-participation “Concert of Prayer”. It was a chorus of agreement, calling on the name of the Lord…in sadness, through tears, with hope, and in unwavering faith. It wasn’t easy but it was so good!

It occurred to me, this is what happens when“Sunday School” leaves the classroom and becomes an exercise in humility, community, and hope. We simply can’t wait for people to show up to our parties, our worship, our small group meetings. We are sent people who can – and called by God — to bring the church to others! 

Here’s to new life, faith becoming a Rhythm, & being changed from the inside out!

Performance Art.

Performance Art.

Two weeks ago, I had the awful experience of driving home to find our street lined with police, sheriffs, news trucks and yellow tape. Not able to pass, I pulled over. Then I saw it — a body laying in a driveway covered with a yellow tarp. Apparently, a man kidnapped a woman, a 10 year-old boy, drove for 10 miles, and randomly ended up in my neighbors' driveway. She sustained gunshot wounds but survived. He turned the gun on himself and died at the scene. At the urging of a 911 operator, the boy knocked on the nearest door for help

A homicide a few doors away is upsetting. Later in evening I began scrolling my news app for answers. By then this story was buried in the head lines. The headlines leading by then were about bathroom bill, White House staffing changes, Heat wave, North Korean missiles, POTUS’ Twitter account, collusion with Russian, et al. It bothered me that it was buried so quickly. A life was lost. Another almost taken. A young boy abducted and it felt like “yesterday’s news”…except that it was the same day. 

The news-as-entertainment is designed to create an emotional response. And our country is riding a roller coaster of emotions! Media maintains ratings by absorbing stories at lightening speed while strategically painting stories in extreme light. It’s normal to feel outrage, offense, sorrow, or even fear. But emotions shouldn't be the final word any more than indifference.

Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God’ (Mt.5). Like getting a new lens or outlook on life, the ‘Pure in heart’ see God in poverty, in crisis, in racism and willingly insert themselves on behalf of justice. We become 'pure in heart' when we identify AS & WITH a fallen one. I’m able to show mercy, offer hospitality, practice generosity WITHOUT needing you to have all the right reactions. I’m able to serve without recognition or give without re-payment BECAUSE I see God as my audience more than I see the recipient. My gift—from the heart—is to God. It could be my tithes, my time, my skills but my life is an offering to God, which can be most freeing. The Beatitudes in Matthew 5, reminds us of how to be citizens of heaven and earth…

Blessed are the poor in spirit (aka - the 'fallen ones', which includes me). 

Blessed are those who mourn (that is, mourning over & with fallen ones)

Blessed are the meek (ones able to trust God in the process without succumbing to accusation, violence or even apathy)

Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness (because our desires can lead to personal change AND allow us to be light in a dark world)

Blessed are the merciful (because they know they’ve already received mercy)

Here’s to a Living Faith & hearts made new!

 

Righteousness for the rest of us.

Righteousness for the rest of us.

It’s curious that the classic tradition of a true “hero” is not our present understanding at all. A “hero” isn’t largely about being bold, muscular, famous, or fantastic by himself. The classic hero is one who “goes the distance” and then has plenty left over for others. True heroism serves the common good…or it’s not really heroism at all. In his book, Falling Upward, Richard Rohr comments, "…To be a celebrity or a mere survivor today is often confused with heroism. Merely to survive and preserve our life is a low-level instinct but it is not heroism in any classic sense. We were meant to thrive and not just survive. We are glad when someone survives, and that surely took some courage and effort. But what are we to do with our deepest desires? That is the heroic question." 

Our deepest desire? How ‘bout righteousness?!?! Most of us don't think of becoming more righteous b/c we set ourselves up for failure and/or hypocrisy. Righteousness feels unusually heroic YET serves the common good. Abraham’s faith was credited as righteous (Heb.11) but he was far from perfect. What made him righteous was that he believed what God said and obeyed. 

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6) Hungering and thirsting is about DESIRE – not just for my sake but for the benefit of others. God courts us to share his desires. We have daily opportunities to turn. In some cases, we need turn toward someone in need. Other times, we need to turn away from something. The point is that when we leave room for the Holy Spirit to speak, we grow in righteousness. The more we learn to respond, the more we  hunger and thirst for what God loves. 

SEE-zing the Day.

SEE-zing the Day.

Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  - Matthew 5:6

Growing in righteousness means we grow in justice, mercy, charity, and hope. We learn to see and hear what God does. God consistently prompts, reveals, and courts us. We refer to these as “Kairos" moments. Kairos is the Greek word for ‘time’ but not chronologically as we typically think. Kairos means ‘Opportunity’ as used in Mark 1:15, “The time (opportunity) has come. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news’. It suggests that we have everyday opportunities – within a broken humanity — to usher in heaven on earth. 

…Wait, what?! …Think about that…

The way we do this is by repenting, which isn’t a reminder of inadequacy! Jesus says it's "good news" because it's a reminder of God’s ACCEPTANCE. And, since God already accepts us, the better way to think of repenting is to TURNING. . .sometimes, we need to turn away. Other times, we have OPPORTUNITIES to turn toward something – as a divine response. I read a compelling-yet-ordinary story that illustrates this idea of Spirit-led turning.

In early August, Lisa Lemming Jackson was shopping at her local supermarket in Georgia. As she roamed between aisles, she made eye contact with an elderly man, with a pained look in his eyes. He certainly looked like he could use some help. As she looked longer, she realized that something wasn’t right. Here’s how she described this opportunity. . .

“Just spent 2 hrs with a elderly man at Kroger. It started with me just smiling at him, making eye contact ….As I walked past him he looked like he needed something. I went back and asked him if I could help him. Tears welled up in his eyes and he said: 'I have colon cancer and I have had a really bad accident, if I get up out of this cart everyone will know … What should I do?'”

The look of his dignity lost left me with a lump in my throat. From that moment on, Kroger staff quickly fetched us wipes, undergarments and discreetly took him to their employer bathroom Area where he was given clothes.

He cried and apologized. He said he had to hurry his wife was at home alone. When we walked to the register we found his groceries all bagged and somehow paid for. He cried harder.

He said he fought in Vietnam and Korean War and loved his country, but up until day he said he thought his country forgot about him. We both cried and I shared with him my own struggles and fears… He gave me words of wisdom and encouraged me that maybe after all, humanity still does care about one another. Today proved it.” 

Kairos asks, What do I do? The more we begin to turn, the more we begin hunger & thirst for what God loves. The point is that when we leave room for the Holy Spirit to speak, we grow in righteousness.

This is righteousness made accessible.

Carpe Diem & may we have eyes to see.

(This story can be found at https://boreddaddy.com/elderly-man-accident-pants-store-womans-reaction-best/)

Work in Progress

Work in Progress

Is life change instantaneous or is it a process? 

The short answer is, of course...Yep. Uh-ha. Definitively, both! 

It seems like transformation mostly occurs over time (argh!), refined through testing in a "two-steps-forward-&-one-step-back" kinda' way. Of course, the challenge with any change-for-the-better is that we live in a "microwave culture". We value instant and immediate gratification. The thought of waiting feels almost beneath us - whether it be in a retail line, internet service, traffic, a dream vacation, a promotion, or intimacy in relationship. We simply love efficiencies and waiting, well, feels wasteful. 

Think about it...most times we encounter a wait, we try to skip it. Avoiding a wait makes sense BUT it also might mean we, inadvertently, end up avoiding a deeper, developmental process. So, here's a crazy, counter-cultural idea to consider:   Process as progress.

What if waiting also involves enduring? What if the process forces us to slow down, practice listening, mature, not react, be deliberate with our actions, measure with our words, or discipline our spending? Seems like our lives, particularly our faith, could look different, maybe even transformed. 

Transformation isn't about perfection. It's isn't about being right, tenured or experienced. It's about giving ourselves to a process whereby we become the person who God intended EVEN IF (& when) we stumble. Two-steps-forward-&-one-step-back is a real thing. God's grace even allows for it because, ultimately, it still looks like progress. The net gain is growth.

Blessings Are New Each Mourn-ing?

Blessings Are New Each Mourn-ing?

The Phoenix Rising from the ashes is an apt image for the renovation of our hearts. Transformation is over-promised and under-delivered. New life never occurs without letting go. The idea that God's mercies are new each morning hardly encourages any more spring in one's step when we read further of Jesus' idea of being blessed.

“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted”. Really??? If that’s the “blessed” stuff of God, it’s tempting to keep looking. In some sense this line is beautiful because it says that God cares about those who are hurting and wants to heal them. YET, it seems rather unfortunate to call mourners “blessed” as a group that God favors.  All the other beatitudes speak about an attitude or action that Jesus wants from his followers — being humble, righteous, pure in heart, peace loving, or merciful. 

Maybe it helps to know that Jesus was alluding to Old Testament writings (notably, Isa.57, 60, 61; Ps.37, 38) where ‘mourning’ is often mentioned, but grief is NOT really the focus. Instead, the prophets mourned over injustice. Like many today, they were outraged at how greed, violence, abuse, debt, and corruption had become normal. 

What’s “normal” has a way of making our hearts grow dull. The Beatitudes (Mt.5) introduce a new sort of “Operating System” whereby new life—new hearts— starts with wrestling with our own brokenness and the way things are.

It's normal to wonder aloud, “Where’s God when …?” or “How could God let that happen?” But…What if a large part of what we feel about injustice, greed, scarcity, abuse, wealth, or poverty is supposed to help us see what God sees? 

I think our emotions are supposed to help us experience something…something that God already feels and wants to remedy. Seeing what God sees leads us to mourning . . . and that’s a good thing! The way to experience comfort is when we are dissatisfied and respond by either turning away from an action OR turning toward someone in need. 

This idea of “turning” actually preserves our hearts. Martin Luther King shared a speech entitled, “Where do we go from here?”. Just as Jesus taught us to mourn the ills society, Dr. King’s challenge is to be “Dissatisfied”. (You can listen to the 3-min audio HERE) To be comforted by God is to be called out and not be left alone.

We need to grieve the world that God never intended. God never intended pain, loss, disease, death, oppression, or hunger. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we can experience God's comfort. Injustice is never comfortable. BUT, blessed are those who mourn…because on the far side of mourning is Comfort.

Here's to the new Life God intended, again & again...in Austin as it is in Heaven.

Change Vs Growth

Change Vs Growth

Change is inevitable. It occurs whether we want it or not. Some adapt better than others. And, it’s not always for the better.

Growth, on the other hand, is never automatic…be it age or life stage, dating or marriage, raising kids or parenting. Growth can't be assumed in our recovery, health, career, character, or even faith. Growth always requires commitment. I wonder if it’s because growth can be subtle. It’s often seen over time. We might notice progress in…

. . . an alcoholic practicing sobriety for 20 years…who also understands their need to sponsor.

. . . a child with boundaries, experiencing consequences, and learning responsibility…becomes a adult not just older.

. . . an apprentice who seeks a mentor, asks questions, gains experience, receives feedback…becomes a tradesman. Or, in…

. . . a faith the size of a mustard seed, hungry to learn, able to yield, willing to serve…becomes a disciple—one who seeks to “reproduce” their faith in another.

On the far side of growth is transformation, which always occurs from the inside out. It’s never a quick fix. When Jesus announced that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, it meant that life not death, hope not despair, generosity not scarcity, mercy not a scorecard is eternally and presently available. In Matthew 5, Jesus seeds us with a way to be transformed, to experience heaven, hear and now. True story!

Growth might not come easy but it is good. And we have each other.

Oh, for heaven's sake!

Oh, for heaven's sake!

Jesus had a topic he talked about more than any other. It wasn’t sin, wealth, poverty, corruption, compassion, or hell. Jesus’ hands-down, go-to talking point was the Kingdom of Heaven. However, his references to heaven were not about an other-worldly paradise. It was heaven on earth. He tried to share in the simplest, tangible ways God’s kingdom as here and now. 

In one instance, he said it’s like a gardner scattering seeds among a variety of soils. Again, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven (on earth) to like a mustard seed. Nothing grandiose or Nobel Prize worthy. Jesus is saying that every act of mercy, justice, compassion, reconciliation is sowing seeds of the kingdom.

It’s bringing a care calendar meal, sharing a bag of groceries to people on food stamps, illustrating God’s love with kids during worship, throwing end-of-the-school-year party for subsidized housing complex, teaching an immigrant to drive. It’s watching the kids of a young couple, networking for an unemployed friend, and welcoming a new neighbor with cookies. It’s simply identifying a need – wherever we are — and trying to meet it.

When seeds are sown, good things happen! We don’t have to be the ‘fruit police’. Our job is simply sowing seeds. “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” (Ecc.11:6 )  In other words, don't stop sowing seed…that’s our calling & we don’t need to worry about what will happen. 

Then, life becomes this grand adventure as a seed sower, for Heaven’s sake!

Immersed.

Immersed.

To baptize is to immerse. At least that’s how the New Testament Greek language refers to baptism. For those of you who were of the “sprinkled” variety…Don’t sweat it. You’re good. We celebrate the sacredness of this symbolic act at whatever age. Baptism is a significant event worth celebrating (see pic). Immersing ourselves in Christ is what happens over a lifetime. It can be like a road trip where — over time — we haven't realized just how far we’ve come because, well. . .the journey still feels looooong. 

The idea is that we are “immersed” into a community. . . where we serve AND are served, love AND are loved, give AND receive. We simply can’t experience the impact of community with God (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit) and the church without being "all in".

We’re also immersed into a new identity, which represents profound Hope!  It’s so easy to mistakenly draw our significance from accomplishment and earning, talent or intelligence. Identifying with Christ, though, creates a new confidence. “…the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice & righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.”  (Jer.9:23-24).

Consider this, when we “immerse” ourselves in relationship with Christ, WE START WITH A DIVINE AFFIRMATION!  Immediately following Jesus' own baptism — before he’s done anything to build a spiritual resume (healing, feeding, serving, forgiving, or suffering) — God speaks these words, “This is my son; whom I love. With him, I am well-pleased” (Mt.3:16-17). In other words, your position in Christ STARTS with privilege!!

Perhaps the thing that requires the most effort in Christian faith is turning toward — and returning to — the truth of this divine affirmation. But, it’s worth holding your breath for!

Learning to breath

Learning to breath

If we were to talk about breathing, what's more important: inhaling or exhaling? Obviously, we need both. 

Now think about breathing as a metaphor for our spiritual lives. Which is more important?

Same answer. However, doesn't our practice of faith often seem as if it leans a lot more towards inhaling than exhaling? Think about it - we inhale God's forgiveness, mercies, and grace. We take in worship, God’s Word, promises, and hope. 

Yet, if we stop there, we never experience the life that God intended. 

Exhaling involves compassion and forgiving. We breath out generosity and hospitality. We serve the margins and advocate  for the vulnerable. We choose patience, kindness, and sacrifice. This is what makes us spiritually alive.

The concept of "kingdom" is perhaps the most important spiritual ideas in the New Testament. In Hebrew, "kingdom" is active; it has to do with action.  When asked how we should pray, Jesus taught, ’Thy Kingdom come…Thy will be done'. God's kingdom on earth has to do with God's will being done. It means BOTH inhaling and exhaling the will of God. 

God has made us co-creators of a divine restoration plan. We get to enjoy what we create. We also get to repair what we did not break. Yet, Jesus isn’t asking us to live the Christian life. He never said that we could! The invitation is to MAKE ROOM for Jesus…SO THAT — in his resurrected state — HE can live the life IN US to experience the life we are created for. This is Good News!

Here’s to taking in and breathing out the FULLNESS of life in Christ! 

With Bated Breath…

Victory Lap

Victory Lap

Easter is arguably the most important day in history. After all, it’s when God showed us what the future would look like! The Good News is that it means Life not Death, 

...Peace not Violence, 

...Healing instead of Sickness, 

...Sobriety not Addiction, 

...Family not Drama, 

...Forgiveness not a Scorecard, 

...Generosity not Scarcity, 

...Justice not Oppression, 

...Hospitality not Isolation.

We know where the future is headed. Yet, we have to contend with a world not-yet-restored. After the Cruxifixction, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for body of Jesus (John.19).  It says that he’s a disciple…but secretly. In other words, he has faith but likes his reputation. 

He believed but ALSO unbelief. 

He has faith & hope but ALSO has questions AND doubts. 

He has courage AND fear, confidence AND insecurity. 

He’s affluent YET needy in other ways.  

I love that God still calls me a follower of Jesus even though I live with this same tension. Joseph had just a little bit of faith & enough desire to experience the Kingdom of God. In other words, it’s NOT HOW MUCH faith and desire we have but WHERE we put it! 

Joseph made space for Jesus buying a tomb out of his own means. Interestingly, the tomb wasn't in a cemetery but a place of life and growth. In John 3, Jesus said to Nicodemus, "you must be born again". The place where Joseph put Jesus became the place of Jesus' second birth. The manger was the first and the tomb was the second.  

Like Joseph, we need to make space for Jesus. Jesus isn’t asking us to live the Christian life – never said you could. We're invited to make space for Christ – who now in his resurrection glory – will dwell and enable you to be the person you can’t be on your own for all that God intended when he created you.

That's Good News! Sounds like victory to me.