Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ

29
Nov
17

What kind of hope?

Hope imageSince the calendar tells me we are creeping right up on it, my thoughts this morning turn to Advent… also known to Christians throughout the world as the season of hope.

It is the time when we try to do the spiritual gymnastics of placing ourselves in the sandals of the pre-Jesus world of the ancient Near East, imagining the depth of their yearning for the arrival of God’s promised Messiah.

During this liturgical season, pastors everywhere attempt to re-create the sense of eager anticipation of “the people who walked in great darkness,” (Matthew 4:16) as they asked, “Is this the one? Is it finally happening?”

During this season we often talk about hope in broad universal terms… the hope of humanity for the ultimate triumph of good over evil… hope for the salvation of the soul of the world.

Good, solid hopes, to be sure.

But today I also find my thoughts turning to Scott.

Scott is a guy who lives somewhere in the middle of Missouri. For at least the last two years, Scott has been sending emails to a group of pastors from across the U.S. The emails are about the frustrations Scott is facing in his search for a better job… better than the current, very low-paying one he has now.

Scott is also frustrated about the health (or lack thereof) of his relationship with his wife.

Several times after first receiving his initial emails, I responded and offered suggestions and prayers. Alas, nothing seemed to work out and here Scott is, two years later with no prospects in sight and a very deflated spirit.

Scott’s email messages today have taken a very critical tone… expressing annoyance with the pastors on his list – including yours truly – that have not done enough to help him.

And so I can’t help but wonder: what does hope look like for Scott? Is it the same hope we talk about during the season of Advent? Or is it somehow a different kind of hope?

Jesus came into the world as God’s Messiah… the deliverer promised to the children of Israel during their days of futility and exile. He came to bring freedom and liberation to people long oppressed. He came to announce the beginning of the reign of God… right here, right now.

He came, quoting the prophet Isaiah, to… “bring good news to the poor…” and to, “… proclaim release to the captives.” (Luke 4:18).

But did he also come to bring Scott a better job? And if so, how?

As we enter this holy season, I would invite us to keep those two realms of hope in close dialogue with one another… the realm of eternal hope and the realm of hope in the here-and-now. I can’t tell you how at the moment, but something tells me these realms are very intimately related to each other.

Let us enter the season of Advent striving to be the people who confidently announce the Good News of God’s hope for the world… and for our very real neighbors struggling to make ends meet.

Abundant Advent blessings;

27
Nov
17

No monsters… no saints

“For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship…”  Ephesians 2:8-10, NRSV

Cars on the highwayWHEW! We made it!

Sometime after 9:00 pm, in the non-Daylight Saving Time pitch-blackness of Saturday night we finally pulled into our driveway and turned off the Prius’ purring engine, thanking her for her faithful service.

Achy muscles uncoiled themselves and stiff joints popped as we disembarked from the 11-hour drive from Houston to Kansas City.

My wife and I then both made a secret pact that we would not do that again anytime soon… that is, at least not until the next auspicious family gathering.

Eleven hours is a LONG time to drive. You need a few diversions along the way – for sanity’s sake. And if you have taken a lengthy trip by car recently, you probably played some of the same road games we did as you drove. There is, for example:

  • … the ever popular, “Find the mutually acceptable and also reasonably audible radio station” game.
  • … or the “Let’s make detailed plans for the next three years of family vacations” conversation.
  • … and who doesn’t love the, “speculate at length about whether this is the same route we took last year or not” diversion?

Yes, these are all a ton of fun. But I have to confess, one of my favorite long-car-trip games is known by the initials: I.P.A.

But instead of standing for India Pale Ale, this IPA means Instant Personality Assessment.

And you know how this one goes because you have played it yourself… on multiple occasions. It goes something like this:

  • “Look at that clown in the silver Camry. Why is he going so slow? Doesn’t he know the speed limit is 75?”
  • “All these Texas drivers in their pick-up trucks… They think they own the road!”
  • “Did you see that guy up there in the red SUV? He must be texting or something. He’s gone onto the shoulder TWICE!”
  • “Whoa… watch out for this lunatic coming up on the left. He’s GOT to be going 85!”

After a while, it becomes abundantly clear that there is only ONE CAR on the entire highway that knows how to follow the basic rules of common sense in driving: YOURS.

Conversely, it is also clear that a dangerous, self-absorbed, psychopathic fiend of some kind pilots every other car on the road.

It sounds funny when you say it out loud, but that description is really not too much of an exaggeration. Most of us, as we drive, tend to ascribe outlandishly vile personality traits to the other drivers on the road… while assigning outlandishly saintly qualities to ourselves.

Of course in our hearts, we know neither of those statements is really accurate. The truth lies somewhere between them.

The drivers of the other cars are NOT actually monsters.

And by the same token, WE are not actually saints as we drive our cars.

Each of us is an imperfect, stressed, hopeful, excited, dismayed, wounded, confused, emotional, beloved child of God… doing everything we can to make it safely from Point “A” to Point “B” in our brand new, beat up, smooth, junky, clean, filthy, pickups, sedans, coupes, clunkers, SUVs and 18-wheelers.

We are each looking for a point of refuge or an anchor in a fast-spinning, ever-changing world.

We imagine we will find it just around that next bend in the road or at the truck stop. Surely it will be there when we get home!

Too rarely do we stop and let this truth from this passage from Ephesians settle down over us and calm our restless hearts; we don’t remember that we are not saved by our superior driving skills, the charity of our fellow motorists, or by our St. Christopher’s medals as we ply the highways.

We are – and have ALWAYS been – saved by grace and grace alone.

 

Happy motoring!

20
Nov
17

Manna?

MannaIt can be an adventure.

It can be intimidating.

It can be nothing at all.

It can be a deep dive into a Disney-esque landscape of color, shape, sound, texture, and emotion.

It can be a tedious plod through unrelenting bleakness.

It can fill you with fear.

It can excite you.

It can evoke an aching tenderness you’ve never felt before.

It can pry open secret, sealed chambers you didn’t even know were there… and then explore every nook and cranny of them.

It can be a tonic.

It can be a torment.

It can be as dull as chalk… or as rich as chocolate.

It can save your life.

It can imprison you forever.

It is tightly confined.

It is expansive and unlimited.

It welcomes all who approach and treats every suitor equally.

Once you have ventured inside, it is yours… FOREVER.

Of course, I am referring to…

.

.

.

 

THE BLANK PAGE.

14
Nov
17

Going Next Level…

guitar pictureIt’s time to move on… to the next level.

I feel like I’m ready. But sometimes I have to wonder if I am entirely willing.

In one sense, I am talking about my guitar playing. I have been taking guitar lessons for about two years now. I feel as if I have learned a few cool songs and am comfortable playing them.

Sit down sometime and I’ll get your foot tapping with a passable version of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Pride and Joy. Or maybe you’d rather hear Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton.

I would certainly not go so far as to call myself a guitarist… or really even a guitar player.

But I will readily own the description of being “a guy who enjoys the guitar.”

Recently though I have felt a little “plateaued” in my guitar playing and – as I mentioned – experienced the urge to “take it up a notch.”

But I hesitate… because in the back of my mind I know exactly what that means. For starters, it means MORE WORK. It means more time spent in practice… more drilling on the fundamentals… tackling songs that are more complex and require greater effort to master. And I’m sure that somewhere along the way, a greater understanding of music and music theory wouldn’t hurt either.

You know… learning things like the difference between the frigian. Locrian, and Mixolydian scales for starters.

But then the more I think about the price of moving to the next level, the more I begin to think, “Well, maybe floating along here at ‘Advanced Beginner’ status isn’t so bad after all. I mean, I entertain myself and audiences composed of generous, non-critical people. Why go to all that trouble to get a little bit better? I’m not going to try to earn a living with my guitar playing after all.”

And then it occurred to me: isn’t it great that “taking it up a notch” in our spiritual life turns out to be exactly the opposite kind of endeavor from “taking it up a notch” on the guitar?

While advancing in guitar mastery entails MORE (more time, more energy, more learning, more complexity, more patience), advancing in our spiritual lives puts the downbeat on LESS (less striving, less anxiety, less reliance on ME, less worry about outcomes, less fear, less drivenness, less pride, less stress).

On the surface, that sounds like great news. Great news, that is, until I realize just how deeply wired I am for the MORE approach to living; more work, more money, more “stuff”, more friends, more fun, more education… everything around us encourages us to grab for more of EVERYTHING.

The path of LESS often feels so strange and alien to me.

But then somehow I am encouraged to stop and listen to Jesus’ words on the topic:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Matthew 11:28-30

I don’t know how good a guitar teacher Jesus would have been.

But I think this is the song I need to work on next.

 

Abundant blessings;

– Russell

06
Nov
17

Stunned and speechless

man-crying-facebook“Stunned and speechless” seems to be my default state every time I turn on the news these days.

Just when I think it can’t get worse, somehow it does.

My capacity for outrage is sorely tested every time one person does violence to another… for whatever deranged reason.

I had been struggling to process the avalanche of revelations of sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment and news media recently when suddenly, out of the blue, a young man walked into a small-town church and shot 46 people, killing 26 of them.

“Stunned and speechless” yet again.

As I mulled over all of these “gut punch” events, I began to see a tragic connection between them. Whether the perpetrator is sexually exploiting people or killing them with a gun, each heinous act seems to grow from the same seed: the utter devaluation of the lives of others.

I have no idea what it will take to make it happen, but until we come to see every human life as God sees them: as precious, unique, beloved, and infinitely wonderful, we will probably continue to be stunned and speechless on a regular basis.

“As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.”

  • Psalm 103:13-14, NRSV
31
Oct
17

The Real Deal

“To thine own self be true.”
– Polonius, in Hamlet

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God,
and that is what we are.”
– 1 John 3:1, NRSV

“Authentic” is a word that has been crossing my radar screen with increased frequency lately.

Naturally, authenticity would be a theme that would come to mind on that annual holiday we spend dressing up as someone – or something – else.

It also popped up this morning on a local radio talk show. The guest was the owner of a restaurant in town that specializes in Ramen noodles. Yes… that is apparently a thing. During the show, many syllables and much air were employed in identifying the difference between authentic Ramen and… I guess the inauthentic variety.

Over the weekend I had the honor of officiating at the memorial service of a friend of my son’s who died of pancreatic cancer. He and many friends in attendance had spent most of their lives outside the institutional church. However, in the last months of his life, this young man experienced something powerful and convicting that led him to ask me to baptize him a month before his death.

I found myself wrestling deeply with the question of what an “authentic” celebration of his life might look like…. And then not being terribly sure I even understood the question.

Often we give very high “authenticity” marks to people in the public eye who don’t really take the time to weigh and carefully consider their words before speaking. We applaud them as “genuine”… “unfiltered” and “authentic.” We say that those folks are a breath of fresh air in comparison with the carefully crafted words of professional “spin doctors.”

And then it makes me scratch my head and ask, “So then what does the word authentic actually mean?” And then I follow up with myself and ask, “And how has authenticity become such a paramount virtue today?”

One answer I hear is that the word authentic must mean something like “core,” or “essential,” or “foundational.” It’s what is left over when you strip away all of the mystical window dressing.

hotfudge_sundaeBut then I have to ask, “Does that mean all of our efforts to enhance or improve something are fraudulent because they take us away from its ESSENCE? Should I just leave my vanilla ice cream alone and not add the chocolate syrup, whipped cream, chopped nuts, and a cherry… in the name of authenticity?”

I also hear authenticity being defined more along the lines of “raw” and “unprocessed” or that other phrase currently in fashion, “… like it is.” The implication here is that the more spontaneous and unplanned something is, the more authentic it is.

I am not going to lie… as a guy who writes and re-writes and tries to think carefully about words and what they mean, this definition offends me. I am sure it offends me because it seems to assign a higher virtue to unplannedness and spur-of-the-momentness than to thoughtfulness.

And personally, I think that is one messed up set of virtues.

MYRIAD are the examples I can give of times when my ill-considered, spontaneous words caused hurt and complication in a situation.

MYRIAD+ are the examples of times when slow, deliberate, thoughtful consideration of words brought light and healing.

Think about it: what would it look like if we all really followed Polonius’ advice to be “true” to our own selves?

The next, natural question is: which self are we talking about?

  • Is it the self that feels like punching a hole in the wall when the home team fumbles the opening kick-off?
  • Is it the self that can’t resist taking a second helping of apple pie?
  • Is it the self that has deep doubts about its talent or worth?

And are we really the ones to be trusted to choose which of these “selves” we are supposed to be true to?

I believe personal authenticity is all about being the fullest, most complete version of ME that I can be.

And so for me, that includes being every bit of the goofy, thoughtful, impulsive, tender-hearted, self-centered, creative, emotional, dim-witted, spiritual, energetic, joyful, deep, shallow, inconsiderate Russell Brown God made me to be.

But mostly, it means going back to the Source and reclaiming my identity as a Child of God; infinitely beloved by the One who created the whole Universe.

THAT is really who I am.

And it is really – authentically – who you are, too.

Blessings;

26
Sep
17

Blessing? Curse? You pick…

Work in the labI heard a story on the radio last week that scared the beejeebers out of me.

(Sorry for the strong language.)

The report said that for the first time ever, scientists in a lab have edited a piece of human DNA. (All Things Considered program on National Public Radio… September 20, 2017).

Apparently, we always knew that DNA could be edited, but last week was the first time it was actually done in a lab.

The story talked about the fact that this breakthrough could give us the ability to correct certain genetic anomalies in the womb and drastically reduce the incidence of birth defects.

It also talked about the possible dark and sinister uses of gene editing… such as people being able to order “designer babies” that are a little taller, a little more athletic, a little blonder than other children.

In a very real way, the idea of gene editing revives memories of eugenics… The pseudo-science of selective breeding that helped give birth to the Master Race dream of Hitler and the Nazis.

Shivers literally went down my spine as I thought about the prospects of the “haves” (those who might afford designer babies) becoming stronger more beautiful and more intelligent, while the rest of us have to do it the old-fashioned way: taking whatever nature gives us.

I mean… if you think there is “class warfare” and divisiveness in our country now, it is probably a PICNIC compared to what it might be in a gene-edited future.

Can you say DYSTOPIA?

But then – as I sometimes do – I turned off the radio and kept thinking about the story. You can do that when you’re on a long drive.

And here is where that extra thinking led me: it led me to the question, “Has there ever been an example of one of humanity’s “great strides of discovery” that has NOT carried seeds of both blessing and curse with it?”

Grog the Caveman was no doubt excited when he discovered that fire could warm the inside of the cave and impart a lovely flavor to the mastodon steak he prepared. But he soon discovered his new invention could also burn down the entire forest.

Glo the Cavewoman was thrilled to find that a stone, cut into a round, wheel-like shape, could help her move heavy objects with ease. But she also discovered that it could be used to power a gigantic, gas-guzzling SUV.

The splitting of the atom gave us a source of energy that did not require us to rape the earth through strip mining or fossil fuel development. But it also gave birth to the atomic bomb.

We award Nobel Prizes every year for all kinds of scientific breakthroughs designed to benefit humankind, but then we remember that the man who started the prize – Sir Alfred Nobel – was also the inventor of dynamite.

Surely there must be some, but can you think of any discovery or breakthrough that can be accurately classified as “pure good”?

I mean, besides Jolly Ranchers.

The reality is, the “goodness” or “badness” of most things – including discoveries in science – is not inherent. They become good or bad as you and I pick them up and use them.

The way we use it gives money the power to be a blessing or a curse.

The hands at the controls are what make an airliner either a device for expedited travel or a tool for terror.

And yes, I’ll go there: it is our hands and our intentions that cause guns to be either good or evil. Their moral character is not stamped in at the factory. (Although let me quickly add: it is INSANE that we can’t/won’t pass more laws to limit their availability).

As Mark 7:21 tells us: “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come…” And it is also from within, from the human heart, seeded and nurtured by the Holy Spirit, that loving intentions come. (My paraphrase).

My hope and prayer today would be not, “O Lord, help us refrain from discovering things that might be put to dangerous uses,” but rather, “Lord, continue to guide us in your way so that as we continue to use our amazing minds to discover new things we will always choose to put them to use to accomplish YOUR holy purposes.”

AMEN.




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