Guided By The Spirit

Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the lawLuke 2:27, NRSV

We live in a world that is entrenched in its ways. Everyone has their political party, their religion or philosophy, their opinion, their tribe. Humans tend to like a fixed way of thinking that informs all the other aspects of their lives; a “home base” if you will.

The problem with this is that inevitably, our tribe becomes our idol. We close ourselves off to new ways of thinking or being because those novel opportunities scare the part of us that needs “home base.” As a result, we miss the chance to be a part of what God is actively doing in the world today.

This is where Simeon from Luke 2 comes into play. Simeon was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him” (2:25). Simeon’s connection to God’s Spirit enabled him to be guided by it, allowing him to see God’s salvation (2:30) when so many after him would be too blinded by their own expectations to experience God’s movement in the world.

For us today, Simeon’s lesson is all the more revalent. Our religious, political, or social “certainties” might make us feel safe and “right,” but they also narrow our sphere of influence and understanding. This in turn prevents us from loving our neighbor as Christ commanded, because the love of Christ defied the boundaries of the world in the first century and continues to do so today.

Jesus is the path of salvation no one saw coming (and by “salvation,” I mean unity with God). A poor carpenter’s son of no real worldly value or standing is actually the embodiment of the love of God and perfect unity with His will. To follow this Jesus is not to stake one’s self to a singular understanding of God.

Instead, discipleship is the acceptance that God is the One who said, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). As such, we must be ever on the lookout for God’s teachings and activities, dismissing nothing (and no one) out of hand, for we don’t know where He may appear. This is what it means to be “guided by the Spirit,” and it’s the only way we can break our narrow-minded bonds and experience firsthand the unity with God that Jesus exemplifies.

Let us free ourselves from “certainty” and open our minds and hearts to each other. In doing so, we allow God’s Spirit to do its work and guide us to the places we need to be in order to do what we need to do. Is it scary? Yes. Uncertain? Of course. Worth it? Without a doubt.

Peace be with you!

In Your Heart

No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.Deuteronomy 30:14, NRSV

The most fights I have seen between individual and congregated Christians has been about “what to do.” A topic is somehow brought up and bickering ensues about what single response God has to the slew of possible human complications faced by believers today. Someone pulls a verse or chapter, someone else appeals to tradition, and another parrots what the pastor said over coffee that one time.

But what about your heart?

While Deuteronomy is a re-iteration of Jewish law, this teaching from chapter 30, verses 11-14 indicates that what is “right” needn’t be difficult to determine. In fact, if we pair it with Jesus’ understanding of the Law and Prophets, namely that honoring these is to simply and selflessly love God and all others (Matthew 22:34-40), we have the perfect guide for discipleship.

If what we decide to do is rooted in the love of God and others that challenges us to look beyond ourselves, chances are it is right and good. We need not cross the sea or ascend to heaven, nor do we need to obsess over stone tablets, parchment, or texts. When we connect to that of God within us and seek that of God in everyone, we are believing and acting rightly.

For today, let us allow the love of God to penetrate our hearts. Let us connect to the image and Spirit He has already gifted to us since our creation. Finally, let us act in accordance with the law that is on our hearts and lips to observe, loving God and respecting the Good He has placed in every person.

Peace be with you!

God, Help Us

Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.Hebrews 2:18, NRSV

Believe it or not, you’re being tested. So am I. All of us are.

Life is an assortment of tests.

When we encounter people with whom we disagree, we are being tested.

When we are faced with the choice of being generous or closing our hands, we are being tested.

When the world is full of hunger and poverty, and when people are suffering at and within our own borders, we are being tested.

Testing from God is often viewed negatively, as though God is waiting for us to slip up. However, according to Hebrews 2, God’s will is to help us in the midst of testing. It’s not that God sends us means by which we may fall, but those occasions come naturally and God, in Jesus, gives us a blueprint by which we may emerge victorious.

God desires for each of us to be successful in the imitation of Christ’s love, especially in those moments where it may be all too tempting to choose a more selfish path. The love of Jesus led Him to the cross rather than saving Himself at the expense of His message that honoring God and all His children is a cause worth dying for. Salvation in Christ is unity with His will, empowering us to follow in His footsteps when temptation strikes.

The faithful are charged with the responsibility of acting differently in the face of adversity. Like Christ, we are to forgive when affronted, and we are to actively care for those whom the world has forgotten or cast aside. We are to love those we’d prefer to hate, and we are to make our voices heard in the face of injustice.

So take heart. Yes, we are surrounded by tests, but God would prefer us to see these temptations as opportunities to witness to the Divine’s insurmountable love. When faced with a choice in which we are tempted to serve ourselves, let us look to Christ and remember that how we treat others is indicative of how we relate to God. I pray we all may fight the good fight by feeding the hungry, advocating for those in prison or immigration detention centers, forgiving our enemies, and trading love for injury.

We have help in God. We are never alone. Let us look to His grace and share it with one another.

This world cannot bear for us to do any less.

Peace be with you!

In Hot Pursuit

The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves the one who pursues righteousness. — Proverbs 15:9, NRSV

I used to think being transformed by God’s grace was a passive act. Time after time, mistake after mistake, and prayer after prayer I would wait for that magic moment that I would no longer be subject to my bad habits. I believed there would be this “place” in life that would signal my spiritual maturity and official station as a disciple of Jesus.

Welp.

Needless to say, that is not the experience I have had, and I thank God for that. I was denying my agency in life, missing my part in God’s story, and setting myself up for failure in trying to hit a “moving target” of salvation that doesn’t exist. As the well-beaten Emerson quote says, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” and the same is doubly true for the life of faith in Christ.

Scripture speaks often of pursuit. The Scripture above from Proverbs expresses God’s approval for those who pursue righteousness. Psalm 34:14 encourages us to “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” In Philippians 3, Paul speaks of “straining forward to what lies ahead” (verse 13). Jesus exhorts His followers to “strive first for the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). This theme of effort, pursuit, and striving is consistent throughout all of Scripture, and it is a vital lesson for us today.

The quality and holiness of our lives depend not on all we manage to achieve, but all that we decide to pursue with our whole heart. Faith is a journey that takes us to the end of our time on this earth. Salvation is the way in which we live, and not a static place to stand. If we spend our time chasing after accomplishments and accolades while remaining complacent in our faith life, we have veered off course and lost “the narrow path.” However, should we decide to pursue God in every moment, and if we see ourselves, each other, and all this world has to offer as sacred, we will be re-oriented toward God’s kingdom, and we will hasten its coming.

This is not a check-list, finish line kind of race. It is one of endurance, one that will have many obstacles and pit-falls, one that will sometimes involve us getting lost and needing to be re-calibrated. But it is also a journey of transformation. In making the effort to recognize what George Fox called “that of God in everyone,” and in striving to live a Christ-like life, we do actually change and grow in our connection to God. This in turn has a positive impact on those with whom we interact, creating a chain effect that makes the Kingdom of God a current reality.

We all have a part to play in God’s story. We all have the freedom to choose what to do with the love of God and the relationship He offers us. I pray that as we go out into this, we will choose to act on that love, honoring it in our thoughts, our words, and our various doings. In this way, we both pursue and live out our salvation.

Peace be with you!

 

Up The High Mountain

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. — Matthew 17:1, NRSV

Peter, James, and John are members of the original Christian “congregation.” They meet constantly, receiving Divine teaching from the Messiah and witnessing His works of compassion, healing, and justice. Their understanding of Jesus, however, still has much room for expansion.

As a part of the group, these three witnessed plenty of miraculous and awe-inspiring things. Jesus has healed countless people, fed thousands with a mere lunch, calmed storms, and walked on water. Yet the fullness of His identity as the perfect embodiment of the Law and Prophets of Israel, plus His Divine Sonship, has eluded the disciples until these three were called away “by themselves” in the Transfiguration story.

It’s when these disciples decide to accept Jesus’ invitation to climb up a high mountain alone with Him that they see Him in all His glory. It’s at this point that I find a valuable teaching, because many people striving to be faithful become stifled or complacent with “group think.” This limits their personal experience of God to moments sometimes engineered, dulled, or manipulated by community.

Now.

It’s important to have a community of faith that holds you accountable, forces you to encounter difference, and provides group worship that facilitates God’s movement in your heart and life. Faith is not a solo-only effort. We are communal animals, after all.

BUT.

What tends to happen is people leave their spirituality with whatever the community does or decides, often without taking time to consider whether or not all the facets of that community’s faith are consistent with the truth of God that individual has experienced. Sometimes half the teachings don’t make sense when thoughtfully considered, but we are encouraged to just let that go because “it’s all faith.” The problem is that faith doesn’t have to defy consistency or your own sense of what God has done or revealed in your life.

This is why it is important to also take responsibility for your own spiritual growth.

No priest, pastor, organization, or fun group of people can make up for a lack of intentional pursuit of the reality of God in your life. If you actually want to know God, you’ll have to accept His invitation, climb the high mountain, and learn to recognize Him. This takes dedication and work, often more than many people are willing to do.

But it is worth it.

There is peace and joy in knowing how close God is to you. There is beauty in realizing how sacred all people, places, and moments truly are if we become aware of God’s Presence on it all. Even if you find that your comfort zone no longer suits your needs, that scary pursuit of the unknown becomes infinitely more bearable when you are faced with personally encountering the Source of all that exists.

I hope you will take a moment to consider what you believe and why. I hope you know just how close God is to you already, and I hope you will accept His invitation to follow, recognize, and delight in Him.

Peace be with you!

Don’t Judge Your Journey…

Do not reproach one who is turning away from sin; remember that we all deserve punishment. Sirach 8:5, NRSV

At age 27, almost 28, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I’ve learned lessons about managing emotions, honoring relationships, watching the words of my mouth, and avoiding situations I don’t need to be in. I’ve learned about my relationships with God, religion. and other people. As you can imagine, many of the lessons I have learned came through the undesireable avenue of mistakes made… and I used to hate myself for it.

As a society, it feels like we have gotten in the habit of judging not only the lessons we have learned, but also those others have had to learn. While one person may struggle with addiction, they cannot fathom why someone would cheat on their spouse. When one person works their way to an early grave, neglecting their family and friends, they can’t stand those who are overzealous with their opinions online or at social gatherings. In all these instances, we are resentful of ourselves because we weren’t born perfect, and downright wrathful toward those who have had to learn things we didn’t.

As I said before, I used to HATE that I ever had to learn how to be a decent spouse, son, friend, etc. I hated myself for not having a natural gift for navigating complicated people and situations. On top of that, I would find relief in the obvious flaws of others.

Guy that yelled at me after a sermon? What a jerk!

Lady that flipped me off in traffic for stopping at a stop sign? Rude!

Overzealous Facebook warrior? Crazy!

It feels good to hammer on people who are flawed in ways we are not. We are able to rationalize OUR mistakes because WE have good reasons, right? We couldn’t say the same about others… Could we?

The Book of Sirach teaches that we shouldn’t reproach people “turning away from sin” because “we all deserve punishment.” The language is somewhat condemning, but the message is powerful. Jesus says something similar in Matthew 7:1-5.

In more positive terms, instead of condemning others for their darkness because we don’t want to confront our own, we should remember that just like “them,” we have lessons to learn, and THAT IS OKAY. We are imperfect creatures, and each of us is on a path. When we despise our path, we start to envy or judge those of others, and no one gets anywhere.

Instead, we should mind our own road, fearlessly and compassionately embracing that which we must learn about life and ourselves. In that process, we become more understanding of others and what they are going through. That understanding enables us to lovingly embrace others where they are, possibly helping them along just as Jesus does in the Gospels.

All of this boils down to treating ourselves more kindly. I had to learn through long processes and lots of therapy that my lessons are nothing to fear or be ashamed of. They’ve made me a better man, husband, friend, son, and (God willing) father. The acceptance of who I am and how I got here has also made me more accepting of others, and I believe this is something God desires for us all.

I pray that you will ease up on yourself. Learn the lessons before you, for that’s what mistakes are intended to be. Through them, we learn humility, patience, and how to do better. Embracing that ride also helps us to be more compassionate toward others, and I don’t have to tell you how important that is.

God loves you. I love you. It’s time for you to love you, so you can love others.

Peace be with you!

Blessed Submission

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. — Ephesians 5:21, NRSV

Ephesians 5:22-33 is often quoted at weddings, and verse 21 is often omitted from the beginning because it implies that men and women should “be subject to one another,” rather than just the wife being subject to her husband. While this is generally a small issue, I find it gets at the heart of authority and what it actually means to follow Jesus.

We live in a world that likes authority and power. We admire those who are in charge, and we aspire to their perceived level of success, whether it’s the loaded CEO or the couple your age that just bought a nice house while you’re stuck in the same small apartment. As mentioned above, certain traditionalists in the Christian realm believe men are special in the eyes of God, and are thereby called to all positions of prominence in the home and in society. In the church world, those with large parishes and congregations are held up as paragons of effective ministry.

It’s my contention that as long as we maintain this outlook, our world will continue to spiral out of control with greed, envy, and the resulting violence.

When we read this passage in Ephesians, we are seeing so much more than a mandate for newlyweds. Rather, we are actually given a template for the function of society and the potential impact our discipleship can have on this world. The key is submission, which is a dirty word, especially *stereotypical southern drawl* in these here United States.

We don’t like to be subject to anyone but ourselves. We’d rather serve our own interests first, reserving that of others for the occasional act of charity. Whether it’s traffic, self-defense, voting, or relationships, we want things to fit our preferences, and we resent anything that might force us to deviate.

As a result, we are violent. We engage in war to make the world look and function like we prefer. We physically attack or kill those that are different or frightening to us. Our words and thoughts are full of anger and ill-intent for those people or things that inconvenience or challenge us.

But what if we change?

What if we would rather be inconvenienced or hurt than do the same to others? What if we speak and think with the calmness and gentleness we would like to receive? What if we become “subject to one another,” and what if we love each other “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” as Ephesians 5:25 asks of us?

I bet things would start to look very different.

Discipleship isn’t just about how we check our religious boxes. It’s about actually letting the submissive love of Jesus (as witnessed on the cross) touch every single aspect of our lives, whether that’s in traffic, at work, or in the voting booth. Discipleship is about living differently because we have experienced the all-consuming love of God, which is too powerful to ignore!

I hope that you will join me in re-joining verse 21 to the conversation of our human relationships. “Being subject” isn’t a command of passivity that feeds our traditional view of power and authority. Rather, it is the very power of God that we see in Jesus Christ as He became subject to us, that we might know what it takes to truly live out God’s purposes for Creation. This is not a command just for women or saints, but for all people who desire to experience the Kingdom of God here and now.

Peace be with you!