This past Sunday…

•February 20, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The following snippets are pieces of the worship leading (leading of the liturgy of the service) that I did this past Sunday:

Opening Prayer –     Great and self-sacrificing God, you desire relationship with your creation, a reciprocal relationship of love, peace, self-sacrifice, and hope. We pray this morning that we would be reminded of the covenant that you made with Noah and how it continues to this day and speaks to us of your love for your universe. We pray for listening ears, that we would be present to this moment and the people around us, not to what may be happening later or to what has already happened. Amen

 

Confession from our bulletin at church (I found this quite meaningful) –

God of creation and salvation, too often we fear there is not enough

      And we want to keep what there is for ourselves,

           Including your love,

             So we build barriers

We want to decide to who’s in or out.

        We fail to see the impact of our selfishness.

Help us to value all of your creation-

       The earth, air, water, and all living creatures,

              Both the tame and the wild – the way you do.

Help us to preserve and not destroy them.

             Forgive us for making your love too small.

                    Teach us to act with humility, grace, and mercy.

As we seek to make things right.

 

Offering prayer (that I wrote) –    God of this world, who created this universe and imbued it with great value and potential. Guide us as we steward it and care for it. Forgive us as we abuse it for our comfort and security. Let us continue to look with eyes that see and listen with ears that hear as you call us to be better, more trusting image-bearers. Help us to share our “more than enough” and give up our lust for more than what we need or can even use. Remind us that our value and purpose come from a lasting relationship with you, not from our cars, our homes, our retirements, our bank accounts, or our connections. We pray that your spirit would fill us with the power to trust you more in each passing moment. Amen

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A Change of Everything

•January 29, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I wrote the following article for our church weekly newsletter. See what you think

“But how could Jesus be nonviolent when it says in Revelation that he is going to come back on his white horse and wipe out everyone?” I responded, “Well, it depends on how you read and understand Revelation.”

I had finished talking about the climax of the Gospel of John when Pilate unknowingly crowns Jesus King with a purple robe and a thorny crown and nails him to his throne (the cross). He hangs an announcement on his cross saying, “King of the Jews.” I had said that all of Jesus’ life and ministry had led to this point, meaning nonviolently walking to his death at the hands of his own people and the Romans because Jesus knew that violent revolution was not how God’s kingdom was going to sweep the world. But what about…

I had spent the previous three weeks studying the gospel of John. Being Jewish, John requires us to read his story through the Old Testament story. Without that context, we often reduce his gospel to its third chapter and sixteenth verse, but John was telling more than how we go to heaven when we die. But what about…

At the very least, John is persuading us that the Almighty God, the God of Israel (YHWH), was doing something new in, through, and as Jesus of Nazareth. God was changing the entire Israelite religious paradigm. In order for people to understand, they would have to experience a rebirth of heart, mind, spirit, and body. Most importantly, the people who saw Jesus most clearly (had faith) were not the religious, educated elite, but instead were the female outcast, the blind man, the wilderness-wandering, beheaded baptizer, the adulteress (notice not adulterer), the royal official, the disabled man, and the dead (Lazarus). But what about…

How did you find yourself asking, “But what about…” as you read this? How is Jesus calling you to change your paradigm, thinking, worldview?

The Coronation of the King of the Universe

•January 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

As I was teaching from the book of John this past weekend, I was blown away by the symbolism and the irony in the final moments before Jesus’ crucifixion.

The Pharisees and chief priest have handed Jesus over to Pilate, the Roman governor. In this situation, Jesus represents God and all of his purposes in the world, while Pilate represents Caesar. Ironically, Pilate finds nothing that would warrant crucifying the supposed King of the Jews, and while interrogating him, he crowns him King with a crown of thorns and a purple robe. Pilate is baffled that Jesus won’t defend himself and even threatens him, saying that Jesus should speak up because Pilate has the power to kill him or save him. Then Jesus asserts himself, telling Pilate that Pilate would not have any power if it were not for the power that God gave him and holds him responsible for. Jesus says, “You think you have all of the power, but you are really powerless. You wish that ruling with violence and oppression were as simple as you make it out to be, but you don’t realize that a new Kingdom and its King is slipping in right under your nose, quite literally right in front of you. You are the one crowning the new king.”

Pilate gives the Jews one more chance to stop trying to kill this innocent man, but they call for his death all the more. Pilate asks again if they truly want to crucify their king, to which the crowd responds that they have  no king other than Caesar. The Jews have sealed their role in the story as the people who missed their king, even with all of the signs and teachings. Again, just like in the OT, they are convinced that they still need a king other than God, who has led them through thick and thin throughout their history.

Finally Pilate, persuaded by the crowd, enthrones Jesus on the cross as King and even puts a sign over his head, hailing him as King of the Jews. The Jewish leaders are enraged at the sight but can do nothing about it because Pilate refuses to change the sign. Again, the story is reeking with irony as Caesar crowns the son of God as King and proclaims it to the world as he sits on his throne, the cross.

Up to this point, though, his followers still do not understand that this was the natural ending of Jesus teaching of peace, justice, equality, and renewal. Everyone thought the the Messiah would gather his troops, march on Jerusalem, and take it back from the evil empires that made a mockery of the Jews and their God. And yet, Jesus, throughout the gospel of John, has warned and forewarned that this new Kingdom that he was leading into the world was nothing like anyone was expecting. The poor, blind, weak, lame, dead, and marginalized are welcomed, healed, honored, respected. The King is no better than his followers, and the followers are no better than their king. Love is the new rule and it is most powerfully seen, not only in the cross, but in the powerful reversal of power seen in the practice of foot washing. Hierarchy and oppression are thrown out the window, those tools most readily available to the world’s kings and leaders

In the end, God vindicates Jesus in his suffering by raising him from the dead and making him the first of the renewed people of God, a sign of what is to come for all people.

Mission as a sign of privilege

•December 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Those moments only come to me every once in a while. Those moments when my wounds are reopened, when my trauma is re-experienced, when life’s most disturbing moments are revisited in vivid, visceral detail. Those moments that bring me to my knees as I cry out.

Those moments came to me during a meeting as someone described his or her perception of God’s provision in the midst of raising money for what could be an expensive mission trip. Another person replied that the money amount is a concern, to which the other person responded that being concerned about the money amount should be reason enough to move forward with planning the trip or experience because God will provide the needed monies.

And I found these feelings sweeping into my heart/soul/emotional self/amygdala as I attempted to explain what I find myself calling the American privilege of mission work.  I explained that our use of money in any situation is a sign of privilege no matter how we spend the money because each transaction is a conscious decision/value judgment.

Many people in the world will never have a single opportunity to travel internationally, let alone several opportunities to travel internationally throughout one’s lifetime. On top of that, travelling to other countries is much easier for Americans, which means that the ability to travel wherever one wants to go is another sign of privilege. People in developing nations have great difficulty travelling to America because of our stringent visa and immigration standards. My host mother was rejected three different times at the American Embassy in Lesotho (though she had all of the necessary paperwork and flight schedules) before she was finally given the visa.  I remember hearing staff in the SALT/IVEP program talk about how difficult getting participants in the IVEP program to the US or Canada can be, while having many fewer issues with getting SALT participants to their perspective countries.

So my concern grows as I consider the privilege that we actively use and rarely acknowledge because we too easily act on our world as if the playing field is equal for everyone, though even within the American economy, the playing field is rarely equal, let alone when we compare across international boundaries. So we almost always should consider the processes/notions of privilege that we are using in any decision. We must realize that privilege is masked in every moment so that we do not notice those structures and powers that maintain themselves through hierarchy, oppression, and injustice. We must realize that even in the midst of good intentions like mission work, we can fully and unapologetically use our privilege and then with that, enhance the meaning of our actions by claiming that God is calling/leading us to do whatever we might be doing and that God is working on our behalf to pave the way for our involvement. What we fail to see is how privilege might actually be the god that is paving the way for us to influence/shape the world in ways that are good and bad and that the God that we claim to serve has nothing to do with it. We use all of the structures available to us and then claim that we are trusting God in the midst of our experience to provide for us.

So then in the midst of my reflection, cynicism, and turbulent emotions, I found myself tearing up and unable to fully express all of the thoughts and feelings running through my brain. I gave my point of view in the meeting with conviction, and at the end of the meeting, I did not hold my hurt against anyone who spoke. I left, only reflecting on my feelings and attempting to unpack all that was happening inside me, which led to this blog post.

 

An Offering Prayer

•December 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So I serve as a worship leader at my church, which means that I lead the liturgy of the service. I wrote the following prayer for our offering time. The ushers come forward to pass the plate. I (as the worship leader) pray, and then they pass the plates around to collect the offering while someone plays some music. This is the prayer:

“God of all good gifts, we pray that you would give us the bread that we need for today and that we would be content with it. We pray with repentance and hope for transformation, for we know that our money is not clean or non-violent. We know that Caesar helps protect our money and way of life and that we trust that Caesar will continue to do so. Forgive us. We know that violence and oppression are built into our free-market system. We know that we can only use our money and save it the way that we do because our neighbors, here and around the world, do not have enough. We pray for a continued change of heart and mind about our stuff and the meaning that we think that it gives us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.”

 

The missional nature of the incarnation

•December 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment

As I enter this Christmas season, I am reminded again and again of the ways in which we have co-opted the story of the birth of Jesus as another ploy to get people saved (lead people to jesus, get people to heaven, save souls, etc. whichever phrase you prefer to use for the transformation that occurs in the revelation that Jesus is Lord of the world and is working in the world to make it right). We miss out on many of the themes and nuances of the Christmas story when we can only see Jesus birth as the middle passage to Jesus’s soon-coming and saving death and resurrection.  I was reminded of this as I was glancing through facebook posts and one of the ads was a guide for the Christmas season on how to make the most of the services, in which whole families will be attending so that you can preach “the gospel.”

One interesting theme that I have always been reminded of in this season comes from my time in Lesotho. We talked in several different training sessions about how the most effective missionaries/mission workers/aid workers have been conscious of the home culture that they are entering. They immerse themselves in the language and culture, appreciating those things that are life-giving and not being too harsh toward those things that may not make sense to them. After all of those conversations, I began to realize how the incarnation (God coming as a human being into this world as the person of Jesus) reflected this idea. Rather than God coming as a king, overthrowing the Roman empire, and starting his own kingdom with bloodshed and dominance, God becomes a human, specifically a Jew. God grows up in Jewish culture, language, meaning, symbol, etc. God moves through the world that God created with us as God’s image-bearers, learning what we think it means to be human and coming alongside us, showing us a new way to be human.

Then at the age of 30, God decides that he has enough learning and tradition to move forward in the streams of scriptural thought from the Old Testament (OT) that reflect those things that he has been trying to teach the Israelites since God made God’s covenant with Abraham. In the actions and teaching of Jesus, God explains how the Jews of the first-century were missing the point (and by extension, we continue to miss the point often).

In that process, God realizes that this teaching and the traditions that precede it in the OT is so radical and earth-shaking that the people in power will be threatened and are threatened. This idea of powerful people wanting to keep and maintain their power and privilege starts in the nativity with the story of Herod in Matthew and Caesar Augustus in Luke. Powerful people want to make sure that all threats are snuffed out right away so Herod kills all the baby boys in Bethlehem and Caesar Augustus calls a Census, which is a painful reminder to the Jews that they are still under the thumb of empire. They are not their own people because they are forced to move to their hometowns to register, which would disrupt any plans of insurrection or revolution from this small region on the eastern edge of the empire.

So where do we go with all of this? I don’t know. My initial thought has always been that we become incarnational and missional ourselves. We enter every situation as an opportunity to learn from another person (how they think, what makes them tick, how their experiences affect their everyday). In those moments, rather than seeking to change people and tell them how to be saved, we come alongside them in love and hope, calling each other to be and become more truly human.  We sit and ask questions, putting away our schedules and our phones, focusing out attention and energy on this other person. Have you done this recently? Really paid attention to the person sitting in front of you or beside you?

Everyday communion

•April 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I was meeting with a couple of friends just to hang out and be present to each other, attentive to what we are hearing through and in our conversation together.  Often, transformation is a result of people listening and speaking authentically and transparently to each other with no agenda.

In the conversation, communion came up as something that was going to be a part of the upcoming Sunday church service. I expressed at that moment that communion was happening already between the three of us as we attempted to respect each other, eat and drink together, and encourage each other. I have found that the sacraments more authentically happen outside of the church walls than they do inside them. We find ourselves eating together with people that we care about, and in the midst of those moments, we find ourselves changing into more caring, loving, transformed people because we come to those moments with no pretense.

In church, we mask who we are in our brokenness and beauty because we don’t want people to know how we don’t measure up or how we have fallen short of all of the expectations that we have for ourselves and of all of what we think God expects of us. Communion as a small cup of juice and a little piece of bread but devoid of the radical destruction of hierarchy in foot-washing and the call of Jesus to be more human, to be more of who God created us to be, is missing the whole point of Jesus eating and drinking with his disciples. Jesus is getting at the transformative power of sitting around the table together, as equals, eating and drinking together, enjoying the presence of the other people in the room and only being attentive to them. We like to cloak the experience in spiritual language about the body and blood of Christ, but we must get past the smoke and mirrors of our church traditions and work toward a more authentic worship that invites the Spirit into our daily experience of communion.

With that, who do you do communion with? Who are you eating and drinking with on a regular basis? Are there people that you would rather be eating and drinking with? When you eat and drink, is everyone included and welcomed, or are certain people left out? How do you know who is not fit?