God works wonders from dust…

Today is Ash Wednesday.   It is the beginning of Lent and the day in the church calendar that we are called upon to face our own mortality.   I am confessing a secret that I actually don’t hate Lent.  Because in this crazy, busy culture we need 40 days to contemplate, pray, and fast and this is the day that kicks it all off.  It is in Ash Wednesday that we are called upon to face the deep truth that as mortals we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Mary Oliver says about this life “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Even though we talk about calling and gifts and graces and God guiding and leading us through life, Ash Wednesday is reminding us that we are dust and to dust we return.

It can be scary, a little refreshing.   Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran priest shares the image she has about Ash Wednesday, “If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and us not knowing what the distance is between the two, well then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and then held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. With these ashes, it is as though the water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the future to meet us here today. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God. Promises which outlast our piety, outlast our efforts in self-improvement, outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time.”  We live in a culture that tells us if we work hard enough, have enough money, buy enough skin care products, eat healthy enough, or exercise with enough vigor, we might just live forever.  And yet, we know that is not true.  So today, we proclaim the truth that we shall return to the dust over which God first breathed life.

And I, at least, breathe a sigh of relief.   Because admitting and facing my own mortality, allows me to admit that God is God and I am not (and we should all be very thankful for that).  It allows me to lay down my attempts to manage my own human brokenness, and step into the deep and holy mystery that is the Christian life.   Having confessed my sins, and admitted my own mortality, it allows me to live freely this incredible, mortal life that is my reality right now.  It allows me to take chances, take leaps of faith, with every breath that I have in my body.

But perhaps more than that, it helps me to let go of my fear.  Because Ash Wednesday reminds us that in spite of it all, death does not have the last word.   While we and others have the power to destroy our mortal flesh, God has destroyed death.

The beauty of Ash Wednesday is that it cuts through the crud, the non-essentials.  It gets to the heart of the very core of everything.  It reminds us of God’s infinite promises to us.  It reminds us there is beauty in our brokenness, and freedom that we don’t have to live up to some earthly falsehood of perfection.

Ann Voskamp says this about Lent, “I can’t seem to follow through in giving up for Lent. Which makes me want to just give up Lent.  Which makes me question Who I am following.  Which may precisely be the point of Lent.”

Whether you’re adding something or taking something away, whether you commit to have some quiet in your life and spend twenty minutes in day in silence, whether you write down things that you are thankful for, or fast one day a week.   Randy Wells reminded me before the service that I have to talk about the “feast” days on Sundays that you can choose to follow your Lenten discipline or not because every Sunday is supposed to be a Resurrection Sunday or mini-Easter.  He then pointed out, we shouldn’t take that as an invitation to cram all of the other days vices into that one day!

Jo Ann Staebler in her book “Soul Fast,” says, “In the deep stillness of prayer my soul fasts.  Fasting, at its heart, is turning away from what keeps me from God.  Two things I must leave:  the walls I build around the space that was made to be God’s dwelling; the absurdities I keep in that space, so jealously hoarded.  Taking down the wall that protects the false self I have been building, all these years…risking exposure, emptiness, loneliness.  The fast is silence, ocean-deep and prolonged.  Shard by shard, the wall begins to fall.  Inch by inch, the space clears, and Love lights the shadows.  I come unprotected, and learn that God alone is safety.  I come unaccompanied, and find that Christ alone is Friend.  I come hungry, and receive the only food that satisfies.  In letting go is abundance.  In emptying I am filled.  This is not denial, but freedom.  Fast is feast.”

Maybe we should fast from the 24 hours new cycle.  Maybe we should fast from television.  Maybe we should fast from social media.  Maybe we should fast from the electronics that get in the way of us talking to our friends and family, like they are attached to our bodies or something.  It doesn’t matter to me what you do, I just want you to be intentional in this Lenten ritual.  As most things in life, what you put into it, is what you’ll get out of it.  It’s only a tool, a ritual, to draw us closer to Jesus.

Hear these powerful words from the artist and poet, Jan Richardson, in her poem “Blessing the Dust.”

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

God can work wonders from dust.  God made you in your mother’s womb.  Psalm 8:3-4 says, “When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made — the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place — what are human beings that you think about them . . . that you pay attention to them?”

I’ve heard Hawk Nelson’s “Diamonds” on the radio and can’t help but relate it to Ash Wednesday every time it comes on.  Here are the lyrics:

Here and now I’m in the fire, in above my head
Being held under the pressure, don’t know what will be left
But it’s here in the ashes
I’m finding treasure

He’s making diamonds
Making diamonds
He’s making diamonds out of dust
He is refining
And in his timing
He’s making diamonds out of us

I’ll surrender to the power of being crushed by love
‘Til the beauty that was hidden isn’t covered up
It’s not what I hoped for
It’s something much better

Oh The Joy of the Lord
It will be my strength
When the pressure is on
He’s making Diamonds

I won’t be afraid to shine

May we never be afraid to shine.  God can do mighty things through us.  Our Rabbi Jesus can lead us to do some crazy, awesome things as we follow his teachings, example, and have his dust all over us.  The Holy Spirit can fan the fire to make diamonds out of dust.  So, shout it from the roof tops, sing it in your heart, whisper it quietly to yourself, but tell that truth.  That you were formed from dust and to dust you will return.  Then, breathe a sigh of relief and be free.  Because it’s not all about you.  It’s about what God does in us.  As I will say when I put the ashes on your forehead, God can work wonders out of dust.  Thanks be to God indeed.

Deep Cries Out – Lent 5

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPsalm 130
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

John 11:1-45
11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” 11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

I thought about opening with something from The Walking Dead or World War Z about zombies or mummies because Lazarus comes out of the tomb wrapped as if he were a mummy, but I could not find one not gross and then you would remember that I played a clip from The Walking Dead instead of the sermon.
In the psalm text today, the voice waits for the Lord and cries out for the Lord, just like Mary and Martha hope that God answers their cries for their brother’s healing.

Sometimes we read these stories and think that’s just it, they’re mere stories. About characters, as are our tv shows or movies, not real people. I find myself talking about characters on tv shows like they’re real people. Blah Blah does this, feels this, she wouldn’t do that, he would definitely do that. There really was a Lazarus and a Mary and Martha, and there was this man called Jesus. He was fully human and fully divine. Meaning the God part of him could see the larger picture, but the fully human part of him, felt like we do, with real emotions. Jesus was not a drone or a robot. He was a living, breathing human being with moments of clarity and sureness of purpose as well as moments of doubt and wrestling. You read about his calmness in the face of his best friend being sick. Much is debated about whether he knew that Lazarus would die at the outset of our pericope today. It doesn’t say what he stayed two days longer for and it doesn’t say when he actually knew that Lazarus had died, but obviously he tells the disciples, who think that Lazarus’ just sleeping. In verses 14 and 15, “14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

And then we have a side conversation that the disciples had with one another saying the Jews were already riled up against you and if you go back there they’ll probably stone you, and Thomas answering in verse 16, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Let us go, that we die with him???!!! We all know the story has a happy ending, but if one of my brothers died, I would be devastated. And I would want a miracle. Knowing me, I would demand it! I would fight for it. Because that’s what big sisters do. We may torture them when they are younger, but no one outside of us can mess with them and if there’s a way to prevent them pain, I will certainly do whatever it takes. That’s basically what Martha does, but Jesus seems to be detached somewhat from the situation until Mary runs out to him weeping. Jesus fell apart at seeing Lazarus’ tomb. By the way, a bit of Bible trivia, this is the shortest verse in the Bible, verse 35, “Jesus wept.” Seeing Mary’s grief and her tears, made Jesus face his own grief. Jesus cries along with us. Jesus cries for the hurting in our world. Jesus cries when we each face our own particular “valleys of shadows of death.” We may not know we need a savior who feels, but we do. We may not comprehend how important it is to have a God that is both indeed part of the triune God and is God with us, Emmanuel, fully living breathing humanity, but we do.

I appreciate in verses 41 and 42, “So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” He’s modeling what we need to do. Come to God with our requests because God already knows our prayers and petitions. God hears. God answers. There’s a beauty in the prayers we actually articulate and those that the Spirit articulates as the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, when we cry out. God always hear you. You may not get the answer you seek or you don’t always see the miracle that you thought you would, but God is present with you every step of the way.

Through our Lenten journey as we make our way to the cross, we celebrate the defeating of death and we claim the words in verses 25 and 26, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” But may we not forget that it wasn’t easy for Jesus, he didn’t just snap his fingers and go to a place of acceptance. He had his own Garden of Gethsemane. We don’t go straight to acceptance either. We have to journey through all of the stages of grief. There’s real grief with a loss of a loved one and trite answers like “it happened for a reason” or “God needed another angel in heaven” bring little comfort. We can celebrate that “all things work together for good for those that love God,” but God doesn’t cause a girl to be sexually assaulted, a young father to be diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, or an accidental drowning. There’s a tension, a dance that comes through questions of theodicy and we sometimes wonder if God can work good. It’s okay to question God. It’s okay to yell at God. Aren’t we glad that we love a savior who knows, intimately, what it means to be human? To feel the full weight of the brokenness of our world?

So I’ll leave you with these words that mean a great deal to me and basically encapsulate what I’m getting at,

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sins curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From a lifes first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand

I will stand, I will stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground, all other ground
Is sinking sand, is sinking sand
So I stand

The Gritty.

ImageI am obsessed with the “Fun.” CD right now.  If you’ve been in my office or walked by my office in the past week you know that I’ve been listening to it almost constantly.  There are several things that I like about it and there are many a time that I’d like to play one of the songs in worship, but the lyrics aren’t the most “clean” shall we say.  However, as Jon wisely pointed out, our lives are often not all that clean.  They’re often pretty dirty and gritty and not quite what we want to show to the world.  Tonight is Maundy Thursday – in other words – the night that Jesus had his “Last Supper” with his disciples.  He knew that some crazy stuff was going to go down in the coming days but he shared a last meal with those who he loved the most.  Things weren’t going to be all rainbows and rose-colored glasses, it was going to get pretty real, real quick – with ears being cut off, betrayal, cock crows, whipping, a crown of thorns, crucifixion.  It’s not the glamorized view.  It’s reality.  May we find God not just in the beautiful and in the high points of our lives, but also in the midst of the struggles and the confusion.  May we remember during this Easter season that it’s not just about Easter Sunday in all of its glory, but that these days leading up to it, happen as well – days that feel dark and hopeless, days when it feels like we’re alone.  May we fully feel that so that we know the true power of the resurrection that’s coming!

Renew, Restore, Uphold

As we continue through our Lenten journey, looking towards Holy Week – these verses are a challenge, a promise and a prayer. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. . . . Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” – Psalm 51:10, 12

The sentences above was my facebook status this morning.  The passage came from the online Upper Room readings this morning.  I don’t know about you, but I needed to hear them.  It is so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and all of the things that “have” to get done, that at least for me, the things that I treasure sometimes get pushed aside.  There’s only so long that we can spin like tops like in Inception without completely stopping and getting skewed.  

I think some of us see God as the One that keeps the top spinning.  We see God as the strength to get us through the next thing and the next and the next.  This time of year when there’s just a month left in the semester, in many ways I cling to that image of God giving us the strength, perseverance, and grace to keep moving and going and completing the things that we need to complete and remembering the things we need to remember.  

For some of us, it’s harder to see God as the One that sometimes is this one to stop the top mid-spin.  If you’re in the middle of dancing to a good song or jamming in your car, you don’t want the song to suddenly go off either by someone changing the channel or an emergency test or you arriving at your location.  Sometimes though it takes this sometimes awkward pause to wake us up to realize that we’ve been running on our own steam and in our own self-centeredness and self-involvement and that we haven’t connected to the One who sustains us in awhile.

It’s not that we haven’t been doing what we need to do.  It’s not that I haven’t gone to worship or small group or done the “minister” stuff, but no matter how long the to do list is and no matter how many directions our minds are pulled in whether in worry or day dreaming or whatever, sometimes we need to press the pause button and reconnect with the One who is providing us with the music.

My prayer for myself and each of us is that if we’re speeding through this Lenten journey and we’re thinking we’re in the home stretch, that we’re just as attentive now to God’s leading as we were when we started this journey on Ash Wednesday.  My hope is that we’re just as committed, disciplined and awakened to God’s joy and presence now as when we first believed.  May God speak to us in clear and powerful ways and may we have ears to listen and hearts ready to receive.  May our lives be renewed and restored, and may we trust that God will uphold us today, tomorrow and forevermore!

Image
This is a true outside of Wesley where I've gotten to watch some persevering green silk worms slowly and surely make their way. May we fit into God's rhythm the same way.

Marked with the Holy Spirit

Yesterday the online Upper Room’s focus verse was Ephesians 1:13, “When you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in [Christ, you] were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” What an appropriate text the day after Ash Wednesday as we boldly navigate this Lenten journey.

I love how the Holy Spirit shows up in the unexpected. Actually, sometimes I’m most surprised when the Holy Spirit shows up in the obvious places. Like a worship service. Dinner. Even a board meeting. Tonight we had our Wesley Board Meeting and our fellowship dinner and program night, followed by a joint prayer/worship service with BCM (Baptist Collegiate Ministry) and CRU (Campus Crusade).

I admit that I started off the day pretty well. One of the students even said I looked more rested and alive today. (Pretty good praise for a Thursday.) But by the afternoon as the students went to enjoy a game of sand volleyball by Winthrop Lake, my sinus infection had turned into a monster of a headache and I was just D for Done.

I can’t say that the headache went away or that everything went exactly smoothly and perfectly but I could definitely feel the presence of God as Jon talked about his calling into ministry and we as a board got to send him with our approval to the District Committee on Ministry to be a certified candidate. I could tangibly hear and see the wonder of this special community as students shared over dinner, relaxed, hung out and chatted everywhere, and generally looked like they were right at home. And then as we began to make our way to the Winthrop Amphitheater for a joint prayer service with BCM and CRU – none of us knowing exactly what this would be like – but coming along anyway – I was struck in wonder by the beautiful night sky, a chance to worship with fellow believers on campus, and an opportunity to not be the one in charge, but a participant.

You see we were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. Even with our sinus headaches, our thank God it’s Thursdays, and our exhaustion, God still shows up, guiding and leading us in the midst. It’s not just something that’s a maybe – it’s a promise.

Where did God show up for you today? Was it when things were going super smooth or a little rocky?

Drawing Closer – Lenten Journey

I have been being slack in my blog posts and I promise to do better in Lent. Below is a post I wrote on the Winthrop Wesley blog (wuwesley.wordpress.com) that I am posting here as well because in the days to come I may need some accountability as I am led by the Holy Spirit of what this 40 days of wilderness will be.

**************************

Our text at this past week’s worship service was James 1:19-27 which is a familiar part of James. Verse 22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”

It’s a passage that is lifted up in a lot of Protestant congregations and we looked at it in particular leading up to today, Ash Wednesday.

Last week I had the honor and joy to speak at a conference for young adults in ministry. Relevance LEAD was a great time of talking with other pastors and lay people in ministry that were my age, to dream about the possibilities and life of the church, and to share in friendship, community building and collegiality. It was a special time. And something completely different than a typical conference as the speakers were part of the conference just like everyone else and we all have a vested interest in sharing these ideas and musings.

I liked that it was set up to dream big dreams and engage but there was another part of me that kept itching for the nuts and bolts, what would happen when the rubber hits the road. Each person was wrestling with similar things and were living out their faith and that of their community in mighty ways, but it still begged the question of what this means for our greater church. I felt a bit like James – let’s not just talk about this and know that we all feel in similar ways, but let’s do it.

It’s all well and good to talk the big talk, but if we go back home from this conference and it doesn’t change how we think or how we do things, if we don’t take away friendships that will continue as we journey together, if we don’t actually begin the first steps of these big dreams – what’s the point? It’s good to know that you’re not alone, but if we stay completely in the theoretical, than it can sometimes just be hot air and words.

Just like this Lenten season. I’ve heard students buzzing about what they’re giving up for Lent and that seems like the big question of the next couple of days. I admit, I didn’t grow up with a huge emphasis on giving things up or adding things to my life and I didn’t really do it until college. One of those years I gave up popcorn, which was my current obsession. The next year, I gave up M&M Mcflurries. Now that was all well and good and I think I could rationalize them as a step to be healthy but even that would be a stretch with all of the rest of the junk I eat.

You see, it’s not just about what we give up or add – it’s about whether those things draw us closer to God. Several of our students have talked about giving up facebook. One is giving up three hours a day with her phone – not just class time or when she’s asleep, but three hours where she won’t be checking it all the time. She plans on this being time where she can draw closer to God. Another student has covenanted to intentionally pray three times a day for the season of Lent. If you’re just giving up chocolate or ice cream or coffee for the heck of it and it’s not something that’s drawing you closer to God – what’s the point? I get the idea of sacrifice but I also think if we just do the sacrifice and we’re not adding things like reading scripture, doing a daily devotion, writing down things that we’re thankful for, renewing an old friendship, sending words of encouragement to friends, or walking in the outdoors with God in nature – than we’re fooling ourselves into thinking that we have this thing covered. It’s not about choosing something so that if someone asks us about it – we can give a ready made answer, but choosing something because we have invited the Holy Spirit into our lives and have opened ourselves to see the areas that we might need to work on.

One of the students Monday night after worship described it as a giant Pinterest board where you’ve “pinned” all these different things and they look nice and easy and like things that you would like to do “one day,” but you never actually get around to doing them. James is saying – do it now. Lent is calling us forth to realizing that yes we are dust and to dust we will return, but in the meantime let us draw close to God and walk this road.

My brother Josh is doing a Lenten series called “Holy Walkabout” and I love the idea of Lent being this special time where we’re walking with God into the wilderness. We don’t always know what we’re going to discover or the ways that God will reveal God’s self. We don’t always know what areas we need to work on in our lives because I don’t know about you, but I’m a pretty good rationalizer. I would say that I’m exceptional when it comes to finding ways to eat junk food. It defeats the purpose of Lent for me to negotiate back and forth if this counts or if that counts. Because when we open ourselves to the Spirit’s leading and we actually go all in with this thing, we realize that it’s not just about us or having something to say when people ask, but it’s about wanting to be part of this larger story of God’s love and grace for us and how we can best live that out so that the world may know God.

So are you going to keep pinning the things that you want to do on a giant to do list to do eventually or you going to actually start chipping away at some of these possibilities right now?

God’s not going to hand out gold stars for those that participate and unsmiley faces for those that don’t. It’s not about that. But it is about deepening that relationship and trusting that real change, habitual change can take place in 40 days.

So think about it…ask the Holy Spirit to come and guide you…what are some ways you can draw close to God this Lenten season? What are some things that hinder or road block your relationship? What are some ways that we can intentionally live out our faith right now?

Dig in.

Lent Week 3 – Water, water, water…say it with me

The text for this past Sunday is one of my favorites.  I feel like I say that just about every week though so it’s a little redundant.  It was a long one – John 4:5-42.  It’s hard for people’s minds not to wander with such a chunk of text but how can you break these things up?  It’s the story of the Samaritan woman at the well which is a familiar one to a lot of us.

Every week this semester, Josh, Adrienne and I have been playing basketball in the West Center (the gym on campus) on Tuesdays and Thursdays when time and no meetings have allowed.  It’s two against one and we go to 21 by 1’s and 2’s for a typical 3 pointer.  The best we’ve ever done against Josh is 15 to his 21.  The worst is 1.  Sad times.  Josh definitely takes a healthy joy in blocking my shots after me blocking his through out my growth spurt in high school.  After one of these lovely work out sessions, we went back to Wesley and I was beyond thirsty.  I asked them if we had anything besides water in the building.  I’m not a complete water hater.  Well, actually I kind of am.  I just don’t really like it.  How spoiled and snotty is that?  True.  Anyway, there were 3 or 4 students in the office at the time and we had a long, serious conversation over how I say the word, “water.”  Why do they have to hate on their campus minister this way?

Apparently, maybe due to my strong Southern roots, say something along the lines of “warter.”  When I should be saying “wa-ter.”  Whatever.  At the time of this conversation on Tuesday I had no idea that the text coming up was the one with the Samaritan woman at the well.  I pick texts along time in advance and don’t always remember where we are.  So on Sunday as I’m trying to read this text in front of a congregation and than later on in front of the students, I felt more than conspicuous and nervous about saying it – oh about a dozen times.  I was so concerned about the pronouncement and trying to get the words right, that it would have been easy to miss the whole point of the text.

Some of us that may not always talk right or look right or use the right scripture or dress a certain way or do a certain job or belong to the special club or organization, we may sometimes be afraid to speak up and be real.  In this week’s Neue This Week, they had a post from Relevant Magazine called Church Members Anonymous.  It spoke about a pastor visiting Alcoholics Anonymous with some friends.  It talks about some of the similarities he saw between AA and the church and the honesty he encountered in this meeting.  He talks about being real and these moments of personal confession and being active participants in our faith community.

This Samaritan woman didn’t show up at the well for an AA meeting, but Jesus made no bones about knowing exactly who she was and what was happening in her life.  The disciples walk up later and they can’t believe he was talking with someone from Samaria, much less a woman, and they didn’t even know about her husband history.  If she were a college basketball team, she wouldn’t be the one that people would pick to go all the way in a go spread the Good News and people are going to listen to you kind of way.  And yet, this little Cinderella story had the energy – she went around and rallied the people and told them about this man who could be the Messiah.  She might not have been the one anyone would pick to do it, but her sharing about this man that knew her better than anyone got people out to meet the One she spoke of.  In verse 39 it says, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”  She got them there just by sharing her story, her interaction with this man who told her everything she had ever done.  And then they saw it for themselves and believed.  “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

She had this interaction.  She had this experience.  She felt this grace and had to share it.

I love it.  It was never really the big shot teachers or the intidating people that none of us think we can live up to, but regular folks just like me and you that just spread this thing like wild fire.

A really, really old song that I think fits this well and one that I always think of with this text is Sierra’s “No Stone to Throw.”  I know that is hugely old school Christian music and showing my age.  I get that.  But some of the verses say:

I’ve got no stone to throw,
No ax to grind,
I look in Maggie’s life,
And I see mine.

I see somebody searchin’ for somethin’,
A little love and understandin’,
And the longer I know the Lord the more I know,
I’ve got no stone to throw.

I don’t think any of us would get away with much in the face of Jesus.  It’s like a kid caught with his/her hand in the cookie jar.  Or with crumbs on his/her shirt trying to cover up the evidence.  None of us has any stones to throw.

God can use any of us to spread the Gospel.  None of us has messed up too much or for too long.  None of us has won the perfection award for 10 years running.  If we are honest, like at that AA meeting, we know that all of us struggle and mess up at times.  Realizing that justifying grace that this Teacher, this man is speaking to me and is including and accepting me, is a big deal.  And then we keep moving towards that repentance and renewal.

The thing about that justifying grace is not just that it leads us to sanctifying grace or in other words, moving closer and closer to living in right relationship with God, but it’s something we’ve got to share.  There’s an urgency there to share what we have seen and touched and know.  Just like this woman, we don’t have to do this all by ourselves.  She just shared her testimony and the people’s interaction with Jesus did the rest.  She just opened her mouth and told the world.

I agree with the AA story that what the world wants to see is people being real.  They want to know that this is available for them too, not just a select few.

My challenge this week to the students and to me is that we intentionally pray for 5 things.

1.  a family member (this one should be relatively easy, but hey you never know – it could be hard)

2.  a friend (this one should definitely be easy.  they’re your friend for goodness sake)

3.  a broken relationship (when I described this to the students I literally break my hands together showing something breaking – this is a wound or something that hasn’t been resolved and forgiveness found, this is something that still needs some healing)

4.  someone you’d least like to pray for (when I started this list was their someone that came to your mind that you were like – heck no, I do not want to pray for that person?  that’s who we challenge you to pray for)

5.  the lost among us (even down here in the crazy South, there are people who haven’t heard the Gospel, or at least not as it directly relates to YOUR life and YOUR experience with God – how are we sharing that?  who are we sharing this living water with?)

Will that be hard this week?  Probably so.  Do we have to have a certain degree or knowledge to say the words?  Nope.  Do we even have to pronounce the words all in the most correct way?  No.  But I have a sneaky suspicion that intentionally praying for these folks may open our eyes to some other things around us and ways we can be in prayer and sharing in real and mighty and tangible ways with our neighbors.  Are we willing to surrender a bit to the Spirit some of our time and energy and resources to see where this will lead?  Are we willing to drop everything like she did to go and tell people?

Food for thought or should I say, living water for thought.  And for prayer hopefully.

Let's take this living water out into the world.

Neue this week:  http://neuemagazine.com/index.php/blog/6-main-slideshow/1217-church-member-anonymous?utm_source=Neue+Weekly&utm_campaign=575e03c79f-Neue_Weekly_03_30_11&utm_medium=email