Tag Archives: Jesus

A Gift of Shalom

Craig and I sharing an Astro's game together - they lost...

Craig and I sharing an Astro’s game together – they lost…

It was just a little past noon when I pulled up in front of their home. Graciously, Craig and Trisha were going to allow me to mooch off of them for no less than NINE days. Nine days of sitting in the dinning area at meal times. Nine days of sprawling out on the living room sofa. Nine days shuffling the order of cars in the driveway, showers, coffee, meals, conversation and life. Nine days of letting someone you don’t really know that well, and have never lived with before, move in and live with you.

But they did much more than LET. And while I was technically a guest in their home, I was never really a guest. It was more than that. It was richer, and deeper. It was shared fellowship that blessed me greatly.
I was going to be in Texas for nearly two weeks. Away from family soon after dropping my oldest off at Hope College. Most of that time would be spent getting training in some marriage therapy before participating in a Faithwalking Retreat with other pastors from the RCA and CRC. Rather than spend those first nine days in a hotel, I did what I do – I invited myself over to the to someone’s house! In this case, the home of Craig and Trisha Taylor.

I know Trisha well through Ridder Church Renewal (an RCA/CRC initiative) and had met Craig once. As soon as I stepped into the house, I was not only given a key and full access to the kitchen, where I taught them how to make double crust stuffed pizza, but I was also given the gift of shalom.

It was shalom in the sense that while I was away from my family, I was given much more than “guest privileges.” At no time did I sense I was tolerated, but was made to feel that my presence in their home mattered.

What was on my heart, mattered to them. And as they would share, it was done in such a way that what was on their hearts mattered to me. I had access to who they were and they had access to who I am. When Craig and I were told we were on our own for dinner, we spent hours sitting at the table sharing long after the pulled-pork sandwiches, and although my backside was sore from sitting, the experience of shalom kept us glued to where we were. Shalom.

Throughout the following days we would laugh, watch sports, talk music and movies, go to the coast and eat out; but there was always more. There was a shared sense of meaning and the work of God in our lives.
The gift of hospitality is much more than a bed or some food. The gift of hospitality creates space where lives intersect, can be accessed by others and shared in such a way that shalom develops.

Depending on the version you read, the Bible calls this “entertaining” one another (Hebrews 13). But our culture today has hijacked that to mean something trivial – having a “good time.” Not that having a good time is bad, I’m all about that! But to be hospitable, entertaining one another, is so much more. In Romans 12:10 we are told to be devoted to one another, prefer one another; and, when the occasion arises, entertain one another.

I wonder what it would look like if the CHURCH were more entertaining. Not with light, music, programs and parking lot greeters; but in the deeper sense of the word. What if the church was about the business of creating the safe places necessary for others to experience the Shalom of God?

I wonder what our world would look like…


Awkward…!

imageThe half dozen or so people were spread throughout the fitness center. Each one doing her, or his, own thing.  Most were on some sort of cardio machine and only one other was over by the free weights of this Houston area Planet Fitness.  I followed the unwritten rules of gym ettiquette (mostly because it wasn’t my regular gym) and worked out without engaging anybody in conversation.

It’s an interesting phenomenom, belonging to large nationwide gym.  And with Planet Fitness’ “no gymtimidation” policy, most people work out in silence, with headphones on and only on occassion even making eye contact.  Even then the eye contact is usually some sort of non-verbal communication around the use of a piece of equipment – not relationship…

Not here. Not Houston’s little PF on Fondren.  Not with LeRoy.

Let’s face it, public locker rooms are always a bit awkward; and when you are leaving the shower area with your towel wrapped around your waist, you feel particularly vulnerable!  Just saying… That’s how it was for me when I met LeRoy. Still sweating from my workout, but freshly showered before heading to the couple’s therapy training I’m in Houston for, I had my towel around my waist when I hear a southern accent say, “I don’ think I’ve seen you ‘roun’ here before?”

I look to my right and there before me is a tall, thin African American of about 60 years of age. He had a huge smile and held out his hand, “LeRoy.”

“Brian.”  And inside my head there is only one word sreaming loudly, AWKWARD!!!

LeRoy asks when I moved to the area and I explained to him that I was here on sabbatical getting some training on couple’s therapy. LeRoy’s smile immediately is replaced with a look of deep regret.

While we both got ready for the day before us, LeRoy told me about his failed marriage, that he moved to Houston to try and rebuild relationships with his kids and grandchildren, and how much he regretted not working hard to make his marriage work.  He was going to meet his two year old grandson for the first time later that day.

As I was getting ready to leave, he told me to learn a lot. Then he paused and asked, “Would you pray for me today? Maybe you have more pull with the Big Guy than I do.”

I’ve never prayed for anyone in a locker room before, at least I don’t think so, but I’m glad I did.  I will probably never see LeRoy again. But I think our world is full of LeRoy’s. People, like you and me, going through life with its struggles and joys, hurts and pleasures, successes and failures.

And all of us longing to connect more deeply with one another and with God.  Only very few of us will find the courage to step out of the unwritten rules of culture and become vulnerable enough to reach out and connect with others. 

I’m really glad LeRoy had the courage to start a conversation in a locker room – even if it was awkward.


Who Goes First?

stop signAt 7:50pm 4 cars came to the intersection at roughly the same time.  I was second. The first driver was to my left and made a left hand turn.  As he cleared the intersection, I began to cross the intersection. I was second.  My daughter and I had just left the gym after working out, we were tired, thirsty and in desperate need of showers.  We were heading home when the lady from my right pulled out in front of me to cross the intersection.

At that moment you would have been hard pressed to find any love at the corner of Ravine and Nichols in the Kalamazoo area!  My windows were up and the air conditioning on so I don’t know what it was she was yelling out her window.  But as I uttered inside the confines of our 2001 Subaru Forester (180,000+), “Not your turn,” I could tell by the look on her face that she was maybe more angry than I was.

But, it was MY TURN! 

Have you ever noticed how often we think about it being “my turn?”

It’s my turn for a promotion at work. It’s my turn to go first. It’s my turn to be successful. It’s my turn to get the biggest piece. It’s my turn to use the car. It’s my turn to get… You get the picture right?

Ironically, just yesterday morning I had a conversation with some amazing people looking at how to live a more mission/other minded life and what it looks like to create more loving spaces in the mundane places of our lives.  It’s hard to live a life of love when we are focused on MY TURN.  In the book of Philippians, Paul reminds those of us who have been deeply impacted by Christ’s love to be more concerned with OTHERS than ourselves.  Here are the words he uses in chapter 2:3-4:

Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.

In spite of all the rhetoric about love wins, our culture is making it increasingly more difficult to live a life that is other focused and rooted in love. In fact, today Tim Cook and Apple will tell me that the new iPhone 6 I got two months ago is now obsolete, that my iPad is too small and that AppleTV is a real necessity!  Technology isn’t bad. That’s not what I am saying.  Our culture, however, continues to disciple us into thinking and behaving more and more individually and in self-centered ways.

But I am responsible for how I live and love – not culture.  I can make choices about who I want to be and the way I want people to experience me.  And last night there was a stranger who didn’t experience love while crossing an intersection.  Last night, without thinking, I also discipled my daughter teaching her to be as self-centered and unloving as I was.

I don’t have to be selfish.  I don’t have to be self-centered.  Because of Christ’s work in me I can choose to be different.  I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I have this amazing partner, the Holy Spirit, who helps me learn to lead myself.

Who will you be today? Will you choose with me to love someone you otherwise might not want to?


My Prayers Grew With Him

michael

October 31, 1996 (Halloween), two days after his birth, I drove him and his mother home from the hospital.  During that drive I prayed.  And I prayed what I thought to be the most profound prayer ever prayed by a new father.  I prayed, God, don’t let me get in an accident and kill him on our way home!  I don’t know how many times I prayed that prayer during the 15 minute drive from the hospital to our home, but it is a short prayer and I am sure I prayed it hundreds of times before pulling into the driveway while the neighborhood was filling with costumed children out trick or treating.

Married for almost 8 years, I barely knew how to be a husband (still…?) much less a dad, and the profundity of my prayer life continued.  When he would be awake at night my prayer was, Lord, help him fall asleep already! I can’t keep my eyes open any longer! Then, after he fell asleep and I would be gently – oh so gently – placing him into his crib my prayers would deepen further into, Ok God, I putting him down now, keep him sleeping…

And, when his eyes would sometimes open after I laid him down I would have two very different, almost conflicting 3:00am thoughts/prayers that went something like this, God, I love this kid! God, do you hate me?!?!

As exhausting as those first years were, especially as sister and brother came along, they didn’t last long. And as Michael grew and developed, so did I.  I grew up as a dad.  Well, somewhat anyway.  What I do know is this, my prayers grew.  My prayers grew with him.

I prayed for his first day of school.  I prayed for tests.  I prayed for him when he got injured.  I prayed for forgiveness when I blew it.  I prayed he would forgive me when I blew it.  I prayed for his friends.  I prayed as the years went by.

My prayers grew from a starting place of praying for the immediacy of having his needs met (food, sleep, safety, love & shelter) in order that I might have some short term peace, to a place of learning to pray more deeply, for things of more significance and for the longview of his life.

My prayers grew in substance.  Today Michael is an amazing young man enrolled as a freshman in college and my prayers for him are much different.  I do pray for the immediate things still – that he would study hard, learn well, make incredible friends, be exposed to all sorts of great challenges that shape him, etc… But more than that, I pray for longterm fruit of the spirit in his life, for him to give himself to something significant, life giving and helps better the world God so loves.  I pray for lasting joy that overcomes in hardship and trial.  I pray that he would live in, and be a sharer, of the Shalom of God.

My prayers, they grew with him.


Learning Leadership From Horses…?

Craig & Demo2Demo was one of the seven horses we would take out on our ride that day. None of the horses, mind you, were your standard “trail ride” horses that just follow nose to tail while your butt gets sore for an hour. A mustang caught from the wild in Utah, Demo was different. Head strong, independent and a leader in the herd, Demo used to be called Demolition Man – you can figure out why. And I was about to ride him!

But before I could ride him, Craig (our host at Shiloh Ranch – a ministry to ministry families) needed to bring him in. But Demo wasn’t about to let a lead rope be put around his neck and head. He wasn’t about to submit to Craig. Craig wasn’t the leader, wasn’t in charge – Demo was. It took some time for Craig to get Demo separated from the rest of the horses into the smaller corral.

And there I saw a lesson for how God leads us.

Craig would get Demo moving in one direction around the corral by applying pressure. He did this by pointing, using his voice and waving the rope. He never hit Demo, didn’t abuse Demo and never became aggressive with Demo. After he would make several loops in one direction, applying pressure Craig would steer him in the opposite direction. Craig would do this with Demo several times and then he would suddenly stop and lower the rope, his arm and his face so he wasn’t looking at Demo at all.

He waited.

And when Demo didn’t respond, the whole exercise took place again. Sometimes the rhythm was different. The amount of time spent in one direction over another would change. And when it wasn’t expected, Craig would stop – and wait – until Demo moved.

Toward Craig.

Not immediately taking control by slipping the lead rope around the horses neck and head, Craig did something that made me curious. He wrapped his arms around Demo’s neck, nuzzled his cheek against the horse and gently loved on the beautiful mustang. Only then did Craig slip Demo’s lead rope on.

In those ten minutes I saw in Craig and Demo how God has time and time again been at work in my life.

Directing Demo in the corral was consistently done with deep respect for Demo: looking at him the right way, keep a proper distance, using his voice gently and firmly and never frightening or demeaning the horse. And then, when Craig would stop and lower his head, it was an invitation for Demo to draw near. And, when he was ready, he did.

God will often, with amazing love and respect, direct our lives by his Voice, with his hand or with circumstances. But God never forces himself upon us. And, when it is time, God invites us, again, to draw close to him – toward intimacy and purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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. Mt 11:28-30

I wonder how God is inviting you to draw near to him today? And for what purpose?

Demo’s purpose that day was to give me a ride through some of the most beautiful countryside. And we had fun!


To the woman who had an abortion… and to the church

image

I was sitting at lunch yesterday, on the first day of a retreat, when my friend Nate told me Twitter was blowing up over Planned Parenthood. I didn’t think about it much at the time.

Then last night I began reading the stories. I had a lot of feelings: Anger, disappointment, disgust… Then Messenger buzzed.

It was a young mom I know really well.

She’s a great mom. And I will never forget the incredible courage it took for her to share with me that she had had an abortion, the circumstances surrounding it and the shame-filled self loathing guilt she felt everyday:

Would she ever stop grieving? Could Jesus ever really love her? Forgive her? Could she ever forgive herself? Would I think differently of her and push her away? Would the church?

That was several years ago. And in a moment it seems like all the healing, discipleship and faith building has been undone.

She had gone to a Planned Parenthood clinic to have the abortion performed.

Every angry post on Facebook, every Tweet of disgust, each news article are experienced as deep cuts of a knife to her soul. They remind her to keep believing the lies she has been working so hard with God to overcome.

She wants to hide in her shame, disconnect from others & God and not be known. Like the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, she “knows” she is unloveable, unforgivable, and undesirable. 

She isn’t alone. I know several women who constantly battle with the ongoing shame of their abortions. I also know there are many more who suffer in their shame in silence. That is what shame does, after all.

To every woman who suffers in this shame, even more so in the wake of Planned Parenthood, I want to hold both of your hands gently in mine and look you in the eye:

You are created in the image of God. You are beautiful. Jesus loves you. In fact, Jesus couldn’t possibly love you more than he does right now. His grace is yours and I offer you mine. I do not condem or judge you. I want to know and love you, the real you – in the midst of the mess.

And others want to as well. You don’t always have to hide. You have something incredible to offer all of us – your self. I know it feels impossible, but reach out. Find someone safe to reach out to. Tell your story to someone who will listen and love. Be reminded of the incredible gift you are. 

I know it’s risky and scares you to pieces; but you don’t have to walk alone.

Church – may we remember that our anger and outrage often has the unintended consequences of pushing others away from Christ’s love and grace rather than inviting them toward it. If you know someone struggling in all this, would you share this with them? Remind them you love them?


Church – Gay Marriage Isn’t The Problem!

loveheart

Love is.

John 3:16 is one of the most powerful passages in Scripture; and quite possibly, one of the most misunderstood.  For several decades it adorned the bellies of large, shirtless men in the end zones of football stadiums.  It became a placard and we allowed it to become trite.

But today, Church, it is really important for us to get its meaning.  The depth of its meaning. The largeness of it.

In the midst of a culture and time that did not receive Jesus for who he fully was, Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, snuck under the cover of darkness to chat with this rebellious, strange and yet powerful teacher.  It is in the context of Jesus being radically counter-cultural to his time, that he says these words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Let’s repeat the first phrase and then add another passage to it.  For God so LOVED the WORLD…  The whole world – everybody who lived and everybody who would live.  The whole world.  God loves the world so much that he did this while we were yet enemies toward him – Romans 5:10!  

Church, when we didn’t know God nor like God, God sacrificially became a servant (Philippians 2) and even died on our behalf.  God didn’t yell at the world.  He didn’t yell at us.  He didn’t organize a petition or pass out signs.  He didn’t even ask the Roman government to change. 

Church, we used to enjoy the privilege of living in a world that looked mostly like us most of the time.  But that time is gone.  We can grieve that loss much the way Jesus grieved over Jerusalem in Luke 19. We can grieve, yes.

But we must also love.  Church, will we be enough like Jesus to love like him?  Will we love a world where we are no longer dominant? Will we love a world where we no longer fit in? Will we love a world so radically that we sacrificially give ourselves the way Jesus did?

Or will we keep living for ourselves…?

Today, more than ever, Church, we are being invited to step up and demonstrate deep, sacrificial love in such a way that we reflect the glory of God (Hebrews 12).

Thoughts?