X Marks the Spot

I let a week slide by without anything for the blog.  The blog is always hungry.  The blog always wants to be fed.  The blog will have to go on a diet next week.  I’ll be at Camp Idlewild.  If you’re looking for something to read, stop by the camp blog for pics and updates.  Our awesome webmaster has trained my phone to send updates to it, so I’m going to be making mini entries throughout the week. For now I have a huge challenge for you.  Read and dwell on this quote from Barbara Brown Taylor.  I started her book Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith last year at camp.  This year I’ll be reading her new one: An Altar in the World.  She was just recently a speaker at my Alma Mater’s Christian Scholars’ Conference. She’s talking about the treasure of meaning and significance in life.  And how we’re always looking for some big spiritual “A-ha” or awakening.  And how we’re always looking somewhere else for an encounter with God:
People seem to look all over the place for this treasure.  The last place most people look is right under their feet, in the everyday activities, accidents, and encounters of their lives.  What possible spiritual significance could a trip to the grocery store have?  How could something as common as a toothache be a door to greater life?...No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it.
Ohhh.  I want to write something like that.  Not that there aren’t mountain top experiences to be had.  I just hope we’re not looking to them to give our lives meaning.  Most importantly, I hope we’re not so obsessed with the future that we miss God’s presence in the…um, presence. How often do you think to yourself: I’ll be happy when ______.  Or I’ll be content when ______.  Or Life will be good when ______.  I seemed to recall Jesus saying that the Kingdom is here now. I hope instead of staring at the map and looking over the horizon, you’ll start digging right now.

Life and Godliness

Do you think you could devote a year to living like Jesus?  I know, in theory all of us who are Christians are supposed to be living like Jesus.  But I mean radically living like Jesus-trying to live exactly as Jesus would live. That's how Ed Dobson spent 2008.  For an entire year this former megachurch pastor and founder of the religious right, who is now the vice president of spiritual formation for a Christian university in Michigan, tried his best to live like Jesus in every way. It all started when Dobson read The Year of Living Biblically, a memoir by a man who purported to have no religious faith whatsoever but just wanted to see if he could follow all of the rules set out in the Bible.  Dobson thought that if someone with no faith could do it, then a person who claims to be a follower of Christ should be able to, as well. Most media attention seems to the outward changes he made.  He stopped trimming his beard.  He ate only kosher foods.  (Dobson said that one of the things he was looking forward to the most in 2009 was ordering a chicken and cheese burrito.)  Once a strict teetotaler, he began to drink alcohol in moderation, especially if it gave him an opportunity to speak to people about Jesus.  He kept the Sabbath, only breaking it to attend his grandchildren's soccer games. But Dobson says that none of those things were the hardest.  "The hard part is trying to live up to his teachings," Dobson said. "I've realized how far I fall short."  He reread the four Gospels every week (!).  Throughout the day he prayed, "Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner[*]."  He gave to the poor and visited those in prison.  Not because any of those things are easy, but they are things that Dobson saw Jesus do. Oh by the way, he also has ALS/Lou Gehrig's Disease.  This year of living like Jesus was one of the ways that he chose to respond to his illness.  He says that it put everything into perspective.  "I'm getting up every day not worried about what doesn't work; I'm getting up concerned about how do I live out this Jesus stuff." We stand to learn a lot from Dr. Dobson.  I think he could teach us a lot about how God's Divine Power has given us everything we need.  Maybe not everything we want, but everything we need.  I'll say more about it in my message.
[*] Charles Honey, "Could You Live Like Jesus for a Year?"

Get a Life

His divine power has given us everything we need for life... --2 Peter 1:3 In a recent entry for the Blog Gifted For Leadership, Carla Waterman talks about a friend who came to visit her after relocating for a new job.  Her friend was feeling overwhelmed by her new circumstances.  She had gone from an environment that was rewarding and full of friends to one where she was a stranger who had yet to be "noticed" or appreciated.  She was tired of having to fight for respect and a chance to play a vital role in her new world. At that moment a quote from Dorothy Sayers occurred to Waterman: "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a medium for creation."  Then she suggested to her friend, "Perhaps it is time to drop your sword and pick up your paint brush." From there the two friends went on to discuss how easy it is to devote energy to making things how they thought they should be rather than working with them as they are.  Instead of fighting for what she thought would make her happy, her friend began to wonder if she might do better to accept them. Waterman continues: It is not the first conversation I have had in the last week on the difference between a full life and a frenetic one. And I find myself increasingly recognizing that, when there are so very few things over which we have control, we still have the choice of whether to wield a sword or pick up a brush. This morning we will continue our discussion of our theme verse (above).  And the question for us to ask is this: What do we mean when we say that God's divine power has given us everything we need for life.  What kind of life?  And how?  How has God given us everything we need for life?  Notice that it doesn't say that He will give us everything we want.  Or even everything we think we need.  This passage promises that his power will provide what we need. I hope this morning that you feel like you have everything you need for life.  I you don't feel that way, I hope you will leave feeling a little better equipped to serve God in your world.  I hope when you go you'll feel like picking up a paintbrush and getting to work.

Tell Your Story

Good morning! Rachel and the kids and I are out of town today. We're at Keith and Deborah's farm with the rest of Rachel's family. I'm really glad to be taking a weekend off and spending it with my family, but I will also miss being with my church family. I look forward to worshiping with you next week. For now, let me give you a preview of the morning you're going to have... I love to read the first sentences of some of my favorite stories: • "I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice." -A Prayer for Owen Meany • "It was a dark and stormy night." -A Wrinkle in Time • "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." -The Hobbit • "All this happened, more or less."-Slaughterhouse Five And my new favorite... • "I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, because I'm old, and you said, I don't think you're old."-Gilead Of course, what makes a story good isn't just the beginning but the rest of it, as well. I love every one of the stories quoted above. I've read them all multiple times, with the exception of the last one (which I read for the first time just last year). I don't remember a thing about the beginnings of stories I have not cared for. And, as good as those first sentences are (I wish I had come up with any of them), I really love them because I know the rest of each story. I know the depth of the narrator's memory for Owen Meany, the boy with the wrecked voice. I know what adventure awaits Meg Murray on that dark and stormy night. I know the playfulness and the seriousness with which Vonnegut says everything in the story happened. And I know the beautifully heartbreaking words of farewell that John Ames is about write to his young son. This morning you'll get to hear a couple of stories that I love. The first is the story of Paul and of his conversion to the Way of Christ. I think that someone ought to write a modern version of Paul's story. It's amazing. There's a great novel in it, just waiting to be brought forth. The other story you'll get to hear is the story of Bill Hromada and of his conversion to the Way of Christ. It is also an amazing story. Bill's story is a rousing example of how a life can be changed through Jesus. As you worship this morning. As you reflect on your life during the Lord's Supper, let me invite you to also reflect on your story. How has Jesus changed your life? How is Jesus changing your life even now? I also invite you to share that story with others. We need to hear these stories. They can be a great source of faith. They can inspire. They can spur us on to let Jesus have a hold of our story.