Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Considering the Unexpected, in a Graveyard, in the Dark.

Do you like surprises?
Scary movies?
How do you deal with the unexpected?

For me, I’d rather follow the Scouting motto and, “Be Prepared” than face anything that might disrupt my day.

What if I asked you these questions while we were walking in a graveyard in the early morning before dawn? Would your responses change?

When I was a pastor I recall a graveside service I was leading on October 31st. It was early afternoon, but standing next to an open grave on that Halloween day did cause me to pause for thought. I definitely wouldn’t have liked a “surprise” of any sort on that day.

In general, when unexpected surprises in scary places come my way I respond with fear.

In Matthew 28:1-10 we read the same reaction from those at the tomb of Jesus.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

When we read this story in our day it’s easy to think, “Why were the women so afraid? They knew Jesus was going to rise from the dead.” But did they? We have the benefit of knowing the full story. To get a “feel” for the situation we need to recapture the utter astonishment these women felt. If we try and put ourselves in their shoes, we can feel a bit of their experience.

The truth of our human experience is we live in the moment. We can look back and make forecasts, but we really don’t know what is happening next. We try and figure it out and make plans based on predictions, and for the most part that works pretty well. For example, right now it’s raining outside. It was raining while I drove to work and the weather report for today says it will shower all day. I won’t be fearful of the rain or if a thunderstorm appears, I’m expecting it. In fact, to see sunshine today would be unexpected. I’m living today based on this prediction.

The resurrection of Jesus is a central proclamation of the early church. And looking back in time as we get to, we can miss the awe and wonder that it brings. I like to think if I were there I wouldn’t be afraid but would have walked boldly up to Jesus given him a high five and said, “Welcome back.” However if I’m honest, I know I would have been just as afraid as those who were there that day.

However, notice there is also a different emotion present. Joy. In verse 9 the women hurried away afraid, yet filled with joy.

I love it that in the midst of the unexpected, there was a profound sense of joy that Jesus was alive.

This Easter, try and put yourself in the shoes of those first responders. Allow yourself to feel the fear of a graveyard in the dark and seeing things you don’t expect to see. And because of the fear, then allow yourself to experience the tremendous joy of discovering that Jesus is there and he is alive.

Friday, March 03, 2017

MOOC Resources

On March 3rd I lead a session for educators at the iTrac Kansas conference on the usefulness of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC's) for personal and professional development. Here are some of the organizations offering MOOC's that I refer to:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Revisiting Lament on the Youth Specialties Blog

A couple weeks ago I had a blog post published on the Youth Specialties website. I thought it turned out really well if I do say so myself.

If you didn't see it you can read the post here:

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

New Tabor Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation video released today

We just posted a brand new video about the Tabor MEI program. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Tabor College Wichita M.A. in Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation
from Tabor College on Vimeo.

If you'd like to talk more about this degree. Please message me. I'd love to chat with you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wandering "Okies" today

I recently finished The Grapes of Wrath, one of the most difficult-to-read novels I've picked up in a long time. For me, it was a difficult book, not due to the grammar, although the way Steinbeck quotes the "English" spoken in that time is very hard to comprehend, but because I had a very personal connection with the story. In many ways the difficult journey of the Joads' was also my grandparent’s story.

With fear that my High School English teacher will see this, I admit that this was the first time I had read this classic novel. And as I read about the Dust Bowl from Steinbeck's perspective I was shocked by the amount of total devastation in that region; as well as the ways the sharecropping farmers were kicked off their land to make way for "progress." The description of the automobile drive west and the family’s hopes of a new and blessed life in California was painful to read. The terrible treatment of the "Okies" by the Californians was also appalling.

But why was it painful for me? I've read hard luck stories before; this time it was different. This time this was ‘my’ story. My mother’s family moved out from Oklahoma in the '30's, not due to the Dust Bowl but due to my grandpa's ill health. He had tuberculosis and needed to move to a drier climate. Unfortunately they picked a terrible time to move, when the ‘Joads’ and others were also on the road and seeking work in California.

As a result of reading this novel, I now have an image of my sweet, tiny grandma picking fruit, cotton, and working long hours in a cannery or the walnut house. I discovered my grandparents lived with their seven children in a two-room "house," which was actually a converted chicken coop, for nine years! My mom was the only one of the kids born in California.

Their dreams in migrating were for a better life. As I think about my family, for many of us the dream has come true. All of us are better off than my grandparents.

The dream was fulfilled, just not for the first generation.

Stories of refugees are common in our world today. Numerous people are moving from their homes to try and find a better life someplace else. Like the Joads, though, people don’t just move unless they are forced to by dire circumstances. Last June I was in Turkey about 20 miles from Aleppo, a city on the front pages of the news at the moment. While there, the group of students I was leading was able to meet with a number of Syrian refugees living in that region. We were treated to immense hospitality by these people who had fled their homes due to fighting; none of them wanted to leave, but were forced to due to outside circumstances. As I read how the Joads' maintained their humanity, even in the face of extreme dehumanization from the Californians, I was reminded of the beautiful Syrians we met in June.

As I write this, the city of Aleppo has been retaken by government forces. At the same time, a 7 year old girl in Aleppo has been tweeting her story- Bana Alabed escapes East Aleppo

Although not connected with the rebels, her home has been destroyed by government forces. Like the Joads', will her family make the move to a neighboring country to find a better life? (The link above shares how this family has been relocated to Turkey)

We’re currently in the season of Christmas, a time when Christians reflect on the birth narrative of Jesus. One of the interesting parts of Jesus story is the flight to Egypt shortly after the Magi leave. Jesus was a refugee. What if Egypt had closed their borders to immigrants and migrants? If Mary and Joseph had returned, would Jesus have been killed?

13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death.

Knowing my families story makes me much more sympathetic to the plight of those who experience loss and hardship right now. Knowing Syrian people who have fled, hearing their stories and their desire to return home, and knowing Jesus and his family experienced the same trauma and hardships makes me long for a world where peace is seen. What can I do? How do I keep from becoming one of the oppressors? If we stop to think about it for just a few minutes, the story of migration is the story of almost all Americans. At some point our ancestors were in the same circumstances as the fictitious Joads and the very real Syrians like Bana.

I invite you to join me in one way to respond, by giving to the Mennonite relief agency MCC:

Friday, December 16, 2016

The sad death of Christmas Cards

Here we are in an old Christmas card photo

Has the giving of Christmas cards died a quick and sad death?

I awoke with the song “White Christmas” playing in my head the other morning. One line kept repeating over and over, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, with every Christmas card I write.” As this line kept looping I thought about how far from reality this seems. I admit that my wife and I no longer send Christmas cards and the majority of our friends don’t either.

I’ve also had a question rattling around in my thoughts, “How can I find ways to fully live the hope and expectation of the season of Advent, rather than stress and ‘Christmas’ for 30 days prior to the actual Christmas day.

These two random thoughts collided and I was left with a bigger question, “In previous generations, were writing and addressing Christmas cards one of the spiritual acts of Advent?”

As I understand it, Advent is a season of preparation, of spiritual and moral self-reflection in anticipation of entering the Christmas event. Christmas day is the culmination of that self-reflection capped off by the 12 days of Christmas. It seems to me this has completely flip-flopped. Christmas begins at the end of October and the entire season is a race up to the finish line- Chrismas day. I wonder if in the past taking the time to write and address a stack of cards helped slow down the pace and provide an opportunity to reflect on the season, rather than race through it.

Growing up, I remember receiving cards from family and friends and as a child I remember especially loving the ones that came with a photo of the senders family. Most of the time I knew the people in the image and sometimes I’d ask my parents who the people were. Other times the cards would have beautiful scenes and encouraging words on them. If we were lucky, they even had a check or a dollar or two for us kids.

Fast forward a bit to when my children were small, Christmas cards still were sent and received. As a family we added a “twist,” we place all the cards we got in a basket on the dining table and would  pray for the family from one card each night.

Nowadays, we only receive a handful of cards each year. More and more of my friends post a Christmas photo on their Facebook page and wish their followers Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Facebook has killed Christmas cards. Time to write an obituary I suppose.

Thinking about how Facebook has replaced Christmas cards gave me an idea of a spiritual practice to recapture the slowness and mindfulness of addressing numerous cards. I decided to go through my Facebook “friends” list  and pray a prayer of blessing over each one. I sat last Saturday morning with this list and if you’re one of my friends I prayed for you.

Here’s what I prayed:
Numbers 6:24-26
24 The Lord bless you
   and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
   and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
   and give you peace.

May you experience peace and blessing this Christmas season. And if you’re not sending cards, I invite you to the practice of passing on the prayer and blessing to your Facebook, and wider, friends.

Here’s the version of “White Christmas” I had playing in my head that day. I had this album on cassette back in the 90’s and wore it out playing it in the minivan with my kids.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Need a suggestion for a Christmas Gift? Pick up the Bad Habits of Jesus by Leonard Sweet

The first time I heard the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” I was around 10 years old. I was in my local library looking for adventure books; the librarian wanted me to read a certain novel and I didn’t like how the front cover looked. She gave me a stern lecture on how book covers are chosen and why it is unhelpful to evaluate a book solely on how it looks. I’ve tried to follow her advice ever since.

Judging by the image above, I can imagine some people seeing the cover of “the Bad Habits of Jesus” by Leonard Sweet and refusing to read it either because of the title or the “biker” image on the front. However in the words of my childhood librarian, save the judgement until after reading.

The Bad Habits of Jesus starts with a premise that is sure to raise a question or two. Bad habits? How could Jesus have any bad habits? He’s Jesus after all. Son of God, sinless, perfect, healed people, great teacher; the thought that he did anything untoward goes against all that is taught in Sunday school. And yet, when Sweet put out a request on his Facebook page as a way of crowdsourcing his followers to list any bad habits they thought Jesus had, the page was flooded with comments. Apparently, when people think about it, there are a number of things that Jesus said or did that were outside the cultural norm of 1st Century Judaism, or ‘bad habits’. Among the many who had something to say were Sweet’s current Tabor College Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation students. A few of their “bad habit” observations made it into the book.

In the 2000+ years since Jesus left this earth, many ideas have sprung up about who he was and what he did. Over the centuries the Church has often removed the radical, scandalous nature of Jesus of Nazareth, especially as the institution became more and more connected with the powerful and elite in society. Christian faith was reduced to a ticket to heaven, and the life and teachings of Jesus relegated to a backstory for what was ‘really’ important: Jesus’ death and resurrection. What I love about Leonard Sweet, and this book specifically, is that the author reminds his readers that who Jesus was and what he did matters, and for those who claim to carry his name, ‘Christian’, there is an expectation that his life be taken seriously.

In the Apostles Creed there is a significant comma. In the second stanza the creed states,

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Did you see it?

The comma after ‘born of the Virgin Mary’ and before ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate.’ What goes in this space? The entire life and teachings of Jesus; unfortunately, this comma removes the entire life of Jesus and renders it irrelevant.

Throughout history, Christians have been so caught up in proving the significance of the death of Jesus, or his Divinity, that His humanity has been removed. What Sweet’s book attempts is to remind readers that Jesus was human as well as divine and that his life and teachings matter a great deal to his followers today. In this way, as Sweet points out on page 191, this is a book about the Incarnation. While Jesus walked this earth, what were some of these bad habits? Here’s a list of some of the chapters: Jesus Spit, Jesus Appeared Wasteful, Jesus was Constantly Disappearing, Jesus Hung out with Bad People, and others.

My favorite was Chapter 10: Jesus Spent Too Much Time with Children. As someone who has worked with children and youth for 30+ years, I found much in this chapter to rejoice over. This quote stood out particularly, “Jesus treated children as if their relationship with God was an important as any adult relationships. Jesus constantly sacrificed his rabbinic dignity to reduce the distance between himself and a child. Jesus preached to the children, hoping the adults would get it. That’s one reason he told stories.” (pg. 116-117) As I get older and more “dignified”, I need to continually remind myself that Jesus sacrificed his rabbinic dignity to bless children.

My devotional reading this week has focused on Luke 6:46-49. In verse 46 Jesus states, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” Notice the focus is on doing, not believing, trusting, or holding onto a golden ticket, but doing what Jesus says. What I loved about The Bad Habits of Jesus was the reintroduction of how truly radical and life changing putting Jesus words into practice really is as a follower.

I read this book and highly recommend it. If you’re still thinking of a gift for someone on your Christmas list, this would be an excellent choice.