Darkness, Death, & Silence

From Scott Erickson’s “Holy Week Imagery”.

It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time… It was the Preparation Day for the Sabbath, and the Sabbath was quickly approaching. The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph. They saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid in it, then they went away and prepared fragrant spices and perfumed oils. They rested on the Sabbath, in keeping with the commandment.
Luke 23:44-46, 54-56 (CEB)

A lot of ink and words have been spilled and uttered surrounding the observance of Good Friday. And while it’s tempting to want to find that next great insight that will sky rocket this blog out of the depths of random entries to influencer status, today’s post isn’t about that. In fact, I’m not sure what it’s entirely about (probably not the best way to start a blog post…), but I had the urge to write, and so, here we go.

Good. Friday.

A day marked by darkness, death, and silence.

Maybe it’s fitting that in Michigan today we’ve retreated back into the cold, bleak grayness of winter. The wind is howling, the rain seems close to turning to snow, and it’s April 15th…

And as I look around the news headlines, this is what dominates the airwaves:
• Russia’s horrific invasion of Ukraine continues.
• Political divides are only increasing in the USA.
• Conflict & human rights violations silently remain in the Middle East.
• A Michigan community mourns, laments, angers, & reacts to a police shooting.
• Loved ones close to us have passed away.
• And the list could go on and on and on…

Shades of Darkness.
Sadness of Death.
Deafening silence.

Lent is almost over, but not quite yet. For the past 40+ days our journey has been with Jesus through the wilderness, as we learn to lay aside our selfish desires, as we have the pseudo gods and goddesses we pursue stripped away from us. Journeying through the wilderness is no easy task, and it reminds us that left to ourselves, we’d wander about in circles hopelessly for 40+ years. Many of us are tired, many of us are wearied, many of us feel like the past 2 years has been a 40 year journey through the wilderness.

And yet, on Good Friday, we’re reminded that there’s one more stop before us on this Lenten journey…the cross. In our eagerness to jump to the celebrations of Easter, let us not forget this final stop in the wilderness, for it’s here that we learn what it truly means to surrender everything.

I find it interesting that in his call to discipleship, the one thing Jesus commands his followers to pick up and carry is their cross (see Matt. 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). Not once in a while, not every couple weeks, but daily. As cross-bearing people, we learn and re-learn what it means for us to die to ourselves, to not to be the center of our own world, to love God & neighbor above ourselves.

As the pastor of a church plant in its infancy, there’s a lot of dying to self that happens in the Lent-Easter season. It’s hard not to compare yourself to other churches in the area that have the resources and manpower to host community events or large celebrations. It’s tempting to try and over-market Jesus. It can be defeating to stare reality in the face.

But pursuit of of the alternate means abandoning the wilderness, following a different call, and placing my own “award winning” insights above the creativity, power, and potential of the Creator of all things (Honestly, it sounds kind of silly when you spell it out that way, yet we constantly do it in life…).

In Luke’s capturing of the events of Good Friday, the day is marked by political unrest and earth-covering darkness. The night is marked by the silence of Sabbath rest.

Something I learned this year (not sure why I didn’t know it before) is that the season of Lent technically ends on Holy Saturday. Our journey through the wilderness ends not in celebration, but in darkness, death, and silence.

Yes, Sunday is coming, but first we must navigate the darkness, encounter death, and listen to the silence.

As noted above, there’s a lot to reflect upon this Good Friday. May we do so as a people shaped by the cross. May we do so as a people who’ve learned to navigate the wilderness journey, not by looking inwards to ourselves or outwards towards others, but upwards to the God who sustains and sanctifies us with his amazing grace.

A short Good Friday prayer:
“Yes, Sunday is coming, but first, O Lord, give us the courage to walk through the darkness, the strength to face death, and the stillness to sit in silence.”

Wait for the Lord…

Every Monday night I have the privilege to meet with three other guys as we walk through life together. One of the practices we adopted early on in the group is to read and reflect on a psalm each week. This past Monday was Psalm 27. And as the psalm was read, the final verse really stood out to me, in particular the command to wait.

Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Wait for the LORD!
– Psalm 27:14

On my run this morning, I kept coming back to this verse.

Wait for the LORD

As I made my way around town, I found myself repeating over and over in my head…waitwaitwait

You see, my run was a practice in patience. I’m early on in a 6-week training plan for an alumni 5K at my old high school (and want to show those high school boys there’s still something left in the tank), and today’s workout was a 60-70 minute progression run. Start easy, hold easy, increase the tempo near the end, & end easy. And so I mentally mapped it out: 40-50 minutes easy, a 10-15 minute progression, then an easy mile at the end.

Early on my legs were feeling pretty good, but I knew that if I didn’t wait, I could throw the idea of a progression out the window. And I was out, mentally reminding myself to wait, I was thinking about how often in life we feel like I was feeling in the early stages of the run. Legs were good, heart rate was good, lungs felt great, cadence was smooth…let me just increase the tempo a little bit, let me call a little audible to the waiting because I’m feeling good!

And in those places and seasons, it can be easy to tell God, “Thanks for getting me going, but I can take it from here God…” We’re feeling great, and so we cease to wait. When in reality, we’re not truly ready to shift the gears and go. Our legs aren’t in the place where they can handle the miles in front of us, the valleys to descend into, and the hills to climb.

Maybe David is writing this Psalm as he reflects back on life, wishing he’d waited. Wishing he hadn’t shifted gears and brought Bathsheba to the palace. Wishing he hadn’t altered plans and placed Uriah on the front lines. It’s interesting to note that after that incident in David’s life, his rule as Israel’s king is never quite as good. Family strife arises, the temple has to wait, and only a generation later, the kingdom splits…

Wait for the LORD

Depending on your Bible translation, you may read hope instead of wait at the end of Psalm 27. Both are appropriate, and ultimately, I think both convey the idea that waiting and hoping for the LORD to move involves deep trust in our God to be who He says He is.

The temptation to not wait or to seek someone or something else to place our trust in is rooted in the notion that God is not who He says He is. That we can do it better, we can do it sooner, we can do it bigger, we can… This type of thinking is rooted in scarcity, in not having control, in not intimately knowing God.

This week at our EMD Family Camp, we’ve had the privilege of having Rev. Shawna Songer-Gaines preach. This morning, when speaking on Exodus 33, she shared that we can’t forsake intimacy with God in pursuit of mission. Another way of saying it: we can’t forsake waiting with God & waiting for God in pursuit of mission.

This morning, my patience paid off. After 8K, I was able to increase the tempo for 4K. But it hasn’t always been the case. There’s been multiple runs where a slight increase early on leads to a failed workout, a bonked race. There’s been multiple times where I’ve told God I know my timing is better than His…only to find out He was right once again.

Wherever you’re at as you read this, whatever you’re going through, my prayer is that you’d have the patience to trust, to hope, to wait.

Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Wait for the LORD!
– Psalm 27:14

O Lord, Giver of Grace – A Short Poem

At FCN, we’re preaching a series related to Scot McKnight & Laura Barringer’s great work, A Church Called Tov. Tomorrow I have the opportunity to preach on the theme of grace (tune in at 10:45am EST).

Here’s a little poem that’s come together in the sermon writing process:

O Lord, giver of grace, extender of love
Would you pour out Your Spirit from up above;
Long we work, endlessly we toil
Absent from you, our plans are sure to foil;
As your children, may we embody Your grace
When others see us, may they see Your face.

God’s Will, God’s Way.

For the season of Lent, I engaged in the Sacred Invitational devotional put out by the Foundry Publishing. A couple weeks ago there was a line in the Sunday devotion that stuck with me. It reads as follows:

“To take up his cross meant that Jesus was aligning not only himself with the will of God, 
but also with the way of God. God’s will done in God’s way…”
(Excerpt from the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Sacred Invitation)

God’s will done in God’s way.
Not God’s will done in Joe’s way, but God’s will done in God’s way.

So often we’re tempted to do God’s will our way. 
Yes, God, I’ll follow you, and here’s how I’m going to do it.

But what does it look like to do God’s will, God’s way?

For me, I realized that I’ve been handling the church plant on my terms.

I like planning, I like charts, and I like systems (mind mapping is the best!), and so that’s what I was doing. Not that any of this was inherently wrong – I was trying to put the “best” plan together that would see Pinckney Community Church of the Nazarene thrive and succeed! The plan made sense. It worked logistically. And it’s what I had communicated on my visits to other Nazarene churches. And then I came across the devotional…

God’s will done in God’s way…

That phrase, coupled with the Church Multiplication Boot Camp I had just attended, hit me hard. And it was though I heard the voice of God speaking to me in my spirit, “Joe, yes, you have a plan, but have you planned me out of it?”

Let me tell you, that was a hard pill to swallow…
But God, look at the vision…
But God, look at how creative this is…
But God…
But…but…we have a logo designed, a website created, and business cards printed…
Darn it, God…you’re right…

And the truth is, I was a bit scared, a bit uneasy about what it meant to do “God’s will, God’s way” concerning Pinckney Community Church, because it meant that much of it was out of my control, my comfort zone, and my experience. But I knew it was where I needed to be…

And so, thanks to a good friend and my incredible wife, I found myself in a secluded house in northern Michigan for a few days to pray and seek God on what it looks like to plant Pinckney Community Church His way.

And my heart was drawn back to the original vision of this church that God placed on my heart at Urbana 2018.

–  A coffee house church in Europe –

While Europe is out of the question for now (maybe I got Hamburg, MI confused with Hamburg, Germany?), the premise behind the church is not. The vision is for a church that doesn’t look, feel, or function like a “normal” church. The vision is for a church that is a gathering place for the community, and in my experience, coffee shops are where people gather to fuel up for the day, to study, to catch up with friends, etc. 

If the Covid-19 Pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that the Church is NOT the building; it’s the beloved community of Kingdom people. And so why can’t our church building be something else throughout the week? Something that blesses and serves and gives back to the community.

My short time in the wilderness (seriously, no WiFi = 21st century wilderness!) has helped me refine the mission, vision, & values of Pinckney Community Church. I’ll soon be updating the church website to reflect this, but in the meantime, here’s a short preview.

PCC exists to equip found people to reach lost people through Open Hearts, Open Hands, & Open Homes.

Vision Statements
Open Hearts to God & one another.
Open Hands to serve the communities and creation that surround us.
Open Homes to welcome all within our doors, at our tables, and into our lives. 

There’s two great needs for Pinckney Community Church:
First, a building. A building that can serve as a gathering place for the community during the week (think, coffee shop), a place to engage in tough conversations, a place to showcase the talented people that call our community home. But more than that, it’s where our Dinner Church will gather, and it’s where our house churches will gather on Sunday nights to worship and celebrate God’s movement in and through us during the week. 
Second, land to cultivate a Community Garden. We want our Garden to bless the community, to provide organically grown produce to community families, and it will one day help provide some of the food for our Dinner Church.

Furthermore, how we will gather will be different than most of us, myself included, are used to: house churches. My hope is that the people of PCC would view themselves as neighborhood missionaries, and so I want us to gather in geographically based house churches that we might seek the welfare of those we share life with. On Sunday nights we’ll gather to celebrate and worship. Furthermore, on months with a 5th Sunday, we will be out in the community, helping to meet any needs that may be present at the time. This is a lofty goal, but it calls us to truly know the heartbeat of our community.

Finally, we’ll be led by the premise that we gather to scatter. What I mean by this is that we’re not concerned about having the “largest” church in town, but we are concerned about seeing Jesus transform lives in communities where we aren’t yet present. And so, our goal is to send out a team to plant a new church every 3-5 years in the metro Ann Arbor area. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I admit, it’s a bit exciting and a bit unnerving to put this out because it means that so much is out of my hands, out of my control, but I’m confident that this is the vision that God has put firmly in my spirit and soul. If you would like to learn more about PCC, join our core team, or help us fund the mission, I would love to connect with you!

As we follow God’s leading in our lives, may we do God’s will, God’s way.

But God…

At our church, we have been journeying through Lent using the Sacred Invitation devotional put together by a couple of wonderful pastors within our denomination. The devotional follows the Book of Common Prayer through the Lenten season.

Yesterday’s readings led us through the entirety of Psalm 72, splitting the Psalm across morning and evening readings. If you haven’t read Psalm 72 before, it traces the highs and lows of Israel’s relationship with God. It’s written so that the Israelites will tell one another of God’s great acts of deliverance from generation to generation. Also embedded within the Psalm are honest reflections of Israel’s unfaithfulness and rebellious actions. (The notion to honestly tell of the good AND bad of one’s history are important to consider, but not where I want to go today.)

Since reading the Psalm, there’s a few verses from the middle of it that have stuck with me.

But they were just flattering him with lip service.
They were lying to him with their tongues.
Their hearts weren’t firmly set on him;
They weren’t faithful to his covenant.
But God, being compassionate,
Kept forgiving their sins,
Kept avoiding destruction;
He took back his anger so many times,
Wouldn’t stir up all his wrath!
God kept remembering that they were just flesh,
Just breath that passes and doesn’t come back.

Psalm 72:36-39 (CEB)

Time and time again, God moves in miraculous ways.
Time and time again, Israel complains, turns away, engages in pesudo-worship, seeks other gods, desires something/someone else.
BUT GOD, being compassionate kept forgiving their sins…kept avoiding destruction…took back his anger…

But God…

Two little words that mean so much.
Two little words that show what it means to display covenantal love.
Two little words that show what family looks like.
Two little words that show us what it means to believe & love & serve & follow a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”(Exod. 34:6-7).

The past year has highlighted how we’re quick to anger, impatient, self-seeking, selective in love…and that’s just within the Church…

Friends, I’m tired and weary of division, of fleeing when things aren’t “my way” like Burger King says it should be, of an unwillingness to have relationships with “the other” who thinks and votes differently from me, of politics shaping our faith instead of faith shaping our politics.

It’s been an emotionally challenging year…
But God still draws me back to the Church with all her beauty and blemishes.
But God still reminds me that compassion and grace are essential values to live out.
But God is still at work doing a new thing in and around us!

May we posture ourselves as “But God…” people, loving God with all of our hearts and loving others as ourselves.
May we strive for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, & self-control.

The Cultivation of Something New

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Isaiah 43:18-19

Hi friends!

If you haven’t heard, we have some exciting news! We are responding in faithful obedience to plant a church! Over the past two years, we have sought the Lord’s discernment concerning the next steps in my (Joe’s) call to pastoral ministry, as well as our family’s ministry journey. And after much prayer & discernment, we are excited/thrilled to share that we will soon be moving to Pinckney to plant a Nazarene church.

Our move will be just one stop on our journey over the next year. On Christmas Eve, we welcomed kiddo #4 (Lydia) into our family! In April, Joe will be ordained in the Church of the Nazarene (he was affirmed as a candidate for ordination last year, but our district’s annual assembly was canceled due to COVID). And in early summer, we will move to Pinckney as we prepare for the launch of our Nazarene church plant.

Why a Nazarene Church? What does it mean to be a Nazarene?

The Church of the Nazarene is a global denomination rooted in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, with local churches worshipping in 163 world areas. Nazarenes are known for our commitment to personal holiness and Christlikeness, lived out through a devotion to social holiness. This is said best through the words of the Nazarene website itself, “We believe that the Holy Spirit convicts, cleanses, fills, and empowers us as the grace of God transforms us day by day into a people of love, spiritual discipline, ethical and moral purity, compassion, and justice.”

To be a Nazarene then, is to interpret life and faith through the lenses of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience; and, to live holy lives through mutual support, Christian fellowship, and loving accountability. In the words of John Wesley, “God has given us to each other to strengthen each other’s hands.”

What is this new church all about?

Simply put, we’re all about following the ways of King Jesus holistically and in community.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve struggled throughout life with compartmentalizing my faith. It’s easy to box up the “church experience” and shift it to the back burner as we move from Sunday to Monday. Yet, Jesus calls us to reframe our entire view of life when we pledge to follow Him, stepping into the heart of His Upside-Down Kingdom. Church, then, is not something we go to, but something we become. We live out our faith in celebratory gatherings on Sundays, and in the mundane and menial tasks throughout the week. And as we live life this way, we come to know what it means to love God and our neighbors with all of ourselves, the entirety of our heart, soul, mind, & strength. We look not just to our own interests, but we commit to seeking the welfare of the community, culture, & creation where we find ourselves rooted.

We echo the words of Tim Soerens, who, in his book, Everywhere You Look, writes that, “[The church is] called to live out this good-news story not as isolated, well-meaning individuals but as a team that is publicly encountered in the ordinary context of particular places.” The church is much more than a collection of friendly acquaintances who cross paths on a weekly basis; it is a living, breathing body, composed of men & women from all backgrounds who walk through life together, speaking the Good News of redemption into the places and people they encounter daily.

It is for these reasons that we’re naming our church Pinckney Community Church of the Nazarene.

At Pinckney Community Church of the Nazarene (PCC) we’re committed to:

  • Open Hearts to God and one another. We believe that God is constantly at work sanctifying us, refining our hearts as He shapes us to reflect His image to the world around us. As such, it’s essential for our hearts to remain open that we might see and hear the work God desires to do in us and through us.
  • Open Hands to serve the communities and creation that surround us. Jesus modeled that everything we have is a gift graciously given to us by God to be used for His glory. And so, we commit to giving generously of ourselves, integrating our faith, life, & vocation as we partner with Jesus to bring about flourishing lives locally and globally.
  • Open Homes to welcome all within our doors. We want our homes to be open as places of rest & refreshment, fun & fellowship. We strive to posture ourselves as hospitable neighbors, seeking the welfare of those we share life with. As we follow Jesus’ example and leading, we, too, ensure that all are welcome into our home and our lives.

How can you get involved?

Join a House Church
The vision of PCC is to be a collection of house churches that will one day dot the countryside from Whitmore Lake to Stockbridge, Hamburg to Ann Arbor. The Christian life is meant to be lived in community with the body of Christ, not alone and disconnected. As a good friend of mine articulated so well, the pandemic has taught us that, “the bulk of Christian discipleship doesn’t happen through large corporate gatherings, but throughout the week in neighborhoods, backyards, porches, and over meals.” Our plan is to gather all of our house churches together on the 1st & 3rd Sundays of the month for “big” church, and on the 2nd & 4th Sundays, we’ll scatter out into the community to gather in our house churches. On months with a 5th Sunday, we’ll convene out in the community, serving our neighbors with our time and talents. Would you consider becoming a part of our community as we follow Jesus together?

Partner with us Financially
We are raising funds as church planters, local missionaries to the greater Pinckney area. We have a goal of raising $3,000 of monthly supporters for a duration of 24 months, beginning in October 2021, to help us launch our church plant. This money will go to offset our salary so our church can use our tithes and offerings for local mission in Pinckney. If you are interested in partnering monthly or through a one-time gift, please donate here (https://fentonnazarene.com/give). Select “New Church Plant (Pinckney)” as the giving designation so that our mother church (Fenton Church of the Nazarene) knows how to categorize the funds. Would you consider partnering with us to provide our salary until our community is financially self-sufficient?

Pray for our Community
We believe that prayer is an essential part of our church plant, both for the church and for the Pinckney community. We believe that God hears our praises and petitions and moves by His Spirit in our midst. Would you consider being a prayer partner, interceding for our church plant, for our community, and for our family?

Pinckney Community Church of the Nazarene is called to be a community that is formed and shaped by holistic devotion to Jesus. We are called to love God and neighbor through opening our hearts to be redeemed and sanctified. We are called to serve creation and our community by opening hands generously and creatively. And, we are called to hospitality as we open our homes to be places of refreshment, rest, & shared life.

As we open our hearts, our hands, and our homes to God and to others, may we do so humbly, yet expectantly, that God will show up to redeem and transform lives and communities!

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Isaiah 43:18-19

We invite you to pray and discern if God is calling you to join us!

Joe, Maria, Abigail, Elizabeth, Ian, & Lydia

Interested in learning more? Contact us!
Email: wright.joe.a@gmail.com

Also, if you missed my most recent sermon at FCN where I shared about the vision of the plant, here’s a similar update video: https://youtu.be/f62pD4KCRFA.

Love: The Most Powerful Witness

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
– Ephesians 4:1-3

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:34-35

It’s no secret that words and actions ripe with divisive intentions are daily entering our lives. Be it through salacious sound bytes or memorable memes, it feels as though division is the goal of the day. And yet against this anger-ridden landscape, the Church is called to a different moral standard.

Bear with one another in love, Paul writes at the beginning of Ephesians 4. This call to Christian living piggy backs off Paul’s beautiful prayer at the end of chapter 3, where he prays that the Ephesians would know the fullness of the love of Christ.

By your love for one another, the world will know you are my disciples, Jesus states to the disciples in John 13. As his death looms near, as religious and political divisiveness comes to a boiling point, Jesus reminds his disciples that the world will be watching them, so will they succumb to the ways of the world or will they walk the way of love.

Disagreements and divisions have always existed. We’re humans, it’s inevitable. We think differently. We act differently. We talk differently. We vote differently. We put rolls of toilet paper on differently (talk about a real dividing point!). And it’s ok. It’s normal. Thanks be to God that we are different and unique, that we like different things, that we think differently about things! Honestly, it’d be a bit boring if everything was always the same for all of us (a point we’re trying to teach our daughters right now who always want the same of everything – clothes, snacks, toys, etc.).

But what’s not ok, and I’m speaking to the Church here, is when we use these differences to drive division and stir up controversy. When it’s easier to unfriend, block, slander, or simply avoid those we may disagree with, we need to reevaluate how the Gospel is shaping our hearts.

Paul compels the Early Church to live in peace and unity and love despite their great Greco-Roman and Jewish differences. Notice that Paul doesn’t say: start a Greco-Roman Church and a Jewish Church so that you don’t have to live with your differences. Jesus, on the precipice of his crucifixion, reminds the disciples that the world will know their allegiance to him by the love they show one another. Again, notice that Jesus doesn’t say: pick up your swords and plowshares to forcibly take down the Romans and Jewish religious authorities after they crucify me.

The Church is called to a different ethic of living, a Kingdom-centered ethic, where the love of Jesus unites us despite our differences. We are called to Christlikeness, to loving our neighbors (both the ones we like, and the ones we try to avoid by scurrying in the house as fast as possible when we get home) in the same way Jesus loved us.

Division fills our days. It’s always been there, but it doesn’t have to stay there. The world is watching us, Church. What will it know us for?

what makes a life valuable

A life on death row
Is just as valuable as a life in utero
A life fleeing the dangers of home
Is just as valuable as a life safe in a suburban home
A life painted beautiful shades of brown
Is just as valuable as a life that is white all around

What makes a life valuable?
What is a life worth?
Is it someone who has it all – comfort, college, retirement plan…
Or someone who scrapes by, desperately relying upon the earth?

Through keyboard strokes and handwritten signs
We voice our thoughts; our words, we do opine
In colorful vocabulary, through the power of law
We struggle, we fight, to define value for all
We state and demand, “It’s easy to follow laws & orders…why aren’t you able?”
Yet, how often have we thought to invite them to our table

What makes a life valuable?
What is a life worth?
Is it found in the exterior – skin tone, ethnic home, and language?
Is our value determined by our location of birth?

Instead of politics, position, or power
Let us look to the One who arrived at just the right hour.
Friendship was not bought.
Positional power was not taught.
Yet…how often is this our first thought?

Infants & children…valued
The elderly, widows, & widowers…valued
Sinners & saints…valued
Pharisees, Sadducees, & Roman Centurions…valued
The faithful zealot & the future betrayer…valued
Nomads, locals, & refugees…valued
Political leaders & the politically homeless…valued
The healthy, the blind, the lame, the leper…valued
You…found worthy

You. Are. Loved.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:3-11

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
1 John 4:19-21

Getting Egypt Out of Us

Over the past month we’ve been preaching out of the lectionary, following the Exodus journey of the nation of Israel as God delivers out of the hands of the oppressive Egyptians. As we’ve walked through the text, we’ve often returned to Pastor & Professor Dr. Scott Daniels’ insight that the Exodus journey for Israel was just as much getting Israel out of Egypt as it was also God getting the ways of Egypt out of Israel. (Here’s a Lenten reflection on the idea).

It’s a pattern we see often repeated throughout the latter books of the Pentateuch – God delivers…Israel grumbles…God delivers…Israel grumbles. This was highlighted again in my devotional time this morning, reading Numbers 11 and Psalm 106, both of which speak to Israel’s grumbling and muttering and rebelling against the journey out of Egypt, because “at least in Egypt we ate fish for free and had cucumbers and melons and leeks and garlic…” (Num. 11:6).

Reflecting on the passage, I see how it speaks prophetically to us today. And while we’re not trying to get the ways of Egypt out of us, we are still lamenting and wishing we could return to the “Church of 2019”.

  • If we only didn’t have to wear these masks…
  • If we only could meet like we used to…
  • If we didn’t have to meet online…
  • Or for some: I won’t return until _______ is like it was because that’s how church should be…

Just as the Israelites longed for 40 years to return to the familiarity and comfort of oppressive Egypt, we long for the familiarity and comforts of pre-COVID church. And when that’s our starting point, when that’s our goal, the way forward is only going to look bleak, and our language will only be full of grumbling.

BUT…what if we’re in the midst of a wilderness moment? What if God is working to lead us out from Egypt in these days, working to rid Egypt from our souls?

I liken it to coaching cross country. One of my biggest coaching pet peeves – not calling out any of my runners who may be reading 😉 – is when the week or two before running on a tough course, the language turns negative. I don’t like it there because I know I won’t PR… There’s SO MANY hills… The trails are too windy… They never cut the grass short…

And I find I’m trying to have to reframe the race narrative for them. Yes, these are all possibilities and realities we will face, but… what if all the hard work you’ve put in for months pays off and you do PR? When we come in with a negative mindset, negative language, and a longing to be somewhere familiar, comfortable, and easy, we’re not going to like the struggle; we’re going to want to flee it.

I, too, have lamented the realities of a COVID world. Church isn’t the same as it was. I miss seeing many of our families on Sundays. BUT…what if God is leading us through a wilderness moment, preparing us for something different, something new?

  • Maybe this season will help us rid ourselves of the idols of consumerism and pesudo-discipleship.
  • Maybe this season will drive us back into one another’s homes, sharing meals and life together.
  • Maybe this season will help us embrace a life and love that understands and embraces struggle and the laying down of ourselves as we follow Jesus.

And so, my prayer for us is this, that as we walk through these wilderness days, we would remain faithful to God’s guiding presence, walking forward into the unknown and unplannable and uncertain, instead of caving into our desires to retreat backwards to the familiar and easy and comfortable.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

My heart laments in these days at the lack of peace and unity within the Church – at least it appears to be so from my perspective in my corner in the world. And again, the day’s lectionary readings remind me of our call as Christians to seek peace, to seek unity, to place love of our neighbors before love of ourselves. I could comment more, but the passages speak for themselves. May we reflect & meditate & live them out daily.

Psalm 133:1 (CEB)
Look at how good and pleasing it is
when families live together as one!

Romans 14:13-15:2 (CEB)
So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. I know and I’m convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is wrong to eat in itself. But if someone thinks something is wrong to eat, it becomes wrong for that person. If your brother or sister is upset by your food, you are no longer walking in love. Don’t let your food destroy someone for whom Christ died. And don’t let something you consider to be good be criticized as wrong. God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval.

So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up. Don’t destroy what God has done because of food. All food is acceptable, but it’s a bad thing if it trips someone else. It’s a good thing not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that trips your brother or sister. Keep the belief that you have to yourself—it’s between you and God. People are blessed who don’t convict themselves by the things they approve. But those who have doubts are convicted if they go ahead and eat, because they aren’t acting on the basis of faith. Everything that isn’t based on faith is sin.

We who are powerful need to be patient with the weakness of those who don’t have power, and not please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good in order to build them up.