Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day on which Christians commemorate Christ’s Last Supper. But do you remember what happened before the meal? Jesus took off his outer garment, wrapped a towel around his waist, filled a basin with water and washed the disciples feet. Then when he was finished he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:15)

I have had two experiences with foot washing. The first was when I was the wash-er. I was at a retreat with a group of high school students. At the conclusion of our last session I had them remove their shoes and socks and I washed their feet. I look back on that moment as one of the fondest times in youth ministry.

My other experience was much more difficult. I was the wash-ee. My friend Joel and I had met for lunch on Maundy Thursday. One of our topics of discussion was the foot washing service that would take place at his church that night. He was not looking forward to it. I tried to be encouraging but secretly was happier that it was him and not me. After lunch we went our separate ways. That evening I was sitting in our living room watching tv with my family. All of a sudden, Joel came through the front door came unannounced carrying a tub of water, soap and a towel. He didn’t greet anyone but rather went directly to me. As he knelt…putting his items on the floor…he said, “Jesus washed the feet of his friends and I want to wash your feet.”

We were all stunned. The tv was clicked off. My children watched this gift of love and friendship unfold. We all sat in a holy silence with the music of splashing water playing as a background score.

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche Communities said, “To wash the feet of a brother or sister in Christ, to allow someone to wash our feet, is a sign that together we want to follow Jesus, to take the downward path, to find Jesus’ presence in the poor and the weak.”

When I think of Maundy Thursday that’s what I think of…a group of students who allowed me such a privilege and a good friend who showed me Jesus.

Not, Don’t, Won’t or Am, Do, Will

I was at a party the other night and I met some new people. The conversation started out well as one couple asked me about going back to school, the adjustments and eventually the degree I’m pursuing. The wife grew up in a very religious community full of churches, Christian colleges, and a couple seminaries which led to, “What kind of seminary is it?”

Because of what I assumed about the culture of her youth, I attempted to distinguish what George Fox was by describing what it was not. A few comments made sense but then I quickly and completely lost them. The glazed look followed by loss of eye contact was the sure sign. I don’t know why I did that but I know I’ll never do that again.

Articulating our beliefs by what we don’t believe, defining ourselves by who we aren’t, and explaining our mission by making clear what it isn’t – is a bad idea whether your motivation is to protect, include or win an argument.

  • It is a bad strategy because its a conversation ender. If I met you and my entire tone highlighted what I’m against, why would you offer what you believe? Conversations are give and take, speaking and listening. Very few people would put their positions out there for fear of landing on my list and become someone else I don’t agree with. They may start to listen but soon they will withhold their opinions and be looking for an out.
  • It is a poor testimony to our God and faith. Consistently speaking out of the negative makes me sound angry, cynical and judgmental. (BTW – Those are not fruits of the Spirit) Jesus engaged people with questions which opened them to hear what he had to offer: Life. Paul looked for common ground (Acts 17, 1 Cor. 9) in order to share the gospel = GOOD news.
  • It is a weak stance because most people expect more from us. Most of my friends are not looking for more things to avoid. They are looking for a compelling reason to live. Jesus offers that and commissions us to be salt and light, mixing in adding flavor and illumination. If this Jesus we claim to follow is ‘all that’ our words and life should point to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self control.

I close with a few things I’m pondering this morning…

Do my neighbors and co-workers know more about what I stand for or what I stand against?

Would my friends describe me as someone is for something or against something?

Does my family know what/who we believe in or just what/who we don’t believe in?

p.s. Jesus used both negative and positive language. In Mark 10:45 he said, “[I] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Maybe that’s a good ratio for us: 2/3’s of who we are to 1/3 who we aren’t.

PCP: Poland, Coffee and Purpose

I don’t usually post on Sunday but this morning I have some extra time. We have a special speaker in this weekend, a missionary from Poland. Outside the church world the idea of meeting a missionary may seem odd…like a bridge to a former time…a time of colonization, coercion and stripping people groups of their native culture. But these missionaries (and many others) are very different than that image.

These missionaries are connecting with people, and people with God, by starting coffee houses all over Poland. Last night they shared the story of their journey and showed us some photos and videos you can see on their web site. One was the night of a grand opening, a night they crammed 200 people in their 50 person shop. Their shops are gathering places for knitting groups, english classes, celebrations and education about coffee.

I left the gathering last night pensive. I thought back to the excitement of buying a coffee shop, relocating Rublev’s and dreaming of the possibilities. Then I’d flash forward to my current thoughts and feelings about the coffee shop. They are not as warm, idealistic or compelling. That saddened me.

We have a different ownership structure now. We have multiple voices shaping the culture. We have great people sharing the work load. Those are all good things. That’s why this morning I know I need to rediscover or redefine my role with Rublev’s. I still believe something happens when you hand someone a cup of coffee, sit across the table from them and share conversation. I still believe these are holy acts wired deeply and directly into the human heart. I still believe a cafe can be a sacred space where God moves and heals and connects and works. I still believe there is purpose for me in Flushing.

So………does anybody want to meet for coffee this week or discuss a book or have a Bible study or knit or talk about how in-over-our-head we are in ministry?

I know a great place.

Holding An Acorn but Wanting An Oak

I have a number of symbolic tokens and trinkets around my house; stones, photos, links of rope, etc. This acorn is one of my favorites. It sits on the edge of my mantle and I look at it multiple times a day.  It was given to me by my very best friend. There weren’t many words exchanged when she handed it to me but in that gesture I understood, “Let this be a reminder that all good things, all worthy pursuits and everything that stands strong in the long run starts small and takes a long time.” That is a beautiful, poetic and true statement…its just not fun to live out.

Whether it is your educational track, your vocational journey, your life of faith or your love relationship – waiting stinks. And currently I feel like I’ve hit the grand slam of waiting. I’m waiting in all four areas above. I was talking to someone about this the other day and he asked the question, “So are you just marking time until you can move away?” [BTW ‘marking time’ is a military term for mindlessly marching in place] He didn’t say it in a condemning way so it made me think…Am I…I could be…that’s one way to wait…that’s the temptation isn’t it?

But I really don’t want to wait that way, do you? Life is happening all around us. Opportunities are knocking on our doors. The gift of today has been giving to us so we can grow, learn, get healthier, heal, prepare, become and mature. When ‘someday’ comes I want to be at my best and ready, don’t you?

I don’t have an prescription for us to follow. We’re still holding an acorn and wanting an oak. But maybe that image will help us to remember there is a lot of dirt, rain, sun, wind, storms, pressure and time before one becomes the other. Maybe the one thing I would suggest would be to go out today and find something to put on your mantle that symbolizes that.

Greg

My good friend Greg passed away suddenly Monday morning. He was 48, full of life, a runner, health conscious, a husband, a father of three and a friend to countless people. He pushed you to be better with his words and his example.

Darrel, Kirk, Greg, Bob

This was a picture taken after the 2008 Snowflake 5k. Our smiles not only reveal our delight of sweeping the heavy weight category but disguise the sub zero wind chills we endured…mostly because we didn’t want Greg’s harassment of not showing up.

He was the first friend I made after we moved to Flushing in 1997, and my life is better because of knowing him. There are so many stories I have about Greg…moving ones, touching ones, funny ones…but now is not the time and here is not the place to share them.

Please be praying for his family this week: wife Lora, children Josh, Talia and Elijah

The funeral will be Saturday at 10:30am.

St. Patrick Revisited: belong, become, believe

The bulk of this is my post from March 17, 2010

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which is one of my favorite holidays. Not because of green beer or corned beef but because it celebrates one of my favorite characters from church history. Most people don’t know much about it beyond; you’d better wear green or you’ll get pinched and at some point we’ll see a clip of the Chicago River dyed green. I didn’t know much about it either until about ten years ago.

I had the opportunity to hear George Hunter III speak. Hunter had just written a book called, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. That day he unpacked the life of a boy named Maywin Socket. Kidnapped as child by pirates. Sold as a slave to a man where he watched livestock in the Irish fields for long periods at a time. He learned the language. Through something called natural revelation he grew close to God. After six years he had miraculous escape and returned to England.

Maywin went into the priesthood and his name was changed to Patrick. He felt compelled to return to Ireland. Unfortunately the church in Rome had determined the celtic tribes were barbaric and unreachable. How ironic – he was denied permission to go while the church was on the edge of collapse due to corruption. Patrick was undeterred. He was convinced that all that had happened in his life was preparation to take the good news of Jesus to Ireland. Eventually the leaders of the church consented and Patrick, accompanied about a dozen others, departed on their missionary journey.

When they landed they did not use the Roman way of evangelizing (provide people with information then give them a chance to respond and if they choose to believe then you welcome them in to your fellowship). Does that sound familiar? It should. It is the way many evangelicals are taught to “evangelize.” Believe > Become > Belong.

Patrick used a much more relational way. He and his group would find a village and ask for permission to set up their camp outside the village. They would then build relationships inviting the Celts to know them, eat with them, and participate in each other’s lives. Through the relationship they shared their faith in Jesus and helped those where receptive to understand intellectually what was going on in their hearts. He reversed the Roman way. Belong > Become > Believe.

In his lifetime, Ireland went from the most barbaric arm of the far reaching Roman church to the most Christian. All during some of the darkest days for the church back in Rome. God used Patrick’s mission and method to save Christianity in the west.

The church in the west is in trouble again. What do we do? How can the tide of our irrelevance and others’ disinterest? I believe it starts by our rejection of the Roman way and our embrace of Patrick’s way.

 

 

Who are you walking with? Mystics, Skeptics, Practitioners

I’m fascinated by the relationships; where they form, what happens in them, and how they shape us.

In March of 2004, a mystic, a skeptic, and a practitioner walked into a canyon. That’s not the beginning to a bad joke. On the contrary, it is the beginning of a real life journey that would effect every other walk these three men would take and impact the course of their lives forever.

They didn’t know what they were getting into. They didn’t know they would be graced with paradoxes; communal solitude, raucous laughter and deafening silence, sharing meals and carrying burdens. Neither did they know how this trek and this canyon would become so vital in their lives and for their living.

There is no way I can articulate the complexity of our relationships in one post. But here is an overview and hopefully it will get my point across.

Mystica follower of a mystical way of life (Webster’s Dictionary) This friend was a 50 year old kid, enraptured with the beauty that surrounded us…no matter how cold our feet were from the muddy water. He’d scramble up a pile of rocks and yell, “Mark this moment as a moment you were truly alive!” This hike was a snapshot of his life. A slice of life that we’re all desperately in need of. He is comfortable with a big God who is full of mystery. His faith is simple but not simplistic. He’s familiar with saying, “I don’t know,” and being completely ok with it.

  • Are you walking with someone who reminds you that Jesus goal was not to start a new religion?

Skeptica person who habitually doubts the authenticity of accepted beliefs (World English Dictionary) This friend refuses to swallow catchy phrases as truth and knows the difference between mission and motto. He hears what’s being said behind the words of others and is an artist at pushing back on stated positions. He is kind and because of that I realized that questioning is good, necessary. We all need to have a healthy amount of skepticism. Doubt has an important role in faith for without doubt there would be no faith.

  • Are you walking with someone who asks you, “Why do you believe that? Why do you think that? What if there’s something more to it?”

Practitionera person who practices a profession or art (World English Dictionary) I entered the canyon as the practitioner. Lifelong church staff member recently turned church planter. My entire adult life had been spent employed by and attempting to serve the church. The lens practitioners look through is, “How does what we’re talking about apply to my work?” That’s a good question. We need to ask it. And we need colleagues around us that help us convert philosophical issues into practical application.

  • Are you walking with someone who is familiar with vocation and who shares your joys and frustrations?

I left the canyon with the deep realization that I needed to take the practitioner hat off on a regular basis. I need to spend concentrated time as a mystic to be silent and learn the art of listening. I need to spend time skeptically examining what I think and why I think that. The only way to do that consistently is to walk with such people.

Prayer and Posture: kneel or stand, eyes open or closed, hands up or down and if up one hand or two, and what about labyrinths?

My earliest memory of a corporate prayer time was at my home church. On Wednesday nights the faithful gathered to pray, and once you graduated from the nursery you were in the prayer meeting with everybody else. The picture is a little fuzzy but I remember my parents kneeling at their pew like all the other grownups…a position I would begin in…but I’d soon slither to the floor. It was much more interesting to look through the tunnel of benches trying to guess who was who by the bottom of their shoes.

Some people make a big deal out of the correct position from which to talk to God. I’ll admit, some postures are more appropriate for certain types of prayer but I don’t think any are more spiritual than the others. I can’t imagine requiring my children to take a particular stance to get my attention. I’m just thrilled they want to have a conversation, share their heart, ask for help, or tell me something that’s on their mind.

When I was in Portland a couple weeks ago our class participated in a half day prayer retreat. We had time to pray while we walked the grounds, a lot of time of silence, time set aside to pray with our formation group, and time to walk in a prayer labyrinth.

Sadly with that last admission some have stopped reading and rushed to put me on the heretics list. So for those of you who are still with me here’s what happened. As I began the Spirit drew my attention to a passage of scripture that had been very important to me when I moved to Flushing 14 years ago.

  • “Then the Lord told me: I will give you my message in the form of a vision. Write it clearly enough to read at a glance. At the time I have decided, my words will come true. You can trust what I say about the future. It may take a long time, but keep on waiting – it will happen! I the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.” (Hab. 2:2-4 The Promise Version)

I hadn’t thought about that passage in a long time. I had filed it away as a particular word for a specific time. But as I walked and quoted and prayed I believe God was speaking to me through it. Maybe these verses weren’t just for the waiting, dreaming, and preparing I was doing in 1997. Maybe God wants to reassure me in this season that I have caught a glimpse of His idea for me and I need to pursue it in bold faith. Maybe this passage is directed at the overall trajectory of my life…a life familiar with waiting (which can be a blessing and a curse)…a life lived by faith (which thrills me and frightens me).

I cherish those memories of army crawling under the pews and I don’t think people from my era missed much by not having age appropriate programming. I was learning something down there: if you’re quiet God will reveal Himself to you.

Planes, Prayers and Parents

Yesterday I had a very small window between connecting flights and on top of that we were late. Really late. So sitting on the plane I texted a friend to pray with me that I’d make my next flight. As I literally ran from one end of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport to the other I prayed, “God pleeeeeeze help me make my connection.” God must have been chuckling about the contrast between that simple urgent cry for help and my lofty last post. I don’t hear God audibly but I had a clear sense of God ‘saying’ “I thought you wanted more than that from prayer.”

I continued to run toward gate E11, but inside I began to slow down. If I didn’t make it – it would be ok. God was with me. God was near. If I had to wait for the next plane or make alternate arrangements He would be with me there. I don’t know if that sounds silly or simplistic to you but that was my experience Saturday.

The entire episode jogged my memory of something I read in Richard Foster’s book, Prayer. He described the prayer of petition not as a lower form of prayer but as “a staple in our diet.” I think God likes to be asked. I think asking brings us closer to Him. It’s like when children ask their parents for help and handouts, puppies and ponies. Who doesn’t love when their child climbs up on their lap and simply asks, no matter how outlandish the request.

I made my next flight and even ended up in an exit row. And think God chuckled some more as a 5 year old boy kicked the back of my seat for the next two hours.