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Room for the Holy Spirit

In my younger years, I spent my summers counseling summer church camps.  It was a blast.  At the end of each week we closed out camp with a dance.  Also a blast.  It was great, the kids had spent the week getting to know each other and by the end of the week they had let go of their cool kid facades (at least mostly) and were ready to have a good time goofing off.  We broke out the classic moves– the lawnmower, the sprinkler, the running man–  and we made up some of our own. We just spent hours jumping around and having a great time.  Every once in a while a slow song would come on.  Most of the kids would migrate to the margins and catch their breath or head for a quick drink of water.  But there were some who were brave enough to actually partner up with a person of the opposite sex and attempt the awkward middle school slow dance.  And then the counselors sprung into action.  Most of the kids had the standard stance of keeping each other at an arms length away, but others seemed to be testing the adolescent waters and moved in for a closer embrace.  That is when we shined. We would bounce around from couple to couple saying “keep room for the Holy Spirit”, making sure that things didn’t get too serious.

This week Brandon and I started working our way through the book of Acts together.  We are starting a new church, so it seems reasonable to ground ourselves in the stories and events of the first charged with the task. In the first chapter the disciples ask Jesus if now is the time.  It makes sense.  Jesus was crucified and everything had been a mess and it seemed that everything they had hoped for was gone.  But then it wasn’t.  He came back.  He triumphed over death and he was there, in their midst– everything was good again.  Not just good, it was all clear now, Jesus was going to change everything.  So that change was going to happen now right, like right now right now– right?!?

Continue reading… “Room for the Holy Spirit”

Authentically You

It is hard to believe that in less than a month Brandon and I will be the parents of an eight year old— Eight! That means we now have two in the grade school age bracket, 8 and 6. What a crazy ride parenthood is, we are so blessed. Micah and Graham are close enough in age (just 21 months apart) that they have already developed the competitive streak. We are already hearing comments about how “I am not as fast as him” or “he is a better reader than me” or “why can’t I build legos as good as him?” It is amazing how early we begin to question our own abilities and feel that we aren’t good enough.

I was struck this past week as we were preparing for leading worship, by a text that I have read many times but has never spoken to me in quite the same way before. The passage we focused on last week was Matthew chapter 4 verses 18-23. It takes place early in Jesus’ ministry. He relocated to a small fishing town named Capernum and as he is walking by the lake he sees two brothers fishing- they were fishermen by trade. I imagine Jesus’ casually walking up to the two brothers, he nonchalantly tells them “set down your nets, come follow me and I will make you fishers of people”. There must have been something there in his eyes, something about the way he looks, something about the tone of his voice— the men lay down their nets and they don’t look back. They become two of Jesus’ disciples, two of his best friends, and they spend the majority of the next three years learning from him.

I have always found the text inspiring, but what struck me this time was that Jesus speaks their language. Jesus was raised by a carpenter, we can assume that he knew that trade well. He could school people on precision cuts and how to keep a table level, or how to build a structure that would hold weight. He wasn’t a fisherman by trade. He grew up in Nazareth, a town not situated by water— fishing wasn’t something he would have known well. But that is God for you, he doesn’t approach the two brothers and say “Hey guys, leave this life of fishing behind. Sure it is the only way of life you know, but I have something better. Come build with me. I am a master builder, I can show you how we can make something that will last forever.” I wonder what would have happened if that is what Jesus had said. Something so foreign to the brothers, something so other. They probably knew nothing about building, how on earth could they give up the reliability of fishing and trust that this this endeavor would be better. We don’t need to speculate, because what Jesus did was better. He knew these men, he knew their passions, he knew that fishing was in their blood, the thrill and need for the catch ran through their veins. He wasn’t asking them to be something they weren’t, he was inviting them to bring their authentic selves, their gifts as fisherman to a new way of life. He saw them. He invited them. Not expecting them to magically transform to carpenters, but to use the skills they have to serve God in a new way that would be life giving and world changing.

Continue reading… “Authentically You”

God is with us

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,  and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”  When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,  but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

The Advent Season, which we find ourselves in presently, is a time of preparation as excitement builds and we await the wonder of Christmas morning.  The weeks prior to Christmas are filled with sentimentality— listening to Christmas music on the radio, decorating the house, making cookies from Grandma’s recipe, setting out the nativity scene… Because of the memories associated with this season and the place the Biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth has within it, we often sentimentalize the story as well— thinking of how quaint the stable is, how beautiful and innocent young marry appears, how the animals would have quietly been waiting for Jesus to be born, how the shepherds would have been dressed in clean white linens and humbly made their procession to the place of the birth. We neglect just how radical and other the story really is: God taking a risk by becoming human and entrusting his earthly life to an unwed mother, being brought into this world in the midst of the dirtiness of a barn, greeted by the lowly outcasts (shepherds) and the non Jewish wise men from another region.  We neglect to notice how God is working throughout the entire narrative, calming fears, motivating belief, encouraging action, and patiently waiting on the human participants to embrace their role in the salvation plan.  We forget what a gift it is to proclaim that God is indeed WITH us, that God chooses to communicate, chooses to walk among us, chooses to be in relationship with us.  We fail to notice how terrifying this situation would be for Mary, Joseph and all of the human participants— to have God call them to this, to have God entrust them with this, to have God expect this of them.

The truth of this passage isn’t a claim on that small moment in history, or even the 30+ years of Jesus’ life on earth, it is a claim on all of our lives— GOD IS WITH US. Do we live our lives in a way that reflects this belief?  Do our daily interaction show the world that we believe that there is something to hope for, to hope in?  Do we recognize God in our own life stories?

I was in fourth grade when I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.  Early on in my diagnosis, before they were able to balance the dozens of medications I was on, I remember lying awake at night in my parent’s bed, pretending to be asleep so that my mom would sleep too.  I remember one night her weeping, letting go of the strong face that she put on throughout the day and allowing the uncertainty and the pain of watching her daughter suffer wash over her.  I also remember feeling God there with me and a certainty that everything was going to be okay that this wasn’t the end.

Continue reading… “God is with us”