God Showed Up!

barefootsundayshoesI saw God yesterday.  He went to my church.  Yes, I know it was Sunday.  Yes, I know that we are supposed to see God at church and yes, I know that if you are paying attention that you can see God in many things.  But I also know that even though I’m a preacher, there are still moments when I must strain to see through my fear, doubt and cynicism to catch a glimpse of Him.

A friend of mine who is also a preacher humorously expressed his irritation that eventually he would have to start living out the things he was saying.  Amusing, but true.  We have been gearing up for an event called Barefoot Sunday for quite a while now.  We took a Sunday to donate shoes to our friends in our own church family, to the homeless in downtown Dallas and to our family in Jinotega, Nicaragua.  We would donate shoes, but also wear a pair of shoes we chose to donate.  At a point in our service, our people removed their shoes and presented their gifts to the altar, returning to their seats barefoot.

I have only been here at this church for two and a half years and I wasn’t sure if they would participate or if they would sit back and watch the event from a distance.  I know that some were skeptical.  I know that some looked at this as a gimmick; just another cute idea that was a way to fill a Sunday.  But I also knew that some were passionately connected to this idea and were fully invested.  But even though I knew some were ready, I also knew some were not.  I spent a lot of time in prayer, intently listening for God’s voice in the midst of other voices.    

This month I’m preaching on trust and as my friend has said, it is tough when you have to start living out the things you say. Trust is something you choose to do.  In the weeks leading up to this event, I chose to trust; trust that God would show up…and he did. 

I heard Him in the music that we sang.  I heard Him in the words that were spoken.  I saw Him in the faces of the children as they came to give all they had to our missionary from Nicaragua, Mr. Benny.  I saw Him in each pair of shoes that were brought to me…still warm from the feet that, only seconds before, occupied them.  I saw Him in the bare and socked feet that slowly ambled back to their seats.  I heard Him in the prayer from our Shepherd and in the energetic conversation after we dismissed.  I may not have seen God’s face on Sunday, but I saw his feet.  I saw his hands and I saw the body of his Son clearly active and generous.  When I recognized him, the tears came as did the shortness of breath and the increase in my pulse.  I was in the midst of the kingdom of heaven and it was beautiful to behold! 

I believe with all of my heart that this day happened because I trusted God to show up.  But, I know I was not alone in inviting him to be a part of this experience.  I know I was not alone in the trust I put in him to do something miraculous.  I am thankful to know I was not alone. 

Something amazing happened in our Church family yesterday.  God Showed up… and left behind a lot of shoes!  I think I will trust that he returns…soon. 

To watch the service Click here.

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What a sweet and Odd Family!

coffeeshop

Just saw a woman, a small child and a man at the counter here at the coffee shop. I thought…what an interesting looking family. I started thinking about how they met…if this needy child was more like her or him…how they seemed to not talk much in the mornings. For a moment I got lost in imagining their story.  Does the child look more like mom or dad?  He’s not being very helpful with her.  She’s managing on her own while he’s texting or making some business decision.  Oh I get it, he’s pretty successful and they are trying to squeeze in a little time before work to see his little growing family.  Then I saw the mother and the child sit down to eat…and I saw him leave and I realized at that moment that they weren’t together at all. I was sad…and discouraged.  I felt duped.  My mind had played a trick on me.  I saw something and had imagined an entire story to justify my assumption.  This beautiful story of the humble beginning of a small family was pure fiction.  I had imagined it completely.  After I mourned their breakup, I knew the truth and I was ready to move onward.

And then I wonder, how many times do I do this each and every day.  How many assumptions am I making?  How many times to I project motive, history, reasons onto someone without the faintest hint of who or what they really are?  How many times has this created distance between me and another person?  How many times has this caused me anger and frustration?  How many times have I gotten it wrong?

We do this at work, at church, wherever we find ourselves and this habit is one that could keep us from seeing the truth and making real connections.  Because once we have imagined the story in our own minds, then we don’t need to ask the other person anything.  We have already filled in the gaps…told ourselves the story…Heroisized (is that a word?) or Villified the other in our mind.  Our imagination keeps us from making the effort to know the truth because we already think we have it.  The sad reality is that if we are too busy caught up in our own imaginings, then we’ll never see people for who they really are and isn’t that what people really want; to be seen?  I do… but I wonder…how many people have already created my story in their minds without knowing me…

My odd and sweet little family of 3 crumbled during a span of about 3 minutes.  So glad it only took 3.  For some, these assumptions can last for years and once that fake truth takes hold, letting go of it can be much more difficult.

I know I won’t stop attributing things onto others, but at least today, I am reminded to remember that the stories I assume are mostly just that; stories and not reality.

God help me to seek out the truth…and to see people for who they really are, like you have seen me for who I really am.  Help me to love others as they are…as you have loved me as I am.  

 

 

Preparation…

Passover is in a few days. Jesus seems more determined…focused.  He is telling stories about bridesmaids, servants and slaves.  They all describe people who are waiting.  It seems that Jesus is describing a way to prepare for his return.  Of course his way is risky and involves a focused attention toward humanity, but the end result for those who are preparing to see God will see him when He finally returns. 

oil-flaskThis moment was made clear as she walked into the room.  Most of us saw an interruption and then an irritation.  Jesus saw someone much different.  She was slow and deliberate as she moved carefully toward Jesus who was reclining at the center of the room.  Without a word, she slowly opened the small jar she had carried with her.  The room was filled with the sweet smell of death.  We all knew what it was and we couldn’t believe what she was about to do.  Slowly, she began to pour the thick oil on the head of Jesus.  Jesus closed his eyes and leaned into it.  The oil made its way onto his clothes as she used her hands to weave it into his hair and onto his arms.  The room was silent.

As the jar emptied, the room was filled with the sweet and overpowering smell of death.  We all knew what she had done, yet none of us could believe it.  Such unaffordable extravagance.  Her shoulders slumped and she wept because she had no more oil to give.  Jesus placed his hands on her head, leaned in and with a whisper spoke silent words of blessing onto her.

We were still in disbelief. One or two of us began to voice our disapproval.  We had not seen the beauty in that moment.  We had seen nothing but waste, both in the person and in the act itself.  Jesus’ spoke quietly to us as he continued to look at her.  He lifted her eyes to meet his and spoke to us.  “Why are you bothering this woman?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  She is preparing me for what is to come…”

What is to come?  We aren’t quite sure.  I do know that he saw something beautiful in that woman.  Looking back, maybe I respond the way I did because it was such an unexpected gift.  I wasn’t prepared for it. Maybe that’s the key.  The beauty in the unexpected can be seen by those who are prepared to see it. 

For some reason, Jesus wants us to prepare a place for dinner. It should be a good start to this Passover celebration. 

Living Stones

widows-mite-949912-galleryIt was late.  Jesus had just spent some time watching people giving to the treasury.  They put their money and gifts into the large trumpet like offering jars located within the Court of Women.  This is where he noticed a widow.  The small woman with an even smaller offering made a big impact on the son of God.  She, above all, stood out as a pillar of faith within the dense sea of worshippers.   

IMG_6850
A large foundation stone found at the southern entrance to the Temple Mount. It is cracked, but still intact.

The next scene shows the disciples commenting on the large stones that make up the temple.  How amazing they are.  His response was not what they expected.  He made the bold prediction that these stones will be destroyed.  Their reaction?  I am curious!  I imagine a brief moment of disbelief.  Why?  Because I’ve seen these stones.  They are unbelievably large and incredibly precise. 

Two children stand at either end of a massive foundation stone found underneath the Temple mount. This Stone is some 40 feet in length and is fully intact.
Two children stand at either end of a massive foundation stone found underneath the Temple mount. This Stone is some 40 feet in length and is fully intact.

Some of the more massive stones were more than 40 feet in length and possibly 12 to 15 feet wide. To destroy this temple would take the force of an army or an act of God. 

As he crossed over to the mount of Olives, I wonder if he was silent as he sat and looked over the temple and the rest of the city? 

As I look through these two stories, I can’t help but see the contrasting images being presented.  A small, insignificant Jewish widow, with no thought for her own well being, supports the work of God by giving her last 2 mites to the treasury.  Her heart, which spurs the gift, serves as an example to those who wonder about their importance and place in their world.  She reflects the ever shrinking remnant of Israel who still hopes, still perseveres, still clings to the fact that her presence matters to God and to her neighbor.  She is one of these living stones which is being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1 peter 2:5).

The other image is of magnificent, yet lifeless stones surrounding a Temple that had become spiritually barren.  Although well crafted, these inanimate stones reflect the cold, rigid and inflexible nature of the practices that take place within its care. 

The living stone went unnoticed by everyone except God himself.  The dead stones continue to amaze its viewers even as it lies in its own ruins.  The living stone became part of the foundation for all those who continue to follow. The Dead stones remain unmoved, unfazed and lifeless.

The stones did fall.  Of course, some remain as a monument to the ingenuity of man.  But the story of this seemingly insignificant widow continues to inspire a new generation of living stones.

Easter week and the lone Fig tree

LONE-FIGAn interesting story occurred in the days leading up to Jesus’ death.  Mark chapter 11 and Matthew chapter 21 tells of Jesus, on his way into the city, seeing healthy fig tree full of leaves.  Matthew describes it as a lone fig tree by the road, not a part of any orchard.  Jesus was quite hungry and seeing no figs on this tree, he cursed it.  The next morning, as they passed by this same fig tree, they noticed it had withered from the roots.  After everything these men had seen Jesus do…after the healing, the water walking, the dead raising and who knows what else, these men were still shocked and amazed at this incredible act of nature. 

Have you ever wondered why is this odd little story is found in this week long passion narrative?  This has got to be more than a case of Jesus having “The Hangry’s” (you know, that moment when your hunger and anger intertwine?) Especially when you realize there was nothing unusual about this lone fig tree. 

From what we know, the time is around March/April.  It’s the week before Passover.  Fig season is not until August or September.  This tree was in full leaf…healthy and vibrant.  Why would he curse a tree for not bearing fruit when it was not even fig season? And then I started thinking a little deeper.

This was one of the many visual illustrations that Jesus is doing to prove a point.  Jesus goes into Jerusalem…he sees the temple.  And like this lone fig tree it stands in full leaf.  People are coming and going, teaching and conversing.  With all the activity, one would think that God is present.  Then when Jesus goes back to worship and feast on prayer and the scriptures within the temple courts, all he sees is a barren Israel. 

“My father’s house should be a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it into a den of robbers.”  The temple and the big religion that had controlled it had become spiritually barren.  Granted, just as the fig tree was not in season, so too these people had not yet reached full maturity.  However, God’s abundance should still be able to provide spiritual fruit year round for those who seek to be nourished by God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and instruction. But the culture of big religion had cut off the nourishment to the larger tree leaving it fruitless and worthless. 

And then Jesus explains in verse 22,24.  The key is faith.  Israel had lost their faith in God, their belief and had ceased to be a people of prayer.  The nutrients that keep us from being spiritually barren are these; Faith, belief and prayer that incorporates the two.  How difficult it must have been for him to see Israel like this?

How do you grow in the midst of a barren land?  A seed must be planted.  And in the ground that seed must die for new life to begin.      

Donald Trump and Rule #48

election 2016Let me begin by saying that I am breaking a minor rule in the Scott Allen Blogging Rulebook.  “Rule #48: Don’t publicly post about politics.”  But really, it’s just rule number 48…almost to the bottom.  If it were that important, I would have moved it to the top 15.  Oh well, sometimes troubling times call for different strategies.

Super Tuesday is tomorrow.  As you head to the polls and beyond, I would like us to consider why we choose to vote for a particular candidate over the other.  Is it because we think he or she is God’s representative or because he or she is our last best hope to lead our nation? Is it because we are excited about the potential they bring or is it because we are scared to death that the ‘other’ candidate will lead the country straight into oblivion? 

When it comes to the Republican possibilities, I have heard several people try their best to promote Mr. Trump as a Christian candidate.  It makes me sad.  The mental gymnastics it must take to justify his behavior must be highly exhausting.  If this is you…stop it.  Sometimes we have to tell it like it is…look at the tree and see if it is bearing fruit and if it is, what does that fruit look like?  Is it edible?  Is it healthy?  Is it nutritious?  Or is it merely a colorful lump of tree flesh that will soon drop and create more fruitless trees?  I ask this because I have seen so many people go the extra mile to defend and rationalize their choice for Mr. Trump.  Therefore, for those of you who are still debating his Christianity I propose a new set of questions to ask.

  • Does he show love?
  • Is he joyful?
  • Does he promote peace?  Not just the absence of conflict, but wholeness?
  • Is he patient?  Does he have a patient way about him?
  • Is he kind?  To everyone…even those who disagree?
  • Is he good and generous?  Not giving to get something back, but giving because it is good?
  • Is he faithful?  To his wife?  To his family? To his word? To his friends?  To God?
  • Is he a gentle man?  Not weak…but gentle.  Can he deal with delicate matters delicately?
  • Does he practice self control?  Does he have outbursts of rage?  Does he lose their temper?

This is Christianity 101 here; basic questions that most any committee would ask if they were hiring someone for a church position.  If Trump were applying for a leadership position at your church, would you hire him?  Granted this is not a church position, nor is he a strong Christian leader, but for some out there, they are promoting him as such.

When you vote…please consider why you do so.  If you are looking for a strong Christian candidate, you many not find one.  If you are voting for the best choice for our future, then ask yourself if you want that person to look like Jesus.  If we are a Christian nation as many people espouse, then I argue that our leader should be or at least look like a Christian.

For the followers of Jesus Christ, we are the children of God first.  We are not Republicans or Democrats first.  Jesus was not about the Kingdoms of men, but rather the Kingdom of God.  As you live in the balance between the two kingdoms and give to Ceaser that which is Ceaser’s, I encourage you to live lives that prove to others that we are followers of Jesus Christ first and that we are people of Good news…not spreading fear and anxiety, but faith, hope and love.   

We have the spirit of God in us

I have much more to say, but the spirit is keeping me from it.  So, I’ll simply provide a few more questions to ask as you stand in the booth and look at who we want representing our country.

  • Does this person care about those people who are on the margins?  (The poor.  The disabled.  Those of different races, colors or creeds or political views.) And by caring, I mean, will they treat them with respect, dignity and love? If not, then how will that shape our country?
  • Is this person humble?  Do they apologize?  Do they put others first? If not, then how will that shape us?  

It may be a while before I break this rule again…but then again, after Tuesday March 1st, It may not be.  

Until then, may God be with you and may He use you to bless others. 

Church – A Refuge

sanctuary1x-largeIn 2007, Liliana, a 29-year-old illegal immigrant working at a factory in Long beach California,  was approached by officers and almost deported.  Because she was still nursing an infant as well as caring for her other children, they gave her 5 days to report to the immigration detention center.  Instead, she took up residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and claimed sanctuary.  (For more on this story click here)  They welcomed her in and continue to offer sanctuary to others in similar circumstances.  Some patriots will find this act to be offensive and subversive to the American way of life.  Others will see it as the Church’s responsibility.  Whatever the opinion, the church offered itself as a refuge, separate and apart from any political system or ideology and has been doing so, in some way shape or form, for centuries.

The idea of church as a refuge is at the core of the Christian community as seen in Acts chapter 2:42-47.  As I’ve been thinking through Church matters, I wonder if it is still central to our faith?  Refuge usually means a place of safety.  In today’s Church community, are we safe?  Research shows that people have an inability to learn when they feel threatened or frightened and the best way for one to gain knowledge and personalize it is through a safe environment. (More on this idea in brain research, click here.)


As a follower of Jesus Christ, should my primary concern be self-protection?

 Sadly, many communities have diminished the importance of safety within the body of Christ.  Usually when we say safety, we mean personal and bodily safety.  After the events in Charleston, people are crying for more safety in our churches.  They promote better security through gun restriction or gun freedom.  I even heard a confused pundit wonder openly why the victims didn’t do more to protect themselves while the shooter went to reload his weapon.  I have to wonder what I would have done in that moment.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, should my primary concern be self-protection?  Is that what it means to be safe in church?  Maybe partly.  But, I wonder if true safety has more to do with the understanding that we will be seen and accepted as we are by everyone in that community of faith.  I wonder if knowing that we are respected, loved and important isn’t the missing element of safety in some church communities today? 

It is difficult; knowing someone fully and still loving them.  Being in community with someone while knowing their sin…their gritty, disturbing and uncomfortable sin…is not logical.  After all, if we know the worst of someone, we typically walk the other way.  What if they bring their sin to us?  That’s not safe!  Ah, but that’s the paradox isn’t it?  James in the 5th chapter of his book says that we need to confess our sins one to another.  Why?  I think that somehow, when people are completely open with one another, the illogical happens.  Instead of feeling threatened by the failings of others, people tend to feel more secure…safe…together and connected.  It levels the playing field.  People suddenly become more tangible, fallible, real and delicate.  The two dimensional attributions we place on others shatters to reveal a more complex, vulnerable humanity that even the most cynical of us cannot ignore.  The love of God has its own way of uprooting our exclusive social ideology.


If a church community does not offer hope such as this, then it may not be part of the body of Christ. 

 

confessionalThis shows us that our journey to the social confessional is not one to be feared.  It is not to be looked at as a “dead man walking” moment where people sneer and condemn as you walk your way to judgement.  Instead, the courage we show in our vulnerability creates healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.   If a church community does not offer hope such as this, then it may not be part of the body of Christ.  It may simply be a group of people who hope to blend in without being fully noticed; people meeting together while crossing their fingers hoping not to share too much lest they be judged with the same intensity they have used to judge others.  Sadly, even some elite social clubs offer more community than this…and they have golf.

At the heart of refuge and safety is a sacred space free from condemnation, free from fear, free from anxiety.  At the center of refuge is that word called “rest.”  When one is afraid, or threatened, there is little rest or energy for learning or connection.  Without safety, we are focused on the need for survival.   However, when not a slave to our fear, we have room for understanding, mutuality, empathy and compassion.  When we feel safe, we can begin to see things as they really are and not through our lens of fear.  Safety is attractive and contagious.  I wonder how many congregations will have the courage to practice the dangerous art of community as seen through the lens of love, mercy and grace?  It may not be a life that we are used to or natural to or sensibilities, but since when has the way of Jesus ever felt natural? 

I believe that a church who practices such community is a church that matters.