As a kid it was my favorite season. No school. Just shorts and flip-flops. Crabbing at low tide below the puff mud. Folly Beach every other day. And, just as an added point of emphasis, no school. The sounds and voices of a slower and less complicated time draw me back to boyhood days growing up in Charleston.
I’m not sure if its age or a radically different world in which we live, but summer is not unlike any other season. It all seems to meld into a continual strand of day upon day. Creativity is hard to discover. Some of us are tethered to routines that are boring at best. The Sacred is substituted for what we feel is necessary or essential for life. We’ve dismantled the claims of God upon us and heard instead to self-construct our own lives. Somewhere along the way we made the individual the center of all things.
Now the whole world of culture, history, education, and even families are seen as à la carte resources. We can just walk down the cafeteria line and take whatever seems relevant in collecting the life we want. And we listen to the voices . . .
We’re all living with those voices that tear at our souls. They may not force us into isolation, but it’s only a matter of time before they rip us apart with anxiety. Why would we put up with that when a Savior is in our midst? Psychiatrist Scott Peck has claimed, “The number one problem most people have in life is that they are finally unwilling to do the things that would bring a positive change to life.” They may know what to do, but they’re afraid to do it. As crazy as it sounds, people prefer the misery they know to the mystery they do not.
So what are the ‘things that would bring a positive change to your life’? How would you begin the process of restoring the ‘Summer’ of your soul? First acknowledge a life out of control, or moving toward it. For some of us, we’ve got to get off the crazy train and ask God to direct our days. He’s inviting us to live in contemporary society as a person who knows what to do with freedom. And rather than using that freedom to construct a life that will never be good enough, the Bible calls us to give that holy responsibility to God. And then in freedom, choose to fulfill what is our role in His dream. Start by asking Him what that would be. He’s been waiting a long time to hear that from you. It may take you a long time to hear that Voice. But when you do, it will be the start to a great Summer.
We all love parades. It’s how Palm Sunday begins. A long procession. Shouting. Happy faces. Branches waving in the air. Somehow I see Jesus smiling too. Riding on a donkey, slowly descending the hill from the Mount of Olives. Adoring crowds who converge upon him from almost every direction. Before things eventually go south and take a horrible turn for the worse, Jesus appears to be at the top of his game. His handlers, although fidgety about expectations many had for this new liberator king, couldn’t have been more delighted.
Expectations. They’re the foundation upon which all our disappointments are built. Often unreasonable they create extra baggage and cruel response when unmet. “Hosanna. Hosanna to the King” echoed up and down the Kedron Valley yet the crowd and “his disciples did not understand these things.” (John 12:16). Amazing! They were eye witnesses and yet didn’t understand their experience. It causes me to ask, “Would we have understood any more than they did?”
Sure, we know the ‘rest of the story’. Reading ahead, the parade gives way to a week of intense struggle and chaos. Joy turns to horror. Hopes are dashed and the dreams of a crowd become haunting nightmares of only a scattered few. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Would our expectations have been any different? Could I have understood at a deeper, more enlightened level?
Forget that. How do I experience the story of Palm Sunday and how does it read my life? Where am I among that noisy crowd? Would I have followed the parade with my agenda of how Jesus could have been useful for me? What benefit might be gained from following this new king?
Would I have been among the ones threatened by his radical teaching of love, grace and surrender? Would the scandal of blaspheme and His acceptance of kingship caused me to begin considering what I might lose in following this radical teacher? Or maybe like those twelve ordinary men, would I even have had a clue as to what was happening?
Perhaps that’s where Palm Sunday begins for us . . . with an honest confession that we don’t truly understand. The first time I ever stood at the Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and looked at the processional road coming down the hill from Bethpage, I was overwhelmed by the thought of this very event. I tried to envision and grasp it but every mental image was incomplete. Yet again and again 2000 years removed from the event, I sought to take it in. Finally I realized, what He was giving me, and each of us who will celebrate this Palm Sunday, is the experience of Jesus’ arrival into our lives. That staggering gift, and the Holy Spirit who accompanies it, will remove our expectations and fill us with all that the Father’s heart can offer. Just wait a bit longer. It’s Palm Sunday. Enjoy it. But, there’s something even better to come!
Often our lives are so frantically filled with the next scheduled event. Any disruption or hiccup has the potential to create a domino effect where frustration leads to plans being derailed. Last week I had one of those days. Every minute was ordered. Important meetings were slotted into tight windows.
The mother of a close friend had died the day before and Linda and I had just enough time to drive from my office to the funeral home, spend a few minutes and return in time for a 5 pm meeting. We jumped in my truck and took off. Taking the by-pass I navigated around slower cars, exited onto Conference Drive, then boom! The front left tire immediately blew as I ran over an object in the road. Barely able to control the vehicle, I pulled over onto the shoulder. There we were. Our tightly controlled schedule was shot to pieces.
Shutting off the engine I thought, “I’ve seen The Christmas Story where the Dad has a blowout. I think I’ll stay in the truck or I might regret using words that are still tucked deep down inside.”
Linda asked, “What are you going to do?” I replied, “Changing tires isn’t my gift.” It wasn’t a snarky response. Seldom am I dressed in anything other than jeans. A funeral home visit and late meetings had me in clothes that weren’t well suited for getting under a car. In addition, I didn’t have a clue where I would find a jack, wheel lock keys or even how to access the spare in an almost new vehicle. There was no need to figure that out for a few more years.
I began the process of calling roadside service. It would be just over an hour until someone came to change the tire. Linda informed me that her gift was calling a friend. In ten minutes Joe and Dawn Gray arrived, picked her up and she was gone.
It was an hour of productive lessons. What happens when tight schedules are no longer under your control? Do we really know how to wait without worry, regret or anger? What is God telling us when we slow down enough for Him to actually get our attention?
The light began to fade. Traffic steadily increased as people made their way home. Finally the roadside service guy arrived. He got out, assessed the situation, strategically placed traffic cones and began his work. With a pleasant voice he said “I’ll have you on your way in about ten minutes.” “No way!” I replied, to which he responded “It’s what I do.” That still didn’t stop me from asking “do you want me to get out the Manual? I can Google ‘Toyota Tundra tire change’ if you want?” With the jack in hand he turned and inquired, “What do you do?” I replied, “I’m a Pastor” to which he said, “You don’t even know where the spare is do you?” I should have stayed in the truck because I was starting to think bad words again. Ten minutes later he was gone . . . and so was I.
“It’s what I do.” DO WHAT YOU DO.
God has uniquely given you skills, talents and gifts. He doesn’t give His heart to you in pieces. Neither does He give His gifts to you in that way. Find your song in the Sound of Heaven. Discover your gift in the Treasure of Heaven. It’s who you are, and it’s what you do!
It’s bitter cold. Weather channels are updating storm systems. Talking heads are excitedly calling for the first significant snow to blanket our area by morning. Grocery stores are depleted by apocalyptic driven hoards stocking up on bread, milk eggs. Whether needed or not, that’s our default list of food items. It seems as if everyone is planning on French toast in the morning.
Schools will close. Unhappy parents will be faced with making alternative plans. Work schedules will adjust and productivity will take a hit. In the blink of an eye, that which we cannot control in large part, will control us.
It’s that way with life—especially when things get out of control. Mounting bills. Unexpected illness. Loss of job. Abandonment. Betrayal. Broken heart. Just trying to breathe and wondering why? If there’s a ‘what’s next’, why oh why God can’t it be relief.
There are seasons when we simply hang on to Jesus while everything else is dropping off.
You may feel you’re losing God on those long desert journeys that you can’t control, but you’re not. What you’re probably losing is your instrumental use for God. In the harsh, dry times, you just keep facing the most important question of your soul: Will I still follow God if there are no obvious blessings attached? What if it’s just God plus nothing? Is the presence of God, alone, enough for me? That’s what your countless struggles are really all about. It’s about choosing to believe when belief is hard. It’s about learning to see that I am never separated from the love of God. Because believing we are loved by a God who is with you is all you need to make it to the next step and beyond. It’s about controlling nothing, yet making the determination to finally allow Him to control you. That’s where life and freedom begin.
“Not only did my family not attend our wedding, my father said he would disown me for marrying a black man.” With her husband Johnel sitting beside her, that’s how Kathy opened her story before our church last Sunday. Their relationship began as friends. Soon after they fell in love. Then in 1977, they were married in St. George’s Episcopal Church in Nashville, TN.
1977. It was thirteen years after The Civil Rights Act was signed into law; a sweeping legislation that prohibited discrimination in public places and provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities. 1977. It was also the year that the Tennessee Constitutional Convention, in the narrowest of margins, voted to pass the ‘miscegenation article,’ removing the provision banning interracial marriage.
2015. So what’s changed? Each month I preach a “Hot Topic” submitted by the church. These are ‘tinder box’ but current and relevant subjects which we examine as Christ followers from the perspective of Scripture. Some are more challenging than others. They all elicit emotion and passion. Each reveal to us a little more of who we are and what we truly value. Last Sunday we began having a conversation about the enormous racial conflict and tension that plagues our society today and how we as Christ followers respond. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Not surprisingly, it was met with ambivalence by some. Disappointingly, there was also a small but very negative reaction. Yet my disappointment and sadness was met with a sense of reality and the strong conviction of hope.
As a son of the South, I breathed my first breath in a racially segregated world. That sordid air inflamed the seeds of brokenness that would mark my need for Jesus long before I ever heard His name. The lexicon of my language included an expansive vocabulary of every vile and racist word and saying that I had catalogued and would use on a daily basis. Every negative response that I might have received last week were just a few of the ones that I had previously embraced and spoken.
The sense of reality was that racism is real and the church is not immune to it. The conviction of hope is that I was that person many years ago, and what Jesus has done and is doing in me can happen in any one of us. In every darkness there is always, “But God . . . “
“For Jesus himself is our peace. He has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility . . .” Ephesians 2:14
Countless flags. White Military Tombs. Solemn Taps played by a solitary soldier. Stories and memories. The war dead tell us is that no one gets to keep their freedom by playing it safe. They also tell us that we must accept the gift they were dying to give us and to live our lives, to grab hold of the wild mystery of life, and to be free of the tombs. We have to choose life, or those soldiers will have died in vain.
What Pentecost tells us is that the Holy Spirit will push you into this life. The wind forces all of the followers of Christ out of their safe places in order to pursue the risen Savior who is at work in the world. For where he is, there is our life and our freedom.
I believe God loves us too much to let us dry up with anxiety about our own lives. I believe that just as the Spirit blew life into the old Hebrew festival of the Harvest, reminding them of the goodness of a God who provides, and just as that mighty wind transformed frightened disciples into bold apostles who were seized with a passion for their mission in life, so is there a mighty wind blowing across your life. It is the creative Spirit of God igniting a soul on fire.
It may not be welcomed at first. This wind may push you far from the place you prefer to be. And it may feel at first as confusing and disruptive as it did at the first Pentecost. It could begin with a shattered dream or a closed-door. It could pull you away from people you love. But if this wind has come from heaven, it is only meant to carry you to the place God has dreamed for you—the place where you will be able to do what you were created to do.
In that mission you will find your life. It won’t be easy; it never is. It will cost a lot; it always does. And it will be risky. If it is safety you want, get a tomb. But if you want to be fully alive, then follow the wind.