Good Tuesday friends! I pray that your week is going well, and I pray that you experience the presence of God, which includes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. God normally uses people in our lives to fulfill these presence moments, and that’s the amazing partnership we have with God…God came to us as a human, and lived so that we could experience Godlike love for ourselves and with others. What an incredible gift to celebrate at Christmas, Gods presence flowing forth as love. Yet for many who are hurting, presence and love can seem wispy, or fragile, or illusory. Pain shrinks our view of ourselves and others down to a very narrow, thin place. It’s almost as if we are trapped in a cell and the walls are shrinking in on us. Evil does such incredible damage through the impact of pain and suffering, and I think it’s why evil attacks the very grounding of presence that Jesus tries to rebirth within us. For, as we know that we are loved, and experience presence through embracing that love, our view of ourselves and what we can accomplish in the world around us, opens up and we become the gift that Jesus was to us. Think about that! I love ya and I’m praying for ya!
Good Monday friends. I pray that your Monday is filled with the joy and excitement of the Christmas and holiday seasons. Since the accident, I have been truly thankful to be alive, and I’m also thankful for my friends and for your support. I know the title of today’s piece is, well, different. So often our faith and our churches, describe a God who almost feels distant and aloof. Sometimes we describe God like an angry alcoholic father, ready to rage at the first hint of disobedience or at the first sign of rebellion. But God came to us at Christmas-just so you know it was probably March or April, but we celebrate it here for different reasons. And not only did God come to us, but humbled himself and became a child, born into human flesh, with all of our human needs. He was born helpless, needing the support of his father and his mother for protection, dependent on them for his nurturance, and needing to be breast fed for nourishment. He came to us, to be like us, to let us know that at the deepest core of God’s heart, is his love for us, and for all of humanity. Why come to us this way if your angry, or if you think we suck, or we aren’t worth it. You’d come as the powerful and almighty God of the universe, riding on a chariot, coming in clouds, with great storms, and lightning, and thunder. But that’s not what God did. God cares for us, plain and simple. And God came to us as a human, to remind us that he cares for us, and that we are worth it, and valuable. Yeah God breast fed, but now we know how much God is willing to do, to be in relationship with us. I love ya and I’m praying for ya today!
Good Morning, Friends,
I hope that your week has started off well, and I hope that you know how valuable and loved you are! Jesus came to us as the Messiah, or Immanuel – which actually means God with us. And we celebrate that at Christmas – no duh, you say. But for so many who grew up in the church, Christmas can feel like a mixed bag. Immanuel came to us, but because so much of our theology focuses on how sucky we are, the gift can feel like a let-down. I mean seriously, we suck so much God had to come to Earth to do it himself! And now we are better because God is good and fixed us, by hiding our suckiness from God through Immanuel’s death. Now, I’m not denying the atonement story, and our need for a savior, but why would God come visit us, and be with us, and walk with us again if we sucked so badly? Why not just do it from a distance, and not get yourself messy…because let’s face it, spending two seconds on Earth will get you messy? I think the answer is this; God is deeply rational and above all, wants to walk with us again, just as he did in the garden, in Genesis. I think part of what is so difficult is this…most of our theology very sneakily adds perfectionism into the mix. God loves you, but only if you…This creates a real dilemma, I’m loved, but only when I’m perfect enough, or take enough baths to be presentable. Jesus tells a story that is often misinterpreted, but clarifies the point. He is asked by a religious person a subtle question of perfectionism. How do you really know a person is good? Jesus answers this with a story. There was a farmer who planted wheat, and one night someone came into the garden and planted tares, which looks like wheat, but are weeds. As the crop grows, the workers realize both are in the field together, and they ask the owner if they should pull up the weeds and throw them away? The farmer replies no, both must grow together until the harvest, then we will be able to separate them. The story is often interpreted as a description of Christians and non-Christians in the church. But I am going to argue that we are the wheat and the tares, the good and the bad, growing together. And in the end, only God truly understands the difference and can purify us completely, because God knows and we don’t. Now this takes faith and trust in God to a whole new level. I have to let God sort it out, and be patient? I have seen the consequences of people using their own wisdom to tear out the weeds that they thought were part of their lives, while simultaneously pulling out and destroying the wheat. The story reminds us that God knows, and it’s only his wisdom that can help us. So as we are to come to the manger this year celebrating Christmas, I hope you can see how much of a celebration Christmas really is. It’s the story of God being present with us, loving on us, and caring for us by being willing to get messy, and loving us with our wheat and our weeds. Only someone who truly loves does that. I love ya and I’m praying for ya today!
Good Tuesday friends! I hope that your week is going well, and that you’re feeling somewhat grounded after the holidays and the crazy shopping experiences. These moments can feel both grounding, attempts to connect to others and relate around an event – Thanksgiving and food, yet our brokenness and fractured relationships are often hard to deal with. Christmas is such a paradoxical time of the year, love and connection, with hurt and disconnect; we often promote peace and love while simultaneously feeling hostile and empty inside. And as the smiles and good will are trying to be spread, often our own pain and disconnects hurt that much more. In God’s grand scheme, the Messiah was sent into a very broken and painful world to bring hope…not hope of perfection, joy despite the hopelessness, and peace despite all of the conflicts and hurts. Jesus walked among us to help us understand how to live in spite of all the chaos, how to take care of ourselves despite all the cries to do more, and how to be compassionate despite all the cruelty. Jesus consistently offers a loving answer to the problems of life that we struggle with. And so as Christmas slowly encroaches on our normal lives, I pray that we all become more aware of how “the gift” truly changed our futures, and gave us hope for something better, much better than we can imagine. I love ya and I’m praying for ya!
Hey friends. It’s Tuesday and I already feel like it’s Thursday or Friday. I’m very tired, but have had a good day. Shared love with lots of people today…from passing out meal cards for Thanksgiving to giving Publix gift cards to the Parks and Recreation team in Ocoee. Sharing love is exhausting…but it’s incredibly fun to do something with love, to act upon it. Thanks to Pat who helped me today, and Tiff, who helped take cards to people further away. I’m going to share my Facebook post with you guys. I love ya and I’m praying for ya! I have discovered that the power of love has the incredible ability to heal. But the healing doesn’t occur quickly…it’s not like a drug or a pill that promises immediate relief. Love promises the hope of change after deep grueling tension, feeling vulnerable and powerless, opening yourself up to receiving from others, after a lifetime of being used and hurt by others. Loves warm embrace creates boundaries for yourself, picking out who you want in your circle and who you will allow to speak into your life. Love is hard, forcing us to confront ourselves, and look deeply at our own lives because I’m the only one I can truly change. Love ultimately promises freedom…and that’s where you finish this story. – D.A. Lawson
I hope you’ve had a great weekend, and spent some time relaxing and slowing down before the chaos of a new week. I know the weekend for some can just be a time of catching up on all the things you’ve missed out on and struggled to accomplish, but I hope you were able to put some of that away this weekend. I’m often reminded in weird ways that I have a special needs child. Sometimes it’s through a personal interaction with her, most kids like Katie don’t have a part of the brain active that can tell the passage of time. And so, there are days when Katie cannot remember how many times she’s asked the same question, or how long it was between the questions…her brain just can’t process the time. It’s in those moments in particular that I’m wrenched away from whatever business or church issues I’m dealing with and forced back into a very simple moment with someone who can’t assess the passage of time. When these moments happen, I’m sad and often hurt. I cannot escape the reality or the truth of how Katie is, and no matter how often I smile and look like I’ve got everything together, if you scratch the surface I’m probably pretty sad and struggling to understand how to deal with this beautiful soul. I sometimes fantasize that all of what has happened isn’t real, and all the pain I’ve gone through really didn’t exist. I can keep the fantasy up for small periods of time, but somewhere during the week, month, or year something happens to yank me back into my truth, my reality. And so it’s been the last few days as I’ve struggled to figure out how to help Katie understand that she might not walk with her class, or that all of the hours she spent this year slaving over math, which she often experienced as someone speaking a different language. I’ve spent the last few days worrying, wondering what I did wrong or where I could’ve changed something during the year to create a different outcome. Yet I can’t. Sometimes the best that I can give to support and encourage and help is just not enough, and I hold myself and my confused daughter and I weep. Sadly it’s often this way as we experience God…how often do we try our best, say I won’t do this, or will change my ways only to find myself in the exact same place I began…wounded, hurting and feeling like a failure. And yes God unlike anyone else holds nothing against us…nothing! God holds no ledger, has no measuring stick, and keeps no records of our wrong doing. They don’t exist, well they don’t exist for God. Sadly they often exist for us, as we play our failures and pains over and again, judging ourselves and our actions harshly and brutally punishing ourselves before the God of the universe has the chance. Ya see God, I’m a big boy, or a big girl. I took care of the punishment part for you. You don’t have to worry about this one cause I got all of the judgment and punishment that is needed. It’s amazing when God looks puzzled at us and says, why are you so hard on yourself? Why have you brutally harmed your value and worth that I created and gave to you as a gift? Why do you hate yourself. One of the greatest struggles I often have is forgiving myself. And if we just allow God a little space, God says, I’m good. You’re free. Don’t hurt yourself. You’re worth way more than that. Today I’m tired and heavy, and tomorrow might be the same…but I do know a Hod who says it’s okay. I love you no matter what, and I especially love Katie.
I know that circumstances can occur that totally draw you away from your awareness of being loved, and I honestly think it’s one of the greatest challenges we have…and a way for evil to swoop in and cause harm. For when I don’t know how loved and lovable I am, I am capable of doing, and being many dark things myself, even as a Christian. One of the most powerful books ever written by Ernest Hemingway is, For Whom the Bell Tolls…a sweeping novel about the brutalities of war, camaraderie, and the ultimate confrontation of one’s death. Hemingway with his usual grandeur, creates a no-win situation in which the heroes must make decisions to support a cause while risking death or just give up hope. It’s an awful choice and one that the heroes stumble into. One of the reasons I love the book is because it challenges me to look at my own decisions, and how often I worry about making everything somehow meaningful for God. The greater challenge of the book and it’s parallel with our lives is that it consistently sets up no win situations in which we can ultimately choose the sucky answer behind door number one, or the suckier answer behind door number 2. And that’s often how we experience life and what we are taught about faith. There are times when the religious systems of our world can align with the tolling bell, creating painful choices between bad and awful. We can encourage people to give until it hurts, which can sound very noble. And we can incentivize it in faith because you will receive an ultimate reward if you do give. But we can often be unaware of what might be the almost hell-like experience for the person who gives because they may not be able to eat the next day, or pay their bills. Sadly many begrudgingly stumble into churches on Sunday knowing that they will be given choices of work harder to get better, or stay where you are and rot in hell-much like as the tolling bell. So we stumble around this life trying desperately to find some glimmer of meaning and hope. Fun stuff for sure. In the end the protagonist of the book is sorely wounded and chooses to be sacrificial hoping that it will justify his life. What awful shackles to bind someone in. To give them choices of doom and death, and the only hope is to make a decision that makes your end somehow more meaningful. The foundational work of Jesus completely changes this scenario. Jesus took away death and sin. And so our ultimate act of life is not about finding some lost meaning as we approach death, but living freely knowing that through Jesus death no longer has any power over us. People who don’t know this or cannot experience this stay trapped in bondage, waiting for the second shoe to drop and the end of their life to occur…while hoping that maybe somewhere along the way they will accomplish something worth living. Life is worth living! Because of God’s love we no longer need to fear the tolling bell or wait for our end to know whether we’ve lived enough of life and given enough to be worth something. With Jesus your free from worrying about that, and can now explore your whole life free to enjoy it and celebrate it without worry or fear. You are loved! And now as the bell tolls for us remember it’s ringing out the freedom that Jesus has given to us through his love!
I hope that as your week begins you can experience the incredible freedoms that we have been given as Christians! No longer are we bound by the ravages of sin or even death. Yes they still both exist, but they no longer have ultimate power over us because of what Jesus did. And what’s amazing is that we are more free and can be more free than most people truly understand! I’ve been to churches and different groups where they’ve identified their freedom as Christians as the ability to drink wine or have a beer because they finally realized that Jesus wasn’t necessarily against drinking. I’ve also been to other churches and groups that discussed the new found freedom of cursing and expressing themselves through colorful metaphors. And although both concepts are small expressions of freedom, many of these same people continue to live their lives wrapped up in dead religious rules and fears about who God is and what God might do if they don’t do certain things. Some of these same drinkers and cursers are also terrified that if they don’t follow certain rules or beliefs about God they will be punished. I’ve had these same people who were so free, suddenly blow a gasket when I didn’t believe a very specific part of theology, obviously then you were bad and not of the faith. Seriously? If God is that petty, then our God is very small, not big. You can curse until your blue, and drink until you pass out and still not be free if you don’t understand the crazy unconditional love that God pours out upon each of us. And so, everything that was wrong and broken and bad between me and God, and between you and God was completely and totally fixed through Jesus. The fears that I had, and sometimes have, about Gods wrath or all of the “what if” situations I can so often worry about in my head, are all part of the freedom that we have. I no longer need to think, oh dear God what great punishment will befall me if I do this, or act a certain way. I do need to ask, how will this better me and make me a better person, and amazingly that’s a choice that God’s left up to each of us to work on. So this week, the real question and challenge we all have-if we are willing to take it-is to discover the ways we are still living in bondage, even if we curse and drink, and then discover ways to better ourselves and truly experience the freedom that we have.
I have discovered that joy is intimately connected to my sorrow and sadness. And, I can only truly identify joy through the lens of my personal experience of sadness and sorrow. It’s a very confusing part of being human, this joy thing. It would be nice if I could just sit and say, hey self, I want to just experience joy this morning. But unless you’ve been smoking something, or unless something pretty spectacular has happened in your life recently, you can’t just force it. Like most emotions they just are, and just happen. And what’s amazing is we get to be participants in the emotional process of our lives. I can choose to sit with my emotions and breathe them in deeply, or I can try to fight them and force myself to change how I feel. I’ve done the latter much more often in life, with limited success. I think there are some churches who might even try to encourage people to experience the most positive and happy emotions while avoiding the negative or painful ones. I have discovered that this can lead to big smiles…well big fake smiles, not always but it can definitely happen. But the bible and the whole old and new testaments were filled with sad moments, angry moments, and also joyful moments. The bible never waters down the pain and difficulty of our journey, as a matter of fact it actually highlights how difficult faith and working on your health and life really are. Jesus told a group of his followers at one point that if they wanted to follow him, they might be broke, friendless, and have no bed to lay on…whew what an amazing and encouraging pep talk from the Messiah. He wasn’t interested in people who just wanted to do the happy-happy joy-joy dance all the time-thanks Ren and Stempy. He knew that true joy came from the fires of tough, difficult, and painful moments. He understood, well because he’s God, that hurt and suffering are normal, but there’s always joy that can develop after the pain if we don’t fight it. I’ve counseled and loved on tons of people who only wanted joy and happiness in their life without the corresponding hurt, pain, and trauma that’s needed to understand the joy. That just doesn’t happen in our world. Child birth, which is a very joyous occasion is also one of the most brutally painful on the woman’s body. And when Jesus explains and describes the process of becoming a believer to one of the religious teachers, he actually refers back to this painful and difficult moment…you must be born again, Jesus says. The teacher who had asked Jesus the question, took Jesus literally and asked, well how am I supposed to be born again, do you think I can climb back into my mother’s womb a second time. Jesus was attempting to describe not only the power and joy of new birth, but also the pain and trauma that’s associated with that type of transition…this thing called faith ain’t easy! But if you can deal with the trauma of the birth, then joy comes. If you can allow the pains and agony of the beginning of life, you will also smile at the amazing consequences of that pain…the newness of life being given to us. Joy is really only ever understood in stark contrast to our pain. So for me, or for us, or for the church and Christian community to truly understand the blessings of life we must understand the sufferings of life. For us to know the incredible gifts that we have been given in faith, we must know the torment of loss. It is truly a paradox, one that I don’t completely understand yet, but one that I know is true. I hope you are experiencing joy today, not the great sadness and hurt, but if you are experiencing pain today, own it and embrace it because soon joy will develop from that.
It’s really hard to start the week when it feels like I’ve not recovered enough energy, and sadly that happens often, too often really. I think that’s why Jesus spent so much time alone in the gospels. Jesus would speak to people or sometimes crowds of people and then wonder off by himself. It’s a true gift when we can learn that it’s okay to take care of ourselves and our needs. This past weekend I ran the Disney Dark Side half marathon. It was great fun but my muscles are really hurting today. Our church had a guest speaker, who is a missionary from Greece. Viorica was here speaking about the sex trafficking ministry she works with. She did a great job explaining how women from around the world are tricked into coming to Greece and are then put into slavery. It’s such a tragedy that this happens, and honestly very sad. I’m truly thankful that Renew Church can support Viorica and her ministry, as she works to help set women free from their bondage. And as she was speaking I was suddenly reminded of the passage that Paul wrote to the Galatians…5:1-It is for freedom that Jesus has set you free, so don’t get trapped in bondage again with the law. Paul was specifically addressing the community around modern Turkey that he had lived with, and their own trap they had created for Christians. They had converted to Christianity and when Paul left them they were living lives of freedom, no longer in bondage/slavery to the Old Testament rules. And then Paul left and they started bringing people into the faith and then making them live according to the Old Testament law again. Paul says this is a tragedy, and it is. Jesus came specifically to free us, because the law was never the deep magic-sorry taking a quote from C S Lewis and Narnia. Because the deep magic is really love, and the law was merely attempts to define live imperfectly with people. So, when you think of freedom think holistically. Jesus came to free us from the bondage of slavery and sex trafficking, where people’s basic humanity is stripped from them and they live in traps set by other people. The image of God-humanity-is being tormented by humanity for our own pleasure. Then there’s spiritual slavery, being trapped by the rules and regulations established by and within religious systems. These traps are just as damaging because people can actually believe they have freedom when it really doesn’t exist. Paul spends an inordinate amount of time confronting these things in the church. Then finally there’s emotional and relational bondage. We can be so consumed by family issues and relationships, or by spousal or coupling relationships that we lose ourselves in the process. Paul would say this type of bondage is just as bad as the spiritual bondage that he addresses in Galatians. To be truly free is to first know yourself. Each of us must take time to work on getting to know me, not me specifically but yourself. I need to know what I like and what I don’t like, what I value and what I don’t, and I need to be okay with myself even if others are not. Being comfortable in my own skin is so powerful and transformative and I believe it’s what allowed Paul to speak to people all over the world about God’s love. No matter what they said to him, he was okay being Paul, being made in the image of the creator, being inherently valuable and lovable. And look what Paul accomplished. It’s no wonder Paul writes so often about freedom because it’s what liberated him and allowed him to become the man and great teacher that he was. Freedom is something the church can get behind for sure because it’s part of who God created us to be. Just as God is free we are also to be free. I pray we can take up this challenge today and be a community of faith, born of love, and celebrated in freedom.