Monday, August 26, 2013

Once Upon A Time

This summer I taught a message series entitled Once Upon a Time, four words that alert you of an impending story. The series explored various parables of Jesus. Although his stories were deeply engaging, Jesus did not tell them to entertain. His purpose wasn't to inform. Jesus told stories to change the way his hearers saw Life and by Life I mean, "the essence of existence." In each parable, Christ adjusts the way you see God, the world, yourself, and his Kingdom. If you pay close attention to what he says, (if you have ears to hear and eyes to see) the scales will start to crumble from your eyes and you will begin to see the world as Jesus sees. In each message I offer a Perception Alteration: one way Jesus wants to adjust your vision. I restate the 12 Perception Alterations in this post. If any of them peak your interest you can find the entire messages HERE.

"...There was a Treasure" (Matt. 13:44-46)
Perception Alteration: The only "good life" is "God's life."

"...There was a Net" (Matt. 13:47-52)
Perception Alteration: The presence of evil does not mean the absence of God, his love, or his power.

"...There was a Slave" (Matt. 18:21-35)
Perception Alteration: Forgiveness is not a religious practice; it is part of the Christian DNA.

"...There were Two Boys" (Matt. 21:28-32)
Perception Alteration: It's never too late to follow Jesus.

"...There were Renters" (Matt. 21:33-46)
Perception Alteration: Jesus did not come to save you from hell but to make you into a certain kind of person.

"...There was a Banquet" (Matt. 21:33-46)
Perception Alteration: The Kingdom of God extends an open invitation with high expectations.

"...The Master Took a Journey" (Mat. 21:33-46)
Perception Alteration: You do not simply belong to the Kingdom of God; you participate in it.

"...A Man was Beaten" (Luke 10:25-37)
Perception Alteration: God calls his followers to BE the neighbor.

"...There was a Party" (Luke 15:1-32)
Perception Alteration: Jesus calls his followers to engage the world rather than protect themselves from it.

"...There was a Clever Manager" (Luke 16:1-14)
Perception Alteration: Invest the temporal in the eternal.

"...There was a Persistent Widow" (Luke 18:1-8)
Perception Alteration: Live in the present as if it is the future.

"...There were Two Prayers" (Luke 18:9-14)
Perception Alteration: Being right with God is not about getting it right.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Samaritization: Jericho to Metro Detroit

Perhaps Mr. Rogers had it right...sporting the cardigan before Hipster was hip and singing about neighborliness.

A couple of weeks ago while sitting in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport awaiting my return flight to the Motor City (Wadup Detroit!?), I cracked open the gospel of Luke and began reading the story of the Good Samaritan. As I read the words of Jesus, I was struck again, at how relevant his teachings remain after 2000 years.

Jesus launches into his Good Samaritan tale as a response to the question: Who is my neighbor? A never more relevant question. To my left sat an African-American couple. To my right an Eastern Indian family laughed together. A Vietnamese group stood at the ticket counter awaiting some information, and I overheard some people behind me speaking Spanish.  Oh yes, and there was this Caucasian guy reading his Bible (Bible Thumper!). Good question, "Who exactly IS my neighbor?"

Not only was I about to board an eclectic plane ride home, but it was the same week the media broadcasted the George Zimmerman verdict - a trial fueled by an incident that wreaks with the question, Who is my neighbor?

The Good Samaritan is as relevant today as it ever was...Who is my neighbor?

Jesus answers the question in his typical genius style. He lures you into the story, gets you looking to the right and then out of nowhere he comes at you with a hard left: SMACK! In this short story, Jesus lets his audience know that Who is my neighbor? is the wrong question. It draws boundaries, it's exclusive, it seeks to determine who is "In" and who is "Out," and it nurtures discriminatory love. Jesus uses the story to make the point, "Quit wasting your time trying to figure out who is your neighbor and just BE A NEIGHBOR!"

Who is my neighbor spends time drawing boundaries; being a neighbor spends time finding ways over, through, under, or around boundaries. Being a neighbor wakes up everyday and asks, "How can I extend love to everyone I meet today?" Who is my neighbor asks, "Who should I give my love to today?" Who is my neighbor says, "I don't get those people!" Being a neighbor asks, "How can I understand those people?" Who is my neighbor thrives on"Us" and "Them." Being a neighbor only knows "Us."

Okay, so we are clear. Jesus wants his followers to be a neighbor, but how do you be a neighbor? The story of The Good Samaritan not only challenges you to be a neighbor but it provides a practical approach to neighborliness.

In the story, thieves beat a man and leave him to die. A priest passes by and offers no help. A Levite does the same and then the Samaritan comes along and...

When he SAW the man, he FELT SORRY for him.  He WENT to him, poured olive oil and wine on his wounds and bandaged them. (Luke 10:33b-34a)

The actions of the Samaritan provide us with a Neighbor Template: 

1.  "He saw:" Be Aware of Those Around You. The first thing he does is see. You can never offer help or extend loving-kindness if you are not aware of what is going on in people's lives. Many of us fail to stop and help the nearly dead guy on the side of the road, not because we don't care, but because we never see him. We never see him because we are too focused on our destination. We never see him because we walk down the road staring at our iPhone calendar. We never see him because we don't travel by road. Our schedules demand we fly.

If you want to be a neighbor, you must slow down enough to see. Have you slowed down enough to know what is going on in your coworker's life? In your neighbor's? In the Starbuck's barrista who always takes your order? To realize there is a kid in your child's class who has a rough home life? To notice that your child's teacher is struggling? Have you slowed down enough to even be aware of the needs of the person in the church pew next to you?

If you want to be a neighbor, you have to see.

2.  "Felt Sorry:" Resonate with the Pain of Others. Seeing is not enough. Both the priest and Levite saw the man and yet did nothing. The Samaritan acted because he "felt sorry" for the man. He had compassion. Compassion is different than pity. Pity is to feel bad for someone but compassion is pity that drives you to action. If you have ever watched television after midnight you likely have come across the commercial with animals in gutters, under old wooden crates, hiding under boxes, and piercing you with their giant puppy-dog eyes. Inevitably some Willie Nelson song is playing in the background. Likely, you will feel pity as you finish off your bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos, but you probably won't go out to the animal shelter the next day and adopt a zoo. The Samaritan felt more than pity. He had compassion. If you want to be a neighbor you need compassion.

3. "He went:" Moving Toward. I think most of us stop with pity. We discover a need; we become aware of situation; we see the dying man on the road and we feel horrible about it, but then we never "move toward." Yes, the Samaritan saw. Yes, he felt sorry for the guy, but it was the fact that he moved toward him that made a difference.

How many problems in our world could be solved with the simple act of moving toward rather than away from? How many marriages could be saved? How many wars would never start? How many friendships rekindled? How many acts of violence never initiated? How much hatred curbed? How much ignorance enlightened? How much woundedness healed? 

The key to making a difference? The key to seeing the dying revived? Move toward...

Maybe Mr. Rogers did not have it all right. Perhaps he should have changed his lyrics..."Let me be your neighbor!"

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Smells Like Vienna Sausage: A Mini Adventure

On July 25-27, I packed up the backpack and headed north to hike the HCP (High Country Pathway), an 80 mile loop in the northern part of lower Michigan.

The HCP trail head. The beginning and the end!
Everyone has to carry their own stuff. Well, that's the idea! That lasted about 12 miles. My dog ended up limping so I got to carry his dog food!
Lunch stop on Day 2. This chair was just waiting for me!
Dinner stop Day 2. It was perfect! Wish I could have stayed but had another 6-9 miles to go!

Lunch stop Day 3. Highest point of hike! Beautiful!
Free thought we were staying - WRONG!
Free food in free shelter, if you like rice from June 2012.
Black River
The sun greeting me on Day 2.
A town once lived here.
God is the best artist!
Came upon the remains of an old forest fire. Still looked aflame!
God continues to amaze me.
Do you see the trail? It's there...underneath.

Lots of water in Michigan!
This was supposed to be the "Man Hike" picture but I ended up looking like an old turtle.

Lots of marshlands...a.k.a., swamp!