Want What You’ve Got! (pockets)

Khaki pantsI used to have this amazing pair of cargo pants.

Purchased at a second hand store, these khakis were like new when I bought them – and a coveted label to boot. They were lightweight, making them wearable in desert temps, and they fit perfectly – not too tight, not too loose. They never held a stain and they never needed more than a good shake before wearing.

But the most amazing thing about these pants was the pockets.

Of course there were two front pockets, only these ones were deep enough to fit my whole hand inside and to keep whatever I might put in there from falling out when I sat down. There were two back pockets, too, and they buttoned to keep cash or a credit card from being removed inadvertently. Each leg had a generous, button-shut pocket on the side, just above the knee, which made for ideal cell phone storage or for staging a Chapstick. And on the right pant leg, just above the hem, was a small pocket with a Velcro closure that was perfectly sized for a car key.

In these pants a person could shop all day without lugging a bulky purse through the mall! In these pants, hiking was a breeze without a backpack to weigh you down! Not only was I stylin’ while wearing these practical beauties, but I was able to have everything I needed within reach, no matter what the day might bring.

I wore them until the day that threadbare and patched became hole-y and inappropriate – and then I threw them away.

No doubt did I Want What I’ve Got while in possession of this marvelous utility-wear!

Our lives were created with pockets, too. We have just the right amount of storage to get through a day well-equipped for whatever may transpire. When we choose wisely, our lives contain exactly what is needed, as Jesus described in Matthew 13:52 (The Message):

“…every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.”

It’s when we start store-housing our excess that the problems begin.

With pockets bulging, over-stuffed with our desires, we feel the weight of the world. We move more slowly, have trouble finding what we need among our wants, and sometimes we just don’t make it through the day for the burden we bear.

Some of us have filled our pockets with problems and worries about our own lives – Will I have enough? Will I be prepared? Will I make a good impression? Do these jam-packed pockets make me look fat?

Some of us have chosen to cram our pockets with the burdens of others, weighing us down and keeping us from having the freedom to move and act and do stuff. Instead of things we need to hold onto, some of us keep finding lint and dirty tissues and even rocks with someone else’s name on them in the deep recesses of the pockets of our lives. Some may even need a belt to keep those britches on for the sheer weight of what we’re carrying around!

Today, dig down deep and take a long, hard look at what you’re keeping in your pockets.

If you can’t honestly say that you Want What You’ve Got, then you’ve got some laundry to do.

Daily Questions: As you begin each day, how do you feel? Weighed down? Burdened? Or light on your feet? What keeps you from finding joy when you need it? Or words of encouragement? Or hope? What are you stockpiling for tomorrow that keeps you from finding or carrying what is needed today? What are you hauling around for others that you need to give back or get rid of?

Advertisements

Want What You’ve Got! (turbulence)

This picture from a NASA study on wingtip vort...

I took my seat in the small commuter plane, my view of the tarmac hindered by the craft’s propeller. Sitting three rows in from the door, no one sat in front of me – the other 8 passengers were all seated further back (feeling safer over the wings, I suppose).

As we took flight, we bounced around a bit – no surprise considering the wind that always blows so vigorously in the region we were leaving behind. One passenger in particular came to my mind as we sought to find smooth air – a young man who had seemed particularly nervous as he boarded, asking questions of the flight attendant that I hadn’t overheard. I felt for him as I remembered my own flight experiences over the years, and then I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Turbulence happens. When you choose to fly, you run the risk of unstable air from time to time. Rookie passengers feel every bump and drop as if it signals their end, but you can always spot the veteran – asleep or engrossed in a book even before cruising altitude is reached. Airborne over the Rockies this weekend, it hit me that turbulence is something that makes me Want What I’ve Got.

Life is a lot like air travel, and not everyone buys a ticket. Some are so afraid of flying that they will opt out of life’s opportunities in order to avoid their discomfort and fear. Feet firmly planted on the ground, many will buy into the illusion that to live is to be safe – safe from risk, safe from potential harm, safe from the unknown.

What we miss when we opt for safety-at-all-costs is the indescribable joy that is available only to those who risk it all to fully live!

When I was a fresh young twenty-something, I arrived at the lake a little too late to join my sailing group, already en route to a picnic-friendly beach across the water. They had left a boat behind – a small Sunfish daysailer – but I had never actually rigged a boat all by myself.

I don’t know how long I contemplated my options before I went for it – managing to rig that boat like a boss (as my son would say)! I climbed in and set sail alone with a grin stretched across my face and some lovely wind filling my modest sail. I reached the opposite shore before some of my group did, and I can honestly say I have never felt so equipped to live as I did on that defining summer day.  

Toward the end of His earthly life, Jesus told His friends that, in spite of everything that was about to transpire, “I’m not abandoned. The Father is with me. I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:32b-33 MSG)

In this godless world, you and I will suffer. In the words of the pilot of the plane I am on, “occasional bumps will occur.” Unstable air is a byproduct of living in a broken world, but as children of God, we can rest unshaken because the bumps that toss us around cannot hurt us – not as long as we take heart and take flight with the One who has conquered it all.

You may not Want What You’ve Got when the challenges come – in this you are not alone. But maybe it’s high time you realize that peace doesn’t come from not taking risks… It comes from trusting Jesus as you board the plane.

So, if you’re experiencing turbulence today, remember it’s because you dared to fly.

Daily Questions: When was the last time you experienced turbulence in the air? What thoughts went through your mind as you were buckled into that airplane seat? What kinds of turbulence are you experiencing today – on the ground? What do Jesus’ words in John 16 say to you in the midst of the unstable circumstances of your life?

Want What You’ve Got! (weekend)

English: School bus seats, photographed from b...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I often think of the Christian life in terms of the classroom and the field trip.

Sermons, Bible studies, devotions = classroom.

Life in the real world = field trip.

Jesus taught that His words are not just to be “incidental additions to your life, homeowners improvements to your standard of living.” Jesus’ words are foundational words – words to build a life on! He has some pretty harsh things to say to those who spend all of their time in the classroom and never actually work what they’re learning into the living of their lives (Matthew 7:24-29).

The weekends during these 40 days of Want What You’ve Got are a chance to work out all that we think about during the week. Sundays during Lent aren’t actually counted in the 40 day season, because Sunday for the believer is always Easter! Always celebration! Always feast day!

This weekend, instead of going out and buying or doing something new, consider what you’ve got. Find one thing that you already have but haven’t used or enjoyed for a long time…An appliance that makes a special treat. An accessory buried deep within your closet. A movie you enjoy but haven’t seen since… forever.

Take it out. Dust it off. Want What You’ve Got!

While you’re searching for that one thing, keep your eyes open for something that you haven’t used or enjoyed for a very long time – something that you don’t want... An appliance. A pair of shoes. Something that collects dust in your spare bedroom or that you regularly trip over in your garage.

If you don’t want it, why keep it? Re-purpose or recycle by giving it to someone else or dropping it off at a local charity store on your way to the coffee shop (just kidding)!

What TWO Can DO L4L.19

Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair

Image by bitzcelt via Flickr

The WORD

‘The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.” Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about me. You judge me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, my judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent me is with me. Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and my Father who sent me is the other.”’ John 8:13-18 (New Living Translation)

This challenge from the Pharisees comes on the heels of Jesus’ failure to pass judgment on the woman caught in adultery (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Seems that these leaders of the faith were more apt to buy into a messiah figure who would wield his weapons of war on the battlefield of works and moral judgment  than one whose failure to condemn the clearly guilty left them feeling uncomfortably unjustified.

‘The Pharisees objected, “All we have is your word on this. We need more than this to go on.” Jesus replied, “You’re right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I’ve come from and where I go next. You don’t know where I’m from or where I’m headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that. But even if I did, my judgment would be true because I wouldn’t make it out of the narrowness of my experience but in the largeness of the One who sent me, the Father. That fulfills the conditions set down in God’s Law: that you can count on the testimony of two witnesses. And that is what you have. You have my word and you have the word of the Father who sent me.”’ (The Message)

As He often did, Jesus demonstrated His knowledge and understanding of Jewish Law by quoting from Deuteronomy (17:6 and 19:15), which had to make the Pharisees more than a little bit hot beneath the collar. In both of these Old Testament verses, the point made is that no man should be found guilty of a crime on the say-so of only one witness; the testimony of two or more is required.

Funny how Jesus managed to turn the Jewish leaders’ demand for proof of Jesus’ claims into His own method of defense. They demanded that Jesus bring a sound witness forward, to prove He was telling the truth. Jesus insinuates that what they’re really trying to do is find Him guilty of a crime, to which He offers the testimony of His Father; the Word of God Himself.

The APP

How many times have you found yourself in a situation where your words and witness fell short of being convincing? I was in this very place years ago, when I found myself working for a leader whose behind-the-scenes manipulation had become a grotesque art form. No matter what this person said or did to exercise control over me or to try to put me in my ‘place’, no one else was ever around when it happened. I was the only one who knew about the fiery darts that routinely pierced my sensitive skin and left me wounded and doubting my abilities, my intentions and my calling.

These circumstances ended up being an eye-opening experience, illustrating the need for the testimony of two; if there had been another witness, I don’t think I would have been the one to leave that workplace. But as it was, it would have been my word against his; not an ideal situation no matter how you frame it.

Jesus’ words acknowledge God’s Law in this confrontation with the Pharisees because Jesus knew that they wouldn’t listen to Him alone. Many times our squabbles in the faith arise from a “he said, she said” exchange, where you tell me what you think and I counter with my own words, to which you add your arguments and consequently pour fuel on my fire…

Jesus didn’t take this approach.

Jesus provided the testimony of two when He chose to let God speak on the subject, by letting God’s Word speak for Himself.

Now, you might argue that Christians do this all the time. Who hasn’t been the victim of scripture quoted for the purpose of proving that someone else is wrong so that I can be right? We can subtly (or blatantly) insert scripture into our conversations in order to throw more weight around than we actually have, and we can do this for our own selfish gain while furthering our own self-serving agendas.

This is not what Jesus did, nor is it what He is teaching us to do. Instead, He was aligning Himself with the powerful witness of One whose Word could validate Jesus’ own words and actions.

Jesus chose the testimony of two – He and His Father’s Word – so that He might be successful in the mission He was on.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 speaks about our very real need for the testimony of two:  

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

Quite literally, Jesus knew what two could do, and He chose to stand unified with the Father when confronted by those who would attack Him with their words, with their anger, and finally with their weapon of death on a cross.

You and I could choose today to walk the narrow road alone, but why would we when we know what two can do?

Two can help one another succeed.

Two can pick each other up when they fall.

Two can huddle together for warmth in this cold world.

Two can stand back-to-back and conquer any enemy that comes their way.

Jesus knew what two can do, and He chose to stand back-to-back with His Father, conquering death and sin so that you and I might be brought into unbroken fellowship with the powerful witness of One whose Word can validate our own words and actions.

You know that Christ comes with His Father’s testimony. Align yourself with Christ!

You know that there are people in your life who are witnesses of God’s work in you. Align yourself with them!

Where two or more are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, THERE HE IS among you!

It’s time to be Literal 4 Lent, my friend.

It’s time to see just what two can do!

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

 

Affirmation Station L4L.07

Affirmations - Heart - Red

Image by Gurumustuk Singh via Flickr

The WORD

‘Please, sir,’ the woman said, ‘give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.’

‘Go and get your husband,’ Jesus told her.

‘I don’t have a husband,’ the woman replied.

Jesus said, ‘You’re right! You don’t have a husband – for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!’” John 4:15-18 (New Living Translation)

It’ll feel a bit awkward, but read back through this text as a conversation – out loud! Try to feel as Jesus and the woman might have felt…

The Word for us today comes from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus strikes up a conversation with this woman whose past is probably part of the reason she is filling her bucket at the well alone, in the heat of the day.

Jesus had every opportunity to point out the error of her ways.

The woman had every opportunity to run the other way. Yet neither one did.

Well, you might say that Jesus asked about the woman’s husband in order to reveal her sinful nature, right? After all, He does proceed to describe her history in enough detail to convince her that He was, at the very least, a prophet.

I want to propose another motivation for Jesus’ approach: What if Jesus asked the husband question just so that He could say to her, “You’re RIGHT!

Think about it… Even in today’s culture, a woman who has gone through five husbands and a live-in probably doesn’t receive much affirmation from the people around her. She gets pointed at because of her choices. She is shunned because of her reputation. She is ‘wrong’ at every turn of every failed relationship, and she is probably surrounded by reminders of those failures no matter where she goes.

Today was no exception – she had no friend or family member to gather water with; the ‘right’ people had already been to the well in the cool morning hours, so she had made the dusty trek alone.

It’s not as if Jesus asked the husband question often – this is the only time we hear of such a thing in Jesus’ ministry. He wasn’t trying to sell her something – say, a timeshare – where His spiel could only be presented if both husband and wife were there to sign (or refuse to sign) on the dotted line.

What if Jesus asked the husband question simply to be able to show her the grace she didn’t deserve; ascribing to this broken woman the value she didn’t know she had?

He asked a question that, if answered truthfully, would allow Him to say, “You’re RIGHT!” to someone who only knew how to be wrong.

The APP

I’ve had the privilege of serving as a volunteer for Youth Specialties at the National Youth Workers Convention in the fall. One of my roles in the past has been on the Affirmation Team – a small group of servants whose mission is to affirm, appreciate and encourage youth workers – many of whom arrive at Convention as walking wounded, having been beaten up by the very ones they live to serve.

One of my very favorite A-Team responsibilities was the Affirmation Station – a table set up in the middle of a traffic area, stocked with poster-sized paper and markers. A place where paid and volunteer church staff could create signs to express their love, care and appreciation for the soul-weary co-workers they were attending the event with. The A-Team would routinely stop by the Affirmation Station to hang the posters, and by the end of the week we invariably would have run out of wall space.

Affirmations like these covered the walls, written to build people up and remind them how important they are:

David Jones is the BEST youth pastor in Tennessee!

Mt. Vernon Presbyterian LOVES their Sr. High staff!

What you’re doing MATTERS, Kara! You’re making a difference in Alpharetta!

My life was changed forever because my youth leader CARED!

When Jesus chose to affirm the Samaritan woman that day, He gave back the beauty, intelligence and worth that the living of her life had stripped away.

She was all wrong until Jesus reminded her, “You’re RIGHT!” His affirmation, and the conversation that followed, left her (and many others) changed.

Look around you today.

Look for those who seem all wrong.

Look for those who have been hurt, lied to, beat up and compromised.

Look for those whose past is ever-present, and then follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Set up your own Affirmation Station and make it your Lenten mission to paper the proverbial walls of your home, your workplace and your community with healing words of hope and desperately needed messages of love.

It doesn’t get much more literal than that.

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

Low-Hanging Fruit L4L.04

The WORDYoung man harvesting plums

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:1-4 (New Living Translation)

You know the drill – let’s read it again.

“Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: ‘Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.’ Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.’” Matthew 4:1-4 (The Message)

This season of Lent, forty days long (not counting Sundays), is a reflection of the forty days of preparation Jesus spent in the desert prior to being tested by God’s enemy. Before He even began His ministry, Jesus set Himself apart from outside influences, perhaps because He knew that His best shot against Satan would be a steady stream of God’s influence, untainted by the comforts and conveniences of the world.

By resisting the physical need to eat, Jesus was feeding His spiritual hunger at an all-you-can-eat buffet of Scriptural truth at the table of God. Truth that not only came in handy, but won the battle with evil, propelling Jesus into a whirlwind ministry of teaching and preaching that ultimately changed the world.

Jesus was starvingcan you imagine going forty days without eating? – and yet He was able to resist the low-hanging fruit of the tempter when it was offered to Him. It’s no accident that this scene unfolds at the start of His ministry, as it is in perfect parallel to the temptation of God’s first people as they stood, naked, in front of that tree in the Garden.

Low-hanging fruit is always the enemy’s Plan A. And it’s no wonder, since we (like Adam and Eve) are always so eager to take a bite.

The APP

What’s so appealing about the low-hanging fruit of the enemy, and why are we such easy targets?

Low-hanging fruit feeds our physical appetites. Just as Satan tempted Jesus to give in to His hunger, we are tempted every day to settle for the fruit we can easily reach.

Fruit we don’t have to work hard to obtain.

Fruit that is readily available.

Fruit that is temporarily satisfying.

Our appetites will always lead us into temptation, just as Adam and Eve were drawn to the fruit of the one tree in the Garden that wasn’t theirs; but we don’t have to partake.

We’re easy targets because we aren’t prepared. Jesus – Son of God, Messiah, Lord – spent forty days preparing for Satan’s testing. By denying Himself in the physical realm, Jesus was freed up to be strengthened in the spiritual realm and consequently was ready for battle when Satan appeared on the scene.

We fall to temptation again and again because we fail to take seriously our times of preparation. As long as we are satisfied with dabbling in the Word of God, we will never be satisfied with the hard-to-reach fruit of the Spirit.

If, as Jesus said, “It takes more than bread to stay alive,” then you and I must hunger for that steady stream of God’s Word if we are to allow low-hanging fruit to dangle while we stretch and reach and climb to obtain the fruit that will last.

For you, today, this may mean a fast. A day, a week, or perhaps forty days of refusing to give in to the easily-met desires of the flesh. Often we choose to give up something that is tempting to us as a token offered to the season of Lent; this is not what I’m talking about today.

What you and I most desperately need is to set ourselves apart for the purpose of being prepared – not preparing ourselves, mind you, but dedicating ourselves to being open to the preparation God provides us through His Word.

Until we take Jesus’ words to the enemy literally and choose to draw our very sustenance and spiritual nutrition from God’s Word, we cannot walk the path that Jesus walked. We cannot follow Him.

This is how Jesus’ walk began: with preparation, with temptation, with victory.

In that order.

May it be so for us today.

Click here to return to the Literal 4 Lent menu.

Costumes

Group5 Group4 BritJoff2 Joffmarley3 When my daughter bought these t-shirts for the family in D.C. this past summer, we knew that a costumed photo shoot was in our future!

We all wear costumes.

Some of us wear them so well that no one really knows WHO we are.

No one, that is, except the One who…

‘Formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God – you’re breathtaking!

Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I worship in adoration – what a creation!

You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body;

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,

how I was sculpted from nothing into something.

Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;

all the stages of my life were spread out before you,

the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.’ 

-Psalm 139:13-16 (the Message)

May the God who isn’t fooled by our costumes bless you and keep you as another year unfolds!Fouratsigns

Happy New Year from Pink Shoes Ministries!

A Better Way

makeupI’ve stayed in more hotel rooms these past six months than in the past ten years of my life combined. As one who is often all too willing to subscribe to marketing ploys, I generally keep my Hilton Honors card pretty close (points speak, you know). But the travels of the recent past have brought me to a variety of places to lay my head for the night, and to two specific A-ha moments that today are causing me to ask:

What if there’s a better way?

But before you dial in for seedlings of truth, two not-so-deep illustrations from my travels must be shared…

Every bed I slept on in Europe defied my understanding of the limits of linens. To be specific, it blew my mind that every two-person mattress was topped with two separate comforters! One fitted sheet. NO top sheet. TWO duvets stuffed into their own duvet covers – one for each sleep-mate.

Exposure to this one idea has revolutionized the way I make my bed! Don’t laugh! Gone are the days of blanket tug-of-war. I can stick my toes out for air on either side of my small blanket – even on my husband’s side. And I can launder the top sheet/duvet cover as often as I used to change the sheets, giving my touch of OCD a bit of a reprieve as I climb into fresh bedding and switch off the lights.

I always assumed that sharing the bed meant sharing the covers. Well – didn’t you?

Never mind that she’s a cover-hog and he wakes up shivering in the dark.

Never mind that his favorite quilt is too warm – or not heavy enough – for her.

Never mind the onset of menopause and those pesky thermostat-changes in the middle of the night…

We’re married. We share a bed. We share the covers. For better or worse. End of story. Right?

I never stopped to consider that there just might be a better way.

One of my favorite, recent stays was in a funky boutique hotel. Not part of a huge conglomerate, this quirky place has an enormous hot tub that seats about 50 (seriously) and a fabulous organic Mexican restaurant curbside. The rooms have black marble tile in the bathroom and cuddly robes hanging in the closet. They give you bottled water or soda, candy bars & snacks for free – yours for the asking – and each room has a Keurig coffee maker with to-go cups and lids. If you’re checking in for just one night, you can request a 24 hour stay! Check out time is 24 hours from the time you check in… Sweet!

But the coolest feature – in my opinion – shows up on the towel rack. It’s a black washcloth. Embroidered with the word ‘makeup‘.

Now, this will be totally lost on the gentlemen (sorry!), but a black cloth for removing makeup is totally brilliant! Especially for a hotel! While it hasn’t stopped me from engaging in my hygiene routine, I have often felt bad about using those pristinely whitened cloths to remove mascara at the end of the day. After all, I see my own white cloths with black stains at home, in spite of the bleach-maintenance system I’ve devised. Yet it never occurred to me that there was another option for hotels other than white!

Who knew? There is a better way!

I know, I know… Comforters and washcloths don’t exactly have the power to change the world, but what if there’s a better way to live and do and act – and instead of being ready for inspiration and open to new ideas, I’m at home on the couch? TV droning. The world at arm’s length. Firmly fixed in my comforting little routines.

What if there’s a better way to love people and I miss out because I think I know it all?

What if there’s a better way to meet the needs of the lonelybut I fail to meet the lonely because I’m content abiding here in my own little world?

What if the God of the universe hasn’t stopped creating and yet I’m missing His handiwork out there by choosing instead to hole up in here?

It doesn’t take a European vacation to see that there is a way of life that leads to death – where minds are shut tight and there is nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing brilliant to be discovered under the sun.

Likewise, you don’t need a hotel loyalty card to discover that, as the United Church of Christ has said so well, “God is still speaking!” And inspiring! And creating! And saving!

So, open your eyes! Pay attention to the world around you! Watch for clever improvements on the dull and monotonous! Look for better ways to do the little things, but more importantly – look for ways to improve on the meaningful work you have been placed here to do!

Don’t settle for what works…

Find a better way.

 

Kid President is doing exactly this! Check out his SOCKTOBER initiative on YouTube today!

From a Distance (an Afterthought)

Bavarian Countryside

Bavarian Countryside

‘Not another church!’

You might expect these words from a teenager on holiday in Europe, but not from me. Not from the mom whose 9-to-5 (make that 24/7) revolves around the Church – the Body of Christ.

Nevertheless, after walking dutifully through gothic and ornate church building after church building, these words may have been muttered a time or two – by me – on my family’s recent European vacation.

Almost always grandiose, sometimes crossing the line into garish, the gold-gilded altars of centuries-old church buildings hit me – a follower of a Jewish carpenter – as something of an affront to the message of the Gospel…

Which is, as I understand it, Jesus Saves. Not the church building. Not tradition and ritual. Not the relics we bless and call holy.

Jesus. Saves. Period.     Right?

So as I found myself seated on a train for seven hours, diverted by rising flood waters on my last full day in Europe, it was no surprise to find myself watching churches go by. Village after village paraded past the train window. Each and every one – every single one – sported a church building of some era past. A spire or a cross that stood higher than every other structure in town. Never mind how small or large these communities were – they all had, at their center, a church.

After awhile, ‘not another church’ began to sound more like – ‘hmmm… another church.’

Whether 50 or 150 years ago, these communities were built around the church. Physically, but also experientially, with the heart of the town being the building where its people gathered – the place where they all belonged.

At the center of their life together was the church, and even from a distance they could find their way home because the spire of the village church marked the spot.

Last weekend, flying into the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, I was overcome with a nostalgic wave as the plane broke through the clouds and the Minnesota terrain came into view. I remembered summer vacations and years of family road trips through this area, en route to our family homestead in the north.

As the plane descended, what looked like a steel mushroom caught my eye. And then another. Pretty soon I was able to read the words on each water tower – elevated high above the township whose name was boldly painted on the side. While not physically the center of town, these towers hold the resource that allows life to go on, day after day, for the families who do life in these communities.

Driving in to work today, my eyes scanned the landscape of my own home town…

Nope. No spires. No elevated crosses in the sky.

Not even a water tower (which actually makes me nervous and got me wondering… where does our water come from?).

This town that I live in is typical of today, and its center isn’t the church. Not even a towering water tank announces that you are here.

Feeling kind of sad as I walked out of Safeway with my morning java, I realized that the center of many an American town is its movie theater. The mall. Starbucks. Can it be that entertainment and retail are the heartbeat of America – the center of our communities? The gathering places in our towns?

Traffic was crazy this morning, with road closures that altered my route to the church. Sitting at a red light, I turned and caught a glimpse of a giant white rooftop – attached to a building that I have driven past nearly every single day that I have lived in this Arizona town. From a distance, this place looks something like an ark. It houses everything from hockey games to Christian concerts, cage fighting to high school graduations.

A building where, even as I write, thousands of people are gathered inside – and thousands more sit in the hot July sun on lawn chairs among a sea of fire and rescue vehicles – because there isn’t enough room for everyone within its walls.

Never mind that those assembled aren’t all from around here – they are a community nonetheless. A family gathering to lean on each other and to share in their losses and to take care of their own… who take care of us.

I have to ask myself – and yes, I’m asking you – whether we prefer museums disguised as churches or churches in camouflage and in the trenches of real life – taking real risks for real people in real time.

When community is built from the stuff of real life and from the depths of real love, you’ll find no bold print name on the tower overhead, but what is held inside is the sweetest, cleanest, most refreshing Water you can imagine. Perfect for quenching thirst and drowning fires in the deserts of our lives.

From a distance, those country churches and city cathedrals look really good, yet most sit half-empty on Sunday mornings.

From a distance it’s clear that those Minnesota water towers serve a purpose, but the words on the outside matter so much less than the Water to be found within.

When Sunday morning just isn’t enough and we tire of the labels on the towers we erect, what is a community to do when tragedy strikes? Can the vestiges of faith and the salt of the earth be combined to make a hockey rink holy?

You bet they can. You bet God can! But you’d better come in a little closer…

You’re never going to experience it from a distance.

Written with great respect for those who serve our communities and in honor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

Cajon (new beginnings)

Cajon07052001

Cajon07052001 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cajon is Spanish for box, and it’s also what I got for Christmas.

Not just a box, mind you, but a box-shaped drum. The mellow accompaniment of this cleverly designed instrument is remarkably well-matched to an acoustic set with guitar and piano. Unlike the potentially overpowering presence of a drum kit (think drum solo), the cajon is part of the ensemble – a voice in the choir, you might say. Seated upon this quirky box, I am discovering things about music (and myself) in ways I never have before.

For starters, music theory isn’t the same as playing the drum. I know a lot about music from jr. high band and years of piano and voice lessons, but this head knowledge did precious little for me the first time I sat down to play the cajon. I remember tapping out the rhythm of little x’s on a page, but mechanical is the word that comes to mind when I try to play those little x’s on my drum. I may be able to crank out an accurate rendition of little x’s in succession, but there is so much more to artistry than accuracy (can I get an Amen?).

Playing alone is not the same as playing with other instruments. My home-grown drum solos rock my little house, but when I’m playing along with others they just don’t sound the same. Maybe it’s because on my own, I set the beat. I choose the groove. And I give myself lots of grace because no one else is listening! As part of the band, I have to behave. I have to rock steady. When I let loose, I can’t leave my band members behind.

The real challenge for me, however, is playing the drum on songs that I have been singing for years. You would think that familiarity would make it easier, but it doesn’t. As soon as I start thinking the words or even picturing the lead sheet in my head, I lose the groove I’m in. It’s an entirely different experience to make music atop my cajon than from behind a microphone. Words don’t help – they complicate.

This has been so obvious that the musicians I worship with have started to tease me about my inability to walk and chew gum at the same time. For a master multi-tasker, this news is almost devastating! What do you mean I can’t sing and keep a beat?! But I can’t. And it’s blowing my mind.

The Apostle Paul says something in Romans 12:2 that makes some sense out of what I’m discovering with my drum.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (NLT)

I’m finding that when I try to think the way I’ve always thought about music – even when I try to put music theory into practice – all of my passion gets lost in the mechanics. My mind has been trained to think in words and notes, but for the cajon to do its work I have to follow and feel. I think this is what Paul is saying, too. It’s one thing to study and think and strive and try to do things God’s way, but it’s something else altogether when God takes hold of me and shifts my thinking – changes my mind!

This kind of transformation – the stuff of new beginnings – isn’t something we have to muddle mechanically through. I can’t make this transformation happen – I can’t force rhythm out of words – but the God who formed me can move me from theory into practice by changing the way that I think.

Kevin Costner’s character in the film Bull Durham is asked to coach and train a gifted young pitcher for a career in the majors. This easily distracted youngster has a crazy-powerful arm, but absolutely no focus. It seems that the harder he thinks about placing the ball, the more erratic his pitches become. What advice is he given by his appointed mentor?

“Don’t think – just throw.”

When he follows his instinct and lets the ball fly, it’s a beautiful thing! When I listen to the guitar and piano and allow my hands to join in with the rhythm I find there, well – I just might have a drumming career in my future. Don’t think, Brita – just go with the flow.

For a forty-something to take up something new isn’t always easy. Can’t walk and chew gum at the same time? You’re in good company! Embrace your awkward new beginnings, as messy as they may be!

Don’t force it – Just let it flow.

Yielded to the work of the Spirit and open to new ways of thinking, the rhythm that emerges will be worth the investment of your time, energy and mistakes.

Drum or no drum.