More Like Jesus

Christlike-Art.001Music is so powerful.  I love it.  I take advantage of any time I have in my car, my office, or wherever to blast music and to be moved by it.  Lately I have been listening pretty much non-stop to an album by Rachel Kurtz.  Rachel is this amazing artist out of the Twin Cities and is basically a Lutheran Rock Star.  She plays all around and has blessed the ELCA at youth gatherings and other gatherings all over the country.  She is truly remarkable.  Her music and her person.  The album is entitled Broken & Lowdown and if you don’t know it- you need to.  There is a song on there that I can’t seem to get enough of.  The song is “We Say that God is Love.”  At the heart of this song is a tender confession of brokenness and humanity.  The struggle that we have this calling to be like God yet the reality that so often we fall short of it.  The tension is strong.  Rachel is able to sing it out beautifully in a way that is almost too raw.  Too painful.  But yet at the heart of that tension is this gift that God is capable of molding us and forming us and inspiring us to be more like Jesus.  Even though we are flawed, God will use us and shape us.

 This morning my devotion brought me to James 3:13-18.  I don’t love the book of James but we will go there another time.  Today, however, God seemingly yoked my musical craving this week with the Word.  James is writing about a life that we as disciples of Christ are called to live.  Strong words like, “Show your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.  But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.”  A calling to live better than I normally do.  A calling to work to mold my life in the image of Christ.  Pair that with the Psalm reading from Psalm 112 and I was reminded this day of the wonder of this calling- the calling to be a child of God.  You see, we have this gift in Christ Jesus and with that gift comes a calling to be more like Jesus.  The struggle will continue.  We will continue to mess up.  We will continue to care for self before other first.  We will continue to be filled with anger instead of peace.  Yet we pray, please God shape our life.  And there is the grace…the promise that God does and God will.

Here are the lyrics…check it out people! (you can hear it on her page)

We say that God is love, yet all I do is judge
We say that God is mercy, I never seem to give enough
We say that Jesus can heal, all I seem to do is harm
I know Jesus is real, I doubt him all the time
 
How Can I be, more like Jesus?
I rarely get things right.
I wanna be  more like you God.
So, please shape my life.
 
We say that God is justice, yet I ne’er take up the fight
we say that God’s ways are steadfast, I falter all the time
I know Jesus is righteous, I wanna walk in the light
I know Jesus does miracles, I wish he would do mine
 
How can I be more like Jesus?
I rarely get things right
I wanna be more like you God
So, please shape my life.
 
You have chosen us, to carry out your will
to love our neighbors, feed the poor, I wanna do all that and still
I am weak, be my strength
I afraid, be my bravery
I am mute, please be my voice
I am man, bring more out of me
Jesus came to show us true humanity
 
How can I be more like Jesus?
I rarely get things right.
I wanna be, more like you God.
So, please shape my life.  Please shape my life
 
 

 ~PJ

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Mission Possible

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I was asked to write something about Mission Development and Redevelopment – here it is.

I need to make a confession.  I love the church.  I love the idea of the church- the promise of community coming together and the opportunity to work together for good.  To me, church is the entity that has the power to change the world if we truly align ourselves with the calling of Christ.  I love the church.  But I also struggle with the church.  I struggle because I see the church having the inability to live into the mission of what Christ has called us to do because we get caught up in the mentality of maintaining what we have.  Language of, “we have always done it that way” and the reality that change is so hard often leads to a paralysis of fresh ideas and new ministries in our existing churches.  Please know I love the church.  Also know that I write this from the perspective of one currently serving a mission congregation that is around eight years old and who has been part of many churches that have faced the harsh reality of doing things the same…just because we have always done that.

Here’s the deal.  Mission Developments (new churches) and Mission Redevelopments (churches that undergo serious re-visioning) offer the church as we know it an incredible opportunity to be bold in ways that established churches just can’t.  Now, I am not saying that established churches cannot be bold and cannot do God’s work- remember I love the church.  But, my experience the last eight years and my conversations with people new to the church or back to the church for the first time in years suggest that this claim is true.

This is what I have heard.  A new start or restart allows one that has felt their voice was not heard to be heard.  A new start or restart allows a community of faith to listen to what the community around them needs in a way that an established church cannot.  A new start or restart has little baggage and has the freedom to be as simple or complex as it wishes without fear of hurting the history.  A new start or restart allows a new person to come in and not feel like a new person because everyone is new.  A new start or restart has the ability to be fresh and different.  A new start or restart is hard.

Back to my confession.  I love the church.  And I love to think of what the church can be doing better and what the church can be doing next.  I know that new starts and restarts have to be part of that because I have seen the power they have first hand.  Yes, it’s hard work but if we don’t do it- who will?

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I Just want to be God

Here’s a confession: part of me wishes I was God and God wasn’t.  It’s true.  I feel kind of weird putting that thought to paper but the more I think about it I come to this conclusion- life would be easier if I was able to be God.  Of course, this thinking comes from my own brokenness and human struggle as a sinner but at the end of the day that is where I am.  You see- if I was able to be God then I could have things the way I wanted- and more importantly would not be subject to the way that God seems to be always pushing and pulling me out of my comfort zone.  This thought process of mine- flawed as it is- reminds me of a time when my son was about 3.  He was very upset with me because I was making him have a time out for something he did or asking him to go to bed a decent time.  He responded by saying , “I can’t wait to be a dad, I will be the best dad ever and never make my kids go to bed or have timeouts.”  To him it was that simple.  But as a father who has been through many of life’s ups and downs I know now that parenting is not as simple as never having bedtime or enforcing expectations and rules.

My guess is it’s the same for my fleeting desire to be God for a day.  The movie Bruce Almighty shows a little of that in a humorous way but the reality is probably much too complex for us to really grasp.  My devotion for today focused on Isaiah 48:12-21 where the Lord declares, “I am the LORD your God who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go.”  The promise of God in that small verse reminds me that I have no business being God.  Sure, the days will come when I feel that way…and I bet you do   too.  But ultimately I give thanks everyday that God is God and has promised to teach me for my own good and lead me in ways I need to follow.  The human in me often resists this and sometimes the calling is a bit overwhelming- but ultimately I say thanks be to God.

 

Another Confession- thanks be to God that God is God and I am Not.

~JG

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Do You Really Believe?

believe

Several years ago I attended the Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta.  I hope to be able to go again sometime soon.  It was an event that truly taught me so much about preaching and about the gift of this calling.  I will never forget hearing the sermon by William Willimon. He was preaching about Pentecost and about the power of the Holy Spirit.  He said, “People of God, you have the Holy Spirit, Look Out!”  Continuing that thought he articulated that we as the church so often don’t believe fully in the power of God and the power of the Spirit at work today.  Pointing to scripture he challenged us, as hearers, to think about our own preaching and living—do we really believe the things we preach?  Do we really believe that God can continue to change lives and change the world?

I thought about that sermon this morning as I read from Psalm 29.  The Psalmist writes, “The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.  The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;”  This God that we worship is full of power and might- and the word that we have in the Bible is amazing.  Yet so often we don’t live like we believe it.  So often we are comfortable with the status quo and assuming that things are just the way they are and we can’t change them.  But that’s not God.  God is powerful- yes dare I say capable of radically changing live and the world.  We, when God works through us are capable of changing the world.  Of breaking the cedars of oppression, poverty, injustice, hate, and so on.  Do you believe it?  I do.  Remember, you have the Holy Spirit…Look out!

~JG

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Life is not for wimps

wimps

“Life is not for wimps.”  Those were the words of a friend of mine this week as I was texting back and forth with him. He had been on my mind and heart for some reason so I reached out and that was what I got back.  I have cleaned up the language a bit, but you still get the point.  As our conversation continue-digitally via text as is normal for us- it was clear he was in a pretty hard spot.  We do talk too, but it seems with many of my friends texting gets to the heart of the matter quicker- ah, that’s for another time.  Back to my friend.  Like most of us, his life has been filled with ups and downs but lately it seems the downs are taking over the reality which he knows to be life.  My heart broke for him as I heard what was weighing so heavy on his spirit and I wished that somehow we may have the ability to take on the pain of others.  But alas, that’s not the case.  So I listened and offered what comfort I could.

This morning I was reading from the book of Ephesians and my friend came to mind.  I am not entirely sure why as at first glance the selection of scripture that I was studying has little to do with hurting, broken people and rather focuses on the gifts that God has given the church.  Ephesians 4:11-13 reads, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the son of God…”  As I sat in my office and read, and re-read, and prayed about this passage it became clear to me that my friend- and really all those that are hurting and broken are right in the middle of this scripture.  First of all, they are called and they are given gifts to help build the body of Christ up.  But today the message for me was that they are the ones that we (using we hear loosely to talk about those of us that are maybe at a better place spiritually, emotionally, etc) are called to build up.  The promise of our God is that we are never alone…never abandoned.  Yet, so often, when life piles on and we are overrun with whatever we feel alone…isolated…weary.  But God gives the charge to the body…to work together using our gifts to build up the body
- all those that we encounter.  What an awesome body to be part of.  What an awesome God to serve.

I am going to check in with my friend again today- and try to remind him that he stands not alone through this valley.  Sometimes, that’s all we need to hear.

~JG

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Holy Moments…Holy Ground

take-your-sandals-off-why.jpg.crop_display“Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5)

I consider my vocation to be the most amazing in the world.  Time and again I am reminded by just how special this calling as pastor truly is.  You get to enter into the truly holy moments of people’s lives.  Be it at a bedside of an ailing saint or the baptismal font with a two week-old baby- the wedding service of beloved partners or the funeral of one gone too soon- the dark-night-of-the-soul conversations with one who has lost their faith or the worship service where someone shares how God is moving them.  To name a few.  These moments are holy.  I thank God that daily I get to be part of these.  Sometimes however I probably miss the fact that indeed this work, this call, this vocation is so amazing and holy-filled because I refuse to slow down and see it for what it is.  Moses’ experience at the burning bush reminded me this morning that holiness and God are all around me.  And perhaps my sandals need to come off too.

 One of the folks that attends Advent always asks, “why doesn’t Jesus just show himself right now…it would be a lot easier to believe in him if he did.”  Great question I always say, but then I invite her to think about how maybe Christ does show himself in this world.  Here’s my hunch- God is indeed all around us and Jesus continues to be present in very real ways but we get so caught up in the rhythm of this hectic life that we often miss it.  Sure, it would be nice if there was a burning bush to wake us up- but maybe…just maybe…we need to be that bush for one another.  Perhaps we are the ones that need to remind those around us, those in our community, those we love that God is here- take off your sandals.

 Last night our family did something we have not done nearly enough.  After we finished dinner around our table I opened the Bible and we read a passage of scripture and then talked about it.  We then concluded with prayer- all of us giving thanks and asking for God’s hand in some things.  I am not proud to say that we have not been doing this before.  We should have been- but we didn’t and we are pledging now to make this a regular thing in our house.  Here’s what I know- last night, around that dinner table was a holy moment.  God was there.  God was there in my daughter’s assertion that God is always with us like he promised to be with Jacob in Genesis 28.  God was there in my son’s prayer of thanksgiving for his foot getting better and his questions about why Jacob wanted to use the rock he slept on as a special dedication to God.  God was there in my wife’s prayer for those she sees as a therapist that are hurting and needing love.  God was there.  It was holy.  Holy moments all around us.  Take off your shoes.

Check this song out by Joshua Davis…talks about how the holy is all around us.

 ~JG

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Blessed to be a Blessing

“…All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…” (Genesis 28:14b-15a)

 

I was struck this morning as I read the assigned text from Bread for the Day by the courage that God gives to Jacob in his dream of the ladder.  I’ve read this passage many, many times yet today the section above jumped off the page.  Maybe this is what they say happens when you prayerfully read scripture instead of just reading it to read it.  Perhaps the reason this section was so bold for me this morning as I sat in my office looking outside at the wonderful snow cover is because I am so inundated right now with the idea that God is calling us at Advent to do something amazing for the work of the Kingdom.  I hesitate to even write that- because I fear it sounds arrogant and maybe even off putting to some, but I truly believe it to be true.  But, not just for Advent.  For all of us.  I believe, at the core of who I am that we, as humans, have the power to change the world for good.  Maybe, I am naïve.  Maybe I am stuck in fantasy.  But I don’t think so.  I don’t think so at all.

 As I read the Genesis story and the narrative between God and Jacob I see a calling for all of us to realize that God has blessed each and everyone one of us to be a blessing.  Sure, the calling in this case is directed at Jacob and his offspring- but this is a calling that entangles all of us as children that belong to God.  With Christ we have been adopted into the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We now are the ones who are sent with this blessed mission.  To bless the world.  To make the world a better place.  The best news in all of that is we do it not alone.  We have each other.  We have the body.  We have God who reminds us, “Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go!”

 Good news indeed.  Shine on dear friends.  Shine one.  Let’s get to work.  Check this song out- by May Erlewine- a rallying cry perhaps.

~JG

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