Music 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
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.
“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.
“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.