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It’s Easter Monday.  Three years ago I started writing these It’s Monday posts to provide encouragement for the community I serve and create a linkage between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s re-immersion in the world of work, school, life!  Though I intended on writing them for one season of Easter, three years later they have become part of the rhythm of my week and, hopefully, a source of inspiration for yours.

One of the joyous and unintended outgrowths of It’s Monday is that my daughter picked up on the concept and, as she became a Resident Advisor on her floor of sophomore girls at Vanderbilt, wrote a weekly piece of encouragement.  This morning I received a copy of her last It’s Monday of the 2013-14 school year.  She gave me permission to share her final, guiding words.  Having read it, I wouldn’t mind being on her floor!

1. Be kind: Of all the things that are important in life, this is number one.  You can never be too kind–to others and to yourself. 

2. Read: Read out of self-respect; read because there are too many good things going on in this world to not know about; read because your mind deserves to grow and learn each and every day.

3. Talk to janitors, talk to cashiers, talk to servers at the restaurant, and when you talk to them, look them in the eye, genuinely listening to what they have to say. Life is not just about how you treat the people you know, it’s about how you treat the people you don’t know, the people that you cannot reap any benefit from, the people you may never see again.  Talk to them and be kind to them because it’s the right thing to do.

4. Ask questions. We’ve all been to way too many gatherings where we are the only individual to ask questions of others–how they are doing, what they do for a living, what their dreams are  Don’t be that person that doesn’t care and doesn’t ask questions. Make people feel important. Ask.

5. Do what gives you life. I’d much rather be surrounded by people who honestly, and whole-heartedly love dungeons and dragons than by people who are too concerned with what is cool or popular to be who they are. Do what you love, not because someone else wants you to, but because you love it. And don’t think twice about it.

6. Feel the feels.  It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to laugh obnoxiously even if you’re the only one laughing.  It’s okay to scream. When you are feeling emotional, let yourself feel. Your spirit needs that.

7. Put your phone down and talk. There’s nothing that can be said via text, email, tweet, etc., that cannot be more powerfully and effectively said in person. Be present. Talk to professors, talk to hall mates, talk to friends, talk to family, talk to strangers. Talk.

8. Find time to be.  In our crazy world, it is important to just sit–to listen to good music, to close your eyes and wonder, to think deeply and thoughtfully about important things. Find time to do this. Just be.

9. There are two words that could always be said more in our culture-Let’s Dance! Dance because it’s freeing, dance slowly, dance weirdly, dance spontaneously, dance in public, dance alone, dance with your mom, dance with your life partner.  In the words of a Japanese proverb, “We’re fools whether we dance or not… so we might as well just dance.”

10. Be the best YOU you can be: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” -Joseph Campbell. You are perfect in all your imperfections, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! “You is kind, you is smart, and you is important.” (from the movie, The Help)

It’s Monday.  My daughter found a way to share her Easter life with those in her sphere of influence.  What about you?  And remember, “We’re fools whether we dance or not… so we might as well just dance.”  Peace. Kai

It’s Monday April 14

Yesterday, I shared this brief reflection about the Garden of Gethsemane story.  First, the story:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. He said to the disciples, “Stay here while I go and pray over there.” 37 When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. 38 Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.” 39 Then he went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”

40 He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you stay alert one hour with me? 41  Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” 42 A second time he went away and prayed, “My Father, if it’s not possible that this cup be taken away unless I drink it, then let it be what you want.”

43 Again he came and found them sleeping. Their eyes were heavy with sleep. 44 But he left them and again went and prayed the same words for the third time. 45 Then he came to his disciples and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? Look, the time has come for the Human One[e] to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46  Get up. Let’s go. Look, here comes my betrayer.”

What is the state of your soul these days? Hard question isn’t it? It’s much easier to reflect on our external world—I’m doing well at work; here is a list of my successes and failures.  School is almost over, my grades are good or I could be doing better in my classes.  My relationships are in good order; some struggles, yes, but overall I’m doing well.  

It’s much easier to reflect on the externals.  

But, the question is this: What is the state of your soul? 

The late Dallas Willard was once asked how to pinpoint where we are on our spiritual journey and what might be an appropriate next step. He pondered for a moment and then said, “Maybe you need to ask, ‘What’s bothering you?’”

What’s bothering you? What bothers you enough to incite action?  What bothers you so much it paralyzes?  What’s bothering you?

Back to the Garden of Gethsemane.  This transient moment in time is one of the most penetrating insights into Jesus’ soul.  “I’m very sad,” he says.  “It’s as if I’m dying.”  What’s bothering him? He’s trapped in that enveloping chasm between what he knows is ahead and what he wants to avoid, what he knows is right and what he wants to do.    

Have you ever been there?  Caught between what you know is right and what you really want to do instead, what you know is ahead and what you would rather avoid. If we are honest, we most often choose the path of least resistance; the pathway that avoids our pain, our loneliness, our isolation.  

In this gripping story of self-revelation, Jesus soul is laid bare. Take this cup from me. Remove this suffering.  Take this sadness.  Remove this loneliness.  Though surrounded by his disciples, Jesus was utterly alone, alone with his wrenching inner struggle.  

As I read this story over and over this past week, I couldn’t help but be grateful.  Grateful for a God who knows struggle and loneliness and loss. Grateful for a God whose heart is opened to the pain and confusion we all face when trying to discern what it right.  Grateful for a God who doesn’t stand over, but walks with.

It’s Monday.  What is the state of your soul?  What’s bothering you?  How can we make this journey together this Holy Week?  Peace. Kai

 

It’s Monday April 7

Eugene Cho, pastor at Quest Church in Seattle and founder of One Day’s Wages, a non-profit formed to alleviate global poverty, spoke at the Renovare National Conference this past week. He told a story about when he was studying theater and was told by his teacher that “He just wasn’t very good.”  In order to immerse himself into a particular role as a homeless person, it was suggested that he live the part for a few days. 

He did. He clothed himself in ratty apparel, set out a container for donations, and positioned himself outside a local department store. 

His discovery:  Almost no one looked him in the eyes.  Thousands of people crossed his path, most averting their eyes so as not to be drawn into any level of relationship.

John’s gospel often uses a word for seeing or sight that has dual meanings—both physical seeing and spiritual insight.  I wonder if the act of looking into another’s eyes does both.  We see them and then we “see” them; in their glory or depravity, smitten by unspeakable joy or bitten by unspoken despair.  In seeing them, we gain insight into ourselves, our God.  What draws us?  What repels us? What can’t we avoid? What can’t we stomach?  We grow in self-understanding when we reflect on our gut reaction to people.  

If we allow ourselves, our imaginings about God are also expanded. 

Jesus saw the blind man on the side of the road, he gazed into the eyes of the Samaritan woman at the well, he didn’t look past the lepers or the morally depraved. 

He sees you and me—in all our glory and depravity, smitten by unspeakable joy or bitten by unspoken despair.  What he sees, he loves!

So, I decided to do a little experiment of my own.  My daughter and I went to the grocery store this afternoon. As we were entering the store I said, “Let’s do an experiment on the art of small talk.”  Each aisle we entered, I threw her a knowing elbow, approached the unsuspecting person, looked them in the eye, and opened up a conversation.  

Other than the person who fled yelling “Creepster!”  it was a successful experiment. (Actually no one fled yelling creepster.  If they were thinking it, they didn’t let on!)  The mom with her young child choosing spaghetti sauce, the woman examining granola bars, the man buying lottery tickets from a machine, the cashier who rang us out were all part of our experiment.  

Our findings? Mostly smiles, laughter, and positive human connection.  

I don’t really know what that means other than it leads me to believe that community is still good, relationships matter, human interaction edifies, and looking people in the eyes can be a holy gift.  

I suppose it also means that if you want to be alone in a grocery store and you see me enter your aisle… flee! 

It’s Monday.  Who do you need to “see” today?  Peace. Kai

 

It’s Monday March 31

A moment of honesty: If you would have told me fifteen years ago that I would link arms with the local Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Nazarene churches to forge a community ministry serving the needs of the Gahanna community, I would have snickered first, then imagined all the reasons why it wasn’t possible. Our theological issues would divide. Our social or political leanings would be all across the spectrum.

But, something changed in my heart and developed in the common heart of the local congregational leaders. We discovered this: Service unites!

I/we began to imagine a local community that reflected the nature and character of Jesus’ life.

“The greatest among you is the one who serves.”
“I came not to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for all.”
“This is my command: Love each other as I have first loved you.”
“When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was naked you clothed me…”

My friend, Kathie Nycklemoe, the author of the Service week in our Engage devotional said it this way, “True service is much more than something we do—it is who we are created to be. It is more than an activity, it is a way of life.”

When that begins to happen, the other issues (theological, political, etc) give way and a bond of unity is formed. Service unites.

This month at Peace we are collecting money for GRIN (Gahanna Residents in Need) so that we can hire a part-time executive director. Along with eleven active congregations and other civic organizations, we want to honor the call to serve our neighbors. Loving our Neighbors—Together.

I’ve been increasingly compelled by the vision of a God who came to serve without condition. I’ve been increasingly humbled by the generosity of spirit and resources that so many of you have already exhibited.

In the end, this is not just something we do, it’s who we are!

It’s Monday. How will your community, your world be better because you are there? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday March 24

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full” (John 15: 11).

This weekend we experienced the spiritual exercise of Celebration.  On the surface, it seems a self-evident aspect of our lives, especially our lives following Jesus.  Practically, many have a very different experience of the Christian journey or those who profess to be Christians.

Have you ever met a joyless Christian?  I have.  At first, I’m critical.  Lighten up.  Don’t take yourself or the faith so seriously.  Upon reflection and, usually, if I take the time to ask the question, I discover a back-story that moves me from being critical to compassionate.

In my experience, there are three reasons that have led to a joyless Christianity:  1)  That’s all they know.  They grew up hearing about a demanding God who was ready to pounce on the first hint of immorality, insensitivity, or a life lived in direct opposition to God’s will. Down deep they know they can never meet the demand so the joy Jesus speaks of seems foreign.

2) They are wired that way.  Many have a disposition that leads them to be fearful, anxious about life,  and bound up by the daily grind.  They project their life posture on the life with God and weight gets added to weight until it becomes overwhelming.  Duty describes their journey. Delight eludes their grasp.

3) Some are nearly crushed by life events. Life is hard, unbearably hard for some.  For them, joy seems like the wishful thinking of a by-gone age.

I’ve known people in all three categories.  Sometimes they are able to open themselves to the joy Jesus comes to bring.  Sometimes not.  What I’ve discovered in conversation with them and what I’ve experienced on my own journey is that the emergence of joy is both gift and conscious choice.   It is gift in holding firmly to a God who brought life from death, joy from sorrow, and hope out of despair.

It is also a conscious choice that I and others have made in their lives.  Here are four transformative insights that have guided me back to joy:

1)  Celebrate progress not perfection:  If we wait until we get life right, we may never arrive.  To celebrate progress is a conscious choice to be grateful for new insights, surprises in relationship, and small movements toward greater health—spiritual, mental, physical.

2)  Stop long enough to wonder about something:  To wonder is to access the expansive goodness and creativity of God.  On a recent trip to London, I sat outside St. Paul’s Cathedral and wondered how it could be that people had gathered for worship in that space since 604ad and that majestic space had been imagined and constructed almost 1500 years ago.   Stop long enough to wonder about something, anything.

3)  Celebrate what is right with the world: We have any of number of reasons to focus on what is wrong in the world.  That could be an endless conversation.  But, I’ve come more alive when I, even in the midst of struggle, have asked, “What is right about today, my life, my world?”  That simple question reorients my mind to search out and, yes, find what God has already been up to.

4)  Connect your joy with the joy of God:  This has been very helpful for me.  My joy is a gift from God.  God’s joy is a grace that works through me.

It’s Monday.  What can you celebrate today?  Peace. Kai

It’s Monday March 10

We continued our Lenten worship theme Engage this morning with Dr. Rick Barger, President of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, preaching about the spiritual discipline of study.  The core text he referenced was from Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”  (Romans 12:2).

The renewing of your mind.  As he preached, I was reminded of two of my guiding life principles:

  1. What we focus on and do, we become.

Many years ago, Robert Benne wrote a book entitled Ordinary Saints. In the book he described two sins that are pervasive in American society: pride and distraction.  Distraction.  Did you watch the Bachelor this week?  Or see what so and so posted on Facebook? Or find the recipe I posted on Pinterest (I heard someone say that… that was not me!)? Or… Or…. Or…   

None of these, in themselves, are destructive.  In accumulation, they dull our spirits, numb our minds, and constrict our imaginations.  When asked about our lives, the normal response these days is “Busy.”  My question is, “With what?”  

As followers of Jesus, an important question for us to consider is this: What am I doing each day to renew my mind, to connect me with the source of life, to build into my life the character of Jesus?  Remember, what we focus on and do, we become.  

    2.  If we can imagine it, we launch the process toward achieving it.  

I love reading the prophets, especially those that spoke to the people Israel during the exile.  Remember, the people had been overtaken by the Babylonians; their land ravaged, their temple destroyed, their families killed or enslaved in a foreign land.  The writer of Psalm 137 captures the pathos of the people at the time, “By the waters of Babylon there we sat and wept as we remembered Zion (Jerusalem).”  

In the midst of their suffering, voices of hope emerged, helping the people to imagine, even in the depths of despair, that life could be renewed, relationships could be restored, dignity could be reclaimed.  Even before it happened, hope was beginning to be planted within the people.  Even in imagining it, the process of hope was initiated. 

It’s Monday.  As you engage this week, what will you focus your mind on?  What will you read, watch, what conversations will you engage, that will help you imagine something new for your life?  For others?  Peace. Kai

It’s Monday March 3

As we prepare for this Lenten season, here is something I wrote for the Renovare’ Book Club: 

A family friend used to stop drinking alcohol during the season of Lent. It was his seasonal discipline.  On the surface, it seemed laudable.  What we now know is that it was his way of trying to prove to family and friends that he wasn’t an alcoholic.  “If I can stay dry for six weeks, I must be able to control my drinking.”  Unfortunately, Easter Sunday and beyond was ugly.  As soon as the time frame of Lent elapsed, the booze flowed.  Is that what Lent is all about–justifying ourselves?

I’ve known many others and I, too, have participated in some other act of denial during Lent–chocolate, red meat, T.V., only to let loose the post-Easter binge. It’s like all our pent-up, over disciplined activities burst out of the tomb with Jesus on Easter Sunday.  Rather than Easter being the proclamation of something radically new, it becomes the acting out of something radically the same.  Same old life.  Same old habits.  Death has been overcome but our lives have, once again, come under the tyrannical force of same old, same old. Is that what Easter is all about–empty tomb, empty life? 

Historically, the focus of the Lenten season has been on the passion narrative of Jesus, leading us through the horrific death of Jesus to the dramatic, life-changing news of an empty tomb.  The season has been set aside for teaching about the life of Jesus, the way of the cross, and the cruciform pattern of our Jesus following lives.  

This season we hope the chosen spiritual disciplines of engagement will open your mind and heart to this life giving story.  Why do we focus on spiritual disciplines during this season?  In the Renovare’ community we talk about spiritual disciplines as activities in our power that we intentionally undertake to open ourselves to the power beyond our imagining–the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Last season, the Renovare’ community invited you to focus on disciplines of abstinence; exercises like fasting, solitude, simplicity, etc.  This season we are inviting you to open yourself to the power of God’s Spirit through disciplines of engagement; exercises where you actively engage your life with God, with one another, and with the world.  

The process is simple.  Each week we will focus on a new discipline.  There will be a description of the discipline itself, sample activities, biblical and theological reflection, and a guided discussion for what we call “Formational Friends.”  Formational friends are people willing to make an intentional journey with you.  Start thinking now about who you would like to invite on this journey. 

In the end, the point of this journey is not to say that you did it, accomplishing something important for yourself or God.  The point is also not to keep these life practices bound by a six-week timeframe.  Our hope for you is that the daily immersion in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection through these disciplines of engagement will become a life-giving habit that extends far beyond the season of Lent.

It’s Monday.  Hope to see you Wednesday!  Peace. Kai

It’s Monday February 24

Throughout the season we have been using Trevor Hudson’s book, Discovering our Spiritual Identity, as a guide for our worship and learning.  The theme we focused on this weekend was “Speaking Words of Life and Power.”   

In searching words like gossip, slander, or false witness throughout the scriptures, hundreds of references popped up.  Here are a few of those texts:

Matthew 12: 36  On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they spoke.

Proverbs 10:18  Whoever utters slander is a fool.

James 4:11  Do not speak evil against one another.

Exodus 20:16 Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Proverbs 16:28 A dishonest person spreads strife and a whisperer separates close friends.

Proverbs 18:21  Death and life are in the power of the tongue

Remember that phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.”  It might be a quaint cultural maxim, an effective tool in a parent’s arsenal.  But, it’s not biblical.  

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.  

So where does that lead us?  Consider these three truths:

  1. Inward strife becomes outward life, so take care of your heart.  

Jesus said it this way, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, the evil person out of the evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks”  (Luke 6:45).

Take care of your own heart.  If you don’t take care of what is within, it will surely make its way out. In my own life, I know these things to be true:  My anger toward others mirrors my anger with myself.  My anxiety toward others is a reflection of the anxiety within.  My disappointment with others often masks my disappointment with myself.  That’s not always the case, but often it is.  So, take care of your own heart.

       2. Silence, the unspoken word, can be as destructive as the spoken word.  

I call this one the “sideline conversation,” though it can take place at the water cooler, around the coffee pot, or, yes, on the sideline of many an athletic field.  These are the conversations that stir up the anxiety of the participants but never get to the source of the concern.  So we complain, back-stab, or call into question our coach or boss or pastor but we never say anything to them.  So, nothing changes.  

Silence, the unspoken word, can be as destructive as the spoken word.  

One more point in regard to this issue:  Though how we deal with conversations on the sidelines and around coffee pots is important, the implications for silence on a mass scale can have catastrophic consequences.  Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Holocaust, reminds us that the horrors of Nazi Germany happened for two reasons–the violence of the perpetrators and the silence of the bystanders. 

Silence, the unspoken word, can be as destructive as the spoken word.  

     3.  You will fail.  So learn to receive forgiveness and forgive.

In spite of our best intentions, we speak out of turn, we speak harshly, we avoid, we gossip, we trash-talk.  The capacity to receive forgiveness and forgive breaks open the possibility of new life.  

It’s Monday.  Death and life are in the power of the tongue.  Today you can choose to extend blessing in each of your interactions.  Peace. Kai

 

It’s Monday February 10

Some people asked me to document the three faith transitions I talked about in my sermon yesterday.  Each was a pivotal transition in my growth of faith.

Grace as gift, not earned.  You’d think Lutherans would have this down but we don’t, I don’t. Mostly, because it’s a radical departure from the rest of our world of evaluation. Olympic athletes spend a lifetime training, 3-4 minutes performing, and their Olympic (and life?) legacy is dependent on the scoring of a set of judges.  Get a 6.8–nobody remembers you were there!

The same is true for much of our lives.  Job review. Student grades. Sideways glances for what we are wearing or how we present ourselves.  All evaluation.

God’s grace says 10.0 whether you hit the triple toe loop or not!  Grace as gift, not something we earn.

Salvation as a process of living, not just a destination after dying.  What does it mean to be saved?  In many corners of the Christian world, it means we have confessed Jesus as Lord and had our tickets punched to heaven. Biblically, salvation is far more expansive.  The original biblical words for salvation mean deliverance from an affliction, healing, wholeness, or the capacity to do well.  Paul captures this connection in Ephesians 2:   “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith… created in Christ Jesus to do good things.  God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.”  Salvation is a process of living, not just a destination after dying.

This leads us to…

“Spiritual” life is a way of life, not a list of activities.  For many years I bought into the heresy that separated our spirituality from the rest of life.  Spiritual life/real life. Sunday/Monday.  I could convince myself I had done my “God” thing by showing up for worship or a bible study or giving or serving.  Check.  God-thing complete.

But, a bifurcated life is a disordered life.  We are one thing here another there.  We say one thing in one place and act another way in other places.

Author G.K Chesterton gives us a picture of an integrated journey where all of life is God’s life. “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”   Spiritual life is a way of life, not a list of activities.

As I examined my own transitions, I was reminded of essential truths: 1) Our life in Jesus is a life-long journey. 2) Whenever I think I’ve figured it out, I limit who God is and what God desires.  3) Grace begins the journey, sustains the journey, re-starts the journey each day, and is the destination we journey toward.

It’s Monday.  How do you respond to the transitions I have navigated on my journey?  Where are you on yours?  Peace. Kai

It’s Monday January 27

For many years, I have preached one summer weekend at Bald Head Island, North Carolina.  Bald Head Island is known for its environmental sensitivity; preserving the forested areas even through its housing growth and caring for the wildlife that inhabit the island, especially the loggerhead turtles.  

The conservancy on the island offers courses on loggerhead turtles, has strict regulations about disturbing turtle nests, and will take visitors on late-night beach hikes in hopes of seeing just one turtle in its nesting routine. Loggerhead turtles are a big deal on Bald Head Island. 

One summer, upon arrival, we scampered down to the beach as the sun was setting.  In the distance, we noticed dozens of people gathering so we made our way in their direction to see what was happening.  When we arrived, we discovered that they had been excavating a vacant turtle nest and, to their surprise, one turtle, no bigger than the size of a quarter, emerged from the sand and began the long journey to the ocean.  

To assist the process, those who had gathered, dug a twenty foot long trench in the sand.  I asked, “Why don’t you just pick it up and put it in the ocean?”  The reply shocked me, “We have to let the turtle imprint this journey on their mind so that dozens of years later, after countless journeys up and down the Atlantic coast, if they survive, they will return to this same beach and lay their eggs.”  

Dozens of years.  Thousands of miles.  Same beach.  The journey is imprinted so deeply within the turtle, they return to the same place and the cycle of life begins again.

 

We hosted my dad and mom for a five-day visit last week.  Living in Iowa, we get very few opportunities to spend extended time with them. When we do, it’s almost always with many other family members.  This time, we had them to ourselves. 

One evening, we were sitting together in our living room; my mom and dad, Patty and me, my 17 year old son Leif and my 12 year old daughter, Siri.  So, I asked my parents, “What were you guys like when you were 12 and 17 years old?” The stories were both uproariously humorous and searingly painful.  Some I had known.  Others I was hearing for the first time in my 50 years. 

One story struck me in regard to who we are and can be in Christian community. My dad was not connected with the church when he was young, but was encouraged by his mother to go to the middle school ministry at a local Lutheran church.  There, his life changed.  Not an understatement. What impacted me in the story was that he remembered six specific people, some staff, some volunteers.  He remembered their full names, the kind of welcome they extended to him, the encouragement they offered.  

Think about that: Dozens of years later he went back to that same place, in his mind, and recalled the deep imprint these six people made on his journey of faith.

It’s Monday.  Your relationships matter.  Your interactions leave imprints.  Peace. Kai

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