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