Parenting in a World of Evil

I’m processing.

I woke up like many of you yesterday to the news of the horrendous attack upon vulnerable concert-goers at the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas. My wife and I sat down with our coffee and listened to the reporting.

I began working on the commentary for my Weekly Message post, where I post my message from the previous Sunday. While I was preparing the commentary for the post, I found myself running off on a tangent of reflection upon the recent mass shooting.

I wrote these words:

I woke up yesterday morning to the news of the horrendous attack in Las Vegas. I felt many things as I am sure all of you did. I’m tired of waking up to the news. I am absolutely exhausted of waking up to the breaking news – whether it be a mass casualty shooting; terrorism – foreign or domestic; rallies, marches, and protests utilizing violence or aggression. I, for one, am done! I’m burned out on the hatred on display in America and throughout our world! I’m just plain tired of it all; and, you should be, too! And, if you are not tired of it, then wake upbecause you are already asleep! 

The reports of the news out of Las Vegas were disturbing, but I did not realize the extent to which I had grown tired of tragedy, hate, and blatant displays of evil in our nation and in our global community.

I may have been a little more reactionary than responsive with those words, but I do believe they articulate the depth of my frustration and my pain.

My frustration is similar to that as a child learning to tie his shoe – the child knows the shoe is capable of being tied and that she is capable of tying it, only she does not know how a shoe is tied. She works with determination, but grows frustrated as she struggle against her lack of coordination. That’s how I feel about the world right now – we are a child that lacks coordination. And, I’m growing frustrated watching us fail to meet our potential. 

There is pain within me, too. I referred to this in my post this morning. I feel we are a what’s more society. We are a what’s more people. Our searching, possessing, and consuming of more comes with a cost. And, often, the cost is imposed upon others. For one to have more, another must have less. In the most extreme cases, say the mass shooting in Las Vegas, this man’s attempt to acquire more (whatever the hell more looked like to him) required everything to be taken from those who were killed, injured, and attending the festival. We do harm to one another. We are harming one another. And, it is incredibly painful to watch.

My wife asked me, “Ross, do you think the world is coming to and end?” She asks me this question whenever something devastating is reported on the news…I’ve gotten the question a lot over the last year.

I told her, “No!”

My explanation is simple: The nature of humanity has not altered since the beginning of time. Human beings feel, think, and act just as our earliest ancestors. While humanity has become more logical, rational, and enlightened, the nature of the human is still susceptible and influenced by evil. There is an inherent flaw, but it is there by design…

The flaw is a necessary consequence of the greater ability to love.

The ability to love is quite possibly the most baffling thing. Some might object, claiming love is nothing other than an animalistic instinct towards self-preservation. Love may serve that objective, but consider what else the capacity for love offers to humanity.

I believe love enables humanity to know the existence of a supreme being, who I believe to be the One, True God. Discerning the presence of God in the life of God’s creation would rely upon the capacity for God to self-express. God can only be known by way of revelation! And, primarily, the revelation of God, which is seen and felt, is categorically expressed as love. God’s self-expression to humanity is God’s love, which enables humanity to experience the presence and activity of the Creator within the creation.

If humanity inherently possesses the ability to know love, then they by design must also be susceptible to experience the absence of love.

And, if love is an expression of the divine, then the absence of love would disrupt the one’s encounter and, therefore, their experiential knowledge of the divine.

Oppositional forces play a necessary role in this cosmic drama of ours…

Right?

If you have the ability to love; than, what is the absence of love?

Likewise, if the God can be experienced, than what is it when God is rejected?

We live in a world of possibility. It is possible to know the divine through the revelation of God’s love. Equally so, it is possible to know the absence of God, where we have chosen to reject God’s revelation of love.

I do not believe the world is ending. I do not believe I will experience an apocalyptic event in my lifetime. Nor will my sons experience an apocalyptic event in their lifetime. Rather, like our fathers before us, my sons and I will both continue to experience the world’s susceptibility for evil. Trusting the world’s susceptibility for evil is a reminder that we exist in a reality where love is felt as an expression of the presence and activity of God.

An important distinction must be made, especially if one intends to rear children within our world – The world is not evil; rather, evil is in the world.

My sons will continue to grow and live in this world. The fear I hear expressed by many people is what will this world be like for our children? or, is it fair or good to bring a child into this world? In faith, I profess it is good to bring children into our twisted and broken world. I hold this position, because I have encountered God and God’s unique love for us in this world. I have discovered the life and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ, which has done more to reveal the authoritative power of God’s love for me and every other vessel blessed to receive the breath of God.

I have no way of knowing what the world will be like for my sons. I assume it will be like the world I have encountered and the world encountered by my fathers before me – a world where God is present and active; where love is real; and, therefore, a world susceptible to evil.

God has entrusted my sons to my wife and me. And, thanks be to God, my sons have also been entrusted to an incredible extended family and an amazing community of faith. My sons will inherit this world, but not before we have the opportunity to introduce them to the present and active God, who’s love can be felt and expressed.

I may not be able to change the world my sons will ultimately inherit, but I can influence the way they encounter the world. I can shape their perception. I can support them in their resistance of all things evil. I can encourage them to choose love and to live into the holy. Above all, I can show them how to see, hear, and feel the presence and activity of a loving God.

Parenting in a world of evil has its challenges, but it is none the less a privilege. We stride cautiously and with intention as we parent in a world of evil. But, it is only that – a world of evil. Ours is not an evil world; only, it is world susceptible to evil. Our world is susceptible to evil because it is a world where God is present, active, and available to us. Love is proof. But, for God to be present, active, and available, the opposite will be found, too. Where God is rejected, evil will reside.

The end of the world is not coming any time soon, but the time we have with our children is limited. The time we have is important. Our use of this time is critical. While we cannot change the world they will inherit, we can influence their perception of it. We can direct them in their approach of this world; and, we can teach them to encounter the present and active God, who is known by the power of love. Better still, we can demonstrate to our children the greater power of God’s love through our love of them and our love of others.

The Life of a Seed, Part Four

SeedThe life of a seed has much to do with the receptivity and the response of the soil. And, in the same way, our receptivity and the responsiveness has an effect on the proclamation of Jesus.

The series, The Life of a Seed, has explored the Parable of the Sower with the intention of understanding how a seed grows into a fruit producing plant. Grasping the considerable influence the ground has upon the life of a seed enables us to know the deeper meaning of Jesus’ teaching. Continue reading

Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way

Not able to make it to a worship service this morning?

Feeling a little uninspired?

That is okay!

Because, sometimes we just feel a little uninspired.

But, have a listen to the message Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way.

Because, there is peace for us still…!

 

Mothers Moving Mountains

Mothers Moving MountainsWhat if your lack of patience is actually the presence of faith?

Parenting is difficult.

Parenting certainly requires patience.

Because parenting requires patience, there will be times when a parent’s patience feels a little thin…

The presumed lack of patience does not have to signal inadequacy as a parent! What if the lack of patience distracting a parent’s heart is actually the presence of her faith?!

Patience has its place within parenting, but it is not the most significant component of healthy parenting! The faith of the parent is the most influential aspect of healthy parenting – the parent’s faith in God; the parent’s faith in herself as a parent; and the parent’s faith in the potential of her child!

The thinning of patience may actually be the revelation of one’s faith in her child – the belief in the potential of her child to grow into an even more amazing person!

The faith of a parent – faith in God, self, and child – has the ability to do the impossible. A little faith has the power to move a mountain…faith has the ability to move a child into adulthood!!!

So, the next time you find yourself praying for patience…maybe don’t! Rather, ask God to strengthen your faith – in God, in yourself, and in your child.

If you would like to hear more, check out this week’s message, Mothers Moving Mountains. Consideration is given to the amazing influence mothers have upon the hearts of their children…and, the how faith strengthens a mother to move a mountain!

Lifted Up: Overcoming the Isolation of Weakness

Jlifted upesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up… — Mark 1:31a

Illness holds an incredible power over the human body and spirit – illness is exhausting. The illness starving our bodies and spirits could be physical or mental. Either way, illness has the same debilitating effect. The ill are drained and forced into the isolation of weakness.

“Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up,” (Mark1:31a) provokes a hopeful image. Jesus’ extending of a hand to a woman who is at her weakest signals a message of hope for anyone who knows this exhaustion. Offering a hand of strength, comfort, and assurance transfers a power untouched by modern medicine. Reaching out to another in their weakness is transformative.

Jesus offers his hand to the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. While this miracle story is not the first of Jesus’ deeds of power in the gospel of Mark, the care and concern he shows to this feeble woman is the first of his “healing miracles” in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry.

A fever had overtaken this woman. Her illness brought her to fragility, confining her to the bed. Jesus sees the woman in her weakness and he reaches out to her.

Mark seems to make a statement with this first healing miracle. He offers his audience a clear impression of Jesus of Nazareth: Jesus is a man with the authority of divine power, who chooses to reach out to people when they are at their weakest; and, therfore, we can all trust that God reaches out to us in our weakness through Jesus. 

Jesus takes the woman by the hand. He holds her. He connects himself to her in her weakness. He believes for her. He believes in God and the power of God to heal. But, Jesus also believes in in the woman. Jesus believes in her potential to be moved from weakness to strength. He believes in the power of God to deliver this woman from her fragility and to raise her to a newness of life! He believes in her ability to be lifted up!

In faith, he took her by the hand and…

He lifted her up.

Accepting the hand of strength, comfort, and assurance offered to us in our weakness is not easy. Relying upon God, trusting in the power of God, believing in the freeing power of God’s love is not easy for all of us. Believing God would determine us worthy of this hand of power is even more of an obstacle. And, yet, in your weakness you will discover this hand of God is not only being offered to you, it has already taken hold of your hand.

Accept the hand that is holding you and know the power it provides.

Be lifted up…

But, allow yourself to be lifted up to a newness of life so that you might become the hand of God for another, who is drained, feeble, and forced into the isolation of weakness. Reach out to others in their weakness with the hand of strength, comfort, and assurance that you know possesses the power to lift up.

 

tillit: Nurturing Inspiration for Spiritual Growth

Slide3Spiritually misplaced is what I will call it…

The way I have been feeling for the last couple of months…it is like I am spiritually misplaced.

It is not the feeling of being lost; it is something else…

Feeling spiritually misplaced is a little like forgetting where you put your cell phone when you walked into the house.

You know what I mean?

You know the phone is there. It is still working – beeping, buzzing, chiming! But, you don’t know remember where you set it down.

You know that frustration?

That’s what I mean when I say I have felt spiritually misplaced. I know my faith is still there, working – beeping, buzzing, and chiming – but it feels like it is just out of reach. The calls are going unanswered because I can’t remember where I set the phone down!

Frustrating!

Have you ever felt spiritually misplaced?

Have you ever felt like your faith was working – beeping, buzzing, and chiming – but it felt just out of reach? Have you ever felt misplaced because you can’t answer the calls?

My spiritual misplacement has had me searching, but I haven’t been searching for my faith, per se. I have come to realize I’ve been searching for something intrinsic to my faith…

I’ve been searching for inspiration.

I’ve been searching for the inspiration supplied by my faith.

I’ve been searching for the inspiration that gets me over doing life so that I can live life – and live it immersed in the abundant grace of God.

I’ve been searching for the inspiration that nurtures my spiritual growth – a growth away from the self and into the presence of God in Jesus Christ.

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One of the most influential teachers from my time in divinity school was Dr. Ellen Davis. She is an Old Testament scholar. Her teaching and instruction was a blessing to my classmates and me.

She brought our attention to a verse in the Bible, which changed my life: “The Lord God placed the man in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it.” – Genesis 2:15

She encouraged her students to consider the meaning of the words translated “till it” and “keep it.” She argued a compelling case for translating the verse to read: to serve it and to observe it. (For a closer examination of her argument, I would encourage you to read her book Scripture, Culture, Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible.)

Without getting into a full discussion about her argument, she influenced me to reconsider my view of creation! She encouraged me to reconsider the relationship God intended for humanity to have with the dirt. She influenced me to question God’s intent for God’s creation, the responsibility God entrusted to humanity, and the blessed ability to encounter the beauty of God’s presence in my life by valuing life around me.

To till it no longer meant to work the ground  for my own delight, or to exhaust the earth of her resources! To till it meant to care for the dirt that nurtures and sustains life! To till it meant to relate to God by valuing, serving, and observing God’s creation.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? – Psalm 8:3-4

How does the dirt of the earth relate to my spiritual misplacement? How does the glory of God’s creation speak to my lack of inspiration?

In the midst of dealing with my misplacement, I decided to till it and keep it.

Literally.

I started a garden.

My son and I went to the local feed and seed at the end of February and bought some seeds, a bag of plant mix, and a couple planting containers. I thought it would be a fun activity for him. He could learn about plants and eat the vegetables he grew.

We returned to the house and tried to figure out how to make plants grow, which is when I discovered I did not know what I was doing!

So, I did what any good millennial would do – I got on youtube and watched videos on germinating seeds, transplanting, and gardening for beginners!

Our initial afternoon activity became a daily opportunity for my son and me to explore and learn together.

We learned how to germinate seeds.

We learned how to transplant seedlings.

We learned how to start a garden, build a raised bed, and create row crops.

In the midst of our new adventure, my inspiration began to emerge from the dirt.

The emergence of inspiration within a garden is not surprising. There is a prayerful quality to considering and caring for the dirt, to watering and tending the plants, to tasting the sweetness of the fruit.

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My son showing his mother the first snap pea.

The garden is not the only place to discover the inspiration that nurtures spiritual growth. The location is not the issue; rather, one’s approach to faith is what matters. It is a matter of perspective. It is a matter of how you choose to see things and how to respond to situations in your life.

What can you do when you are feeling spiritually misplaced?

tillit.

I don’t mean go start a garden (unless that appeals to you). Consider the meaning of “to till it and keep it” for you.

What are you tilling and keeping?

Where are your giving your time, energy, and spirit?

If you are feeling spiritually misplaced, maybe God is urging you to redirect your efforts. Maybe it is time to tillit…to serve and observe the things God values. Maybe it is time to give yourself to the thing or the person you otherwise overlook.

Maybe if you learn what it means for you to tillit, you might discover the emergence of the inspiration that nurtures your spiritual growth.

The Imperishable Inheritance

ImperishableBeing alive to God is a lot like biting into a freshly picked strawberry — it is tasting the beauty of God’s glory in the simple and the subtle of the present; but, the fruit we taste does more than reveal the beauty of God (and the newness of life with God in Christ), the fruit we taste is actually the seed for the abundant inheritance growing for us in heaven!

My previous post, Life Resurrected, shared a link to a sermon from a couple of years ago. The message considered what it means to be alive to God.

As I wrote, “Being alive to God does not always look or feel like the grand or the spectacular; rather, being alive to God is often experienced in the simple, the subtle, and the serene…like biting into a freshly picked strawberry!”

And, in the message I shared how biting into a freshly picked strawberry awakened my senses to the power of God’s glory!

In this week’s message, The Imperishable Inheritance, I return to the story of the strawberry! The fruit we taste in this present life, which reveals the beauty of God’s glory, is actually the seed for the abundant inheritance growing for us with God in Christ!

If you have a moment, have a listen to the message, The Imperishable Inheritance, from a couple of weeks ago! Blessings to you all!

Life Resurrected: Being Alive to God in the Simplicity and the Subtly of a Strawberry

Strawberry“I thought to myself, ‘This is the best strawberry I’ve ever had in my life.” Not because of where it came from, but because of what it came to represent for me…In that moment, I tasted what God has to offer: the beauty of the now; the very natural; the blessing of what is already before us. And, there before me was the beauty of God’s creation, the beauty of God’s presence, in a simple strawberry.”

Continue reading

He is Not Here

He is Not HereSearching for something in the wrong places?

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary return to the tomb of Jesus on the third day.

They return to see the tomb of Jesus so the can continue their vigil. They return to the place where they believe Jesus is supposed to be.

The one place Jesus is supposed to be turns out to be the wrong place. The right place to see Jesus is actually the wrong place…He is not here! 

What can we do when the right place to find the something we are searching turns out to be the wrong place? What can we learn from the experience of these women?

Take a moment to listen to the message He is Not Here and discover how we can respond in faith and move forward in obedience…

On the Road to the Cross – The Centurion

9781501822643Creativity exists within chaos. Something must break down for something new to break through.

The final message in the Lenten series, On the Road to the Cross, ends with the death of Jesus and the profound proclamation of the Centurion (and the others with him).

The death of Jesus is the climatic moment of Jesus’ road to the cross (and the life and ministry of Jesus, as well). The road to the cross is full of suspense and horror. Each of the events along the road to the cross builds upon the drama of his passion.

There is a feeling I have as a watch suspenseful movies or read dramatic stories: my chests tightens and my breathing becomes compromised as I await the climax!

The road Jesus walks to the cross has this same effect on me. As I read the narrative from the anointing of Jesus in Bethany to the death of Jesus upon the cross, my chest tightens and my breathing is restricted as I progress along this dramatic road…

Matthew describes the death of Jesus in the following way: Jesus looked up to the heavens and called out to God. The bystanders awaited the coming of Elijah; perhaps, the great servant of God would come to rescue Jesus. Exhausted of life, Jesus cried out one final time before breathing his last and surrendering his spirit.

Reading these verses, which describe the great exhalation of Jesus, one would be poised to release the suspenseful tension built upon within their chest with an exhausted breath: It is finished…(exhale)!

But, the death of Jesus is not followed by a moment of peace, calmness, or tranquility. The death of Jesus does not give us the opportunity to exhale or the opportunity to reflect and digest all that we have just learned.

Rather, all Hell breaks loose!

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” – Matthew 27:50b-53

Leaving the resurrection of the saints to the side; because, what’s that all about, anyways?

Everything is far from calm and tranquil following the death of Jesus. There is no peace on earth at this moment!

The temple curtain is torn.

The earth begins to shake.

The rocks begin to split.

The tombs begin to open.

Chaos breaks loose — ripping, shaking, splitting, cracking, and crumbling.

Chaos is destructive.

There is no time to rest, no time to exhale, no time to reflect and digest. The death of Jesus is followed by a moment of chaos defined by destruction.

Undoubtedly, chaos is destructive and the chaos that follows the death of Jesus is marked by destruction, but there is more to chaos.

Chaos is creative.

If you are a creative, or if you know a creative, than you likely understand what I mean when I say there is a lot of chaos in creativity. There is even a lot of destruction within creativity.

I come from a family of artists. My grandmother and my cousin are painters. Another cousin is fashion designer. I’ve always been amazed by their work and their gift to create beautiful art.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were visiting my cousin in New York. She invited us to her office so we could see where she worked. We arrived at the the unmarked building not too far from Bryant Park later that afternoon. My cousin met us outside the building and led us up to her workspace.

We entered into a large open room filled with several desks. The room was dedicated to the designers. I was amazed by the “busyness” of the room and the disheveled appearance. The designers’ desks were covered in drawings and fabric samples. There was a little bit of chaos going on, as these creatives were busy trying to bring their beauty into the world.

We left the designers area and moved into another room of similar size. Once more, there was nothing ornate about the room. There were a few women sitting behind large sewing machines. Some of the ladies were measuring and cutting fabric. Others were sewing and stretching material. My cousin explained we were in the room of the master seamstresses. The designs created by her co-workers and herself were sent to these individuals, who brought the sketches to life. Just like the designers area, the seamstresses area was a little chaotic, as these creatives were trying to bring their beauty into the world.

Finally, my cousin took us into a third room, which was much different. The room was decorated. There was a plush carpet on the floor. The room was well lit and the walls were painted with a rich-toned color. Everything was just so…perfectly positioned. Beautiful dresses were intentionally fitted upon mannequins equally spaced throughout the room. We were in the viewing room, where buyers view and select the dresses they wish to purchase for their stores.

Creativity is chaotic. Creativity requires a little bit of destruction. But, creativity gives way to beauty.

The moment of Jesus’ expiration is chaotic.  As the world crumbled and collapsed around the scene of Jesus’ death, God was moving, working, creating something new and beautiful…

54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” – Matthew 27:54

A great revelation would emerge out of the death of Jesus with the most unlikely pf proclaimers – the centurion.

A centurion was an officer in the Roman army, who was entrusted with the leadership of 100 (or fewer) soldiers. Among their many attributes, centurions were efficient in their work and knowingly loyal to the Republic and the emperor.

Everything in the life and ministry of Jesus led to the cross. Everything along the road to the cross led to this moment of exhalation. While the death of Jesus could be seen as revealing the weakness of Jesus, the centurion identifies the glory of God in the death of Jesus – truly, this man was God’s Son! 

Do you see the irony in this proclamation?

The Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, because they believed the Messiah would be a great political/warrior-king, who would rescue Israel from their oppressor (the Roman Empire), secure their national freedom, and restore Israel to a place of prosperity similar to the time of David.

As the defeated and exhausted Jesus slumped from his cross, a Roman officer (the one who oversaw his crucifixion) gives praise to Jesus as God’s true Son!

What!!!…

Here we discover the creativity within chaos.

Something new did break through, after something else broke down.

God’s revelation of love in Jesus the Christ, the only Son of God, is made known to all people, even to those who existed outside of the old covenantal relationship. 

Creativity is a little chaotic, but with destruction comes beauty.

Be encouraged by the ripping, shaking, splitting, and breaking of the death of Jesus, for it serves as a testament that God has and continues to work a new and beautiful thing for all people – God’s love revealed through God’s only Son.

But also be encouraged by the ripping, shaking, splitting, and breaking in your own lives. There are certainly times in all of our lives when we feel we are existing in pure chaos. Everything (or, maybe, something specific) is breaking down.

Forget the feeling of loosing control.

I am talking about when we know control has already been lost!!!

Be encouraged, because maybe this is the exact time in your life when you do not need to have control. Maybe this is the very moment in your life when you need someone else, someone greater, someone more powerful than you to assume control!

Ride the wave of destruction realizing God does the best work amid chaos.

Cling to the hope and the promise that something must break down for something new to break through.

Trust the process, and prepare yourself to take delight in the beauty of God’s creative chaos!

I apologize, but the original message was not recorded. We had some technical issues with our recording device. The rest of the messages in this series and other messages can be found at our site.

Note – This sermon series is influenced by Rob Burkhart’s recent publication, On the Road to the Cross: Experience Easter with Those who were There. The book is a great read during the Season of Lent. I fully recommend you add this book to your library!!