Ten Albums/Ten Days | Endless Summer

The “post 10 albums in 10 days with no commentary” thing has been going around Facebook again. I was thinking about posting mine, but then, Dylan Lloyd went ahead and nominated me to do it. I am not going to choose anyone, but what I will do is share here how the album influenced my life.

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Band: Beach Boys
Album: Endless Summer

I have to be honest. I don’t remember music being a significant player in my younger years. I do not have memories of Dad spinning records on the hi-fi (we had one). Nor do I have any recollections of Mom or Dad me to listen to their favorite bands. I completely missed the music of the ’60s or ’70s. I know very little about either decade.

What music I remember from my earliest memories came from the radio while Dad was working in the garage or while we were driving in the car. (Note: If the Pittsburgh Pirates or Steelers were on, we were listening to them above anything else- much to my Mom and Sister’s chagrin.)

When we listened to the radio, we listened to 93.3 FM, which was an Oldies station in our area. I clearly remember Rockin’ Robin (Bobby Day), Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry), All I Have to Do Is Dream, and Bye Bye Love (The Everly Brothers). But what I remember the most is The Beach Boys.

I’m pretty sure Dad had an 8-Track of Endless Summer in one the truck. The 8-track seemed foreign, even in the ’80s, when we also had the much smaller cassettes. The sound of The Beach Boys became the epitome of both summer and American Rock and Roll. I would put them in the category of the Greatest American Rock-n-Roll band in regards to importance and influence. But you can freely argue that because I really don’t know much about the music of the ’60s and ’70s. (England can keep the Beatles and the Stones!)

When our family goes to the beach, there are times when The Beach Boys serenade us on our way. When I was purchasing records for my record player, Endless Summer was on the top of my list. While there was a plethora of artists and albums that I could have chosen from my Oldies 93.3 days- The Beach Boys are at the top of the list.

Note: It is not lost on me that listening to Oldies on 93.3 FM meant songs from the ’50s and ’60s in the 1980s. Songs that were 20-30 years old. That means that when I play Nirvana, No Doubt, and Pearl Jam for my kids, that they would be on an Oldies Station today. 

 

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

[Sermon preached on Sunday, May 17th at Avenue United Methodist Church. Listen here.]

There is a memorable scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where the Griswald Family is driving to the country to cut down their own Christmas Tree. There is only one other vehicle on the road, and it is tailgating Clark Griswald’s family station wagon. Clark and the truck engage in an episode of road rage that results in the Griswald station wagon riding underneath a semi-trailer.

According to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly 80 percent of US drivers expressed significant anger, aggression, or road rage while behind the wheel at least once in the past year. In the survey

51% said they purposefully tailgated
47% said they yelled at another driver
45% said they honked at another driver out of anger or annoyance
33% said they made an angry gesture
24% said they tried to block another vehicle from changing lanes

There are a lot of angry drivers on the road. One of the study’s researchers wrote, “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.” https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2016/october/4100316.html

Each of us could attest to the need for more peace in our daily lives and our world. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says:

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9, NIV
In our Western culture, when we talk about peace, we are talking about a sense of inner-tranquility or the absence of conflict. We live in a troubled world and during anxious times. Inside, many of us is a raging civil war. The battle is difficult to live with. Some of the most popular apps on your smartphone are apps design to help with breathing, centering, and mindfulness. In short, these apps are created to help you find inner peace. On a macro-scale, we see conflict in families, communities, and between people-groups and nations. We are a world that is in constant conflict- a world without peace.

What does Jesus mean when he blesses peacemakers?

Peace, in the Jewish context, comes from the idea and word Shalom. It is translated as peace in English, but it has the meaning of wholeness- both personal and communal. In this context, peace is not the absence of conflict, but our personhood and relationships that are on proper terms, relationships that are life-giving.

Even before terms like social distancing became a thing, we live in a world of distance. We talk about being “close” to some people or “not very close” to others. We live in right relationship with others, and some of our relationships are not right. We have icy relationships, estranged relationships, and unhealthy relationships. Think of our relationships as points radiating from ourselves like the spokes on a bike. Some of our relationships are close, and others are far. If we were to connect the lines of those relationships, like a tire around the spokes, we might have an uneven tire or circle. To live in shalom, or peace is to form a perfect circle of relationships with God, with others, and throughout our community. To live in shalom is to live in right relationships with God and others.

When Jesus blesses peacemakers, he is not blessing peace-wanters or peace-lovers- both of which as passive endeavors. Jesus does not bless peace-living, which can turn into something individualistic. Jesus blesses peacemakers. The grammar in the Greek indicates that peacemaking is something active that we participate in. Jesus blesses those who are active and socially engaged in the lives who need peace. Peacemakers are those who work towards reconciliation in the communities. Paul reminds us of this ministry writing:

“If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV.
When we receive salvation, we are a new creation and given the ministry of reconciliation; helping others live in right relationship with God and with one another. The church has gone to one side or the other in the West. There is a church segment that puts all its stock on spiritual peace or reconciliation between God and humanity through salvation. Another segment says that we bring peace by caring for others over and beyond any concern for their spiritual lives. It’s either been salvation or social justice. Paul says that as an overflow of our faith that we have the ministry of reconciliation. Faith is inclusive of the spiritual and the relational. It means we have a ministry to bring people into a right relationship with God and to experience restorative relationships with one another. To do one without the other is to live out only have the Gospel.

Paul talks about the importance of reconciliation or peace within our relationships in Ephesians. Paul writes:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, but which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16, NIV
Paul uses the conflict between Jews and Gentiles as an example. Not only was there a conflict between the two, but that conflict kept them from truly experiencing God. Through Jesus, God is bringing people together who have been at war and creating new humanity that has its roots and life in Jesus. This peace that God is working in our world is spiritual, and it is relational. We cannot have one without the other.

When we think about being a peacemaker, it is not a pushover. A peacemaker does not sweep things under the rug. Peacemaking is full of conflict. Being a peacemaker will require us to do the hard work of confronting evil and oppression wherever we find them. The life and death of Jesus define peacemaking. It is difficult. Jesus didn’t hide from conflict; he addressed it. We see Jesus addressing conflict with the Pharisees throughout the Gospels, and yet he does it in such a way to keep communication open rather than trying to win an argument. To live in right relationship with others, we have to speak the truth when someone has harmed us and be ready to receive when we have hurt others.

To follow Jesus, then, means that we never react passively in the face of injustice, abuse, or suffering. Being a peacemaker who follows the way of Jesus is always an energetic and risky endeavor, filled with vigorous, complicated, and costly goodwill. If we follow Jesus with integrity, we liberate the oppressed and set the captives free. We not only seek justice, but we “live or do” justice and work to transform brokenness into wholeness in all areas of our community as the overflow of the peace we’ve received from God through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

What does peacemaking look like in our communities? In short, it is followers of Jesus who are actively working towards reconciliation in our world.

Peacemakers are those who work to help restore relationships between children and their parents. Peacemakers seek to restore marriages that have become broken.

Peacemakers are those who work to raise up their neighbors out of poverty by providing career counseling, resume writing, and job training.

Peacemakers are those who provide foster care or seek to adopt children who have lost their families.

Peacemakers actively work with addicts to help them overcome the demons that they cannot overcome on their own.

Perhaps one of the most important areas in the white, American Church where we can live as peacemakers is in the areas of racial reconciliation. Author Jim Wallis calls racism “America’s original sin.” While it feels good to think that we’ve come a long ways since the 1960’s, or the time of slavery- there are reminders in the news of how far we have yet to go in our nation.

The case of Ahmaud Aberey has gripped the nation over the last several weeks. Aberey, who is black, was shot by a white neighbor who was suspicious that he might have been entering an active construction build. This vigilante actions of the two white neighbors have been likened to a lynching in the black community. It is just one of the entirely too many instances like this.

I am sure that bringing up this story may bring strong feelings to your mind. This is the challenge for the white church. We are called to work towards peace and reconciliation. That means that we should seek to understand the experience of our Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters. We may say something like “ALL LIVES MATTER,” to which I will say that until the plight of our Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters matter enough for us to stand with them and be actively engaged in peacemaking- then we cannot say All Lives Matter. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers because “Jesus is our peace making the two groups one and tearing down the dividing wall.”

Peacemaking, actively working towards reconciliation, is the natural result of our salvation. In the beatitudes, we are the poor in spirit, helpless without God. When we realize this, we mourn for the brokenness that we see in the world and we approach our relationships with meekness and humility. The sinfulness and brokenness we see in the world will cause us to hunger and thirst for righteousness-for justice. This hunger leads us to action- to show mercy, to be purely and single-mindedly focused on God, and to actively work towards peace and reconciliation. While we long for the day where God will redeem all of creation, we have a ministry of reconciliation to take part in now.

When I walk through Milford, I long to see Avenue as a place where peacemaking takes place as a result of our faith in Jesus. I long to see people who are in conflict with God make peace with God through the cross of Jesus. I long to see the racial, economic, and social barriers torn down because ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This morning, I want to invite you to think about the opportunities for peacemaking and reconciliation in our church, in our families, and in our communities as we watch this video.

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Let’s Not Return to Normal

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Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash

If there is one thing I hear over and over again during this stay-at-home Corona-quarantine time is that people are longing to “get back to normal.” I get the sentiment. For the last 50 days, we have been homeschooling four kids while Andrea and I do our best to work from home. The normal routines and rhythms of our days and weeks have been disrupted. Let’s be honest, we’re tired of seeing each other all day every day! (I’ve got to keep it real!)

What if “getting back to normal” is the worse thing we could do?

I’m not talking about re-opening the economy “getting back to normal.” I’m talking about “How I live my life ‘getting back to normal.'”

The last fifty days have taught a lot of us some new skills and abilities. It’s taught many families to live together, to have more meals together, and to be more involved in the educational process. I’ve seen pictures on Facebook of families hiking together, doing family Olympics and other creative efforts, and sharing the cooking responsibilities. Families are worshipping together, doing Sunday School lessons together, and having time for more conversations. Sure, it’s not been perfect and hasn’t worked for everyone, but the Corona outbreak has created more space for our families to thrive.

The Corona outbreak has caused a disruption in just about every aspect of our lives. This disruption has brought about adaptation and innovation. In our families, it has created the opportunity to make new rhythms and to chart new courses for our families to journey. Why would we want to “get back to normal” if that normal is not where we want our families to be? Why would we want to return to a “run ourselves ragged rat-race” that leaves little time for the things we really find important?

I hope we don’t return to normal. I hope that my family and yours will adapt, innovate and ultimate re-calibrate to focus on what is most important. That way, when we can leave our homes or return to work/school that we do not lose the soul of our families.

What is a new rhythm that your family has created during quarantine time?

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On Our Side | Pure in Heart

geometric_heart_lightstockIn February of 2010, I felt something that I’ve never felt before. I felt my heartbeat. Certainly, I’ve felt my heartbeat, but I’ve never felt it throughout the course of the day. I’ve never felt it as I lay in bed or when I would drive my car. Every once in awhile I could feel my heart skip through my chest.

I went to my doctor who was able to catch the leaping heart on the EKG. I had to wear a heart monitor for a few days and then I went back to the doctor. I was diagnosed with a benign arrhythmia- my heart was skipping beats. On the diagnosis, I remember being told long ago that my pediatrician had been aware of this condition, but in my 32 years up to that point, I had never felt my heart like that.

The doctor and I spoke and she told me to cut out caffeine (which I wasn’t even drinking coffee regularly yet) and to find ways to relax. I laughed at that because as I would lay in bed at night, feeling my heart leap through my chest, I would get worked up wondering if my heart would give out. Not necessarily the most rational thinking. But I was terrified. I would think about Andrea, Abbie (who was 3) and we would soon find out about Chloe. My doctor’s advice was to relax.

I experienced these symptoms for about three months. Then, one day, it just stopped. I don’t know whether I relaxed more, whether I lost weight, or whether or not the prayers I prayed were answered. But just as quickly as my heart started leaping out of my chest, it stopped.

For each of us, our hearts are important. Not only do they pump the blood that keeps us alive, they are the seat of our emotions. They are the center of who we are as individuals.

As we continue in our series on the Beatitudes, Jesus says in Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Our hearts are at the center of who we are. Fredrick Dale Bruner says that when Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure of heart” that what he means is “blessed are the ones who are centered on God.” I find this helpful because, in my own life, I know when things get out of balanced and off-centered. I can recognize, sometimes slowly, when my heart is not centered on God because it is focused on other things. Blessed are the pure in heart- Blessed are those who are centered, focused on God.

We see the importance of purity of our hearts in Jesus’ teaching. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says,

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”[1]

 When our hearts are not pure, when our hearts are divided, what is in our hearts eventually comes out. In many ways, it is the garbage in, garbage out principle. If we put sinful, lustful, prideful things in our hearts- that is going to come out of our mouth. The opposite is also true if we fill our hearts with the things of God- grace, mercy, love, forgiveness- that will come out of our hearts as well. We cannot do both. Our lives, our words, and our actions reflect what is in our hearts.

Leon Morris writes: To be pure in heart is to be pure throughout.

There is a civil war going on inside of our hearts for where our focus and our affections will be fixed. There is a battle to keep our hearts pure. King David provides a good example of this.

In 2 Samuel 11, we are told that during the time when kings go off to war, King David remains in Jerusalem (which is our first sign of trouble). While there, he goes out to his rooftop terrace, which would have been the highest point in the city and observes a woman bathing. This woman, Bathsheba, is the wife of one of David’s soldiers, Uriah. Rather than turn away from temptation, David lingers and his temptation gives birth to sin- by engaging in adultery with a married woman and then having her husband killed to cover up his sin.

What is compelling about this story is that in 1 Samuel, David is called a man after God’s own heart. David has this faith in God that we see throughout the Psalms. David is exemplary in many ways. And yet, David loses focus. David goes from single-mindedly focusing on God to have his heart and affections tempted into something illicit and sinful.

The prophet, Nathan, approaches David and confronts him about his sin. When David realizes that his sin has been brought to light, he confesses his sin to Nathan and to God. This is where most commentators believe Psalm 51 from. It is a Psalm of someone who has been confronted by their sin and seeking forgiveness from God.

“Have mercy on my, O God,
According to your unfailing love;
According to your great compassion
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.

 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
Or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”[2]

 David’s heart had become divided. In praying “create in me a pure heart,” David is praying that God would restore to him a heart that is undivided- purely focused on and desiring God.

This prayer is so vital for each one of us. Who among us has a heart undivided for God? Who can say that their heart is clean? Is pure? This prayer is key to Kingdom Living- it is Key to seeing more and experiencing more of God in our lives. We must have pure hearts.

Our heart is the dwelling place of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. So, the condition of our heart is extremely significant. Psalm 24 asks, “Who will ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts.” God blesses the pure in heart; they are the ones who will see God. They are the ones who will experience God.

To be pure in heart is to be pure throughout. To be pure in heart is to see God.

This morning, we hold up the mirror of scripture to our lives. When I look in the mirror and ask the Holy Spirit to point out and convict me of my sin- I see the real condition of my heart. It’s often not very good. We can look at our hearts and see pride, lust, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, idolatry, cheating, complacency in light of human suffering, fear, a puffed-up ego, and so much more. What do we do? We must invite God to perform heart surgery.

Ten years ago as I lay awake at night with my heart leaping out of my chest, one of my fears was that I would require some sort of heart surgery. It was an irrational fear, for sure, because my doctor told me I wouldn’t require anything. But for those of you who have had heart surgery, where the doctor cuts you with a scalpel, separates your ribs, and works on your heart. There is a lot of pain associated with the procedure. But it is necessary to have a properly functioning heart.

It wasn’t comfortable for King David to have his sin exposed by Nathan, but it was necessary to begin the spiritual healing. It is not comfortable to have the Holy Spirit look into our lives, but the promise of the beatitude is that the pure of heart will see God. If we want to see God in deeper ways, then we must pursue a pure, undivided heart.

We will see God move in our personal lives and in our church in new ways as we pursue a pure heart through our encounters with Jesus and The Holy Spirit. Jesus, the Great Physician, mends our broken and divided hearts so that are able to focus our heart’s desires and affections on God.

This morning, there may be sin in your life that needs to be confessed. Perhaps, like David, you need to declare, “Against you alone have I sinned.” It is our sin that keeps us apart from knowing and seeing God in the ways that we desire. So we join together in praying:

Create in me a clean heart, a pure heart, O God
And renew a right spirit within me
Cast me not away from your presence
Or take your Holy Spirit from me
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And renew a right spirit within me.

Because of our sinful nature, we are divided. Yet through Jesus, we can have an undivided heart. God is on the side of the Pure in heart- and they will see God.

[1] Luke 6:45, NIV.

[2] Psalm 51:1-2, 10-12, NIV.

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What I’m Reading: April 2020

The Coronavirus Quarantine of 2020 was in effect for my April reading list. I didn’t complete any books in March, mostly because I was working on the first two books listed here. I made up for that in April. I also read my first works of fiction this month as I needed some escape from the stress and frustration of quarantine. Without further ado, here is the list.

  • Renovation of the Heart (Dallas Willard) | I’ve been in ministry for 19 years and this is the first Dallas Willard book I have read. I’ve attempted The Divine Conspiracy several times but it never gained any traction. If you are interested in Spiritual formation in your life- this is the book for you. Mostly accessible, Willard is a philosopher and it feels like it at time. None-the-less, this is a five-star book and one that will remain influential in my life and ministry.
  • Stamped from the Beginning | Ibram X. Kendi | This book traces the history of racist thought over the course of American history. I have been committed to read books that challenge me to look differently at the world, especially when it comes to my “white-ness.” I believe this is necessary to walk alongside our brothers and sisters of color. Stamped from the Beginning was eye-opening as Kendi walks the reader through American history through the eyes of five individuals and how racist/anti-black thought has been pervasive, and continues to be so. I highly recommend the book!
  • Francis Asbury: Prophet of The Long Road| Ezra Squier Tipple | This is a 105 year-old biography on Francis Asbury, one of the first Bishops in The Methodist Church. Asbury was instrumental in helping the early Methodist church become a movement and shape church and society in the early days of America.
  • The NIV Application Commentary: James | David P. Nystrom | Background reading for my online study on James.
  • The Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of Our Post-Christian Culture | Mark Sayers |Mark Sayers is one of the smartest people I’ve listened to. His podcast, This Cultural Moment, is a must-listen. His previous book, The Disappearing Church made the case for the church to be different from culture in the world- thus disappearing. In this book, he makes the case that secularism waning, and like the tide going on, something else will come in. Sayers believes that will be a new and fresh movement of the Holy Spirit. There is great content in the book that is made difficult to read because of the publisher’s layout decisions. Once you get by that, the book is worth reading.
  • The Big Idea: Aligning the Ministries of Your Church Through Creative Collaboration | Dave Ferguson, Jon Ferguson, Eric Bramlet | A book on working collaboratively to design big ideas for church worship.
  • Star Wars: Bloodline | Claudia Gray | I listened to the audiobook and there were several times when I remained in my car to finish a section or chapter. Claudia Gray is becoming one of my favorite Star Wars authors (Timothy Zahn is the GOAT). She gives a great story on Princess Leia that has depth while remaining familiar.
  • The NIV Application Commentary: Letters of John |Gary Burge |Background reading for my online study on the letters of John.
  • Divergent | Veronica Roth |I needed some fiction to read and the Divergent series has done the trick of a fun read. I’m late coming to the Divergent game. There are a lot of great themes in the book, along with some holes. But in all, this was a great beginning to the series.
  • Insurgent | Veronica Roth |Book #2 was not as good as the first book. There were some tweaks in the main characters, Tris and Tobias, that made some added changes. This book was a little slower. It may have succumbed to the “middle book/” syndrome with a story that lacks some clarity or focus.

Did you read anything good during the first month of quarantine? Share it in the comments!

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Living in Meekness

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Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

[Sermon preached April 26, 2020 at Avenue United  Methodist Church]

There is a well-known scene in the 2002 Spider-Man movie where Peter Parker is having a heart-to-heart conversation with his Uncle Ben. Peter, has been bitten by a radioactive spider and developed super-hero abilities. In response to his new-found power, Uncle Ben says,

“These are the years where a man becomes the man he’s going to be for the rest of his life. Just be careful who you change into. You’re feeling this great power, and with great power comes great responsibility.”

 Power is intoxicating. We live in a culture that is often drunk on its own desire for power. People want to climb the ladder; look out for #1, and believe that second place is just the first loser. While we know the dangers of power, we live in a culture that puts people in power on a pedestal.  We can see powerful people as those who have won at life. Those who have succeeded where others have failed.

This morning, as we continue our series on the beatitudes, Jesus says:

“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”

 I have to admit, that apart from my faith and my own reading of the Bible I would write this beatitude another way. From the evidence that I see around the world, I would have written:

“Blessed are the powerful, the rich, the successful and the beautiful for they will inherit the earth.”

This seems more in line with what we see in movies; what we watch in our TV shows; the values that are on the internet and communicated through other forms of media. We highlight the successful, powerful, and rich. We make case studies of those who achieve their dreams. Our politicians, who are supposed to represent the average person, are rich beyond most of the wildest dreams.

As we look around our world, it is easy to believe that it will be powerful who inherit the earth.

The beatitudes are the introduction to Jesus’ Master Class on Kingdom Living that we call the Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes and the Sermon, Jesus is helping us to redefine what life that is truly life really is. The beatitudes provide the basis for our spirituality, for what our relationship with God entails. Living in the kingdom requires that we recognize that apart from God that we are the poor in spirit. We are spiritually bankrupt apart from God. When we realize our spiritual poverty, we can fully depend on God for everything we need. The second beatitude invites us to mourn and grieve the spiritual poverty in the world. We should be moved by the brokenness with see in the world apart from God. This leads us to hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness- for God’s justice to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The beatitudes teach us that Kingdom Living looks different than living in the world. This is most clear in Jesus’ blessing on the meek and the promise that they will inherit the earth.

In order to understand the beatitude, we have to have a better understanding on what meekness is. If you were to ask me what meekness is six months ago, I may not have been able to give you a good idea. When I would picture someone who was meek, I may have said that they were weak, spineless, and someone who had no power.

When we read through the Bible, we should note that MEEKNESS IS NOT WEAKNESS. When we think of someone who is meek, we should not see them as pushovers. We should not see meekness as something that is undesirable. We should see meekness in the person of Jesus.

MEEKNESS IS STRENGTH SURRENDERED

 Meekness is can be a quality of the strong who could assert themselves but choose not to. We see this clearly in the life of Jesus.

There is an episode in the Gospels where the religious leaders and the crowd want to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff. But Luke tells us that Jesus simply walked through the crowds to safety. Jesus, though he had a higher status than his disciples got down on his knees and washed his disciple’s feet. When the religious leaders came to arrest Jesus and Peter drew his sword and cut off Malchus’s ear, Jesus told him to put the sword away. When Jesus was mocked and beaten on the way to the cross, he did not fight back. Later, Jesus certainly could have come down from the cross and taken care of those who put him there- but instead Jesus cried out to God to forgive those who do not know what they do.

Jesus exemplified humility and meekness while having the utmost power and authority. We believe that Jesus is God in Flesh. Simply put, Jesus is God and has all the power and authority as God. But Jesus chose to live differently. Paul writes,

“Jesus, who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage.
Rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant.
Being made in human likeness
And being found in appearance as a man
He humbled himself further
By becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross.”[1]

Jesus has all the power and authority as the Creator of the Universe. All the rights and privileges that come from being God- and instead humbled himself to the position of a servant who died for others. This is the ultimate picture of meekness.

MEEKNESS IS STRENGTH SURRENDERED

I recently finished leading a Bible Study on the Beatitudes here at Avenue and the study guide we used was by Maxie Dunnam and Kim Reisman. The study as a whole was insightful. They gave a picture of defining meekness. They said that the image of meekness is a large draft workhorse that is obedient to the bit.

I grew up in Amish country in northwest Pennsylvania and some of the horses that our Amish neighbors had were huge. If the horse ever decided to kick or stomp someone, they would have their way with that person. Instead, the horses have surrendered (in a sense) to be obedient to the bit and where the farmer leads them.

To be meek is not to deny strength. When one looks at a draft horse, its strength is evident and unquestioned. To be meek is to surrender that strength to the will of God.

Peter writes of Jesus:

“When they hurled their insults at him he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”[2]

 Rather than fighting back, arguing, or enacting on his rights as God-in-flesh, Jesus entrusted himself to God who judges justly. Jesus surrendered his will, his power, and his rights to God. To live in meekness is to live humbly. We may even have the right to do something; we may have the power to do something- but we live our lives in humility, surrendered to God.

In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien tells the story of a powerful ring that was passed on to Frodo Baggins as part of his inheritance. The ring could give ultimate power to whoever possesses the ring. There are evil powers seeking the Ring, and even some of Frodo’s fellowship are tempted by the power of the Ring.

At the Council of Elrond, a gathering of the leaders of Middle Earth, they debate what they are to do about the ring. It is decided that they only way to destroy the ring is to take it back to where it was created and throwing it in the fires of Mordor. This is at the heart of enemy territory.

One of the leaders declares: “One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the great eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust. Not with 10,000 men could you do this. It is folly!”

 The leaders argue and bicker about the future when Frodo stands up and declares, “I will take it! I will take it! I will take the ring to Mordor.

Frodo, the smallest, the least powerful, and the humblest emerges as the greatest because he is willing to do what needs to be done. His humility and meekness make him the only person in the Fellowship capable of not being seduced by the Ring’s power.

The invitation to live a meek life is the call to resist the seduction of power. It is a life that sets aside our privilege and our rights in order to serve those around us. It is the invitation to impact the world through service- and inheriting that world as the life we live leaves a sweet flavor in the mouth of the world compared to the rotten taste of corrupted power. Living meekly is embodying Jesus’ teaching that “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

Can you see with me what a meek life will look like in the church? It will look like Christians who believe it is better to be in right relationship rather than being right. It will look like Christians who refuse to get caught up in petty arguments online. It will look like leaders who will be the first to serve, the first to get on our knees and wash someone’s feet. It will look like meetings where our preferences are set aside for what is best for the church. It will look like laying down our lives for our enemies.

But there is more- it will look like power. The power that comes when our lives are modeled after Jesus and take the shape of the Cross. The power that comes when people see Jesus in us rather than seeing us. The power that comes when the church’s influence grows, not through hip leaders but through sacrificial living. The power that comes when people wonder why we live differently and we are able to point them to Jesus Christ.

God is on the side of the meek- those who live with their strength surrendered to God’s will. When we live meek lives, God’s power and presence are made manifest in our lives. Let us seek to live the life that Jesus modeled for us.

[1] Philippians 2:6-8, NIV.

[2] 1 Peter 2:23, NIV.

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On Our Side: Blessed are Those Who Mourn

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[From the 4/19/20 sermon at Avenue United Methodist Church]

A 2017 article in Men’s Health told the story of Conrad Anker, a world-class mountain climber who, at the time, was one of four people on earth to summit Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen. He is a tremendous athlete. On this particular trip, he was climbing another Himalayan mountain when he could feel his heart tire out. He turned to his climbing partner and said, “This is not good.” The climbing team turned around to return to base camp. Once there, Anker felt much better, but his partner made a decisive call for assistance. It was a good thing because Anker had a heart attack.

Five months earlier, Anker had been on another climb on a 26,000 ft. peak. The climb had a somber tone as Anker and the team were there to retrieve his friend’s body, who had died on the mountain in an avalanche.  Anker had seen his friend swept away by the crashing snow. They were so close that Anker married his friend’s widow and raised her children as his own. On this most recent trip, Anker was there to carry his friend’s body down the mountain.

Anker told National Geographic, “Going back up there and seeing everything was super emotional. I was stressed, and I felt my heart.”

At some point, we all feel our heart. Perhaps it’s asking a girl out on a first date in college; kneeling down to propose; standing at the free-throw line with 1 second left with no time remaining; watching your wife-to-be radiantly walk down the aisle; being present for the birth of your children; watching a parent or loved one die.  The 17th-century British physician William Harvey noted, “Every affection of the mind that is attended with either pain or pleasure, hope or fear, is the cause of an agitation whose influence extends to the heart.”[1]

Anker was so overcome with grief for his friend as he went to retrieve his body that he could “feel his heart.” This is what it is like for many of our emotions- we feel it in our heart. But the emotion we “feel our heart” the most is when we mourn.

The Beatitudes are an introduction to Jesus’ master class on Kingdom Living that we call The Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus begins by saying “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Several weeks ago when we began this series, we said that the poor in Spirit are not those in financial poverty, but those who are living in spiritual poverty. The reality of the human condition is that everyone is spiritually poor apart from God. We are blessed when we realize our poverty and our total dependence upon God- that is when we can inherit the Kingdom of God.

In the second beatitude, Jesus builds on this saying:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Matthew 5:4

Andrea and I have had many conversations over the last two years because we have come to the age when our loved ones have become chronically ill and have died. Andrea lost her father and Aunt. We have had many friends who have lost a parent. We grieve and mourn our own losses and the losses of our friends and our community. Like you, we feel these losses in our heart.

When we read Jesus’ words here in the beatitude, the idea of someone who mourns is pretty broad. Jesus doesn’t specifically say what it is we are to mourn. We could certainly read this that God will comfort those who grieve the loss of a spouse, a child, or a friend. When we look at the story of Lazarus in the Gospel of John, Jesus cries at the death of his friend and the grief that he sees in Mary and Martha. In grieving the loss of his friend, Jesus gives us permission to mourn and cry over the losses that we experience in life.

Like much of Jesus’ teachings throughout the Gospels, we can read and apply his teaching on multiple levels. If grieving over the loss of a loved one is one level, let’s say surface level- then another level for us to understand this beatitude is that God will bless those who grieve the brokenness and sinfulness that we see in the world. The context of the passage, what comes before and what comes after, is important for us to understand the text.

In the first beatitude, we are told, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” We said that the reality is that each of us is poor in spirit apart from God. We are spiritually bankrupt. When we realize that, we can receive the kingdom. This is the foundation of our spiritual life. We cannot have life with God until we realize that we are utterly dependent upon God.

Jesus builds on this by saying “Blessed are those who mourn…” The situation that brings us to mourn or grieve is the spiritual poverty, the sinfulness, and the brokenness that we see in the world and in ourselves. The mourning that is blessed is deeper than our individual grief (though it is not excluded), but in context it is the way that we mourn our world that is in need of redemption. It is the grief that we feel in our heart when we see a world apart from God- and that doesn’t realize it. It is the mourning we should feel when we see peoples who are oppressed and victims of injustices.

Several weeks ago, Pastor Wendy preached on the beatitude stating, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” There is a progression in the beatitudes. When we recognize our spiritual poverty and the spiritual poverty of the world, we mourn both our condition and the world’s condition. Our mourning will lead us to repentance while our grieving the world should cause us to hunger and thirst for righteousness- the justice in the world.

When we mourn, we mourn the suffering, the sinfulness, the brokenness in our own lives and that we see in the world. We look at the world through God’s eyes- our heart breaking for the things that break God’s heart. God’s heart breaks for the spiritual lost, the marginalized, the abused, those in poverty, those exploited, and the list could go on and on. Do we mourn those things as well? Do we practice worldly grief or Godly grief?

Here is an important distinction for us to make between Godly grief and Worldly Grief. Worldly grief quickly centers our thoughts, empathy and energy on ourselves. Worldly grief laments our own loss- while this is not always bad, it can turn into self-pity that paralyzes us from our relationships with God and with others. Grieving our own losses is necessary, but it also must be kept in check.

Mitch Albom wrote about his meetings with his mentor, Morrie Schwartz who had Lou Gerhig’s Disease (ALS). Albom asked Morrie if he ever felt bad for himself. Morrie answered,

“Sometimes, in the mornings,” he said. “That’s when I mourn. I feel around my body, I move my fingers and my hands- whatever I can still move- and I mourn what I’ve lost. I mourn the slow, insidious way in which I’m dying. But then I stop mourning.”

 Morrie went on to say that he would begin to count his blessings and that allowed him to not dwell too long on self-pity.

Worldly grief is focused on ourselves whereas Godly grief looks to God. When we see the brokenness and sinfulness in our own life and in the world, our mourning should point us back to God in repentance for healing. Paul writes,

“yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.[2]

 Paul caused sorrow in the church in Corinth by addressing the sin and brokenness he saw in the church. This caused grief in the church. Rather than walking away, rather than isolating themselves or running away from the church, the people of the Corinthian church turned back to God. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation. When we grieve our own sin, it should lead us back to repentance.

Mourning that leads us to God is cause for joy. It is a cause for joy because God promises to comfort those who mourn. God comforts those who mourn the loss of life as Jesus grieved the death of Lazarus. He also comforts those who are moved by the brokenness in the world.  Maxie Dunham and Kim Reisman write,

“Could the blessing for those who mourn after the poor in Spirit be because when all seems lost and our own efforts are utterly useless- God has a treasury of comfort waiting for us?”[3]

When you look out of your kitchen window; when you watch the news on TV or on your tablet; when you drive around town- what breaks your heart? Do we see the world through the eyes of God? Does our heart break and mourn for the things that break God’s heart? Do we practice Godly sorrow that leads us back to God through repentance?

This morning, as we consider God’s word, let us practice sorrow and mourning that leads to repentance in our own lives. Our own sin breaks God’s heart. As we look at the world, let our mourning move us to comfort the afflicted and to give mercy to the oppressed.

 

[1] Retrieved from https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19545600/hearts-and-minds/

(April 15, 2020).

[2] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 2 Co 7:9–10.

[3] Dunham, Maxie; Reisman, Kim, The Workbook on the Beatitudes

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