Uncomfortable

We’ve all been there.

Family. Friends. Circumstances. Places we’ve been. 

Someone says something. Asks a question. Says something that you know will provoke others. And we start to shift a little in our seat. 

Someone is wearing something; a rival team’s shirt, a slogan that is provocative, or something out of place. Something that just doesn’t fit the occasion, the group, or the room.

There is a tension in the room. You walk in and it’s evident that there is more going on than can be easily seen but you can sense a problem and now you’re not sure what to do.

Maybe it’s silence. Silence can be overwhelming. Silence can be a dominant force in a room or situation. 

And we FEEL uncomfortable. We don’t like uncomfortable. In fact, those who go about provoking don’t like uncomfortable, they are actually provoking so that the response to them is predictable. 

Jesus is uncomfortable. Jesus is uncomfortable to those who reject God. Jesus is uncomfortable to those who say they seek to honor God. 

In the story of the man with the withered hand, Jesus’ command is simple; stretch out your hand. As the man did so, he was healed. Jesus did not touch him. Jesus did not say anything that could have been prescribed or described as work. And the religious folks went into a tailspin. Here are a few applications for us; us religious folks, who seek to honor God.

  1. Simple questions about culture, behavior, and our witness among others can sometimes set us into a tailspin. This reflects the possibility that our reliance is more upon our performance than upon a dependence upon Jesus.
  2. We should be willing to become uncomfortable. I have learned over my 42 years on earth that if you want an opinion on something – ask a Christian. Most of us are going to give an earnest, factual (at least in our mind), answer on just about any topic; movie watching, national politics, global politics, weather, health concerns, and on and on. This often speaks to our unwillingness to be uncomfortable. Since we KNOW the answer there is no reason to give any consideration to the question, or more specifically, the questioner.

And yet the man was healed. A life was changed. Those who KNEW what SHOULD happen went away fuming. Jesus gave a parting shot that still challenges me today.

“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” 

Jesus, in a first century synagogue

A Sunday Prayer

Almighty God; you are holy.

You are separate, apart from us. You are not tainted by our self-centeredness, our self-promotion, and our self-amusement.

Yet, you seek us. You seek to join yourself to us.

As we gather today it is our acknowledgement that we need your presence and your provision.

You want and walked in the garden with Adam. You have promised through Jesus and your Spirit to walk with us as well.

Father, I often get distracted by myself and speak of my desire to do good or great things. I do this many times from the focus of myself and my abilities and desires. Father, you have told us to pray for Your Kingdom to come.

So today I pray for your kingdom.

  • Where those who have been discarded in the ditches of life are welcomed and fed.
  • Where those who mourn are comforted.

Forgive us Father.

We seek to forgive others.

Through Jesus we come.

Jesus’ Faith

Luke 4:1-13, James 2:18-19

God is present.

God is enough.

For just a few moments let’s consider both of those phrases as we think of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. In Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4, we are told of Jesus going to the wilderness alone following his baptism by John. At the end of this time alone, which is a temptation in and of itself, Jesus encounters Satan; The Accuser, The Tempter, and is directly tempted in three areas as recorded in Matthew and Luke.

Specifically, Luke records that Jesus is tempted with self-gratification, power, and immortality. Now, when we read the story we actually don’t see those words, but they are there in Jesus’ responses.

                Man shall not live by bread alone – I don’t always need what I might think I need.

Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only – There is nothing that I need to do to attain power, for God holds it all.

Do not put the Lord your God to the test – My life is a service to God, He is not to be summoned and commanded.

Having just finished a study on James it is amazing how much James thought the daily lives and presuppositions of these very religious people should be changing and challenged. Those Jews who had followed the Law and were committed to a singular God are now finding that their daily lifestyles and self-focus is being challenged by the reality of Jesus.

How do we challenge that? How do we challenge the in-built desire to satisfy self before others? How do we come to grips with the reality that I prefer self over others? How do we go about changing these behaviors?

Look at James’ reply to how we address these questions:

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

In the desert Jesus acted in faith and he proved this by his actions. His belief was that God was present with Him in the crazy and unrealistic moment in which he was – and that God being present was enough. He would provide.

So too he will provide for you and I. In our interactions with others. In our pursuit of our desires. In our daily disturbances of life when it feels as if surely we would be right to simply take and not have faith.

God is present.

God is enough.


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Traveling Light

Reading through the Gospel of Luke we come upon a story that we’re not quite sure why it exists; the story of Jesus not traveling with his parents and at the age of 12 staying behind in Jerusalem and being found three days later sitting in the Temple courtyard conversing with the religious leaders.

Did he stay on purpose? Did he act like a normal 12-year-old boy and think that the phrase; ‘we’re leaving now’, really meant sometime in a non-linear future? Did he simply get distracted and finding his parents and extended family gone did he just head to a place where he knew he wanted to spend more time; ala Kevin McCallister visiting the toy store in Home Alone?

Whatever the case, one thing is certain; Mary and Joseph assumed that Jesus was with them when they left Jerusalem, only to find out that evening that such was not the case. The words of a Leonard Cohen song come to mind;

I’m traveling light; I guess I’m just Somebody who has given up on the me and you, I’m not alone, I’ve met a few, Traveling light like we used to do.

Leonard Cohen

While Cohen sings of a lost or discarded love there is something for us to consider here. Looking back on past decisions in my life it is daunting to note how many of them I made while ‘traveling light’. In other words, I didn’t stop where I was and orient myself around Jesus.

What does he say? What did he do? How would He in this moment respond to what I am experiencing?

Are there family situations in which we are traveling light? Are there job situations in which we are traveling light? Religious situations?

Don’t abandon the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John set out to write specific realities of Jesus’ life so that you and I and millions others would have direction in our life. Seek Jesus daily.

Retracing Steps

So I did a thing the other day. I lost my wedding band. Yes, one of those things.

The frustrating reality was that although I knew where I had lost my wedding band I was unable to find it, no matter how hard I searched. Let me walk you through how things happened – yes, I was in the room when it happened.

I normally don’t pick Lilah up from school on Tuesdays but I did this past Tuesday due to her Nana being out of town. After I picked her up we ran by her Papa and Nana’s to feed and water her and Papa’s chickens. By the time we got home it was close to 3 and I was starving. I had worked through lunch because Lilah had to be at dance at 4 and there were some things I wanted to get done before heading out of town the next day myself.

After eating quickly, I decided to take a 15-minute nap. The 11-month old is teething again and in general he just has an aversion to my sleeping through the night. The night before had been a humdinger and included walks around the living room and swinging on the tree swing in the front yard at 3:30am. By the way, if you see me on the tree swing between the hours of midnight and 5am; it’s not me with insomnia.

Due to my tiredness I hit the snooze on my 15-minute nap and ended up having to rush out of the house to get her to dance on time. It is at this point that my ring was lost although I did not realize this until several hours later. You see, I had a blister on my ring finger that had been aggravating me and I had taken off my ring to aggravate the blister back while I napped.

When I realized later that evening that I did not have my ring on I immediately began the process of retracing my steps. I knew I was on the couch, but the ring was nowhere to be found. I turned that end of the couch upside down and still no ring. Then I looked in the kitchen, and then where my keys had been placed, and ultimately in my vehicle. Still no ring.

This was frustrating. Not only was I missing my ring, but I knew exactly where I had left it and yet it still wasn’t found. I went to bed with this on my mind and thankfully the 11-month old limited his interruption to one bottle-filled moment at about 2:30.

When my feet hit the floor in the morning I knew immediately where my ring was. I walked into the living room, picked up the blanket that was on the opposite end of the couch, and shook it out – the ring tumbled to the floor. In all of my work in retracing my steps I had failed to allow for the fact that the ring had fallen into the blanket, which in my hurry to leave, I had tossed to the opposite end of the couch.

Have you ever done something similar? Have you ever spent time retracing your steps and trying to figure out where you misplaced something only to find yourself missing out on a simple step? That simple step, once noticed, made all the difference in the world in rectifying the problem.

In Psalm 16:2 David says,

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”

Maybe you’re a little like I find myself sometimes; frustrated, irritable, discouraged, cynical, and overall just missing an ingredient of care and compassion when it comes to your interactions and moments with others. You may have even retraced your steps multiple times to find where you’ve dropped this care for others. Let’s begin with our relationship with God.

Talk to him. Tell him your realities. Tell him your confessions. Tell him your discouragements. Oftentimes I find that my treatment of others goes awry when I fail to connect with my Heavenly Father and I jump around serving self in a way that causes loss and confusion.

Existence | It’s Not What You Think

For a child of God there is an alternate reality. In that reality our existence is never threatened. This is not because we ‘get to go to Heaven when we die’ but rather because as we live in the existence and reality of God’s presence we experience the Kingdom of God on this earth. It is this reality that Jesus welcomes us to when he says; “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” The very kingdom that Jesus goes on to say that we are to pray is present on earth with us.

When our very existence is threatened we retaliate. Often in brutal form. In fact, much of the brutality that you see on display in our social media encounters; the mockery, the demeaning, and the dehumanizing all point to our feeling that our very existence is challenged. But it’s not.

Our existence is not determined by our material condition. Our existence is not determined by our financial resources. Our existence is not even determined by our right to ‘pursue happiness.’ As children of God our very existence is found in the work of Jesus Christ. The very work that Jesus called us to when he said in the same passage of Scripture from above that we are to love our enemies and those who would use us for their selfish purposes.

In fact, I would argue that our existence in the kingdom of God, in that alternate reality in which Jesus lived and which his disciples were always confronted with, our existence in that reality is challenged when we even begin to concern ourselves with our existence. Jesus said that there is no greater love than in laying down your life for your friends. It would be hard to argue with the fact that Jesus saw everyone as his friends when we remember his words on the cross as he told God not to charge the soldiers who had beaten him unjustly and were overseeing his murder.

He laid down his life for those men and he laid down his life for you and I. It’s hard, I know, for I often feel threatened as well, but as believers there is an existence to which Jesus invites us; an existence we can experience now, that can never be diminished.

As a child I was fascinated with the stories of martyrs who went to their death singing. And I sometimes can’t even scroll through Facebook or Twitter without cursing and condemning my fellow man. May my existence be found in the kingdom which is populated by those procured from off the sides of roads and in the discarded alleys the world over.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36

Time and Introspection

 

Monday for our family this week was grocery shopping day. Christy and I met up at Kroger during our lunch break to fill a cart to help keep our children fed. As is normally the case, when I put the groceries away I found opened boxes of different items that had been abandoned over the past few weeks. As dad, I subject myself to checking to ensure that cereals, cookies, and various other items have not gone stale since they were originally opened.

I have often blamed my children for their failure to finish items, properly store items, and opening boxes of cookies that are already opened. However, there comes a point in time where I have to own my role as a parent. There are many things that I can do to help change this situation, and yelling and fussing at the kids achieves only serves to set us against each other.

There is something about personal responsibility that forces me to enter into each and every situation. How am I contributing to the ongoing issues in our society? How can I challenge the behaviors of our society? How can I help those who share similar cultural experiences to reconsider the way they view things?

These are my thoughts and where I have realized the beginning of my responsibilities. Where I have either remained silent and not confronted ridiculous and self-serving behavior, and where I have myself contributed to the systemic inequality that still confronts our country. These are general observations, which can certainly feel personally motivated.

My first observation is primarily to the religious community that I have inhabited since birth. Conservative in our social and fiscal politics – unless of course we’re talking about military or police spending – we have long believed that America’s brightest and best were somewhere in the past; at least culturally.

In this community we have criminalized cultural differences. When you think of the culture of young Black people in America I realize how much my religious community has criminalized their behavior. Rap is a genre of music. As any genre of music it has quite a variety of artists and subject matter. Yet, this is not what we have heard from the pulpits and stages of our religious institutions. Rap, as a genre of music, has been portrayed as all that is wrong in America. When it comes to clothing styles I cannot count the number of times I have heard from our pulpits and stages condemnation for the pant styles of young Black men – in congregations that were over 90% white.

The last preaching conference I attended almost 10 years ago had so many of these observations and provocations from the stage that I observed that the entire point of the conference was simply to build a false dichotomy of ‘us vs. them’ that ultimately had some serious racial implications. Fight your culture wars pastors, but fight them in your church and with your people. In these congregations they would have been better served to challenge the Instagram innuendo and the proliferate mockery of others if they wanted to point to a decaying culture in their church. For every complaint about a lowered car blasting rap music we have had thousands of opportunities to critique our boys for flying their Confederate flags up and down our streets, and to challenge their reasoning for doing so. To make a more direct observation; if our religious leaders are more concerned that ANTIFA should be classified as a terrorist organization, and has never given the same privilege to the KKK; well …

My second observation is directed towards the socio-economic class that I have occupied to some degree since adulthood. I often refer to my position in this group as lower-middle class. This is somewhat a reference to how my social status – a religious leader in the South – has far outweighed my economic status and ability. In this group we have valued convenience over challenging conversations and moments. How often have we called the police when we saw someone – of a darker skin color than our own – ride through our neighborhood or perform some other simple innocuous task and yet we deemed them out of place?

In the early 2000’s Georgia instituted a tax-free weekend to encourage purchasing of school supplies, clothing, and electronics. The store I managed; Hibbet’s in Valdosta, was completely unprepared for how much our customers – and a great number of other folks – cared about a measly 7%. We were absolutely overrun. I left for a few hour break and came back to a store that was in complete shambles. We simply had to many customers and the store was supposed to close in 30 minutes. Thinking absolutely nothing of it, I walked through the mall until I located the two off-duty VPD officers that I knew from their regular patrols on weekend nights. I asked them to help me clear my store of customers. They did. They did nothing irregular, except that wasn’t really their responsibility and yet they felt an obligation to me and my store, and as such I put them in an unenviable position. Multiply this situation by hundreds of thousands of requests by neighborhoods, businesses, and a multitude of examples and we have too many times asked our police officers to keep the separation that we desired.

Back now to my grocery discoveries this week. I found a box of Rice Krispies that had been abandoned to the back of the cupboard and three; 3!, bags of opened marshmallows. Had I set these two items on the counter and asked my family to eat them here’s what might have happened; my youngest would have eaten a handful, possibly two, of marshmallows and if Christy did not like my cooking that night she would have eaten a bowl of the Rice Krispies. Years of experience told me that wouldn’t work so I took two simple ingredients; time and butter, and made Rice Krispy treats. Almost all of them were eaten that night.

I’m asking you to take some time and then to bring in the ingredient of introspection. Ask yourself if these two realities have been part of your life. How many times have we sought to criminalize cultural differences that go largely ignored in their counterparts in our own culture? How many times have we sought convenience to the destruction of our neighbors?

This is where I have begun to see my own responsibility.

Landon’s Call: Week 7 Matchups

#2 Georgia @ #13 LSU

One of this weeks top games, probably the top game, puts Georgia in the hostile environment of Baton Rouge. Let’s be honest, Georgia got lucky with the time scheduling of this game, a 3:30 game in Death Valley is much better than a 7:30 game. SEC night games are some of the craziest in the nation, just ask A&M fans. LSU is coming off a tough loss at Florida while Georgia’s score against Vanderbilt last week didn’t show the struggle the Bulldogs went through. Expect a close one  in Death Valley this week, and don’t be surprised if it comes down to extra time.

LSU – 24 Georgia -21

#15 Wisconsin @ #12 Michigan

The Big House sets the site for this big game between rivals. Wisconsin has been on fire since being upset by BYU, but Michigan believes that QB Shea Patterson will save them again. It’s been a while since Michigan hosted College Gameday, but they never disappoint when they do. A close one with Northwestern last week could bring down the Wolverines confidence, but with a game like this I don’t believe it will. 

Michigan – 31 Wisconsin – 14

#7 Washington @ #17 Oregon 

Autzen Stadium, one of the best in the nation, holds this PAC-12 North matchup. The winner will likely be the Northern division champion as Stanford fell to Utah last week. The PAC-12 at this point needs Washington to win. Oregon’s résumé has started to go downhill with the loss to Stanford looking worse and worse, but who knows, these next two months could shakeup the entire playoff picture, but the PAC-12’s chances are getting smaller and smaller.

Washington – 17 Oregon – 13

Limiting Others: A Reflection

It’s a long story, so I will attempt to keep it short. A few months back I decided I wanted to do a series on how friendships with Jesus changed and challenged people. It was something that challenged me to look at how Jesus interacted with specific people. It also revealed his humanity that he fully adopted.

There sat James, his brother. The same brother who would have known him his own entire existence and probably most of Jesus’ existence as well. The brother who was probably with the family when they told Jesus to quit acting crazy and go home. The brother who existed outside of the range of Jesus’ closest companions for his three years of ministry and yet started his written record with these words:

This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.
Greetings!

Who is this guy? What caused such a turn around? As these questions were sought I began to see the book of James in a different light. It’s often been taught from a position of condemnation as we seek to determine exactly who are the ‘real’ Christians.

If we envision the book of James as a reminder of who Jesus was as a person we see that much of the time James is quite simply saying; remember how Jesus lived! There are multiple overlaps between the Sermon on the Mount and the reminders and teachings of James. In every reminder of our behavior as believers is the call to remember the person and actions of Jesus.

This leads us to James’ teaching on how we should interact with the rich and the poor. James is adamant that we not send the poor to a lower seat or raise the rich to a higher seat. There’s a revelation there that I am learning, and hopefully you will give my imagination just a moment of attention.

The concern of the poor man might be that they will not be accepted fully into the Kingdom of God. Religion has, to some degree, been used to keep social divisions and divides normalized. The particular call of Jesus was that all were equally welcome into His Kingdom. And, all were equal in the Kingdom.

The concern of the rich man may be that he may not fully need God. While religion can be used to keep social divides normal, it often is characterized as a sign of weakness. Humility, therefore, can be hard to come by, even among the religious; something that Jesus pointed out more than once.

Here is the truth that jumped out at me, and quite frankly, exposed me. When we treat the poor man as if he is less than us, we reinforce the opinion of himself that he may have already accepted or constructed. When we treat the rich man as if he has already earned that which is not his to earn we have also reinforced his view of supremacy and therefore no need for dependence.

In either case we have solidified a view of them as a person which is not how Jesus would have had them view themselves. We have told them that what the world sees them as, and possibly more importantly; how they have come to see themselves, is really who they are. We have told them that how others respond to them is truly what matters. We have told them that they are whom they have been forced to become or whom they have made of themselves.

I’m just going to leave it there while I think over my interactions of the last few days and how often my actions, words, and thoughts have caused some one to feel like they are outside of the Kingdom. As I’m doing so I will leave you with a short list of words that I commonly use as descriptors of others; annoying, clueless, needy, know-it-all, condescending, and on and on I could go.

In the days of those kings, the God of the heavens will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not be left to another people. It will crush all these kingdoms

For more reading on the rich and poor man, look at Jesus’ story in Luke 14 and see how closely James was mimicking Jesus’ teaching here.

Landon’s Call: Week 6 Matchups

#5 LSU @ #22 Florida

LSU gets a tough away test before their big home game against Georgia next week. Florida’s defense may be a good test for LSU this week as it will be a lot like what they’ll see next week. Florida’s defense and crowd could be a big factor this game, but I think that Joe Burrow and LSU’s receivers can get it done.

LSU – 24 Florida – 14

 

#19 Texas v #7 Oklahoma

The old Red River Rivalry, one of the best traditions in college football. A neutral site game that will put both of these teams to the test. Kyler Murray made his Heisman statement last week with 7 touchdowns against Baylor. All the talk right now is the question, “Is Texas back?”. I can answer that: NO.

Oklahoma – 48 Texas – 17

 

#6 Notre Dame @ #24 Virginia Tech

Notre Dame has started to look better since Brian Kelly made the decision to start Ian Book two weeks ago at Wake Forest. Virginia Tech coming off a good road win against ACC rival Duke, may have some trouble with this Notre Dame offense. I think that late game, Notre Dame will make good plays to put themselves in position to win, and I think they will win.

Notre Dame – 31 Virginia Tech – 28

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