Getting Up to Speed

Having wrapped up our Advent/Christmas series, “Down to Earth,” this week we kicked off the new year with a new series: “Godspeed.” Our hope for this series is that you would have rekindled hope that it is within reach to live the abundant life Jesus wants you to live: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

The idea of Godspeed was planted, like a seed in my mind and heart, when I ran across the documentary film, “Godspeed,” which is about learning to live at a pace of fully knowing and being known.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible illustrates this kind of lifestyle. Luke 2:41-52 tells of the time 12-year-old Jesus wandered off from his group traveling home to Nazareth after the Passover festival. Three days of anxious searching later, and Mary and Joseph find Jesus in absolutely no hurry at all, sitting in the temple courts having theological conversation! While they are experiencing the utmost hurry (understandably enough) Jesus seizes the opportunity to ask a powerful rhetorical question: “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

Of course, this is Jesus’ first proclamation of his divine Sonship. But the story came to mind in this week’s context because of the stark contrast between two ways of living — one dictated by the world’s pace, traditions, and expectations. And the other — Jesus’ pace — dictated by God the Father. Jesus’ “Godspeed” lifestyle would continue, of course, and continue to perplex people for many years to come.

As we enter this series, one of the most important aspects to remember is this — Godspeed is not just about “slowing down,” but more specifically about “being present.” There would be times when Jesus was in solitary prayer, and there would be other times when Jesus was being mobbed by crowds in the city center. In any instance, Jesus remained fully present to the Father and made his choices in perfect alignment with the Father. Busy or bored, all of life can be lived with the habit of being present.

For reflection:
– Do you feel hurried in your daily life? What makes you feel hurried?
– Have you ever had an experience of “Godspeed,” that is, being fully present to God and to the moment in which you were living? Describe it to someone.
Psalm 46:10(a) reads “Be still, and know that I am God.” Does this mean to stop everything you’re doing? If not, what does it mean?

May we all learn to live the abundant life Jesus came to give us.
MM

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Perplexity, Inquiry, Clarity

I was pretty baffled as a kid about twelve days the famous Christmas song referred to. There were 24 days on the Advent calendar, 8 days in Hanukkah, 4 Sundays of Advent in church…which 12 days was it?

The Twelve Days of Christmas refers to the twelve days starting with Christmas and ending the night before Epiphany on January 6, which commemorates the visit of the wise men, or Magi, to the baby Jesus. Along with the rich theological meaning of their visit, this year I got to wondering about their personalities — what kind of people sacrifice so much out of curiosity?

The Magi must have been perplexed by what they saw in the stars, and their willingness to inquire resulted in their clarity — a moment of epiphany that inspired them to rejoice with exceeding greatness (“overjoyed” in the NIV.) Jesus’ life would continue to puzzle people, including his closest followers. As the Magi did at the beginning of Jesus’ life, so Jesus’ disciples would do toward the end of his earthly life. John 16:16-24 records part of a longer dialogue where we can see the disciples moving from perplexity, through inquiry, and eventually to clarity.

When we are perplexed, or even when our worldview feels threatened, there are some unhealthy ways to react. We can react with fear, by fighting new ideas or running away from them. We can react with cynicism, deciding that it’s not worth it to seek knowledge and understanding. But as author Carey Nieuwhof puts it: “An incredibly effective antidote to cynicism is curiosity” (Didn’t See It Coming, 2018, p. 26). That leads to inquiry.

When we inquire about Jesus, God, or other aspects of life and faith, we should remember that asking is part of faith, not antithetical to it. The disciples had no idea what was going on for most of their experience with Jesus recorded in the gospels. And yet they were people of great faith. And if you are someone who gets asked a lot of questions, do what Jesus did: engage. Graciously offer Biblical answers if you have them. Humbly admit when answers elude you. And then reengage the process of inquiry again, even with others who are asking good questions.

Finally, clarity is promised by Jesus, but on the one condition that we make our inquiries and requests “in Jesus’ name.” What does that mean? It means aligning our desires with God’s will, just as Jesus’ will was perfectly aligned with the Father’s. It means, to the best of our ability, asking for what Jesus asks for. Seeking what Jesus seeks. Relinquishing our own agendas for the world and anticipating God to give us the clarity we need, when we need it.

For reflection:
– What is something the Christian faith proclaims that you find perplexing? (If you can’t think of anything, what do you think other people might find perplexing?)
– What sorts of things might you ask God for that you believe align with God’s will?
– Have you ever had an “epiphany” about Jesus, God, or yourself? Find someone to tell that story to!

Many blessings in this new year!
MM

The Manger Is the Message

In Philippians 2:6-7, we read about the second person of the divine Trinity, the Son of God, “making himself nothing.” What does Paul mean? The theological term for this is kenosis which essentially means “emptying.” But it doesn’t mean Jesus was no longer divine, but rather that Jesus refused to take advantage of his divinity as he lived out his human life. He fully entered the brokenness of humanity — the brokenness we do and don’t create ourselves.

Jesus was born into an ethnic minority that had experienced the ravages of persecution and genocide throughout the generations. Jesus reveals a God who identifies with refugees, the poor, and the underprivileged. If you’ve ever had a personal experience of a truly impoverished person, you’re not likely to forget it. Pastor Aaron shared a story of meeting a boy named Pedro in Mexico who had only two things to his name: one square of toilet paper a day, and a tattered toy bear. That was it. Something runs deep within each of us that screams “This just isn’t right.” Not because the goal of life is to have more stuff. But because of the injustice of a child living without the essentials of a healthy life. And Jesus himself claimed to be Pedro’s servant by taking Pedro’s form.

In Luke 4:17-21, Jesus himself recalled the words of Isaiah, who described the purpose of the Messiah. And as followers of the Messiah, we the Church have not only a lot of work to do, but a clear manner in which to do it: with humility. Thomas Merton wrote: “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire about whether or not they are worthy.”

As we move into 2019, consider the impact of not only bringing the good message of Jesus to the broken world, but embodying that message in the same way Jesus did: with humility.

For Reflection:
– What would it look like for you to take a step toward serving your community with more humility that you did last year?
– What might be holding you back from serving more humbly? Money? Time? Fear? Consider bringing those obstacles honestly to God in prayer.
– If you live in the UPPC community, consider new upcoming opportunities to serve.  Visit UPPC.org > Serve