A Prayer About Love

Sunday Prayer Together 09.06.20

God, you have defined love as being patient, kind; not envious, not boastful, and not arrogant or rude. You have said that love does not insist on its own way, that it is not irritable or resentful, that it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but instead it rejoices in the truth. You have beautifully painted a portrait of love as bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things.

Lord, it it not our natural tendency to be patient or kind.  Often times we are envious, boastful, rude and arrogant.  Sadly, we do frequently insist on our own way, and, in all honesty, we can be irritable and rude, not to mention that we occasionally side with lies instead of favoring truth. And, full disclosure, we are not really fluent in hanging in there through all things, expecting the best in all all things, trusting beyond our vision in all things or in persevering through all things.

Father you have said that if we do not have love, we do not have anything.  You have assured us that if we have love we have everything, yet, if we do not have love, all that we have it of no value.  

Our human nature is to give love out sparingly, giving it only to those, and in those situations, where we are given back more than we give, refusing to give to those we do not agree with, those who follow our expectations, those we understand, those we tolerate, those we approve of, those we cannot see.  

Spectacularly, you have promised that Love Never Ends.

Sadly, here on earth, we can allow Hate to have an even more powerful and lasting impact.

We define love in selfish ways.  Love is a feeling, love can be withheld as an act of control and abuse, love is without cost or sacrifice, love is free.  The truth is, love is given freely, but it fully costs the giver everything.  Love requires sacrifice, selflessness, vulnerability, compromise, risk, and honesty.

God, remind us that Love is always a choice. Lord, may our lives be motivated by your call to love. Father, please nudge us in the direction of love in every moment of our lives.

God, may we always hold on to the fact that your Love has already been given freely to each of us.

Amen.

Deeply Rooted – Pulling Weeds

07.19.20

A farmer planted a field with wheat seed but, as he and his workers slept, an enemy came into his field and planted weed seeds in the same exact places there the wheat seeds had been planted. The strategy was to plant the weeds close enough so the roots would intertwine with the wheat roots. As soon the seeds began to sprout the workers noticed that many of the sprouts were not wheat – they were weeds.  The workers immediately ran and told the farmer about the weeds  – volunteering to start pulling weeds themself. 

The farmer recognized that an enemy had secretly entered the field and sowed the weeds. I’m sure that the workers first thought was not ‘Who would do such a thing?’ Or ‘Who could possibly be an enemy to our master?’ Instead, I imagine that they asked ‘Who would have seeds to grow weeds?” Who would be so vengeful, so calculated, so hateful?

The farmer assessed the situation and told the workers to allow the weeds to grow up with the wheat. He knew the roots of the wheat and the weeds were already tangled.  Pulling the weeds would result in pulling up much of the wheat.

So they waited until the harvest was ready and then pulled the weeds first, bundled and burnt them, and then, they will be free to pull the wheat.

The workers were to wait until the roots of the wheat would be untangled from the roots of the weeds.

I began to study wheat roots this week and quickly became overwhelmed. The roots are intricate and designed to seek out moisture in dry and cracked soil, but the most interesting and applicable thing about wheat root is in the seed itself.  The wheat seed is created with the ability to grow different 2 root systems during the growth process.  The first roots are set to support the system in the immediate stages of development.  This system of roots remains fairly shallow and would be easy fodder for the roots of weeds.  However, once the infant wheat seed stabilizes, the seed begins to grow the second series of roots which grow in a more vertical manner (which helps them seek out moisture), making them more capable of freeing themself from the weed roots.

This helps us understand why the newly sprouted wheat plants would be in danger if they were pulled up early.

After Jesus had told this parable, and had left the crowds, the disciples asked him to explain the meaning.  He explained that he was the sower of the good seed, the field is the entire world, the good seed are the people of God’s kingdom, the bad seeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows the bad seeds is the Devil, the harvest will take place at the end of the age at judgement, and the harvesters will be the angels.

This parable, at first glance, appears to be a call for us to gather the weeds now, and to then burn them – however, the true takeaway is actually the opposite. Pulling up and burning the weeds is not our assignment in this story, and, in fact, according to our mission of not judging or condemning, we are clearly unqualified, and we will never be qualified.

Our job is to join the farmer in the wait; waiting on roots to be untangled and free.

I am not sure there could be a more difficult and frustrating role, honestly, I am ready to pull some weeds.  Weeds that I have identified as putting our loved ones in danger, that are diluting and perverting the gospel, that are dividing us all – even within same faiths, weeds that are choking our love for God and destroying our ability to love all others as we love ourself.

The truth is that this parable is not about pulling or burning weeds, it is not about children of the evil one, it is not about us labeling humans good and evil, but, it is about the expansiveness of God’s grace, it is about the depth of God’s patience, it is about the full definition of what Jesus meant when he said  that ‘God so loves the world’  – the limitless love of God, it is about God’s complete understanding of the human experience.

It is not about pulling up, it is about untangling and being free. It is about holding off judgement until the last root that is willing to be untangled is untangled.

Let’s begin with a few elements of the parable and Jesus’ explanation.

Let’s start with the sower of the weeds…

The Enemy

The word is used four times in the gospel of Matthew.  Here in 13:35, the Enemy sows the weeds in the field.  Back in 5:43-44, the We are instructed, by Jesus to love our Enemies, and to even pray for them.  The third appearance of Enemy is in 10:36 where Jesus warns the apostles that they will have enemies in their same household, in their families. The final Enemy caution is found in 22:24 where Jesus harkens back to King David where we see these same enemy, the enemy that sowed the weeds, will ultimately be under the foot of Jesus as he is sitting at the right hand of God.

The Sower is identified as…

The Devil

Our next element of the parable comes in the Devil.  Here again, Devil is mentioned 4 times in the gospel of Matthew.  First we see Devil in chapter 4 as Jesus is tempted by the Devil who is tempts him to be allied with the devil instead of God. The 2nd is here in our focus passage where Jesus identifies the enemy Sowing the Weeds as being the Devil.  The 3rd comes in 16:33 when Jesus says to his disciple Peter ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ as Peter attempts to sway Jesus from God’s plan (something Peter does thinking it is the best way to save Jesus). The 4th mention of Devil is found in Matthew 25 as the King is addressing the unrighteous at judgement:

‘Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46

Let’s, now, return to our field full of wheat and weeds.

The workers have correctly identified that the field now has weeds growing alongside the wheat.  However, the farmer is concerned, if the weeds are pulled in the early stages of the wheat root system development, their shallow roots will be intertwined with the roots of the weeds and the risk of killing the wheat is certain.

Since we are not the weed pullers in this parable, nor are we the enemy or the children of the enemy, so what is the call that comes out to us from this parable of Jesus?

The answer is that we have

Root Responsibility

This takes us back to the first parable in Matthew 13 where we found the absolute necessity of having good soil in order to have deep roots. To til our own soil, making it receptive to truth, discerning those forces that will contaminate the soil – this is our unique call.  Removing the toxins of hate and racism, the impurities that prevent our part in achieving justice and freedom in the lives of others, the poisonous particles that lead us to reject truth moving us to complacency, everything that destroy our soil and inhibit our roots.

Tilling the soil is a very individually intentional process. It starts with standing guard over those elements that are permitted into the soil, asking, are we allowing the politics of division, are we welcoming the religiosity of judgement and condemnation, are we seeking and searching for truth, do we love mercy and justice for all, and, are we rejecting lies and deceit?

Are we taking our soil seriously, or have we outsourced it over to others? Are we accepting all the seeds being thrown in our direction or are we seeking to reject the bad seeds from our soil?

And, after that, we ask, ‘do we have tangled roots?‘ and How do we untangle the roots?’

God tells us to ‘wait’…and, in telling us to wait, God has signaled what he does, as we grow deep roots and we work to untangle from the weeds…

God waits.

God’s grace, his guidance, his mercy, his compassion, his hope, and his love, waits, alongside of us and for us.

When the weeds were sown in among us, he didn’t do a risk assessment to determine how many wheat plants it would be okay to lose if the workers were to pull the weeds right away, making a wheat harvest much easier and less costly later, resulting in higher profit. No, every wheat seed was important and valuable, they all were needed in the field.

He waits.

He doesn’t give up on us, he doesn’t ridicule us, he doesn’t condescend towards us, he doesn’t reject us, he doesn’t turn his back on us, he doesn’t replace us, he doesn’t ignore us, he doesn’t dismiss us….He waits.

You see, as God does his job as the sower and the farmer, he addresses the concerns on the surface.  He guards the fields from herbivorous predators and other destructive pestilence.

He, having given us free will, and the power, he waits for us to develop and untangle our roots so we are ready for harvest.

Time to interject Important Note: Jesus told this to those who had the mission of untangling their roots, the very people he was calling to do the personal work.  He further explained it to his disciples who were also called to a work of personal root untangling. And, over two thousand years later, he calls us to the same.  If you are hearing, or reading this, you are not a ‘child of the evil one’.  In fact, one of the first weeds the enemy will try to tangle in your roots is this lie, that you are hopeless and too far tangled, you are not.

See, when we identify growth problems in others, things that we mistakenly judge and condemn as sin, it is actually a much deeper problem – a tangled roots problem.  The same is true for us, tangled root problems.

Throughout this pandemic God has brought world wide tangled root problems to our attention.  There have been two obvious, constant, reminders constantly being thrown before our eyes.  

This past Friday, as I was still struggling through this parable and particularly with God’s primary point for us – Grace Fellowship and all believers, today and in this time – God turned up the volume, literally, the volume on the television news.  The voice was a mayor of a large city in a state where Covid numbers are rapidly rising and surpassing record numbers.  The mayor, looked as though he was in the midst of a campaign rally standing before a large crowd of supporters.  What caught my eye was that he was wearing a mask, something we do not always see in our political leaders.  As the mayor spoke his tone began to change, he dramatically ripped off the mask, and declared that his city would survive without those ‘silly things’.  The audience roared with applause and laughter. 

This mayor, as well as the crowd, has a tangled root problem. They have allowed their roots to become tangled with roots that are not concerned with the health of others which, ironically is causing them to not care about their own health.  They have put their own agendas ahead of truth, they are listening to politicians and to a very agreeable exclusive, and small, group of scientists who are in line with their agenda, instead of those who are risking everything to give us truth.  They have a root problem tangled with roots that is preventing them from loving others as themselves, and, therefore of loving God.

In the northeast Oregon, a church that insisted on continuing in person worship services is tied to 236 positive tests, in West Virginia a church is linked to over 51 positive tests, in San Antonio a church is tied to 50 cases, in Tennessee a pastor said that he stopped counting after hearing of 12 members testing positive following attending in person worship, a Christian camp in Missouri shut down after 82 individuals positive cases were tied to the camp.  All of these outbreaks took place just in the month of June. All of these institutions had taken precautions. All of these had a root problem. Tangled roots caused them to harm rather than to love.

Our White House, this week, demanded that hospitals begin sending their Covid test numbers to the White House instead of the to the CDC. Tangled roots of political agendas, as they often do, have made vital truth even more difficult to find.

The other occurrence that we have seen since the beginning of the Pandemic is the protest all over our nation demanding justice for those American, and humans, of different races.  This is not a new problem, but it is a deeply dismissed and ignored problem. We have responded to the protests by pointing out the rage presented by those dealing with a full ancestry of oppression and racism. They have been killed at a disproportionate rate and have frequently been ignored by our justice system. We respond with comments like, ‘If they would just act differently, if they could be like us…’, if they wouldn’t protest and riot’ – instead of considering the damage of pain and oppression.  Interestingly, we herald the revolutionaries in our own history, who threw tea into the water, tea that would have been one million dollars loss to the owners , George Washington was against this protest. Still he love this story as pivotal in our freedom.

Politicians have recently responded by saying ‘White people have been killed to…’. Which is not only ignorant in its revelation of misunderstanding but also as unChristlike as is humanly possible.

God is waiting for us to untangle our roots,

he is prompting us to recognize our problems beneath the soil by letting us see the problems that are blatant above the soil.  He is lovingly revealing to us the work that is still needed before harvest time.

He is calling us to stop tying to pull the weeds from others based on our own judgmental and condemning perceptions and, instead, check out our own roots.

He is calling us to free our tangled roots from all the evil seeds that are keeping us from the greatest commandments from God.  Love.

God is calling us to Revival

If you grew up in an evangelical church, you have surely heard it prayed ‘God, bring us revival.’  God is bringing us revival, now. This revival does not fit the perimeters that have heard it prayed for however, it will not involve emotional church worship services where great music leads the participants to raise their hands, close their eyes, maybe even drop to their knees in tears.  It won’t involve an outpouring of confession of personal sin or even multitudes coming to know Christ.  It will, however, be very personal, very private.  This Revival involves each of us, that are followers of Christ, to begin untangling our roots. To untangle from the roots of politics, agendas, personal rights, hatred, racisim, selfishness.  It will be a revival of God pointing those out to each of us privately. This revival is already underway – it is time that you and I join in.

God rejoices in unity, the enemy delights in division; God desires peace for us, the enemy seeks to sow chaos in our lives; God passionately encourages us to have good soil and deep untangled roots, the enemy seeks to render our soil toxic and our roots shallow; God desires justice, the enemy incites prejudice, racism, and violence; God is merciful, the enemy is vindictive; God leads us in a life of hope, the enemy leads us to ruin; God is love, the enemy is hate.

God waits patiently until the day when he can say to us,

 ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:32-40

Let us pray.

Being Loud

Message – Being Loud 

06.21.20

The gospel passage read today is the most passionate telling of a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus Christ.  For in this short passage, using these few words, we see the motivation that propels Christ for the remainder of the gospel of as told by the disciple Matthew.

Jesus, after the beatitudes, and after being amongst the people, sharing in their pains and hardships, witnessed the oppression they were under, he had seen and addressed their sickness and disease, he had seen that which he could not ignore.  The pain of the human condition.

It is surely not an overstatement to say that this had been an overwhelming and exhausting journey that had now been experienced by God in the flesh

As Jesus retreats to the circle of his disciples, he expresses his summation of the the human experience.  

‘The people are harassed, they are hopeless,’ he proclaims.  

Other translations use words such as distressed and dispirited, fainting and scattered (ceased to be a people), carrying problems so great that they do not know what to do, confused and aimless.   

These two verbs, harassed and hopeless, come from the root words skulló (skool’-lo) and rhiptó (hrip’-to), in their raw form  mean to flay and cast aside.  Cast aside we can understand but the word ‘flay’ may be unknown  to you – it basically means ‘ to skin’ so in a verb form would be ‘skinned’.  Think flaying a fish.

While Jesus probably did not mean that flaying was literally taking place, the people would have understood as it had been known to be a practice of torture of living humans as well as a show of disrespect to dead humans.  This practice has been identified as existing as early as 800 years prior to Jesus birth.

The use of theses words, and of combining them together create a very potent and powerful image that represent, by Jesus, the pain and agony he had seen and experienced in his time with the people.

Jesus was devastated and pushed to action.

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the bible, The Message, describes the countenance of Jesus as ‘his heart was broken.’

It is significant that Matthew would document that Jesus uses these two images combined to present a visual the disciples would understand as he, of all the disciples understood the oppression of the Jews as he had been an employee of the Roman government.  He knew how they used fear to control and manipulate the people.  

It is out of this event, that God led Jesus to a mission of doing and not just a mission of telling.  It is at the point that the ministry becomes as much about now as it does about our life after this earth.  His message is not just doubt God’s act of love and sacrifice being the way to heaven but even more desperately about the way being an avenue to hope, peace, and love now, on earth.  It was the whole of his proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, and for his prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.’

The impression of the human experience, the pain and agony in the lives of God’s people can only be described as pivotal. This revelation, while intellectually not new, but from the perspective of the flesh was seismic. God the father had used this moment to shape the ministry of Christ and to mold his passion.

He was there for the people. Any sacrifice he would make would be for the people.  His life was now being given to the people.

Jesus, now moved the disciples from mere learners to active doers.  For the only time in gospel of Matthew the status of the disciples is changed to apostles, they were now living out what they had seen Jesus do and teach.  Jesus was  sending them to do what he did when he encountered the misery of the human experience.

Jesus sent them out because it was a need that could not be ignored. 

Jesus sent the disciples, now apostles with a specific call, used very specific words and a very specific order.  He used the root word ‘Go’ but in a form that meant ‘As you have gone, also, tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’

You see the ‘Go’ to tell was not their mission, it was a ‘Go to Heal’, and while you are ‘Going and Healing’ , tell them about the Kingdom.  This is significant because it shows us the passion of Jesus for our ‘now’ as much as for our ‘later.’

They had seen Jesus at life, a life of caring, a life of compassion, a life of hope, a life providing peace, a live of love.  When he was in front of the crowds and when he was just with them.

Jesus told them, on their ‘Go’ if they were welcomed in, if they were permitted to do the work of Jesus they were then to bring a ‘peace’ to the house. 

They were called to ‘GO’ and to ‘BE’ the ‘IMPRINT’ of Jesus.

This is our multi-dimensional God, the one who cares for us now, and forever.  

Modern Evangelicalism has made the call of Jesus a one dimension calling.  It is a ‘Say’ calling, tell about Jesus win converts for eternity.  It is easy and quick. 

Jesus statement of the lack of laborers has been used to propagate this one dimensional calling of Jesus.  Other aspects, aspects such as care, compassion, mercy, peace, and even love have all taken a back seat to the ‘tell’ the ‘say’. 

This is the call, to be ‘Doers’ because God is a compassionate and loving God, we know this because Jesus, the election, exact imprint of God, was a compassionate and loving human being.

The ‘Say’ the telling that the ‘Kingdom is Near’ becomes a natural privilege as the compassion and love have already been communicated by our lives. The communicated message then, just ties up the loose ends.

This is an act of living out the great commandments:

Love God

Love Others as Yourself.

Jesus directed his now apostles to go the the lost Jews.  He gave a strict instruction to not go to the Samaritan or the Gentiles.  This was not a slight on either of these groups, they will have their moment with the compassion of God.   Now, however, is the time of need for the Jews.

This time is not just because of the pain of their lives, it is even more needed because their division keeps them from being unified, from the greater power that comes with community.

Much like now they are also divided.  Like now they have slapped labels on each other.  Labels like liberal and conservative, progressive and fundamental, traditional and contemporary, boring and exciting, among just to name a few.  Just like today, these labels kept them from helping and encouraging  each other in their times of need.  They kept them from strengthening each other in their times of misery.

Jesus send the apostles to unify them.  Much like he proclaims his goal of unity in his prayer just before he was arrested.  

 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you  sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:22-23

They couldn’t help each other because they did not consider themselves brother and sisters with each other.  They had failed to remember the common element of their faith was to look for the promised Messiah and therefore they had missed Jesus.

Their politics, their chosen religious leaders, their own agendas had all kept them from seeing and addressing the pain of all their other same faith neighbors.  They could not see beyond the roadblocks of themselves.


Let explain it through a real life, this week, story.

Illustrative Story of justifying actions of cop and responding with accusation against the cope.  This is the problem – instead of us taking a knee to understand the pain expressed about this incident, we have ran to our own corners to defend our politics and stance.  It is not about Mr. Floyd, it is not about this police officer, it is about centuries of a people in pain that we have refused to make the sacrifice of our own roadblocks in order to cure and heal.

We are in a time where the entire world is sharing in a suffering that we do not have the power to overcome.  I am sure that Covid is not a judgement of God but that God is going us the opportunity to be apostles of God’s compassion, his mercy, and his love. In the midst of this shared struggle we are divided with many even dismissing the reality of the deaths and the pain.

Add to this more of the same racist tragedies have taken place with African Americans suffering unneeded loss and pain.  Our politics and out complacency ha has kept us from responding since the founding of our nation.  This, along with Native American, and many other people groups have been oppressed and persecuted.  The church outside of these communities have said little.  We have gone to our sides, we have said ‘NO’ to Jesus shock at the suffering and pain.

We have refused to consider the pain of the past of the African Americans  forced to come to America resulting in a passing down pain and misery generation to generation. We seldom accept the responsibility for the brutal treatment of the Native American, who also cannot help but down their pain.  When children began arriving at our borders unaccompanied by their parents we immediately complained about parents who would send their children on such treacherous journeys alone without any consideration of how bad their lives must be to permit their loved ones to go. We continue to listen to false religious prophets who lead us from compassion and concern and toward hatred and dismissal of the very pain that led Jesus to transform his disciples into apostles. 

Our call is not to speak but to ‘BE”. Our call is too be appalled at the human persecution of any group of people to such an extent that we cannot help but be appalled and outraged. Our call if to “BE” the compassion and mercy of Jesus revealing his love, peace, and hope to those who are oppressed and mistreated. Our call is to live our life out loud, it is time that we take an honest look and say “this is not right!’.  Our call is to live the life Jesus sent his apostles to live.  A life where our mission is to heal the hurting, to rescue the harassed and mistreated, to show mercy and compassion, to love and bring peace.  It is to let the imprint of Jesus be unavoidably seen in our actions, our heart, and then, our words.

Cornelius the Bat

corneliusOne evening, when our kids were younger, we went on an early evening family walk along our favorite path.  The path travels across a tree-lined bridge, through a historic neighborhood where the WPA stamps are still visible on the worn sidewalks, and, finally, to the University campus where wide sidewalks make for unlimited running and horseplay. The only problem with this path are the Oklahoma mosquitos and the occasional bats flying overhead.

While the mosquitos are a constant, the bats are actually a rarity.  Nevertheless, their infrequent appearances do seem to be a bigger bother than the hordes of blood-sucking mosquitos.  I think the reason we have such a disdain for the bats is that they are an unknown. They are the creepy, gross, and unclean.

Every time we went on a walk, any sign of the creepy, gross, and unclean bats would be met with moans of discontent and disapproval.  Regardless of the possibility they were addressing the mosquito issue, we still looked at them with disgust and were fully aware that the bats were out to get us and everything that we held holy.

On this particular walk, on this beautiful spring night, our greatest dread became a reality. Waiting for us as, we approached the bridge under the umbrella of leaf filled tree limbs, was a bat laying in the middle of the path. As we charted a path around the creepy, gross and unclean bat our overly compassionate kids became concerned.  They were soon bending over the bat and even kneeling at a safe distance to determine why this bat was not creeping us out from above.  As they determined the bat was a wounded baby, they insisted we move him off the trail.  We carefully, and respectfully, moved the bat and continued our walk.

Little did Andrea and I know that Pandora’s box had been opened.  The bat was no longer a creepy, gross and unclean creature bent on annihilating our very existence.  The label ‘creepy, gross and unclean’ had been replace with ‘baby’, ’cute’ and ‘in need of our humanity’ labels.

As we continued with our walk and enjoyed the beauty of trees, history, and horseplay little was mentioned about the bat.  We expressed our hated of the mosquitoes but the bat seemed to have been forgotten.

As we approached the bridge on our return home, our youngest, Isaiah, began to run ahead announcing that he was going to go check on Cornelius.  Andrea and I looked at each other wondering who he was talking about. As we called out the question, he yelled back that he had named the baby bat “Cornelius”. I had actually preached on Cornelius that morning and was elated that somebody had heard something that I said.  I had not, however, consider the possibility that a challenge of my dearly held labels would be the takeaway from my own child.

But, labels were being challenged. A feared bat was now a hurting baby with a name. There was no way the bat was going to be put back into the category of creepy, gross, and unclean.  The creepiest, and grossest, and most unclean thing on our favorite walk could no longer be labeled with the easiest and most negative identifier in our arsenal. 

Even though the bat has since disappeared, we continue to remember Cornelius.  We don’t remember him as a frightening and creepy bat, but instead, a hurting part of creation. It was the moment our labels were challenged.  Instead of a label, as it usually happens, a child gave him a name.  No longer ‘Gross, Creepy, and Unclean’, now he was ‘Cornelius’. 

cornelius name tagThis year, as I arrived, once again, at the Cornelius passage, I couldn’t help but remember Cornelius the bat.  It has led me to rethink the true lesson and application of the story of the apostle Peter.  The Father sent a message to Peter which had to be repeated three times before he grasped the meaning. A revelation explaining that there are no creepy, gross, or unclean beings created by God; a message that taught Peter to put away labels. The story details Peter learning something about a man whom he had considered outside of the love of God; a man who was surely gross, creepy, and unclean. Peter soon learned that this man had a name – Cornelius. Putting aside his deeply engrained tendency of sticking labels on people, Peter sat down instead, and shared space with this individual who was no longer creepy, gross, and unclean.  Cornelius now had a name, instead of a label – Peter now had a new friend along with a much richer, and more honest, understanding of God and God’s grace.

 

Being Human at the Apple Store

I recently revealed my humanity, in public, at the Apple Store, my kids were horrified.

It was unexpected.

As an adult, I have honed the skills of hiding the fact that I am human.  I have crafted an ability to react to situations, or events, that let people know that I have neither feelings or emotions.  I have skillfully learned to keep a fence around myself that permits only the closest family members to see any vulnerability or pain.

However, I am human.

I exposed this humanity recently on a visit to the Apple Store.  If you have never been to an Apple Store you may not have a point of reference to understand.  An Apple Store is much like stepping onto another planet, especially if you are an old guy like me.  There is always a crowd and, upon entering, no one seeks to help, or even acknowledge your existence.  There is no eager employee to please you or even to attempt to sale you the Apple products.  It is your job to identify the employees, which are always the hippest looking people in the mall.  Once you have made a positive identification of the employee it is your responsibility to approach him or her.

It is best to not look desperate or needy.

I ventured into the Apple Store in an effort to drop off my son’s computer.  It had quit working during his summer job in Hawaii; yes college kids can lead a rough summer existence.  He had mailed it to me hoping to get it repaired and working before the fall semester.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize the look on the Apple Employee’s face; you don’t just drop off a computer and expect it to be repaired at the Apple Store. I had violated one of the core principals.  You need to have made an on line appointment and an exact time scheduled to meet with a technician.

Right there, next to the kiosks for flying helicopters, sea salt skin care products and teeth whitening products, you need an appointment. I didn’t have an appointment.

I looked at the face of the employee and then the crowd sitting at tables around me and immediately felt very old.

“There are six people with reservations in front of you,” he said, “it will be awhile before you can see a technician. You are welcome to wait.”

He was very polite.  I came to the precipice of not being very polite which was evident by the fact that I turned to find my daughters gone.  They had made a quick exit to stand outside the store eliminating any possibility of being connected with the crazy old man who didn’t have an appointment.

Somewhere during this exchange, while I said arrogant things like, “I expected better from you guys than this,” I mentioned that I did not have time to wait as I needed to get my youngest son to Children’s hospital.

My son, who is actually fifteen, has had a difficult year health wise. At this moment he had already had two surgeries on his left kidney area. A local urologist had gone in twice to cut stuff out that was blocking the flow from his kidney to his bladder. This had originally revealed itself through his experience with intense pain and continued to cause him agony even after the first and second surgery.  We had recently consulted our amazing pediatrician, who had referred us to the state Children’s Hospital.  Within hours, and before ever meeting us, or my son, these specialists had reviewed his case and made an appointment.  

I was in the Apple Store on the day of the appointment.

As I told the hip and functioning Apple employee that I needed to get my son to Children’s hospital, my humanity began to flow out of me.  My eyes became red and began to swell and my voice began to sound like my dog when the back door is not opened quickly enough at meal time.

I was embarrassed.  I have spent a lifetime keeping this persona separate from anything anyone ever sees, and now it was showing.  I was becoming a progressively increasing display of humanity for the world to see; it was showing in the Apple Store in front of the hip young employee who was able to grow a full beard and then keep it trimmed just perfectly.

As I looked at the young man I saw his countenance change. He continued to look hip and cool but suddenly he didn’t seem to just see me as the guy who was too old to comprehend the way things work at the Apple Store. He got the manager who quickly told me that they were going to see what they could do to get me to the hospital on time.

The manager had heard about the revelation of my humanity from the employee, he had also unlabeled me.  He then brought out the technician, who, incidentally had an even more hip and unshaven beard.  The technician had also learned about my exposed humanity and began telling me about his own experience with his humanity.  His twins had be born premature and spent months in Children’s Hospital before he and his wife had been able to finally take them home.

He assured me that this whole humanity thing is normal, even after my crackling voice kept me from being able to respond to the manager who checked back in to make sure I was doing alright.  The manager said “I hope everything turns out ok with your son.” to which I could say nothing.

As I sat on the hip stool, in the hip store, I began to realize the power of humanity when we cease to be labeled or label others.  The raw response of humans to humans.  Humans that do not have a name tag attached to their old man clothes that says “I am not cool”; “I am too old”; “I am too stupid”; “I am ugly”, I am uncoordinated”; “I am unclean”; “I am a male”; “I am a female”; “I am unacceptable”; “I don’t know what I am”; “I am not worthy or your time”; “I am human.”

What happens when we began to see all of humanity as God’s beloved created.

As I left the store, it occurred to me that this was a great learning experience which had given me the knowledge of a very powerful tool.  Tears, emotions, and humanity.  I had the fleeting carnal thought that this was something that I would need to remember in the future.  I now had something much more powerful than anger and arrogance.

God quickly reminded me that this was, indeed, a learning experience but not for me to use selfishly. This was a learning revelation that showed how God looks at all of us. He looks at us as humans.  He does not see us with labels or name tags that identify our current struggles, our confusion and doubts, our mistakes and sin, our humanity.  He sees us as humans with a beating heart.  A heart that screams out for help, assistance, and acceptance.  A heart that is crying out for God. He sees us without any name tags or labels.

When Christ was writing on the ground at the feet of the accused adulterous woman, while the men stood with stones gripped tightly in their hands, he was discarding the labels that had been placed on the woman.  He was taking off her ‘slut’ and ‘immoral’ name tags and replacing them with tags that said ‘human’ and ‘loved’.  He was seeing the woman through God’s eyes.  Eyes that were then able to lovingly and compassionately say,“Go and sin no more.”

He was looking at a human…..just like him.

wristbandTomorrow my son will have his fourth surgery.  His human family, including his human dad, will be in the waiting room for the endurance.  I have kept the parent’s wristband on my arm since his third surgery to remind me of my humanity, my son’s humanity, and God’s love for all of humanity.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Being Human,

Rick