The Not So Small Things

It was one of those super frigid Indiana nights in mid-February. I hopped out of my toasty car and walked briskly into the homeless shelter for my nightly volunteer shift. Still warming up in the lobby, a young lady, who was staying at the shelter for the night, looked me up and down and whispered, “You’re fly.”

If you are not familiar with urban vernacular, it basically means, “You’re hot.”

Of course I was taken aback and somewhat embarrassed that she was so forward with me, especially since I was wearing a wedding ring and I had never met her before. But I smiled, stared at the ground to find my equilibrium, and then looked up to sheepishly whisper back, “Thank you, I guess.”

Despite my apparent awkwardness in that moment, she came back at me again, still whispering, but this time a bit more audibly, “You’re fly.”

My face, veiled behind a graying beard, turned red. Whatever chill followed me from the outside was immediately eviscerated by a growing, sweat inducing, warmth. Did someone raise the temperature in this place, I thought. Even more uncomfortably this time, I replied, “Um. Okay. Hey. Thanks.”

My eyes locked in on the floor once again. I became a child hiding behind my blanket hoping no one could see me. The floor was my blanket. If I just kept looking at it, no one would see me, right? Maybe she wouldn’t still be looking at me.

But she was. And she had one more thing to say.

It’s at this point I should tell you that it is impossible, when someone is speaking to you, to discern the difference between the words “you’re” and “your.”

I looked up one last time, and in slow motion, I saw her arm extending and her finger zeroing in on my midsection.

“Your fly.”

And this time it wasn’t a whisper.

An Arctic chill blew passed the gaping hole.

Oh no.

My fly.

I thought I was going to die.

To be honest, it was an appropriate way to end the day. Mid-afternoon I had called my work partner and asked how the day was going. She said that she had slept in and was just running some errands. She had not previously told me she was taking the day off, so I was confused by her response.

After a few silent moments, I hesitantly muttered, “What?”

To which she, a bit too eagerly responded, “I’m just enjoying our company holiday today.”

Yup. I was the only person in the entire company working on President’s Day.

Classic.

It’s amazing to me how the most insignificant, throwaway moments have the potential to become our greatest teachers and catalysts for profound life transformation.

I have been thinking about it for a couple of weeks now. And rather than discarding that day as a series of unfortunate, embarrassing events, what if these moments are gifts that can teach us and help us grow?

For me, it was the momentary realization that I had been too proud in my abilities and my self-sufficiency. I was in need of humility. And there it was, in the most unlikely places, greeting me, ready to teach me, ready to guide me into greater depths.

You may have never thought of it this way, but these small moments are gifts, if we will receive them and let them teach us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, writes that, “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”

He is exactly right.

We pray that the world will become more peaceful. We pray that our country will become more just, equitable, and virtuous. We pray that our culture will become one that honors all life, that looks to the interest of another, and that treats all people with dignity and respect as image-bearers of God. We may even pray that God will use us to change the world.

Yet, while we pray for the big things, we forget to give thanks for the small (and yet really not small) gifts. We neglect the hidden treasures throughout our day that greet us, moment by moment, and that are always there to teach us, and guide us at the soul level.

You are likely familiar with this quote from Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  Or, this quote from Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Or, this quote from Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things – only small things with great love.”

The truth is that the small things are the key to the big things.

In fact, that is the wisdom of Jesus, as well. He says that the Kingdom of God, or God’s in-breaking presence within our lives, is that which has the power to change the big things. It is the small seed that grows into an invasive shrub that takes over everything in its path. It is again the small seed that has the potential to move the biggest mountain. It is the small measure of yeast that causes the large batch of dough to grow and expand. When God’s loving presence is sown, it begins to take root. It grows and expands invasively through our lives and then into our relationships, our neighborhoods, our communities, our country, and our world.

For Bonhoeffer, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Jesus- to change the big things, one must first be changed.

And that has been my prayer each morning when I first open my eyes while still lying in bed and then my prayer each night as I turn off the light, “Let me be your love. Let me be your peace. Let me be your joy.”

(Even if it takes me learning how to become those things through unzipped pants)

For if my relationships are ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my family is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If my country is ever going to change, it begins in me.
If the world is ever going to change, it begins in me.

And it begins in you, too.

Peace…

Brandon

Sabbath: The Sacred Space

Anna had just finished cross-country practice when she opened the passenger side door of my car and sat in the seat next to me.

After a few minutes of chitchat with my oldest daughter, she asked a very direct, yet inquisitive question.

“Dad, why do certain religions have a day when they don’t work or do anything?”

It was a fantastic question. And just the kind of question I love to answer.

I explained to Anna that the Sabbath was a day of rest given to mankind at the very beginning of creation. It was a day in which all work activity was to cease so that people could rest, rejuvenate, and give thanks to God.

I then further explained that Sabbath was central to the very heartbeat of Judaism, as God instructed them through His law to abstain from any activity that constituted work. Sabbath was, not just true for His people, but also the animals and the land. Animals were to be given a day of rest each week and the land a year of rest for every six it is worked.

As I explained Sabbath to Anna, and how important it is to our well being (mentally, physically, spiritually, relationally, and communally), I began to think about my childhood and how every business in our small town stayed closed every single Sunday. And as I thought back to that time it made me so profoundly sad. It was a sad realization that there had been something so simple and so life-giving built into our culture, given for our benefit, rooted in the very foundation of creation, and we lost it… we walked away from it. And there was not even as much as a whimper when we lost it.

Maybe because we lost it so slowly. Maybe because it started as one store and then another and then another. Maybe it happened so subtly that our pace didn’t really change and we really never recognized what was truly being lost. Maybe if we would have lost it suddenly then we would have realized the magnitude of what we were giving up.

It wasn’t just stores and businesses.  It was us.  Individuals.

We were walking away from Sabbath as something that was optional, even a little archaic.

It was insignificant… of little consequence.  If we lost it… well… we wouldn’t be missing anything.

But Sabbath was a fortress wall behind which we could retreat at least once a week to find our breath and maintain our rhythm. Behind the towering walls of Sabbath we found respite, relief, and peace and even regained our sanity because it was the only thing strong and sturdy enough to withstand the unrelenting assault of busyness, 60-hour work weeks, and capitalistic greed.

But here we are now as wayfarers and travelers, with not even as much as a faint memory of where we used to be. Another generation, and the generation after that, has come along after us and has been introduced into a world, and a culture, that does not stop, that does not rest, that does not take time to breathe, and does not understand our desperate need for sacred space.

The pace at which we are moving is increasing without any evidence of slowing down.

The amount of information coming at us at any one moment is doubling and tripling in the wrong direction.

The degree to which we are connected to technology only promises to make us more connected and more connected… not less.

And to be honest… it feels like suffocation or drowning or losing control or all of them at the same time.

But to many, including Anna, I am fearful that this feeling is shockingly normal… because they have not known any other way.

And it is evident.

In our anxiety.

In our stress.

In our mania.

There is no denying that we are paying for it heavily with our minds, bodies, and souls.

And the thing is… the forces keep coming and they continue to increase and they keep taking more and taking more.

It is subtle but incremental… and completely overwhelming.

Matthew Sleeth, in his eye-opening (and highly recommended) book 24/6, writes:

We cannot turn back the hands of time. Our 24/7 world is not going to change. Life will only get more intense. New communication tools, nanotechnology, and human engineering will increase the number of tasks an individual can do simultaneously. We will look back with nostalgia at the 24/7 world once these “advances” make 48/7 a reality. If we wish to have a weekly day of rest, it will no longer happen as a societal default. It will happen only as a result of conscious choice. All we need to begin is to “remember,” as the Fourth Commandment tells us. We must remember the why and the how of a day of rest.

He is right. We cannot depend on our societies, our governments, our businesses to make the right choices or create sacred space for us. Once we abandoned the sacred space of Sabbath, there is nothing left but empty promises that will never give us what we keep hoping to attain- a better life.

The fortress of Sabbath still stands. It is still there. It hasn’t fallen or been destroyed. We just left it. The doors are still open to enter back into a Sabbath’s Day rest… to stop the madness… to stop the cycle… to stop the work… to escape the forces that are overwhelming us and imprisoning us.

The Sabbath doors are open and beckoning us to come back and take a deep breath and spend time with family and play with our kids at the playground and take a walk in the evening while watching the sunset and enjoy a meal with our friends… and discover what we have really wanted all along (but maybe never even known it)- life in it’s fullness.

Sabbath is calling us back.

I am not much on New Year’s resolutions… but Sabbath would be worth pursuing in the new year.

Have a happy new year!

brandon

Rediscovering the Word Evangelical

There is a beautiful word… an elegant descriptor… that has been maligned, tarnished, lampooned, distorted, and completely misunderstood. It is a name many have abandoned for all of it’s negative connotations and ugly stereotypes. But this bruised and battered identifier… this lowly mark tossed carelessly to the side by a cynical generation… is finally being rediscovered, reclaimed, renewed, and washed clean by those hungry to wear it and hold it high for the world to see clearly.

The word is Evangelical.

And it is beautiful because at it’s very heart, it’s very core, it simply describes anyone who proclaims the Good News. But it seems that many have skewed the Good News and given the name Evangelical a bad rap by proclaiming messages that don’t seem so good… that make people feel worse on the inside and not so hopeful that there is an alternative to this confusing, messed up world.

As an Evangelical, as a proud proclaimer of the Good News, I want to share with you the Good News of the Kingdom of God… and the reason why I will continue to wear the name and preach the message until the day I die.

The Good News is that there is an alternative. This is another way. There is a reason to have hope.

The great alternative to this world, that Jesus preached about and was preoccupied with establishing, operated by a new set of values, a new way of thinking, a new way of being human. The Good News that Jesus announced was like nothing the world had ever known or seen before. As such, Jesus was not preoccupied with fighting violently against the kingdoms of the world, or the prevailing governmental or political order. Jesus wasn’t even preoccupied with trying to reform them or preoccupied with trying to establish a new or different political system or governmental system. And, he was certainly not trying to build up a bricks and mortar palace where he would rule from the top-down.

The Kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim would be established much differently than those of the world, and it would not look like anything the world had ever seen, because the people in this Kingdom would do everything opposite from the ways and workings of the world. It would be a grassroots, organic movement that changes the world from the bottom-up and from the inside-out, defying every bit of worldly wisdom in the process.

When the world hits you, do not retaliate, but give the other cheek. When the world is weighing you down with heavy requests, don’t just go one mile with the request but go two miles. When the world takes everything you have, even the coat off of your back, don’t just give your coat but go even further by offering your shirt. When the way of the world harbors anger and holds grudges, be one who forgives your friends and your enemies alike. And, don’t just forgive once, but forgive and forgive and forgive.

When the world is quick to respond and rip a person to shreds, be one who controls your anger and the words that come from your mouth. When the world devalues relationships and marriages, be one who looks to the interest of others, honors commitments, and always remains selfless. When the world looks out for and protects its own pursuits and interests to the detriment of others, be one who treats others as you would want to be treated yourself. When the world is ready to cast the stone of judgment at the sinner, be one who loves and stands beside every single person without judgment. When the world shuns the outcast and pushes him to the edges of society, be one who befriends the outcast and welcomes him back into loving community.

When the world lords over you with mighty power and authority, be one who is humble and comes from the bottom-up to serve everyone. When the world takes the seat of honor so it can be seen and noticed by everyone, be one who takes the seat of low-position in the back of the room. When the world puts on a show of being pure and good but is corrupt at the very core, be one who is pure from the inside and let it work out through your life. When the world continues in the ways of injustice and is merciless to the least in society, be one who stands for the least and for those who cannot defend themselves by demanding justice and mercy.

When the world fights and wars, be one who always stands on the side of peace no matter the situation and no matter the circumstance. When the world insults, ridicules, and curses you, be one who blesses in return. When the evil of the world assaults you, be the one who does not resist the evil. And when the world beats you, spits upon you, and is preparing to crucify you, continue on the way of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love.

That is the Good News of the Kingdom of God! That is what it means to be a true, genuine, authentic Evangelical. That is the treasure of great riches that the world so desperately needs to discover. That is the pearl of great value that we sell everything we have in order to attain it. That is what will spread like an infection, a mustard seed, yeast in the dough if the world would ever hear it and see it put into practice by a transformed people. That is the in-breaking of heaven into the house that has been held hostage for far too long. That is the occupation, proclamation, task, and obsession of the follower of Christ… of every Evangelical… in the vineyard of the world!

The Kingdom of God is the full-on reign of God in the hearts and minds of those who believe in the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, who have died to the old, tired, and worn-out ways of the world, and who have been made new by the working and empowering of the Spirit of God in order to bring heaven on earth, while awaiting and anticipating the return of Christ as Lord at the renewal of all things!!! It is what a life looks like when God reigns in and through a person here on earth in every single thought, action, attitude, situation, or scenario. The Kingdom of God looks like an invasion from heaven into the strongholds of a person’s life, a cleaning out of the house, a light breaking through into the darkness, and a constant and continual in-breaking of heaven through one’s life into the world. It is a Kingdom that reigns in the hearts and minds of people, not through the political, governmental, bureaucratic, religious, institutional brick and mortar systems of the world. The Kingdom of God will never come through those systems, because they will all pass away one day.

That is why Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is not something that can be seen or observed. It is not visible with the eye for anyone to see or to visibly discover. In fact, people will not be able to say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the Kingdom of God is within the hearts and minds of those who follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. In this way, the Kingdom of God can not be conquered, destroyed, or defeated, but it continues to grow larger and continues to spread from person to person all throughout the world like a mustard seed in a field or yeast in dough. It breaks into our world like an infection to displace the kingdoms of the world and to establish the reign of God, through and through, in the hearts, minds, and lives of people who are like Jesus in everything we do.

That is what it means to be an Evangelical. That is why I wear the name with honor and will hold the banner high. It is to Jesus Christ and the Good News of his Kingdom that I pledge my allegiance and give my life.