Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Power of Shared Experience

The young people in this picture have shared over 2,000 SJCS recesses together, a week at 5th grade science camp, the spiritual retreat, four years of band, a well-executed play called "The Westing Games", faith doubts about our indescribable God and what it means to be His child... The students in this picture share a rich history.

I believe that we were created to live in community. Our Triune God, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, exists communally. As image-bearers, we, too, thrive when we walk life together on this journey.

Truly the most powerful influences on my walk with God have happened through shared experience. A few years ago my friend took me mountain-biking on a trail off the Monterey coast. This was my first mountain biking experience, and I came away with a new understanding of Jesus' offer that we can "have life and have it to the full." Letting go of my own fears and insecurities, with mud flying everywhere and a body that knew I had not been biking in years, I found liberating freedom and great joy.

Another unexpected gift from God came as He prompted me to approach someone to mentor me. I was "all thumbs" asking, inviting, this sister in Christ to journey with me. The shared experiences of weeping together, laughing together, and praying together cannot be measured. Through this friendship God continues to reveal Himself to me. I am learning to open my heart to God in exciting and even scary ways. C.S. Lewis says about Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, "Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

The picture above captures in time five of our current 8th grade students when they were in 4th grade. Over the past four years God moved in and through these kids and their families. One of the most powerful factors in growing as people happens during shared experiences. Who are you sharing life with these days? How are you meeting in your basic need "to know and be known?" As we celebrate this Christmas season together, let us experience anew Immanuel, God with us.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Breath of Life

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters... Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:1, 26-27

God breathed the breath of life, and creation came to be. I believe the human voice reflects our Creator God. As image-bearers of God, we, too, can breathe the breath of life through our voices. I often think that hearing voices sing is one of the most life-giving experiences we are granted on this earth. Think about what it is like to hear our kids sing in worship. Listen to this arrangement of Barber's Adagio for Strings arranged for a cappella voices with your eyes closed and your heart open. Think back to the last time the worship band dropped out, leaving only voices to sing with God's very breath of life. There is something life-giving in our voices. 

Our voices give life every time they laugh with joy, utter an encouraging word, weep with a friend, or pray over another. May our voices give life to the people we journey with today.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Script

Last week the SJCS staff gathered for two days. We considered the Bible in light of N.T. Wright's belief that the most central truth to the Bible is God's faithfulness. We examined SJCS' most important characteristics. And we renewed our commitment to intentional Christian teaching.

In the midst of the many people, the many words, the myriad of emotions over those two days, God penetrated my heart with a truth I had been teaching in 8 Bible the past two weeks: I am God's Beloved. Henri Nouwen gives a compelling sermon (which can be found on my YouTube Channel) entitled Being the Beloved. In the sermon Nouwen dissects Matthew 4 where the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan. Nouwen breaks down Jesus' three temptations into areas we can identify today. We can wrongly live with any (or all) of these three truths: I am what I do; I am what others think of me; I am what I have. In contrast to these false "scripts," Nouwen expands the Last Supper experience. He proposes that as God's Beloved, we are like the bread: Jesus takes the bread; Jesus blesses the bread; Jesus breaks the bread; Jesus gives the bread. This powerful analogy calls us to courageously own our brokenness, place it under the cross, and live under the blessing of being used by God despite our brokenness. In this way, our lives will bear much fruit.

As the teachers wrestled with the SJCS Throughlines, God's Spirit revealed a false script that I carry. That script says, "You are different and that is bad. When your gifts threaten others, hide them. You are not enjoyable." As the Spirit uncovered this script, waves of emotion swept through me. I felt shame, sadness, confession, connection, peace, and even delight in a matter of minutes.

Many of us have a similar "script" that Satan adeptly uses to keep us from God's good work. My middle school students are keenly aware of the scripts that shape them every minute of every day as they work hard to discover who they are, and who they want to be.

Indeed, in this small slice of my one story, God's faithfulness reigns. God's faithfulness whispers through the Holy Spirit. God's faithfulness shines in Jesus Christ. As we press forward in this journey of faith, let us take up our cross and respond in faithful service to our faithful God. Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free. John 8:32

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

8th Grade Reflections on John 15

God is moving in and through my 8th graders. Together we read and discussed John 15. The students wrote responses to the passage. They were thoughtful, personal, and beautiful.

  • "Verses 4-8 it talk about how you should remain in the Lord, like He does to you. The definition of remain is: to continue to exist after other similar or related people have ceased to exist. When He said that He will remain in you, He meant forever. God is going to stay with your for the rest of your life and hopefully beyond. All He wants, is for you to do the same. You’re already His, and so is every other living/non living thing on this earth, so why not give it back to Him."
  • "You may have not wanted God, but He wanted you, and He still does. He’s never done with you, and maybe this is just the start of something amazing for you. He wants you specifically to work in a certain area in the world. It may only affect one person, or it could affect millions. Either way, you are a big and important part of map of what God has planned."
  • "God doesn’t call you a servant, but a friend, because He wants your goal to fully know Him, as He fully knows you. He knows your concerns and business and He wants you to make an effort to know His. The Lord tells you everything He can, and it may not be in the most obvious way, but you need to keep your eyes and ears open to be able to understand what He’s saying to you."
  • "The passage shows how God helps us by getting rid of all our sin by pruning us. I think this is cool because it helps us to understand how much God loves us. The other thing that stands out to me is that God calls us his friends. That he sees us as friends makes me very happy inside."
  • "I think it is amazing that God chose me to carry out what he wants."
  • "We talked in class about rose bushes and how they are pruned when parts die. When you prune most plants, the part that was cut blossoms into more fruit than was there before, and then when that spot is  pruned again, it produces even more fruit. Just like how when dead spots in us are pruned, they grow back healthy and blossoming. Although, if rose bushes could feel, the pruning would probably hurt very badly, just like the pruning of our bad spots hurts."
  • "I love how God gives us more freedom if we follow him."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thoughts on Love

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Jesus' words as recorded in John 13:34-35

"I am the True Vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Jesus' words as recorded in John 15:1-2, 9-12

Relationship stands out as the heart of Jesus' teaching on love in John 15. Love starts and exists only in relationship to God himself. Love does not start as an action (although actions will always follow!), but love begins in a relationship with the living God.

I am currently reading the book Bold Love by Dr. Dan Allendar and Dr. Tremper Longman. 

·      “We have come to view love as being nice. Forgiving and forgetting. Yielding to the desires of others. Yet the kind of love modeled by Jesus Christ has nothing to do with manners or unconditional acceptance. Rather, it is shrewd. Disruptive. Courageous. And, as a result, socially unacceptable.” (back cover)

·      “When the question of failure to love is raised, it should be heard as the whisper of a friend, not the accusation of an enemy, because our failures can be the delicious entry into a new comprehension of God’s grace…Dependence on God’s grace requires a broken heart that has given up the demands of pride. (p. 36-37)

·    "There is an inherent battle involved in learning to love. If we are to learn to love, we must begin with an acknowledgement that love is not natural and that love’s failure is not easy to admit. How then does God intervene? The answer is found in an understanding of God’s relentless, intrusive, incarnate involvement and His patient, forbearing forgiveness. The essence of Christianity is God’s tenacious loyalty to redeem His people form the just penalty for sin. (p. 37)

·      "The heart must be restored to its full image in Christ, inch by precious inch and battle after tragic battle. As a new creation, citizens of a new kingdom, we are given the unbelievable opportunity of being ambassadors of reconciliation. (p. 49)

Through challenges, heartbreaks, and grief, God’s Spirit rewrites the script of what it means to love. God prunes us to bear fruit.

Love, God’s love, bold love, is messy. It is not a Valentine or a fuzzy feeling, LOVE is visceral.

"Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entablements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken' it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable." From The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

I believe that the time and attention we spend this year on what love does will transform us. Let us enter this year with knees bent, heart open, and hands lifted up in anticipation of what God will do in and through each of us and the lives we touch.