Luke 2:22-40 CEB Below text is edited. For complete text click the scripture reference to the left.
Expectation and anticipation. Those are difficult words for today's culture to grasp. We live in a society where our answers are no more than a smartphone away. Getting what we want is no further than a 5-20 minutes drive to a super center. I can remember a time when I thought it was cool to get a coloring page from a website and it only took 1-2 minutes for the page to load and just about as long for it to print out. There was a time when people ordered goods from a catalog and maybe 2-3 weeks later the item would arrive. And people saved up their money in tins and jars months in advance to purchase those items. Expectation and anticipation were vitally important once. We replaced those words with immediate gratification. We have trouble living in expectation because expectation means the answers and actions haven't arrived yet. Anticipating leaves us frustrated and anxious. When everything is in one's hands now, 'later' is only something to lose patience over.
Simeon and Anna help us understand the joy in expectation and anticipation. Simeon spent his life anticipating a restoration of Israel. Anticipating is a waiting game. We teach our children a form of anticipation when when start putting presents under the Christmas Tree and tell them they cannot open them until December 25th. That anticipation is only days away while Simeon had to wait a lifetime. Real and good change is difficult to accomplish on a short term scale so it requires anticipation. It is a lesson I am witness to. For anyone who seriously wants to hear my call story I always explain it as the slow and steady path. God has never given me the road side visitation. I haven't been transformed with blinding truth. God's patience has slowly moved me in the right direction. As I look back on my life I see the small moments where God's small still voice has influenced my choices. It took a lifetime to get me to the point where I would be ready to start a church. Yet, when I decided to begin the new church start journey I initially thought it had to be done quickly. I read a book from Nelson Searcy who said church starts should go big, go quick or go home. (My version of his words.) My experience has been different. The pre-launch should go slow, methodical, and with God driven purpose. I feel like I am building something. Everyone who has followed Fig Tree up to this point is experiencing the skeleton. The skeleton is important because it tells the body of the creation how it can and cannot move. The skeleton gives purpose. On March 16th we will finally meet the people who will put meat on these bones and get them moving in ways that are amazing. If I did not have the Simeonesk patience and anticipation, I never would have let the spirit guide my movements to get me this far.
Anna lived her life in expectation. I say this because she was a prophet. Anyone who truly thinks they are receiving a message from God does not carry themselves like the plan will not happen. These people are confident in their call. These people can make the 'average' person uncomfortable. They live outside the ordinary into the realm of extraordinary. They know what tomorrow brings but they don't exactly know how it is going to happen. It wasn't that Anna anticipated the possibility of a savior, she expected it. The Gospel writer in Luke liked to pair male stories with female stories, therefore, we have Simeon and Anna. I say, sometimes we need Anna's to help us be like Simeon. We need to hear from people who can expect the truth so we can then anticipate the results. Either way, it is not immediate gratification. Taking the easy way out is almost always the wrong choice. Even if your story is a road side conversion, the work after the blinding light is a lifetime endevore.
We need to learn the joy and wonder of the waiting game. If we can stop seeking life in our timing and start accepting it on God's time, we can allow the Spirit to move us to see God's plan. God doesn't always do things quickly. God does things right.
1 Corinthians: 12:12-31 CEB
In two months there will be a physical launch of Fig Tree Christian. There will be much to celebrate. Most of the dialogue will be exciting and uplifting. I cannot wait to meet those people I will work on a one on one level. Yet, last Sunday I had a revelation. Pharaoh's heart was hardened. God calls some to participate and calls some not to participate. Some are going to be called to continue on this journey with me and I am going to embrace those connections and what they mean to the trek. Some are going to realize this is not going the direction they are called to go and I am going to rejoice for those people also. They are choosing to follow their God chosen path.
I say this because what I am about to lay out might be one of those moments for you where you are either solidified with what I am saying or turned away. If I could imagine what the Body of Christ looks like today my imagination would not be pretty. I wouldn't see a perfect Adam or Eve. I wouldn't even see an unhealthy person. I would see the hacked up remains of the Body, cut to pieces, laying on the alter of false dreams, ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of nothing. I'm sorry, I can't dumb this down. There comes a time when sugarcoating the truth only spoils the message. That time is when people simply peal off the sugar and throw the medicine out.
God connects us in a wonderful way. Before that connection humanity labels and separates us. We are put into boxes. We are a color. We are a gender. We are a social status. Before God those things are barriers. Because I am not [A] I cannot receive [B]. Because I am [C] I get [D]. As a people we like to separate and create clear lines because we can understand clear lines. Yet in our differences God invites us in the same Spirit, a Spirit of love. Love binds us together and turns differences into uniqueness. Love turns random groups of people into community.
It is through the Spirit God gives us the gifts we need to be part of the body of Christ. Through the Spirit the recovering addict and the pious priest have equally important jobs to a well functioning body. This is a communal relationship. With the help of God it is not a difficult relationship to be in. Thus enters the problem. We have been taught we can do this without God, and for that empty lesson we have paid the price. Not only have people left Christianity like lemmings jumping to their doom, we have become a movement broken and torn apart. I am not talking about denominational differences. This issue goes beyond when and how people are baptized or whether one believes in a physical Eden or not. The Body of Christ is a symbol of relationship and relationship is our greatest deficit today.
We live in a society where it is normal to not know your neighbor and go to a church where you can blend in and not have to interact. When we are hurt or in need it is no longer the community who helps us out. We must become a faceless need to receive faceless help. The connection is lost. Jesus never meant for our charity to become disconnected. When we talk our conversations have turned into an 'us' verses 'them' discussion. We forget Jesus considered all of us, us. So we cut out others. Others cut us out. We cut ourselves out. Now we are not a Body anymore, at least not a functioning one.
The question I get asked the most is 'why.' Why am I so drawn to start Fig Tree in Paulding, County, Ga? The answer is, I am called. I know calling is not good enough for many. So- I am called because there are quiet a few churches in Paulding County, but no where that I have found that seeks to speak the unchurched language and use that to share the glorious story of God. I have seen churches try. In the end the skeleton for the service is the same. The language is the same. The choice is between praise or traditional worship. Everything else, is the same. Those who live in Paulding, County and want to attend church can find more than a dozen choices.
Fig Tree wants to be the place where the voices can openly be heard and celebrated. Where the broken body of Christ can begin to be pieced back together. Where the truth is fearlessly searched. This educational truth will get the views out so opinion isn't hidden behind innuendo. Because, silence is the first sign relationship is broken. Fig Tree is not here to redo what every other church is doing. Fig Tree is here to be a congregation, a community, a Body of Christ. What will that look like? As those seeking a relationship enter, the look will begin to take shape, for it will be shaped by the people who have yet to enter the doors. But, it will not look like church, in the way we have come to know it over the past 50 years.This will be new and yet, incredibly old. Two-Thousand years old to be exact.
Isaiah 62 CEB
What I am going to write isn't brain surgery. Sometimes we need to hear the simple stuff because we get bogged down in the complex details. When our brain hurts from thinking too much it is nice to hear the sky is blue and the grass is green; today is Thursday, and tomorrow is Friday. Sometimes we need to step back and realize the bigger truth and take a collective sigh.
God loves us. In many ways it is that simple. When God acts in the world it is an action of love. When God speaks to us it is a word of love. When God gives us the means to set us back on the correct path, that too is an act of love. I say this because the bible would have tons of 'kick them while the're down' moments if God was anything but a God of love. If that was the case we would be able to point to places where God responds to the people, "Told you so, you idiot," but we don't. It is in humanities darkest hours of distress and loss God shines a light into our darkness. Isaiah 62 is one of those moments. The Hebrew people are separated from their homeland, and their connection to God through the temple. Things couldn't get much worse. Instead of God sending a message of 'see I told you so,' the people get a message of hope. God lets them know redemption is going to come. God tells them there is something to look forward to.
We should remember this. When life appear to be at its lowest, and there doesn't appear to be any way out of the muck... don't give up hope. God is a God of love, and God loves you. Yes, getting out of the muck and low points is an enormous undertaking. Yet, because God loves us, God is there to be our cheerleader, telling us what great thing lies right around the corner. Trust that the still small voice is there, because if you can tune into it, you will hear "I love you, and I want to redeem you."
Romans 12:5 CEB
Yesterday I took a moment to speak from my heart. It was incredibly difficult for me, but I wanted to share.
Matthew 2:1-12 CEB
Linc, my husband, was recently telling me how much he respects J.J. Abrams. That man throws out movie and TV ideas like spaghetti against a kitchen wall. Sometimes it sticks and sometimes doesn't. Heard of Lost, Person of Interest, Once Upon a Time, or Fringe? Those are all his creative ideas that stuck. Yet, it is not his creative skill that has garnered Linc's respect so much- it's his humility.
As Linc puts it, Abrams get's tons of his ideas produced. Some of it rocks, like Lost. Some of it falls a little shy, like Super 8. Some of it just doesn't work, like Cloverfield. When something just doesn't hit the mark he takes the blame. There are so many people working to make his imaginations a reality and there are so many people who could be the cause of a failure. The blame will always fall squarely on his shoulders. If it didn't work it must have been something he did wrong.
If something goes extremely well, like Lost for example, he will always give the credit away. Sure, it was his idea but he will throw admiration and praise to the actors, the ones behind the camera, and those editing away beyond that. When he could use the moment to self-promote, he raises up other's skills and talents. A real class act. Abrams understands a project is a collection of many hard working people putting in many hard working hours. He shares the lime light. If something fails the buck stops with him; when something succeeds everyone who made it happen needs to be thanked.
Abrams, in my opinion, expresses how to have healthy relationships; Godly relationships. As I have said before and will continue to say, Jesus came into the world, in part, to focus on relationship. One does not need to look too far into today's scripture to see how broken the world with their relationships had become, and how much God was wanting to fix it.
King Herod could be considered the poster child for creating broken relationship. He was a selfish man who did more to gain power than give it away. Herod's greatest accomplishment was rebuilding the temple, but what did that do? The temple should have been God's Temple, a place where the people of God could relate with the divine. Yet, Herod does this tremendous temple expansion, and for what? For God? No, for himself. He installed a glorious golden alter, it had heavenly blue ceilings, and at the entrance was the symbol for the Roman Empire. When Jews rebelled the symbol by tearing it down, Herod had the men who rebelled gathered up and executed. If he felt someone was vying for power, even if they were a relative, he would end their life. This included his favorite wife who he murdered just on a hunch she could be working against him.
This is what Herod did. He acted in selfish ways that would help himself over and beyond anyone else. Let me use a popular quote: He did build that. He built an empire on hate and evil using the tools of selfish motivations. What he built destroyed and tore people apart. He fed the Romans high temple taxes while he pretended to appease the Jewish populous. He was a chasm creator. He built that. I submit the temple was already torn in two before Jesus ever was born in a manger. It was torn between the Romans and the Jews.
Now God. In early manuscript versions of the Gospel of Matthew the scriptures from the Hebrew Bible were not included. It was later versions the gospel writer uses the past (Hebrew Bible) to explain the truth to the present (New Testament.) Let me do the same. God made a promise to Abraham, he was promised to be the father of a great nation. How has that family evolved up to the birth of a savior? Linage. Linage wasn't limited to the first born as we see with Issac, Jacob, and King David. Women were important to the line as we see with Naomi. The outsider is welcomed in as we see with Ruth. God's story is a tale of inclusion, not exclusion. It is a story of relationship and how the family of God continues to grow richer with growth from all sides.
Enter the Wisemen. These men are important for one simple reason: they were invited in. God wasn't excluding or cutting off. They were rich outsiders. They were the exact opposite of everyone who had come to pay homage to the new born savior. In that way they become the perfect cherry on top of the Christmas story. Also, unlike Herod who had to have all action and memory focused on him, God takes a back seat allowing the people to shine. God uses a star to guide the Wisemen. God acts through a dream to tell the Wisemen to not return to Herod.
In so many ways God invites us in and gives us the room to act gloriously. Even if the plan belongs to God and even if the celebration is for a divine savior. We, as God's people, whether we are born into it or are transplants, are giving leading roles. All of us are giving the invitation. Rich. Poor. Pious. Lost. I believe even Herod, through the Wisemen, had the opportunity and invitation to be part of the family. His selfishness ultimately got in the way.
We have to realize God is willing to give us the spotlight and we need to be humble enough to share the light. As this Christmas season comes to a close and a new year is on the horizon, remember: Anyone can play a part in the divine story. Anyone can gain an invitation. God then gives us room to act gloriously.