Beautiful Feet

There are 206 bones in the human body.  The human foot has 26.  I imagine that God knew we needed the extra support.  Our feet do a lot of walking over the course of our lives. The average moderately active person takes around 7,500 steps a day. If you maintain that daily average and live until 80 years of age, you’ll have walked about 216,262,500 steps in your lifetime. Doing the math, the average person with the average stride living until 80 will walk a distance of around 110,000 miles.

With that amount of walking it is common then to have one’s feet hurt and smell.  Some feet are described as ugly while other people may be said to have pretty feet.  In fact, if you have nice enough feet you can be paid as a foot model. A foot model is a person who models footwear which can include accessories such as shoes, socks, jewelry and other related items.

In the book of the prophet Isaiah, we read about beautiful feet.  Isaiah 52:7 reads,

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

The people of Israel found their feet stuck in what is known as the Babylon captivity. For 70 years their feet would be found in foreign territory.  Now a messenger was coming to announce the good news of their liberation from this captivity.  The people would soon be going home.  So, for Isaiah and the people this messenger had beautiful feet.

As followers of Jesus we too are called to have beautiful feet.  As Christians we carry the good news of God’s love and grace with us wherever our feet take us.  As a result, our lives should bear witness to the kind of love that Jesus lived as he walked this earth:  compassion, kindness, acceptance, justice, and peace.  Jesus carried good news with him.  However, sometimes as Christians our feet are anything but beautiful as we live lives that walk in the opposite direction of Jesus.  We become messengers of, self-righteousness, judgment, and condemnation.  Unfortunately, these are the feet that often have the loudest steps in our world.  It is no wonder that the world sometimes sees the church as having ugly feet.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” As Christian we should ask ourselves, “what do my feet look like to others? Are my feet walking in the ways of Jesus or something else.”?  May our goal be that of the refrain from the 19th century hymn, Footsteps of Jesus:

Footprints of Jesus,
That make the pathway glow;
We will follow the steps of Jesus
Where’er they go.

 

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Love is Greater Than Hate

This past week the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas came to Richmond, Virginia and staged one of its protests both at the Capital and on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.  The church is known for its use of inflammatory hate speech, especially against LGBTQ people, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Romani people and U.S. soldiers and politicians. The WBC is not affiliated with any Baptist denomination.  Many other Baptist churches, Baptist-affiliated seminaries, and Baptist conventions, including the Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention (the two largest Baptist denominations), have denounced the WBC over the years. In addition, other mainstream Christian denominations have condemned the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church.

It is really hard for me to wrap my mind around their theology.  How do you preach a message of hate and at the same time be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus?  Jesus’ entire ministry, culminating in the cross, was one of love, mercy, and grace.  Jesus extended God’s love to everyone he met.  Jesus’ compassion flowed freely from his words and his deeds.  The love that Jesus expressed was transformative and embraced those who others had shunned.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”  The power of love will always be greater than the power of hate because the scriptures teach us, “God is love.”  If we view the world and all its peoples through this lens, hate cannot survive.  The light of God’s love has in come in Jesus and the darkness shall not overcome it.

As followers of Jesus we are called to live in this light and bear witness to it through the living of our lives.  My heart aches for all those who are a target of hate in our society.  My heart also aches for those individuals from Westboro Baptist Church.  Darkness has blinded them to the good news of God’s love.  They are lost in such a deep darkness.

May each of us who claim Jesus as Lord live as lights amidst the darkness; realizing that when all is said and done, God will have the final word.  It will be the word love. As the Gospel of John reminds us:

“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.”

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Wintry Mix

I have always been a snow lover as long as I can remember.  I love to watch it fall, the silence of its falling, and the blanket of white that covers the ground.  The beauty of a new snow seems to calm us down although it can send us into a panic before it arrives, as we cannot survive without bread and milk.

However, in Richmond, Virginia, seldom is our forecast just for snow.  In most cases the forecast is for a wintry mix which simply means a combination of every type of precipitation:  rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow.  We don’t know what we will get until it starts falling.  Yet, most of the time it is a mixed bag of precipitation.

As I consider my own faith and relationship with Jesus Christ, I must confess that I too am a mixed bag.  As I seek to live for Jesus in the world, I am constantly aware that I am not as pure as a driven snow. ‘Driven snow‘ is snow that has blown into drifts and is untrodden and clean.  No, I am a mixed bag of saint and sinner, clean and unclean, faith and doubt, faithful and unfaithful and there are plenty other dichotomies I could add to the mix.

Maybe this is what the Apostle Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Roman Church:

 For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Paul is clearly a mixed bag when it comes to his faith.  And if we are honest, we too have the same weather pattern in our own lives.  While we seek to walk with Christ in our lives we still continue to stumble over our own sinfulness.  We are saints and sinners at the same time.  Paul was so frustrated with his faith failures that he cries out, “wretched man that I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

This is the question that we must each ask ourselves as followers of Jesus.  How can the forecast of our lives be changed?  Paul answers this question for himself and for us in the next verse where he writes, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  By ourselves we cannot alter the saint/sinner pattern in our life.  Trying to do so in our strength will only lead to further inner conflict.  No, ultimately it is God’s grace that can lead us into the kind of life that God desires.  A grace that we need every day of our lives because our commitment to God can be as unpredictable as the weather in Richmond.  We indeed are a wintry mix; a mixed bag.

The apostle John would write in the first letter that bears his name these words:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

It is through Christ alone that we can be made holy and righteous.  By God’s grace we can become the people God desires.  It may take a lifetime to get there, but as we place our faith in Christ Jesus, then God can begin to alter the weather pattern in our lives whereby we are no longer a wintry mix but are as pure as a driven snow.

 

Spring Forward

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For a few weeks now I have noticed the days becoming longer.  The long nights of winter are beginning to give way to the light of spring.  On March 9 we will move our clocks forward one hour.  We enter daylight savings time. Daylight savings time in the US started as an energy conservation trick during World War I and became a national standard in the 1960s.  The idea is that we will have more daylight hours longer into the evening.  Thus we are said to “spring forward.”

After a long, cold, and rainy winter in Richmond, Virginia, I am ready for the extra light and the warmth that accompanies it.  The season of spring is about to bud and many are excited to see its arrival.  Life will once again emerge from winter’s soil as nature redecorates itself once again.  Light and life are on horizon!

Likewise, with the changing of the seasons, we will soon change our wardrobes.  The coats and gloves, long sleeve shirts, and other winter wear will be packed away.  We will return to the wardrobe of spring. We will dress ourselves for the new season.

In psalm 104:2 the psalmist writes,“God covers himself with light as with a garment. He stretches out the heavens like a curtain.” (Psalm 104:2)  God is the God of  light and life.  God dresses in holy light and shines upon his creation everyday.  The glory of God shines forth and reminds us of the new life that we now have because of God.

Thus, with God’s light shining upon us, what is our wardrobe to look like?  The apostle Paul answers this question in his letter to the Colossians where he writes,

 “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3: 12-15)

Paul’s wardrobe consultation reminds us how we are to live in the world as followers of Jesus and in the season of light that he brings to the world. While we may be fickle sometimes of what to wear for our physical wardrobe, the clothing of those who follow God remains the same.  It never goes out of style.  Our wardrobe is one fashioned by love with all its accessories:  compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, peace and thankfulness.  This is the dress that is good for every season.

So as we prepare to make a seasonal wardrobe change, may we model ourselves after the one who is clothed in light, Christ our Lord.  Christ’s style is always the best style.  So let us each say, “yes to the dress” that God offers to us out of his own closet.  Then let us go forth into the world and spring forward in the light, love, and life of God.

 

Dust on the Pews

How many of us have ever dusted a rug?  I’m not talking about running the vacuum over it, but instead hanging the rug outside and beating the dust out of it.  People who frequently learn about rug cleaning and maintenance have probably encountered the term “rug beating.” This cleaning technique was implemented in past decades, and some rug owners continue to do this either as tradition or as the only cleaning method that they know. Beating a rug involves, well, exactly what the words describe. The rug is hanged on a clothesline outside the house and is hit or beaten by a broom or a rug beater.

The primary purpose of rug beating is to remove dirt and grit embedded in the rug fibers. When a rug is not cleaned of grit, the debris stays between the fibers and works its way into the base of the rug and even further into the flooring underneath. This is the reason why regular cleaning and grit removal is necessary for rugs.

If you attend an Ash Wednesday worship service today you will most likely hear the phrase “dust to dust, ashes to ashes.”  God created humanity out the dirt and dust of the earth.  And in our death, this is exactly where our bodies return.  Likewise, the season of Lent is an opportunity to consider the dust buildup of sin in our lives.  Like a rug, over time, our sin builds up in the fibers of our hearts, weighing us down, hardening our hearts, and leaving us worn and weary.  There is just so much dust a heart can hold.

On Ash Wednesday, we offer up our lives for dust removal.  We come seeking the clean heart that David prayed for in Psalm 51:  “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.” We know we are dusty.  Every time we sit in a church pew, we bring the dust of our sinfulness and mortality with us.

David was dusty.  He had committed some serious sin.  He had committed adultery, murder, and coated it all in lies until the prophet Nathan called him out on it and caused David to see who he had become.  Psalm 51 is David’s prayer to God seeking forgiveness for what he had done and who he had become.  Everywhere you touched David’s life, dust flew up.  He knew he needed a cleaning and he needed it now.  David appealed to God’s mercy, compassion, grace, and forgiveness.  In many ways, David was asking God to beat the dust out of his life.  Now I guess it is good that rugs do not have a sense of feeling as we do when they are beaten.  If someone beat us with a broom, well we would feel it.  A rug doesn’t feel.

But what David knows is that God’s grace does not seek to tear him down, kick him while he is down, and then stomp him into the ground because of his sinfulness.  Even with his great sin, David knew he was still loved by God.

Rumi was a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic.  Rumi once said this about rug beating.  “When someone beats a rug, the blows are not against the rug, but against the dust in it.” You see, sometimes in our lives we convince ourselves that our sin is so grave, and that we are so terribly dusty that there is no way that God could love us.  We’re simply too much of a mess.  And because of this dusty condition, we also convince ourselves that God must hate us, despise us, and look upon us with distain.  God is a mean and harsh judge who is ready to pour out his wrath upon us.

On this Ash Wednesday the Kingdom of God has come upon us.  God’s great battle with sin and death will be played out over the next 40 days as we follow Jesus to the cross and ultimately to an Easter resurrection.  It is  a kingdom of mercy, love, and grace.  A King who comes not to destroy the sinner, but to take up our sin, our dust, and place it upon himself.  As Paul would say, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  You might say, “while were still dusty, Christ died for us.” Jesus took the beating so we would not have to, and in his death, our dust is removed.  We are restored to the joy of God’s salvation.  This is God’s good news for all of us.

Thus, in Psalm 103 we read this promise: “He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far, he removes our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion for his children,so, the Lord has compassion for those who fear him. For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.”

Our pews are dusty t because we have bring our dust to God’s sanctuary.  However, we are met not by a wrathful God, but by a gracious Lord.  So let us hear the words of the prophet Isaiah this Ash Wednesday, “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.”

 

Identity Theft

The phrase identity theft was not part of the English language until 1964, oddly the year I was born. Since that time, the definition of identity theft has been defined as the theft of personally identifying information, generally including a person’s name, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number, bank account or credit card numbers, pin numbers, electronic signatures, fingerprints, passwords, or any other information that can be used to access a person’s financial resources.  In 2017 there were 16.7 million cases of identity theft in the United States.  According to studies, identity theft recovery takes an average of 6 months and 100 to 200 hours-worth of work.  That’s’ a lot of time to get your life back and recover your identity.

While as painful it is to have your identity stolen it is worse to lose your identity all together.  In our world it easy to forget who we are.  From the moment we are born the world will begin to try to define us and tell us who we are.  Then for the rest of our lives, labels are placed on us that remind us and everyone else who we are.  While some labels are welcomed and bring much joy like father, son, daughter, spouse, and friend; others however, can wound us.  These negative labels can inflict a lot of pain and the list is endless:  ugly, stupid, failure, loser, fat, slow, pathetic, freak, useless.  There are a lot more labels that can be added to this list.  Labeled enough, over time we accept them for just who we are.  Our identity is stolen.  Our identity is lost, and we forget who we are.

The good news of the Gospel is that our identity is ultimately given to us by God.  The apostle John, in the first letter that bears his name writes, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (1 John 3:1) Our identity comes not from a broken and sinful creation, but from a loving Creator God.  Every person is a child of God regardless of what label the world places on us.  Our identity is born out of God’s love who sees us as “wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)

When we begin to trust this truth then we can begin to see those around us as children of God, wonderfully made in all their uniqueness.  Every life is of value and worth because every life is a gift of the Creator.  The late Christian writer Henri Nouwen said it this way:

Spiritual identity means we are not what we do or what people say about us. And we are not what we have. We are the beloved daughters and sons of God.

So, let us encourage one another and build one another up as God’s children.  The world does enough tearing people down and stealing their identity.  In Jesus, however, we can know exactly who we are; beloved daughters and sons of God.

 

 

Waves of Grace

The amazing thing to me about the ocean is that the waves never cease to come in.  I have never arrived at the beach, whether summer or winter, and found there were no waves.  Sometimes the waves are bigger than other times, but nevertheless, they continue to roll in.

In the beginning of the Gospel of John, the writer makes plain this truth:  “From Christ’s fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)  Grace what a marvelous word.  Growing up I was always taught that God’s grace simply meant God’s unmerited love for us.  That is, we do nothing in and of ourselves to earn this grace; this acceptance.  God simply accepts us just as we are; with all our brokenness, pains, and fears.  We sing about grace being “amazing” and it certainly is.  It is amazing because it just keeps coming from the heart of God like the waves on the shore.

The late Brennan Manning, the author of the Ragamuffin Gospel, writes:

My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I’m sick or in good health, whether I’m in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am.

It is so easy for us to forget this truth.  Rather than allowing God’s grace to wash over us, we run from the waves of his grace like a frightened child uncertain about the ocean waves.  We forget that God’s grace is endless and ceaseless and God will not withhold it from anyone.  Even when we think we don’t need it, God’s grace still washes up on the shores of our lives.

I don’t know about you, but I have to remind myself every day of the reality of God’s grace.  I might not think about God, but God is always thinking about me and you.

So let’s keep reminding one another to hit the surf because there are some great waves of grace rolling in.