Sanctuary Guy & other musings…

One of my favorite things about my job is getting to know the kids that attend our preschool, Little Lites, during the week. I love going into their classes during lunch time & talking with them – & hearing how their days are going & what they’re thinking about. Because my now-grandson is in the preschool, most of the kids have taken to calling me what he does – “Pop-Pop Louie” or “Poppy Louie.”

There is one exception – one little 3 year old boy calls me “Sanctuary Guy.”

It comes from the times that I would lead worship for the preschoolers in the sanctuary – & for some reason, this little guy decided that “Sanctuary Guy” was the name he would call me. It’s always made me laugh, especially when he talks about me to his parents.

This last week, I was on my way to run errands & this little guy was standing in line waiting for lunchtime recess. I heard him yell my name, “Hey Sanctuary Guy!” I responded, “What’s up?” And he said, “Sanctuary Guy, my parents got in an argument this morning, & it made me feel really sad & I’m scared.”

I immediately knelt down to look him in the eye & asked him if I could pray for him – he said yes. I prayed for peace & joy, & for his parents to get along… At the end of the prayer, he said that it helped.  I got up to leave & almost made it out the door when he said, “Hey Sanctuary Guy! If my dad needs to talk to you from his work, would you talk to him?” I said, “Absolutely I would talk to your dad. I’d talk to your mom too if she wanted.” And he said, “Nope. My mom doesn’t need any help.”


 

Today marks the beginning of week 3 since we’ve been back from our sabbatical… still getting used to the routine of work & life again… slowly adjusting to wearing real shoes…  The thing I miss most about our time away is the uninterrupted days with theBean. No distractions. No work to do. Nothing but each other & whatever fun we wanted to fill the day with. I’m trying to find ways to capture some of that in the middle of life’s hecticness – to remind myself (& theBean) of the great gift God has given to me in her. I love that woman.


 

A birthday ode, to theBean…

I love to hold theBean’s hand. Love it. I can remember the first time I ever did – it was August 21, 1988 & we were walking across the Florence Avenue Church parking lot, & I used the excuse of wanting to “keep her safe & close” in case there were any runaway vehicles. In the parking lot. She didn’t let go. (Point of order: we had actually touched hands accidentally on August 12, downstairs at my parents house – I was watching baseball… go figure –  but once I realized what was happening, I tried to play like I didn’t know our fingers were touching. And of course I left my hand there. But I digress.)


A little background:

TheBean was headed into her Senior year at Sonora Union High, & was preparing to go to UCDavis & study medicine. To become an osteopathic physician. She’d served as a trainer for the Varsity football team & loved it, & figured a career in medicine would be just the thing for a girl that A) didn’t want/need a man to support her & B) didn’t want kids. She even worked at a local eatery in her spare time (looking back: where she found the time, I have no idea, between school, cheerleading, training, etc… She always has been good at doing  a lot & doing it well.)

And then there was an US.

We both realized at the same time that this was the person we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with – we didn’t tell each other that we KNEW what the other was thinking… I think it was the first time that we’d read each others face with a glance, the first of thousands.  This lightning bolt changed everything for both of us, but mostly for theBean. I remember the day she told me, “Where you go, I’ll go. Where you live, I’ll live.” I was taken aback by the commitment, by the fierceness of her statement, so I asked her, “What about UCDavis & becoming a doctor?” Her answer? “Now that I have you, what I really want is to be a team with you, in what you do… to support you. To support US.”  I know that I did not at that moment understand the enormity of the decision she made, the incredible tidal wave of love that choice brought with it, nor the cost she would pay (willingly) to follow through on it.


So instead of pursuing medicine, theBean pursued US. We got married July 1, 1989.  Instead of pursuing school, she picked up a food service job, the first of a few she would work in Reno/Carson over an almost 25 year period: El Charro Avitia, Carson Station Grille/Rotisserie, Pinocchio’s, & Starbucks.) In each job, theBean found herself rising to the top, a valued employee, skilled in customer service, the best at hospitality. A person  loved by management & her fellow employees. (Sound familar? :)

I’ve never worked food service, so I didn’t know one of the downsides of the job is that your hands are always in bleach water/sanitizer. And the constant exposure to this wreaks havoc on your hands, drying them out to the point where they get cracked, rough, & raw.  I don’t think I ever really noticed theBean’s hands being rough, but she did. (Remember, I love holding her hand.) She was self-conscious about the state of her hands, & often when I’d take her hand she’d make a comment about how dry they were or how bad of shape they were in. I didn’t really pay attention to that. I just wanted to hold her hand.


Nevada’s dry climate + 25 years of exposure to bleach water/santizer DID make theBean’s hands perpetually dry, & I know she still battles the self-consciousness of how her hands must feel to me. I’ll tell you what I think:

When I hold mytheBean’s hand, I feel the hand of the woman who traded in the pursuit of her solo dream to hitch herself to the idea of an even better dream in her eyes, the dream of US.

I feel the hand of a woman who has worked hard – enduring the demands of being on her feet all day/evening; who endured stupid, rude, & inappropriately flirty demanding customers; who survived on not enough sleep; who sacrificed for me, for US, & for our family.

I feel the hand of a woman who has contended for us to be a team in life & work, even through my own stubborn pig-headed meanness, selfishness, & times I didn’t treat her right.

I feel the hand of a woman who has never, ever, once given up on me or held a grudge, & has extended grace, mercy, & forgiveness through dark & stormy days & nights.

I feel the hand of a woman who could have chosen to do whatever she wanted to do in this life, a woman who is beautiful, intelligent, hospitable, hard-working, driven, a visionary… the kind of woman I’m proud that theWeez has become, the kind of woman that I have prayed that my sons would have the privilege of marrying someday.

When I hold mytheBean’s hand, I feel the evidence of her lifetime of love & devotion. It doesn’t feel rough to me – it feels as beautiful as the first time we touched. She has been, is, & will continue to be the girl of my dreams (the good ones, not the bad ones,) myOne, myOwn, myLover.

Happy birthday Bean. You are loved. You are IT for me. And will be. As long as we both shall live… 

Thanksgiving weekend & stuff…

At Hillside, we believe that one of our main purposes as a church is to help people find, understand, & follow God’s plan for their lives. This means moving people towards self-discovery, helping them uncover & develop their God-given gifts, & talents, exploring their hopes & dreams, & hearing God’s direction & moving towards it.

This Sunday, we welcome our friends Anthony & Ally Siwajian back to Hillside for a visit. They were a part of Hillside for several years until moving to Los Angeles almost 2 years ago to pursue their dreams. Currently, Ally is working at the Foursquare Headquarters in the Communications department, & Anthony is writing the next great fantasy novel. (True story – I’ve read some of the rough draft.)

These are two people who are gifted, articulate, authentic, sincere, compassionate, invested in Isaiah 58-style social justice, & they are even nerdy like me (they met in a Literature class at UNR on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.)  I miss them terribly, especially Anthony’s distinctive laugh. At the same time,   I also know that sometimes when people have found, understood, & begun to follow God’s plan for their lives, it takes them on a journey of a lifetime…. A journey out of Reno. These 2 are living well, & I am incredibly proud of them & the steps of faith they are taking daily.

We have 2 choices…

After having spent the last several months reading, studying, & now teaching through the Sermon on the Mount, I have drawn a couple of conclusions for myself that I don’t think I had before (or at least hadn’t identified.)

In this passage of Scripture, Christ defines exactly what it means to be His disciples:

  • in how we relate to & obey God & His commandments.
  • In establishing our priorities & values from which we live our lives.
  • in how we worship Him, not merely with our outward actions, but from the bottom of our hearts, with all that we have.
  • In how we interact with & care for other people.

Matthew 7 concludes with Jesus telling His disciples they have 2 choices: follow Him & walk in His ways, on His terms, or do anything else. He does this comparing:

  • 2 gates, the narrow and the wide. The narrow gate leads to life; the wide to destruction.
  • 2 types of trees, good & diseased, the good, which produces good fruit, the diseased which brings forth bad fruit.
  • 2 types of disciples – the ones He knows (those who do the will of the Father,) & those He doesn’t know, regardless of what they think they’ve done in His Name.
  • 2 foundations – Rock & sand, with the foundation of rock representing the person who hears & puts into practice His words; sand is the life foundation of the person who has heard His words, yet ignores them.

To me, the entirety of Matthew 5-7 can be summed up in Matthew 7:13,14 – the only way to experience God’s life & purpose is to enter through the narrow gate (Jesus) & to walk the hard road of obedience to God’s word, humbly choosing to do His will over our own. After re-reading this over & over, what stands out to me is that I cannot “self-define” where & how I will be Christ’s disciple. He’s already done that, & my choice is to embrace that & start walking with Him, or to choose the lesser (& easier) wide gate through which I can do what I’d like, how I like it… sifting through Christ’s commands & picking up those that are palatable, while leaving behind those that I deem are not.

Following Christ is hard – Jesus said it would be, because it involves denying our own selfish ambition, picking up Jesus’ way, & moving forward WITH Him.

Don’t be a judger…

“Judge not, that you not be judged. ”

When Jesus made the statement quoted above, what did He mean?  The following verses give us much clearer understanding – they say, in essence:

“In the same way & with the same measure you judge others, you will be judged. Before you try to take the speck of sawdust out of someone else’s eye, take the 2×4 out of your own.

Jesus challenges His disciples not to take a harsh, critical, nitpicking attitude towards others, especially if they haven’t first examined themselves to address & repent from the sin, wrong attitudes, & behaviors in their own lives.  And if the time comes to address an issue of wrong in someone else’s life, it has to be done in a manner that reflects Christ: with great love, compassion, humility, & mercy.

Something else that can help us get what Jesus meant when He said, “Don’t judge” is a better understanding of what “passing judgment” means: Passing judgment involves making a final pronouncement of “guilty” on another individual/group – think: a judge in a courtroom smashing his gavel down while saying “GUILTY”. In that situation, it’s over. It’s done.  All that’s left is the sentencing.  That role, ultimately, belongs to God (see Revelation 20) & “Judgment Day” isn’t here yet – now is the time for healing, restoration & salvation (2Corinthians 6).  So, if  we pass judgment on someone, we are, in essence, writing them off as hopeless cases. That’s not how God sees them (or us).

Jesus on $ MONEY $

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenged those that wanted to follow Him to recognize that God’s peoples’ priorities, values, thought processes, & actions run completely counter to those of the prevailing culture. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the passage we’ll be exploring this week, Matthew 6:19-34.

Here’s what I mean. The desire to acquire MORE – money, possessions, & stuff is a part of the human condition. From the time we’re toddlers we learn that MORE is better. Jesus, however, encouraged His disciples to consider a new type of value system. He said:

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

In essence, He is reminding His followers to remember that we’re living in a different way by different values – rather than investing ourselves in acquiring treasure here on earth, treasure we could only have temporarily – by following His example & applying His way of thinking/acting, we can do something that will have an eternal impact.

I’m challenged to continually review my own priorities & values (especially in this area) & to ask the Holy Spirit to help me discern where I’m on/off track so that I can realign myself with Jesus’ way.

Jesus & the hypocrites…

Have you ever heard this (or a version of it)? “Hypocrites. I don’t go to church because of the hypocrites. You know, the people who say they’re Christians, but who don’t live it out.”  I don’t buy that definition – to me any follower of Christ could then be called a hypocrite, because even though we don’t want to sin, to do wrong, &/or miss the mark, we DO. That doesn’t make us hypocrites, it makes us humans in process. And rather than beat ourselves up over our failures, the response of a Christ-follower is to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, repent (turn from our wrong thinking & actions & turn to God) & relentlessly continue our relationship with God, through Christ, confident that we’re forgiven & He’s at work in our lives.

So what is a hypocrite? In Jesus’ day, the word “hypocrite” meant “actor; one who plays a role in the theater.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called the religious leaders hypocrites, because their very loud & very public displays of devotion to God were merely an attempt to draw attention to themselves & make other people think they were “all that” – pious, devoted followers of God.

The religious hypocrites made sure EVERYONE knew when they were giving to a charity or making a donation to help a person in need. They’d actually have someone blow a trumpet as they gave in a way of saying “Hey! Look at me! I’m Awesome!.”

Their prayers were long & loud, delivered eloquently in public, with many flowery, spiritual sounding words. When they fasted (going without food for a predetermined period of time,) they made sure EVERYONE knew it by putting ashes on their heads, wearing a burlap sack, & wandering around with pained, hungry looks on their faces. The message their actions & words put forward was, “this is what it looks like to be spiritual.”  And all the while, they were secretly plotting Christ’s death.

So what DOES it look like to be spiritual? What kind of instructions did Christ give His followers about giving, prayer, & fasting?

Growing to maturity…

One of the many challenging declarations Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount comes from Matthew 5:43-48. It’s the passage where He tells His disciples & the crowds, “You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor & hate your enemy. But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies, & pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven.”

Love your enemies? Pray for people who persecute you? How?

Something that has helped me to understand & try to live this out was discovering the Greek word for love that Jesus used in this passage was “agape” – roughly translated, it would be “to welcome, to love dearly, & unconditionally.” Doesn’t necessarily make it easier to DO, but it sure gives a picture of what it looks like: extending love & care to all people, without strings.

When we do this, we exhibit a primary Christ-like trait that comes from being in the family of God. Loving like this reflects God’s own love, & points to Him as our own source of love & life.

Plus, like Jesus said, if we only love our friends, people that love us &/or those that are lovable, how Godly is that? Even people who don’t know God & don’t have a clue about His ways do that. (Matthew 5:46,47).

This command wasn’t just talk for Jesus either – He lived it out His whole life, culminating on the cross when He looked at the crowds around Him, yelling, cursing, & spitting at Him. Calling Him names. Blaspheming His Father. And Jesus’ response to this hatred & persecution, as He hung dying on the cross? A prayer: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

That is loving your enemies, Jesus-style.

The heart of the matter…

When I was younger, I equated much of Christianity & my relationship with God to “the Rules:” things I was supposed to do, & things I was NOT supposed to do. If I followed “the Rules,” I was doing good with God, & if I didn’t, well, I was doing bad.  Over time, I got pretty good at keeping “the Rules” & if I would admit it, I was pretty proud of myself. Why? I’m glad you asked.

Because I was good at keeping the Rules I measured myself against other peoples’ abilities at Rule keeping… & , to me, it seemed like most people weren’t as good at me at keeping the Rules. Which made me a ‘better’ Christian. Just about every aspect of my life reflected the fact that I was religious. Went to church & youth group (rarely missed.) I was known for my good behavior.

Except I was mean to people. Judgmental. Arrogant. Unfriendly. I could go on…

My life didn’t reflect Christlikeness – the “God-family traits” that show up in His kids were glaringly absent from most of my interpersonal interactions. I was well on my way to becoming a Pharisee: great at keeping ‘the Rules” while at the same time completely missing the heart of the matter.

The point of following Christ is to become LIKE Christ in how we think, how we act, & how we interact with each other & the rest of the world. It means digging deep into Scripture to allow it to be planted deep in our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can work to apply it & transform our hearts & minds from being selfish, self-focused, self-righteous people to being people who reflect Christ’s love, mercy, compassion, & justice.