Saturday, October 26, 2013

fall: God's lesson about the beauty of death.

Since I can remember, I’ve been the little girl that loved to soak up every moment of summer.  No school, bikes, pools.  But something in me has shifted in the last few years.  After years of summer confidently standing in the number one spot, fall has wiggled its way in to gain the gold.  Maybe it was my first Phoenix summer a few years ago that began a wedge between summer and me.  At just that time, I returned to Minnesota for the most magical season of color and crispness.  Some of my favorite moments with the Lord have been spent running or sitting along a lovely walking path that parallels the Mississippi River that splits Minneapolis from St. Paul.  The path is best in fall with massive deciduous trees shedding color combinations only God himself could create.  The crisp air on this girl’s face inspired and empowered me with new energy; perhaps a necessary jolt before the winter hibernation set in.

It’s the perfect time of year for a walk with a sweater and scarf.  Just when it gets a little too chilly, you can find your way into a cozy coffee shop that smells of sweet cider drinks and warm conversation.  There’s just something about this season.  Fall makes me feel alive and romanced.  I grieved missing the leaves, the orchards, and the sweatshirt weather this year as I sit by the pool in capris and a t-shirt.  The desert doesn’t do fall quite like Minnesota or New England, but there are echoes of the same refreshing sentiment.  I love the smell of fire pits in the evening and the ability to be outside again after our season of summer hibernation.

This season just resonates in me.  Its beauty and romance are just captivating to me and I wanted to figure out why.  Why is a season of death so stunning?  That’s really what it is.  The trees shedding their dead and burying them into expired lawns.  It’s a gorgeous death.  I got a little concerned for a bit that maybe at my core, I was enamored with a season of dying and my future will be resigned to reading Poe and wear black jackets and eyeliner.
But I don’t think that’s the case.  What if God, at the fall of humanity, weaved His redemption narrative into creation?  I mean, that sounds pretty simple, right?  We see dead things making soil rich to bring new life.  New growth emerges from out of the snowy winter.  We see parallel stories to Christ everywhere.  Maybe it’s been obvious to everyone else all along, but I have been captured these past few weeks by this notion:  God weaved a season of beautiful death into creation’s rhythm so it would already be familiar to our souls.

Think about it.  Death is the most ugly thing in existence.  It can be gory, gross, the most destructive and permanent part of life.  It goes against everything we are as created beings to find death beautiful.  So perhaps God did some foreshadowing in nature to prepare us and familiarize our beings with this seemingly oxymoronic concept that is essential to the Gospel.  Jesus took the most horrid death imaginable and redefined love and beauty where a curse once lived.  It’s a stretch for us to believe that God not only makes beautiful things out of the dust and dead, but He made death itself beautiful.  God shedding and killing our old selves to make us look more like him is beautiful death.  In a very literal way, letting go of life here to enter into eternity will be the most beautiful and true moment our souls will ever know.  I struggle to grasp it all, but Fall helps me to trust it’s possible.  I’m grateful today that God helps us see images of His truth in what He’s created because He knows our lack of faith and understanding.  What a good Dad.

Some of the most wonderful glory I’ve witnessed has been through this season of death.  It’s taught me to pay attention in other life seasons where death seems to prevail.  In relationships, in jobs, in health, in tragedy.  The promise stands that God is making it beautiful.  If we don’t stop and take a walk among what is dying, we may miss the beauty He’s painting into death to woo us, comfort us, and draw us further into His romantic story of redemption.  May we never miss it.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Word for the Worship Leaders: impractical, extravagant worship

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages. " 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 "Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "[It was intended] that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."  John 12:1-8

Each fall our congregation does a series focusing on stewardship. Often when I think about stewardship, I perceive it conservatively. I immediately ask myself “where can I trim the fat and be more frugal so I that I can give more?”  There's always room for simplification and to really think carefully about how we are spending what God has blessed us with.  This story from John beats the concept of frugality to a pulp and throws it out in the street with its brother practicality.  There is nothing conservative, or stingy about Mary here.  The disciples are appalled at her wastefulness with using a bottle of expensive perfume to worship and honor Jesus.  They don’t understand.  Jesus was so simple in living.  Mary was being extravagant.  When they gave her a hard time about it, expecting that what Jesus would do, He defends her actions.  I’m sure they were confused and frustrated, but Jesus was delighted.  The power of love and forgiveness has transformed Mary’s broken life and story.  It had over taken her to the point of extravagant, over-the-top, impractical worship.  When we are called and claimed as Christ’s, we are set apart and transformed.  Life looks different when we see that no expense was spared for our salvation.  Without realizing it, we’re moved to spare no expense, not even our pride, to bring honor and praise to a relentless, loving Father.  In the Old Testament, when Solomon's temple was being built, there was no expense spared to honor God in that place.  There was no budget on the beauty, time, or expense given to honor the King of kings.  It pushes us to think about that seriously.  How can I worship and honor God extravagantly with what He has given me?  Am I so changed and in awe of God’s love for me to give up much for his honor?  How do we be good stewards of our resources and still worship extravagantly as a body?  This week and in the weeks to come, what does it look like to give up something valuable -- time, money, attention, looking cool -- to fall at the feet of Jesus in worship for how great His grace is toward us?