Blessed is the one

Blessed is the one

    who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take

    or sit in the company of mockers,

but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,

    and who meditates on his law day and night.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

    which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither—

    whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!

    They are like chaff

    that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

— Psalm 1

In this passage, we are struck by the either/or nature of the text. It seems to be saying, blessed are these people, and wicked are these other people. I don’t know about you, but that sort of either/or-ness rubs me wrong. I like to think of myself as a both/and thinker. I like to think that I try to see nuance and try not to get stuck in black and white thinking.

But here is the thing, if we read this text moralistically we would interpret the first 3 verses as talking about the “good people,” and the last 3 verses as talking about the “bad people.” And if we do that, we miss the point of the passage and the point of the gospel altogether.

Jesus came to show there is only one who is good – and that is God. We don’t come to God by doing everything right; that is moralism; that is religion. We come to God by doing things all wrong and then falling upon His mercy, grace, and forgiveness available in Christ Jesus over and over again.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. There is perishing and there is life. These are dichotomies. There is the person who is planted by the spring of water and there is the chaff who gets blown away. But the difference does not have to do with anything we have done – the difference has to do with the grace we have received.

Best Places to Live

I am always drawn to those articles online that announce “Best Places to Live.” I like to click on those links and read those articles. I like to look at the pictures of small towns and big cities and read about why folks think those are great places to live. Every year, the UN asks this question about countries. In 2021 Norway was number 1, Ireland was number 2, and Switzerland was number 3. Every year, Money Magazine also asks the same question about cities and towns in the US. This past year they ranked Chanhassen, Minnesota number 1, Carmel, Indiana number 2, and Franklin, Tennessee number 3. Forbes does a similar assessment, and each group has its own set of criteria for determining the place that wins. 

The ancient wisdom of scripture says the best place to live is in love. You can move to the best place to live according to Forbes, but if you do not live in love there, then you gain nothing. On the flip side, you might be called to live in the slums — the worst place on earth from Money magazine’s point of view — but if you live in the house of love there, you will be rich. 

Love has some enemies. Of course, there is hate — which is an obvious enemy of love — but perhaps more common enemies of love are fear and control. 

Imagine if one day you are driving down Colorado Boulevard (as our children’s church director was!) and you see some people holding signs outside of King Soopers, and you sense God’s spirit whisper to you to go talk with one who seems especially down…but then you think to yourself “what if they don’t want to talk to me, what if they reject me, what if they blow me off?” Do you notice what happened? Fear just became the enemy of love. 

Imagine if you and your partner begin to sense God is leading you to grow your family through adoption, but then you start to realize just how much will be outside of your control. You start to realize that the child you will call your own will have been outside of your care for a certain amount of time before coming home to you; that there will likely be some hurdles in attachment that will need to be addressed and overcome, perhaps over a lifetime. What if you not having control of that journey causes you to back away from God’s call? Control just became the enemy of love. 

May we live in the house of love, no matter where we live today.

The Power of Money

“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.”

— Matthew 6, The Message

When I was in junior high, my mom and I started having what we coined, “special time” each week. Every Thursday night, it would be just my mom and I doing something fun together. It was our “special time.” Usually, that meant going to the mall and walking around. I remember one time we were at the mall, and my mom did something surprising. She bought me a pair of designer jeans! My parents are frugal people and do not spend money flippantly. But on this particular night in the middle of my junior high years, I was really wanting some “Guess” jeans. Yes, my friends, this was the late 80’s. Typically, my mom would say ‘no’ to such an extravagant purchase, or she would tell me to save my money for them. But to my surprise, she splurged and said, “oh, let’s just buy them!” It sticks in my mind because it was out of the norm; a spontaneous act of generosity. 

There was an energy released that night through money.

When we first launched Platt Park Church, I remember we did a year-end Christmas offering. Just after the email went out with the fundraising goal, there was a person in the church who emailed me back immediately and said, “I am sitting at the computer crying as I type this note to you. I feel God is asking me to give this amount to the year-end giving goal.” 

There was an energy released in our church through the gift of money that day. 

I can remember looking longingly at mountain houses, and then having the opportunity to go to a lovely mountain home with another family. My dream was their reality. The picture-perfect house looked like a scene I had studied in Mountain Living magazine. They had what I wanted. Yet ironically, they were unhappy. I watched as they were busy thinking and talking and scheming for something different, better, more. Despite living in what was a dream home to me, there was an unhappiness in them: a tension, discontent, and strife in that house. 

There was an energy released through the money used to buy that home. 

Half of the parables Jesus told are about money. Jesus spoke more about money than almost any other topic except the kingdom of God. Money has power. It has the power to reveal our hearts. This is why Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There are, of course, all the facts and figures of money: what you can afford, where you invest, how much you have or do not have. There is wisdom in considering our patterns of giving, saving, and spending. But, beyond the logistics of the facts and figures, there is another aspect to money. It is the spiritual dimension of money — the animating story you tell about money. The things you believe about money. The desires you have with money. Money has the power to tell you something about what you treasure most. 

For example, when you say, “I will never be able to afford that!” you are speaking from an animating story. Perhaps it is a story of scarcity, or a story of fear, or an assumption that you know what the future holds. “I will never be able to afford that…” speaks to your belief that you know the future is not going to be good for you. Or, when you see some kind of goodness come into someone else’s life, and you say to yourself sarcastically, “Must be nice for them” you are speaking from an animating story. Perhaps it is a story that is more about you than it is about them; more about your heart believing goodness comes to others more than it comes to you, or not noticing how the goodness of God has come to you. Or, when you run the numbers over and over to determine the exact day when you can stop working and retire, you are rehearsing a story. Perhaps it is a story about security, or freedom, or control. 

Sometimes pastors will say, “God doesn’t care about your money, He just cares about your heart.” That is absolutely not true. God cares about your money and God cares about your heart. In fact, the two are linked. Often it is our desires, stories, and beliefs about money that give us the greatest insight into the actual state of our hearts. 

The MLK Dream

“Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don’t like to rock the boat.

I prefer to smooth things over.

I like to keep the peace, and not ruffle feathers.

I am also a mom.

I am a mom to 2 kids: one is white, and one is a person of color.

I am seeing the world through new eyes.

You might say I’ve had a racialized conversion.

Or maybe I am just a mama bear.

Before adopting, many people told me, “kids don’t see skin color.” My daughter was only 3 when she started talking about skin color; noticing, and commenting. First pointing to my skin and her skin, picking out colors of crayons to draw our family, and commenting on how many more Chinese people were at JFK than at DIA when we traveled. She was 7 when she had a best buddy at school say to her, “I am going to be friends with Ashley (name has been changed) now because she is not Chinese.” I cry just revisiting that memory. She was too young (so, so young!) to be excluded because of her skin color. Yet, she was. I can recall other experiences like this; stories that are hers to tell, not mine; times where I was seeing the world through new eyes – through the eyes of my love for her.

When Covid-19 first started I overheard my kids playing in our backyard with other kids who announced that covid was all China’s fault because they eat bats. Later I was on a Zoom call where I had to mute people I dearly love because of their insistence on “China started it” theories and I didn’t want my Chinese American daughter to hear them blaming the place she was born.

She crawled up into my lap and asked me sheepishly, “am I black?” when she overheard people she loves disdain the Black Lives Matter movement.

She has overheard someone mimic an Asian accent in front of her and her beloved Chinese nanny. She has overhead people talking about “black on black violence” and “the problem with Somali people.”

Of course, nobody intentionally meant to be hurtful, they are good people, but it still hurt.

I have always wanted to think that we do not judge each other based on the color of our skin but on the “content of our character” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, but my experiences as a mom have shown me there is still so much work to do. So, so, so much work.

Racial justice is a gospel matter. It is near and dear to the heart of God because God loves all people. He cares for the seen and unseen pain of his children. We join with God when we see the image of God in all people and when we care for the places of each other’s pain. Each one is precious in his eyes. It takes all of us to fully image God. Jesus came to tear down the dividing walls of hostility that exist. We participate in the gospel of Jesus when we join God in tearing down dividing walls of hostility and building up His beloved community.

God’s heart for racial justice was clear to me long before my journey as a mom, but my journey as a mom has given me new ears to hear just how far we still have to go. My love for my daughter has given me new eyes to see how far we have to go in seeing God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven when it comes to matters of race and justice. When one of God’s children is hurting, we are all hurting. Jesus teaches us to weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice, to love my neighbor as myself, to work to build a better world.

I wonder what it would be like if I had the same mama bear instinct and love for each story I hear? I wonder how I would be if I were to love strangers like they were my own child? How might I show up in the world? Would I listen more closely? Would I have deeper empathy instincts? Would I seek first to listen and to understand?

It is hard for some folks to understand what is happening in my heart.

I have rocked the boat.I have not smoothed things over.I have ruffled feathers.

I’ve made mistakes along the way, too. So many mistakes.

How can they understand?

I still wish they would try.

I imagine they wish I would try to listen and understand them better too.

I wish I would listen better. I want to understand.

So, we miss each other again and again.

This is a painful reality. It is an ongoing struggle.

I think I understand (at least in part) that we enter the conversation about race for different reasons.

For some, it is more political.

For me, it is more personal.

For some, it is revisiting a fight that started in the 1960’s.

For me, it is a mama bear instinct.

I’m on a journey. They are on a journey. We are all in process.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

God help us all. God help us all become the beloved community that Dr. King spoke of.

Treasuring Place

Postmoderns like me have been fond of saying that we can worship God anywhere. We like to think of ourselves as spiritual, but not religious. We underline the truth in bold marker that God can be encountered just as much in the mountains surrounded by trees as He can be found in a church building surrounded by stained glass. These values have brought some necessary correction to the notion that you can equate spiritual health with church attendance. I also wonder if sometimes, in not wanting to over-value weekly worship and the place of church in our lives, we inadvertently under-value it. 

Ancient people embraced pilgrimage to holy places as a habit of spiritual formation. I wonder what might happen if we re-embraced this idea of pilgrimage in our lives. 

Every summer we make a pilgrimage of sorts to northern Wisconsin. Tim has been vacationing “up north” his entire life and I have been tagging along for all 20+ years of our marriage now. The trek up north comes with the same rituals that grow in meaning for the sheer number of times we have repeated them. Our pilgrimage up north always includes campfires, s’mores, swimming star gazing, and supper clubs. It’s inevitable that at some point we start talking about the Grade family history, we always seem to rehearse the roots while up north.  That place has become important to us. It is one of those “thin places” as Celtic Christianity says, where the barrier between heaven and earth somehow seems thinner than in everyday life. The journey of going there each summer is like a family pilgrimage spanning generations now. When Tim and I were first married I didn’t really appreciate it. I was like a snooty city girl, kind of wrinkling up my nose at the humidity and mosquitoes and lack of amenities. But over time that place has shaped me and I treasure it now. 

Imagine if you woke up on Sunday morning and thought of your drive to the place called church like a weekly pilgrimage. Do you know what a pilgrimage is? “Pilgrimage is journey to places where divine human encounter has taken place.” It is a journey to a place where the holiness of God has touched human beings. It is a journey to a place where people have had an encounter with God and have responded to the voice of the Lord wholeheartedly. We make pilgrimage to places to remember God and how God interacted with humans there. Of course, we do not elevate any place to the level of an idol; we do not worship the place. We worship God in the place. In certain places, we remember how God has encountered us and others there. Of course, we know God can meet us anywhere, but he chooses to meet us in places and those places become meaningful markers in our lives. 

In his book A Christian Theology of Place, John Inge says,“Pilgrimage is journey to places where divine human encounter has taken place. It is journey to places where holiness has been apparent in the lives of Christian men and women who have been inspired by such an encounter and have responded to it wholeheartedly in their lives: it is travel to the dwelling places of the saints.”

That is what we do when we come to a sanctuary each week. We make a pilgrimage to a dwelling place of the saints. What a treasure!

Mental Health & Weekly Worship

Not long ago, Gallup Research Group did a study revealing mental health for Americans has reached an all-time low; the lowest it has been in more than two decades. 

Across the board, people reported doing worse than the year prior with a 9-point drop overall. Everyone reported doing worse….except for one group. 

The ONLY group that reported doing better? 

People who attend worship services weekly. 
Let that sink in for just a moment… 

Men say they are doing worse.

Women say they are doing worse.

Republicans say their mental health is down.

Democrats say the same thing.

Marital status….various age groups….various income brackets…all down.

But those who attend a weekly worship service were up +4 points from the year prior. 

I wonder if that is due to the nature of community in the body of Christ. We can sing from home, and that is good, but at church we sing together. We can pray at home, and that is good, but at church we pray together. We can worship God anywhere, and that is good, but at church we worship God together

If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it is that church is not just about hearing a sermon.  Honestly, we can do that anytime from anywhere: while driving, walking, eating, or while making pancakes in our PJ’s. (And it’s more time-efficient.)

Over the last 18 months, we have all become pretty good at taking in content online. That is not the same as community. Community is different. No matter how many Zoom meetings, podcasts, live streams, or FaceTimes we do, it is not the same as gathering together.  Gathering is good. Worship is good. And interestingly enough, it is good for your mental health too!

We are certainly still in a pandemic and so we are both gathered and scattered in worship, but we are here and when you’re ready, we always love seeing your face. 

[Read more about this here.]

A Hidden Wholeness

There are days when I open my eyes and wish I awoke to a simpler world. Pandemics, politics, racial injustice, loss, grief, violence, and senseless hate, crowd us on every side. It is a hard time to be human! Life is wearying and difficult. Most people I know are struggling with some level of anxiety or depression. We are all being pushed to shift, change and pivot at a constant rate. 

The ancient wisdom of the scriptures says, “Do not grow weary in doing good.” (Galatians 6:9). Or as the old hymn says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” But if I am honest, it feels like complexity and questions wear me down. I want to embrace the simple way of love, but all too often weariness creeps into my soul no matter how hard I try to keep it out.

Jesus said that all the Law and the prophets hang on two things: love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). It sounds so simple, and yet it feels so impossible some days.

That is why we are starting this new series called A Hidden Wholeness. We are borrowing that phrase from Parker Palmer’s book by the same name. We live in a world filled with the forces of fragmentation. There are so many different things to care about! How can we map out a journey towards an undivided life?  How can we begin to live in ways that are congruent with who God has made us to be in solitude and then also lived out authentically in community with others in this world? Those are the questions that will guide us in this series, and 2 Corinthians 4 will be our main scripture passage. Maybe you want to read it ahead of time?

I hope you’ll join us as we move together into a hidden wholeness. 

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Our world is constantly saying, “Hustle hustle hustle – hustle to prove your worth.” 

Find the next new house, car, toy. 

Find the next new job, degree, certification. Find the next new idea, thought, or cause.

Then make your every waking moment about achieving that thing. 

Build a brand around that thing. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with setting goals and working hard…but I’m talking about the spirit of the hustle. The hustle to push and to prove that you’re somebody. The hustle whose driving force is a quest to be found worthy of love. 

The spirit of the hustle is a threat to the formation of your soul. It always has been. Hustle is built on the lie that you are what you do, and you are what you have. Hustle has a way of drowning out the reality of limits. Hustle has a way of covering over our limitations and fooling us with the lie that says if you will just work harder and smarter you will be happy; you will finally be somebody.

A recent NPR article said, “As pandemic life recedes in the U.S., people are leaving their jobs in search of more money, more flexibility and more happiness…It’s leading to a dramatic increase in resignations — a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone.”

More money, more flexibility, and more happiness. These are not bad things….but I wonder if in some cases this is just the spirit of the hustle with some fresh lipstick on it. 

The invitation that God has made available to us in Christ is the spirit of rest. It is a place where your identity is received, not achieved. It is a place of grace. It is a place where you do not have to try so hard; a place without hustle. 

In Matthew 11:30, Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

May you learn the unforced rhythms of grace today.

About Getting Back to Normal

My spiritual director recently shared a story with me about Julian of Norwich. Julian was an ancient Christian mystic who lived through two rounds of the Black Death plague. The first round killed up to 60% of the population, and the 2nd round killed another 20% of the population. And after the second round had nearly passed she said these words (paraphrased):

“Things are getting back to normal now in fits and waves…but if the plague has taught us anything…you wouldn’t know it by looking around.” 

I wonder what the Black Death was meant to teach the people of Julian’s time? I wonder what the pandemic was meant to teach the people of our time? I wonder if we are at risk of missing this wisdom as we rush to re-engage life as it was?

I pray that you may have eyes to see both the places of life and the places of your limits today. I pray that God might be your guide as you reshuffle, re-build, and re-engage in life today. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. — Colossians 1:16-17

So as the world opens back up, let us be aware of the loud voice that says, “Hurry now, get back to your old life and get busy building it back up….pick the next new shiny thing and hustle now to get it.” Instead, let us be people who are wiser for what we have seen. Let us be people who remember our limits, who remember that we are not little gods of our own kingdoms.  We are citizens of the strong and unshakable kingdom of God; and we are the sheep in that kingdom, in need of our great shepherd to guide us each step of the way.

Grace & Peace in Christ to you today.

The Descent of the Dove

Each time the spirit of God appears in scripture there seems to be a thread. It is the descent of the dove. In the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament when God’s presence shows up it is in the form of fire: the flaming torch, the burning bush, in fire and smoke, or in a pillar of fire. We see God’s special presence, the glory of God showing up as fire. Later, on the day of Pentecost, the scriptures say that “tongues of fire came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2). Here we see that because of God’s Holy Spirit, every believer is a burning bush! 

In the New Testament when the spirit of God appears there is also a thread. When we see the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus at his baptism, the voice of heaven says, “this is my son, whom I love, in him I am well pleased.” Then in Romans 8:16 we read that the “spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of god.” In Galatians it says, “the Spirit cries out Abba Father.” Do you see the common thread? It seems that the job of the spirit is to come into your spirit and tell you of God’s love for you, his delight in you, and to reassure you of the fact that you are his child. This is the inner wonder of knowing God. This is the experience of knowing you are God’s beloved son or daughter. These are those moments in your life when you say, no matter what happens, I know I am in God’s loving care. It is when your spirit can sing out from the darkest valley and proclaim from the depths: “I will fear no evil for you are with me even here.” This is the unexplainable reality of an inner wonder that comes from being filled with the Spirit. 

A 17th century preacher named Thomas Goodwin gave one of the most enduring pictures of this experience of inner wonder. He said he was watching a father and son walk down the sidewalk hand in hand one day when suddenly the father scooped up his son into his arms.  The son threw his arms around his fathers neck and they embraced.  The father whispered in his son’s ear, ‘I love you so,’ and the son said, ‘ I love you dad.’ Then the father set his son down and they kept on walking hand in hand. Goodwin asks “did anything change in the relationship between the father and son in that exchange?” Legally nothing changed, formally nothing changed, but experientially the son knew his father’s love in a special way in the moments of that embrace. This is maybe the best image of being filled with the Spirit. It is experiencing our status as beloved children, it is knowing in our bodies, through our experience, and through an inner wonder that we are in fact beloved children of God. 

Nothing but love.