Getting the Scarlet “C”

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

— Frederick Buechner

In July 2020, I turned 45, celebrated 19 years of marriage with Tim, and got sick and tested positive for COVID-19. Getting this virus is kind of like wearing the “Scarlet C” around on your chest right now. We are all trying to avoid this experience and wondering what it will be like if we get it. I am so grateful for all the care and prayer I have received during this time. I am also so very grateful to be feeling better and myself once again!

For me the experience of getting COVID happened while we were wrapping up our family vacation in Wisconsin. I started feeling sick with cold-like symptoms, but after a couple days it turned into a fever and chills, followed by an achy body and sleeping 18-20 hours each day. Then came the cough. Whenever I tried to take a deep breath I had to cough, a dry kind of cough. After a few days of being sick I decided to get tested for COVID, and my thinking at that time was just to do my due diligence and get tested out of an abundance of caution, but I really didn’t think I had the virus. I kept thinking, ‘we are in northern Wisconsin after all, in rural America – how could I get it here?’ While waiting 5 days for the test results I lost my sense of taste and smell, and then at that point, I figured I probably had it, since that is such a rare experience that I had never had before. The COVID test came back positive right as I was starting to feel better. Then the kids and Tim (who were with me the whole time) needed to begin their quarantine in case they were carriers. So, that was my experience. Not fun, but certainly not very extreme compared to others. Even though I never had to go to the hospital, I can only think of one other time in my life when I was that sick for that long which was when I was 16 years old and got a parasite in my system while living in Bolivia one summer.

One thing about getting COVID is that you are truly given permission to rest. I wonder if it might be helpful to give ourselves that sort of permission more often. May I offer you a bit of permission today? You have permission to rest. If you are a serial achiever who is always striving to get an A+, you have permission to get a C- in life right now. You have permission to be less than your best. You have permission to be weary, afraid, and mediocre. May you receive your worthiness apart from your performance. May you practice just being beloved when there is nothing you can do to prove your worth. May you rest in the grace and goodness of God today.

Start Close In

There is a poem by David White that I really love called “Start Close In.” Basically, the poem is saying that rather than trying to solve all the problems in the world, start close in, start with yourself.

This poem reminds me of a passage in scripture that simply says, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: to mind your own business and work with your hands, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders…” — 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

These words remind me that I do not need to show up to every fight I am invited to. When our world is on fire it can feel like a full time job to show up to every single conversation being waged online and among family and friends. I have permission to be quiet and mind my own business, and so do you. You do not report to anyone other than God, and God knows your heart. Take your lead from the whispers of the Holy Spirit on when to speak and when to remain silent and listen. You live for an audience of one, and God is already pleased with you. You cannot do anything to earn God’s favor. May your daily life win the respect of others. May you rest in the gift that it is all grace. May you start close in.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To hear
another’s voice,
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice

becomes an
intimate
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

~David Whyte, River Flow: New and Selected Poems

We only see in part

For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. 13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.  — 1 Corinthians 13:12

We live in a world not yet made right. The scriptures say we only see in part. 1 Corinthians 13:12 speaks of us seeing “in a mirror dimly;” the King James translated this phrase as seeing “through a glass, darkly.” It’s a good picture of how we view the kingdom, and why Jesus used the parable of the mustard seed to describe the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was telling his followers that although the kingdom may seem small now, there’s an unbroken line from its present manifestation and its future maturity.

Just imagine for a moment you held up a piece of very dark and cloudy glass and looked toward the mountains. You’d see only the barest outline of the peaks; it would be difficult to pick out the clouds in the sky, or any real features. Now imagine that this was the only way you had ever seen them. You would never know their true grandeur, only their barest outline, and it hurt your eyes to try to see much of them. This is what we are like as we behold the things of the kingdom in a world not yet made right. They often appear to us as the barest outline, if not completely obscured. But one day the glass will be removed, and we’ll behold these realities face to face, and they will be even more glorious and brilliant than the sight of the Rockies on a sunny morning.

Lament Over George Floyd

“History and scripture teaches us that there can be no reconciliation without repentance, there can be no repentance without confession, and there can be no confession without truth.”
— Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism

Injustice exists all around us, it’s just not often caught on film. This week we watched in horror as the video of George Floyd’s death surfaced online. It is so sad and disturbing and I have had no idea what to say. It invokes a righteous anger to watch a child of God plead, “I cannot breathe” and then watch as his breath is taken from him. We watched. We saw. We cannot unsee. God stands with the vulnerable and the oppressed and so must we.

I stand against violence and racism.

What does the LORD require of you? To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
— Micah 6:8

Let us pray.

God, we are witnesses of injustice, violence, murder and death. We speak the name of your beloved child George Floyd. A man made in your holy, precious image, whose very breath was taken from him. We bring you this rage, our anger, our sadness, our apathy, our shock, our horror, our heartbreak. Our world is such a mess and we cry out in lament with the psalmist, “how long, oh Lord?”

We confess we have not loved you with our whole hearts; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name.

God we often sing, “break our hearts for what breaks yours.”
Our hearts are broken.
Your heart is broken.
We reject the sin of racism.
We reject the sin of silence.
We reject the sin of apathy and self-centeredness.
We reject the sin of indifference.

We pray that you guide us into action, show us how to work and serve to wage peace and restore justice and shalom in this hurting world.
May we die with you, Jesus, in sacrificial love.
May we rise with you, Lord Jesus, with a different kind of power that listens to the other with empathy, values others above self, fights for freedom, seeks truth and the flourishing of all.
We cannot weep at your cross, Jesus, and not weep at the suffering of people made in your image.
You tell us to mourn with those who mourn. Teach us to be people who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with you, God.

Your kingdom come.
My kingdom done.
On earth as it is in heaven.
Break my heart for what breaks yours.
We need your saving, oh God.
Lord have mercy.
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy.
God save us.
Amen.

Lamenting Racism

What do we do?
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
— Benjamin Franklin

Outrage is a godly response to injustice. When you are witnesses of a homicide, as we all have been, it is right to cry out in rage. In fact, if the gospel penetrates us deeply enough we will cry out as if the act was against our own child. It feels cozy to sing, “help me to love with open arms like you do, a love that erases all the lines and sees the truth” but it is just a platitude to sing that song and then be unmoved or defensive in the face of injustice. The uncomfortable reality is that the work of loving, the work of justice is hard, painful and messy.

Our world is on fire right now, as it has always been (and as people of color have always told us it is). The difference is that not everyone has felt the heat in the same way. Some communities and people groups have been protected from it while others have lived in the destruction of it for their entire lives. Connection and trust in relationships happen when one heart meets another heart. The thing that will destroy connection and trust in relationships like nothing else is invalidation. Invalidation is when a person’s own experience is all that exists to him or her. Often that person moves to negate, minimize or explain away the other person’s experience, treating it like it is somehow not real or non-existent. If you’ve ever had this happen, you know that it feels terrible.

So here we are, our world is on fire and our brothers and sisters of color are crying out. How will we respond? Here is how I hope to respond with God’s help…will you join me?

  1. Lament
  2. Listen
  3. Learn
  4. Confess
  5. Pray
  6. Act

Lament
In lament we bring our raw emotion to God in prayer, no filters. Below is a list of lament; a list of names of African Americans killed by police since Eric Garner’s death in 2014. This list is, by no means, comprehensive. In reading these names we also acknowledge the ones not included here; knowing that God knows the full list and holds each one in his heart. Each one is a life made in the image of God who is gone now because of violence, oppression and racism. God’s heart breaks, and so must ours. We do not turn away with indifference but we speak each name in sorrow and outrage at the injustice that snuffed out human life:
ERIC GARNER
JOHN CRAWFORD III
MICHAEL BROWN
EZELL FORD
DANTE PARKER
MICHELLE CUSSEAUX
LAQUAN MCDONALD
TANISHA ANDERSON
AKAI GURLEY
TAMIR RICE
RUMAIN BRISBON
JERAME REID
GEORGE MANN
MATTHEW AJIBADE
FRANK SMART
NATASHA MCKENNA
TONY ROBINSON
ANTHONY HILL
MYA HALL
PHILLIP WHITE
ERIC HARRIS
WALTER SCOTT
WILLIAM CHAPMAN II
ALEXIA CHRISTIAN
BRENDON GLENN
VICTOR MANUEL LAROSA
JONATHAN SANDERS
FREDDIE BLUE
JOSEPH MANN
SALVADO ELLSWOOD
SANDRA BLAND
ALBERT JOSEPH DAVIS
DARRIUS STEWART
BILLY RAY DAVIS
SAMUEL DUBOSE
MICHAEL SABBIE
BRIAN KEITH DAY
CHRISTIAN TAYLOR
TROY ROBINSON
ASSHAMS PHAROAH MANLEY
FELIX KUMI
KEITH HARRISON MCLEOD
JUNIOR PROSPER
LAMONTEZ JONES
PATERSON BROWN
DOMINIC HUTCHINSON
ANTHONY ASHFORD
ALONZO SMITH
TYREE CRAWFORD
INDIA KAGER
LA’VANTE BIGGS
MICHAEL LEE MARSHALL
JAMAR CLARK
RICHARD PERKINS
NATHANIEL HARRIS PICKETT
BENNI LEE TIGNOR
MIGUEL ESPINAL
MICHAEL NOEL
KEVIN MATTHEWS
BETTIE JONES
QUINTONIO LEGRIER
KEITH CHILDRESS JR.
JANET WILSON
RANDY NELSON
ANTRONIE SCOTT
WENDELL CELESTINE
DAVID JOSEPH
CALIN ROQUEMORE
DYZHAWN PERKINS
CHRISTOPHER DAVIS
MARCO LOUD
PETER GAINES
TORREY ROBINSON
DARIUS ROBINSON
KEVIN HICKS
MARY TRUXILLO
DEMARCUS SEMER
WILLIE TILLMAN
TERRILL THOMAS
SYLVILLE SMITH
ALTON STERLING
PHILANDO CASTILE
TERENCE CRUTCHER
PAUL O’NEAL
ALTERIA WOODS
JORDAN EDWARDS
AARON BAILEY
RONELL FOSTER
STEPHON CLARK
ANTWON ROSE II
BOTHAM JEAN
PAMELA TURNER
DOMINIQUE CLAYTON
ATATIANA JEFFERSON
CHRISTOPHER WHITFIELD CHRISTOPHER MCCORVEY
ERIC REASON
MICHAEL LORENZO DEAN
BREONNA TAYLOR
GEORGE FLOYD

Listen
It is not my voice that is most needed right now. It is the voices of people of color who have been doing the work of justice who we all really need to listen to right now. They are the experts. We have lost the art of dialogue in a monologue world. Listening is so rare. Listening with empathy is rarer still. When was the last time you felt truly listened to? This is such a gift. In our marriage class, we teach couples to listen using the RAVE MODEL, which is simply an acronym for:
Reflect back what the person said to ensure you heard them
Affirm the feelings you hear
Validate their experience, and do this with
Empathy
Let us listen well to our sisters and brothers right now. Let us listen without self-interest and with open hearts.

Learn
If you are white, then please join me in being a student of race in America. Do not go to your friends of color and ask them to tell you their experience, to teach you about race (enslaving people of color all over again) but rather take the job upon yourself to learn. Here are a few places to start:

  • Follow people of color who are speaking out online and just listen and learn, people like: @austinchanning, @berniceaking, @clintsmithiii, @ibramxk, @rachel.cargle
  • Take the time to read books on race written by people of color. A few that have helped me learn more include:
    • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown
    • Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation, by Latasha Morrison
    • How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X Kendi
    • Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, by Claude M. Steele
    • The Hate You Give (a novel), by Angie Thomas
    • Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson
    • Other books on race: Talking to Strangers, Bloodlines, White Awake, Such a Fun Age (a novel)

Confess
God, We confess we have not loved you with our whole hearts; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name.

Pray
This is a prayer offered by the president of Denver Seminary, or you can write your own.

Have mercy on me, O Lord.

I have blinded my eyes. In spite of the clear evidence of deeply embedded racism all around me, I have looked the other way. Too many have died. Too many have suffered. Too many have been locked out and cast aside. Too many indignities. Too many injustices. And still I looked the other way.

Have mercy on me, O Lord.

I have hardened my heart. Believing the lie that blacks have the same opportunities as whites, I could not allow myself to admit that my life was shaped as much by racism as theirs—mine to benefit and theirs to harm. But it was and it is and it will continue to be. I have cared too little. I have grieved too little.

Have mercy on me, O Lord.

I have silenced my tongue. My voice has not been raised in prophetic rebuke and anger. My feet have not stepped out for justice alongside those who have more courage than I. And in my silence I am an accomplice to bigotry.

Forgive me, O Lord.

I have sinned against you and against those who suffer the evil of racism. Indifference has smothered my soul and snuffed out fleeting impulses for reconciliation. I ask for your forgiveness and I will appropriately seek their forgiveness.

Empower me, O Lord.

I need your strength to step beyond blindness, indifference and fear; to step toward those whom I have sinned against. I make no grandiose promises or plans today for I know how easily these can be made and forgotten. But this I know. I cannot be the same. And I will not.

Amen!

Act
God calls each of us to use our time, talents, and treasure to do justice. As we listen and learn, let us also be quick to move in acts of service to promote the shalom and flourishing of all people everywhere. That will look different for each person. Let us not love with words alone, but in action and in truth. In the weeks to come we hope to share with you other specific ways that people in our community are acting and invite your participation in church-wide acts of justice, mercy and love.

What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
–Micah 6:8

What is love?

Love isn’t just about being nice, it’s about wishing and willing good. Love in our culture is usually associated with either romantic feelings or deep affection for someone: we love our spouses, or we love our friends. This cultural view of love is sentimental, it’s about a feeling of niceness toward others that we can maintain for a while, but won’t last. We can be nice for a while, then go off and sulk; or be nice to a friend’s face while nursing a grudge, then run off and gossip to our friends. Sometimes we can think of God’s love as this same type of niceness. D.A. Carson describes this view of love as having “all the awesome holiness of a cuddly toy, all the moral integrity of a marshmallow.” Our current pandemic and our calling as Christians demands “something a great deal more profound than sentimental niceness.”

Love is wishing and willing good. C.S. Lewis defines biblical love well: not as a state of feelings but an act of our will. “It is… that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people… our love for ourselves does not mean that we like ourselves. It means that we wish our own good.” Love then isn’t something we know how to do with anyone naturally, except ourselves. We have to learn how to love others, and we have to put our backs into it. That’s the kind of love the scriptures speak of and Christ has made a way.

Our worldwide ministry

One of the incredible surprises of this strange season of ministry is how many people all around the world are joining our livestream worship. When I think of you all, when I imagine your faces. When I hold you up before God in prayer, I now think of not only those of you walk through our blue doors each week, but also those of you who are gathered scattered in your homes all around the globe.

Thanks be to God for his presence in our absence. May we all receive more love, that we might spread more love around our homes and neighborhoods today.

Join me in celebrating that literally people all around the world (Germany, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Africa) are joining us in livestream worship weekly. Here is a picture I received from one group in Africa…

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

— Philippians 1:3-5

Sightings of Hope

We do not have to “go” to church to worship. One of my favorite childhood artists was Amy Grant. I am a product of the 1980’s and it was hard to escape that decade without a few of her songs getting stuck in your head forever. One of her lyrics was, “worship is more than just singing a song, it is all that you say and everything that you do, letting God’s spirit live in you.”

We worship when we take our eyes off of all that is wrong in our world and place our eyes on all that is right with God and God’s kingdom. We can worship anytime anywhere, in any set of circumstances. No one can take away your ability to worship because no matter where you are, you can always take your eyes off of all that is wrong in our world and place your attention on all that is right with God and God’s kingdom.

The apostle Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) He actually said those words from prison. Here are a few ways I am worshiping today and I invite you to join me in celebrating these sightings of hope.

  • Breath.
  • Music.
  • Walks.
  • Water.
  • The provision of a Platt Park person receiving housing (after being near homeless) through the generosity of another Platt Park family.
  • People all around the world (Germany, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Africa) are joining us in livestream worship weekly.
  • The healing of a COVID-positive couple at PPC.
  • Nearly 1000 households joined us on Easter via livestream.
  • Each of you.

I sure do miss you all. I miss seeing your faces, hugging you, and sharing together in the bread & wine each week. This time apart from you physically brings me both a gratitude for our community of faith and a deep longing to see you again.

May the love and peace of Christ fill your hearts and your homes today.

Find a House Where the Truth is Told

This month we are going to look at some of the lies that Christians love. For some folks, this series might seem kind of negative. My hope and prayer is that we carve out honest spaces together where we can explore the tough questions of life and faith. Lies are woven into the fabric of our theology. Lies like “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will,” really? Based on the stories in the Bible it seems fairly dangerous to me. Or, “God helps those who help themselves.” And “Everything happens for a reason.” There are lies we swim in and don’t really think about until someone points them out, like the lie of our beautiful stained glass that says “Jesus Christ was actually a Dutch man!”

I regularly hear people say, “we’re all addicted to something.” I think that is true and a cornerstone of addiction recovery is telling the truth. We need to find a house where the truth is told, even if that house is simply the soul of another human being. I want our community of faith to be a house where the truth is told. Charles Spurgeon said, “Tear off your masks. The church was never meant to be a masquerade.”

We all have lies that we love. These lies help us get through the day, help us feel better about ourselves and our world. But these lies also obscure reality, and we are people who live in what is real and true. Worst of all these lies obscure the person of Jesus who says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) If we are going to live in what is real, we need to see through these lies, let go of them, and embrace the good & beautiful reality found in the kingdom of God.

Love in Hard Places

Jonah hated the people of Nineveh, and he had reason: they were legitimately a nation filled
with cruel and evil people. There are people in our world today, both near and far, who give us
reason to hate them. To deny this is to rob the message of Jonah of its power and its gospel
witness. It is also to soften the piercing command of Jesus in Matthew 5:44 “I say to you, love
your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus isn’t being hyperbolic — at times we
will all have real enemies, just as Jesus did (see John 15:18-20) — but Jesus’ point is that we
can’t use that as an excuse to hate them back.

Let’s be honest, sometimes we like to hate. The command to love our enemies is hard because
we like to hate them. It satisfies our selfishness; hate prioritizes “us” over “them” and it never
asks us to love and serve “them.” Our hatred also satisfies our own internal sense of justice. But
this is precisely what Jesus takes aim at in Matthew 5:43-48.

Jesus attacks the principle ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemies,’ not by denying that
there is such a thing as fairness and justice, but by showing that we don’t get to use the Old
Testament law as a way to justify our own personal hatred. In other words, we don’t get to use
passages that speak against racism, for instance, as an excuse to justify our personal hatred of
racists. We don’t get to use passages that speak against murder to deny grace to murderers.
We simply don’t have the right to deny people the gospel of grace simply because we don’t like
the way they need the Savior. The reality is: we all need saving.

This is the heart of Jonah’s problem. Jonah likes hating the Ninevites, because they were his
enemies and the enemy of Israel. Do you love your enemies, great and small? Friends and
family can be enemies. Revolting relatives, rude coworkers, business rivals, proud teachers or
students, insecure people who resent your competence, those who lust for power, the bitter ex,
the angry spouse, and far more – all can be our enemies. In 2020 we face an election; for many
people in our country, politics has become a religion. We measure moral character and define
our allies and enemies according to political affiliation.

The command of Jesus to love, exemplified in the call of Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, is a
call to love all of our enemies. In the book Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson recounts “Karl
Barth was once asked, ‘Is it true that one day in heaven we will see again our loved ones?’ He
replied, ‘Not only the loved ones.’”

Who are you being called to love today?