Friday, June 24, 2011

In His Image

It was a sunny day at Florida International University. I had on a pair of Ray Ban aviator sunglasses that were given to me during high school by one of my sisters. I was so enamored when she gave them to me that I left them on even as evening approached. When she suggested that perhaps it was getting a little late for the shades, her boyfriend at the time chuckled and remarked, “When you’re cool, the sun shines 24 hours a day.”

Anyways, as I was strolling along the university sidewalk that connects the Library to the Graham Center, I happened to glance at the mirrored windows of the cafeteria and almost stopped dead in my tracks.

Where my body was reflected in the glass, I saw my father looking back at me.

I saw his image.

We each carry a part of our fathers around with us, don’t we?

What do you think of when you hear the word “father”?

I know there are many people who have been deeply wounded by their fathers. Some harbor bitterness that follows them throughout life. The mere mention of the word “father” unsettles them. Others move forward and do not allow memories of pain, abuse and neglect to stain their present lives.

I count myself very fortunate to have a dad who actually wanted to spend time with me as I grew up.

Our experience with our fathers often spill over into who we believe God is, and what we believe God is like.

God is described in Scripture as a Trinity. Three Persons in One. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Volumes have been written attempting to nail this concept down, but none do it justice.

God is not male, He is not female, He simply IS.

Genesis says that among the incredible diversity of Creation, we alone were made in His image.

As Father, He is seen as our Maker; the One who knit us together.

And we are made in His image.

What does it mean to be made in the image of the Father?

What does God the Father look like?

The writers of scripture did not expend a lot of ink describing the physical characteristics of God. However, they DID spend a vast portion on His attributes; what He is like.

They did this through describing His work in history, His beauty in poetry, and His justice in prophecy.

He is the source of all that is good.

Unfortunately, the more we gaze at these portraits of the Father, the more we come to realize that He and His attributes are far above anything we can even hope to attain. For those who see religion as an opportunity to improve themselves nearer to this Standard, they quickly fall into a vicious cycle of pride and failure.

However, there is hope.

The next Person of the Trinity is God the Son.


Related Verses
Genesis 1:26-27

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Psalm 139:13-16
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Deuteronomy 32:1-6
“Listen, O heavens, and I will speak! Hear, O earth, the words that I say! Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants. I will proclaim the name of the LORD; how glorious is our God! He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!

“But they have acted corruptly toward him; when they act so perversely, are they really his children? They are a deceitful and twisted generation. Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and senseless people? Isn’t he your Father who created you? Has he not made you and established you?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Kingdom Like No Other

“This isn’t Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.”

I frowned. I’d been watching a promotional video for a church and heard those words which left a sour taste in my mouth.

He’s right, this isn’t Mister Roger’s neighborhood, I thought, but does that mean we roll around in the muck of this world? That we give in and give up?

I believe I know what the pastor was trying to say. That their community of faith grapples with “real life” in all its pain-filled iterations…

And yet, to slam Mister Roger’s Neighborhood seemed like a cheap shot.

I, as well as countless others, grew up watching the mild-mannered gentleman whose life’s work revolved around helping children to come to grips that they were special and loved.

Mister Rogers never downplayed reality. He often used the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” as a sort of test lab where he could teach kids through stories about “real life”.

Things like anger, pain, loneliness and fear.

About how things don’t always turn out like we expect them to.

That sometimes people’s feelings get hurt and all we can see is one big mess.

I was not surprised to learn that Fred Rogers was an ordained minister. That he used his television show to touch the lives of children with wonderfully good news;

“You are loved.”

So many people do not live with this knowledge. So many people live unaware of God’s unrestrained love for them.

Jesus prayed “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

We often speak of God answering prayers, but how can we live in such a way that He uses US to answer this prayer?

A Kingdom Like No Other
A kingdom where the poor are rich and the lonely find family. Where justice and mercy slow dance. Where hearts, souls, and minds are opened and wisdom expands. Where we pour love on Jesus' tired, dirty, beautiful, aching feet whenever we serve another person. A kingdom where we receive our name and engage our calling. Where shattered lives and fragmented dreams find the hope that leads to restoration. We have caught a glimpse of this kingdom and we have found it captivating. We as the church have been called to get this kingdom started on earth as it is in heaven. The keys to this kingdom are in our hands. When are we going to unlock these gates? Who will help push the boundaries of this kingdom until it swallows up all that causes disconnection and suffering? As this River bursts forth we will flood our community with the tangible presence of Jesus Christ.


Related Verses
Colossians 1:3-14

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.

This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.

You learned about the Good News from Epaphras, our beloved co-worker. He is Christ’s faithful servant, and he is helping us on your behalf. He has told us about the love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.

So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Galatians 5:16-26
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Church in a Strip Mall

Father Emilio Martin (who retired as a Monsignor last October from the Miami Catholic Archdiocese) spent many years as the pastor of St. Joachim Catholic Church just off of Quail Roost Drive in South West Miami.

My dad was a friend of Padre Martin, so I grew up with many fond memories of this great man of God. Father Martin is a kind and humble man who always wore a welcoming smile. A genuine smile. He spoke Spanish with a Castilian accent, so his “s” lisped in the form of a “th”. We attended many services at San Joachim, and would often get a behind the scenes look at preparations for Mass (literally, the room behind the altar). Dad would usually hang around to chat in his office afterwards as well, so we’d often catch Padre Martin somewhere in between his full liturgical robes and his plain black clerical suit. We’d sometimes even visit him at his home just behind the church building.

The church, however, had not always met in that building. Although the church was officially started as of June 22, 1972, the building itself didn’t materialize until years later. In the interim time, it met in a storefront. One of my earliest recollections of a worship service was at that storefront church not too far from our house.

You could say that I learned first hand that “church” wasn’t about buildings. Indeed, the first “church building” wasn’t built until at least two centuries after the resurrection of Christ. Early Christians had to meet secretly in homes because of the threat of persecution from the Roman Empire. Despite this, the church thrived.

When you hear the word “church”, what does it make you think of?

We try to articulate this in the sixth part of our vision:

Gathering Together
Once a week, all these groups gather together. Why? So we can honor God as a community of faith. We have had gatherings of the church in warehouses, garages, train stations, and houses. During these gatherings we take time to worship God through music, art, scripture, reflection and questions. We believe in a life that wrestles with questions. It's how we grow as individuals as well as a community. These gatherings are not about numbers. It's not about getting a crowd to sit in our seats; it's about helping people find out how they fit in God's story. A story about a kingdom unlike any other in human history. A kingdom not based on political might or brute force but rather the power of reconnection and restoration that can only be found in the love of God.

Related Verses
John 4:1-30, 39-42

Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.

He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!”

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” So the people came streaming from the village to see him.

Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”


Friday, June 3, 2011

What Superhero are You?

It was just another day in my abbreviated life as a superhero. What made this day different was that I was expecting a new side kick and had to wait for him to walk to my house from his home just a block and a half away.

The day you get a sidekick is a momentous one for an elementary-aged superhero who has nothing to show for his training and conditioning except a cape, a mask and a strong imagination (piles of comic books in your closet are your certificates of competence).

All I can remember is that my cape and mask were dark blue fabric. I wore them atop a white t-shirt and my tan “adventure pants”.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what I was going to call myself. I’ll refer to the unremembered name as ___________.

What I DO remember is that his name was George.

George was a neighborhood kid about my age who described himself as “hyper” (which should have been a red flag for me). Anyways, one day as I was nearing the end of my training, I decided that I needed a sidekick. I swore George to secrecy, and let him in on what I was doing.

Ecstatic, he agreed to make his own costume and meet me in my backyard the next day for training.

He showed up the next day in jeans, a striped polo shirt (muted colors, of course) and a fist-full of garbage bags.

My costume was neatly rolled up in a bundle.

“Where’s your disguise?” I asked.

He proceeded to unroll the bags with a toothy grin. His suit was made up of black garbage bags. A strip of plastic with two eyeholes that didn’t quite line up with his own, and a large single garbage bag as a cape.

It would have to do.

Looking right and left to make sure none of the other neighbor kids were around, I donned my mask and cape.

I stood up; feeling empowered by my super-suit, and immediately dove behind a planter.

My next-door neighbor and some of his friends had just walked into his backyard. I hoped that my disguise did its job, but was uneasy about ____________ being spotted in the Boronat’s backyard.

George however, in his garbage bag costume, didn’t budge.

He looked down at where I had hidden myself and began to wave and yell to the other kids, “Hey, it’s Joe! Look, it’s Joe!”

Later, when I asked him why he blurted out my no-longer secret identity, he sincerely apologized.

“I was hyper because I had a cookie before coming here.”

Superman can be stopped by kryptonite, The Green Lantern has trouble against the color yellow, and George went hyper because of a cookie.

Betrayed by a cookie.

Some dreams we have as children evaporate in the morning mist. They’re replaced by other, “more sensible” and realistic dreams.

What a waste.

Where is that spirit of adventure and abandon that fills our hearts and minds until we “grow up”? I’m not saying that we should forgo our responsibilities. I’m saying that we need to recapture some of that wonder and in doing so, remember who we were created to be.

God’s children.

It is God who gives His children gifts and abilities. And only as we discover and put these gifts to use that we find our full potential and live out our dreams.
What gifts have you been given? What are you doing with them?

Part five of our vision deals with this.


Discovering Identity
What’s your name? We believe there is so much more to our identity than a jumble of letters assigned to us at birth. That’s why we are focused on discovering God’s name for us. Who are we really? What drives us? What are our passions? How are we gifted? How do we go from feeling like just another member of the human race to finding out who we were created to be? This isn't about what you do to get a paycheck; it's about your calling in life. As we discover our calling, we find ourselves walking alongside other people who share our passion and talents. Artists and Poets, Storytellers and Musicians, Dancers and Singers, etcetera, all find communities where they can connect with others. This quest for identity is a journey we cherish and celebrate.

Related Verses
Exodus 31:1-5

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel son of Uri, grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft!

Romans 12:1-21
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.

Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.