Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fully Formed

What does a fully formed Christian look like?

That is one of those questions that can raise all sorts of responses.

The first might be a bit of a defensive one. You might wonder if we can ever be fully a Christian? After all, none of us are perfect. Even on our best days we make mistakes and missteps. The Apostle Paul once wrote, 'why do I do the things I don't want to do and leave undone the things I wish to do.' Call it the human condition to look in a mirror dimly and think we can make out the faint shadow of a wart. And because this is a difficult question to answer, we might be tempted to simply shrug our shoulders and say, 'Well, since I can never be fully Christians...why bother?'

And yet, for me, this question will not go away.

My second response is a more analytical one. Stroking the beard on my chin, I begin to wax eloquent about, 'what does it mean to be a Christian? A follower of Jesus to be sure, but what might that look like...perhaps I should check out a book.' In this way, I seek to sidestep the question by pleading ignorance, that I need more information. If I just read one more book or take one more class or go to church just a few more weeks.

And yet, for me, this question will not go away.

My third response is to be more open. To realize that the reason why this question will not go away is not because it is too hard to answer or live out or that I need more knowledge. The truth is this question will not go away because it sits in my gut like a dessert from the Cheesecake Factory.

To be a fully formed Christian starts with an affirmation that I am fully formed by God who knows me fully and loves me fully and calls me to be fully myself. It is not my deficiencies, many though they are, that inhibits me from being fully a Christian; what stops me most often from living fully into God's presence all around me is focusing too much on those deficiencies or too much on trying to be in control, do things my way.

To be a fully formed Christian starts with God. God's grace and love and presence. That is enough. But because of that presence it does awaken a response from me. Because of God's grace and love and presence it leads me to honest prayer, to open scripture, to join in worship with singing and listening and being still. Because of God's grace and love and presence it leads me to be more just and be careful in how I act toward my wife, kids, and those I bump up against each day. Because of God's grace and love and presence it calls me out of my comfort zone and narrow bubble of life into God's world that has problems and pain that needs a human, in the flesh, response.

Jesus is the in the flesh response from God that reminds us of what life, true life looks, sounds, feels and can be. Jesus is the in the flesh response from God that calls us to just relationships with others. Jesus is the in the flesh response from God that is the promise of each day.

To be sure, prayer and worship and serving don't make me fully formed Christian. God claimed me as such with the waters of baptism and I taste that promise every time I drink from the cup at communion. Prayer and worship and serving are the visible responses to God's presence. Yet, I need to be careful not to put the proverbial cart before the horse. Keeping the perspective and to keep wrestling with this question.

I ask you, what does a fully formed Christian look like?

May you notices traces of God's grace in your life this day and throughout the days to come.

Blessings

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hope

Hope is one of those fragile words. Like it's cousins, love and trust, there are countless stories that teach us of both the power of hope and the jagged edge that can leave a scar from the experience of broken hope. And like it's cousins, love and trust, we can turn hope into an all or nothing, zero sum game.

Like a child on the high dive trembling before the glassy surface of the water, not knowing how far down she will sink when she hits the water and whether she will come up. Hope, like its cousins love and trust, is a deep end word. We feel like we either hope or we don't. We either embrace and immerse ourselves fully in hope or we distrust and even despair. We either embody hope or we sound like one of those blogs on either side of the political spectrum forecasting doom and gloom for you, your family, the country and the world.

Let's face it. It is not as though what we hear around us today helps fan the flame of hope. Just this week London riots, the stock market roller coaster, political bickering and blame as the fall out over the debt ceiling...hope seems to have taken a vacation to some secluded, secret, off-the-grid location...and doesn't seem to have plans to return anytime soon.

So, when as a pastor, I use the word "hope" (like it's cousins love and trust), I realize that I am on thin ice. Our experience with hope is checkered. As a kid we might 'hope' we get something for our birthday or Christmas. As a kid I remember the joy of opening the He-Man action figure I had begged my parents for. And as I kid there were moments when what I hoped for went forever unwrapped.

As adults our hopes move (somewhat) from material items to more ethereal dreams. Hopes for peace, for our children to be healthy and happy in their life, hopes for healing of a relationship or our bodies. To be honest, most of my hopes are for that which is outside my control.

And in the end, that is what makes hope so fragile. Hopes for peace or for happiness or for joy depend not solely on either myself or entirely on others, but on a messy combination of the two that seemingly can shift from one day to the next. Sure, we can try to be Zen-like in response to our hopes inside us or to the effects of the outside world on the hope we feel. But try doing that when your child is pitching a fit and you hope it will stop.

Since we cannot manufacture hope or mass product its cousins love and trust, where does that leave us? For the cynic or skeptic, hope is a word to be held at arms length and approached with all the affection of radio-active material. Yet, I cannot do that. Hope that today can be better than yesterday is at the heart of my relationship with God. But better not in terms of what's in my wallet or my stock portfolio or my health. But hope that by God's grace and guidance there is more to the future than what I can consume or understand or experience. To give up on hope for me would be like giving up on breathing.

So, as fragile as hope may be today the alternative pales in comparison. When I remember how central hope is to my faith I notice a trace of God's grace that sustains me and strengths me. God's presence is what keeps hope alive. God's presence, not the nightly news or surfing the net or even unwrapping a present, is what keeps hope alive.

So may traces of God's grace surround you this week and may it help fan the flame of hope in a way that is real and can be felt.

Blessings