Jesus

The B Team

We all know what it means.

You are on the team but you don’t have the same amount of ability or appeal as others, a.k.a. the A Team, hence, you are on the B Team. If you’ve spent any amount of time on a B Team you know it comes with very mixed emotions.  You’re grateful to be a part of something that is good and important to you. You are happy to work hard, in fact most B Team players work harder than anyone; but it can be accompanied by feelings of not being enough or being side stepped and it stings. And you get stung when you’re on the B Team.

Lately, I’ve been thinking back to a time in my life when I felt consistently passed over for opportunity, at least it really appeared that way.  Hungry to build an inspiring career, I did what I could to have good experiences with others and tried to create a lasting impression.  You know, stuff our parents told us about when we began working, the stuff we tell our kids to do now. I wanted integrity and I wanted to feel like I was on the A Team. Then, I would be successful.

My season in that place came and went. I never got on the A Team or at least I never felt like I was. Through the years sadness and regret lingered because of it, until I began taking a closer look at something Jesus said.

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It was a story that seemed to be about the B Team. (Click here to read it.)

This is how it went.

There once was a father with two sons.  The younger was arrogant and selfish.  The older was loyal and hard working.  One day the younger son comes to the father and essentially says, I wish you were dead.  Give me my inheritance now so I can live as I please.  This younger son clearly felt staying at home was being forced to play on the B Team and he deserved to be on the A Team. He felt he did not belong where he was. The heart broken father knew his sons heart was hard and there would be no persuading him to stay or to change.  So he gave him the inheritance and let him go.

Not long after, the younger son had squandered all of his money in senseless and numbing ways.  Not only did his economic situation change, the entire regional economy had changed and he began to starve.  He was definitely not on the A Team now.  Worse yet, there were no other A Team players willing to help him out. He was now one of the desperate ones, something he never thought he’d be. He had no choice but to go back home and beg to be one of his fathers servants.

Before he could even reach the house, his father see’s his son returning from a long way off.  The father forgets everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. He runs to embrace him.  He throws the biggest party celebrating the homecoming of his youngest son.

Meanwhile, the older brother gets word about this and he’s ticked off.  He knows his younger brother doesn’t deserve this kind of attention.  He deserves to be forgotten for all time. How could his father celebrate him after all he’s done to them? The older brother is so angry he won’t even cross the threshold of the door where the party was being held.

The father learns his older son has arrived and is saddened that he will not join them. Relationships had been fractured.  He goes out to meet with him, to plead with him.  The older son begins complaining about how he worked for the father for years with great diligence and loyalty and he feels slighted by this extravagant party. He’s done everything he could to please his father and earn his good graces, why had he never been given a party like this?  He didn’t want to be there. He no longer felt he belonged.

His mind must have mingled with thoughts like:

  • Am I not good enough?
  • Do I not do a good job?
  • Does my father not like me?
  • Does my father like my brother better than me?

The older son clearly felt the sting of the B Team.

The story ends this way.  There is no resolve for the older brother.  We do not know if the younger brother remains grateful and faithful.  We only know the father was happy that his younger son was home.

This ending is so normal and painfully real.

Part of being a human is experiencing relational anger, wounds, confusion and envy. We don’t just get happy because our brother isn’t embarrassing the family any more. Our soul holds every bit of hurt, distrust and rage when relationships spiral’s downward.

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And that is normal.

I think Jesus was using a very real world scenario to help us explore an invitation from God.

The father responds to his older son. Words exploding with meaning and significance.  My son you are always with me, everything I have is yours. 

There never was a B Team.

If the older son had wanted a big party, the father would have given it to him.  Every good thing that father had available to him was also accessible to his older son.  But the older son just didn’t know it. He didn’t believe it.

The sins of the younger brother affected the older brother.  The acceptance and reclamation of the younger son by the father, also impacted him. Self-doubt, insecurity, feelings of insignificance, jealousy, anger and loss of compassion had emerged.  When the father wrapped himself around the broken and hungry younger brother, it made the older brother question his own value to his father.  Jealousy rumbled. It made him long for the attention and celebration his younger brother was now receiving.

Tough things that happen in relationships can cause difficulty, chaos and confusion. Patience and a willingness to wait, allow emotions time to settle. Time to become ready for healing, reconciliation or restored relationship. The father pleaded with his older son to become ready. Ready to face his pain and move into freedom. His emotions were raw and unfiltered.  The father welcomed his son’s pain and gave it a soft place to land.

This story paints a beautiful picture of how God understands the emotional, mental, physical and relational twists and turns that happen to us.  He does not disparage either humanity’s grievousness or the pain that comes from being wounded by those we love.  He understands that often times the ways we relate in our circumstances and with one another, we inadvertently lose our self-esteem and sense of worth. He welcomes our brokenness and gently invites our hearts back home. Back to the place where it’s spoken until we believe once again, THERE IS NO B TEAM.

We always belong and have a safe place to wrestle with the difficulties of being human. When we feel we’ve slipped onto the B Team of life God reminds us that you are always with me and everything I have is yours.

This story is about two broken brothers who feel trapped by the B Team, that their worth and happiness are threatened because they don’t believe they belong.  This story is also about a loving father who wants his sons to know they have been on the A Team all along and with him THERE IS NO B TEAM.

 

 

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Glorious

What do you think of when you hear the word, glorious?

It’s not really a word that seems to be used a lot.

By definition it is:

glo·ri·ous     ˈɡlôrēəs

adjective
1. having, worthy of, or bringing fame or admiration.
2. having a striking beauty or splendor that evokes feelings of delighted admiration.
It’s hard to picture something that is worth admiration lately.  When was the last time beauty or splendor evoked a response of delight? Yeah, me neither.

But as I look around this Christmas I’m reminded of a scene that would definitely be described as glorious.

A night sky filled with stars.  Shepherds looking after their sheep in the dark, careful not to lose any sheep to a ravenous predator.

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Suddenly the sky rips open and reality is revealed.
Astounding sights and sounds flood the earth.
The kind of power and beauty that terrifies, weakens and causes you to weep in awe.
Shepherds both afraid and astounded.
O hear the angels voices.
God is near.
The sky explodes in celebration showering the unprepared with shouts and praise.
Light shimmering on the backdrop of earths’ tired and worn atmosphere.
Splendor and majesty were an understatement.
Caught up between heaven and earth, the shepherds laid bare. Something glorious ripped open the mundane and ordinary evening. It demanded to be heard, seen and felt.

Hidden Glory

Whether I am aware or not, heaven is alive with a weighty worship. The night sky has been opened for good but it’s hard to see this in my ordinary and mundane. Moments waiting to strike me with beauty and awe.
Glory streams from heaven afar.  Heavenly Hosts singing Alleluia. The thrill of hope.
Is my tired and worn out life the perfect backdrop for something glorious?

Heaven imploding:

  • To proclaim something altogether new and powerful
  • To give something to hold onto
  • To declare someone to belong to
  • To bring love

 

So come close to me Christmas I crave your glory.

Your carols make my heart want more.

Tear my night sky open and knock me to my knees, laid low in awe and fear.

Tell me the good news. I need to hear it again. To be wrapped up in glorious wonder.

Embrace me Christmas and hold me until I run looking for Jesus because anything other than that is absurd.

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Are You The Glue?

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Have you heard the expression before? You’re the glue in this family.

You’re the glue in this organization?

You’re the glue that held us together with this project?

Glue is that sticky substance that through some scientific means bonds things together. Keeps them close. Holds things in place.

Are you the glue?

Being the glue isn’t something that one gets assigned, rather it’s something that just happens. Certain personalities tend to be the glue.  This is not something they try to be, they are created with this ability to bond.  For unknown reasons they seem to be the one that others look to for direction or information; to feel connected with and welcomed.  Glue people somehow have a way of understanding what’s going on, even when they don’t know all the details.  Their welcome mat is out and they live with availability. They are the glue that hold people together.

I’ll ask again. Are you the glue?

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Maybe a better question would be, are you sticky? 

Sticky substances have a way of holding onto all kinds of things, good and bad. Now we can all relate to that, right? Each of us has a tendency to hold onto good and bad. But if you’re a glue person, like me, it’s important to recognize a few things:

  1. Not everyone acts like a glue person. Don’t be angry when others don’t care the way you do.
  2. The gift of bonding and holding others close is a matter of the heart.  Caring always costs you and enriches you at the same time.
  3. When you find that you aren’t able to “glue” like usual, it may be because too many prohibiting things have stuck to you. Examine your life. What is stuck to you that doesn’t belong? That empty’s your body and soul? That makes you sad?

I’ve been reading the gospel of Mark.  I’m only 3 chapters in but have identified somethings that have made me think about my ability to care for others. Even if we are not a glue person by nature, each of us takes on the role of a glue person in various seasons of life. We all can relate to the responsibility of caring for others whether it’s a child, disabled loved one, an elderly neighbor, foster child, sick or injured co-worker who doesn’t have family support, a family you know of who has great financial, emotional, relational or physical need, etc. There are a thousand different scenarios where we are asked to care for others.

Jesus is just beginning His journey in ministry.  People are getting to know Him.  He is speaking publicly and healing all kinds of people. People are drawn to Him. Jesus welcomes them.  He entertains their problems and questions.  He walks for miles and miles with them (as that is how people got around). Jesus was a glue person.

There were moments along the way where Jesus went away from the crowds.  He needed to sleep, to pray, to rest.  His closest friends were frantic when He wasn’t being the “glue” all the time. When you develop a reputation for being the glue, others will come to depend on you to hold things together. But Jesus did not let the lure of being needed dictate His schedule or His own need.

Jesus gives clear perspective:

  1. You will burn out if you don’t find a rhythm that allows you to step away from the needs of others. It’s simple, you cannot be a glue person if your stickiness wears off.
  2. You have to let go from time to time.  Stop dwelling on how you can help or assist.  This sounds very un-Jesus-y. But glue people tend to get a little obsessed with how they can carry others.  Jesus teaches us there is a time to rest from this never ending work.  There is a time to lay it down and fill our minds and hearts with other things.
  3. Remind yourself that your identity doesn’t come from being a glue person. Holding people together is what you do not who you are. When we confuse this we tend to become people pleasers and that is a burden glue people cannot afford to carry. We have to maintain the ability to say no at the right time so we are able to say yes at the precise time.

Are you a glue person? Are you in a season of life where you have to be a glue person?

If you are, your work is too important to ignore.  Through you others feel welcomed and invited.  Through you others find a listening ear or a new perspective. Through you others belong. Through you others become grounded and learn they matter.

We would do well my fellow glue persons to learn from Jesus, the Ultimate Glue Person.  You never know when you’ll be asked to be a glue person.

 

 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  – Ephesians 2:10

 

Celebrate That! Part Four

I love a good mystery.  Give me a movie with a puzzling storyline or a big twist delivered right at a crucial point and I’m hooked. The unexpected fascinates me. The story in this fourth and final post of the “Celebrate That!” series, does not disappoint.

Maybe you know the Christmas story? The virgin Mary conceives a Baby by the Spirit of God. Her fiance decides to stay with her because he has bought into the idea that angels give out assignments and unscripted events change life plans. Now we are in the final scene.  Joseph and Mary were hunkered down in some obscure place. Then the Baby comes.

In the very next moment we are out in a distant field with shepherds and their flocks. (Read about it here.)

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Plot twist.

What? Where did they come from? What do they have to do with anything?

The main event was back in a crowded place and now we are outside of the city, in a field, at night. There were a lot of predators in the area who would love to come and nab one of the sheep for a midnight snack. So the shepherds had keep a careful watch to make sure that didn’t happen. It was another day at the office for them. They were used to this.  It was part of the job. They were on the lookout for signs of trouble.

Until then.

Suddenly the sky and fields were transformed. Ok, it doesn’t really say that but it must of happened.  An angel shows up, remember, angels always come at Christmastime. This time he comes with glory. Whatever glory is, it was everywhere.  The exact words are, and the glory of the Lord shone all around them. So I’m pretty sure it was spectacular and unsettling. The things of God usually are.

The shepherds were afraid. I can’t imagine what the flocks did?  The angel said he had good news that will cause great joy for all people. He tells them about the Baby that was born back in the city. I imagine there was more than one baby born that day so the angel describes where to find the Baby of good news.

Heaven came down and put on a show.

Right as he was talking a huge gathering of heavenly beings appeared. They were singing.  An outdoor concert. The night sky, a holy cathedral.

Sacred sounds.

Glory dancing.

The moon and stars paled in comparison. Ordinary night becomes extraordinary. Mundane to exquisite. No longer mere shepherds doing their job but mesmerized, frightened souls coming undone by what was happening.

Christmas had come and made them human. Christmas had come and showed them they were more than a job. Christmas had come and told them their one life held a bigger story.

Christmas had come! 
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These shepherds and their flocks were in the right place at the right time. Of course they were.

And that’s the thing. The angel knew where to find them. A dark and ordinary night in a field; at a temple where a priest was praying, in the dream of an anxious groom-to-be and before a young girl.  Heaven always knows where to find us.

Shepherds and their flocks pushed into the wilderness looking for food. Fearing the danger. No one goes there because they really want to. Some wildernesses really can’t be avoided. But there they are. The place God decides to be discovered.

Sometimes I wonder if God pushes me into the wilderness?

Sometimes I wonder if the wilderness is the place He wants me to discover Him?

Sometimes I wonder if the wilderness teaches me how to move on, with God?

Wilderness Christmas.

And isn’t that Christmas? God knowing where we are and coming to be with us? Coming to tell us we are wonderfully human and make us so? Coming to move us from our fields?

It had to be the shepherds and their flocks. They are us.

Everyday people living everyday lives. In a divine twist and the story takes a turn.  The story is for us. Christmas tearing open the dark and scary night to let heavens light in.

Christmas is not exclusive. It’s inclusive. We are the reason Christmas comes at all.

Earthly people intermingling with the Holy and all that it means. Miracle Baby born as God had decided long ago because we had moved so far from Him that He would not stand for it. Christmas was coming whether humanity wanted it or not. Jesus comes whether humanity wants Him to or not.  God does not forget His promises.

And isn’t that grace? Unmerited favor?

It’s always Christmas. Christmas is a new kind of story. It’s meant for us.

If you look closely today you can see the dazzling display of glory in the night sky. Filling the air with sacred sounds telling us that Christmas is here. Christmas is always here. Here for the everyday people living everyday lives.

I don’t know what Christmas is for you?  The celebrations, gatherings and presents are a lot of fun and honestly they do represent the spirit of Christmas if we let them. But Christmas comes to us, it comes for us.  It’s the twist in our story where things take a turn.

Do you have a Christmas in your story?

May we this season be curious about this Baby and they crazy way He came to us.  May we long to have our dark scary nights break open to let heavens light in.  May we find contentment in becoming human as God first had hoped for us.  May we discover Emmanuel, Jesus with us, through the up and down storyline of our everyday ordinary lives. O come O come Emmanuel.

When Jesus was born, God sent the sheep into the fields.

Celebrate That!

Celebrate That! Part Three

I love a story within a story. You know, a narrative that has a smaller but crucial story woven inside the bigger one.  The Bigger narrative wouldn’t be as rich or meaningful without it.

Take Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer for example. You know the story within the story right?  Think on it a second.  What is it?  That’s right…the Island of Misfit Toys!  It’s a mysterious place filled with not quite right toys that children didn’t want.  Santa learns about their plight and rescues them in the midst of the bigger story of Rudolf saving Christmas with his red nose.

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There was another story within a story.

A man named Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth had a life altering event unfold right inside the Christmas story. Their tale enriches Jesus birth story, it gives it richer meaning and significance.

They had been around for a long time and were getting up in years but were still a vital part of community. Zacharias was a priest. Everyone knew them. Everyone knew they were getting older. Everyone knew they did not have any children.

In that time children were e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.  A symbol of significance and blessing. An inheritance from God. You needed them for survival.  You needed them in your old age.  You needed them for your self-esteem.

Time was moving fast, Zacharias and Elizabeth were feeling it. There was a void. This was not how it was supposed to go.

Everywhere Zacharias looked he saw fathers with their children. He watched as they taught their kids the responsibilities of daily life. It didn’t matter what he did, he was surrounded by scenes of what he was supposed to have done in his younger years. At this point, grandchildren should be running around him. All he could see were families. Everywhere. It was like he was on his life stage but his storyline didn’t fit the scenery. Zacharias faithfully fulfilled his role as priest in the temple. He was busy doing his work but it was getting harder and harder to do.

Elizabeth was also a woman known in her community. Each day she was confronted by women with round bellies; children scurrying around the feet of their busy mothers. Life was bustling everywhere but inside her. Haunted by everyday life. She was making herself crazy with all her suspicions that others were talking behind her back. Each day she’d put on a bright face but inside she felt dark with the shame of not being able to bear a child. Maybe she had committed some great crime for which she didn’t know and couldn’t amend? Maybe that’s why this has happened? At least that is how she felt.

Do you look around your life stage right now and feel your storyline doesn’t fit the scenery? Everything looks Christmasy but inside you don’t feel it?

One night Elizabeth patiently waited for Zacharias to come home as she always did.  But he was late. Very late.

While at work in the temple he had a visitation. Not from a person but an angel.  (Angels always come at Christmastime.) This angel told him that he would have a child. A miracle.

Sound familiar?

Zacharias was no dummy.  He knew his wife was barren and even if she could have children she was well past her prime and so was he.  (Read the whole story here.) He didn’t mean to doubt the angel but he needed a guarantee. They had been through too much.  Elizabeth had been through too much, he couldn’t watch her suffer all over again. They had a nice thing going in life finally. They knew their place. They had made their peace with their situation. He wasn’t going to upset things now and he needed this angel to guarantee it would work out like he was suggesting.

Angels don’t make deals.

From that moment on Zacharias was dealt an unusual blow.  He was silenced.  Unable to speak.  He had to use hand gestures to explain what had happened. A big game of charades.

Now heres the story within the story:

Elizabeth and Mary, Jesus mother, were related. Before Jesus was this other baby. His name was to be John. His story also started as miracle. His parents also an unlikely duo; two old people surrounded by all the things that they longed for but could never have. Biology wouldn’t allow it. The backdrop of the Jesus story is the foreground of this story. A shocking conception before the really shocking Conception. A miracle that would set the stage of the Miracle. What the natural order of things couldn’t produce the supernatural is amused by.

I think it’s amusing that Zacharias is silenced.  At first it seems cruel.  The most amazing thing that has ever happened to him and he can’t even talk about it? Come on!  But then when I thought about it more I realized that perhaps it was a gift.

Silence can be a gift if we let it.

This old couple lived in a world where they were plagued by all that eluded them. They were diligent and sincere. But everywhere around them were triggers.  The expectation that they should have had children was a weight around them. The shame Elizabeth felt; that she must bear children in order to be worthy, a dagger in her heart each day. The constant reminders around them of their broken bodies and loss were like a nagging ringing in their ears.  It was no one’s fault. This was just how it was.

This angel had come to tell them their world would turn upside down.  Keep on praying and living, it will happen because God said it would happen. Zacharias couldn’t take the angel at his word. It was too difficult. So a quiet hushed his voice.

He couldn’t say one thing.

Sometimes it’s best to not say a thing.

Sometimes it’s just what we need.

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Look around. Do you feel as cheery as all the Christmas decorations, music and sentiments?  It’s great if you do.  But what I’m getting at is does this time present triggers for you?  Do you feel an expectation that you just can’t meet?  Are you supposed to make everyone feel magical and warm?  Are you supposed to find the exact right gift, prepare the perfect meal or cookie, decorate the house in the most inviting way….and inside…it’s not there?

This time of year can be brutal.

Striving for it to feel and be wonderful, we lose wonder and we feel nothing. Like Zacharias demanding a guarantee from the angel, we do the same.  We demand from ourself and others that each holiday delivers the good “feels” as we call them in my house. You know, the lights, decorations, traditions, foods, friends…it all has to make us feel Christmasy and if it’s not working, well we must be doing something wrong. Shame.

So inwardly we feel frustrated, crabby or filled with angst.  Outwardly we write the most amazing Christmas cards and bake the same old cookies and hang the stockings by the fire place hoping or at least pretending that it gives us the “feels” we so desperately want to feel.

But somewhere on the stage of life we need to be hushed.

Quiet makes room for the Spirit of God to still the soul. When we stop arguing with angels we can hear better. Hearing is a gateway to peace.

Zacharias was quieted to find peace.

Peace with himself and his aging body. Peace with his suffering wife and her aging body. Peace with his void. Peace with the expectation and demands that he and society had levied against both of them, which they could do nothing about. Peace with feeling helpless. Peace that God had heard their prayers all along. Peace with what the angel said. Peace with the timing of God and how different it was from his.

When the weight of unfulfilled expectation was more than he could take an angel came and silenced him; silence was the relief from the pressure.

Silence is holy.

Have your buttons been pressed yet this Christmas season?

Do you feel the anxiety of everyone else expectations? Do you feel you are supposed to be magical and you are fresh out of pixy dust?  Are you afraid of change, that the family won’t be together like they always are, that maybe someone is missing this year, that it can’t be the way you’ve always had it? Are you afraid you don’t have enough money or energy to make things special?  Is your body, mind or heart broken or sick?  Is your family broken or sick?

Is it more than you can take?

Shhhhhh

Let the angels quiet you this year.

The Holy is in the silence.

Impose intentional quiet.

Let silence bring you peace. God does NOT expect you to make Christmas magical. Your unfulfilled expectations have NOT gone unnoticed by God. Your prayers are heard.

The quiet teaches us that God is God and we are not. That His timeline and purpose is often far removed from what we are thinking, silence enables us to hear clearer. When we don’t have to waste verbal energy defending, coercing, explaining and conjuring ourselves, others and God, there is room for the peace of God. The miracle before the Miracle, the quiet in the silence.

Silence is an act of trust. Trusting allows our storyline to meet up with the scenery.

Impose intentional quiet. Silence was the gift Zacharias received and it can be ours too.

Before God sent His son, He sent silence.

Celebrate That!