Archive for the 'New Creation' Category

“SOMETHING BRAND NEW” That Won’t Make You Sick!

 

 

 

“This is what God says…
‘Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?’” Isaiah 43:16, 19 The Message

On March 2 I flew from Las Vegas to Phoenix. High winds had buffeted Las Vegas all weekend. They transformed that hour-long flight into a bone-jarring pothole marathon! Nearly all my off-road adventures have been far smoother! As we landed in Phoenix, I wondered: Was that rough ride a preview of the year we’d just begun?

I flew home on Friday, March 6. That day President Trump signed the bill authorizing $8.3 billion to address the growing coronavirus outbreak; the huge SXSW festival in Austin, TX was cancelled; and the Grand Princess cruise ship languished off the coast near San Francisco with its 21 COVID 19-positive passengers. In the next few days we learned how the virus had ravaged Italy. The World Health Organization officially declared a global pandemic. The National Basketball Association suspended its season. Tom Hanks and his spouse Rita Wilson were among a growing number of celebrities who’d contracted the disease. Government officials banned public gatherings of any significant size, including schools, churches, and “non-essential” workplaces. Life as we knew it grew “curiouser and curiouser”.

Six weeks later COVID 19 has infected almost 2.5 million people on our planet. 167,000 of them have died. 777,000 people in the US have had the virus. More than 41,000 have died. The bottom has fallen out of the stock market. More than 22 million people have filed unemployment claims. Countless families do a daily balancing act between two parents working from home and multiple children learning through some blend of home-schooling and online interaction with their teacher and class. Business meetings, birthday parties, funerals, and Sunday worship now happen on small screens in our closed-in sanitized homes.

Intellectually we understand the need for continued diligence in order to stop “community transmission” and prevent a “second wave” virus outbreak. But in our heart of hearts, a voice says, “WE’RE DONE! We’re beyond ready to “get back to normal”. Millions of unemployed people and the businesses where they once worked need to restart. Heroic but severely overworked medical personnel need a break. Farmers who’ve plowed their crops under because they couldn’t get them to market need some good news. Ordinary folks just want to share the company of other people at work, in a restaurant, a park, wherever. Families have grown closer as they’ve “stayed home”, but they could use [desperately need!] some time off from each other. Churches have had to learn to “gather” their flocks online. Some are learning well. Some are struggling. Some may not make it “back to normal”.

Our minds urge us to move slowly and cautiously toward “re-opening”. But another inner voice screams: “Won’t somebody please hit the Reset button on Life—like Yesterday?!” When we get swept up in a change tsunami like COVID 19, we tighten our grip on life. We just want to “get back to normal.” But the longer the wave pounds us, the less chance we have of making that trip successfully. We can’t reach that “reset” button because our hands are full. We’re clinging desperately to all that we’re losing—people, traditions, places, customs, our status and role. Our hands can’t open to receive and embrace God’s newness while they’re clenched tightly to the old “normal” that’s slipping away.

A journey of revolutionary change begins with grieving. We acknowledge our pain. We name our losses. We celebrate how all we’ve lost has helped form us into Christ. We express our sadness. The Bible’s Book of Lamentations shows how our Hebrew spiritual ancestors did this. So do the many Psalms that contain individual or communal laments. Grieving is a process of relinquishing our claim to all that’s been taken from us. We offer up that special person, place, or tradition into God’s care. We give God “church-as-we’ve-always-done it”. We offer up that particular task, mission, or calling through which our God-given gifts flowed so freely–which may not be there when we get back to church. [NOTE: Grieving and opening ourselves anew is seldom a one-and-done movement. Acknowledging and releasing our grief and opening ourselves to God’s newness is more often a spiritual movement we’ll learn and repeat often on our journey through transforming change.]

Moving through grief prepares us to receive God’s future with open hands, hearts, and minds. Lately lots of people (church folk and otherwise) are talking about “danger signs” in US churches. These signs include declining membership and attendance, multiple divisive conflicts in historic denominations, critical financial issues resulting in increased church closures, and failure by leaders to recognize and respond adaptively to these and other challenges.

A church think tank called Praxis has shared a very helpful paper–“Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup”. The introductory summary states that “The novel coronavirus is not just something for leaders to ‘get through’ for a few days or weeks. Instead, we need to treat COVID 19 as an economic and cultural blizzard, winter, and beginning of a ‘little ice age’—a once-in-a-lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives and organizations for years.”

The people at Praxis are humble folks. More than once in their 20-page paper they acknowledge they could be wrong. They’d even like to be wrong. But if they’re in the ballpark of being right—as they appear to be–their considered wisdom can help us live into this very different future. “From today onward,” the authors write, “most leaders must recognize that the business they were in no longer exists. This applies…to for-profit businesses…non-profits, and…in certain important respects to churches.” Not the words we wanted to hear—but words we need to hear alongside the prophet’s impossible promise: “I’m about to do something brand-new. Don’t you see it?” (Isaiah 43:19)

Easter proclaims and celebrates God’s life-giving power set loose in the world. Life is stronger than death. Love is stronger than hate. True greatness flows from self-emptying, not self-promotion. Abundant life flows from community and connection. Easter looks forward to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise that “…I am making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5)

“Leading Beyond the Blizzard” suggests that this pandemic may impose its “new normal” on our lives for at least 18 months. That’s about the time needed to develop, test, and widely deploy an effective COVID 19 vaccine. It’s also long enough for “temporary” to become “the way we’ve always done it” in many contexts. Children who don’t get regular schooling may miss significant developmental markers. Folks who’ve lost their jobs may become (not by choice) permanent “dropouts” from the workforce. Churches and other institutions that think they can serve tomorrow’s world with yesterday’s playbook may not survive even that 18 months.

We who follow Jesus, we who are Easter people—we have a choice. Let us choose life as our spiritual ancestors have done over and over. It won’t be easy. It won’t be quick. It won’t be “the good old days”. It will be God’s New Day. Download “Leading Beyond the Blizzard” today. Stop where you are and go back to that link. Read the paper—multiple times. Share it with leaders in your church, your neighborhood, even your business; whoever you know or think might be ready to help build God’s “new thing”. Let’s do our part in re-inventing church for our neighborhood in this new world; the new world in which God has placed us; the world “God loves so much that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). And one great day, by the grace of God, we will find ourselves saying with awe and wonder, “Come and see what God has done.”

 

NEWER THAN WE DARE TO DREAM

As I write, pastors and church staffs are scrambling toward Easter. They’re fine-tuning Holy Week services, printing bulletins, rehearsing music, doing that “something extra” to welcome guests on Easter Sunday. The afternoon  will find these once-frantic folks relaxing with family, headed for well-deserved time off, or simply hibernating at home as they recover from the annual Easter marathon. Meanwhile excited sugar-crazed children in homes across the land will have devastated and deconstructed beautiful Easter baskets. Then school will resume on Monday morning. Store displays of egg-laying bunnies will yield to Mother’s Day marketing. A relieved sigh will be heard throughout the land: “Well, that’s over. We’re done with Easter till next year.”

But the Good News of Easter is—it’s not over! Talented worship leaders Richard Avery and Donald Marsh taught us that truth through their song, “Every morning is Easter morning from now on…” Have some fun watching and singing along with this video. The celebration continues in the lives we live on the far side of Easter. Good News overflows beyond the sanctuary to touch and transform every person and every part of creation. “…if anyone is in Christ,” Paul writes, “that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 CEB) Easter means NEW CREATION is happening right here, right now, in you, in me, and in places, ways, and people we’ve never even imagined! Jesus’ Risen Life is re-creating every person, every creature, every molecule, every institution, every relationship.

Really, Paul? Have you watched CNN or Fox News lately? Surfed the Internet? Talked with the folks in the grocery store, the beauty shop, the neighborhood bar, the church parking lot? “New Creation” sounds pretty impossible to them. I suspect it sounded equally impossible to Paul’s friends in Corinth. They felt Death’s unbreakable stranglehold literally squeezing the life out of their world. But Paul insisted that the Life that had raised Jesus had broken Death’s stranglehold finally and forever. Paul strains the limits of language to describe Life’s ultimate victory: “Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 MSG)

That’s the Good News of Easter. It’s fresh and new every morning. God is recreating God’s world. God is re-creating people like you and me, and people very different from you and me. God’s Life-giving, death-destroying Love is transforming all that we knew was dead  and broken; resurrecting all we grieve as lifeless and hopeless. Love pours life and health back into what we knew was lost forever. All the big and small things we do in the Spirit of Jesus (especially those small things we think go unnoticed) help to build God’s New World. No-one and nothing can stop Love’s power from completing God’s New Creation: “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 MSG)

Where and with whom are you equipped and called to share this Good News–with struggling families, friends, coworkers? Students and staff in underfunded and overcrowded schools; with the homeless people you passed as you drove around today; men, women, children in the grip of addiction; folks in a nearby jail or other correctional facility? With disaster survivors seeking to rebuild their lives, and those who work alongside them; angry, frightened persons who demonize their neighbors across political, spiritual, lifestyle, and ideological divides? With our United Methodist Church as it seeks a new beginning; our planet suffering from centuries of abuse and misuse by its human occupants?

The list could go on and on. Thank God that “…every morning is Easter morning from now on!” Thank God “the work of the Master” continues to build New Creation. None of us has to do it all. None of us has to heal all the world’s brokenness. (None of us–especially me!– is God, thank God!) Each of us is uniquely positioned, equipped, and called to share the joy of Easter morning (every morning!) with some neighbors within our reach. Can you see their faces yet? Hear their voices? Pray. Ask God. You’ll start to see faces and places, and hear voices. You’ll start to see a way where you knew there was no way. You’ll start to discover others who share your call and bring gifts and skills you may lack. Take a step, and you’ll find the next step.

When the going gets tough–and it will–remember Paul’s words: “…don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” 


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