compassion

My good friend (and fellow Haiti Mission Project team member) Danielle Tietjen spoke at Journey last Sunday. As always, she was challenging and inspiring. You can listen to the message by clicking on the little media player below, but in case you don’t have 35 minutes I wanted to share my favorite quote: “compassion is giving of yourself without judgment.”

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be still…

I’m not sure why I don’t read Psalm 46 every day – or even every hour of every day – since every time I read it I am led to take a couple deep breaths, relax my body, slow my thoughts and remember that I’m not in control of everything…or anything. And I never was. In case it’s been a while since you’ve read it, or maybe if you aren’t sure which one number forty-six is, I’ll post it below. Read it out loud if you’re in a place where that’s socially acceptable. Let the words speak to you and don’t forget to just…be…still.

relax

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46 (NIV)

shadows of virtue : living generously

I spoke at Journey again tonight. This time about living generously and sacrificially. We’re in the last few weeks of a church-wide series called 40 Days of Community, and for the last six weeks we have been discovering how much better we are together (through small groups, service projects, community events and worship). It has been a great fall, and tonight’s theme offered us thoughts, inspiration and a challenge to respond to God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice for us by living generously, as individuals and as a community, with God’s love as our guide.

I will include portions of the message text below, but the reason I’m writing about it here is because much of the message was delivered through select scenes of a documentary that I want people to know about. It’s called The Shadows of Virtue, and it was made a Minnesotan named Chad Amour. Released a few years ago now, the film takes a close look at how God’s love compels us to respond to issues in the world and to the needs of God’s people.

Here’s the trailer:

To learn more about The Shadows of Virtue, visit humdingerpictures.com.

Here is an excerpt of the message (listen here).

“Living Generously” by Andy Jolivette | Journey, 11/2/08

What does it mean to be sacrificial?
What does it mean to be generous with our lives?

We can’t be sacrificial all the time, can we?

What do we have to give?
What can we give up?

Does God want us to be sacrificial and generous?
Absolutely, but how much?

These are all very relevant questions, but they all come from the same route questions, “what do I have to do?” and “how much is enough?” They also severely miss the point of what we read in the Gospel of Matthew last week.

In Matthew 22, Jesus talks about one of the greatest commandments being to “love our neighbor as ourself,” and it’s probably safe to assume that this kind of love toward others includes being generous, and at times even sacrificing a bit of ourselves and what we have, for others.

So while the questions “what does it mean to live sacrificially?” and “how generous should we be?” are very honest questions, they are also very difficult to answer. (The honest ones usually are.) But seriously, can anyone tell us when our generosity is generous enough? or when we’ve sacrificed an acceptable amount?

The short answer to these difficult questions is this: there’s no way of knowing, so it doesn’t even make sense to respond with specifics, but we can trust that every day we will be faced with opportunities to be generous, greedy or something in between, and all we can do is try to be as generous as possible – as often as possible.

Many will point to Jesus as the example or standard, but we all know that is not really fair. Sure, we want to “be like,” “give like” and “love like” Jesus, but who of us is capable of living up to this standard? I’m not saying don’t try (if “WWJD” bracelets works for you, keep wearing them the rest of your life!), but we also need to be realistic.

Remember that even Jesus only gave his life for us once – it’s not something he did everyday – on other days he went for long walks, met new people and listened to their problems, went on fishing trips, and just hung out with his friends. At times he even separated himself from others because apparently even Jesus needed to be alone and get away from other people sometime.

Not to minimize Christ’s life and ministry, but if we’re truly going to look to the Gospel’s revelation of Jesus as our guide for living generously and sacrificially, we need to look at the whole story and recognize that even Jesus’ life included days when he wasn’t so obviously “sacrificial” or “generous” (at least not in ways that would inspire people to write worship songs about him) – but overall, no one could deny that Jesus was a generous man whose life was sacrificially given for others, for you and for me, for all of us.

I contend to you that Christ’s example for us is not just that we be blindly, or even constantly sacrificial, but that we become more consistently and even strategically generous and sacrificial.

In short, we need to live on purpose…with a purpose. We need to live out Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: Loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

That might mean freely giving away our time, our skills, our possessions or our money, or it could just mean not buying so many clothes and lattes so we can afford to be more generous in other ways. It could even mean calling a friend who we know needs to talk, but who drains our energy every time we talk to them. Regardless of how we choose to live generously and what we choose to sacrifice, we can be assured of one thing…living like this will always require living in opposition of our own desires to do what is best/easiest for us.

Living generously and sacrificially will always require love, not just any love, but the love of Christ – God’s perfect and unfailing love that has been given to us as a free gift – the love we’ve been called to share with the world. Love is a difficult thing to understand no matter how you look at it, and it’s an even more difficult thing to accept and share with others.

So here’s the challenge for all of us…

  1. Take time this week (more than 10 minutes) to think about how you could sacrifice a bit of what you have (time and energy, not just money) and be generous in a way that will truly benefit others.
  2. Make a plan for how you can make it happen (be strategic, purposeful).
  3. Do it (don’t just talk about it, be about it…the longer you wait, the less likely you are to actually do it).
  4. Don’t tell anyone what you did. (This is probably the hardest step, but remember it’s not about looking good to others, or even feeling good about yourself, it’s about loving someone else for no other reason than to remind them that they have “unsurpassable worth”).

broken…revisited

I went out for dinner with a friend tonight, and as we were enjoying our burritos and some good conversation, a familiar song came on the radio. Hearing the song led me to think about a seminary class I took last year, since it was for an assignment in the class that I listened to this song at least 100 times in the span of only a few days. You see, we were asked to make a video for the class and in my video I had decided to use a song from a  CD I had recently bought. The album was by Lifehouse, and the song was “Broken” (the same song that was playing when I was eating at Qdoba tonight). I became completely consumed with the creation of the video, and I shared all it’s versions here back in February. Looking back through anewdoxology’s now nearly one year existence, the only post(s) that brought more visitors to this site were my confused thoughts during the food crisis/riots in Haiti back in April (found here and here). The video went on to be used in worship at a few churches during Lent, and was also featured on a popular Christian men’s website. All of which surprised me, since it started as an assignment for one of my classes.

Here is the video (watch it again if you’ve already seen it):

As it turns out, “Broken” is the current single from Lifehouse’s latest album (Who We Are), and the song has been receiving quite a bit of airplay on radio and TV lately (reaching #8 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart). I obviously realize my video had nothing to do with the song’s success, but regardless of how high it makes it on the charts, it has a very significant meaning to me. The song reminds me that even though I am broken, God enters into my life (and especially my suffering), and offers me hope and restoration…and based on the comments people have left on this site and youtube in response to the video  – along with the emails I received from people who were impacted by the video’s images and message – I like to think there are some people in the world who are reminded that God is with them, helping them through their brokenness and offering them hope and healing, whenever they hear the song on the radio. And to me at least, that’s a beautiful thought.

If you know someone going through a time of brokenness, please forward them this video, because as one of the quotes in the video says so well, “Real caring is the willingness to help each other in making our brokenness into the gateway to joy” (Henri Nouwen).

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It should also be noted that Lifehouse is considered by many to be a pseudo-“Christian band” … whatever that means.

religulous

There’s a new documentary that came out in theaters recently (Oct. 3) called Religulous (“religion” + “ridiculous”). Bill Maher stars as the film’s “host,” guiding viewers on an exploration of organized religion in our world today – offering plenty of his opinions along the way – and it was directed by Larry Charles, who also directed Borat … so you probably already know enough to determine whether this documentary will be wildly, or simply mildly offensive to you.

Apparently aware of the film’s potent potential for offense, the front page of the official website offers visitors two options; the typical “enter site” link (which happens to be on the left side of the page) and the unusual “enter kosher site” link (which just happens to be on the right). I’m not Jewish, so I entered the regular site and watched the trailer. For what it’s worth, the website does boast that it’s “one of the funniest and most offensive documentaries ever made.” At least they’re honest, right?

Let me be clear on a few things: I’m serious about my faith and I consider myself part of a religion. Maybe it’s because I try not to take myself too seriously, but this film looks really funny. If I end up seeing it, I’m guessing I will find myself nodding in agreement with a lot of the jokes being made on religions and religious people…even the ones about Christianity (and it’s not all a spoof on Christianity by the way, Maher takes shots at other religions as well).

Going beyond a just an awareness of his irreverance, Maher seems to take pride in his atheistic/anti-religion stance. While I can’t speak for other religions or Christianity as a whole, if Maher’s goal was simply to expose that uncertainty must be involved for any system of faith or belief to work (or make sense), then I would agree completely with him, but I haven’t seen the movie yet to know if that’s one of the points that he is trying to make. (I have seen this clip of Maher on Larry King talking about religion, this new movie, and even Rick Warren.)

Although Religulous probably fits best in the documentary genre of “look how stupid those [fill in the blank] people are,” from what I have seen and read so far it seems much more Bowling for Columbine and much less Jesus Camp. I mean, sure, Maher pokes fun at religious fanatics (like the guy who plays Jesus at the “Holy Land” theme park in Florida) and if the movie poster is any indication, I’m guesing they mock a few examples of light-hearted religious ridiculousness (like the stories in the news a few years ago about a man who burnt a fish stick and thought it looked like Jesus or the woman who reportedly sold a grilled-cheese sandwich on eBay that bore the image of the Virgin Mary…final bid: $28,000), but clearly, the film is about much more than just making fun of sacred sandwiches and Christian theme parks (since religious folks wouldn’t be offended by a movie that only makes fun of fanatics and others who have found ways to pimp religion to make a few dollars).

If nothing else, Religulous offers a slap in the face to religious leaders and people of faith – whatever flavor of belief they prefer. The film provides humor as a way of helping people realize that it might be a good idea to be capable of responding to basic questions about their faith and, although it’s not necessarily a requirement to “validate” their faith (depending on the religion), we should all possess enough understanding to express what we believe in a way that doesn’t make us sound like the butt of a joke. I’m definitely not saying people need to act like they have it all figured out – since I don’t believe that is possible – but at least take some time to think things through, being honest with yourself and others about what you think and believe so that when/if the questions are too big or your understanding is too limited, you have the marbles to say “I don’t know.” Because let’s be honest, that’s where faith comes in…not as an excuse for not knowing things, but as a way of admitting the limits of our understanding and the vasness of God’s. It also forces us to put trust and faith in a God who reveals himself to us in ways that are often mysterious at best, since the reality of life and faith seems to be that sometimes, we’re simply left wondering in awe at the mystery of God, but even this confusion is an expression of faith and worship. Having doubts is okay. Not having all the answers doesn’t mean we don’t believe, or even that we believe less. Doubts and confusion simply remind us of our need for faith…our need for God.

So what is the point of Religulous? Why did Bill Maher decide to point out that religious people don’t have things figured out any more than other people? I’m not sure yet, but I think he’s probably right in a lot of ways, he just doesn’t happen to be a person who can get over the fact that believing doesn’t always mean knowing (and he’s a guy who likes to know stuff).

Here’s the trailer:

Would you pay money to watch this movie?

The messiness of forgiveness

We’ve been discussing the topic of forgiveness during worship at Journey the last three weeks; starting with a message on God forgiving us (July 13), followed by a message about forgiving each other (July 20), and then last night (July 27) we had a guest preacher talk about the messiness of forgiveness. It was an honest talk about a difficult topic, and it was both a sad and hopeful evening. Let me explain.

The guest preacher was Rolf Olson. In case you’re not familiar with Rolf’s story, he is the father of Katherine Olson, the young woman who was murdered last fall while following up an ad she found on craigslist to be a nanny. (If you’d like more info on the story, do a google search for “Katherine Olson” and you’ll find over 1.5 million sites.)

Rolf is lead pastor at Richfield Lutheran in the twin cities, but he’s also a father, a husband and a regular person, so you can imagine that this wasn’t an easy message for him to share. He’s angry about the whole situation – he lost his daughter – and he is not at a nice/clean point where he can confidently say, “I forgive the young man who killed my daughter.” He’s aware that he needs others to help him and his family; not only to pray for them during these difficult times – especially as the case goes to trial in January – but also to continue praying for his daughter’s accused murderer (since he admits this is really hard for them to do right now). Aside from some quotes in the media and things he’s said at his church, Rolf has not spoken publicly about the horrible situation that he and his family have been living in since last fall. This was a big step for he and his family. He did an incredible job and we are thankful he accepted our invitation.

For anyone who wasn’t able to be at Journey on Sunday night, here are some ways to hear, read or share the message:

[Personal note: Rolf and my dad were classmates in seminary, and they are still friends today. As Rolf mentions at the beginning of his message, there are a few other family connections between the Jolivettes and Olsons, but that’s the main one that led us to invite him to share a bit of his story at Journey.]