The Magnetic Knife Strip

The Gift
A few years ago my wife gifted me the strangest of things for Christmas, a magnetic knife strip and four pairs of scissors. I remember opening the gift, looking at these five items, sitting together in a box, and giving her the best quizzical, confused look I could muster. It was very clear to me, in that moment, that my wife had simply dropped the ball. She’d run out of ideas for what makes her husband tick. I began to ponder what future Christmases would yield in the gift department, because really, when you’re getting a magnetic knife strip and scissors from your loved one, as their best effort to say, well, I Love You, you know things can only go downhill from there.

But then I listened as she explained the gift. “You’ve been selling a lot on the internet lately. I see you always misplacing and looking for scissors when packaging things up. Maybe this will help you get more organized.” She was right, I thought, maybe, tho honestly after some effort I can always find scissors, no matter how misplaced they may be. It still seemed like a dumb gift.

The Installation
We set about finding a good place to mount the magnetic knife strip with its new supply of scissors, which ended up being right next the office computer. And also within arms reach of the boxes, bubble wrap, tape and printer labels I use to ship those packages. As I stood there, appreciating the handiwork of mounting the magnetic knife strip to the wall – a knife strip that holds no knives – and then hanging scissors to it, I began to ponder that perhaps this isn’t the most horrible gift after all.

And that is exactly what the gift has come to be.

The Result
In these past few years I’ve ended up using this magnetic knife strip, with the hanging scissors attached to it, almost daily, religiously replacing the scissors after each use. It has become as super convenient as my wife imagined, and likely saved me countless hours, and significant frustration, always looking for those oft misplaced cutting implements. Over time the magnetic knife strip’s utility has only grown; besides the original intent it now also houses a ruler, screwdrivers, a tape measure, and pliers too. In that time it’s evolved into my go-to spot, not just for shipping, but for cutting, measuring and fixing. I have come to absolutely love it. What I’d quickly judged initially as a bad gift has turned into, besides our two children, one of the best gifts my wife has ever gifted her husband.

So what changed? Well, over time, me. I needed to change. I needed to get more organized. But before then, before the shipping, and measuring, and fixing this magnet now encourages, there was my wife. She saw something in me, that organizational need, and went out of her way to help me with that exact deficit. She saw me for what I was, the chaotic, harried shipper, and set about to help make that into something more. She knew me, in short, better than I knew myself. She still does.

In Luke 12 scripture tells us that God too knows us deeply, even down to an ability to count the very number of hairs on our head. As a middle aged guy with a slowly receding hairline, that’s a constantly changing number, and unfortunately a dwindling one. God knows that number, keeping up with it in real time, even as it, at least for me, decreases. Such a mundane fact it seems, but also showing how intimately, how precisely the Divine knows us.

The scripture narrative in Luke 12 also talks of sparrows and small coins, little things. Yet these little things matter, and are cared for, by God. How much more are we worth, it continues, than sparrows, being cared for, and known, so deeply by our Creator?

So while I’m better organized now than in years past, I continue to be a work in progress. God knows, along with my slowly receding hairline, all about that, and knows so much more. And God sent a special partner, and gifted her with this insight, then setting about helping her to help her spouse in the most specific of ways. Like the brilliance of pairing a magnetic cutting board with scissors, all in the hopes of helping her husband become a better man. And for this, both to the Divine, and for my divinely awesome wife, I give thanks.

Dear Lord, thank you for the knowledge, and the intimacy you know us by, from the counting of hairs on our head, to what makes us tick, to at times even our unknown need of what to mount in the office. Thank you for this knowledge, and care, and for sending people all around us, to help show this care to us in the flesh. Give us eyes to see your handiwork all around us, for it is indeed there, in ways great and small. And give us your eyes, to help others, seeing them as your children, helping them, as guided by you. Amen.

A World Without God

During men’s Bible study this morning, right in the middle of reading the book of John, a friend asked this question to the group, “Can you imagine a world without the Bible?” The question quickly broadened, first to imagining a world without religion, before finally settling on the big kahuna, can you imagine a world without God?

I struggled to create this imagined reality in my head, and have been unable to shake this notion ever since.

What would a world without God be like?

With

Most every world religion has some variation of the Golden Rule; that we are to do unto one another as we would have done unto us.  God, or the notion of God, takes us beyond our little corner of reality, beyond the particular lens of the world we have been exposed to, and the lens we choose to see the world through, and says, like any good infomercial:

BUT WAIT.  THERE’S MORE.

There’s more to this life than meets the eye.  There’s more than just your reality.  You aren’t just here by accident.  You have purpose, you have meaning.  You were put on this earth to live in right relationship with all of creation.  For God didn’t just make you.  Or just your gender, or your race, or your IQ or socioeconomic status, or any other way you may choose to self-identify what makes you, you.

A world with God is a world linked.   A world linked to something much bigger than just you.  A world inextricably linked with every other human and creature on the planet.  God created it, and deemed it good.  And in that world you share common genetic makeup, common DNA, that binds you, now and forever, with the triumphs, failures and challenges of every other human on this planet.  A world linked is not one with winners or losers, but one of shared problems.  And shared solutions.  When one suffers we all suffer.  For one to succeed, in this big family tree, we all must.

Without

Now imagine the alternative.  A world without God.  What would that look like?  A world without God takes away this notion of a shared humanity.  Takes away our shared DNA, our shared family tree.  It takes away our responsibility to care for one another.

And in its place?  We are left, to varying degrees, isolated.  We are left only associating with people that look, act or think like us.  Or share our same country.  Or political party.  We are left divided.  We are left broken.  We are left with winners, and losers, and finger pointing.  And shouting.  And anger.  Oh anger, you nastiest of demons, pitting us against one another until no one is left standing.  You are a nasty, nasty thing, anger.  Ultimately, when left to our own devices, and bound by our own self-imposed governance of self-interest we are simply left.  Left alone.  Humanity, outside of the walls we impose on ourselves, matters not.

With

But life doesn’t have to be ruled by our own self interests.  And our living certainly doesn’t have to be lived alone.  God created us, and all things, as good.  As difficult as it can be to see that some days, with God, with common purpose, this doing unto others, unto our brothers and sisters as we would have done unto us, unifies.  It creates a sense that the well-being of all, really and truly does matter.

The apostle Paul in Galatians echoes this oneness, finding that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor male or female, for you are all one in Christ.

And Martin Luther King, in his famed I Have A Dream speech, wishes this unity on his own children, that, one day, they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.  Here he saw the world for what it was, and is, as broken, and chose to live into another reality.

On this day, a more emotionally charged day than most, I choose to keep God in the center of our world.  I choose to live into God’s shared, common purpose for us.  A shared purpose that values the humanity of all.  As Paul does, I choose to value oneness, over labels of race, gender, or status.   As Martin Luther King does, I dare to dream.  To dream that the content of our character matters, deeply.  I choose to turn down a world without God that, left to our own devices pits us against each other in every possible way.  Instead I choose to live into our one, common, shared humanity, complete with all the high ideals, tribulations and joys that entails.  In short, I choose unity.  May it be so.

Spirit of Paul

The movement of the Holy Spirit can be found throughout human history, from creation, through Jesus, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and up to today in the here and now, through people like you and me.  This five-part series is a retelling of those stories, and starts when the beginning begun.  Missed the beginning?  Rewind to part 1

While God was thrilled with all Jesus had done on earth, and the disciples seemed to be making inroads forming the early Church, God knew those disciples had their limitations.  For one, they formed councils and groups for almost any major decision, sometimes crowding out the chance for the Spirit to do her thing.  For another, on occasion they could be such a motley, indecisive crew, especially Peter, who was best known for being a bit brash, cutting off ears and denying Christ at the most inopportune times.

Then there was the writing.  Or said differently there was the lack of writing.  These disciples were great fishers of men, but most couldn’t read, much less write.  Their stories would be carried on for decades orally before being jotted down.  God was looking for someone to start this New Testament sooner than that.  And looking for someone to see the risen Christ with a fresh set of eyes, be deeply moved, and write letters that leapt off the scroll when read, all to encourage these early communities of faith.  And to help document, for eternity, what exactly the Holy Spirit was up to in a post-resurrection world.  Yes folks, God knew what was needed next: God was looking for a writer.

And not just any writer, but one willing to go to cities big and small, near and far, be embraced, be shunned, be imprisoned.   And of course be willing to jot it all down for the world to see.  God searched and searched for the right person, eventually settling on Paul.  To seal the deal God asked Jesus to meet Paul, who went by Saul before seeing the Light on the road to Damascus.  You can read more about this encounter, and the early adventures of Saul turned Paul, in Acts chapter 9.

The next turning point for Paul, after meeting Jesus, was when he was infused with the Holy Spirit in Acts 9:17.  Once blind, now he could see, and began to preach of Jesus, and the work of the Spirit he saw all around.

Paul, a learned man, spoke of the Spirit differently than anyone before him.  For one, Paul, being both Jewish and a Roman citizen, could connect with many and varied audiences in person and in his letters.  This broad perspective led him to famously tell the church of Galatia that, in Christ, there is “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one” (Gal 3:28).  It’s almost as if Paul is reaching back to the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, describing how Christ has broken even more barriers that separated God’s people.  It wasn’t just language barriers the Spirit was removing, it was the barriers of race and ethnicity, affluence and poverty, even gender.  Paul, guided by the Spirit, moved from an encounter with Christ, as orchestrated by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and was about to change the world.

One approach Paul took to explaining the movement of the Holy Spirit – one among many — is through the concepts of faith, hope, and love.  He builds a case for faith from the Old Testament, writing in Romans 4:13 that “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” He expands on this to consider how one lives by faith, saying in Galatians 2:20 that “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” For Paul, living by faith is an essential ingredient to experience this new life in Christ.

Paul too was man of hopeHe reaches a rhetorical climax on the implications of hope in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, concluding that “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Why all the optimism, Paul? Aren’t you constantly in trouble with the law, often ending up behind bars, wasting away? He gives us a hint about the source of this optimism in Romans 8:11, reminding us that “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”  No wonder you’re hopeful Paul, the Spirit of Christ is in you. And in all of us.

When it comes to understanding the importance of love in Paul’s Spirit theology it’s hard to top 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. In modern terms it’s easy to envision the apostle walking around in a tye dye shirt, Jesus sandals, giving lots of hugs and high fives and passing the peace pipe. The love chapter first describes the importance of love, with Paul suggesting you can be the best speaker, the brightest visionary, the most giving philanthropist or even a martyr, but if you don’t have love, well, you are nothing. Whoa, that kind of sounds important. Paul continues, telling us in chapter 13, verse 7 that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Does that understanding of love remind you of anyone?  Remind you of any particular event? Reflecting on this my mind wanders, ever so slightly, to the cross.

Spirit of the Disciples

The movement of the Holy Spirit can be found throughout human history, from creation, through Jesus, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and up to today in the here and now, through people like you and me.  This five-part series is a retelling of those stories, and starts when the beginning begun.  Missed the beginning?  Rewind to part 1

But Jesus was only on the earth for 34 short years.  After he left the Holy Spirit would need to change yet again, God realized.  For one thing, the disciples were always getting scared, especially after Jesus had died.  At one point they huddled together behind locked doors, gripped with fear (John 20:19).  It certainly seemed like the apostles could use some comfort, God thought.  Jesus knew his disciples well, and fortunately knew they’d need a hand when He had left them.  Jesus promised his disciples a helper, a comforter, telling them that the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, will teach you many things and remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).  If only it were that easy.

The disciples, in typical fashion, didn’t remember this promise, and continued to live in fear.  This fear subsided, at least for a time, as the disciples huddled in the upper room after Christ had ascended to the heavens.  God decided to fulfill the promise his Son made to the disciples by again using some elemental flair, this time through wind and fire.  First a wind came from heaven, filling the house.  Tongues of fire then descended and came to rest on each and every one of them.  What’s more the disciples were guided by the Spirit to speak in other tongues (Acts 2), which must have surprised just about everyone gathered there that day.  The Spirit of the Disciples now helped people connect with each other in new tongues and in new ways, all through the language of the divine.

Perhaps most importantly, not only did the Spirit descend on the disciples, but the disciples believed they were now endowed by the Spirit, sent from God, and mediated to them by the risen Christ.  It is this belief, that the Spirit was with them, that enabled the early Church to first form, then flourish.

The Spirit in Jesus’ life reminds me of the Parable of the Sower found in Mark (4:3-20), Matthew (13:1-23) and Luke (8:4-15).  In the parable the sower scatters the seeds, but not all fall on fertile soil.  While we model Christ in sowing seeds of the kingdom, could where they fall and what comes of them be considered an action of the Spirit?  In this way the Spirit is the wind that scatters seeds from Christ’s hands, the fertile soil it falls onto, the rain that draws life from a tiny pod, and the sun that grows us upward.  Upward, and upward, bringing us closer, once again, to our Creator.

Spirit of Christ

The movement of the Holy Spirit can be found throughout human history, from creation, through Jesus, the disciples, the apostle Paul, and up to today in the here and now, through people like you and me.  This five-part series is a retelling of those stories, and starts when the beginning begun.  Missed the beginning?  Rewind to part 1

While the Spirit moved throughout ancient times in varied and powerful ways, parting waters, and bringing life from dry bones, still, God felt sad.  These children of mine, God thought, even with all this help they have from my Spirit, they do awful things.  They rape, they pillage, they plunder.  They keep destroying this creation I love, hurting me, hurting each other.  They are selfish and greedy, God realized, always wanting to do things their way.  God reflected on the rules given to God’s children to help them live and knew, deep down, that nothing had really worked all that well.  God had given over 600 rules through the priests, and the people failed to keep them.  God had given the 10 commandments through Moses, really easy rules, God thought.  I mean, how hard is it not to kill? Or to keep your hands off your neighbor’s wife?  But still, God noticed, the people couldn’t keep those either.  It’s time for a new approach, God concluded, time to do something new.

First God streamlined the rules, settling on just two.  Love me, and love each other, that should be simple enough.  God also realized that when it had gone the best was back in the Garden of Eden, when God had walked and talked and taught alongside Adam and Eve.  They had rejected God after these perfect moments, yes, that’s true.  But maybe they could learn something instead from God’s son, Jesus.  It was certainly worth a shot.  But for this plan to work Jesus would have to be different than God, both fully divine and fully human (1 Tim 2:5).  Jesus, sent by God, in the form of a man, gave God the chance to walk and talk and teach humanity once again.  Maybe they will listen to one of their own, and yet one of my own too, my Son, God pondered.  It was a chance God was willing to take.

This God-become-man, in the form of Jesus, created another challenge; God’s Spirit would need to evolve too.  This Spirit now makes Jesus the kingdom of God, in person, God thought.  It’s the power of the Spirit, moving Jesus to perform amazing acts like driving out demons, healing the sick, and bringing the kingdom of God to the poor.  The Spirit would not be something Jesus possesses.  Rather, it would be the power to make the Christ ready for anything he would experience in human form.  Ready, even, to surrender his own life.  And it is this Spirit that moves Jesus to voice, not my will, but thine, be done (Luke 22:42). With the Spirit guiding Jesus, and the divine walking alongside humankind once again, all things were now possible.