the view from here is bleak but the future is bright

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: 
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” 
Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’  ” ~ Luke 4:9-12

At 70 meters in height, Church of Saints Augustine and John (John’s Lane Church) on Thomas Street is the tallest church in Dublin. If this had been the peak that Jesus would have stood on when hungry and tired, what would he have seen? Street markets, Guinness, Mannings Bakery, St. Catherine’s Church, the Digital Hub, the flats, NCAD, the Liffey, Smithfield Square, the Four Courts … a city that stretches north, west, east and south from there. Who would he have seen? And the building dedicated to his name, would it feel like his home? Or would he feel like a stranger passing through with the impossible responsibility of restoring all of creation to God who wants to speak peace over it, speak love, speak life.

What did he see from the heights of the temple? Did it already make him sick that people were using that very building for their own gain instead of to come near to God, who planned for all people to find worth and wholeness in him? He knew he was there to die and defeat death. Wouldn’t a practice run be good? Jump just to make sure that his Father would catch him. Then the next few years wouldn’t be so bad. He wouldn’t end up in excruciating inner turmoil right before he would be arrested and crucified. He could go boldly and confidently into the plans for his life. Test God, test his identity and then decide to continue or not.

The more I speak with God, the more I see how incredibly full of grace and mercy he is – loving all people equally and filled with nothing but good intentions for them. When he shows me this city and world from the top, there are people and places that stand out to me and I see how far they are from the experience of heaven. When we follow him through the wilderness we see how different we are from who he is. We see how different our communities are from an ideal that can’t be bought. “Give me proof!” we might challenge God, “That a life lived for you will be worth it in the end.”

Walking with Jesus through the wilderness means learning to have an almost irrational faith in God that he will come through in the end and that he is who he says he is in spite of all we see and experience, even in the buildings and structures that are dedicated to him. Today, talk to God about the faith or lack of faith you have in him and his goodness that lasts and lasts and lasts.

This week we will be looking at all that God dreams for our world and the promises of heaven, both now and for eternity.

a floor stained with tears

This blue carpet is worn around the edges, pressed into the floor from thousands of feet heavy with dreams, with hurt, with joy, with anger, with determination, with apathy. Whispers from the strings of orchestras have settled into the fibers. Imprinted on the concrete below are the echoes of children’s laughter, too loud to not leave their mark. Silence hovers over the surface with things unsaid.

In this place, people have pointed to themselves as God. Music has been worshiped. Power has been abused. Words of life have been contorted to shape the agenda of the strong and break the backs of the weak. Tears have flooded this floor. Tears of pain. Tears of unspeakable disappointment. Tears of anger and rage. In this place, shouldn’t God be collecting these tears to distribute his justice, abandoning the old building made of stone?

But these are not the only tears that have stained this floor. It has captured and held tears from walking into heaven on earth.

In this place, people have pointed to God. Worship has come through music. Abuse has been powerfully healed. Words of life wake the dead and summon the forgotten. In this space of holiness, when no one stands on a pedestal reserved for the King of Heaven, tears fall freely. Tears that come from realising you are not alone. Tears of relief as old wounds begin to heal. Tears from experiencing love in the places have never seen the light of day. Tears from accepting forgiveness, from giving forgiveness for the first time. Tears of overwhelming joy. Loud tears on the shoulders of friends. Silent tears that fall on open hands. Tears that come from hands lifted and waved to a God who didn’t come to destroy but to restore everything to beauty again, believing that he is who he says he is.

This floor is not sacred, a set apart sacrament of God’s Church. It is a bowl to be filled and spilled out on this city. Worshiping the God of Creation, fill this space with tears of restoration as he calls out of us compassion and justice, less of self-living, more love and generosity towards others, truth replacing the lies, humility instead of pride. If not this, bitter tears of hopelessness reach the brim and fall on the city. It will become a symbol of death, a plague on all humanity coming from a building empty of God himself. A curse on the world.

So call on him, and only him, in this sanctuary, or do not enter it at all.

you think your pastor is bad, you should see mine

Someone would have to be slightly out of their mind to ever want to lead a church. Within a few years of living in Ireland I began to see how people changed in their attitude and behaviour towards a friend as soon as they took on a role that might have leadership connotations. Suddenly that person became suspicious. How would they have ever made it into that role or accepted it unless they were hungry for power? They must think themselves better than they actually are. Then there is the whole issue with authority in general. Who actually has the right to tell me what to do? There is an assumption that they are in leadership to control and abuse for their own selfish purposes. In reality, what is actually going on in us is more likely to be jealousy, insecurity or pride. We might just be projecting our own weaknesses onto them.

I want control of this situation. I would have made a much better leader. If people would just listen to me and do things the way I think they should we wouldn’t have any of the issues these leaders are causing.

And yet, if offered leadership most of us would turn it down because we really don’t want to be the person that so many people throw rotten eggs at. We should know, we’ve thrown them ourselves for years.

As people who put our faith in Jesus (a.k.a. Christians) we are called to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. In other words – we have a lot of thoughts that are just untrue and unhelpful about God, ourselves and others. Paul tells us: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) What does this mean when thinking about leadership?

Sometimes our original assumptions are true about leaders. They might be power hungry. It is quite possible that they are just wanting control. When we assume a leader wants these things without any proof, then we are in the wrong. I have found that most church leaders start with the best of intentions. They have a clear nudge from God and enough conviction that makes them risk the gauntlet and train for a position that will get them nowhere if they quit that “profession”. My brother recently told me that he doesn’t think that pastor’s kids will ever be able to have a pastor. I think he is right. We know that they are human and we often see more of the inner struggles and challenges than others might have a chance to see. By the way, I was a strong-willed child so didn’t make life easy either! So, with the personal insight of living in a pastor’s home and participating in churches for most of my life, let me present a few things that can often distract and play on the weaknesses of church leadership.

Over spiritualising differences of opinion – I don’t agree with you so one of us must not be walking close enough with God or really get his truth. Since I know I am on track, it must be you. Therefore, God is unhappy with you … and your leadership … and your family … and everything you touch. Actually, who do you think you are that you are leading God’s people? Continue reading