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April 7, 2014, 4:10 PM

The debate: to blow stuff up, or be the one who gets blowed up?

So who would you rather be:  Peter or James/John?  

We're talking pre-Pentacost apostles here... James and John with the power to rain fire down on a Samarian village, and Peter with the edge on being the punch line of Jesus' most pointed teaching.  It sounds like a rather obvious choice doesnt it?  James and John embody everything that we envision in ourselves as Christians in our current culture.  Bold.  Powerful.  Passionate.  And nearly always Right.  

Peter on the other hand was nearly always wrong, or at least on the wrong side of the "moral of the story is..."  He gets publicly lambasted as "satan", his faith gets pointed out as weak, and he ultimately opens his mouth at the worst possible time declaring promises he would never keep.  That is FAR from where we envision ourselves in our tribes these days, isnt it!  

Think about this, and bear with me for a second as this may get uncomfortable, we've turned Christianity into one big protest.  We're against this; We're FOR that; we believe in this; and expect you to respect our rights to that.  And lo and behold, if the world doesnt recognize us and validate our opinions, we are ready to wipe them off the map in a holy rain of fire that they will never forget.  Yep, sounds a lot like what James and John were ready to do with that town in Samaria that wouldnt provide housing and food for a flock of Jews cutting through their territory on their way away from Mount Garazim (where the Samaritans at least hoped Jesus would acknowledge was sort of a legit worshipping place) and into the den of cultural and genetic prejudice and hate in Jerusalem.  Yes, they were totally in the wrong and deserved that fiery rain.  

I say a lot of that tongue-in-cheek, and with a sardonic tone to my voice (of which you cannot hear... well, I'm not even speaking it audibly, but I hope you picked it up).  Tie that James and John attitude to today and just watch when our Christian bubbles get pushed on a little bit by a wicked world.  Facebook explodes with fiery raindrops; articles are written decrying a world that wants to be heard but doesnt want to hear US!!  Thats the whole point of the world, folks.  They dont know Christ.  They dont know compassion in the form of a man laying his life down on the cross, bearing everyone's sin.  Why do we expect anything more from them?  Oh yeah, its the Sons of Thunder complex we've got.  We sing songs about Mansions Just Over the Hilltop and Crystal Seas and crowns we'll earn when we lay down our trophies at last.  We hear all about the rewards we'll earn (and think we deserve) and forget the point of the whole matter.  Reread Matthew 19, in which Jesus speaks to his disciples of Thrones and honor, only to remind them that the whole point of those thrones and that honor is to lift up those without either in this world.  

Jesus calls us to lay our lives on the line for the sake of Love.  We're not going to be martyrs, but there are much more painful things we could lose:  reputation, comfort, wealth, pride.  Thats what James and John were facing when that village shut their doors.  And instead of realizing that a fallen world doesn't react like we want it to, they figured it deserved to be shamed, destroyed, publicly decried for just not getting what Jesus was all about.  Silly Samaritans, how dare you.  

Then there is Peter.  Oddly quiet during that encounter in Luke 9.  Personally, I think he’s a little relieved that someone else said was he was thinking and got rebuked for it for a change!  

Move ahead a few weeks, years, and maybe a decade or two…  James is dead, killed by Herod.  John is writing, and so is Peter.  They’ve witnessed something horrible, followed by countless instances of the miraculous.  Often the miraculous occurred by their own hands.  They’re changed men.  John speaks of Love, and how the outward expression of love must be the defining characteristic of a Believer.  Peter is breaking down walls with Gentiles of all people.  He still speaks boldly, and he has faced abuse and prison because of it.  Neither of them are the same as they were when walking alongside Jesus.  


Because they witnessed something in the Garden that rocked every bit of self-esteem and pride they held so dear:  “Your Will, Not Mine.”  

Because they saw the power to wipe out a nation (the world even) being arrested, beaten, spit on, then ultimately hung on a rough piece of wood.  He was conscious enough to know exactly what was happening, and conscious enough to do something about it……..but he didnt.  They saw submission.  Not just to authorities or someone stronger, but submission born out of love and compassion.  

They witnessed Jesus rising and speaking to his friends, those who ran and deserted him, as friends.  Instructing them, loving them, feeding them… and even loving Peter back into the fold with quiet questions.  

They were changed by Love.  They were changed by what we’re calling the “Extra” in our current series.  And when the “Extra” was added to their ordinary, we find ourselves looking at Disciples.  

What has changed you?  Sure, we know about baptism and repentance.  But has that really changed anything?  We’ve grown up being told to chase the American Dream…….. and we still are.  There’s nothing wrong with freedom and justice, but when it comes at the expense of morals, integrity, generosity, and compassion… we’ve lost our way and turned ourselves into Sons of Thunder, ready to bash anything that gets in our way. 

What defines us?  Our opinions?  Our Wallets?  Or the extent to which we will go to love someone who probably is never going to deserve it?  

I want to be like Peter.  I want my pride to be all blowed up.  I need my life broken to the core by Jesus, so that I can rise from the ashes of what I want and find myself wanting only Christ, and making Him known.  

Yes, I’d rather earn the nickname “Rock” than “Son of Thunder”.  What about you? 

March 31, 2014, 11:43 AM

Why the Andrew costume is so dusty and forgotten...

Imagine standing between Peter and John whenever Jesus was speaking, or asking questions, or doing anything directed towards the apostles.  We know Peter's personality, and we get a peak at Johns ("the disciple Jesus loved...."  sigh), and I wonder just what level of fun it was being sandwiched between those two.  Into the picture steps Andrew.  He is the one disciple always grouped closest to Jesus, but seemingly always pushed out when Jesus wanted his closest friends with him.  

Why was he there?  He is always listed near the top, and was the first to be called into discipleship with Jesus.  I think he's there because of this one crazy concept that haunts every church today:  Unity.  Or maybe we need to make it more about sanity than just unity.  Among the brashness of Peter, the ego of John, the thunderous nature of both James and John, the political activism of Simon the Zealot, and the Roman apologist of Matthew the Tax Collector we have the calming and unifying presence of Andrew.  

And thats why Unity (sanity) is so hard.  

No one ever picks Andrew as the apostle they want to be in the classroom skit.  He doesnt have any of the good parts.  He simply stands there next to Peter (who has ALL the good lines).  The big moment is introducing Peter to Jesus, then pointing out the young man with the 5 loaves and 2 fish.  When we play Church, too many claim the roles of Peter and John and leave the role of Andrew to collect dust with the other costumes in the drama closet.  (He's stuck in the box with Boaz, Old Samuel, Aaron, James the Less, and the Ethiopian Eunuch).  

This is not a preacher telling congregants/parishioners to suck it up and do/give more.  This is an observation from a study into the apostles, and the simple truth that we dont ever hear Andrew gripe or complain about his role or exclusion from those pivotal moments shared with the Inner Three.  We simply get him painting a picture of unity (sanity) by connecting people with Jesus and not getting caught up with all the hoopla.  He emphasizes what is most important (getting people to Jesus) and lets others wrestle with the silly things (who will sit at your Right hand Jesus?).  He understands that Jesus is the X-Factor for making ordinary things extraordinary.  

All of this is done from the background, from behind the curtain, where things seem to really matter to Jesus.  Salvation came to Zacchaeus at home, when confession and repentance was done in the presence of Jesus alone.  We have to assume that the fruit of that repentance made itself known quietly through new-found humility and generosity from Zach's tax booth.  When tears were used to wash Jesus' feet, when perfume was "wasted" on anointing Jesus at a party (among sinners, no less), and when a sister is rebuked for missing the point...  its in those moments that we find the characteristics of Andrew coming into the light, displayed by Jesus.  

 This is where Unity (sanity) is cultivated.  The media or Hollywood cannot be the fuel for our country's revival.  Mega-Churches are not the soil where revival is born.  Those places are the playground for Peter and John.  And while important and powerful places for discussion and action, revival has its roots in much more humble places:  our homes;  our schools; in line at Walmart when you're in a terrible rush; at work when the boss is being a nincompoop.  When we display our desire for the character of Jesus to be on display in our lives, we can slip into the background.  When our words bring comfort and peace, and do not add fuel to the fire, we let Andrew speak.  When our presence takes tension down a few notches and not up, towards the boiling point, we are Andrew.  I wish we got to see more of Andrew in the Gospels.  Wait, I just wish I got to see more of Andrew when I look in the mirror.  I'm too busy trying to get my fake beard to look more like Peter's.  



March 24, 2014, 11:26 AM


The Status Quo.  



Right down the Middle. 


Be honest, none of those models of operating are getting it done.  We will not accept mediocrity from others, why do we find it acceptable from ourselves?  If your server at a restaurant is mediocre, you make your frustration clear in the size of the tip you leave.  If a Doctor's care is ordinary, we see a second opinion.   If all that our lives have to offer our neighborhood, schools, or workplaces is only the status quo, the ordinary, or any level of mediocre response to the amazing presence of God in our lives, they are going to look elsewhere (if they continue to look at all).

When Jesus chose the apostles, the people he kept closest to him during that 3 year assault on everything "ordinary", he understood that ordinary or mediocre wasnt going to cut it.  Here's where we find hope in that:  he took ordinary folks and made them extraordinary, not the other way around.  Jesus could have sought out the best, most popular, and prettiest folks to be his Plan A.  Instead he intentionally picked the fallible, weak, and unknown.  If that doesnt give you hope, we need to check out egos at the door.  We are fallible, weak, and unknown.  We dont garner tv time with our opinions.  We are not being photographed doing inane things like taking out the trash.  We are known by those around us, those that we have let into our sphere of influence.  Other than that, the world passes us by without as much as a blink.  

And Jesus is perfectly fine with that.  Are you?  

While seeking promotion and wealth are encouraged from day 1, Jesus asks for us to seek humility and faithfulness from day 1.  Think about it, if you are seeking promotion and wealth, what differentiates you from the rest of society?  Nothing.  But seeking God, seeking first His Kingdom takes us to a whole different level of success and notoriety.  Once Peter got that, he became the undeniable leader of the expanding First Century Church.  Until that moment, he struggled with pride and the desire to be greater in the eyes of the world.  

Are we ready to break the spell of the typical?  




March 17, 2014, 10:23 AM

The Lent Equation.

To start: I am not, nor have I ever been Catholic.  While my heritage is just as conservative and regimented, I have never been subject to Latin verse or ornate robes (a real bummer).  In fact, growing up if anything was even remotely related to Catholicism, it was immediately deemed wrong and to be avoided.  Except Fat Tuesday, we always celebrated that one for some reason......  However for the rest of the events around that time (Ash Wednesday, Lent, Friday Fish Fry, etc...) I was taught and accepted the practice of thinking less of people for participating, actually wondering how they thought they were pleasing God by participating in these archaic and doctrinally wrong practices.  I can recall a specific individual praying directly against those practices in multiple church services I sat through growing up.  It has taken decades of tedious work by God on my heart to finally break through that shell of prejudice and shortsightedness to finally begin to see the beauty and dedication behind a simple marking of Ash on a forehead and 40 days of purposeful fasting.  

Indeed, I have come to accept and appreciate the pageantry of these acts of worship, fancy robes and all.  Will they ever show themselves in our tribe?  Probably not, and thats ok.  But that doesnt stop me (or us) from appreciating the beauty of a heart pointing itself towards God and the sacrifice of Jesus whether or not its got our doctrinal stamp of approval.  Its the facebooky thing to do this time of year to proudly post your chosen sacrifice for Lent...  Ironically, one of the most popular is fasting from facebook itself.  <The addiction of social media, and the fact that it has wormed its way into our consciousness and habits like the dreaded midnight binge of mint chocolate chip ice cream drowned in chocolate syrup is a topic for another long post...>  I havent given anything up for Lent in years, and much like my attitude from younger days, I find myself looking down on people who have.   Sure, there are some people who do something very honorable and give up things that will actually make life harder for the 40 days, but most of the offerings to Lent are pithy, minute offerings that have no weight to them.  And I walk right back into my judges chair, gavel in hand and start condemning these offerings in the name of my religion.  Its a vicious cycle that I cannot seem to break. Perhaps I should have thought to give up cynicism for Lent? 

To finally get to a point:  Lent is important.  Its important because it brings the suffering of Christ into our reality, out of the ethereal world in which we habitually contain it.  Even if its only for 40 days, pointing our hearts towards Jesus and seeing even a portion of his earthly battle realized in us is a valuable exercise in faith.  Those stories we preach about, and teach our children every Sunday are dangerously close to becoming simply that... stories. Some of them we treat like they're straight from the Brothers Grimm and only use to teach moral chastisement on children while ignoring them ourselves.  Zacchaeus?  We have left him in the realm of fable, being just a short man who wanted to see Jesus.  We've forgotten the words of Jesus declaring "Salvation has come to this house today..." ONLY after Zach promises to deplete his own fortune (4 times every cent he's stolen!!!), repent of his greed, and embrace the poverty of honesty.  Thats not just a story for children, its a relevant tale modeled for our societal propensity for greed and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.  When these stories become our reality, we begin to see the powerful need for things like Lent, fasting, and the Cross.  

Here's my Lent Equation: Him > Me.  Less of me, More of Him.    

There doesnt need to be any stamp of approval or pageantry to  make that equation valuable to your life.  Whether you spend 40 days each Spring honoring the suffering of Jesus, or you do it one day a week in every season, Less of Me and More of Him is an equation that applies at all times. Here's where I really dont like the Lent equation:  when I'm called out to give more.  Thats not a new equation, (i.e. More of Me...), its me being willing to give up those things I wish I had more of (time, money, even joy and happiness).  Am I willingly offering of myself to the betterment and relief of others?  Less of Me means I hold my tongue.  Less of Me means patience.  Less of Me...  

What is your Lent Equation?  

March 10, 2014, 10:59 AM

A Unicorn, A Pelican, A Crocodile's Entrails, and the Plants in My Office...

Yesterday (3/9/14) was a treat.  We got to hear and experience the beauty of music from a gifted group of singers (Harding's Chamber Singers).  I'm not an expert in music, nor can I identify the specific complexities of what made the arrangements and parts so beautiful.  What I can identify is the emotional beauty and connect I had with dynamic voices united to glorify God.  It was outstanding.  If you missed it, I'm sorry for all the adjectives I've just thrown out about the event, you missed out for sure!  

One of the songs presented by the Chamber Singers stuck with me long after it's closing notes, and unfortunately it is not because of the beauty of the composition or its performance.  Dr. Kelly Neill introduced the song, Unicornis Captivatur​, as a song that displayed the ability of certain monks to see the glory of God in everything from fantasy and those imaginative places we create to the harsher realities of real life.  Having the emotional depth of a middle school boy, I couldnt help but giggle at the lyrics.  I mean, how cool is it that this group was singing a beautiful composition that included the words: "The hydra enters the crocodile, Deprives it of its entrails, kills it, then comes back alive"?!!!  It doesnt need to be said that this was my favorite moment of the concert!  Apparently, Latin makes even the guts of a large reptile sound beautiful.  

Silliness and grossness aside, what struck me was the chorus that planted itself between each of the verses.  "Sing Alleluia..."  Crying out praises to God who is the victorious lion! The composer of this work echoes the profound nature of those that seek God, seek to praise God, and ultimately see the Glory of God everywhere.  Much like the plants in my office who stretch themselves with every fiber of their being to reach the sunlight streaming through the window.  

I love having plants in my office.  I dont know why, as I typically avoid having plants at home, nor have I ever shown a propensity for gardening. Currently I have two plants, both simple shades of green and of your average house plant variety.  They show no dynamic characteristics other than those shown by every other house plant in front of every other window.  Yet I find in these two normal plants something extraordinary.  They reach for the sun.  While they do what all plants do: growing, pushing deeper into the soil, establishing a root-base, and turning my hot air into breathable O2, they are always stretching South.  I've turned them around so they dont lean one direction and grow crooked, but to no avail.  No matter which way I turn the pots, the plants lean toward the window... always.  

Here's the lesson I'm drawing from all of these caveats:  in the midst of everything are we stretching ourselves towards God?  While the Unicorn is captured, or while we hunt down that elusive state known as financial security, are we stretching with arms wide proclaiming Alleluia?  While we work tirelessly to establish ourselves in this world are we stretching our hearts to God with his praises on our lips? 

I fear we only reach out casually in whispers of Alleluia.  The fantasies of life distract us to the point that we forget the true source of contentment and fulfillment.  We reach out with extended arms for the joy of reputation and security in the fleeting comforts the world has to offer.  We cry Alleluia at the appropriate and scheduled times, when our voices are drowned out by the bustle of the crowd around us doing the same thing.  In everything, we must be crying and shouting Alleluia.  Because the Lion of Judah has been victorious over sin and death.  

I'm thankful I've never had to experience the entrails of a crocodile up-close-and-personal.  Hopefully if that day ever comes, I can do so with the cry of Alleluia on my heart and lips... Because God is there, wrapping himself around me.  

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