Thursday, October 11, 2012

Peter, Come Home

The last eight weeks I have been slogging through a tough, fifteen-week sermon series in the book of 1st Peter.  I haven’t enjoyed it.  1st Peter is a bit odd to preach through.  I didn’t think it would be.  I like the book devotionally.  I just haven’t enjoyed it pedagogically or homiletically.  This fact has been weighing on me.  I actually told my associate pastor, “I don’t like 1st Peter.”  That seems weird for a pastor to say.     
However, I may have caught a second wind at the half way mark of this first Petrine epistle by way of my 11 year old daughter.  Taking her to school yesterday she asked me to put on Mumford and Sons.  I obliged.  Then she told me about a dream she had.  In her dream the band Mumford and Sons had a woman singing back-up harmonies.  Then she told me that in her dream they were singing a song about Peter (the one in the Bible).  I asked her if she could remember what the song was like.  She couldn’t.  She did remember the title of the song though.  “Peter, Come Home”.  Brilliant.  I had been praying for that same thing.  I just wanted this letter of his to fit, to make sense, to “come home.” 

I felt oddly comforted by this vague dream of my daughter’s.  Then I did a strange thing.  I wrote a song for her, and me, I guess.  I’m not a musician.  I’m not even a poet.  That did not stop me from writing my daughter’s dream.  The rough, folksy, acoustic, wordy, reflective, and harmonic lyrical stylings of Mumford and Sons and the Avette Brothers banged around in my mind as I wrote.
So, I guess I’ll ask you to listen to this song.  It’s about Peter- A disjointed man who loved Jesus and wrote a disjointed letter about Jesus’ love.  I’ll need you to provide the music.  And however you play the music in your mind, make sure someone in your band has an unkempt beard that may or may not smell like a craft beer.  (And if one of you musician types want to take a crack at it, I'd love to make my daughter's dream come true.)

 Peter, Come Home

In the dark you seek in vain
Casting bad seed.
O, fruitless pain
What will she say
When it’s empty again
And you’re hungry for more
Than what fills nets
So lost and poor
Of all but regrets
From a life you chose
With this void of hopes
Casting yourself like Jonah
In your mind, swallowed
By sea and creature to go…

             Simon, come home
            To this place of calm
             Seas and love.  Come sleep
             In the arms of the steady One

Haggard and deprived
Of humility and pride
You clean in vain
A web stretched and frayed
By the futility you claimed
On dark Galilee
But new day is burning
Hearts through words
Spoken by light
From One you never knew
You were looking for
This One who found you
With a voice of thunder
And shalom to be…

  Simon, come home
              To this place of calm
              Seas and love.  Come sleep
              In the arms of the steady One

This narrow street
Trodden, rock-bled feet
Roll on to mountain peak
You are found and lost
In bright glory and fire
To be quiet and shine
As you follow and lead
Bruised knees, granite seas
Of confession and denial
And it’s not you on trial
Who eat food never caught
On shores of redemption
When I’ll send you to feed
I know you love me…

              Simon, come home
              To this place of calm
              Seas and love.  Come sleep
              In the arms of the steady One
             Peter, come home
             To this place of calm
             Seas and love.  Go seek.
             For My Kingdom’s coming home

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mini Flash Wins Every Time

A red blur interrupted my peripheral peace.  I kept my face in my book.  (Alright, not my book.  I kept my face glued to the screen of my iPhone as I played Tiny Wings.  But let’s pretend it was actually a book; a book with words like tolutiloquent).  The red blur interrupted my periphery again with the silence of a hobbit and the speed of a mongoose.  Then it was on me.  A mask wearing, nylon clad pygmy superhero was pummeling the back of my hands that were covering my face.  I was a super-villain and I didn’t even know it.  (That’s the worst, right?  At least the Joker and Lex Luthor knew that it was coming.)  Here this whole time I thought I was a good husband, loving dad, and grateful pastor and it turns out I was actually the arch enemy of Mini Flash.  How did this happen?  Was this the end?

Then in a moment of clarity I grabbed the closest thing I could find and swung as hard as I could.  That pillow must have had some magical powers because Mini Flash flew off the side of my bed and like a hobbited cat with no legs, landed softly on his face.  Then, in a rare moment of cowardice and unchecked emotion for a super hero, Mini Flash ran away in the blur that brought him crying for his mother.  Turns out I’m an awesome super-villain. 

What is that thing in a kid that gets transformed by the costume?  When an adult puts on a costume one of a few things is going on.

1.        They are going to a party with a lot of booze- I mean a lot of booze.
2.       It’s Halloween and they are in that odd 7% of adults who really get into Halloween- booze or not. 
3.       A Trekkie convention, Comic Con, or some other themed gathering of gifted kids and home schoolers.      
4.       And then there’s, you know, couples costumes.

But at no point do these adults actually think they possess super powers or Klingon DNA.  It’s a costume.  However, in a child an existential shift occurs when the spandex, mask, and cape go on.  This existential transformation even has metaphysical implications.  All things being equal but the costume, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that my Mini Flash son beats his non super self in a foot race.  I can see it now…  It’s a Usainian moment as Mini Flash’s arms spread out looking left and right cruising the final 20 meters in a victory over himself sans the flash mask.  (All kidding aside, I’m going to test this when I get home.  No, not by cloning my son.  By using a stopwatch, you goof ball.  I’ll post results).

I think that’s kind of what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these… anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Children believe.  And their belief has wings on it.  And belief with wings on it is what the Bible calls faith. 

One of the great pictures of the gospel comes from Jesus’ story of the prodigal.  You know this story.  Kid number two asks for a share of the inheritance.  He goes splitsville to an ancient Mediterranean version of Vegas.  What happens there stays there including the money.  He’s destitute and ashamed.  He heads home simply wanting to be a slave in his dad’s house while working on a great contrition speech.  His dad sees him, runs and hugs him, and doesn’t even let him finish the speech.  Without hesitation the dad tells a servant to bring a new robe, sandals, and the family signet ring.  And they set toward the house for a party in the kid’s honor.  Wait, what? 

But that’s the gospel in a nut shell.  We’re selfish and messed up.  God loves us anyway.  And he puts Jesus’ own robe, sandals, and signet ring on us and says I’m throwing a party for you.  We have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ.  We have been credited with his obedience by the grace of the Father. 

Most Christians simply don’t believe that.  I look at my son and I see a funny little kid in a spandex outfit that thinks he’s Flash.  He looks at himself and thinks, “Dude, I’m a super hero.”  And Jesus looks at me and says, “If you want to truly know me, you need a little more of what Flash over there has.  He gets it.” 

Galatians 3:27 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  The truth is, if I actually believed that, I’d run a little bit faster. 

God Speed,

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Amazing Race

Sundays begin around 3:45 AM for me. My alarm is set for 4:00 AM but I rarely get to hear it go off. Usually my sermon has roused me by then. By 4:30 AM on Sundays I am showered and dressed. Going through my mind is an energizing hybrid of prayer and preaching. (Let it be known that by this time I have not typed a word of my sermon. But don’t be confused by this. A sermon is never done until it’s been preached. Any preacher worth their salt, even if they have had a manuscript of their sermon done since Tuesday, will know that a sermon is in some ways a living thing. And until it has had a chance to live those brief moments of its proclamation then it has been something less than a sermon.)

My sermons incubate in the pages of relatively expensive, Italian, leather-bound journals. Those pages receive the observations of my study, the wrestling prayers of my discernment, random thoughts and ideas for flow, illustration, and how it all fits into a much bigger picture. However, in my thinking, the sermon is still a thing that all of this is only hinting at. It’s like I’m trying to listen in on a conversation from across the room filled with the noise of my own invited distractions. And no matter what gets scribbled into my journal or trapped by Microsoft Word early on Sunday morning, those things are still not my sermon.

Whatever it is I wind up typing and printing out feels more like a leash for myself anything else. “Lord, do more than I have done,” is the only right prayer to pray for one who would hope to preach. That is not to diminish the hard work of good study and the wrestling over creative inspiration. However, if God were bound to the limits of my study and creativity then I would sooner choose to be mute than aspire to channel His Word through my own grit and whim. Study and creativity are my service to God. It is the least I can do. But Lord help the church if God’s work through the proclaimed Word is tethered to the least I could do.

Then I preach with ice-cold hands. Every Sunday. Sometimes I remember how to preach and sometimes I forget. But I am always glad it’s over even though I am humbled to have done it. Even when I am driving home after worship, regardless of how I well or poorly I think I have executed the task, I ask God to continue to speak to his people. It feels nice to be out of the way.

Eighteen hours after getting up I'm usually sitting on the couch with my wife watching The Amazing Race. The Amazing Race is a reality TV show in which teams of people race around the globe day after day trying to make it to the end. We watch them exhaust themselves on a race where no one knows what is coming next. They fight, they fail, they succeed. Some are not good enough to stay in the race. Some continue on. They do their best with what they are given. Each week it’s a new adventure- every team hoping they have what it takes to run one more leg- to move on. Each team that makes it seems road-weary and relieved. Every week it’s the same. Every week it’s different.

And that’s the way my Sunday ends.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Confessions of a Sports Fan (and Pastor)

I root for Tiger Woods. I root against Tim Tebow. And I’m on the Lin bandwagon.

Sunday afternoon I paced back and forth in front of my
television as I watched Tiger Woods finish his final round at the Honda Classic. Other than the fact that he didn’t win, it was vintage Tiger. And I loved it. My daughter Tyler has always been my golf watching buddy. Sunday it
was fun for us to watch Tiger play like the old Tiger. It felt like the good ol’ days that I thought were gone. I wasn’t thinking about his infidelities and hubris. And to be honest, I never gave any thought to whether he was a good husband or dad “before the accident”. Truth be told, I don’t really care now. I never cared if he was
a role model. I didn’t need him to be. My kids don’t need him to be. Sure, a couple of years ago when my daughter asked me what people were saying about Tiger Woods, I cringed a bit when telling her that Tiger started acting like he was married other women besides his wife (serial adultury and dirtbaggery are tough to explain to an eight year old). That’s why I don’t root for Tiger Wood’s personal life. Just his golf life.

I root for Tim Tebow’s personal life. Not his football career. I am a Seminole. He killed us when he was at Florida- roostering up and down the sideline with garnet field paint on his face pumping his team up. I shudder to even mention it. I root for him to lose. At football. But I would be deeply saddened if he took ABC’s bid for him to be the next Bachelor. It would break my heart if he started making out with a few desperate gold-diggers in front of millions of people. It’ll never happen. And that’s why I root for his personal life. I hope he tanks in the NFL. And I’m pretty sure he will. I also hope he goes to prisons and shares Jesus with folks. I hope he spends years in the Philippines with orphans and widows. I hope he dethrones Mother Theresa in the “Least of These” Hall of Fame.

I’ve got a bad case of Linsanity. I love him. I love the story of a really good basketball player who was overlooked in high school, college, and the NBA because he is Asian. I love the fact the he didn’t quit, that he worked his butt off, and that he finally got his. I loved the pride that I saw in so many of my Asian American friends when ESPN was Linsane in the membrane for two weeks. I jumped on the bandwagon for what he was doing for the game of basketball. And when I found out later that he was a devout Christian who was considering career ministry, it didn’t faze me. I didn’t like him more. I didn’t like him less. I just worried about him more. Overnight fame, the promise of millions, and New York City are a terrible combination- every time. I would hate for Jeremy Lin’s sports success to infringe on his faith success- which is usually in a much healthier environment when it is incubated in struggle.

I want God’s Kingdom to grow through the work of His church. I enjoy sports. Those things do not mean I root for Christians to succeed in sports because they’re Christian. That also doesn’t mean I root against worldly pagans in sports because they’re worldly pagans. God will glorify Himself as God sees fit. If he does it through humbling a vain golfer, elevating a mediocre quarterback, or having the world notice an unnoticed point guard then that’s God’s business. However, God can also glorify Himself in the empty success of vanity, in the humiliation of one of His children, and in the train wreck that comes from overnight fame. I want God’s glory to shine. I don’t care so much how He chooses to do it. So in the meanwhile, Go Tiger! Fail Timmy! And hold on tight Super Lintendo!


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pencil Problems

Change is tough. Ever since we rolled over into
2012 I have without fail written "2011" every time I have had an opportunity to write the date. This morning, for
instance, I wrote “2011” four times in the span of an hour or so. I didn’t handle it too well.

I keep a master hymnal on my desk in which I mark the dates of every hymn we sing in worship. But this morning my hand naturally reacted and before I knew it I had written 1/8/11. I corrected it. Then within minutes I wrote 1/8/11 on another hymn. I erased it, breaking the thin white eraser on my .05 millimeter stainless steel mechanical pencil. I don’t have any more erasers. (Well, I do, but they are aftermarket erasers and don’t do much more than spread the lead markings around creating more of a grey smear than revealing a clean spot of paper to correct a mistake on. Breaking my eraser off reminds me of this non-factory replacement easer problem and by now a simple “1” has me clenchingmy jaw tighter than a leotard.)

So, I am forced to draw a “2” over the second “1” lining up the longer vertical portion of the “2” so as to overlay the mistaken “1” as best as possible. Annoyed.

After a bit of tweaking on the order of worship I decide to date a third hymn (whose fourth
verse I am using as the song of response to our assurance of pardon, which is a change from the routine in its own right.) And before I even realize it’s happening I have written 1/8/11. Again.
I take my hymnal and throw it through one of the antique lead glass windows in my office, go to the storage shed and get a hose, siphon gas from my associate pastor’s car, dump it on the hymnal and set it on fire with the cigarette I had been smoking since I broke my eraser.

Change is tough. It’s tough because there is no such thing as “normal”. Yet part of the human condition is a desire for things to freeze the moment they are exactly right for us. But like King Solomon, in the wisdom hardened into him from a life of observing the world, said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.

In this series of juxtaposed couplets none of these things are designated as either good or evil. They’re just different. It’s pretty simple. Things change. Frustration and disappointment stem from getting really good at gathering stones together only to discover that it’s time to start scattering them. People who reject change in an effort to keep certain things exactly the way they want them are destined for discontentment.

Contentment comes not from trying to create still-points in a moving world but in discovering the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Christian faith is the beautiful story of this True God undergoing change- becoming visible, incarnate, and even common, so that we could experience the stillness of His never-failing love for us.

It’s funny to think that God “changed” to show us that He is the one thing that doesn’t.

So, in 2011, don’t lament the change; embrace the God that doesn’t. Wait, did I just write 2011 again?