Jesus is only Kind of the Reason for the Season

•March 3, 2010 • 1 Comment

I’m not sure why I didn’t post this in December when I wrote and delivered it to a classroom full of college students, but I didn’t.  This is the transcript of the last talk I gave as the college pastor at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, from December 19, 2009.  Hope you enjoy it!

Who’s read the book “The 5 Love Languages” before?  The idea is that people give and receive love in different ways, which can really fall into 5 different categories:

Words of Affirmation,

Quality Time,

Physical Touch,

Acts of Service, &

Giving or Receiving Gifts

Some people give love differently than they receive it, some people naturally give or receive love in more than one of these categories, some people are just not very loving people, kind of like the Grinch, and I’d imagine that most of you have someone in mind who you’ll be seeing over the next few weeks who could use the melodic chorus of the Whos from Who-ville.

Well, this morning, we’re going to be talking about one of these love languages in particular, and it happens to be the language that is the most foreign to me … anyone have a guess as to what is might be?

I am not a gift giver … I’m not much of a gift receiver, but I am definitely less of a gift giver.  I’ve tried … it really pains me how difficult it is for me to shop for other people, but I can never come up with a good, informed idea of what people want or need, which makes me feel like maybe I don’t know them as well as I ought to, or something like that, but the problem persists right through my immediate family, who I’ve know since birth, and best friends, so I have to settle on the hypothesis that my mind just doesn’t work that way.

Quality Time, words of Affirmation, Physical touch … I’m good at those things, but Gift Giving has always been foreign to me.

So, it probably could go without saying that Christmas is a particularly stressful time for me.  It’s a whole season dedicated to giving.  There’s no season of quality time, or season of physical touch … just a season of giving.

Why?

I’m sure y’all have heard theories as to the origin of gift giving on Christmas, and Santa Claus and so on and so forth.  And what I have generally heard is that we give gifts to remember the story of the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that were given to the Christ child by the Magi.  Apparently this is the origin of the Christian tradition.

And while that may be true to our history, I am beginning to believe that the way we explain that tradition, that of giving good gifts to others, misses a wonderfully profound opportunity to live out our calling of showing the world who God is.

The Magi didn’t just give because they felt like dropping a lot of coin on a random infant … they gave as a response to a particular infant … they gave gifts because they themselves, along with the rest of humanity, had received a gift in this particular infant being born.

And to tie this all back in to the “love language” stuff, we’re going to look at this really short verse from one of my favorite books in the Bible, 1st John.  Keep in mind that giving gifts is a way of showing love, and receiving gifts is a means to feeling loved as I read 1st John 4:19 – “We love because he first loved us.”

We love because He first loved us.

The magi gave because He first gave to them

and

We [give] because He first [gave to] us.

I was meeting with a mentor of mine Friday morning who was recently named as the president of Columbia Theological Seminary, and talking to him about this message, and he told me that in the liturgical calendar … this historic calendar for the church year and its teachings, there are three significant holidays that correspond to the three parts of the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Pentecost is the celebration of the Holy Spirit, and that leaves two major, church holidays … what are they and which parts of the trinity correspond to each?

Easter & Christmas … and Easter is about Jesus.

Christmas … the holiday around which we hear people say “Jesus is the reason for the season” isn’t even primarily about Jesus, the Son.  It is about the generosity of the Father who gave his Son … as a free gift.  Christmas is about the divine love language of gift giving.

What’s the most well known verse in the Bible?

John 3:16 – “For God so LOVED the world that HE GAVE his only Son”

Our god is a god, who out of love for us, gives us only good gifts … the best of these is the gift of self … in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit.

I want to take a little bit of time to unpack this idea of Jesus as God’s gift to the world, to humanity, to you, and to me.

What do you think makes Jesus such a good gift?  Why is Jesus more significant than, say, a nice pair of hiking socks?  What was so compelling about this gift from God that the magi would have travelled long distances to respond by giving good gifts of their own?  Do we know?

And if we don’t know, will learning the significance of the Jesus-gift compel us to respond in the same way … by giving good gifts to God and to others?

And without trying to persuade you of the brokenness of the world or our inability to attain righteousness and restore our relationship with God on our own, I’ll try to give insight to the gift of Jesus in a short statement:

God gave a desperately needy, grossly undeserving population the gift of God’s self … not expensive jewelry, or a really nice car, or flowers, or anything else that we might look at and be reminded of God … God gave us God … even when we wanted anything but a god

… because God so loved the world that He was willing to risk everything to win us back from the seduction of other kingdoms that will only lead us to death … that we may have life as the beloved of God.

God gave … and in turn we give … not because we are obligated, but because love gives … and when you have been given love, there’s no option … you’ve got it.

Now, how will you give it away?

Two Weeks Removed/In …

•February 13, 2010 • 2 Comments

For the last 6 years of my life I’ve been a church-ministry guy. A month and a half ago I left my job, unsure of my future, but knowing that I could not, at this point, continue to work in the church. I started the job hunt (poor timing) and after about a month, landed a job as a waiter and bar-back at a new restaurant & bar in Atlanta called Ormsby’s. Here are 3 observations I’ve made so far:

1. Nothing helps to confirm a calling like job hunting – At the very beginning of this significant life transition, I was admittedly becoming skeptical of my calling into “the cloth” as it has been called … the life felt like a little bit more of a burden than I was willing to commit the rest of my life to. But as I searched, interviewed, analyzed, and interviewed some more, I slowly came to the realization that I was nowhere near as excited about any of the jobs I was interviewing for as I had been about the job I left; “proclaiming the great message that we carry as ministers of God’s Word, and followers of Jesus … that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.” – Henri Nouwen In the Name of Jesus”

As it is now, I am planning to continue on my original path, pursuing my calling through attending Columbia Theological Seminary, beginning in July (if I get in … )

2. Either people don’t change, or I am incapable of it – One of the things I was excited about in taking this job was the freedom of being able to leave work at work. When I was building/running a college ministry, I would often stay awake at night, tossing and turning, agonizing over why students weren’t showing up to theology on tap, or concerned for a specific, hurting, lonely student in another state. It would seem like those kinds of “keep you awake” concerns don’t really exist in the restaurant world … but I have once again found myself unable to sleep, tossing and turning worrying about messing up large table’s orders, or dropping plates in customers’ laps (that one I’ve already done!) … literally … can’t sleep because of it. And so I suppose it is just who I am to over-worry about anything I have control over, large or small. I must say, this self-discovery has come as quite a disappointment.

3. Old Thoughts are often more helpful new ones – I was re-reading some of my writings from the last 6 years the other day and came across something that I wrote during my junior or senior year of college, when I had ministry in the church, and apart from the institutional church, on Georgia Tech’s campus. The gist was that I really preferred to be doing ministry outside of the church … or at least with the types of people who aren’t usually found at churches. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know if that is because that is how God wired me, or if the distinction is just similar to the differences in coaching a 4 year old and an 18 year old in swimming; it is much easier to see the child’s progress than it is to see the veteran’s. I do love celebrating with someone who learns to float or blow bubbles underwater for the first time 🙂

Anyway, the point of all of that is that the restaurant world is about as far removed from the institutional church as one can get in a legal vocation (barring UFC-type fighting, which has sadly become an attraction that many evangelical churches are embracing in an attempt to draw in more members … to this I can only say “booooo!!!”). I’m quickly making friends with my co-workers, few, if any of whom know Jesus (can I make that kind of statement?), and can see myself having relationships like the ones I had in my fraternity at Tech. I know that I love talking to people about Jesus, but particularly people who admit to having no idea who the man really was/is. And for the first time since graduating, I’ve found myself surrounded by these wonderful people again. I can’t help but be excited to grow in relationship with them to the point that we can talk about how loved they are by their Creator.

I don’t know what any of this really means for my future. I do know that it has been a struggle for me to keep my focus on walking with Jesus since it is no longer my job, but that is without question my greatest desire, and I believe that God will honor that and continue to show me opportunities to serve and grow into the person I was created to be … whoever that may be.

May I be available to your every invitation and call, Lord.

And God Said “Let There Be Dancing!”

•October 24, 2009 • 2 Comments

superbadI have pretty much always hated dancing … with the exception of my early childhood when I can vaguely remember dancing in the sandbox and thinking that I was awesome.  But somewhere … at some point, I grew into inhibitions … into awareness that other people see and make judgments upon my life.

And the dancing stopped.

“If only I were good at it, and could spin around on my head, or do splits, or the robot, or something … but I’m not good at it, and so I will stand over at the bar, or sit at the table, and watch.”

I just finished reading Donald Miller’s new book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” and towards the end of the book he tells a story of a man who, in an effort to combat the otherwise boring demeanor of New Years Day, started a New Years Day Parade in his neighborhood.  And there was one rule.  No one was allowed to watch the parade … the only way that people could benefit from the line of people marching in costumes with balloons was to become one of them … to participate.

And as I read those words, I thought about my crippling fear of dancing, and how, if at all possible, I will avoid having to participate when my friends go out and dance, even though they seem to have a really great time.  And I thought about Karaoke … which also causes me to become physically uncomfortable, but other people seems to enjoy immensely.

And I’ve wondered this before, but the thought came back to me: “what would happen if I didn’t allow myself to watch the parade?”  What if I was always in?  Would my life’s story be better?  Would I bring more joy to the table … for myself and for the rest of the world?

What if that mantra transcended dancing and singing and moved into serving the sick, poor, and marginalized of the world, even when it would make me physically uncomfortable?

My sense is nobody really cares if I can spin on my head and do the robot … they care whether or not I am willing to enter into life with them.  And I truly believe that this would bring my Creator joy!

Overcoming Fear

•October 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Video Clip: Saving Silverman

Sometimes we just want to hide from the world don’t we?  Whatever it is that we are supposed to do, or that we are expected to do feels like its more than we can handle, and so rather than engaging our task or our conflict, or whatever it is, we cower in fear … we throw a jacket over our head and pretend to be a coat-rack in hopes that the source of our fear will just pass by, sparing whatever punishment might otherwise befall us.

I get it … and this is kind of a light illustration, but nonetheless:

PERSONAL STORY:  When I was about 15 years old I was pitching for the first time in a little league baseball game.  I’d always been a catcher and a second baseman, and I didn’t really have a good curve ball or anything, but had matured a little bit faster than most of the other kids my age and could throw just a straight fastball that most kids couldn’t catch up with.  I came in around the 4th inning … was a little wild in the warm ups, but got it under control by the first batter.  And one after the next, three hitters came up, swung at 3 pitches each and missed every ball.  I’d struck out the side in 9 pitches!  And I know that pitchers aren’t supposed to show emotion, but I’m sure I was smiling like a chunky 5 year old on his birthday as I walked off the field.

Next inning rolls around, I probably strut back out there, maybe flex a little for the other dugout or wink or do something chochy that 15 year old me thinks will be intimidating … and the warm ups end and Brandon Pilgrim steps into the batters’ box.

At 15 years old Brandon is probably 6 inches taller than I am, at least 75 lbs heavier, had bright red hair and a nasty goatee, and was just uglier than dammit …  if anyone followed college football between 2004 and 2007, he was a starting offensive lineman for Clemson.  And to top it off he was a fastball hitter.

On the first pitch of the inning, Brandon connects with a low, fastball and sends a BB right back at me.  And this is not for dramatic effect, I promise; it felt like I had a full minute to react and still couldn’t get my glove down in front of my right shin in time, and I hobbled off the mound while the third baseman tried to finish the play.

Now, don’t get me wrong here … it hurt … I had seam marks imprinted into my skin and a nice bruise … but functionally, nothing was messed up.  There was no reason that I couldn’t go on pitching, but for some reason, when I tried, I couldn’t throw the ball across the plate anymore.  In the dirt and halfway up the backstop, sure, but nowhere near the strike-zone.

Something had changed in my head and it was keeping me from doing what I knew I was capable of doing … it was crippling me.

At the simplest level, what do you think it was?  FEAR.

“What if the next guy sends one off my face, or right into my jugular?”

I was afraid of getting hit again and had to be pulled from the game.

Problem: “Fear cripples … and we’ve got plenty of ‘what if’ questions to fear, don’t we?”

Fear Questions:

  • What if I lose my job?
  • What if I don’t get a job?
  • What if he breaks up with me?
  • What if she says no?
  • What if my parents are disappointed?
  • What if they think I’m stupid?
  • What if they don’t like me?
  • What if I’m not good enough?
  • What if I make the wrong decision?
  • What if I fail?

Well, people have been asking ‘what if’ questions and trying to get out of scary responsibilities since the beginning of people, and this morning we’re going to look at a story that you’ve all heard before to see how God chooses to enter into our fears.

Summarize Exodus 3 – “Moses should have nothing to fear”

Read 4:1-17

FEAR (4:1): External Circumstance – What if Something Goes Wrong?

VERSE (4:2): “What’s in your hand? … ” – God can use what we perceive as ordinary and powerless to do extraordinary things. What do you have at your disposal … what gifts have you been given that you and God can use in this circumstance?

What does Moses use to bring the plagues upon Egypt?  To part the Red Sea?  To bring water out from a rock when the people are thirsty? … His Staff … God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary!

FEAR (4:10):  Insecurity – What if I Screw Up … if I’m just not good enough?

VERSE (4:11-12): “Who [gave humans their] made your mouth?” – our faith and our confidence cannot be in ourselves and our own ability, but in our God and God’s ability … even more, in God’s desire to use even us.  God promises to act where we feel weakest (ref.) because our God does not require our strength, but our obedience!

FEAR (4:13): Crippled – Outright Refusal to Engage

VERSE (4:14-16): What about Aaron?” – “Community and relationship is the way that God confronts our giving up.”  You don’t have to respond to God’s call alone, but God doesn’t let you off the hook either.  Moses was still called to bring a nation out of slavery and that is exactly what he did … and God adequately equipped him to that task.

God Confronted Moses fears on all 3 levels:

Conclusion: Does anyone know what the most frequent command in scripture is? The command “Do Not Fear” can be found over 100 times throughout the scriptures.

God created us and has promised to interact with us in a way that should put all of our fears to rest.   “What is in your hand?  I’ll use it. Who made your mouth?  I’ll use it.  What about your brother Aaron?  I’ll use him.  What I have called you into, I will not let you fail to accomplish.”

True life is not responding to fear well; it is overcoming it … it is the end of fear.

1 John 4:16-18 – … God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

CLOSING PRAYER

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are you most afraid of professionally, personally, and relationally?
  2. What do you have “in your hands” that God can use?
  3. What does it mean to you that God made you and calls you into meaningful, sometimes scary work?
  4. Who can be Aarons in your different places of fear?  Do you think that you would be willing to call on them if need be?

Making Wise Decisions

•September 20, 2009 • 1 Comment

INTRO: Read PROVERBS 8

This proverb is a personification of wisdom … Wisdom speaking to us words of invitation and warning about the way we live our lives … about wise or unwise living … and that easily translates to wise or unwise decision making … because most of life comes down to decisions … to choosing this or that doesn’t it?

This job or that job? Stick it our or quit? This school or that school?  Pizza or a salad?  This house or that apartment?  Roommate or no roommate?  Ask for her phone number or not?  Call him back or don’t?  Get engaged or break-up?  Now or later?  And on and on and on.

Your lives are full of decisions, large and small … and then there is this idea called wisdom, which has everything to do with decision-making; wisdom is the scorecard by which we measure our decisions.  If you say, that something was a bad decision, what you mean is that it was not a wise decision, right?

So, if wisdom is the scorecard for decision-making, and decision-making is such a significant part of our lives, then it seems important to ask the question “what is wisdom?”

Where does that scorecard come from?

What makes a decision wise or unwise?

Is it always black and white? If so, why do we still often find ourselves in bad situations, and if not, how do we navigate the grey?  And maybe the most important question: “Who cares?”  What is actually at stake in our early 20’s decision-making?

We’ll come back to the “does it matter” question at the end, but for now we’re going to go on talking under the assumption that it does.

It seems like there are particularly important decisions to be made in these first few years out of college, doesn’t it?  And in a sense, that is true.  A lot of the decisions that you make in these years really set a course for you for the rest of your life.  Marriage decisions, career decisions, even social decisions and value decisions … it can be a little bit overwhelming when you think about it all.  So, to ease your spirits a bit we’re going to watch a quick clip from family guy:

[family guy clip] – “don’t be crippled by any of this – the world will go on … you were made to live, not to worry about life” [turn corner]

Here we are, learning to be real people for the first time, with all these questions and confusions … and what I’m going to tell you this morning is that because we are all sitting in church, we are actually expected to look at all of these questions through a different lens than the rest of the world looks at them through …

1 Corin. 3:18-2018Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”

Pretty much, what Paul is saying here is that there is another scorecard that is masquerading as wisdom, and he calls it “the wisdom of the world” and says, rather bluntly, that it is foolishness.  That it promises something that it doesn’t deliver …

So what can we do with that?  How can we, who, even though we may be Christians, are born of, and significantly influenced by the world, be expected to distinguish between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God?   [any ideas?]

The lens, or maybe lenses that I believe God has provided us with for examining our decisions are The Bible (Word of God) and the Holy Spirit (transforming power of God in our being).

The Bible:

JAMES 3:13-17 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Heavenly Wisdom is shown by:

  • GOOD LIFE
  • DEEDS DONE IN HUMILITY

Wisdom from Heaven is:

  • PURE
  • PEACE LOVING
  • CONSIDERATE
  • SUBMISSIVE
  • FULL OF MERCY & GOOD FRUIT
  • IMPARTIAL & SINCERE

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we make use of these principals in our daily decision-making? [And let’s just be honest … do we want to?]
  2. What are some of the barriers that we encounter while trying to make wise decisions?
  3. Does anyone have stories of how reading scripture has affected their decision-making?

The Holy Spirit:

JOHN 14:16-17, 25-26 – 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. …

25“All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

JOHN 16:13-1513 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Questions:

  1. Based only on those 2 passages what expectations does Jesus/Scripture have for your relationship with the Holy Spirit?
  2. Based only on your own personal experience, what expectations, if any, do you have for your relationship with the Holy Spirit?
  3. If there is a discrepancy, why do you think that is, and what efforts can we make to bridge that gap?

So now that we’ve got a little bit of a framework together for discerning wisdom in our daily decisions, we can get back to the why should we care all that much about any of this?  What is actually at stake in our decision-making?

When I get honest with myself, there is a little bit of irony to the fact that I’m up here teaching people about making wise decisions … about listening to the Holy Spirit and about letting my daily life be informed by the Word of God.

I don’t have a perfect record of wise decision-making in these last two years since I graduated … I’d say that I’ve made some good decisions and some bad ones … The decision to move back to Atlanta was a big one for me, and I think I chose well, but it was a struggle and included a lot of thought and prayer and conversation with peers and mentors … I didn’t get to a conclusion on my own.

And I’ve made some bad decisions … and the truth is that usually when I’ve made bad decisions, I’ve had to ignore the counsel of friends and my gut … because wisdom is best found in community, with God and with the church … and so I actually hear this next passage, Stephen’s words from the book of Acts, as words of conviction.  He says to a group of people who are about to stone him:

ACTS 7:51 – “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!”

The Message translates the verse like this: “And you continue, so bullheaded! Calluses on your hearts, flaps on your ears! Deliberately ignoring the Holy Spirit, you’re just like your ancestors”

The charge is not that we don’t hear the Holy Spirit, but that we do hear the Spirit and choose to ignore it …

Does this sound right for anyone other than me?

We intentionally cut people with sarcasm, we cheat on our taxes, we deceive our parents and exploit our employers, we have one more drink and go home with that stranger or co-worker, in our minds, not because we love them, but because of what we can get from them.

When we make decisions without listening to the Holy Spirit, those decisions fail on the scorecard of wisdom … Pure, peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial & sincere …

Maybe you don’t notice anything terrible immediately … there is no time out or slap on the wrist … but there is a story in the Old Testament that shows us what it is like to live in creation apart from the wisdom of the Creator.

And though Adam and Eve didn’t physically die when they ate the fruit in Gen. 3 … the life promised to them was forfeited through their choice to listen to a creature instead of the creator.  And when life is forfeited, what does that leave us with …

It is possible for us to live in death … to exist but miss real life.  And the best way I can sum the stakes up to you is to say that missing life, or living in death, is broken relationship … with God and with the rest of creation.  The wisdom of the world will teach you to climb the ladder … to elevate yourself, to dress for the job you want, to safeguard your reputation in the workplace at all costs … and it will separate you from real life … you will have elevated yourself right out of the authentic community we were created for.

But the Gospel of Jesus says that nothing is irredeemable; and that means that it is never too late and you are never too far-gone to be brought back to life!

Wisdom from Heaven calls us into real life, where people matter more than possessions all the way through and not just on the death-bed.   You hear people use that phrase, no one ever says on their death bed that they wish they’d accumulated more, but instead that they wish they’d spent more time with people …

Wisdom from heaven is what will keep us out of that death bed.  And the God of Grace who knows our needs has provided us with His Word and His Spirit so that we can know how to choose life!

Thoughts on Proverbs 10

•August 10, 2009 • 1 Comment

of note [for the sake of this entry]:

  • written by Solomon
  • seems to correlate righteousness w/ wealth (& blessing – v. 15 & 22)
  • also, laziness with poverty (v. 4)

Off hand, this seems out of sync with what I understand to be the trajectory of scripture in regards to wealth … “blessed are the poor,”  “harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle,” the idea that wealth corrupts, and that the poor are to be considered and cared for …

So I must be missing something here, but in my ignorance have questions like “how does this fit into the story & mission of God?”  “How significant is it that Solomon (who let his wealth corrupt) is the author, and if that is significant, is it possible that the proverb is true in representing Solomon’s (or Israel’s under Solomon) understanding of wealth and blessing even though that understanding may be flawed?”

Does this understanding of wealth and blessing and God not contradict the message brought forth in Job that God’s ways are beyond our concepts of fair & unfair and cannot be reduced to a simple formula like they seem to be in v. 15?

Now that some of my blasphemous questions are out there, it seems wise to question/discuss our approach to scripture:

How frequently we, in whatever tradition we are in, focus on what we agree with and ignore or attempt to explain away what we disagree with or are challenged by.  It is an arrogant heart that approaches the Word of God this way.

Is it not naive, however, to think that we fully, or properly understand words spoken or written to a group of people 2000+ years ago in another culture in such a way that they are easily applicable to our own situations and culture?

So, do we attempt to master scripture?  Do we allow the words of a page to master us?  Or can we enter into humble dialogue with the scriptures … with God through God’s Word?

What does it look like for me to read this proverb of Solomon that appears to put forth a worldview which I understand to be counter to that of most of the rest of scripture, and honestly ask and seek after the question “Why is this here?” “What does it say and how does it fit into the whole?”

Any thoughts on the proverb would be appreciated.

With Love …

Death to Agenda – Christian Discipleship Series

•June 10, 2009 • 1 Comment

Intro Video – men vs. wild – How many of ya’ll watched this when it came on? It wasn’t as funny as I expected it to be. Anyway, I’ve played that clip because the concept of that one episode of Men v. Wild is a really perfect illustration for our series this summer, Discipleship.

The Greek word for disciple is methetes, and it is a word that essentially means “a learner” or “an apprentice.” And even if only for 2 days, this is what Will Ferrell becomes in that episode.

Will Ferrell follows Bear Grylls around for 48 hrs while Bear does what he does, and Will’s goal is to do it all with him … to become more like Bear. If we were going to give it a spiritual or an academic sounding name we’d call it “bear-gryllian discipleship.”

So, what then, is Christian Discipleship? Is it simply believing that Christ died to pay for my sins so that I can get into heaven one day?

Obviously not. Christian discipleship as best as I can define it is “Following Christ through life, trying to do what he did and to become like him.” It is not simply a matter of believing, it’s a matter of obedience.

And for some of us, real Christian discipleship seems like a special call that is reserved for the monks and nuns, right? But Jesus seems to have something different in mind. Jesus’ parting words at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, also known as the Great Commission are “Go, therefore and make disciples of ALL NATIONS…”

Not a unique call for special Christians, but a universal call for literally everyone.
Many of ya’ll have asked some form of the question “So, I’m a Christian … now what?” What does it mean? What do I do?

And between Jesus implying that the plan, or the dream of God is that everyone everywhere would become disciples, and a number of ya’ll telling me that you authentically want to follow Jesus but you just don’t really know how, or maybe even what that means, it seems like the most important thing that we can be doing as a community is trying to gain a Biblical, practical framework within which we can better hear, discern, understand and follow the call of Jesus, which is simply “follow me.”

It won’t be easy … it will cost you something … if you do it well, it may cost you everything. But it will be worth it. If you chose to respond to that call and enter into Christian Discipleship you will impact the world positively beyond anything that you could ever imagine.

So let’s get into it: (Pull from Men v. Wild clip). Will Ferrell chose to follow Bear Grylls for 48 hrs. while Bear did what he does, right … Will became a disciple, even if only for a few days … we’ve already covered that.

There is one thing that became really obvious right off the bat, and it lasted the whole 48 hours; What Will wanted to do rarely had an impact on what was actually done. There were plenty of times when Will didn’t want to do something but had to do it anyway … because he was the follower, not the leader. And there were plenty of times when Will wanted to do something, like take a nap, for instance, and he didn’t get to … because he wasn’t the leader, he was the follower.

The first thing that we need to know when we think about entering into discipleship is that choosing to follow someone is choosing to give up our personal agenda in submission to the one whom we are following.

The first time I heard this principle it was simply termed “death to agenda” … In other words, if I am a disciple of Christ, then my will ceases to exist as long as it remains in conflict with the will of Jesus. And that is never an easy pill to swallow, is it? We want to do what we want to do … we don’t generally take well to being told what to do. But discipleship is a matter of obedience.

Let’s go to the Scriptures and get a look at this principle in action.

Matthew 4:18-22
18As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19″Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20At once they left their nets and followed him.

21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

It’s a fairly simple passage … most of you have heard it and if you’re the type of reader who notices details, you’ve noticed the words “at once” and “immediately” as if to say, whatever they were doing at the moment wasn’t comparable to the option they were given by Jesus, and so they immediately stopped their activity so that they could start following Jesus …

And this is true and a good lesson … but there is more in that passage than the ceasing of an activity in order to become a disciple.

Notice the end of verse 18, “for they were fishermen” … for Simon and Andrew, fishing wasn’t an activity … it was their livelihood … it was their whole life!

And then in verse 22 we see that James and John didn’t just leave their boat … they also left their father. Fishing was most likely their livelihood as well, but even more extreme, it was the family business.

I can only imagine that the father took some pride in passing on the family trade to his sons and then the conflict that would have arisen in their leaving, whether between father and sons or even just internally.

These 4 young men had their lives planned out. They were on a path and they knew where that path was going to take them (barring something crazy happening like the sea drying up) … but then they were called by Jesus, and everything changed.

The agenda that those first disciples had held for their lives got trumped. The known became the unknown … the comfortable became the uncomfortable … the everyday became the brand new and the mundane became the extraordinary. For people who think we have our lives all figured out and on path, those kinds of changes can be difficult.

But you guys are in college … most of you don’t have your lives figured out quite yet, and even if you do, they certainly haven’t been set it motion yet. Instead you’re in the process of planning … of figuring out what you want to do for the next 10 year, or maybe 40 or 50 years.

You’re in school, many of you with a focal point of your studying and the intention of getting a job in a certain field or with a certain paycheck. Or maybe you’re wanting to find Mr. or Ms. Right so that when you graduate you can get married and buy a house with a white fence and a dog and have 2 and ½ kids …

You’re not in it yet, but you’re getting close, right? I mean, you’ve got an idea of what you want … something to shoot for … especially you, upperclassmen. And freshmen, give it a few years, you’ll be in the same spot. And its good … it’s good to have ambition. It’s wise to plan.

The only problem … is that you want to follow Jesus … and that’s a dangerous thing to do if you’ve got a plan. Because the first thing that we need to know when we think about entering into discipleship is that choosing to follow someone is choosing to give up our personal agenda in submission to the one whom we are following.

Is this raising a feeling of tension in any of you? Am I effectively scaring ya’ll away from Jesus?

So what can you do with that? Are you supposed to just wait around and not do anything until you hear a divine, thunderous voice giving you step by step directions for your life? No.

If it sounds like I’m telling you to abandon you plans and drop out of college then I haven’t been clear enough or you’ve missed something.

Earlier I said, “if I am a disciple of Christ, then my will ceases to exist …” And when I was writing through this for the first time the sentence stopped there.

But as I read back through it, something about that statement just didn’t feel right. And I am fairly confident in saying that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has something to do with what ended up rounding that sentence out. “If I am a disciple of Christ, then my will ceases to exist … as long as it remains in conflict with the will of Jesus.”

Those 12 words make a huge difference. The original sentence labels us as incompetent, depraved sinners who can at best hope to follow Jesus for the rest of our lives and never understand why … we become robots in the original sentence.

But when you add “as long as it remains in conflict with the will of Jesus” to the end, we are still incompetent, depraved sinners, but now there is room for hope that we can be changed … conformed into the very image of Jesus.

You see, Jesus doesn’t want to lead us just so that He can be called the leader … it’s not an ego thing. It’s a “there’s a better way to live and I can teach you” thing.

And it won’t just be better for you personally. But as more and more people become true disciples of Jesus, our world will become a better place to live for everyone.

I would imagine that for most people, the beginning of following Jesus looks like a step of pure obedience, pretty solidly set against your own will and desire. Because the way of the world is attractive … it feeds our egos and our base desires … and Jesus’ call says “I know that’s all attractive, but my way is better, trust me.” And what we want for ourselves will often have to go to the cross in submission to what Jesus wants for us. Our will will cease to exist for the sake of His.

But the longer that we follow … the more that we actually experience what it is like to live out the way of Jesus … the more that Jesus will change our hearts and conform our will to be his.

Our old self will have died and a new self will be raised up to life … and it will be a self who loves what Jesus loves … wants the things that Jesus wants … stands up against the things that Jesus stands up against … and the world will be better for it. This is the promise that Jesus gave us.

But in order to receive it we’ve got to be willing to let go. Discipleship doesn’t happen like this (closed fists) … it happens like this (open hands).

I like Will Ferrell a lot … he’s one of my favorite funny actors, and if he actually became Bear Grylls and stopped being funny, I think that the world would be significantly worse for it … thankfully Bear Grylls isn’t Jesus …

But even though my humor expectations weren’t met in that episode of Men v. Wild, something kind of cool happened towards the end of the show. Bear and Will are sitting on mountainside in the snow near the end of the second day and they’re just talking … and it might be the only time that I’ve ever heard Will Ferrell just being a normal person … not trying to make jokes or anything … just appreciating nature and solitude.

And there is no doubt in my mind that Will had an agenda for the two days going into the whole thing … it was his idea, all the commercials and previews for it were emphasizing all the funny parts … it was supposed to be a comedy. But as the episode went on it became less about Will making jokes and more about overcoming adversity … which is always Bear’s agenda on the show …

What happened?

Will agreed to follow Bear, and despite the fact that he entered into the situation with his own agenda, the act of following changed him. Without question he was still the Will Ferrell that we all know and love, and he brought his own unique flare to the show that was great … but in the end his agenda was changed … conformed to that of his leader and guide.

And maybe you’ve got an agenda that you aren’t ready to let go of quite yet, and you may not have to. But if you want to follow Jesus you’re going to have to be ok with the possibility that your agenda … your will may cease to exist for the sake of Christ’s … and if you’re not ok with that, you’re not ready to follow anyone.

Because discipleship doesn’t happen like this (closed fists) … it happens like this (open hands).

Only when you let go are you freed up to receive the Kingdom of God.

Cabbagetown

•May 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’m sitting with my friend Tommy in a little cafe in Cabbagetown on Valentine’s Day.  I’ve never really spent any time here before, but I kind of like how small & snug it is.  Cabbagetown has character.  The people here dress funny and I like it.  The houses are close together and the streets are narrow … narrower still because of the fact that everyone parks on the curbs.  In a lot of ways it is not the ideal place to live, but for some reason I am kind of getting sucked in … which is crazy considering I’ve only been here for 10 minutes.  But what are you gonna do.

Right now I live in a small apartment in Buckhead that is right next door to my church/work.  It’s cheap and it gets the job done … I even like a lot of the people that live around me … but generally I would say that I am bored there. Buckhead is nice like platinum flatware … “yea it’s expensive and shiny, but who really cares?  Its just flatware.”

My friend Tommy is good at convincing me that I should just do what I want … ya know … whatever will make me happy.  And I’ve thought about it a lot.  I’ve thought about moving out of Buckhead … I’ve thought about investing in all of the equipment necessary for brewing beer and looking into getting a small business loan to start up my own brew pub.  But I’ve never done any of it.  Call it a sense of vocational calling, or just call it fear … it is what it is.

Its easy enough to say that right now is not the best time to be taking risks like those.  Better to keep my job, save money, and hope that conditions are friendlier a few years from now.  But the truth is, I don’t know if I would be willing to take any of those risks in a healthy economy either.  I think that I’m just not a risk taker … I want to be … but I’m generally not.

What’s funny is, I’m actually happy with my job … I think that I’m pretty ok at it.  And what if ministry in the church is really my calling … like I’ve always thought that it was?  Maybe my “fear,” in this context, is actually faithfulness to what I believe to be God’s call on my life … is that even possible?

At this point, it seems a little bit like I’ve gotten off track.  But to tie it all back around, it’s not that much of a stretch to think that I could live outside of walking distance from my office.  I mean, some people commute across state lines or through the sky.  Surely I can get out of Buckhead and still faithfully serve my call (if that is what I’m doing right now) … I think that I will … and i think that I will brew beer on the weekends in my friend’s basement.  Maybe both will work out … even co-exist!

Here’s hoping!

Hope for the Hopeless

•March 10, 2009 • 3 Comments

This past weekend I got the
opportunity to preach to a room full of homeless men and women at
the Safehouse Outreach Center in downtown Atlanta. I had
never preached to the homeless before (which is odd for a
Christian, or maybe it just should be odd for a Christian), and it
ended up being a really incredible experience. I had written
out my message and was driving back from Piedmont Park when I was
brought to the realization that I had really offered no hope for
today in what I had written. And so 2 hours before leaving
for Safehouse, I scrapped everything and started over. I
don’t quite know why I work this way, or maybe why God works
through me this way, but my best inspiration never seems to come
until it is almost too late.

Either way, the message that I ended
up writing was definitely better and more hopeful, and it
seemed to be heard and received well by the group at Safehouse, but
even when consciously writing a message about the hope that the
Gospel offers the needy today, I had a really hard time coming up
with anything tangible. And I think that this is an important
question that we should be asking ourselves as Christians. So
the transcript of the message is below and I would love to hear
peoples’ thoughts and feedback on the issue.

Thanks for reading and sorry
that it has been so long

So when I asked Brynn what I
should talk about tonight she said “hope” … and I thought, “great”
that’s easy enough, and I went on to write out some thoughts about
our inability to save ourselves and I had some very funny stories
prepared to illustrate the point that Jesus makes up for our
shortcomings and bada bing bada boom, our hope should lie in Jesus
and not in ourselves because Jesus is the only way that we will
ever get to the Kingdom of Heaven. And it
was a great message that I pretty much just gave ya’ll in two
sentences.

And I believe that it is a true
message and a good one to hold onto. Jesus
gives us hope for eternity in heaven with God and the rest of
creation as it is supposed to be. There’ll
be no more tears and there will be an end to all of the suffering
in the world and justice will ring true and that is good and we
want that …

The only problem is that it is a
message that always seems to spoken in the future
tense. One day every tear will be wiped
away … one day poverty and hunger will cease to be real
things. But for many of us in here tonight
we truly hope for that, but also can’t help but ask the question …
so what about tomorrow? Will I have food?
Shelter? Will someone care about me and love me?
Will I get a job or will I get into that
school?

Does this Jesus who offers hope
for my eternal salvation also care about my hungry children, or my
sick brother? Or what about the fact that
I don’t feel valuable or good enough? Does
the Jesus who offers me long-term hope also offer anything in the
way of hope for today and tomorrow and every day until the fullness
of the Kingdom is revealed?

We’re going to read from the book
of Luke, chapter 4, and in the passage, Jesus is more or less
announcing his mission … his reason for being with us, and his
intentions in his ministry, and he does it by quoting from the book
of Isaiah.


16He
went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath
day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up
to read. 17The
scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he
found the place where it is written:
18“The
Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
because he has anointed me to preach
good news to the poor. He has sent me to
proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
and recovery of sight for the
blind, to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim
the year of the Lord’s favor.”


20Then he
rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,
21and he began
by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your
hearing.”

Later on, in the book of Matthew
Jesus speaks a parable that is known as the parable of the sheep
and the goats, and in it identifies himself with the hungry, the
thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the prisoner … he doesn’t
identify himself as one of the sheep like we might expect, but
instead draws attention to his oneness with those of us who are in
need.

And so I believe that we can know
beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus does indeed care about our
daily needs … he cares about your hunger and the hunger of your
family … he cares about your sickness … indeed it was and is His
mission in the world to bring and end to the brokenness that we
currently live in.

Some of you experience that
brokenness physically … you’re hungry and cold, or you’re sick …
some of you experience it emotionally … you’re questioning whether
or not anyone really loves you or even knows that you exist … Maybe
spiritually, you are coming to believe that you just aren’t what
God is looking for … and you feel broken and only worthy of being
passed over for someone whose got their life more
together.

But let me reassure you, whichever
of those roles you find yourself in, even if it all of them …
especially if it is all of them, Jesus stepped out of heaven and
into the world for you. He became hungry
when he went 40 days without food in the desert.
We see him almost dying of thirst and naked on the
cross and abandoned by most of his followers, not to mention
forsaken by his father

And it may sound crazy or trite,
but that is a really big part of the hope that Jesus offers you
today. Whatever pain you are experiencing,
Jesus can offer the almost supernaturally comforting words “me
too.”

Take comfort in those
words. The Lord of all Creation suffers
with you … and He suffers for you.

Beyond that I can’t promise much
of anything. I don’t know that everyone
here will eat tomorrow or stay warm until the summer, but I do know
that that is the mission of God and so it also is the mission of
the Church.

And we see the partnership in
places like this. A meal is served,
worship happens together, and the Kingdom of God becomes a present
reality, no longer confined to an idea that we can only dream
about.

This, right here is the church of
Jesus followers doing just that … following in the footsteps of
Jesus. And when we who proclaim to follow
actually do it, our hope can turn into
gratitude.

2000 years ago Jesus began his
ministry with these words: “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at
hand.” In other words, change the way that
you are living because God’s way is better and it is available to
you from this moment forward. Then he
spent the next three years modeling that way of life for us and
inviting people along the way to follow his
lead.

And many people over the years
have done that. But the reality is that it
is a hard thing to do and so many people have not … good people
too! And consequently, we have violence
and poverty and hatred and suffering, etc.
It’s still here. We still
live in brokenness.

And so our hope for today and
tomorrow, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” is only a glimpse of the
ultimate hope that Jesus offers us. It is
real and we can find real comfort in Jesus’ oneness with the
afflicted, as well as in the knowledge that God’s mission and the
church’s mission are one and the same; to bring and end to the
consequences of sin & brokenness.
And we shouldn’t take these glimpses for granted, but
be thankful for them.

But ultimately, those moments will
serve us best if we take them for what they are.
And that is a sign … a glimpse of what is to
come. Jesus’ final words on the cross were
“it is accomplished.” In other words, the
outcome is set. And though the journey may
seem like a difficult and long one at times, our ultimate hope …
the end goal & belief of the Christian faith is that all of
creation would be redeemed and that we would live eternally with
our God.

And in that time, every tear will
be wiped away & all suffering will come to an
end.

But for today we find comfort in
the companionship of Jesus and the knowledge that God is on a
mission with the church, and that mission is
you!

“Did I Scare Her Away?”

•December 20, 2008 • Leave a Comment

needleI began to gain consciousness, but very slowly.  I knew that I was awake, but was unable to open my eyes … or, if they were opened, my image of the world in front of me was heavily distorted and spinning.  On top of all of this, I was incredibly uncomfortable physically and didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

As I gained more and more of a sense for what was going on, I realized that my back was bent over a table like I was doing the limbo, my arm was twisted in some unrepeatable fashion, and my head was only being held up by the wall that it was wedged against.

And then it began to make sense … horrifying sense!  I must have passed out in the Dr.’s Office!  There were nurses looking down at me … there must have been hundreds of them!  How embarrassing!

I’d never done that before, so I racked my brain quickly to recall what had happened and it all came rushing back.

I was in the waiting room of my new Dr.’s office doing just what that room was created for when I heard my name called out.  When I looked up, I was halfway surprised to see a good friend of mine as the body behind the voice.  Ali is a nursing student who works for her dad’s practice and happened to be on the job the same day that I was going to get a physical for the first time in years … possibly my first physical as an adult, but we can argue the definitive age at which one becomes an adult some other time.

So Ali and I walked back to the examination room and got the easy stuff taken care of … blood pressure, temperature etc.  Then another lady came in and did the more personal part of the physical, and then Ali came back in to finish everything up … that meant EKG, something else, and blood work.

Now … I know that I do not do incredibly well with needles … I got light-headed and spinny both times I gave blood, I had to walk outside and get fresh air before I paid for my first tattoo and actually had to take a break while getting my second one because I was getting all sweaty and clammy and the artist wanted to take precaution to keep me from passing out/puking on his floor … even some shots have had adverse effects on my physical stability.  And not to keep drawing this section out, but when I was in 9th grade and we were watching a video in health class about the dangers of drug use, I had to run to the restroom after the heroine scene and tossed my cookies all over the wall …

So I don’t really have a great track record, but I do have a good bit of pride … just enough to have not warned Ali that I absolutely despise needles and all needle related activities when she had to draw 3 vials of my blood … actually, that’s not entirely true.  After I watched the needle go in (mistake number one) we started having a conversation about church and about her husband and my friend, Bryan (all good or neutral things) … and it wasn’t 15 seconds into that conversation that I began feeling the effects.  My head got light feeling, but I thought that I could tough it out.  Then tunnel vision hit and the tunnel was closing fast!  I decided to casually let Ali know that I don’t usually do well very with needles … and the next thing I knew I was waking up to concerned nurses.

I think that I scared Ali half to death and actually asked one of the other nurses if I’d scared her away … which I’m fairly certain that I had.  It would have scared me away!  The worst part about it was that I still had to finish giving the 3rd vial of blood.  Once we got back to that part, I decided (or was told) to lay down … just in case.

There’s no real significance to this story … it’s just a story, but I hope that you enjoyed it!