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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On The Greatest Generation

Today, December 19, would have been my Dad's 84th birthday.  He was a member of what Tom Brokaw called, "The Greatest Generation."  If you haven't read the book, make it a Christmas priority. The opening lines of the book are as follows:


"This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."
--Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The year of my birth, 1940, was the fulcrum of America in the twentieth century, when the nation was balanced precariously between the darkness of the Great Depression on one side and the storms of war in Europe and the Pacific on the other. It was a critical time in the shaping of this nation and the world, equal to the revolution of 1776 and the perils of the Civil War. Once again the American people understood the magnitude of the challenge, the importance of an unparalleled national commitment, and, most of all, the certainty that only one resolution was acceptable. The nation turned to its young to carry the heaviest burden, to fight in enemy territory and to keep the home front secure and productive. These young men and women were eager for the assignment. They understood what was required of them, and they willingly volunteered for their duty. 

Yesterday, I took a youth minister friend to the National World War II museum in New Orleans.  If you come visit me, I will likely take you there as well.  Dad was an aircraft mechanic on the small carrier Boxer in the Korean conflict, as he missed WW2 by a few years. While I always get a little weepy about my dad, it was another serviceman whose story caught my attention.

This picture is in the museum and the caption identifies the soldier that Ike is addressing as the jump captain of aircraft #23, one of the thousands of planes that would drop the airborne divisions of US soldiers behind Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" to reinforce the troops that landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.  What caught my attention is that the jump captain's age was given in the caption.  He was 22 years old. As a 22-year old, he was already entrusted with the lives of the soldiers in the squadron who would parachute out
of his airplane, and when they were all out, he would follow.   A 22-year old had seen enough action, experienced enough crisis, made enough decisions, and led enough men to be appointed as a jump captain.He would sense the responsibility for the lives of the soldiers he commanded to jump.

I think back on Brokaw's words describing my Dad's generation, who grew up with an understanding that they would do the right thing because it was the right thing to do.  I get that not everybody in that generation was great, but I stare at the picture of a 22-year old and I feel like I need to apologize to my own children--and to the generation that I have served as a youth minister and a youth professor.

I wasn't mean enough.  I didn't allow them to do enough. I wasn't silent enough.

Let me clarify.  I believe with all of my heart that the current generation is capable of all of the accomplishments of the greatest generation--if people like me would let them. They are smart, industrious, creative, social and clever...if they were baseball players, they would be five tool athletes.  Too often, however, we have not made them think.  Their critical thinking skills have been stifled by the twin maladies of "rescue" and "instant." Parents and teachers have rescued them from their own bad decisions rather than forcing them to figure out the recovery plan.  Websites, ATM's, search engines and smart phones have allowed them to access information without really thinking through the possibilities.

My Dad's legacy to me was the "MacGyver Syndrome." MacGyver was a secret agent on TV in the late 80s who could create/invent/repair pretty much anything with a paper clip and duct tape.  I think MacGyver built a nuclear reactor with a ball point pen on one episode. My Dad never threw anything away, never considered it broken beyond repair and was into the "re-purpose" fad before it was cool.  He gave me enough of it to where I have a shed which is my "shop," and it is full of stuff that I need to fix or figure out how to use for something else.  Or throw away. NOOOOOOOO!

How do we help our kids learn to think critically again?  First, I think we have to help them rediscover reading. Not the "F" pattern of reading a website, but reading a book from cover to cover and figuring out what the author was trying to say. Second, I think we need to pause before rescuing. If they have broken something, will their world crumble if we don't replace it and allow them to feel the consequences of their actions? If they fail a science fair project because we didn't pull an all-nighter building a volcano, will it ruin their future or teach them to plan? Third, I think we need to pause (maybe a day or two) before we answer a question that they could figure out. Perhaps talk through possibilities, but reserve advice/opinion/solution until they have formed a solution of of their own. Fourth, I think we need to travel with them. Even travel around town lets them see the wonders of their city. Then move on to their state, their country, and their world as time and finances allow.

Let them go through a museum that describes science, industry, or art or even what a 22-year old can accomplish if he has to.

My children are grown and even now, I resolve to help them to think more critically so that they can launch more productively. It scares me to death as a parent because there are constant reminders of how evil some people in our world can be (think Sandy Hook Elementary).  Still, they will be better if they have been coached to apply critical thinking, discernment, judgment and reason.

Mostly, they will see the balance of grace and justice that is the nature of our awesome and loving God.

Friday, November 16, 2012

On God Sized Challenges and the Valley of Elah

I am blessed to be on a trip to Israel with a group of men at the seminary. We will go to various sites, some familiar and some not. It is an amazing opportunity to experience the Bible. We have spent our first two days in and around Tel Aviv. Unfortunately we are. Also here at a time of heightened tension between Hamas in Gaza and Israel. There have been reports of rockets being launched towards Tel Aviv, but we have not felt threatened in any way. We heard some explosions but we believe they were quite a ways off. 

Today we ended up in the Valley of Elah and on the ridge forming one boundary of the valley. Valley. Khirbet Qeiyafa, southwest of Jerusalem where Yosef Garfinkel (a friend of my colleague Jim Parker)  has discovered a fortified Judahite city. The reason Qeiyafa is kind of cool is that it is likely where Saul tried to get David to wear his armor for the battle with Goliath. We were where the Bible introduces the story in 1 Samuel 17. 

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; and they were gathered at Socoh which belongs to Judah, and they camped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim.  Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and camped in the valley of Elah, and drew up in battle array to encounter the Philistines.  The Philistines stood on the mountain on one side while Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with the valley between them.  Then a champion came out from the armies of the Philistines named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six  cubits and a span.  He had  a bronze helmet on his head, and he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze. (1 Samuel 17:1-5 NASB)

I was asked to do the devotion at this particular site which is timely because of what God is teaching me on this trip. The truth is that I do a lot of ministry things, but maybe not all that many of them really need God's help. I am pretty competent in some things and reasonably adequate in others. I can preach and teach and administrate and be a husband and father--in my own strength. 

David sneaks up on this idea as he approaches the battle, initially to bring food to his brothers. The word among the troops is that the person who could defeat the NBA shoulda been in battle would receive fabulous riches for doing so. David appears to inquire about the promised loot:

Then David spoke to the men who were standing by him, saying, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?" (1 Samuel 17:26 NASB)

But what David was really saying is that it wasn't about reward since the task was humanly impossible. Goliath was too big and too strong. David had experienced being overmatched before as he had apparently protected his sheep against a lion and a bear. 

Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God."  And David said, "The LORD  who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and may the LORD  be with you."

So David gave credit where credit is due. God accomplished the impossible through His servant in battles with lions, bears and giants. Oh my!  David is so confident that The Lord had his back that he traded a little smack talk with the giant:

Then David said to the Philistine, "You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come
 to you in the name of the LORD  of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.  
This day the LORD  will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, (1 Samuel 17:36, 37, 45, 46 NASB)

Did you see it? The actor in all of the triumph is God.  The Lord will deliver. I will strike down and remove your head because this thing which is humanly possible is a day at the office for an omnipotent God. My prayer is that all of us in the faith community will quit attempting mediocre things and saying we need God to help when we really don't. What if we pick up some rocks and charge towards the giant like we've been there before?

Keep praying for us on this trip. I am concerned about mortar fire from Gaza but I am terrified at the thought that I would only attempt Allen-sized tasks. Now where are those smooth stones?

Monday, November 12, 2012

On Veterans Day and Richard A. Jackson, USMC

This is Veterans Day and I am deeply grateful for all of the military men and women who have defended our country across the centuries.  The sacrifice is great--I have helped moms grieve the loss of sons and daughters over the years in ministry.  My age places me between Vietnam and the conflicts in the Middle East and I never served.  But my Dad was a Marine.

According to history.com, The United States Marine Corps began with a resolution providing for the founding of the Continental Marines on November 10, 1775.  The Marines were sort of the combat version of the navy, to engage in ship-to-ship fighting, provide landing forces, and to generally keep order and discipline. John Adams signed the order, stating that "two Battalions of Marines be raised" for service as landing forces for the recently formed Continental Navy. The Marines have played a significant role in every military conflict in which the United States of American has engaged.  I celebrate the anniversary of their founding.

I celebrate because another anniversary is coming up. My Dad passed away in November of 2000.  Dad was a Marine.  He was an aircraft mechanic aboard the USS Boxer and he was a drill instructor for recruits (his DI hat is buried with him). All this happened before I knew him, but I think I knew him as a marine.  His style as a father was disciplined, but in control.  He liked order, but he had the adventurous spirit of one who might storm a beach at any time. He gave me my love for fixing things that are broken or that are not yet broken. He taught me about humility and patience and spending time without a lot of words. He passed his work ethic along to me. He loved his wife of more than 40 years and it showed as he related to her. He loved us kids and he loved his grandkids.  Dad was an odd mixture of gruff disciplinarian and wise mentor.  He taught us that we would probably get what we worked for and that we would have to work for what we wanted.

Even though our shared faith was late in his life, he laid the foundations as a god-fearing father.

The Marine Corps Motto is "Semper Fi," a Latin phrase which means, "Always Faithful." My USMC Dad  lived out the code. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

On Big Tex and Childhood Memories

I am a Texan. I was born and raised in the Sovereign Republic of Texas (Fort Worth). I joke about being a "recovering" Texan since I moved away when I was in high school.  The I get to be back in my home state a couple of times this month.  This past weekend was state fair weekend, a special weekend in the life of any school child in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I remember getting out of school to go to the State Fair.  My father would take me to a Cowboys game every year on the weekend of my birthday (first weekend in November)--before Texas Stadium and Jerry World, the boys played in the Cotton Bowl.

I mention all of this because my teaching assistant got to go to the fair and I joked to be sure to take a picture of Big Tex, the iconic figure who dominates the center of the fairgrounds.  She took the picture on her phone and sent it to me. Big Tex has been around since the 1952 State Fair of Texas. He wore size 70 boots and a 75-gallon hat and towered 52' above fair visitors. For me, he was the reassurance that funnel cakes and carnival rides were just around the corner. Tex was there when I was a kid and he had this big voice that boomed, "Howdy Folks!"

Little did I know that it was the last day that Big Tex would stand watch over the fairgrounds.  Yesterday, the big fella was badly burned. I got a little sad. I didn't try to go to the fair while I was out there.  I was only vaguely aware that it was going on until my TA said she was going and took the picture for me. Until I heard that he had burned to the ground, I also didn't even realize that Big Tex represented for me all the great times I had with my Dad.  Dad has been gone for almost 12 years now, and being in Texas on State Fair weekend brought back those memories.

I am also grateful that the memories came back.  Dad had a tough last few years with multiple heart issues and finally his kidneys failed.  It was okay with me that the painful memories of my father in dialysis were shuffled around to accommodate the memories of a little boy in boots and shorts going to the fair with my hero.

Paul said in 1 Cor 11:1, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ."  I get it.  As a father, I do my best to imitate Jesus. In doing so, I hope to clear a path that makes Jesus clearly visible for my son and daughter. Then I make memories with them so that they get to see me love Jesus as I love them.  Sometimes the memories are pleasant, and sometimes they are a little sad when a life situation seems to go up in flames. Either way, the ministry of presence and imitation is how God told us to pass the faith to the next generation.

I will miss you, Big Tex.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On Randy Johnson and Faithfulness in Ministry

My friend Randy Johnson has been a youth minister for almost 40 years, 26 at the same church. He is retiring as a youth minister, something that has become extremely rare. I got to fellowship with Randy at the Texas Baptist Youth Ministry Conclave where we were surrounded with others who have been faithful for a long time. Dr. Phil Briggs made a cameo appearance despite dealing with a family tragedy. Jane Wilson keeps finding a way to speak into youth ministers in a fresh way.

Randy's legacy will never be known this side of heaven. He has influenced people like me (we coauthored a book back in the day). He has influenced institutions, serving on boards and committees. He was instrumental in the creation of a youth ministry degree at Howard Payne University, his beloved alma mater. He serves now on the board of the missions education center near the border in South Texas, a wonderful place where people are trained in ministry. He has helped with the YM Conclave for as long as I can remember. There is no way count the number of people who have directly or indirectly been better because they crossed paths with Randy Johnson.

But beyond the youth ministers and interns who have been encouraged and equipped by Randy's presence in their lives are the students. My brain is not wired for the higher math needed to calculate the exponential impact that he and his wife Carol have had on class after class of students who have come through their ministry. I am glad that some have sent notes--Randy teared up a little as he told me of a college girl who wrote to tell Randy that she was able to stand as a disciple because of her experience in ministry where Randy was the shepherd.

The book of Hebrews tells of the heavenly audience that surrounds earthly faithfulness. Randy, I know you don't seek the recognition, but I hope you can hear their applause as you close this chapter of ministry.  I know that I am inspired and encouraged by my friend who is finishing this chapter and finishing well. It will be fun to watch the next chapter be written.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On Windmills and Power

This summer, my wife and I were privileged to drive to New Mexico for a collegiate conference. We would normally fly, but other circumstances intervened and we turned it into a road trip.  On the way home, our trip took us from New Mexico into West Texas. As we approached Abilene (after paying our respects at the grave of Billy the Kid), we drove through a series of windmill farms that I now know are the largest in the world with more than 1000 windmills. We happened to pass a series of semi-trailers, each one having one windmill blade on it. These boys are big. They are also
huge energy-generators. It was near sunset and I was stunned by the sheer number of windmills.  I was also a little hypnotized as the red lights that blink on the windmills all blink in sync.

I was a bit surprised when I commented on my observation to my friends at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, TX. I was told that it is great that all of those turbines are producing energy but the benefit is not realized because they lack the transmission lines to get the power where it is needed.  All of this power is produced, but it doesn't help in markets like Houston or Dallas--where the power is desperately needed.

It made me think about Acts 1:6-9.

6 And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. " NASB

After Jesus gave His theology of eschatology (it's none of our business when He is coming back--God will initiate that sequence when He is ready), He talked about power. We receive power from the Holy Spirit. Power to discern, power to love, power to live, power to cope with the junk the world throws at us and most importantly, power that glorifies God in our world.  We have power to give good counsel, power to direct persons to the game changer that is the new birth. We have power to believe in prayer, power to understand the Word, power to make it through one more day. And we have power to give away power.

The delivery of the power is the thing. Jesus also addressed the transmission of that power. We are told to be witnesses in our ever-expanding places of influence. Witnesses describe what they have seen.  We have seen the power. The power is vast and available.  The trouble is with the transmission. As witnesses, we are to tell the Jesus story with our actions and reactions, our words and our silence, our lifestyle and our language.  We are to tell the story wherever we go, whenever we go and however we go.  And as Jesus reminded us in Matthew 28, as we go we are make disciples. Then the disciples tell others (2 Tim. 2:2). Then the power transmission problem is less of a problem.

What an incredible relief for me that I don't have to be the source of power, merely the conduit.  I am not responsible for what happens at the source--it already happened in what Jesus did in His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.  His power is our power.  We just have to transmit it to places that desperately need it. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Funeral Processions and Margins

Today I was on my way to physical therapy (back, knee, aging body--see older posts).  I was late because traffic was awful and I am not very good at leaving enough time to anticipate non-normal commute times.  That is another way of saying I don't leave margins in my life.  Margins are the non-committed places in a calendar that let your spirit catch up with your body. Rest. Planning. Guilty pleasures like Sports Center or watching a Little League World Series game in its entirety.

So the reason for the traffic was a funeral--not just any funeral, but the funeral procession of St. Charles Parish deputy Brandon Nielsen  (go here for the story articles.cnn.com/.../justice_louisiana-officers-shot_1_gunshot-wound ). A  senseless shooting left two young men dead. One was buried yesterday (on his birthday) and the other was buried today.  The reason traffic was backed up was that the law enforcement people around our state were out in force.  The state patrol blocked entrance ramps.

Deputy Brandon Nielsen Funeral

A group of uniformed motorcycle riders led hundreds of cars in the processional. Most of the cars had their blue light bars on and as they passed, I saw the door decals of the state patrol, the border patrol, sheriffs from other parishes, city police, town police, federal police--you get the idea.  The show of respect was overwhelming.  Law enforcement personnel from all of these places marked this day on the calendar with less than a week notice and allowed nothing to get in the way of being in line behind the hearse that day.

To say I was moved is an understatement. I teared up thinking of how much it must mean to the family to see all of those blue lights flashing in silent support of their fallen comrade, unknown to many of them. The number of vehicles was impressive, but I also thought about the number of calendars that got rearranged because this one thing was the most important way they could have started their day.

I have been told since I started following Jesus that a daily time with God is the most important way to start my day. Jesus modeled (Matthew 14) that in the midst of challenging circumstances, it is a part of coping and healing to get away.  Yet, I allow the smallest things to get in the way of the most important thing.

It is easy to see how the policemen and policewomen in the caravan this morning realized the importance of putting their existing agendas behind Officer Nielsen's funeral. Why can't I intuitively grasp the importance of putting sleep, breakfast, the morning paper, exercise or anything else ahead of time with the Creator of the Cosmos, the Healer of the Hurting, and the Mediator of  my Manic schedule. 

I imagine that from now on when I see flashing blue lights on a police cruiser (as long as they are not immediately behind my vehicle), I will remember to pray, thanking God that He is so available, so redemptive, and so able to maximize what I thought was precious time.  He does that when I create margins for Him to speak into my day through His word and my meditation on it.

I will pray for your margins as well.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On Singing and Sarah

My daughter Sarah is a singer. And an actress. And a dancer.She is expressive, emotional and delightful. You can probably tell that this daddy is proud.  When Sarah sings in a show, she brings you into the scene with her. When she sings in worship, she brings you to the place where you feel God's presence. 

When Sarah was little--before she realized that her singing gene didn't come from me--I would sing her to sleep.  I only knew all of the verses to one hymn so that is the one I sang. 

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.

Sarah called it "Daddy's Song" and while she was talking about me, the name has stuck in my head.  Our Father has given us hope that is nothing less than righteousness based upon the love He lavished on his sleeping children through His Son.  This morning in my devotion time, I read Zephaniah 3:17:
17 The Lord your God is with you,
              he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
              he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing."NIV

Our Father is mighty to save. He delights in us. He quiets our frantic spirits in the midst of manic days--with His unbelievable love.  Too often, I am so busy to be calmed.  It is like when our children are talking so fast about the crisis of the hour that they do not pause long enough to hear their daddy say, "I've got this. It's taken care of."

And just like I would sing over Sarah, our Father sings over us.  Be still (Ps. 46:10) and you might just hear the melodic sounds of grace singing into your life.

Monday, May 7, 2012

On Conflict and the Avengers

I am both content and conflicted today.  I am content in that my daughter is home from college for a month before pursuing singing and dancing employment in Indiana, my son is back in college, enrolled at LSU Shreveport while working and living there.  I am a contented Dad watching my kids step into adulthood.

Just last night, I went with my wife and daughter to see the Avengers which is a Marvel comics conglomeration brought to the big screen. In between eating an entire bag of popcorn (as I convinced myself that popcorn is "free" on a diet), I just sighed in contentment as I sat between wife and daughter.

One of the memorable takeaway quotes was from Tony Stark (Iron Man, good guy) who said to Loki (megalomaniac, bad guy) as things were about to get better for the good guys, "There is no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top! Maybe your army will come, maybe it's too much for us, but it's all on you! Because if we can't protect the Earth, you can be [word left out] sure we'll avenge it!"

That is where the conflict comes in.  I liked the movie because the guys I wanted to win did in fact win.  And if they didn't win, they would exact revenge. The man beside my wife was so into it that he stated (loudly) the obvious for the back third of the theater: "The Hulk just beat that man's..."  well you get where he was going. The big green guy with anger issues was seen as an ally to the audience so we cheered him as he beat up the bad guy.  Our guy wins.  

I am conflicted because of conflict.  The paper this morning (yes, I still read a real newspaper) told of conflict in our city council (which is politics as usual in New Orleans).  I spoke last week at a university where some issues regarding the president's vision have created quite the conversation. I read of the distrust between state conventions and our convention missions entities.  As a nation, we cannot decide which political candidate is less toxic than the other one. 

When I put my introspective hat on and look at my "side" in some of these "conflicts" I am aware that my pride--the unwillingness to admit that I might be wrong about something--is at the core.  Pride is manifested in a desire for power and too often it comes at the expense of others. If I am to climb the ladder, I must either push you off of it or at least be able to demonstrate that I am a couple of rungs higher than you.  If I am a leader, I can make decisions that serve me and my buddies and I make them "because I can." 

If I have a position, then there cannot be one inch or ounce of compromise because to concede anything is to give up everything.  If I can find a verse or a teaching of Jesus to proof text my argument, I will ignore Paul and the Old Testament on my way to doing so.  My stubbornness digs in and I will confess to anyone who reads this that it is simply a matter of pride--I refuse to accept that I could be arrogant, biased, or just wrong.

I also liked an exchange between Natasha and Thor in which Thor feels like he should defend his brother (Loki). Thor says, "He's my brother." Agent Natasha Romanoff says, "He killed 80 people in 2 days. Thor responds, "He's adopted." When confronted with an inconvenient truth, we put distance between ourselves and it. We hang on to our point of view, even if the facts or common sense do not support it.

I am reminded of an old youth ministry talk illustration called, "The Monkey Trap."  Whether it ever really happened or not, the story goes that jungle monkeys can be trapped because they won't let go. The hunters hollow out a coconut and chain it to a tree.  The only opening in the coconut is a small hole, just large enough for a monkey to squeeze a hand in.  A shiny object, usually candy is placed inside the coconut and when the monkey clinches the candy in the palm of its little primate hand, the fist cannot come back through the hole in the coconut and the monkey is trapped.  The monkey is trapped because he won't let go of the object he desires to hold.

I think we get trapped when we are unreasonable about holding on.  I would never suggest that we compromise on a carefully-considered biblical position.  But life isn't a comic book. God allows the messiness of our world so we can demonstrate the love or our Redeemer in a world that is messed up, while reading and learning and holding fast to the truth of His Word.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Easter

One of my volunteer ministry jobs (and one of the coolest in the world) is to be a volunteer sports chaplain. I do chapel for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the AAA baseball team here in New Orleans (Miami Marlins affiliate). During chapel on Easter Sunday, I asked the what and why of Easter as they saw it. We agreed that to understand Easter, we had to view it through the eyes of a first-century disciple.

We were in Matthew's version of the Easter events and three things emerged as the "you have to get this" list.

1. Jesus was really dead. The disciples thought He was dead. The women thought He was dead.The soldiers thought He was dead. Pilate thought He was dead. Pilate even sealed the tomb to guard against the possibility of the terrified disciples defying the Roman equivalent of Seal Team 6.  Everyone in that day knew that Jesus was really dead and 800 years earlier, Isaiah told us why He had to die

Isa 53:5-6
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

2. Jesus really rose from the dead in the 1st century.  I tweeted on Sunday and Monday that those had to be really tough days for the Pharisees, Sadducees, and everyone else who was so invested in Jesus being dead. We look back and cite the Resurrection as fact because we have had 2000 years to get used to the idea. At the time, it was revolutionary. Immediately, folks began to deny it. The awkward fact that a body could not be produced, even though the Romans knew creative torture methods that could have compelled anyone who actually knew where the body was to produce it and the resurrection ruse would be over. Paul understood the importance of Jesus really being alive again.

1 Cor 15:12-18

12 Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

3. Jesus is still alive. A couple of other people in Scripture had been raised from the dead back to life. Lazarus had been raised from the dead, but he died again later on. Richard Ross has been my hero for pointing out that Jesus is STILL ALIVE. I told the ballplayers that often our (my) problem is that I perceive Jesus as "was" instead of "is."  He isn't a historical figure, a gentle, well-groomed Caucasian walking around the Middle East being kind to children (Richard's words) when in reality, Jesus is. He is in heaven awaiting the Father's command to return. John's revelation view of Jesus is in the present tense.

Rev 19:11-16

11 And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12 And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems; and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself. 13 And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15 And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations; and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." 

Jesus died so our sins could be forgiven. He really resurrected, showing the 1st century citizens and us that death has been defeated. He will come again and in the meantime, He is. He is interested in our everyday struggles, He is invested in all persons coming to Him in faith, He is a counselor, comforter, and friend. He is the One who hears our prayers and the one who cares about our struggles to be human and godly. 

1 Thess 4:14-18

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. 

Comfort one another with these words. Jesus Is.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On What I Learned in Worship Today

Today I got to worship at my own church instead of doing ministry somewhere else.  I love being home and sitting next to my bride in worship. I look forward to hearing my pastor, Dr. David Crosby preach. He is an amazing communicator and leader.  But today, before he spoke, the music touched me.  Robert is our worship leader and he is outstanding as well. Music has always been emotional for me, but today was special. I confess that I can be snobbish about singing in worship.  Why do we have to stand up all the time? How would the music guys like it if we made them stand up while we preach?  But I digress. Today I was humbled.

I have known the music reaches a different part of our brain than words or pictures.  I get that sometimes the rhythms and cadence of music communicate deeply. I got it all over today as I watched two men in my church. Both were born with Downs Syndrome.  One of them has been my friend for most of his life.  Mike was born while I was youth minister to his two older sisters and currently, both Mike and I volunteer for the New Orleans Zephyrs minor league baseball club.  The other person I observed in worship is much younger, but was inspiring to watch nonetheless.

Mike has always served as a kind of guest conductor.  Whenever music is sung at our church, you can see him caught up in it from his place in the pew.  He waves his arms like the music leader, completely sold out to worship. It is his way of participating.  Today, the other young man was singing.  He sang every word of every song, completely caught up in the moment. He modeled for me the old saying that we worship "for an audience of One." I have not seen such uninhibited praise very often.

I confess and apologize for underestimating what God does when He connects with our hearts through musical worship.  It is an amazingly universal language. It sings over us, draws us in and lifts us up.  At least it does if we aren't preoccupied with our posture.  I repent.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On the Dance of Discipleship

I wrote a poem for the introduction to my online discipleship class. I figured I would share it.

The Dance of Discipleship.

We dance with God. We dance with each other.
Picture a square dance.

God is our "caller" and we coordinate our movements to His instructions.
We are in a choreographed yet spontaneous movement where we also take cues from each other.

We learn some steps, we listen to His voice, we connect with fellow dancers.
We share, we create, we lead and we follow.

We dance.

On Social Media and Self-Revelation

I am a recent resident of the "Twitterverse" having been coerced by some of my friends (thanks Randy Hall, Alvin Reed and especially Paul Turner) who have chided me about not being current despite my role as a youth culture student and youth ministry professor.

I have told some of my friends that I go back and forth between finding it hard to believe that anyone really cares what I have to say and feeling a bit narcissistic because I hope that someone cares what I have to say.

Well today while still on my very first cup of coffee, I sort of categorized my social media participation.  I use Facebook to keep up with the comings and goings of my friends. I scan the news feed and see what is up--who is having a birthday, baby or trip out of the country.  I don't do Farmville or Castleville or other games because I am not really clever enough to collect all the stuff you are supposed to collect. I let other people know where I am traveling or about cool things going on in my world.

I use Twitter to post my odd observations about life.  I realize I am not very inspirational and usually I have to ask someone if it is okay to post because I don't have the best filters on the planet. I like to read the 140-character thoughts of others, but it kind of makes my head spin.  Plus, I really don't care that your lunch burrito gave you gas but I do kind of think it is funny.

I use my blog to write about what I believe God is showing me.  I try to create words that inspire or observe, and I know I am not all that controversial (here at least) as I do not really engage in the denominational wars du jour or comment on political issues.

My early morning revelation is this:  Regardless of the medium, I am selective about what I let you know.  Whether I try or not, whether I admit it or not, I only let you read what I think is witty, or thoughtful (though usually falling short of profound), or clever. 

I have never tweeted "I gossipped today" or "I lusted today" or "Today I put someone down so I could look better."  I have never posted a picture on Facebook with the caption, "Here I am in a place I have no business being."  On my blog, I have never gone to the depths of the insecurity I occasionally feel or to the details of confession that I occasionally need or to the revelation of struggle that I often have.

Come to think of it, I don't see very many other people revealing the dark side either.  We put our best tweet forward in order to present a person that may or may not be as together as the cyber-words might indicate.  I suppose the danger is that I might forget that God knows me whether I tweet/update/post or not.  He desires that my words would be sincere and transparent and even desperate.  He reminded us that He knows us and King David crafted the words to our prayer:

Ps 139:1-6 (NASB)

139 O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me.
2 Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up;
Thou dost understand my thought from afar.
3 Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And art intimately acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all.
5 Thou hast enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Thy hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

The psalm goes on to remind us that God knew about us as we developed in the womb, that He knows our thoughts, that He knows what will happen each day--when we will succeed, edify and encourage and when we will fail, tear down and become angry and selfish.

I like the translation of a few of the later verses in verses 17-18 of the same Psalm, but this time from Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message:

Your thoughts — how rare, how beautiful! God, I'll never comprehend them!
I couldn't even begin to count them — any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!

Since those two verses are too long to tweet, let me just repeat the last line as my prayer.

Father, let me rise this morning and live always with You!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On Paradox

I understand a paradox to be two things that seem to be incompatible, yet are true at the same time. The ever-reliable Wikipedia (scary to me that one study found it to be more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica) defines paradox as "a logical statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which (if true) defies logic or reason"

Two scriptures I have studied lately seem paradoxical to me.  I won't use that word anymore, but let me just say that it amazes me how God allows things that seem not to be related to be true.  In Paul's letter to Timothy, he tells him to "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:1).  Strength in grace is an interesting and invigorating thought. They don't seem to go together--we enjoy grace because we are fallen, not strong, yet we can be strong because Jesus has redeemed us.  It feels a bit like the old youth ministry "trust fall" (look up this insane practice if you don't know what I am talking about) where I surrendered logic, rational thought, and probably safety by falling backwards into the arms of people much smaller than me.

I surrender all of my preconceived notions of what strength might be by falling into grace.

A second paradox (oops) is found in Acts 3:19-20.  I like the NIV translation here,

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you — even Jesus.

How can I repent and be refreshed at the same time?  I picture repentance as a trip to the woodshed to own up for the things I have done, thought or failed to think and do, and to take the emotional beating that I deserve.  Yet repentance unlocks a wiping away of my sins and a refreshing breeze of forgiveness so that my eyes are open to none other than Jesus who was appointed for me.  And you. And the rest of this whole fallen world.

I pray today that you can be strong in the grace and refreshed by the repentance.