Sunday, January 30, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 30

What I Read Today: Luke 24

What Stood Out About What I Read: Luke 24: 25-27, "So he said to them, 'You foolish people – how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?' Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

It's always fun to be a part of the interviews we do with people who want to be baptized in our church. See, the point is that we don't baptize non-Christians, right? So, somebody's got to listen to these folks and make sure they understand what it is they're doing. It's all very simple, really.

"So, why do you want to be baptized?" It's always the first question.

Even the little kids seem to understand this one: "I want to show everybody that I'm a Christian." Sometimes, we get, "The Bible says we're supposed to." They're both right.

"Well, tell me about how you became a Christian," we ask.

The little kids are pretty good with this one, too. "Jesus died on the cross for my sins."

This opens a can of worms we ping-pong back and forth for a few minutes:

"Who was Jesus?" God's Son.

"He died?" Yep. Right there on the cross.

"Why did he go to the cross?" This gets fuzzy with the kiddos, usually. But they usually get to the heart of it all pretty quickly. A sacrifice was needed because we sin and sinned.

"You sin?" Yep. A lot. It's especially fun to hear the children go into a confessional of sorts at this point, which usually involves some sort of negative action towards a sibling, a parent or a teacher.

"And then what happened to Jesus?" They usually get to this one pretty quickly, too. "He rose again!"

"And you believe this?" Yeah!

Excellent. Then we get into a discussion about the practical matters of baptism. Towels and swimsuits and colored t-shirts and parents and who is going to actually perform the baptism and all that. It's very cool to hear people's stories about how they came to a point where they accepted Christ's free gift and what He's doing in their life and all. No question about that.

One thing I've learned that's fun to do with the older kids or adults after all that is ask a simple question:

"So, now that that's covered, can I ask you another question about that 'rose again' thing?" Sure.

"Why did He do that? I mean, if all your sins were paid for at the cross and they were all in the future and all that, why did he rise from the dead?"

After a blank stare we usually get, "Well, to fulfill prophecy, I guess."

My response to that is, "Okay, sure. That's one thing that his resurrection did, but why does it matter if he rose from the dead if all your sins were paid for?"

More blank stares.

Crickets could chirp if they got into our building.

I'm continually amazed at how good the suburban American Christian church is at focusing on the importance of the cross. And, in many ways, that's as it should be. The flip-side of that coin is that the cross focuses so much on our past. The "what we were" part of our story.

But, fact of the matter is the resurrection is the part of our story from that moment forward. See, Christ said it Himself that he came that we might have LIFE (and LIFE WITH ABUNDANCE). And, what good is it if our sins are forgiven if we have no vehicle to live in that reality in the here and now.

I fail to see how a dead God can effectively give ABUNDANT LIFE to anyone.

The resurrection matters to how we live life now...because HE IS ALIVE, He can give us life.

And life with abundance.

And the application today seems very easy to me: Are you living a life of abundance found in Christ? Because the resurrection is the key, man. If Christ didn't rise from the dead, then let's party and let it rip. If He did, well, that changes all of human history. And there ain't a lot of gap in-between from where I sit.

As an aside, feel free to mention when you're talking to others about the Gospel message, make sure and mention the importance of the resurrection. Because that past-present-future of salvation is the message, and to leave out the resurrection is falling short of the entire story.

The beauty is in the exchanged life of our death for life through Him...and that's worth telling.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Song of Solomon 1-8)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 29

What I Read Today: Luke 22 & 23.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: Luke 22: 14-20, "Now when the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table and the apostles joined him. And he said to them, 'I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.' Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, 'Take this and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.' Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'"

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I know.

I know.

I read a section on the crucifixion of Christ and I'm not going to talk about it? Mind you, I'll have three more times to talk about it over the course of the year at least (and that doesn't even include the mentions in the epistles) and I've got something else I want to talk about today.


And this goes back to my childhood in the Episcopal Church. I'd been going to this church since my mom was old enough to put me on the cushioned pews to sleep when I was old enough to leave the house. I was baptized as an infant there. And I grew up in the relatively highly liturgical church. The room was made of dark hardwoods with high ceilings and soft lighting. There was a processional every week with a gold cross and flags and singers and then the minister. There was a lot of the pastor saying things and then we'd say things back in unison. There was a padded cushion to kneel on at every pew for the times of prayer. There was a 10 or 15 minutes sermon that wasn't called a sermon. Stained glass was involved, as was incense.

Then things changed in the service.

Special candles were lit.

The minister would lift up bottles that had water and real wine in them. He'd mix them in a silver chalice. Altar boys/girls were at his beck and call, bringing a small loaf of bread to break and handing all sorts of cups and bowls and moving huge Bibles out of the way. They'd eventually move a special part of railing into place to make the area big enough to serve an entire row of people who were told they could walk up by more altar boys/girls.

We had to take a class at age 13 before we could actually take communion. Until then, we'd just walk up with our row and the minister would put his hand on our head and say a blessing. I remember the first time I got to taste the real wine and remember how it seemed to sting my tongue and throat, but it still seemed cool.

Then afterward, the clean up would take place to get the altar back to what it looked like before communion started. Then there was more responsive reading, we were given a blessing and we were on our way.

But the focal point each week was communion. No question. It seemed so special even if, as a kid, there were about 100 other places you thought you'd rather be...until it come time for YOU to join the altar boys/girls and then you had all sorts of stuff to do for that 20 or so minutes each week.

And it was special...even if I didn't know why.

Later on, I went to a Bible church that did something very similar. Brass trays were involved that held individual cups of grape juice. Another brass tray came around that held different bits of cracker.

But the words were the same.

Both were "doing this in remembrance" of Christ. Truth be told I liked both of the services. I like the idea of it.

And here's why: Hope.

I'm not sure I really paid much attention in my confirmation classes because I was pretty sure the blood was symbolic of Jesus blood and the bread represented his body and I was pretty sure that just going through this made me closer to God somehow and to the people I was with. I was pretty sure I was supposed to remember what He did for me...which I did. Which also led to some sort of time of confession where I brought up whatever a kid of that age confesses to God.

As I've grown I realized I was missing out on one of the main joys this passage points out.

Yes. I got the unity thing with other believers.
Yes. I got the remembering what Christ did for me and for us.
Yes. I got the symbolism.
Yes. I was aware that there was a new covenant--even if I wasn't sure, exactly, what that means.

But did you catch what Jesus said in the verses I highlighted?

He wanted to eat this Passover with them before he suffered. The work he was going to do for them.
The meal was with them. He was eating with friends and was close to them and they were unified.
He told them the symbolism so that when they did it later they would remember Him.

But there were two things that I'm sure they remembered much, much later:

First, Jesus wouldn't do this type of meal again until it was fulfilled in His Kingdom.
Second, Jesus wouldn't drink wine until He did it when His Kingdom comes.

Future events.

Suffering would happen.
Time would elapse.
Then there would be a time when they'd be together again and do this same thing.
Jesus would wait until then to take part in it.

And, frankly, I'm looking forward to that day...which, in a weird way, reminds me of that song by Audio Adrenaline about the Big, Big House, with a great big yard and a great big's my Father's house.

There will be a big, big house.
With lots and lots of rooms--where we'll be dwelling.
And a great big table--with lots and lots of food.

And our King.
Who has been waiting a long time... do this with us.

So communion is special...for all the reasons I've already mentioned.

But even moreso because it lets us all look forward in hope.
To that day when He welcomes us home.
And we're all together in His Kingdom.
At that great big table.
Breaking bread with our King.
And drinking the finest fruit of the vine.

And I believe that is reading a history book forward.
It will happen.

And it gives me hope...

...because if this world is all there is, even at best, it's a 90 year spin and we should eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.

...because I don't believe that this world is all there is. The Kingdom does exist and all believers will be there. So the next time communion takes place in your church, whether silver chalices are involved or plastic cups, enjoy the shadow of what it will be together in the future in that great big house, with a great big table...

Because it will be.

And it will be more glorious than words can describe.


(Tomorrow's Reading: Finishing Luke 24)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 28

What I Read Today: Luke 20 & 21.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: Luke 20: 45-47, "As all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 'Beware of the experts in the law. They like walking around in long robes, and they love elaborate greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ property, and as a show make long prayers. They will receive a more severe punishment.'”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I was in a fraternity in college. Our reputation on campus was that we weren't much for the fraternity system, but we through great parties and were a tightly knit band of brothers. In retrospect, that seems pretty accurate. I mean, while the other fraternities gathered with sorority girls to shove tissue paper into chicken wire with elaborate themes to win prizes, we were much more into throwing a party with the sorority girls with the budgeted money. The end result was an excellent party and a homecoming float that consisted of a pledge sitting in a chair hammered into some 10-foot 2x4's holding a piece of notebook paper that said, "Go Tigers! Happy Homecoming!" We loved it. The other sorority, not so much (we'd told a little white lie that we'd build it over the week but never got around to it). The letter of reprimand from the university was a clue the administration wasn't happy with our float, either. Over the years we got several letters on university letterhead.

Great parties? I'm sure other fraternities threw some equally as good, but I don't know of many fraternities in which the sorority leadership would actually have meetings before parties with them to literally warn their members of the various methods that our guys would use to try to get them away from the main room and into their bedrooms. Sure, we'd all seen "Animal House" and derived a certain expectation of behavior, but our guys were serious about chasing skirts. World-class. And world-class with alcohol, too. And breaking stuff and fire, and in one case, firing weapons. In fact, when my wife and I started dating, her friends would say things like, "You're dating one of them? They're great to party with, but c'mon. They're not guys who get serious and make honest commitments."

And we were extremely close knit. It was one for all and all for one. If a fight started in a bar with one of our guys, it wasn't long before you had 80 back ups. If a guy wanted to run for student government, it was all-out (and we never lost and election...which drove the other fraternities crazy that we controlled student government's biggest offices yearly. Of course, we really only used that to get our football ticket block moved from the end zone--where the last-place fraternities had to sit--to the 40-yard line). We had a SERIOUS and inviolate "Bro-Code."

I loved those guys. I was one of two that were outspoken in our beliefs about following Christ. I never took heat for it, either. The Bro-Code was also understood that if my thing was following Christ they'd support me in my thing. But it was like the student government deal. I might not be into student government, but I'll lose sleep and paint signs and get t-shirts distributed and all that so my brother can get into student government because that's his thing. Christ wasn't their thing, but they were cool with me about it and even supported me in whatever ways they could awkwardly do that.

Really. I cared about these guys. In some ways, they were much more accepting of a Christ follower than my Christian friends were of me being in a fraternity like mine.

The reaction I got from my Christian friends (mostly in my Bible study group, and mostly members of a fraternity that was known for a strong Christian influence) was a lot of judgment. Asking questions like why I'd even want to be associated with a group that was known for world-class skirt-chasing. Wanting to know what was so funny about thumbing your nose at the school administration. Wondering why I wasn't more vocal in speaking up for the sorority girls who were embarrassed by the homecoming "float." They wanted to know how jumping into the fray during a bar fight was wise. And maybe their questions had merit.

See, they never purported to be anything they weren't.

They never made any claims to be living a higher lifestyle. They were up-front about who they were and what they were about. They just wanted to save a few valuable college dollars by communal living and throw some great parties and have a great time. There was a code that solidified our community, too.

But my Christian friends were often involved in the same types of behavior.

They might not have been having sex but they were doing "everything else." They might not have been chasing-skirts at parties but they'd be "serial daters" in that they'd date someone for a couple of months and then the physical stuff started and then they'd have a long discussion about how they weren't good for each other spiritually and then break up. Then they'd repeat the process. They might not have been getting into scraps at bars but they'd have summer internships where they'd learn business practices that went by the letter of the law but not the intent...and then justify them. Plenty of Christian girls, in the words of The Nashville Scorchers, went to church in their party dress. One girl I met at church even told me that she liked me but wanted to just be friends because, if I was going to be in ministry, well, she wanted a different lifestyle than I could afford. And so it went.

In fact, my roommate (who wasn't a Christian at the time) even remarked one time after I'd gone on a weekend retreat with my Bible study guys & leader to a ranch in eastern Georgia with no TV and all, that he felt that was what Christians should do rather than spend a ton of money to go skiing during spring break to "tell others about Jesus" on the slopes. It was the largest Christian organization on campus' biggest ministry event each year. That trip to the barn was ours. Needless to say it was a much smaller organization.

So much about southern Christianity is cultural. It's about appearances. It's about what people want you to see. It's about wanting people to see you as spiritual rather than actually being spiritual.

And that's what is going on in Luke 20 & 21.

The chief priests and scribes have an agenda: Make Christ look foolish so the crowds will stop joining his movement. Remember, this is after about three years of Jesus teaching and preaching and miracles and such and now he's in their very Temple teaching about the Gospel. So, they ask a question akin to "Have you stopped beating your wife?" There's no winning answer. So, Jesus asks a question in which their response is lose/lose. Appearances.

Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who has representatives to get his share of the profits of what he owned. They workers killed the owner's employees who were just doing their jobs. Then Jesus tells him that the owner would send his son because surely they wouldn't kill his very own son, right? This should've elicited cries from the crowd when Jesus said that the son was killed. Nothing. Until Jesus said the owner was going to send in people to kill the out-of-control workers. Then the hearers cried out about how unfair that was. The leaders wanted to arrest Jesus then and there, but couldn't because it would look petty given the story was about them. Appearances.

Then the leaders tried to get Jesus to claim allegiance to the government...again a trap. Jesus works his way around that, too...further frustrating the religious elite.

Then the leaders of another sect try to trap Jesus in a theological quandary. Jesus handles it again...and now this silences the public attempts to trap him once and for all. Their desire to stop asking questions was tied to their desire to stop being embarrassed. Appearances.

A widow's small but sacrificial gift is valued more than the boys in the elaborate robes clanging bells to let everyone know how much they were giving. Jesus exposed their appearances.

People were admiring the architectural beauty of the Temple. Jesus reminded them that the impressive APPEARANCE of the Temple was irrelevant in light of the reality that one day it would become rubble. The end times had a series of wars and earthquakes and famine and family infighting and eventually the Son of Man would come back. The APPEARANCE of things wasn't the reality of things. In fact, you're looking at a fig tree and see the leaves now, folks...but you don't see what the fig tree will be like in the future. Fun fact: Fig trees meant a lot to Israel. Kind of symbolic of their nation.

This section is about appearances.

And that's why I thought my fraternity brothers were at least honest about who they were and what they were doing. Their Bro-Code meant something.

And that's why I distanced from the other fraternity brother who used to play Amy Grant at top volume in the house while he was getting ready for church. He even said things like, "They kept me up before the Lord's Day with their late night party. I'll keep them up while I get ready for the party that really matters!" He meant this stuff, too.

But I was no better. I surely guarded my appearance and image. Still do. I value my perception like everyone else.

And today, I'm praying that I'll focus a lot more about authentically following Christ than whatever image I might want others to see...

...even if it means that people don't like what they see, at least what they see is real.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Luke 22 & 23)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 27

What I Read Today: Luke 18 & 19.

What Stood Out Today About What I Read: Luke 18: 15-17, "Now people were even bringing their babies to him for him to touch. But when the disciples saw it, they began to scold those who brought them. But Jesus called for the children, saying, 'Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.'”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I'm fascinated by the books Malcolm Gladwell writes. For the uninitiated, Malcolm Gladwell is a best-selling author/writer for the New Yorker and his books remind us that, sometimes, we don't know what we think we know.

For example, he might take a look at why crime rates dropped in New York City in the 1990's...and the reasons we were given were incorrect and then he gives a different slant on the data. He might look at how teachers are certified in the United States and suggest we do the opposite and give the reasons why. He might look at the factors that made someone "great" (like the Beatles) and find a common factor no one else saw (like how it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become great) before. Lots of essays of that ilk.

In one instance he took a look at great hockey players and noted that most were born in a January--then he discovered that month was the cut-off date for pee-wee hockey age divisions. He noted it only made sense that the kids born in January of 1990 were going to be basically a year or 8 months bigger/stronger/faster than a kid born in December or August of that same year. Those bigger/stronger/faster kids were given more teaching/encouraging/buzz than the other kids, hence, given primary spots in the Canadian developmental leagues, so it only followed that there would be an inordinate amount of NHL players born in January or February. I think a great follow-up to that would be to find out if there were any Canadian dads who, after reading that, tried to convince their wives the best time to try to start a family would be in April or May for that very reason!

See what I mean? We don't always "know" what we think we "know." It's amazingly heady stuff that gets outside the box and challenges people to keep looking for truth and not just accept what we've always been taught.

And that's what Jesus was doing in these chapters: Showing people that they don't KNOW what they think they KNOW.

I mean, in the parable of the persistent widow's prayer for justice. Jesus was pointing out that another outcast with no real power in society would be able to get the judge's attention, if for no other reason than her very persistence. Jesus was illustrating the importance of being persistent in faith to wait on the Son of Man to return. a minute. Isn't the Guy telling the story the King telling stories of The Kingdom, and if He's here NOW, why would we have to wait for a return of sorts?

Then we get a story about a Pharisee with all the actions and education and outward appearance of the religious elite who will surely populate this Kingdom. Wrong. It's the homeless guy admitting he needs help that will get in.

Stop bothering the Master with these children. They are a waste of time. We've got Kingdom business to attend to here. The disciples were the bouncers for Jesus' crowds and keeping moms with kids away from him seemed like the right thing to do, right? Um, not so much. In fact, being like these children is the key to understanding this Kingdom. Whoa. Wait a minute. That can't be right, can it?

God has blessed the rich. Surely their wealth is a sign of their obedience to God, hence, they'll be major players in the Kingdom, right? Um, not so much. In fact, sell all your stuff and come along and follow Me. "Stuff" isn't the stuff of the Kingdom. In fact, your very own family isn't more valuable than pursuing the Kingdom.

Lemme see if I've got this right: The King of King and Lord of Lords is going to be spit on and killed? And then rise from the dead three days later? Assuming I could even get my head around such a plan, that hardly seems to be the best way to establish yourself as world ruler, right?

The traveling party to Jericho has important business to tend to...but we have time to stop and deal with an accidental parade attendee who is hollering like a madman? Not only that, but Jesus will ask him what he wants. To see. That's it. Just sight. Okay. Done. And all that for only one new follower? Strange way to get just one vote, right?

Tax-collectors were despised...even though one of them was walking with Christ as a full-time follower. Imagine how despised the boss of all the tax-collectors was. He climbs a tree to see the procession. Jesus invites himself to stay with the guy to the chagrin of the masses. The guy repents of the very things that made him rich, and Jesus calls him a son of Abraham. And that He was the guy whose entire reason to be here was to seek and save the lost. Just a little reminder at the reality, even at the expense of public relations.

People were expecting Jesus was going to Jerusalem to officially become their king. A groundswell of support was making it at least look possible. Then Jesus discourages their hopes with a parable about a ruler who goes away and then comes back with a VENGEANCE. Again, not the best PR move.

Then the King arrives on a colt with the crowds singing a Messianic psalm. The religious leaders of the day warned Jesus that this level of PR would get him killed, so it'd be best to tell the disciples to pipe down. It's a "yes" or "no" proposition...yet Jesus' response is along the lines of "Well, I suppose I could. But, you see...this is the very day that Daniel 9 highlights because it's precisely 173,880 days from the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem that Nehemiah talked about in 445 B.C. So, they have to sing that song right now, because if they don't, the rocks will have to do it." Odd.

The king weeps in public.

The next day he throttles the establishment during their Super Bowl week of money making by driving out the con artists and money grabbers.

Hardly a way to usher in a Kingdom, right?

And, the more I think I know about Jesus...


...mostly reminds me that He is not Someone I can simply put in a box with my rows and lines about Who He is and What He's about.

Because he wants to be our King.

And teach us to keep looking for the truth about Who He is and What He's about and flip our lives upside-down in the process. Because there's a way we suppose things are supposed to be done.

And there's His way.

And usually His way is outside our little boxes and our rows and lines.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Luke 20 & 21)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Auburn Is On Top Of The College Football World, And The View From Up Here Is Sheer Perfection"

Just In Case You Thought I Hadn't Noticed...

Still smiling at 8 minutes of a great season (I still say the 2004 AU Tigers were better, but this one got a trophy to prove it!)!
Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 26

What I Read Today: Luke 16 & 17.

What Stood Out About What I Read: Luke 17:22-30, "Then he said to the disciples, 'The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. Then people will say to you, ‘Look, there he is!’ or ‘Look, here he is!’ Do not go out or chase after them. For just like the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage – right up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot, people were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; but on the day Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be the same on the day the Son of Man is revealed.'"

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

On most of my students, their default setting is set on "prepare for college."

And on most of the parents, their default setting is "find a way to pay for it."

Let's start with the basics: Most parents love their children and want the best for them. Defining "the best" is where parents get sideways.

See, the way it's supposed to work is that a student will excel in academics or sports or band or some sort of extracurricular activity and reap a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. This will allow the student to get into a good university. This, in turn, will allow the student to get a good job. This good job will allow the student to buy a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and have nice children. These children will need to prepare for college. These parents will then have to find a way to pay for it.

And I've seen parents lose themselves in this preparation. I've heard parents say things like, "You can go to Bible study AFTER you've finished your homework." The set up a false dichotomy between Bible study and homework. Why not make the choice between homework and SLEEP/ You'd be amazed at how efficient a teen will get when those are the choices.

I've seen parents spend hours on-line, checking their student's grades every day. I can't, for the life of me, figure out why a parent would want to get wrapped around that axle. They worry and stress and nag their children failing to realize that all these things aren't good for their own selves, much less the damage to the relationship they're doing with their kids. I've had high school teachers tell me that a parent will take time off work to get a child's grade changed from a 91 to a 93. Colleges even have meetings with parents of incoming freshmen to tell them not to contact their child's professor directly. You've GOT to be kidding me.

I've seen parents say things like, "God and being with His people is the most important thing in this family." Then they spend untold amounts of money to travel for tournaments because college scouts will be there. They pay $400 a month for a private coach. They can't get to church for 6 weeks because these are the most important tournaments this season. One parent did all that and the "scholarship" amounted to one year of "walking on," a second year where they paid $1,000 for books. A third year where they paid books & tuition. Final year was a full scholarship. A grand total of about $30,000 over 4 years. That same parent said to me that if he'd spent about $15,000 per year of high school on camps and travel and all that so he joked that he got about half his money back. Then he told me about how his son's spiritual life fell by the wayside his junior & senior years in high school and he didn't recover until his junior year in college.

My point is this: You cannot serve God & money. And just take a look at all the things that a focus on something like trying to get a college scholarship will do to you. Let's not even get into our own personal retirement plans and the current state of the economy or anything like that, okay?

Now, I'm not saying that we did everything right as parents. But we were committed to the idea of making our children's plans for post-graduation from high school a spiritual decision and not a financial one. My profession doesn't allow for a monthly saving plan for college tuition, and we told both our children that they need to seek the Lord as to what happens after they get their high school diploma.

There was prayer. Lots of it, and I can't tell you how much prayer their was the last three months of Kid1's search. There was an expectation of small group attendance. There was an expectation of church attendance. There was an expectation of Sunday School attendance. There was an expectation of service in our church as well as missions opportunities outside our church. College was viewed as a place to prepare for whatever it is that you see yourself doing for The Kingdom (well, Kid1 viewed college as the natural next step. Kid2 has a different approach and college is one of many options for after high school--but the process is the same).

In Kid1's case, there was crying. There was a lot of waiting. A lot of letters with good news and more forms to fill out--almost overwhelming to the point of paralysis. There was a lot of discussion about what God could possibly be doing. But ultimately, prayers were answered in very strange ways. But all along the way, the discussion was to seek first His Kingdom and trust that He would prepare. Even though it ended where we thought and hoped it would at the beginning, I think we all grew in our relationship with Him in the process, too. As much as I'd like to say it was all my kid that grew, my guess is that Tracy and I were learning an awful lot about Him and ourselves, too.

And all of the things that cause parents to get sideways is the focus on money and not God.

It's where we all get sideways.

But let's be honest here: The Beatles were right about Desmond and Molly Jones. You know. Ob-la-dee, Ob-la-dah, Life goes on...Rah! Brain worm for the day officially inserted. You're welcome.

Life does go on, like it did in these chapters.

We go about our day-in, day-out lives with our day-in, day-out responsibilities, with our day-in, day-out results...

...and the reality is that The King is going to come back. Says so in the verses that stood out. And we could be ill-prepared for it. Life will go on. They will eat. They will drink. They will marry. It's all happening all around us all the time. They'll eat. They'll drink. They'll buy. They'll sell. They'll build.

Life will go on. Rah.

But instead of focusing on the temporary...

...we'll be doing ourselves and our children a greater service to prepare them for the day our King comes back. And live our lives if we really believe that rather than an ideal that won't really happen. There's a balance of trusting God and doing the next thing, to be sure. But all of it needs to be done in light of eternity.

I'll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors (that I may just put on a t-shirt one day), Douglas Coupland in his novel "All Families Are Psychotic"--which, as an aside, kind of ties into today's entry, doesn't it--: "The only valid viewpoint for any decision is eternity." Brain worm inserted for today. You're welcome.


Not money.

Because they simply don't mix.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Luke 18 & 19)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 25.

What I Read Today: Luke 15.

What Stood Out Today: Luke 15: 1-2, "Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

"As a pastor, you should be more conservative." The lady was heated, too. Seven years ago and I still remember the look on her face and emotion in her voice.

I couldn't fathom what she could possibly mean. Here's the deal. At the time I'd been married well over a decade to the same woman. I owned a home in the suburbs (one named Flower Mound, of all things). Me and the missus owned a minivan. Two lovely daughters of our very own one in softball and one a ballerina. I'd been a pastor at our church for longer than most youth pastors stay in one place and worked in Christian ministry since I'd had a paying career. I'd been involved in evangelical churches since I was 16. Heck, at that time, I'd even voted for the Republican choice for President in every election I'd been able to vote in since I was 18. In my way of thinking, my own version of conservatism was bordering on irritating ME.

"Not that stuff. Your hair."


Now I got it.

I tried to explain that my hair isn't a statement of any type but rather an opportunity to serve people who've lost their hair due to chemotherapy and I happen to have great hair.

I tried to explain the tattoos, too. Mostly they're representative of times of grief or mourning on my right arm...and a chance to talk about my own personal spiritual journey on my left. I got them after I turned 40 so they're hardly a youthful indiscretion or thumbing my nose at the establishment. I was entrenched in the establishment before I inked up.

And I get looks, too. The clerk behind the counter at Wal-Mart who were very friendly to the nice lady in front of me turned silent and such when scanning my rice and ingredients for lemon chicken (I guess it's the food stuff of the revolution). The glances from the other parents at the PTA meeting or at "donuts with dad" in the cafeteria. When the cute little kid asks her dad why that man has long hair and his response is along the lines of "probably a freak or an artist." When the new parents visiting my church are enthusiastically introduced to me by greeters have their smile vanish when they shake my hand.

My point isn't to garner pity. I understand my appearance is rougher than the average Joe so I tend to go out of my way to exhibit good manners and courtesy and social graces in each and every situation. I smile at the clerk and ask her how her work day is going, and tell her to have a nice day. I tried to give teachers the respect they deserve and held hands with my daughters and kissed them on the nose when I left after breakfast. I laughed when the dad's comment was rude. I try to make parents feel at ease with an understanding comment about my appearance and a well-worn explanation of my love for students and 22 year career.

My point is to say that we all have outcasts that we mumble about.

The people that make us uncomfortable. The people we don't want our kids to be influenced by. The people we secretly don't want in our church. The outcasts in whatever form they take for us.

And did I tell you that those are usually the people I find most interesting? Billy Joel did, too. Something about he'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints (I'd suggest to Mr. Joel that both of those groups do a little of each, but that's neither here nor there), right?

Then why is it that most people, after becoming a follower of Christ, no longer have non-Chrisitan friends usually within 3 years of their conversion?

We forget that we were Luke 15 people at one point in our lives.

We were the one sheep that got away from the shepherd (oh, by the way, likely a teenager who was ceremonially unclean most of the time--his very own version of an outcast).

We were the lost dowry coin of a widow (in that culture, a widow was an outcast).

We were the prodigal son who blew it all and lived in the muck, only to have the father welcome us home (the son would've been an outcast, too, a Jewish young man working with pigs, not to mention the talk of the town).

And we all too often turn into the older brother in the prodigal son story, right?

The sinners come in with their rough edges and their lack of understanding of our culture and their different ideas and their ways of thinking and...


...all the people we used to be, right? And we get all worked up about how we've been faithful for all the years they partied and carried on and begin to question the father and demanding our fair share and all that. Sometimes I wonder about the inclusion of the older brother in the story, too. The point could've been made without his side of it, right? But I'm pretty sure Jesus wanted the Pharisees to see themselves. Unfortunately, there's an awful lot of Pharisee in me.

In fact, my biggest concern when I started getting involved in Christian circles, particularly in college, was that I'd turn into someone I didn't want to be because of their expectations of who I should be. Thankfully, I had some solid folks discipling me who encouraged me to keep hanging around my non-Christian friends. They encouraged me to be precisely who I was supposed to be before God. They encouraged my questioning based in lack of experience/knowledge of the new subculture I was now in.

And it's interesting that Jesus is having eyebrows raised because he's with the, ahem, wrong crowd.

But the religious elite seemed to have forgotten that these are the very people that the "good news" would indeed be "good news."

And it would be easy for me to remind everyone that the easy application today is not to view people as outcasts but to see through the book cover and value their non-Christian friendships (not as evangelistic targets but as people to love even if they never accept our Savior) and not to be the other son when the prodigals come home. To champion the underdogs of our society wherever they are whenever we come across them. All that well-worn path this text has inspired over time.

But it's a reminder to me, too. One time I was telling a student of mine the joys of living counterculture and all that jazz and trying to expose her to the beauty of punk music and the importance of non-conformity and blah blah blah. Another student who overheard the diatribe pulled me aside afterward and said, "You know, Brent...those things are what make you YOU and it's great and all, but did it ever occur to you that what you're telling her to CONFORM to what your idea of COUNTERCULTURE is? Kind of ironic, really. I mean, you can be a suburban housewife and be radically following Christ or a khaki-wearing accountant and be radically following Christ or whatever, right?"

Consider me convicted. Either there's a place for all of us in The Kingdom or we're all just living a lie.

I just happen to live in a household where my daughters told one of their teachers that to rebel in our home you WOULD NOT get a tattoo...

But the idea is to love the lost and seek them and find them and welcome them home. And to do that, well, we gotta know some and not mumble and complain about the world and their world. We need as many odd ducks in the Kingdom as we can get...and frankly, you can all use your own definition of odd.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 24

What I Read Today: Luke 13 & 14.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: Luke 14: 25-31, "Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’ Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?"

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I admit I kind of had a chip on my shoulder.

See, at my church we'd had 3 consecutive hires who'd left very successful jobs in corporate America to come and work for us. There's no question they'd each bring a certain set of skills and disciplines and ways of thinking that would've helped our church in numerous ways. Like I said, they'd each done very well in their chosen fields and there was a reason for that.

But I kind of got tired of hearing them be lauded for their decision.

"Look at all the prestige they're giving up.
"Look at the amount of money they're walking away from."
"Look at how noble they're being."
"Look at how much money they'll lose over time in their retirement plan."
"Look at how much they'll be downsizing."

So, I had a little bit of a pity party.

I mean, I certainly didn't get into the youth ministry game for the prestige of it. Sure, it looks cool to teenagers, but even in Christian circles we tend to be viewed as the low man on the totem pole.
I mean, I certainly didn't get into the youth ministry game because of the huge upside in the pay-scale.
I mean, I didn't feel very noble because it was simply the reality that this is how God gifted me and so I did what I was supposed to be doing.
I mean, I never had a retirement plan until a few years after I started working in my current job.
I mean, my family gave up all sorts of types of homes and fashion and lifestyles simply be being related to me.

In other words, I was looking at the cost they had to pay vs. the cost me & my family had to pay and it didn't seem at all like it was adding up. I'm sure you see the pride in my own life as plainly as I do now when I read it. But at the time it was my true feelings after hearing friends give my friends all this credibility when I felt like I'd made those same choices 20 years ago. Nobody seemed to praise me when I did it then. And I didn't even have the two decades of earning power and retirement vestiture and insurance plans to fall back on. My Golden Handcuffs were always tied to whatever "jewels in my crown" I was supposed to be getting.

But then I realized...THESE were the costs I was counting to follow Christ.

I'd never missed a meal.
I'd never gone without a roof over my head.
I'd never had issues with clothing (other than poor fashion sense).

And I think about my brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world who struggle for those very things. Churches without Bibles...or even limited availability to get only one book. Pastors being gunned down in their very church buildings. Brothers and sisters who are kicked out of their families for their choice to follow Christ. Jail time for others. Beatings for some. Sneaking into and out of worship to avoid all the above. I could go on.

And the reality of it all is that the truth of the matter is that my costs to follow Christ seem to very limited by comparison. In fact, just the opposite is true: I tend to get varying degrees of encouragement for my choice to follow Christ. And I'm certainly blessed.

No, I won't feel guilty or feel as if my Christian experience is somehow lessened by my suburban pastorate and the blessings that tend to come alongside that.

But I will make it a point to keep those around the world in my thoughts and prayers...

...and I will make it a point to be a lot more thankful that whatever costs (if any) I've truly paid for following Christ have been kept to a minimum.

And be humbled by God's grace and mercy to me and my family.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Luke 15 & 16)
Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 23

What I Read Today: Luke 12.

What Stood Out About What I Read: Luke 12: 1-4, "Meanwhile, when many thousands of the crowd had gathered so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, 'Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing is secret that will not be made known. So then whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms will be proclaimed from the housetops.'"

Random Thought About What I Read:

Hypocrisy bookends this chapter.

There's a lot that goes on in between, but it starts with Jesus telling his disciples to be wary of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and it ends with Jesus railing on the crowd for their hypocrisy.

What gets under my skin about it is that on both sides of it I can find myself being a hypocrite. The Greek word here means "an actor playing a part." In my job it can be easy to play that role, too. As a professional Christian who is more or less responsible for living authentically with Christ in full view of others, well, that can be pretty daunting.

Because some days we worry about how the bills are going to be paid because there's a lot more month than there is money.
Because some days we're not sure exactly how our children are turning out because the behavior we see concerns us.
Because some days there's conflict with our spouse.
Because some days we don't feel rewarded or appreciated at work.
Because some days our friends are jerks and we want to punch them in the mouth.
Because some days that test/class failure is going to cause trouble with the parents.
Because some days the political climate seems to ignore the way we think.
Because some days whatever the temptation's temporary pleasure seems a lot better than some "jewel in our crown" we're supposed to be getting later.
Because some days none of the things I believe seem as real as the events going on around me.

And so it goes.

We're human.

But Christ seemed to be pretty consistent about those in the world (not just professional Christians) who are merely being actors on the world's stage. His consistency was in pretty much exposing them in stern ways.

Is your concern that God doesn't really value you? So, the natural response is to seek value from those who are powerful in the world.
Are you scared about what it would do to your reputation if you boldly told the world you followed God? So, the natural response is to pipe down and just go about your business.
Are your worried that you're not getting your fair share of the cash day-in and day-out? So, the natural response is to fight tooth and nail to make sure you do.
Worried about where the money is going to come from? The natural response is to spend a great deal of time stressing about it and working through all sorts of plans to bring in the cash and stretch the dollars you've already got.
Worried about your 401K?
Focused too much about this world and the stuff going on in it?
Concerned that you won't be understood even by those closest to you?

And see, those are the things that seem to cause me to become an actor in the world's play.
And, not a very good one, either.

So, what do you do when it feels like you can act like a Christian a heck of a lot better than you can actually follow Christ?

Well, I think that feelings can be liars. They respond to what goes on around us. And since feelings are real, we should measure them agains what our brain knows to be true.

And that's the flip side in this chapter. Because...

Truth of the matter is that God takes care of birds who's Blue Book value is about $.02.
Truth of the matter is that the Holy Spirit will give you words at the appropriate time.
Truth of the matter is that it's only money, man. Find ways to value what God values.
Truth of the matter is that God takes care of flowers and birds and he'll take care of that.
Truth of the matter is that we love what we spend our money invest in Kingdom stuff.
Truth of the matter is that we should keep the lights on for our King, who is indeed coming back.
Truth of the matter is that Jesus doesn't make it easy...always saying things like "I came to set the earth on fire." You can't be concerned with who likes you if you're following Him.

In my way of thinking, avoiding hypocrisy starts with the reality that our King is coming back. And what if we started every single day with the thought, "What if today is the day He comes for us?"

How would that affect our reality? How would that BE our reality?

The bills on the table won't matter when we're sitting at His table at the Wedding Feast.
The kids' college choices won't matter when they're in their dwelling place He prepared for them.
The fight with the spouse over whatever it was won't matter when we see the Bridegroom.
The reputation won't matter because, well, all the knees will bow and tongues will confess His Lordship.
The folks we might've wanted to punch will be creatures in their glorified bodies that we'd be tempted to worship.
The government will be the King of Kings setting it all back in order.
The temporary pleasures won't hold a candle to the eternal reality.


And do we really believe that this will be the reality?

Because it seems to me if we really do, then the hypocrisy we choose to display because of our fears and insecurities would fade into a beautiful oblivion...

...and if today was indeed the day He chose to come back for us...

...oh, man...

...that changes everything about my beliefs and actions lining up.

Or at least it should.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Luke 13 & 14)
Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 22

What I Read Today: Luke 11.

What Stood Out: Luke 11:9-13, "So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

The secret about me is that I don't pray very much.

Like I said yesterday, it's a lot easier to prepare lessons about prayer for my students than it is to pray. It's a lot easier to write a seminary paper on prayer than it is to pray. It's a lot easier to take somebody's prayer request than it is to pray. Prayer is difficult for me and I've thought a lot about why it is, too.

First, God blessed me with an active mind. Now, don't mistake activity for anything that produces visible results. I liken it to running a lot of laps. It looks like you've been running for a long time but you never really went anywhere. Mostly, all it takes for me to start thinking about anything other than God is to start praying with the words, "Dear God..."

Second, I'm surrounded by noise. My home starts waking up and it's the Good Morning America folks chatting away. Or the morning music from the back while the day's starting. Or even a dishwasher or washing machine. My car has a radio that I'm not sure where the "off" button is. I walk into a restaurant and televisions are visible no matter where I sit. I let mobile phones steal my down time during any type of lull in my day. It's constant...and the funny thing is I tend to be okay with it all.

Third, I'm not exactly sure what it is prayer is supposed to accomplish. I've studied all about this at seminary. I'm not sure that it changes much about God's plan or will. I'm pretty sure that we do it so poorly that the Holy Spirit tells God what we really mean. And the reality that it's supposed to change me and align me with this plan of God isn't a motivator. I find that anything that causes me to really believe God's way is better than my way really just wants me to delay doing it.

Fourth, which kind of ties into that, is the reality that I might not like God's answers. I mean, I like God being my cosmic Santa Claus where I just ask him stuff and he brings what I want. The reality is that if He answers things His way, well, that'll be terribly uncomfortable.

Fifth, I'm pretty uncomfortable with all the stuff around know, that business about making things right with people you've wronged before you pray? Man. That's, um, well, difficult and stuff. It's easier to sweep it all under the rug.

Sixth, if the standard for prayer is "praying without ceasing," well, that seems so daunting that it's self-defeating.

And let's not even get started on the idea that sometimes I feel like the prayers go about as far as from my mouth to the ceiling and that's it.

I have others, but I think you get my point, right?

So, like I said, I'm not too good at prayer. I'm a lot like the disciples in Luke 11, though. I want to get better at it and do it more often, so I'm pretty good at asking those I see doing it well to get their ideas, thoughts and encouragement.

Notice early on that Jesus starts out with "when" you pray. He assumes this is a practice you'll incorporate in your walk with God. He didn't say "if" you decide to pray. No matter our objections we're supposed to do it...that I'm sure about.

Much has been made in commentaries and all about the content of the prayer Jesus delivers, and I'll spend some time when this parallel passage is discussed in Matthew (gotta save some stuff because it's a long year and a big Bible, right?). But He certainly gives us an overview of content (the old "adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication" ACTS acronym).

But what stands out to me is that God has our best interest at heart.

In fact, one of the best sermons I heard in 2010 was on this very reality. Yes, I'm a sermon geek and my guess is that I hear over 100 each and every year so keep that in mind as a reminder that I'm not using hyperbole to make my point. I'm telling you that one of the best sermons of the year for me reminded me that God loves me dearly.

See, Heather Thomas was preaching at Imago Dei while I was on my vacation to Portland--

--two side notes: First, I have no problem with the reality that it was a female in the pulpit. She was under the authority of her elders. Second, the world tends to shrink up sometimes as I discovered she's the granddaughter of Major Ian Thomas, a man who'd had tremendous impact on the spiritual lives of those who attended my church through his teaching on various occasions--

--and I don't think it was her very cool British accent that made it sound smarter than it was. It was really insightful.

See, she pointed out the verbs: Ask. Seek. Knock. We do these things.
Then she pointed out the response of God: Gives. Finds. Opens.
She mentioned that it doesn't matter if you're the CEO or the janitor.
She highlighted the implied realities: First that if we're praying, we're implying that we're humble enough to admit we're not God--and this shows we have a NEED. Second, that we're praying to someone we TRUST can handle the situation.

She used an illustration about coming over to her niece's house not long after Halloween. Her niece's parents had been keeping the candy out of reach of their young daughter by placing the bag on top of their refrigerator and giving it to her whenever it seemed appropriate. So, when Aunt Heather shows up, she was taken to the kitchen, shown the bag of candy and then her niece got all Disney-princess-eyed, knowing that Aunt Heather could deliver when asked to give her the goods.

And her point was that this is how we should approach our God: With a "wide-eyed expectation and regularity" voicing our wants and needs. It sounded really cool in a British accent, too.

Which profoundly affected my prayer life. I prayed more with that illustration as a guide. I guess I should say that I still pray more, too, with that illustration as my guide. Wide-eyed expectation. Regularly. Wants and needs.

It says right there that if we're asking our own parents for basic food items that they're not going to give us things (snakes and scorpions) that are harmful and/or useless by way of return. Obviously, God won't do that, either. I guess we've allowed the reality that most of our social interactions wind up causing us to be skeptical of the other other's motives to creep into our spiritual walks.

And what I learned is that overcoming the objections about prayer ultimately come down to a simple reality: Do I really trust that God loves me enough to answer my prayers in a way that's best for me?

Granted, that's a pretty big answer...

...but if you can...

it'll revamp your prayer life. It has least it's better than it was, anyway.

And what needs and wants should we be bringing to God with wild-eyed expectation today?

See? I told you it was a good sermon.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Luke 12)
Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 21

What I Read Today: Luke 10.

What Stood Out Today: (The parable of the Good Samaritan) Luke 10: 36-37, "'Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?' The expert in religious law said, 'The one who showed mercy to him.' So Jesus said to him, 'Go and do the same.'”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I like the parable of the Good Samaritan, but more for the dynamics in play than the story itself.

See, you have an expert in the Law, and Jesus. The academic asks a question. A good one, too. When you think about it, the most important question on the planet: "What do I do to get eternal life?"

Jesus responds with a question, that, when we read it, we don't get the cultural impact. Sounds simple enough, right? "What is written in the Law? How do you understand it?" This would be akin to asking a Harvard graduate to recite his ABC's. It's more or less Jesus turning the tables on the smart guy. He's asking the most important question in the universe and this itinerant prophet is telling him to tell him what he learned in kindergarten.

Then it gets even more interesting.

The expert recites his ABC's. Jesus tells him that he got it if the academic didn't know that already.

But Jesus then tells the academic to, well, um...


I've done time in graduate school with academics. I consider myself an academic because much of my day is spent trafficking in the ideas of other people to come to my own conclusions so I can teach my students truth. The one thing those of us who are in academia DO NOT want to hear is, "GO AND DO IT." I gotta admit it's a heck of a lot easier to come up with a lesson about prayer (more on that tomorrow) than to actually be a person of prayer.

"So, love God and love your neighbor! Yay! You got it right! Now, get out there and love your neighbor!"

Like any good academic, he asks Jesus to define His terms: "Well, before I go and do that, exactly WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?" Don't you love the implication? I mean, heaven forbid that I get out there and love someone and that person isn't my neighbor, right?

Well, Jesus decides to answer the question. "Who is my neighbor, you ask? Let me tell you a little story..."

It's the well-read parable of the Good Samaritan. A guy gets mugged on the 17-mile journey to Jerusalem...likely on his way to worship. Worked over pretty good, too. It's possible he could die from his injuries. Two people who have religious and racial ties to the mugged guy are coming BACK from worship--a priest and a Levite. The cross the road to avoid having to deal with him at all. Then a reviled Samaritan (Jews & Samaritans had a long-standing dislike of one another for a while) has basic human compassion and sets the mugged guy up to get better.

And then Jesus asks a question that is equally as forthright as the earlier one about what the academic learned in kindergarten: "Now, which one was the neighbor?"

Again: Go and do it, scholar. It's a lot easier to read about it or write a paper on it than do it, right?

It's always tempting for me to go the route of the mugged Samaritan outcast guy. I mean, I have long hair and tattoos. Now, I'm aware of the first impression I make on folks in my homogenous suburban community. You should see the looks I got at the PTA meetings when my girls were younger. Clerks at Wal-Mart who were very outgoing with the nice grandma in front of me say nothing to me and look at nothing but my purchases going over the scanner. Parents who meet me at church see my tattoos sneak out from my rolled-up sleeves and their experession changes. We all want to be the one that other folks have compassion on.

But that's not the point of the story at all.

The point of the story is to love your God and love your neighbor.

And no amount of academic tap-dancing can redefine who your neighbor is.

So, today, who are neighbors in our own home?
Who are our neighbors at school or work?
Who are our neighbors we come across in the normal warp and woof of our days? The clerks, the teachers, the coaches, the customers, the kids, the folks next door, the friends, the...


...I could go on and on.

And how do we show them love based in compassion?

Because it's a lot easier to talk about it than it is to do it...but love is a verb.

And a choice.

No way to tap dance around that.

(Tomorrow's reading: Luke 11)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 20

What I Read Today: Luke 9.

What Stood Out: Luke 9: 18-25, "Once when Jesus was praying by himself, and his disciples were nearby, he asked them, 'Who do the crowds say that I am?' They answered, 'John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others that one of the prophets of long ago has risen.' Then he said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Peter answered, 'The Christ of God.' But he forcefully commanded them not to tell this to anyone, saying, 'The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.' Then he said to them all, 'If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?'"

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I had this wonderfully quirky seminary professor who came to our church to talk about the nature of the spiritual life. The crux of his talk was that he'd discovered lots of theories about what the spiritual walk with Christ looks like in our culture and he'd come to the realization that all of them work, and yet none of them work.

What that means is that some people can read the same book and have it change their life. Others can read it, try the same things, and "fail." So, if all of them "work" and all of them don't, how do you figure out what helps you grow?

His theory was three-fold (and keep in mind that I'm simplifying 5 hours of talks into the overview here. Dr. Hannah fully developed this line of thought):

First, you have to know your God.
Second, you have to know yourself.
Finally, you have to know your situation.

And that's what I see in this chapter in the life of the disciples.

See, first, Peter had to know who God is. In this particular case, they'd been out ministering and seeing amazing things happen. The disciples come back together and Christ asked them a pretty normal question that went something along the lines of, "You guys are out in the community and doing things in My name. Who are they saying that I am?"

The answers were a lot like you'd expect. Some of the people around the disciples were saying that Jesus was actually John the Baptist (keep in mind that most of these people wouldn't have had the ability to see them both in person). Some of the people said he was Elijah come back to earth (remember, according to the Old Testament, he never died, so it's at least plausible as a theory). Others said that Jesus was one of the prophets. Maybe they meant one of the old ones or a new one of that same line. But it's safe to say that there was something special about Jesus and people had a lot of different theories to explain it.

Then Jesus turns the question from theory to personal: Who do YOU say a I am?

Peter responded, in effect, "The Messiah." We could put a lot of different labels on it and they'd all be accurate, but ultimately it comes down the The One that Israel was waiting for that God promised to deliver the nation and redeem them...ultimately ushering in His Kingdom.


...they accurately knew their God.

It's also safe to say that contextually they knew who they were: Not Him.

He'd given them power & authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. Then they'd spent the day cruising around town and doing that very thing! Can you imagine? One morning you wake up and you're just the normal old you with no supernatural power. Someone tells you that you now have those supernatural powers. You go into town and start healing people and proclaiming the good news. My guess is that you'd be pretty darn amazed at not only what was happening but also the unique gift you've been given. And you know it didn't come from within.

They'd also seen an incident happen where a sermon had been preached and it was getting late. You don't have enough food to feed the thousands in attendance, so you recommend to your boss that it'd be best to send the folks to get something to eat. He tells you to feed them and maybe take up a collection of food to distribute among the crowd to get that done. So, you round up everything and basically, between the 12 of you, the entire meal is a hearty sandwich. Another possibility might be to go get food, but you don't have near enough money to feed a crowd of this size. Your boss tells you to put them into groups of 50 or so. You do. And you KNOW you only had a hearty sandwich a minute ago. He tells you to pass out food to the sold-out arena-sized crowd. Everybody eats. There are leftovers. Yeah. You're NOT Him.

A couple on the Mount of Transfiguration got to hear God speak, in the presence of guests with such big names as Elijah and Moses. You're not even THEM, much less Him. My guess is that when you hear the literal voice of God tell you that Jesus is His Son and to pay attention, you pretty well understand that you're not Him.

But, they also knew their situation. They were walking with the Messiah. They'd seen (and performed) healings. They'd spread the news about the Kingdom. They'd seen miracles. They understood that they were a vital part of the Kingdom program. In fact, that's one thing they seemed to think was imminent: Christ becoming King. Logic said that if that's the case, and we're in the inner-circle, then we'd have some role in that administration.

Unfortunately, Christ would interrupt their discussions of who sits where and who governs what with the reality that you have to be child-like to have a part. They'd also have discussions about who else could get involved in the inner which Jesus would remind them that the disciples weren't the only folks involved. No need to stop other gifted folks from healing in His name, right? They'd watch Christ tell others about who could join their group...people who weren't afraid to leave their family or to go homeless could come along.

But then they'd also have to hear about how the Messiah would be betrayed and arrested at the hands of the authorities. Wait a can the King get arrested? What would that do to his political ambitions? Theirs? Hmmm. Something's amiss. We're following Someone who will be King to all sorts of urban, suburban and rural settings, ministering to all sorts of people as he begins to create a following which will make Him king at some point. We'll probably need to follow along a bit more to see how this plays out.

So, the disciples knew their God. The question before us is, "Do we know ours?" If not, what steps will we take to get to know Him?

So, the disciples knew themselves. The question before us is, "Do we know ourselves?" What are we like and what are our gifts and what do we have at hand and what do we bring to the table and are we the boss or the employee?

So, the disciples knew their situation. the question before us is, "Do we know our situation?" Where has God placed us? How has God gifted us to serve in our situation? Who else is around us in our situation and how does the reality of knowing our God and knowing ourselves uniquely position us to fulfill the Kingdom objectives He has for us?

That's enough for today, right?

When you think of it, answering those questions is enough for a lifetime.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Luke 10)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 19.

What I Read Today: Luke 7-8.

What Stood Out: Luke 7: 18-20, "John’s disciples informed him about all these things. So John called two of his disciples and sent them to Jesus to ask, 'Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?' When the men came to Jesus, they said, 'John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”

And...Luke 8: 22-25, "One day Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and said to them, 'Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.' So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. Now a violent windstorm came down on the lake, and the boat started filling up with water, and they were in danger. They came and woke him, saying, 'Master, Master, we are about to die!' So he got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they died down, and it was calm. Then he said to them, 'Where is your faith?' But they were afraid and amazed, saying to one another, 'Who then is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him!'"

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

A few years ago I heard a news story about which nations had the happiest people. I thought the United States would be a place of generally happy people...I mean, comparatively we've got it pretty good, right? We were 23rd. Not too shabby when you consider the number of nations on the planet, really. We finished behind Canada and Costa Rica. We pound those nations in World Cup Soccer qualifying but they're happier than us. Way ahead of Pakistan and Iran and folks like that, though, so that's good.

The winner? Denmark. And they have astronomical taxes!

The reason? Low expectations. They have a culture that tends to expect the worst from life, so anything remotely good that happens is a pleasant surprise.

My mom was the same way. She set the bar of expectation low, even on things like a football game. Now, she didn't care much about football, but she loved her college team. She started every game with, "The Tide will probably lose today." If you know anything about the '70's, the Tide won pretty much every game that decade. But every Saturday with that phrase.

And I see the folks around Jesus in these chapters all having expectations. My guess is that these people all had extremely high expectations of Him. I mean, the circumstances around His birth, his mom treasuring these things in her heart. The belief that the Messiah would come to redeem Israel, and they believed the primary way He would redeem them would be as a military leader.

He'd win a war.
He'd establish a Kingdom.
He'd rule the world and glorify God.

And now, he's in a rural Middle Eastern town, avoiding the religious elite (the little matter of wanting to throw Him off a cliff might've had something to do with that) to the degree they sent folks out check up on Him, and spending all his time with the poor and infirm and sinners.

Even John the Baptist sent his students to ask Jesus if He was truly the Messiah. Think about it from John's perspective. It probably didn't escape his mind the things his parents told him about the circumstances of his birth...and how it correlated with Jesus' birth. He'd lived an extreme life involving everything from not touching wine or cutting his hair and living in the harsh Jordan region wearing goofy clothes. He was supposed to announce the Messiah. Now he's in jail. And Jesus isn't anywhere close to a throne and certainly isn't leading a military. If anything, His political career is spiraling downward.

"Are you the One, or is there somebody else I need to be looking for?" Unmet expectations.

A Roman military leader has a slave who is deathly ill. Sends for Jesus because he believes the prophet can heal the slave...even from a distance. Jesus does so and commends the Centurion for his faith. Met expectations.

A dead man is being carried out of town by a grieving mother & other mourners. Jesus touched the stretcher (making Himself ceremonially unclean) and the young man comes back from the dead. No big deal. A crowd surprised by this kind of power. There's something different about this prophet. Expectations more than met.

A prominent Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner. A woman with an awful reputation comes in, anoints him and worships him by crying at Jesus' feet and wiping her tears with her hair. The crowd can't believe it when Jesus praises her efforts while rebuking the very host. The host and crowd have their expectations blown, while the woman of ill repute's high expectations were probably exceeded...what with getting saved and all.

After a time of teaching the disciples about the nature of His ministry, Jesus goes into the countryside and spends all sorts of time with the down & out. He heals their illnesses. He cast demons out of people. He alienates His own family (expectations unmet?) by keeping them out of the inner circle. A regions pigs (and economic livelihood) go running into the sea because Jesus sent some demons into them instead of a local man...surely they didn't expect that to happen that day.

Then a storm hits when the disciples are in a boat away from the crowds. Keep in mind that they had seen and heard about all the healings, the forgiveness of sins, the pigs, the demons outcast, the teachings about the ministry/Kingdom, all of it. I'm sure they had all sorts of expectations from the moment they were called to follow...

...and after they wake up Jesus (interesting enough) because they think the boat is going to break apart, their leader chides them for their lack of faith and stills the storm.

In the quietness of fear and amazement that ensued...

...they had to recalibrate their expectations.

Even the wind and sea obey Him.


And today I'm thinking about the expectations and how they affect my emotions.

When things aren't going so well, I tend to get like John. In the darkness of the prison I never thought I'd be in, I wonder if He is exactly Who He says He is.

When the answers to prayer come along, I tend to be all about high-fives and free pizza.

When I see something I didn't expect, whether it's a big deal like my pigs going into the metaphorical oceans, it leads to confusion and doubt. Or if it's something little like learning from a teaching time, I tend to put Him in a box that makes me comfortable.

Today, I'd really like to do what I can to get rid of the unrealistic expectations and just let Christ BE... Who He is.
...and be awed by Who He is.
...and be in reverence for the work He is doing, whether it's forgiving a friend who has blown it or curing someone I know of Stage 4 cancer.

Just breathe and experience Him, and let my expectations be blown away so I can better answer the question, "Who is He when all of life happens?"

I don't need to have low expectations to be happy with that. My guess is He'll meet whatever expectations I have and then some.


(Tomorrow's Reading: Luke 9)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 18.

What I Read Today: Luke 6.

What Stood Out: Luke 6: 43-45, "'For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from brambles. The good person out of the good treasury of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasury produces evil, for his mouth speaks from what fills his heart."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

By late in my senior year of high school I had become acclimated to the Christian sub-culture. After a 3 year hiatus from most things Christian and a 15-year stint in the Episcopal church previous to that, well, let's just say that my foray into a Deep South Bible church was an interesting sociological experiment, to say the least.

There were all sorts of things that I had to get up to speed with. For example, EVERYONE carried their Bible and took notes in the margins (my Episcopal church had them in the rack on the pew in front of us) and the pastor never said anything we were supposed to respond to...and no kneeling went on. But carrying the Bible was expected.

Short hair on guys--no earrings, and modest dress for girls was pretty much expected.
Certain rock bands were verboten. Pop music seemed to be given a moderate pass as long as cursing wasn't involved.
10%, even for high schoolers.
Republican leanings were a must, even for high schoolers. If there were Democrats, I never knew about them.
No R-rated movies.
And so it goes.

And we were good kids for the most part and played by the rules. I went by them for the most part, even if they seemed foreign to me. Most of my friends seemed okay with them, too.

Until my first group of serious friends went off to college.

Chaos ensued.

When I followed a year later and ran into my Deep South Bible church friends at fraternity rush, well, let's just say that all the rules changed. See, I'd gotten some advice on finding a church and a small group of Bible study guys as soon as possible. This was pretty easy since a bunch of my high school Bible study guys went to the same university and all we had to do was find a leader for 6 guys who were good kids for the most part and played by the rules. That proved pretty easy.

Anyway, during fraternity rush my first group of serious friends had been gone a year and used their contacts to recruit new members to their fraternities.

Let's just say that these guys weren't playing by the same rules as was evident by their tales of skirt-chasing, beer drinking and other sorts of excess...and using this as a selling-point to join their fraternity. They all got the prettiest girls, threw the best parties and all that jazz.

It wasn't long after that I read Francis Schaeffer for the first time (that leader who was looking for 6 guys to disciple took his job pretty seriously if he's got college freshman reading Francis Schaeffer in their spare time, right?). A quote stood out and there were several variations that went something like "Inner realities have outward manifestations." I know. Common sense is cutting-edge.

If the first year of college was any indication regarding my first group of serious friends that went off from my Deep South Bible church, we'd done a pretty good job of keeping a list of rules but eventually the truth came out: Our faith wasn't that real. What was real was that we could manage our behavior well enough to keep our parents off our backs.

That's what Jesus was saying in Luke 6.

The chapter starts with the Pharisees checking up on Jesus. I can't say for sure if they were "spies" sent to find out what Jesus was up to or if they were curious enough to simply be around where He was teaching, but my guess is they were looking for trouble given that He'd come to the countryside to escape being thrown off a cliff.

So, as He was walking along with His disciples on the Sabbath, they picked up some wheat and prepared it for consumption. Now, it's important to note that Jesus didn't violate any Biblical law here...just a cultural interpretation by priests designed to keep people from breaking a Biblical law. Er. Um. Behavioral management.

A-HA! Pharisees have Him, right?

Er. Not so much. Jesus had a little sermon ready about King David's example of eating sacred bread. So, if Jesus is guilty, so is King David. Yeah. The Pharisees revered King David so now they've got to bow to his precedent.

And then...

...get this...

...Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and a person went up with a withered hand and Jesus HEALED the withered hand.

A-HA! The Pharisees have Him now, right? Working on the Sabbath!

Er. Um. Did you happen to miss the reality that a real, live human being had a hand that wouldn't work and while you were standing there Jesus said a few things and NOW HIS HAND WORKS???!!!! I mean, I get pretty amped when I pray for someone's surgery to go well and it does and they're healed by a doctor's skill. This is a full-blown miracle that happened right in front of them!

Let's just say the Pharisees were not at all amped by the healing. I think the phrase used in the Bible is "out of their minds with rage."

See, what's inside of them came pouring out of them. It's inevitable.

These men had been living their lives in the highly educated religious elite leadership. They were supposed to stand for God. Instead of rejoicing that God was at work through this prophet and this man before them had been healed, they wanted to kill the threat to their way of doing business.

And that theme seems to run through Luke 6. The sermon on the plain was likely a sermon that Jesus repeated often, hence the similarities to the more well-known Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the poor. Woe to the rich. Love your enemies because anyone can love folks they like. Don't judge the hearts of others. Work on yourself and your own heart. Forgive others. Show mercy. Take the log out of your own eye before you go looking at specks in other's eyes.

A shot at folks who want to call a Sabbath foot-fault when they're guilty of not showing love and mercy and forgiveness, maybe?

And that's what runs through my brain today.

A tree will bear fruit. The fruit-making stuff deep inside of a tree will eventually run from the roots through the trunk to the branches to the orange or apple or whatever you see in front of you. Oranges or apples don't come through thorns bushes. Whatever is inside of you will have outward manifestations.

So, today, I'm thinking about ways to guard my heart and mind and working on me and "doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God." Not managing my behavior so people will think I'm good.

And that difference is messy and staggering and freeing.

(Tomorrow's Reading: Luke 7-8)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 17

What I Read Today: Luke 4 & 5.

What Stood Out: Luke 4:1-2, " Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he endured temptations from the devil..."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

We sat outside on the deck even though it was chilly and drizzling. Just pulled the chairs under the overhang of the dining hall's roof and had the conversation that is the staple of my life & ministry. It's a conversation I've had on ski lifts and beaches and after Sunday School in the youth room and over hamburgers at the fast food place and...


...let's just say that I'm a Starbucks Gold cardholder.

See, I work with teenagers. Many of them have been in the church since they were six weeks old and have heard all the stories and sung all the songs and been to all the retreats and ski trips and Sunday School classes and hung out with their leaders in the chairs designed to be comfortable for 20 minutes at fast food places or the chairs designed to be comfortable for 20 hours at the coffee shop. Not all, mind you. But a lot have been around for years.

And those teenagers will begin to make their faith their own. They'll start to question what they believe and why they believe it. This is where parents usually kick themselves and go through all sorts of soul-searching when it's really just a part of the process those parents went through, say, some 30 years ago. This process involves varying degrees of behavior changes that depend on the personality of the kid going through it. Some introverts just sit in their room and think and come to conclusions very close to what they've been taught in pretty short order. Some more flamboyant wind up in their own personal Woodstock where anything goes for 3 days or 3 years or 3 decades of processing and experimenting trying to figure it all out. Most are somewhere in between those extremes.

This making-their-faith-their own usually comes when these kids raised in church begin looking over the fence and seeing some pretty green grass their friends are playing on. At some point they see the temptations that are all around us as pretty enticing. Fun, even.

Which calls into question the claim Christians make to the abundant life. It's the fuel of the making-your-faith-your-own fire.

And Christ had to deal with them all, man. See, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness and is tempted (oh, man the trouble we have with that, right?). He's tempted by Satan to trust in his own power instead of allowing God to provide by turning stone to bread. Satan offers Christ the chance to be world ruler immediately (Christ knows he'll be world ruler later, right?). Chirst responds to these temptations with applying Scripture He learned.

Satan tempts Christ to test God by doing something unwise by misquoting Scripture. Christ corrects him. After the temptations were finished, Satan figured he'd wait for a better time.

But the issue behind the temptations call Christ's current moment in time insufficient.

Not abundant.

Christ, You can provide for Yourself if you're hungry. No need to wait on God to do it.
Christ, You can have everything You're entitled to right now. No need to allow history to play out the way the Father designed it.
Christ, You might be misreading Scripture. It must mean something else. No need to take it in context.

The current situation is not all that great, is it Jesus? Take matters into your own hands.

And that's the heart of following Christ: He's claiming that His Way is the most abundant life possible. This is why He's worth following, right?

After the 40 days Christ went public. He shows up at the synagogue in Jerusalem, reads a well-known Messianic passage (interestingly reading the portion about the Good News in that passage, but leaving out the part about vengeance--most commentators think that has to do with the reality that the Good News is in their "now," and the vengeance coming "later.") and says something like, "What I just read? Yeah. That's Me."

They decided the best course of action after that was to throw Jesus off a cliff. Implication: Jesus isn't worth following.

He escapes the city and heads to the countryside and teaches with authority. He heals people of demon possession. He performs a miracle of provision of fish for some who were about to become His disciples. He heals a leper. He heals a man who was paralyzed and his friends lowered him through the roof to get him near Christ. He calls some other disciples who, um, let's say didn't have the proper credentials to be hanging around with the religious elite.

To which the crowd promptly begins to wonder why he's worth following because of who He hangs out with.

Um, did they miss those incredible sermons with a new twist on the old way of life (hence the new wine into old skins reference Christ makes)? Christ cast out demons! Christ commanded nature to work in ways we don't think nature works! Christ healed a leper for crying out loud! Christ healed a paralyzed man! Christ was asking folks to come with Him!

And they focused on the riff-raff he had meals with.

But that's the crux of making your faith your own and the crux of almost every conversation I have with teens in the process of doing that very thing:

Why follow Christ? What's attractive to you about Him? If you were walking around 1st century Palestine and ran across Him, what about Him would make you want to drop everything and go?

And do you really believe that the abundant life Christ promises is better than all the temptations of the world's way of thinking?

Given my punk rock leanings/mindset, I'm drawn to Christ the revolutionary. The thumbing the nose at the establishment to the degree they want to throw Him off a cliff. The championing of the underdog. The idea that that way things are need SERIOUS change. I think I'd have wanted to follow that Guy around to see how it all turned out. We all have our own thing about Him we're drawn to. Those are mine.

And following that Guy around would force me to make a decision as to whether or not He was Who He said He was. If His way was indeed more abundant.

Because, see, giving into temptation and sinning is FUN. Make no mistake. It is. It's the consequences of sin that aren't FUN. If Christ had given in at any of those points of temptation, the course of history is changed forever. I'd suggest that the consequences of any sin can change our personal history forever. The FUN factor is temporary at best (re: hangovers). The consequences may not be temporary at worst.

All those conversations at retreats and ski trips and beach fires and classrooms and fast-food places and coffee shops are really just answering those two questions:

Why would somebody follow Christ?
And if you follow Him, do you really believe His lifestyle is more abundant?

These chapters sort of seal the deal for me on both of those fronts.

(Tomorrow's reading: Luke 6)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 16

What I Read: Luke 2-3.

What Stood Out: Luke 2:19-20, " But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told."

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

Long time readers know about how much I enjoy the band "Lost and Found." (Link at the right) I first heard them almost a decade ago at a youth minister's conference...and after seeing them live we invited them to play a concert at our church. The night was so enjoyable that we had them come back the next Christmas to host their annual Christmas show. They headlined the show with several artists they chose to open the show. There was something for everyone: Unicycles and jugglers for the kids. A rapper for teens (hey, at the time it was "in"). Two very talented vocalists for those looking to hear some excellent versions of Christmas carols. Finally, Lost and Found did their unique songs, audience interaction and sprinkled in some Christmas carols.

I wanted to simply have a nice Christmas season kick-off for our church. What happened was that I got a "sermon" I haven't forgotten.

At one point in their set, they played "In Excelsis Deo" in their loud & fast acoustic sound complete with nearly yelling the chorus of that song and practically being off-key with the "Gloria" part of it. They introduced the song by saying that they felt that particular song SHOULD be sung loud and with urgency and enthusiasm because the events bring talked about were fast and and loud and urgent and enthusiastic...they kind of blew the lid off the "Silent Night, Holy Night" thing. You could do worse than going to their website and buying the Christmas CD and listening to the song.

Because if you look at Luke 2, Mary and Joseph might have been having a "Silent Night, Holy Night" thing going on at first. Sure, they'd traveled to come back to their hometown for the census with Mary late in her pregnancy. They'd endured the whispers of their community of the odd teenager telling everybody she's pregnant with the Messiah and likely snickering at Joseph for perpetuating the story of their chaste behavior. They'd struggled to find a place to stay and would wind up in a stable on the back of a house (which wasn't uncommon back then--an "inn" most likely meant guest houses, when there was no room for them in the guest area of some houses, they'd just park in the barn). They'd seen incredible things begin to happen after 400 years of silence and now it was all happening.

So, the baby is born. Like Francis Schaeffer used to say, "We're looking at a real baby." In the stable. And I'm sure there was some mild hustle and bustle after the birth. Family around. People checking on Mary. Friends of Joseph dropping in. But, sure. It was likely a mildly silent night.


Complete and total chaos likely ensued.

See, some shepherds were doing their work on a hillside about 2 or so miles from the town. And, this was the entry-level job for most teenagers in that time. They'd be working the fields, managing the flock. Keeping the bears and wolves and snakes away. Getting them to water. Giving them rest when they needed it. So, there'd likely have been some gang of teens with some small overseer going about their work, maybe sitting around a fire during the night watch.

And a host of angels fill the night sky and sing a chorus, telling these teenage boys that the Messiah had been born a few miles away. Funny thing is, the angel presumed they'd go find Him, too. Told the boys how to recognize the salvation of Israel.

Now, I work with teenagers. All you have to do to see them amped up is tell them you're paying for pizza or laser tag or the movie and high-fives and loud yells aren't far behind. I can hardly imagine the enthusiasm and excitement of this rag-tag bunch of entry-level clerks covering 2 miles in about 15 minutes. Hitting the town and looking for somebody who just had a baby in a stable. Urgent. Loud. Chaos. Excitement.

Then they blew into the stable and told Mary their story: Hillside. Angels. Chorus. This is how you'll know.

My guess is Mary was mildly used to stories of angels telling good news these days, but I can't see that she'd ever get tired of hearing more. Teenage boys telling the story in urgent, loud, chaotic excitement. Talking all over each other and being understood by a teenage girl.

Then they go back, praising God. My guess is that they never looked at that hillside or life the same way again after that night.

But there was more chaos 8 days later: They go to the Temple with their peasant offering of two birds (they couldn't afford a lamb) and they run into of the remnant who had hung in there over time to wait on God's plan. Turns out this guy went to the Temple every day looking for young couples dedicating their babies because God told him he wouldn't die until he saw Him. Mary heard this elderly gentleman say he could die happy because he'd laid eyes on the Messiah. Mary also got some food for thought with a little message about the boy's pain would pierce her own soul.

More chaos: Same day. Anna, a prophetess and widow who had nothing to do all day every day but pray and fast at the Temple. She, too, reinforced the idea and kind of became one of the first missionaries, telling anyone who would listen about the Redeemer of Israel.

The boy grew. They see Him as a teenager in the Temple teaching the most learned men of His day while on the family trip to celebrate the Passover. Chaos.

We then meet John the Baptist and if you want to talk about loud, urgent, and chaos, you got it. He does such things as call the religious leaders of his day a "brood of snakes." He chides the nation for not walking humbly with God and merely thinking that because they are Israelites, they're "in." He brings all the wrong people (a.k.a. "tax gatherers and sinners") to the party. When he's not busy heralding the coming of the Messiah, he's busy exposing the sins of King Herod. Yeah. Jail time. Chaos.

He baptizes Christ. Loud. Enthusiasm. Excitement.

And here's what I learned from my friends in Lost and Found when they talked about the events of these chapters when they introduced the song.

See, they said that Jesus didn't come into a STABLE, per se.

He came into the world's un-STABLE.

And that silent night wasn't so silent.
And the next 30 years or so wasn't so silent.
It was urgent.
It was loud.
It was chaotic.

And that's what Christ does, when you think about it.

He comes into our un-STABLE.
And keeps our status from becoming quo.
And makes thing urgent, loud and chaotic.
And beautiful in the unSTABILITY.

In Excelsis Deo, indeed.

(Tomorrow's reading: Luke 4 & 5)