Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jesus' Spin Move

I'm not sure Jesus has been marketed the right way. He could have been an escape artist or in a Jackie Chan movie, perhaps as an extra for Jackie doing his own moves, no doubt learned from a childhood filled with games of Twister. I suppose that wouldn't work for two reasons; 1. Jackie does his own stunts and, 2. Jesus was not Asian.

It's too bad, though, because the gospel writers record several instances of Jesus performing escapes. They don't give a lot of detail as to how He actually escaped, but I have some theories. Here are the top 3.

1. Spin Moves
Luke 4:30 "[Jesus] walked right through the crowd and went on his way."
I know that Luke said Jesus simply walked, but I picture Luke writing simply, not wanting to talk up Jesus' moves.

I picture spin moves. If it were a modern day setting, a private jet or a car chase might work better. In the future, having Scotty beam Jesus up might work as well.

But, given the technological disadvantages that Jesus dealt with, I simply picture the spin move. It's simple, you fake left, then spin right. Voila! Escape!

2. Hide & Seek Jesus
John 8:59 "At this they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds."

If Jesus were one of the early actors depicting Jesus, I'd see no problem here. You know, the actors who looked like they were still fasting in the desert. But I imagine Jesus was a bit more buff than a 7-year old, so this hiding was a bit more complicated for Him. It's also more difficult since the people wanting to stone Him are not going to close their eyes and count to 100 while He hides.

I picture more fancy footwork, except, instead of ending with a slam dunk, MJ style, He simply dove behind a cactus...or maybe a disciple? Peter was a big guy, right?

3. Jedi Mind Tricks

John 7:44 "Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him."

This one Jesus picked up from Yoda. I think there's a whole story hidden within verse 44.See, the people had been arguing about whether Jesus was the Christ or not. The Pharisees sent some Temple Guards to arrest Jesus. The Temple Guards come along in the middle of a big debate. While the people participate in a rousing rendition of 'Yes He is!', 'No, he's not!', Jesus went all Obi-wan Kenobi on the Guard, using the Force and putting thoughts in their heads as if they were Storm Troopers. (Ah, Stars Wars reference complete.)

The Temple Guard returned to the Pharisees empty-handed and Jesus went on His way.

So what can we learn from these escape moves of Jesus? Well, I think we can agree that when all hope seems lost, God finds a way.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks in Any Language

My kids love speaking Spanish. They only know 6 or 7 words, but for some reason it brings them great joy to speak Spanish. When Luke, my 7-year old, was first learning it, he insisted I have conversations with him in Spanish. Here’s how it would go;

Luke: Hola!
Me: Hola! Como esta?
Luke: Y tu?

When translated, it looks like this.

Luke: Hi!
Me: Hi. How are you?
Luke: And you?

I never said my kids were very good at speaking Spanish. When I pointed out where he went wrong, this only caused him to laugh uncontrollably and do it repeatedly.

My children are quite stellar at repeating things, especially when those things are my bad habits. I got to thinking about this because we are on the verge of repeating another round of holidays; Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas and New Year. And while I am not a bah-hum-bug, I don't exactly go running up and down the streets like Jimmy Stewart shouting 'Season's Greetings' to anyone and everyone.

Just ask my wife how I react when she reminds me it's time to put up the Christmas tree. I respond as if she's asked me to clean out a septic tank. But that's going to change this year. This year I will not only consider all I am thankful for, I will choose to live that gratitude out. I will joyfully set up a tree, thankful that I have the freedom to celebrate my Lord's birth.

I will elbow my way through crowds, thankful I have means to shop for loved ones. I will say goodbye to nights normally quiet to attend Christmas parties, thankful for friends that I can celebrate with. I will cut wrapping paper and tear tape, appreciating the smiles from those who will open their gifts.

My life will reflect Colossians 2:6-7 "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."

I will choose to be thankful for every part of this holiday season and beyond. Y tu?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mad Juggling Skills

No bread? No problem. I recently revisited the story of Jesus playing the role of Bread Boss and feeding thousands. It's really quite an amazing story as you consider not only the miracle but the marketing. This is a whole lotta people seeing Jesus work His wonders.

But there are questions that surround this story. I get that Jesus has compassion and wanted to do a nice thing. But how is that so many people went to remote area with no plan for lunch. My wife and I barely cross the street with our kids without plans and supplies for keeping them busy, fed and hydrated. The fact that so many came so unprepared is a bit surprising.

Now on to the miracle itself.

I think many people think the bread just kept coming out of the basket. But not me. I imagine there was some sort of juggling of the dough in the air and every time Jesus passed another loaf to a disciple, another ball of dough appeared in the air. I believe Jesus was a showman and may have even tossed a few loaves behind His back before passing them out to be eaten.

Oh, and why were there 12 baskets in an area where no one brought any lunch? Seriously, did Jesus weave those baskets while the people ate? Why would someone bring an empty basket with them to hear Jesus preach? Was it like a ministry convention where sponsors of the event hand out brochures and free gifts?

Wasn't there anyone watching Jesus as He passed out the bread? Just watching to see where the bread was coming from? Perhaps even a young boy, not hungry enough to eat, but mesmerized as bread simply appeared? Was there a second bread-maker on the grassy knoll? I'd love to have been there for some post-miracle interviews.

Wow, look at that. I've pondered all this and haven't even done that go-to pastor move of spiritualizing a truth for you today. I guess sometimes I just like to imagine what it would have been like to have been there. I wonder if anyone will ever do that with my life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanks, But No Thanks?

It’s November. And November is synonymous with inducing a coma caused by the tryptophan in turkey (the food, not the country). Or, as we in America call it, Thanksgiving. Ahh, that beautiful holiday when we gather together with family, eat too much, sleep through a Detroit Lions game and then go home. You know about the ride home, right? That is when you share with your spouse how her family bothers you.

I have to confess I feel a tad guilty being snarky about Thanksgiving. After all, it is a legit American holiday. Thankfulness is something that is encouraged in the Bible. It’s even the topic of our theme at our church this month (and 90% of other churches as well). Shouldn’t I just write out my list of things I’m thankful for and then move on to writing some devotional for next month’s church newsletter, something along the lines of a great gift of shoes I once gave my mom? Everybody knows that when you're writing about Christmas, you have to include lyrics to at least one inspirational Christmas song.

I wish I could. But alas, I cannot. The truth (and my senior pastor) compels me to write this article.

I think the problem I have is that November comes along and we’re all expected to turn on our holiday spirit. First, we become nostalgic and thankful; then, we buy stuff for everyone we are thankful for. But if embodying thankfulness is something we should be doing, then I believe it is something we should be doing all the time. Perhaps the reason we struggle and merely tolerate family at Thanksgiving is because we do not really live out thankfulness the other 364 days of the year.

In writing his young apprentice, Timothy, the Apostle Paul had some good advice on this subject. He’s warning Timmy about ‘hypocritical liars’ who teach against getting married and eating certain foods. (That’s 2 strikes for the pro-Thanksgiving crowd.) But Paul says this; “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5). Just one verse earlier he said this thankfulness was to be given by “those who believe and who know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3).

So, do you believe? Then be thankful. But be careful about offering thanks for not being related to everyone at the Thanksgiving meal. I tried that once and it made for a very long car ride home.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Love Mondays

Mondays are notorious for being bad days. Not for me, mind you. Having a flexible schedule, I take Mondays off. Mondays are in my top 10 for favorite days of the week. I sit at home and catch up on ignored tasks from the previous 6 days. Sometimes I scroll through Facebook and laugh at everyone who is dealing with Monday head on.

I think people who talk about a 3-day weekend have it wrong. They always argue that we should work Monday through Thursday and then take Friday through Sunday off. That doesn't make any sense. People don't complain about Fridays. Let the world take Mondays off and watch as the world crisis just handle themselves.

Yesterday I was at home (because it was Monday) and my 4-year old suddenly asked (around 10:30) if she was going anywhere. When I told her no, she asked if she was sick. Apparently she's already learned that we have to have a reason to get a day off from the normal crazy schedule. And how is it that crazy schedules have become normal?

It seems to me that we who follow Christ should able to model this better for a watching world. After all, Jesus said, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" Matthew 11:30. God's grace should be enough for us to lighten our own loads.

I suppose this will mean reviewing the whole day-of-rest deal God gave us from the beginning. Instead of making this another legalistic way in which we criticize one another, perhaps we should take the day and hold on to it like we're getting away with something. Because we are.

Most of us live our lives so that we cry out like David in Psalm 22:2, "My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest." Granted, David probably had other issues he was considering at the moment, but you can pretty much throw a rock at an open Bible and hit a Psalm where David is flying high after spending some time with God.

Like this one: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" Psalm 51:12. Maybe you cannot get it on Mondays but find a time to stop, check out of the merry-go-round we call life, and find some rest. It will do your soul good.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's Your Story?

Recently I took my family to Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. They have fish and other animals from around the world. Perhaps none were more curious looking than the paddle fish from Malawi, Africa.

We also saw dolphins, sea turtles and beluga whales. The beluga whale, as far as I can figure, is the Quasimodo of sea life. Their 'tricks' consisted of swimming between trainers and eating lots of fish. (Great job, Mr. Beluga, you can swim!)

It was a good day, but the most interesting thing to me was how the trainers and the caretakers kept referring to the animal's story. Perhaps I am a neanderthal, but I've never considered the story of animals. But they shared with us about turtles who had escaped boating accidents. And of course, they shared how the beluga whales were trained to swim from here to there. Amazing. Now train them to swim back.

But it's not just animals that have stories. You have a story. I have a story. (One of my stories involves dinner after being at the Shedd Aquarium. Shhh, don't tell the fish.)

Through living together we share our stories. In a good setting, we allow our stories to impact one another and help us grow.

Even more amazing than that is that we are each part of a greater story. It's God's story. He has been sharing His story with us since growing a Garden. He's invited each one of us into His story by actually injecting Himself into the middle of the story He started.

I think the people at Shedd Aquarium have caught on to something. Stories engage us and draw us in. They know that a good story is something we want to be a part of. It's a good idea, but it's not original with them. God had the same idea from the very beginning.

So have you checked out God's story? It includes quite a list of characters, from Adam and Eve all the way up to you and me. But don't be confused. This is God' story. Listen to how the Apostle Paul described it when talking to the Jewish people about Abraham.

If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we're given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, "Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own. ~Romans 4:1, The Message

How does your story fit into God's story?

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I know it's been out for a while, but I like the Snickers commercial with Betty White. You can watch it here.

‘You’re not you when you’re hungry.’

Have you ever been really hungry? I think food is a funny thing. We have to eat. I know some people say that since you have to eat, it may as well taste good. On the other hand, rice and beans seem to keep people alive just as well as steak and lobster. I’m no vegan, but I just think we make a big deal about what we eat.

Perhaps the Snickers people are right. Maybe you aren’t you when you’re hungry.
John 4 opens with the familiar story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. I want to skip to the end when Jesus’ disciples come back with food. We’re told that they had stopped because Jesus was tired from the journey. Now the disciples have food and Jesus does not seem interested.

"My food is to do the will of God" John 4:34.

Food is what energizes us. It is what gives us the ability to go on. Jesus tells us that His food is to do God’s will. What’s your food? What drives you? I think most of you, because you’re quizzers and because you’re in a church, would like to answer that your food if God’s will. I’d like to challenge that.

Ever found yourself walking around the halls at school at such a pace that is guaranteed to get you close to that guy or girl you’ve been adoring from a distance? Ever pushed just a little harder in a game or sport because you couldn’t stand to let the other person win? Have you ever changed your schedule around to be sure to watch a certain show?

The list goes on and on. How many of you schedule your lives so you can excel at academics? Sports? How many of you work hard to make sure your Facebook status updates get the most ‘likes’? While there is nothing inherently wrong in doing our best in all areas of our lives, we do find out what our food is by what gives us the most energy.

If you do not have the same drive to get up for some time with God as you do for an all-nighter of playing Halo, then you know what your food is. (Or playing with Barbies and having pillow fights, if you’re a girl.)

Jesus says as much to people in John 6, after the feeding of the 5,000. I imagine that people had bragging rights for a while after that feeding. ‘Yeah, I was totally there that day. It was awesome. There was so much bread. I didn’t eat for a whole day after that.’ But Jesus says this. 'You're only looking for me because you want more food, like I'm some bread-making reality show waiting to happen. Call me Bread Boss, but I'm not interested' John 6:26-27.

So what are you hungry for? When you hunger for the things that God hungers for, you become the child that God has been desiring you to be. Jesus sums it up well in John 6:53-57. When you hunger for Jesus, it becomes His life in yours.

I guess it’s true; you’re not you when you’re hungry. That’s the point.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spiritual Anatomy

I'll admit it. I like to exercise. Plugging in the iPod or watching ESPN to distract myself from what I'm doing and I enjoy it. But I don't love it. I'm not rocking some unitard like Billy Blanks on Tae-Bo or yelling 'You can do it!' a la Tony Little. (That's right, Billy and Tony in the same sentence...gyms around the world just exploded.)

I can do it, but I'm not fanatical. There are plenty of mornings when the pillow wins against the gym. While I'm not over the top, I do take my exercise seriously, as you can tell by this picture I've included.

People do not believe this is a picture. I have new glasses now, but that's still me. Thus, most people do not realize how large I really am. More often when people see me, the tie I wear has a slimming affect. But I digress.

There's another form of exercise that is often hard to see and yet remains vitally important in my life. Here's how the Apostle Paul said it to Timothy;

Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:15-16

Diligence speaks to being disciplined in your exercise. Progress tells me we're building muscles. Perseverance tells me that it's not always fun or enjoyable. When we exercise physically, I'm told that our muscles literally rip apart. When they heal, they become larger. Why shouldn't the same apply to us spiritually?

It's not like we don't have many areas to work on. I know I do. But if you need the list of where to start, Paul's list will work just fine; speech, life, love, faith and purity. Go ahead and get started on these daily exercises. They're good for you. And as Tony Little says, 'you can do it.'

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Separating Ourselves

Separating ourselves as an individual from the group is something we have become too good at. It's something we learn as kids and perfect by the time we want to pass the blame.

Today, in a conversation that included sharks, babies, Heaven and unicorns, my four-year-old asks, 'Dad, what time are we picking up the kids?' Well, grab your Barbie purse and your ring of plastic keys, little girl, so we can go get them now.

I have also been in conversations with my oldest, now 9 going on 27, when she tells me, quite frankly, that sometimes children bother her. Oh, is that a fact? I guess I forgot that her childhood ended 5 minutes ago.

It becomes less amusing when experienced by adults who have this ironic ability to separate ourselves from the larger group we are clearly a part of. Nowhere does this happen more often than the church. And while I would love to have a long list to prove my point, I have but one. And while one may be the loneliest number that you ever saw, it is also a sufficient number in many categories; one God to serve, one Monster energy drink to make it through an afternoon, one wife to tell you how to do things right and one Teen Wolf. (Sorry, Jason Bateman, but it's true.)

And just what is my one point? Our use of the word they versus the word we. That's right, it all comes down to a word. See, children are obvious about their guilt. They are also obvious when it comes to the attempt to prove their innocence. Show me a group of children who all ate candy before supper and I will show you one child with chocolate on their face who says, 'I didn't do it.'

But as adults, we are a bit more savvy with our attempts to align ourselves with the esteemed and distance ourselves from shame. As a pastor, I can't tell you how many times I have heard some say, 'I am not sure what they are doing with children's ministries.' Or, 'Do you have any idea what they are thinking about for the Christmas services?'

First of all, they includes you. You and I are not only both people who follow Christ, but we belong to the same sub-genre of that species when we attend the same church. So we can no longer talk about what they are doing as if we are not complicit. What are you doing with the ministries of our church? What are you adding to what is done in the name of the Church?

Because when you add your voice to mine, all of the sudden the voices are combined to become our voice, not their voice. When that happens, we can no longer separate ourselves from what is happening. Unfortuately, though it is out of our control, this applies to the global church as well. Those crazy book-burners or those angry parade marchers or those weird street preachers are us.

They share our voice. So it seems to me that it is vitally important that we take a look at ourselves in the mirror everyday and ask how we are representing the body of Christ, all of us, together.