Thursday, September 25, 2008

Great Love Scouring

“You can’t run. You can’t just brush it off. It is everywhere. No matter how badly you’ve messed it up, God and his love are seeking after you. Absolutely nothing can take us from the Love that God has provided because of what Christ has accomplished.”
-Romans 8:39 (RSV)

Have you ever seen the movie Good Will Hunting? I have to be honest, it is a favorite of mine. Before I saw it, the idea sounded silly to me. I thought the idea was that people went around trying to find Goodwill; either things to do or literal Goodwill thrift stores. And somehow in the end they would eventually have hunted down and found whatever it is they were looking for. Ok, so I am a moron. All that aside, it is a pretty powerful movie that speaks to so many different things in the human narrative. My favorite part in the movie is probably the same as yours if you’ve seen it; the verbal fight in the bar. The one that starts and ends with Ben Afleck being a total ass; all be it funny. The one where janitor Matt Damon completely shows up and abuses the Harvard student about post colonialism. Yeah, it’s awesome.

However, as cool as that is, it is not the most powerful scene in the movie. What is incredibly moving to me is the scene near the end of the movie. Matt Damon is sitting in Robin William’s office and it really is the climax. Almost out of nowhere Williams tells Damon, “Will, it’s not your fault.” Will says, “Yeah, I know. I know.” But notice Williams doesn’t back down. Over and over again he tells him, “Will, it’s not your fault.’ And almost robotically, Damon says that he knows.
Eventually, Good Will Hunting cracks. He screams back at Williams, “Don’t tell me it’s not my fault!” He goes on to talk about the cigarette burns on his arms and his upbringing and how this could have somehow only been his fault. And while I cannot speak to this experience as I have been so incredibly blessed in my upbringing with my own family I have recently been convicted of another aspect or angle of this dialogue.

I think that oftentimes I find myself before the Lord with him telling me, “I love you.” And so often my response is, “I know.” The reality is that I treat the situation no differently than Will does. In my head, I know it. I have been brought up in it. It has been reassured to me by things and people whom I respect. And yet God keeps whispering, keeps reminding me, “I love you. No matter what or where, I love you.” And I find myself figuratively shouting back, “Don’t tell me you love me!. There is no way you could love me! Look at what I’ve done! Look where I’ve been!” And yet he continues, “I love you. My kingdom is about the renewal of all things. You are restored. You are made anew because of who I AM, and what I have done.”

I am more convinced than ever that this Kingdom is about love: endless, unconditional, sacrificial love. That the renewing of all things means we can look to our neighbor and tell them that we love them-in spite of all the injustices that have occurred in the past. This love is real and it comes to renew all things and all people. This kingdom love is not just about the reconciliation of us to God-but all things-us to each other, us to the earth. There is nothing that was not restored because of who Christ was and what he did on that cross.

And if this is the case, there might need to be a dramatic change in the way we are living. That reconciliation of all things means we might treat those who look differently than us as we would our families. That we might take care of the earth because God has given it to us on loan. That we might look after the poor and needy because we are to be Christ’s body and it is made clear that God hears the cries of his people.

See this love is extremely powerful. And once we have grasped it, the last thing we should do is try and hold on to it all ourselves. No, the Scriptures speak of a love that comes and overflows. A love that has no choice but to be passed on to those around us. This love of the Kingdom doesn’t differentiate between social classes or color barriers; educational or occupational status. Do you remember the call of the Angel; Good news for all. This love is not in limited supply! But we better act quickly because everyone is in need of it and we are slowly fading away.

And the best part? You cannot hide from this Kingdom love! It searches and scours for you wanting to find and be reconciled to and with you! So when he comes knocking with that whisper try not to just brush Him off with an ‘I know.” Look to live and drink deeply of this love. It fills you up like nothing else and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

First Class Service

“Now see how those in authority over the people use it to their own advantage. With you, us, it cannot be this way. It’s actually just the reverse. If you want to be regarded within yourselves you have to take the low road and serve. And if you want to win the prize, start by putting yourself at the disposal of others. Not even God came with intentions of lording it over others. As a matter of fact he came to wash feet, to serve, and to give his life up so that others might actually find it.”
- Mark 10:42-45 (RSV)

If you have seen a recurring theme in any of these it’s that a lot of my recent thoughts have come out of time I have spent in and around my work. A couple of weeks back we played a team in our league from Bermuda. It’s not particularly relevant to this thought at all actually. I just thought you should know I was in Bermuda. It was awesome.

With that said on the way back we also played a team in Massachusetts. We tied the game and it was of no real consequence until the following morning. We had a flight out of Boston Logan Airport at I believe 9:30 AM. We left our hotel at quarter to six to cover the hour and a half drive to Boston as well as time to check in and get to the gate. As we hit the inbound highways to the city we came to a complete and total stop. Nothing. For almost half an hour we went nowhere. As we finally inched closer and closer to the city it became quite apparent we might just miss our flight.

With 4 different rental cars it became the proverbial every man (van) for himself. It was a complete and total rat race for that flight back to Cleveland. As cars weaved and dodged their way in and out of traffic we all arrived pretty closely to each other at the curbside drop off. It seemed as though we would make it just in time to get on the plane.
The only problem is that the rental cars still needed to be returned. And the rental car return was quite a ways away from the terminal. There was going to have to be four people who took the chance at missing the flight.

Amazingly enough, the four drivers who had already suffered putting up with the traffic mess chose without even being asked to take the cars back. To attempt at making this a little shorter, two of the four made it back with no problem. We boarded the plane with the exception of myself and another member from our front office. We stood at the gate and pleaded with the airline representatives to wait for our two friends.

At the last second we were able to speed one of our guys through security and make it to the gate just in time. As he arrived the airline rep let us know that there was an extra first class seat available. Because of the obvious situation and stress already delivered to our newly reunited friend it was easily decided that he would get the first class seat. We boarded and as I watched him take his ridiculously more spacious comfortable leather chair I thought that he more than deserved it for his self-sacrifice and service to the rest of the team.

Oh, did I forget to mention – the other guy never got to the gate. We took off without him. He had to find a new flight, and subsequently a different ride home from the airport in Cleveland.

This drove me nuts for the whole flight and car ride back home. I just couldn’t figure out why there was this negative connotation with service. What happened to one friend made more sense: If you serve, there’s a reward. It’s just that simple.

And yet Christ, one who had no business taking a car back, let alone death on a cross knew that service itself was reward enough. That to serve others is completely and exactly in line with whom we have been created to be as image bearers of the Most High.

What has been most convicting is that so often I find myself offering first class service. Not so much tangible in the actual service I am giving but more so in what my expectations are for return.

Am I only serving for a First Class Ticket?

In a world where the best of the best Christian leaders were looking out simply and strictly for number one, even with their service, gifts, and actions, Christ’s example of love and self-sacrifice is what shocked and awed the people as much as anything. We seemingly live in a world today that is begging for the exact same thing. In the past people have wanted strict apologetics for the gospel. Did the flood actually happen? Where? How can I defend the Scriptures with other primary and contextual sources?

Now don’t misunderstand me, those are all important pieces of knowledge. But I think we are living in a world, especially in America that is begging for an apologetic of love from followers of Christ. I thought it was always that they would know we are Christians by our love; not our T shirts (I saw one of these…thought it was brilliantly subversively appropriately mocking).

If we have been called to be Christ’s ambassadors those set apart to show others how awesome a life lived with and in Christ are, how did we screw it up so badly, myself at the top of the list?! There does however appear to be hope. Hope that maybe not us, maybe not Adam, but that one of US got it right. And how cool to know that his service, his love has afforded the rest of us that first class seat. What a beautiful irony…

Monday, July 7, 2008

Unnecessary BodySculpting?

Then the Master craftsman proclaimed, “ Let’s build people just like we are; with ideas, loves and passions like ours. Let them take charge of all else created; the animals that roam the earth birds flying in the sky, and everything that swims in the waters. And so God made man just like himself, as he is. The way he is, he hand crafted each one of them, man and woman.
- Genesis 1:26-27 (RSV)

One of the main groups that work with us here in Cleveland is a company that produces a machine that helps muscle warm up and recovery. If you use the machine on your lower extremities for about 5 minutes, it is the equivalent of a full 20-30 minute warm up. Likewise using the device after a training session or workout is much quicker as well as more efficient than other forms of recovery like icing and taking recovery shakes.

I have become quite close with the core of the organization as they are trying to market and sell their products to professional teams and athletes like our own. They have shared some of the teams and organizations they are working with as well as some of the various shows and conferences they have attended. A few months back they took the product to the national bodybuilding symposium. They brought back some pictures from the event and I was literally stunned. The absolute enormity of the individuals who came by their booth absolutely shocked and awed me. These athletes had trapezius muscles that extend as far as my shoulders do! Throughout the conference I guess they would come and use the device. Although I wasn’t there, I can imagine it would be like when I go into Sharper Image. You know what I’m talking about? There is absolutely no way I am going to buy the $8,000 chair! I will however, enjoy the benefits while whoever I am with gets what they need. If you take a look at body builders it is quite clear they are experts at toning up and adding only what they want while they take everything away that they do not.

What is interesting to me is that it seems we in the church have become expert body builders as well. Looking around we have chosen to build up and add where we want but have no problems or issues stripping away things and places we don’t. Where on earth did we get this frame of mind? In the beginning weren’t we created as God-loved image bearers of the Most High? It seems today we have completely stripped people of this beautiful reality. We no longer have people who reflect YAHWEH and his beauty. Now all we have are Muslims, or deadbeats. Alcoholics or homosexuals. Ignorants or obnoxious individuals. We have completely and entirely stripped them of the beautiful title and reality with which they have been given.

This is seemingly exactly what Christ came and countered. Don’t get me wrong; I need to be aware of this more than ever. And while I want to merit Christ as the only WAY, I think that quite honestly a man like Zacchaeus would be seen as a modern day Muslim. The love and power of the Gospel is supposed to change, transform, and inspire not tear apart, belittle and strip down.

This then is why people run away from the church, isn’t it? A pastor out in California has written a book They Like Jesus, but they don’t like the Church. How has this happened? If we the BODY are supposed to be little Christs (Christians) why are so many people continually hurt by it? What have we done, What have I done that this is the case? Seemingly a Kingdom approach would not be as a friend once said, “Come join our alien society.” It should instead be a booming, “Come home!” If there is a place that people should be able to run to it is the body; not away from it!

It is not our job to pick apart and tear down. This is one body that has truly been sculpted by the master craftsman.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Kingdom happens in "we's"

“On a cool Friday night in May, we came together over some pizza and ice cream. We reminisced and shared stories with each other. Because I had to leave the next day, we kept on sharing until after midnight. “
-Acts 20:7

One of the cooler parts of my job is that I get to travel to different parts of the country for our games. Ok, so maybe travel is a loose term because we do it in 15 passenger vans. Regardless, a couple of weekends ago our team was playing out in the Washington D.C. area. Because I wasn’t playing the following day as well as the fact that I had in my possession one of the van keys, I drove the thirty or so minutes southwest into the nation’s capitol to see some great friends I went to College with.

Located in the absolute heart of the city, these three bachelors (one of which I played soccer with in college; the other two were the best and biggest fans in the program: they drove from Chicago to PA for ONE game!) lived in a 3-room apartment with another guy about a 15-minute walk from the capitol building. As far as cool stimulus goes, this place had it.

Joining us was another college teammate who was on a ministry furlough from Africa. He was in the area doing some fundraising as well as some catching up. And finally was another college friend whose heart for others and for the poor is literally unmatched. She is chasing after the kingdom with reckless abandon with no regard for things that have been or could be road barriers.

It was pizza night, and as I entered the apartment there were literally 6 or so different kinds of pizza ranging from Hawaiian to Deep Dish. After the obligatory hugs and hellos we made our way out to their back porch. Now the porch was hardly that. It was actually the concrete top of their garage that extended off the back of their apartment. It had a picnic table and some lights strung around it. It was perfect.

We stood, sat, listened to music, laughed, cried, and shared what had been going on since we had last seen each other. At one point in the conversation I was listening to yet another joke at our alma mater’s expense when the thought of God’s kingdom came into my head. You see, I think things like this too, are part of this revolutionary Kingdom of God!

I don’t think we were EVER meant to do this alone…

Again, this RSV above may not deserve a second mention but there does seem to be something about gathering together. Paul writes often about gathering together and breaking bread. There’s something almost magical about that isn’t there? Something about being together that more times than not brings out the best in who we are; in who we have been created to be.

It doesn’t always take a large community. As a matter of fact the New Testament says that as long as two or three are there then you’re cooking. I am actually continually amazed at how good we have become at not staying in touch. In a world where high school students text six thousand times a month! (No lie; I know one who did) And cell phones are like post it notes, we have become ever more lonely and isolated from creations best offer; each other!

In a society that suggests you have to eat or be eaten, it seems the kingdom calls us back and against such a notion. In a world where all that matters is number one, and only one, the King himself is constantly found in community; in and amongst his people. This certainly doesn’t mean it will be an easy thing. It may take long phone calls, or early coffees, or something entirely different. But that is what I am discovering this paradoxical kingdom is all about; something that may in fact take all of us in order to give back more than we could ever dream.

Friday, May 9, 2008

'IT' Appears in Strange Places

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like Irvante who, wearing jeans with old shinguards over them along with worn down untied Iverson basketball sneakers scored a goal for his team and erupted in wild celebration. “
-Matthew 13:44

I am currently living in Cleveland, Ohio and recently a friend of mine posed an absolutely phenomenal question:

Can anything good come from there?

I laughed when he asked because to be honest, I had to wonder myself. Recently recognized as the poorest major city in America in a 2004 survey, Cleveland’s inner city seemingly exemplifies just that.
The reason I am here actually is to work with a professional soccer team. The tag line of the team is “Serving the City & Changing the World.” Anyone who has any type of appreciation for sport or the world knows that soccer is king. Recently one of my best friends actually wrote a piece from his own experience showcasing how soccer does in fact explain the world. (Check it out: And although the game takes a backseat to Lebron and his Cavs here in Cleveland, we nonetheless try and use it as a tool to in fact serve the city.
Quite recently, we had the chance to work with the department of recreation to help organize well, some recreation. We had about eight of our players show up along with a couple front office staff. In all we were more than prepared for another one of our patented clinics.

What we didn’t know is that all 10 centers had teams coming, with at least 11 kids on each squad. What we really didn’t know was the reality of it all; that was until they showed up. It was like out of a movie. From every corner kids came running. From vans, busses, cars and on foot. Chaos is a polite term to describe the scene. Within minutes over 180 urban kids showed up running and screaming with no real plan of action or desire to do anything but cause complete and total madness. They succeeded.

What commenced was an amazing display of patience and love as we tried to organize nine different games amongst 180 children with reckless abandon. As games began our players and staff either took a team under its tutelage and called it their own or stayed at one individual field and monitored individual games as best as possible. As urban kids and pro soccer players found their way to fields (and I use the word field very lightly) I couldn’t help but think of all the other opportunities that have existed for me in the past. I could be working for some hedge fund, or coaching at a private school. I could be at a million “better” places. So many of my college classmates were eating at better restaurants, wearing nicer clothes and driving newer cars. And yet as I spanned across the uncut, unkempt surface of screaming children and ‘fronting’ teens I couldn’t help but think to myself…

This is the Kingdom of God!

Don’t hear me incorrectly. The Kingdom can and has been found in boardrooms, nice restaurants, and in fast cars. As a matter of fact, I am thinking we need to bring the kingdom there more than ever. But with that, I couldn’t help but think of what Luke says when he notes that Christ came to heal the sick. This was an example of the early church, this, as Matthew said, is what Heaven is like.

And isn’t that interesting. Whenever Christ teaches in parables with comparisons he notes that Heaven is LIKE something. Heaven is LIKE a man who found a field with treasure in it. Heaven is LIKE a mustard seed. In all these examples we are never told exactly what Heaven is. This could be because we have yet to see face-to-face, and anything less is simply a reflection. It could also be that Heaven isn’t here for just one place at one time or period of time. And while I don’t propose that the above RSV (Ryan Souders Version) is correct or deserves a second look it does seem to appropriately display this Kingdom Jesus came proclaiming. It seems that this kingdom shows up in the weirdest places, amongst the people that seem least likely to inherit anything; let alone God’s kingdom! And yet there it is; exploding through basketball sneakers and worn down jeans. Showing up in the unlikeliest of places.

One thing is for sure; this Kingdom isn’t all that easy to grasp. Quite the paradox, huh? In this instance it took ‘giving up’ a fantastic dinner at one of my favorite local restaurants. For others it has been at the expense of careers, families, or even their prized possession; fishing nets.

And while it may not always be a victory lap celebrating a dynamite finish, seemingly those who chase after this Kingdom always find it, and maybe more importantly are never disappointed with it.

Chasing after the Kingdom

     I want to welcome all 4 of you that will be visiting my new blog.  So I'm way behind the times in this whole 'blogging' thing, but I figured I would try and start one.  The idea behind all of this is trying to desperately chase after the Kingdom of God.  I will attempt to write and post and link things and ideas in any type of relation to this.  In no way do I consider myself to have answers.  In reality all I am wanting to do is begin and maintain discussions that a radical rabbi started nearly 2,000 years ago.