Friday, December 18, 2009

A Giving Embrace

When the time couldn’t have been any more perfect, God gave us exactly what we needed; His Son. Born human just like us, he came to set us free…” – Galatians 4:4-5 (RSV)

I still live at home. There it is; I said it. And while it isn’t the most chest puffing, nose tipped up statement to deliver, I have really enjoyed my time back at home. My parents have been awesome and I have loved to interact with them again but in a much different fashion then them simply disciplining me.

On most Saturdays when we both can, my dad and I will go to the gym and workout together. We usually grab some coffee afterwards and run some errands. I know, I know…a nice little Saturday, right? Equally, my mom and I will do stuff throughout the week. We will grab lunch of coffee, take care of some things she needs done or any other miscellaneous things you might imagine.

Last week, after we grabbed some breakfast we headed out to do some Christmas shopping at Oak Brook. After picking up the pre known items, we wandered a bit ourselves, browsing different stores and Christmas decorations. Quite honestly, I cannot remember all the places we looked or went to, aside from one.

As I entered a particular clothing store; one I happen to own some clothes from in all honesty; I noticed their ad campaign out front in the window. I saw two very attractive people smiling. The man was somewhat highlighted as he was giving this beautiful woman a box from the store he was representing. In front of both of them there was something written on the window. In big, shiny, silvery letters it read “EMBRACE GIVING.’

Walking through the clothing boutique I thought how much of a better ad campaign that was than so many of the others I had seen over the years. It has come to irk me a little that retail America feels we should care just as much about buying for ourselves during the Christmas season as we should for others. A classic one is the old ‘Is it really better to give than to receive?” Or, “Hurry in! Doorbusters! Buy it while there’s time!” Yeah, telling someone to embrace giving was far nobler.

Continuing to browse the store, I saw the same items that are usually there: scarves, jackets, shirts, and pants; nothing too special. And seeing as my brothers love to get dressed up in jeans and plaid shirts, it was a safe bet I wouldn’t be finding their gift anywhere in those premises. I walked out and headed up to meet with my mom. As I walked past the front of the shop, these beautiful people caught my eye again.

I turned and found myself just staring at them. I was focusing on the box. Though I will never know what was in the box this man was giving I can imagine it was an item I had just seen in the store; scarf, jacket, shirt, or pair of pants. My eyes fixated on the writing again, “EMBRACE GIVING’, and I thought to myself, is this what giving is all about? Is this the best kind of giving we can do for Christmas? Is this what we think the best kinds of gifts are?

Imagine finding yourself back in first century Bethlehem. On a cold, dark night you are out watching your sheep. Just like any other night you are being responsible for your flock, making sure to ward off any impending dangers when all of a sudden, LIGHT! Angels appear and you are scared to death. Floating in the middle of the sky, they tell you to not be afraid. They have come to deliver an important message to you! The angel declares, “I bring you good news of great joy, that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David a pair of new pants shall be waiting; they are the perfect size. This will be the sign to you; you will find a very handsome man in a sweater. He will be holding a box from your favorite store…”

Can you imagine? What if that first Christmas God had embraced giving as this billboard desired? What if he gave us the number one physical, material item we wanted most? It would fit perfectly or shine like crazy. Surely that was what these shepherds really wanted.

And yet, what does He do instead? He sends a baby; a smelly, needy, potentially goofy looking baby. You can’t wear it on Friday night. You can drive around and pick up girls in it. Quite honestly, God may not have even given us what we wanted in that moment.

This Christmas some of us may be feeling exactly that. While it may not be sweaters, pants, or ties that we are wanting maybe we are asking for some healing, a job, peace of mind, less stress, more family time or any number of other things. And while I don’t look to diminish those desires remember this Christmas that God gave, and continues to give us exactly what we need…

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

…God Himself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Group Dynamics

Go crazy when something awesome happens for your friend; but be prepared to suffer with others as well. Do it together; with grace and understanding. – Romans 12:15-16a (RSV)

As a part of my education, I attended a pretty small Division III school in the west suburbs of Chicago. While it was in every way a college, some of my classmates and friends attended high schools that had more students. There are lots of reasons students attend the school ranging from the academics, to the music program, or the general attitude and philosophies on campus. I, however, like many of my friends used athletics as a primary reason to attend.

Now, while sports are a pretty big deal there, on the grand scheme of things, they are also put in their place. Teams win conference and regional titles. Even national champions and all Americans are crowned. And yet, every athlete knows that when the last match is played as a senior, it’s time to move on. Have you seen those NCAA commercials? There are such and such number of college athletes…and most of them will be going pro in something else. Well the reality is, all of these student athletes will be going pro in something else. The percentage of athletes to graduate and go on to get paid for their sport is so small it may not even show up in a statistical analysis.

And yet recently there has been one. One recent graduate has found himself playing sports for his job. While the rest of us are throwing on suits and carrying briefcases, he is throwing on football pads and carrying a water bottle. After a dominant campaign in college, he was drafted into the NFL. After a TON of hard work and some opportunities, he found himself in an opening day 53-man roster.

The vast majority of his work was on special teams as he was positioned behind a long time veteran; one with several pro bowls to match his equally impressive Super Bowl rings. And yet, something happened. The veteran got hurt. His knee became a problem, and this student from a small, division III school was going to get his shot. But not just any shot…He was going to get to start against last year’s Super Bowl champion.

On this particular Sunday, I found myself in a bar downtown with a good amount of alumni friends; most of whom had played with this newly named NFL starter. As the game started there was an obvious buzz surrounding our tables and we all clapped as our classmate took the field. He looked big and fast, and most importantly like he belonged. He got in on some tackles and even created an opening to score on a kick off. But then, the unthinkable happened. As a pass came across the field, it was tipped by the opposing team. As it floundered in the air it settled directly into the arms of this one time division III athlete. 70,000 fans in the stadium went nuts; the noise only dimmed by the 17 or so people screaming in a bar outside of Chicago.

The game wore on and this down and out squad were giving the defending champs a battle. But it seemed clear that eventually this game would get out of hand. As the Pro Bowl quarterback marched his team down the field, his team found themselves inside the twenty-yard line, destined to score at least 3 points, and more likely 7. As he dropped back to pass, lineman swarmed in to make a play. As he scrambled outside of the pocket to make a throw, he was off balanced aiming for a teammate in the end zone. As the ball floated toward the middle of the end zone, a different pair of hands snagged it.

I started to stand up…

As I looked around I simply couldn’t believe the number of people in this small church there to celebrate the life of this man. He had died pretty young. And certainly it was unexpected. He played college football and loved to run around with his kids. And yet, as people poured out of the church the reality set in; my friend’s dad was not coming back. I had just sat through his funeral and was still in disbelief that this had happened. He was seemingly a healthy man and this was undoubtidly the furthest thing from his families mind.

Being a doctor, I had seen him for treatments in season and was always laughing as he shared a joke after one of our baseball games. A general jokester, he always had a smile on his face, and usually caused you to have one as well. He loved sports and he loved his kids.

The outside courtyard filled with friends and family, all dressed in black. My friend and his siblings sat nearby on a bench. Although the service was over and people were expected to leave, nobody did. The greeting line time period had passed and yet we sat there. Some cried with the family, others sat and fielded questions of why? And what next? Others just stood and looked kinda silly. It was odd though, no one seemed out of place. My mind drifted actually; back to the first century. I had read that at funerals mourners were usually hired. Most times, they were paid individuals who led the procession of the body. As they wailed above and beyond, it allowed the family to weep without worry, to grieve without embarrassment. In one sense, it seemed like my friend and his family had an entire group of mourners around. Friends and family who without saying such whispered, “It’s ok. Let it out. Don’t feel a shred of embarrassment. We’re here for you. We’re doing this together. All of us are sad.”

As the player headed out of his own end zone we could all see. It was him. The former captain of the ‘little all America’ squad was running for the opposite goal line with his second interception of the day. Every member of our little group was on their feet screaming at the top of their lungs, “GO! Common!” I found myself literally standing on top of a table, yelling at the top of my lungs. It was our friend who was tackled at the 8-yard line and yet we were all hollering and high fiving as if he had just done the same for our small town college. In the days to follow, reports were written and videos shown of this new player. Everyone around town here asked if people had seen it, lifted up their chests when they spoke about it. Everyone was just so happy.

And there seemingly lies the beauty of this community. Re read Paul’s letters; most of them are written to groups. We were never meant to do this alone! We are to exclaim and celebrate greatness as it happens within our walls. And likewise, we are to bear each other’s struggles, to be there for each other, to enter into their sufferings as Christ did ours. As we enter the Christmas season, hopefully this reminds you of the amazing humanity of Jesus. That he might literally ‘put on flesh and dwell among us,’ is the greatest example of entering in we can imagine. May you be blessed and you recall the best community rejoicing in the history of mankind.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What if?

It really is a remarkable thing. He showed up with skin-looked just like one of us. And yet angels knew him; he had been talked about from generation to generation; and was at last seen away in glory.' -1Timothy 3:16 (RSV)

Ok, so there has actually been so much lately that I have wanted to write about. However, it all came to a head at about 12:30 AM last night in Denmark. So while many of you were just getting off of work and figuring out how to spend your long weekend, I was sitting in Spreckers. The Danish pub, located right in the middle of Copenhagen’s ‘city center’ was packed out as patrons enjoyed a pint (or two, or three, or…) and listened to some live music. I found myself there with some students who are studying abroad in Berlin. (What is interesting is that the kids go to Wentworth College in Boston. They are actually in the same conference as Gordon where I have coached.)

These are some good guys and we hit it off fairly easily because they love Boston sports. They are all from the northeast. And while it may not be such a passion in my life (Boston sports anyway), I found myself conversing with them on a number of issues and topics. We had spent the better part of the evening together including a quick spell in Tivoli Gardens (google it) and found ourselves as Spreckers where they could enjoy the cheapest beer they could find amongst the other pubs. There was actually a 2 for 1 happy ‘hour’ that went the duration of the evening.

Anyway, we sat there and talked about a number of things from sports, to their architechtual studies, families, and so on as American music blasted over the loud speakers. After a little while a band came in to jam out and cover some classic American hits. Within the span of about an hour we had…Michael Jackson, Bob Marely, Bob Seager, The Fugees, Carols Santana, Wycliff Jean, and Eric Clapton. For the bar’s sake, I hope they weren’t getting paid. This was a simple three-man band; a drummer, bassist, and a lead guitar player/vocalist. It was not pretty. Notes were off pitch and the timing was off. I don’t really know good music. But I certainly know bad music. And we had found it. Nonetheless we sat and listened to each song proclaiming a winner to the mate who could first appropriately identify the song they were trying to play.

Then all of a sudden a song came on that I had definitely heard before. We all had. As I sat and listend intently it was a song that actually has caused so much confusion in my own life. The song: What if God was one of us? To be honest, I’m not exactly sure who wrote it. I remember first hearing it as a middle school kid and thinking it was quite cool. I liked the beat, the lyrics seemed Christian and overall, I just liked it. However, on more than one occasion when it came on Christian youth workers I was with quickly switched it off and moved to another song. I guess I never really questioned it. I trusted them and figured there was something in the lyrics I just didn’t hear or understand.

And yet as this song played out what happened next was very interesting. Up to this point, the band had done a solo act. The played every note and sang every word. But here the crowd was joining in. 99% of the group spoke Danish and yet EVERY person knew at least the chorus to this tune: ‘What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.” And I just sat there and listened; watched intently. At this point my new friends had joined in the singing and had all commented that this was a great song.

The music continued as sections were done by an accapella crowd and still others by the harmonies of the band. Louder and louder it got and this seemed like far more than a drunken crew ecstatic about being at Cheers. No, this seemed like a cry out for an answer. What if God was one of us? What then would we do? How would we talk to him? Would He impact our lives? Now I know I am reading into this, but I really believe this was the case. A simple 3 minute song got dragged on for about 5 more chorus repeats and quickly became around 7 minutes.

And as we neared the end my mind was racing as I found myself wanting to shout out. Here I was, somewhere between Good Friday and Holy Saturday knowing, possessing, holding the answer all of these people so longed to know.

I wanted to cry back, “But you see, HE was! HE IS!”

To these people however, it was just a question, a ‘what if’ interruption in their next sip and their inevitable walk home. Ironically it had become as much a formality as the next couple days off would be-holiday for holiday’s sake; nothing more.
So I sat and ached. In what I know has not been the only time in my life I ached for these people to know that in fact God was, God is one of us. I don’t know that he’s a slob, or he’s trying to get home on a bus. The more I thought about it, because of this weekend,

He is really the one driving the bus Home.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Little Person, Big World

I have just arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark! After several hours on a couple of planes I find myself sitting with my computer trying to take it all in. For your visionary needs, I am sitting on a red couch in the midst of a great room in a hostel called 'Sleep in Heaven." I couldn't make that name up. I am here, believe it or not, on business. I am trying to set up all of the necessary items (lodging, food, transportation, etc) for the Bridges F.C. tour here in July.

As it stands, I am exceptionally tired as I was unable to sleep on the plane for reasons I am still unsure of. Usually I sleep so well on planes. It is 2:16p here, but only 6:16a back home. I am doing my best to stay awake for the next six hours though I imagine it will be a dreadful task.

In the meantime, I have gone on a little walk both to exchange some money in the local currency (Danish Krona; 5.46 to the USD if you were curious) and to explore a little. To be quite honest, I'm not entirely sure where I am. I just know I am about a 20 min tram ride from the airport and about 2 tram stops from Downtown Copenhagen.

But enough of the babbling - as I wandered this afternoon I was absolutely floored (as I often am in new cultures) to see the both the amazing number of people as well as interests that I was able to survey as I walked up and down the street. I saw Christians (fish on car) and Muslims (garb). Blacks, and whites. Men and Women. Children and old folk.

It was during this walk that I was opened, though not for the first time, at how big this earth is. At to how many different people inhabit and call it home. I was shocked at the number of buildings, shops, and other types of places that while are so new to me are no more than commonplace to many.

In all honesty, it caused me to step back and thing of the magnitude of our God. As I saw one man get out of his car it would be my guess that we are immensely different (race, age, religion, demographic). And yet I couldn't help but think of the very simple truth that God knows his name. I certainly do not. I probably never will. But that does not mean God does not, and has not labeled every hair on his head.

All to say I am both nervous and excited to see what else is in store on this trip. I just felt a need to write how small I felt on an immensely larger earth in the hands of an even still immensely larger God.