Thursday, December 23, 2010

Don't Think We Had That On The List

Every piece of weaponry; anything that has the faintest spell of blood has nowhere to go but to ashes; it’s all going to be juice for the flames. Today, my friends…a child is born. (Isaiah 9:5-6a RSV)

It is definitely Christmas time. I came back home to Chicago around Thanksgiving and have been here ever since. But there are always unique things about Christmas, right? More family is around, things are busier, more things to be eaten, errands to run, etc, etc, etc. This year I find myself in a position not unlike other years. My Christmas shopping is last minute. And while that in and of itself isn’t a huge deal, this year it has become one. As I have gone back to each of my family’s list (and checked it way more than twice) I haven’t been able to find (or fund) any of it!

So what have I done? Well for starters, I have included receipts in each and every gift. But more specifically, I have more or less taken a stab at what I think they might like based on what I know about them and what they might like. As brilliant as this might sound, the idea wasn’t all mine. I kinda stole it.

When I was doing some Christmas shopping I ended up in a favorite store of mine. Does this happen to anyone else? Surely I can find something for my brother who shares almost no interests with me in one of my favorite stores! Please tell me I’m not the only one. Anyway, there I stood and one of the many Christmas displays read the following:

“Find gifts to surprise and delight.’

Brilliant I thought. I could certainly do the first half of that! Here’s to hoping the second would follow. So this Saturday evening, I will hand my family members items that they will most likely be surprised by. What they open from me will not have been on their lists.

As I continue to think about these surprise gifts my mind wanders back to the original Christmas gift. What has become the biggest catalyst for our understanding of gift giving today was the biggest surprise and delight we could have never guessed.

Isaiah 9 marks all of the things that the Messiah will one day possess or do. Among those are that the government will rest on his shoulders, he will be mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace. There will be no end to his reign.

This was THE list! Check it as many times as you want; this is what needed to happen. Israel had seen plenty of kings before and they all did similar things and had similar short fallings. King David himself led the Israelites into military victory against the Amalekites, Ammonites, Edomites, Moabites, Philistines and Syrians (2 Samuel 8). Others still had established peace (1). Some were even considered to be a father (2). Still other leaders took the Israelites out of exile, Moses most notably.

But none of their kingdoms lasted forever.

And so with great anticipation, the people wait. And wait. And wait. They wait for the day when a Goliath sized man is a part of their tribe. A time when it is clear that Israel will beat down everyone who dares enter. A time when this Messiah will establish his throne, making the Jews the top dog.

This King will have walked where Angels have. This King will come out of nowhere to bring peace, through victory. This King will lead the rightful heirs out of exile and back to their rightful place. Make no mistake, you will know this King.

Enter the surprise.

The books were right; you will know this King. As a matter of fact the angels tell us exactly how you will recognize him and where to find him: “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

A baby?

A small, innocent, smelly, not strong at all, entirely dependent baby? This is going to be THE King?!?! Surely you are kidding! It makes complete and total sense that there is such struggle amongst people to believe that this was the Messiah. It wasn’t how things had ever been done before. Surely it wasn’t the fulfillment of the prophecies!

But this surprise was just the beginning of so many more to come. This King wasn’t going to do it like anyone else had. This King would establish peace through sacrifice. This King would return his people from exile. Not to the land they desired; but to a God who desired them. This King, would sit on the throne…forever.

And so this Christmas, whether you are surprised or not by what sits under that tree for you, be reminded of a God who surprised; who showed up, no, who still shows up in the ways and places we wouldn’t have ever guessed. May the gift of the true Messiah, Jesus Christ be both a delight and in the forefront of your minds as you celebrate this year.

1. Peace throughout the reign of individual kings had been established through military triumph. It has been called “Peace Through Victory.” Your king (and his armies) would take over individual territories, lands, or peoples and establish his own peace. The only problem? Peace would exist only so long as you weren’t taken over by someone else. Peace was really just a king of the mountain type game.

2.) To this day area in other parts of the world will refer to their ruling king as father. Someone who has the people's best interest at heart. Someone who, like a father, watches after and protects them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Coastal Transcript

Here is the transcript I worked from when I spoke to the Coastal Carolina Men's Football Team a few weeks back.

Well, as I thought about all of the different things I could get up here and share, a few ideas came to mind. For starters, you don’t play until 1:30 tomorrow. So having me coming in to fire you up would be kinda dumb; to give an inspirational speech that makes you want to run through a wall, when the reality is you have to go to bed soon.

So I am not going to do that.

I thought about standing up here and delivering all of these football analogies. Talking about how in life sometimes you have to hit someone, or real men go for it on fourth down. But as I thought about that, the ideas were all really cheesy and there was an even bigger problem – I’ve never played a down of organized football in my life.

So I am not going to do that, either.

Finally, I thought I could sit up here and lament with you guys about a less than ideal season thus far. Talk about teams that I have been on that haven’t gotten the results we wanted; bad breaks we suffered, or calls we never got. But this isn’t meant to be a pity party, so that went out the window.

Instead I thought we might take a look at the reality you are facing. That though things haven’t been ideal; maybe not the way you had originally planned them, you still face a task at hand. And in order to approach it appropriately you need to know what that task is, what’s expected of you, and how to move forward accordingly.

The question then becomes how are you going to respond? How are you going to deal with what has been put in front of you.

Now, if we are to deal with this task, we need to know exactly what it is and whom we are doing it with.

FIRST of all, though it has become clichéd in athletic circles I honestly believe it is the job of a team to become the best team by the end of the season that it possibly can be. And in this, it is up to you whether or not that happens. Now, regardless of what has or what will happen this team has a unique opportunity that no Coastal team has had before and no Coastal team will ever have again. The men that comprise your 2010 roster will never again be recreated. Sure, the majority of guys may come back. A high percentage of starters might return from year to year. But this specific squad will only exist for one year. Seniors will leave and new freshmen will join. Certain things might get re created but you only exist in whole for one season.

Additionally, you love to play football. I know you do. You may be frustrated with results, playing time, teammates, or anything else, but there is something about this game that you fell in love with. Have you seen the movie The Rookie? It’s a baseball movie, but I think there is an incredibly cool picture painted in it. As things aren’t going well for Jimmy Morris in Triple A Durham he makes a phone call to his wife to tell her he is coming home. Soon after he walks to a nearby little league field and takes in a game from beyond the fence. He sees kids laughing and playing, enjoying the game. The camera pans back to him and we see him smile before the scene cuts out. The next day we see Jimmy Morris approach his teammate and ask, “You know what we get to do, Brooks? We get to play baseball.” See, that was it for him! He LOVED to play the game. There are countless other movies and stories like it. When THIS is over, there is no going back. Forgive me for being the old “I”m telling ya…” guy in the room, but believe it! Ask your seniors? Where’d the time go, guys? Tomorrow, you have the opportunity to go out and play the game you love. And you get to do it alongside your teammates, your roommates, and your best friends. You get to represent your school, your coach, your families, and yourselves. I cannot myself think of anything better than that.

SECONDLY, if we are going to deal with the task at hand, we have to know what is expected. Now…I cannot answer that for you, but I do know this. Back in August, and probably back in December last year, you each made a commitment to Coastal Football for the 2010 season.

Whether it was committing to play here, showing up to off-season meetings, or checking into camp this summer, you all made an initial and continuing commitment.

I understand those commitments may be what I like to call “Coffee Conversations.” Do you know what I’m talking about? Things that sound great in theory; over a cup of coffee on a nice afternoon. For me anyway, I love to talk about how I am going to work hard, or how great things are going to be when I am sitting on my ass. That’s easy. Anyone can sit there and dream of how things are going to be.

But it takes a man, one who is in the arena, who has been knocked down and kicked in the teeth, to continue striving after the task. That shows commitment.

In front of you is a choice. I have seen your results. There have been some pretty tough losses. Are you a team, are you an individual who is going to cash in his chips, or put them all in?

But let me tell you, this decision extends well beyond your football team. Too often in life, the realities don’t exactly line up with the dream. How do I know? On the outside, I’m a pro soccer player who walked in with a cute girl and seem to have it together, right? The reality? I get paid almost nothing, live paycheck to paycheck, am simply friends with this great woman, and have no real idea what life looks like for me after soccer.

But that’s life. Hopefully most of you will be married some day, with a family. At some point no matter how good you are you will probably be in a different job. And I can promise you at some point or another all of those are going to suck. I promise. Your wife won’t look hot, your kids will annoy you and your boss will be an idiot. Trust me, it will happen.

Then what? Do you walk out? Do you quit your job? Your wife? Your kids?
And I know what you are thinking. But Ryan, that is life. This is just football. And I tell you what, how you act now is exactly how you will act then. Are you a man who is going to run away from the problems, or towards them looking to get things fixed? In front of you is a perfect opportunity that you are a man, a group of men that exemplify the latter.

AND FINALLY, if we know what the task is, who it’s with, and how committed we are to it, the final question becomes, how then do we go about completing it?

Now, you can say whatever you want to about this book. You can say it’s inspired. You can say it’s dumb. You can say anything in between. But I will tell you this, there is some good stuff in here. Whether or not you view it as a religious book doesn’t matter. There is wisdom in here.

I want to read you a section from Philippians. Maybe you have heard it before. Now, to give a bit of context, the speaker Paul has basically started a new job. He has all of these old credentials that one might be worried about. Things that might keep him from occupying his position in this new vocation. But his response is amazing. He says in Chapter 3, starting in verse 13: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize…”

I don’t believer there was football in Phillippi, but if there was, what a pre game speech Paul has just given!

Look at what he says! He addresses the group as brothers! Now, if he sees them as brothers he must understand that they are in this together; not unlike the group of men sitting in this room. He knows it must be done together.

Next he admits that he doesn’t have it all together. He hasn’t accomplished everything that there is to accomplish. No one in here would make that claim either; I hope.

He goes on…Forgetting that is behind…

There it is. How do you continue to deal with the task at hand? In complete and total freedom.

There is a straining that is necessary, but Paul is very clear. Forget what is behind. Press on to what is next.

The men in this room have the opportunity to press on. To, in complete and total freedom, forget about what has, or hasn’t been and to, as one team, press forward together toward the goal, towards the prize.

And I for one, completely and totally believe it is possible. Now, it’s up to you guys.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Kingdom Pursuit

'Let me put it this way. In my Kingdom, if you go running off…I’ll drop everything; that’s right everything, in order to come and find YOU.' Matthew 18:12 (RSV)

One of the cool things I was able to be a part of this past season with the Eagles was just a simple team retreat before the season began. We went out to a supporter of the club’s ridiculous property in South Carolina to hang out, and do some other team activities. One of the more unique opportunities while we were there was to carry this absolutely massive cross a considerable distance as a team. I know this doesn’t sound difficult, but trust me…it was.

Now, I was fortunate enough to not be a part of last year’s team. Well at least as far as the morning team activity consisted of. The team got up early and met outside of their sleeping arrangements and played a game entitled “PURSUIT.” In short, the team would take off one by one with equal spacing in between each guy. The goal was to run the covered distance (it was either a mile or two, I don’t recall. Either way, it sucked) and you were to pursue and chase down a teammate, trying to pass as many teammates as you could by the end, with repercussions for being passed, etc.

Additionally, I have been living here in Charlotte for a little while and have had the incredible privilege of making some amazing friends. The majority of them are believers whose life example, friendship, and accountability are absolutely amazing. It is a unique group in that people here are in all sorts of different walks and places in life and yet it has no real bearing on the community. We have married couples, soccer players, medical workers, singles, office traders and all other kinds of classifications you could put onto someone.

What has been really interesting to me though is the inner workings of single people here. Because of the teams in the summer and the general community being in their mid twenties there are a fair amount of single people who have similar passions and interests. And while it is done very well and tastefully, I have found one aspect of it has particularly tuned my ear to it.

There is a code word here in Charlotte. One that everyone knows and will tune anyone else in to know exactly what is going on. The word: pursue. It is amazing! It is the default word everyone around here uses when describing a relationship that might be starting, how one started, or the misuse or judgment of one gone awry.

It is usually used in conjunction with males and their intention with women. You might hear someone say, “Yeah, he was very intentional about his pursuit of her.” Or you might hear a woman say, “I just really want to be pursued by a (certain) guy.”

In general, you get the idea. It seems that there is much ado about nothing until the P word is thrown out. Until a guy is declaring his intentions as pursuit, there is at best cloudiness.

I do find it a bit funny. It is literally like a magic word.

And while I laugh, understand I do think it is a good thing. The Scriptures speak very clearly of guarding your heart, as it is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). Song of Solomon cautions not to arouse love until it so desires; or until it is ready (2:7, among others). So in this sense, I totally buy in. There shouldn’t be a whole lot of middle ground; there are intentions or there aren’t. This isn’t something to be messed around with.

Yet, this pursuit, of a woman by a man only seems to mirror that which is so available; that which we all long for amidst our own daily pursuits.

I have found myself pursuing a woman, a job, a title, a position, a friendship, a grade, and a number of other things. And as I think about what that has meant it seems to me anyway, an almost agonizing rejection of self for whatever it is I am pursuing. Haven’t you been there? We lose sleep, don’t eat, train without stopping, study til we fall off our chairs in order to obtain that which we are pursuing.

But for myself anyway, in the midst of my own pursuit I end up running from that which is pursuing me; or should I said He that pursues me.

There is a song by the band Third Day called “Just to be with You”. It is one of my favorites. The lyricist speaks in a tone as if God himself were singing to us. He uses some clichés that are usually said of a man pursuing a woman. He talks of a man that would climb a mountain just to be with the one he loved. Or another man, who would cross the sea, just to be with the one he loved. He goes on, “how many times has he broken that promise? It has never been done.”

He’s right! I know men who have been head over heels for a woman and yet none of them literally climbed a mountain. None crossed a deep sea.

Now as we know Christ didn’t do that, he pursued us in such a manner that led him to the cross. That his pursuit knew and understood how messed up we were; how much it would take for us to be reconciled to him. And yet he did it.

But not only did he do it, he also continues to do it.

This is my biggest struggle.

We serve a God who pursues us. And he does it in such a way that is greater than anything we have ever pursued in our life. And all we have to do is give up; give in.

As one who is always pursuing I will be honest and say that is difficult for me; very difficult. Yet as I continue to run, continue to pursue whatever it is I am after, I truly believe that if I slow down and quiet myself just enough I will be able to hear rustling behind me; accompanied by a faint voice calling my name; desperately wanting me to come back to the pen; to join the other 99.

It is in this location that our pursuits can ease. In the midst of our Shepherd, grades, jobs, titles, spouses, none of it matters compared to being in the midst of the Shepherd who left everything to come after and pursue us.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Kingdom Voice

"Don't worry. It will be real quick. I'll be back to get you in no time. I won't ever forget you; I've got your back." -John 14:3 (RSV)

My schedule these days is all over the place. To paint a bit of a context picture you need to know that Davidson College is about 30 miles directly north of the center of Downtown Charlotte. Now, where the Eagles train and play, and where all of my personal goalkeeping training is located is about 25 miles south east of the center of Charlotte. I think you can begin to see the problem. I am actually renting two places right now; one in the Davidson area with my friend, teammate, and colleague Greg. The other is in SoChar (ok, so it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it).

On any given day I could find myself in either or both places. It has been a little annoying at times, but the benefits of both make it worth it more often than not. But as you might imagine it is tough to be in two places at once. I use multiple gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants. In house, I use different silverware, tables, and showers. There have been several occasions where I have woken up and not known where I was.

A remarkably unfortunate consequence of this has been my church attendance. It is a little random because of my training schedules, as I have really adopted Monday as more of my traditional Sabbath day. When I am able, I absolutely love the church I attend in south Charlotte. If you know me, you know that is a borderline miracle. I am an idealist to the core. It explains (though doesn’t excuse) a lot of me. As I wrote earlier, the fact that I am still here and love it says a lot.

Because of my weekend, I was unable to attend church in the south. I chose to go to a church closer to where I was yesterday morning based on the recommendation of another friend of mine. Now, this is no ordinary friend. He actually coaches with me. He used to play for the Eagles. He is just a step or two ahead of where I am at right now. His wisdom and insight have been immensely helpful. He and he wife are just awesome. And his kids are really, really cute.

This particular Sunday Greg and I decided to go to different services. I was looking to be up a little earlier and we both agreed it would just be different to attend alone; get a chance to really worship in solitude.

So I left my place a little early to allow myself time to find the church, and to grab some coffee of course. As I entered the building I looked around for the entrance to the auditorium. I really enjoyed being in a new place where I could walk around without anyone knowing me.

As I turned the corner, there he was. “Heeeyyyy, Sooouuudddddsss. What’s up, buddy?” It was my ‘step or two ahead’ friend with his youngest kid Keegan in hand. I certainly didn’t expect to see him but watched as he dropped off Keegan at the nursery. We went and freshened up our coffee and grabbed a seat in the auditorium.

Now, after all that prep reading you’re thinking this must have been the greatest service ever. There was something so revolutionary that I had to get it up on the blog less than 24 hours after it took place.

Not really.

Great service. I’m a big believer that anytime we really get in the Word, everyone wins. Though there was a larger passage drawn from my attention was particularly focused to James 3:16, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” We’ll save that for another entry however.

As church ended we walked out to grab his kids. As we entered the ‘kids area’ chaos was ensuing as each parent tried to get to the door to grab their kids from their respective classrooms.

What happened next absolutely amazed me.

As we approached the classroom, my friend was talking to me about some soccer stuff. He doesn’t exactly have a quiet voice. We were a good fifty feet away and as I glanced at Keegan’s classroom door, I saw him come around the corner and start to try and climb the fence that separated the classroom from the lobby.

Make no mistake, he had heard his father. He knew that Dad was on his way.

As I looked into the classroom, Keegan wasn’t the only one doing this. As different kids’ parents came to get them they approached the gate, some screaming to get back to their parents. Some tried to climb the fence. Still others tried to squeeze through it. They were going to try and do anything to get into their parents arms.

It’s the simple things, isn’t it? An eighteen-month-old kid revealed to me in a new way a secret of the Kingdom. Jesus tells his disciples this. In John 10, verse 27 he says, “My sheep know my voice.”

We see in other parts of the scriptures that when his sheep hear his voice, they will do anything to get to Him. Many traveled for days. Others crushed through large crowds to touch him. Still others climbed trees just to get a glimpse. There was even a group crazy enough to cut a hole in someone’s roof.

It seems as though when people come into contact with Abba, they continue to search for him, continue to wait for Him. They do any and everything possible to get to him. There is nothing that will stop them from trying.

And what is even more beautiful is that our Daddy does exactly what my friend did yesterday morning…

He calmly went over and exclaimed, “There’s my boy! I missed you buddy!” He reached down and picked him up. He grabbed him and pulled him close.

Dad was there; everything was going to be ok.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Kingdom Health

“We’re all in this together. We’re in the same boat. Just keep doing what you’re good at. If it’s rowing, row. If it’s adjusting the sail, hurry! Looks like the wind is changing. If you’re more of a course charter, here…grab a map!” Romans 12:6-8 (RSV)

I love to water ski. I’m not particularly good, but I absolutely love it. I take that back, I love any water sports; swimming, boating, tubing, skiing, wakeboarding, anything. I love the water. I have actually acquired the nickname of ‘the fish’ from my group of friends back home. I am always up for a swim or a trip on the lake.

A few years back my group of best friends, which can only be called ‘the guys’ went to one of their lake houses up in Wisconsin. It was to be a complete and total guys hangout weekend. Lots of eating, hanging out on the lake, poker, cigars, fighting and talking of sports. A man’s weekend if you will. (1)

After a quick boat ride and dinner Friday, we had a late night poker tournament. After a long, grueling, drawn out process, I defeated the heavily favored Mark Tibbit in a heads up battle for the title. Does this have much to do with the story? No. I just thought you should know I was at one time a poker champion.

Anyway, after Blake’s drive for 12 pancakes Saturday morning, we went back out on the boat for some skiing while Blake lay on the dock in horrible pain from grotesque pancake intake. As I went to ski I decided though it has been a while I would get up on two and drop to one so I could slalom. I did, effectively and continued to stroll around the lake. As I took a turn heading back to the center of the lake I started to lose my balance. I rocked and swayed and tried to stay up. My feet started to move forward and in response I threw my head forward trying to regain balance. Bad idea. I felt what I would describe to this day (which is saying a lot) as the worst pain I have experienced in my life.

Long story short, I ripped my hamstring in half. Instead of tearing it at the origin or insertion (fancy kinesiology word. Degree at use.) I split it right down the middle and it rolled to either side of my leg. Pretty awesome.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on the dock with Blake. We were both in exceptional pain.

I sat there and thought about how I had just ruined my college athletic career. I was due to report for baseball as a freshman in 4 weeks and there was no chance this was going to be healed in less than 6.

When I got on campus I limped around and did as much as I was either allowed or capable of doing athletically.

In another twist of God’s hilarity (which would take way to long to explain here), I ended up playing for the soccer team. I know, I know, such a huge skip of events, but just trust me for your time’s sake it happened.

As I started to train with the soccer team it was VERY apparent I was not healthy. I couldn’t sprint (At all. Like, even for me.), couldn’t dive correctly, couldn’t really do anything the way it should have been.

Guys on the team kept telling me to go see the trainer, but I refused. Every time I went into the training room it was packed. And as far as I could tell it was packed with people who played lots of minutes. I literally said to guys, “Nah, I’m fine. I don’t even play. That’s for the guys who are getting minutes.” They tried to disagree and debate with me but I would have none of it. We didn’t have a trainer at my high school. As I understood it trainers (and subsequently their time) was only for the guys on the team that mattered; only for the ones who contributed.

All the while, my leg got no better. As a matter of fact scar tissue was building up from continuing to try and play. Thus making it worse.

What’s funny is that looking back I couldn’t have been more wrong. As a rostered member of the soccer team I had every right to use the training room and its capabilities. Not only was I allowed to, it was encouraged. I was supposed to get back to 100% as soon as I possibly could. It didn’t matter whether I was playing or not.

I feel like that is us sometimes when it comes to the church. We think that certain things are only for ‘super Christians.” That if we didn’t grow up in a Christian home, or go to a Christian school we aren’t as good. That if we aren’t a vocational missionary or a pastor we are somehow less valuable to the church.

I have struggled with this for years. As a matter of fact, I still do. I struggle with what vocation should look like and what being a believer in the workplace means.

And yet in the midst of this strife, this tension the Apostle Paul’s fights this with gusto. He compares us, in the church, to a body. He notes that no one piece is more important than another. That each part must do what they are gifted or called to at that particular time.

For me, it was to get healthy. For me, it was to get better at soccer so that one day I could be the one playing. For me, it was to encourage and spur on my teammates to good deeds already prepared for them.

God’s picture is most often different than the world’s and I find it is more than not different than my own. As I wrote about earlier, Paul encourages the Ephesians that ‘they already are…” There is no amount of wins the church of Ephesus can pick up to earn a spot on God’s team. They already have it.

We already have it.

And with it, kinda, sorta like the training room, we get everything that comes along with it. We are a part of the family. We are brothers to the Second Adam. He is the first fruits of a new creation that we are apart of.

And the additional good news, at least for me and my hamstring, is that this family comes with a great doctor. One who has come to heal the sick.

(1) Important side note: I do not in any way, shape, or form want to exclude the mention of Blake ‘two-time’ Nystrom and his incredible pancake showcase at the Copper Kettle. Eating 12 plate sized pancakes, Blake put his name on the map, literally; for the second time. I have never been so impressed with an eating display. Well done, Blake.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kingdom Fanatics

“In this Kingdom, there is neither Bear fan nor Panther supporter, Cub fanatic nor Cardinal enthusiast. There is no Country twang verse Heavy Metal, Modern art against Medieval appreciation for you are all one in Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (RSV)

I think before I continue I need to make something clear. All of my friends in Charlotte understand this, but I need to be sure that everyone does. See just because I live in Charlotte now, just because I left Chicago for ‘greener pastures’ doesn’t mean I despise the city of Chicago. Quite the contrary. Ask anyone around me these days. I have been in fights with people about cities they think are better. (They are wrong). I LOVE Chicago. I think it is the best city in the world.

At this point in time however, it is just best that I am from Chicago, not necessarily that I am in it.

Anyway, I love Chicago. And maybe more importantly, I love Chicago sports teams. There is nothing like being at Wrigley Field to see the most storied franchise in sports take the field (and lose.) Chicago is where Michael and Co. hoisted 6 championships and established the greatest team in NBA history. Though a bit more bandwagon, the United Center was absolutely rocking all spring as the Blackhawks cut ties with their 49 year Stanley Cup drought. And I think SNL speaks loudly enough for the city’s fall team:

Needless to say, Chicago sports are the biggest thing I miss about being in Charlotte (next to amazing family and friends…ok it was a bit of hyperbole. It’s what I do.)

So when DAAAAA BEARS come to town to play the Panthers, you go. You plan weeks in advance and no matter what, you go to the game.

So yesterday I headed down to uptown Charlotte (yes, they call it uptown here. It’s ‘more positive.’ Yeah, I know. Lame.) A couple of my friends met up at one of their apartments not too far from the stadium. One was actually a Bears fan and the other two? Well, they were smart and at least adopted the team for the day.

We headed down to Bank of America and took our seats. And though the Panthers got on the board with a field goal, the lead was quickly erased as the Monsters of the Midway raced out with fourteen points of their own and slowly cruised to a 23-6 win. We all sat and enjoyed the game and I had the chance to make plenty of new enemies as I would stand and raise my arms at every positive Bears play (which were a decent amount) and every Panthers screw up (which were a ton.) I got boos and other suggestive gestures. It was very clear to whom my allegiance was with.

After the game we started walking out of the stadium. I got more boos and laughed and yelled as the Bears were leaving victorious. I saw disgruntled Panthers fans all the way down; angry, mad, disappointed, and even some who were embarrassed. I was able to take this picture with my two favorite Panthers fans of the day.

My friends and I took some more pictures and then started our walk back to my friend’s apartment. The whole way we passed Orange and Blue yelling, waving, and slapping high fives. The number of “BEARS!” chants was ridiculous. And I truly believe I made about 1500 brand new friends yesterday. We had at our deepest level connected over one of the most important facets in life: the Chicago Bears. Ok, that might be a bit over the top. It is actually what amazed me most about going to the game yesterday; and as I thought about any sporting event I’d been to.

Before the game started, I knew absolutely nothing about these people. As a matter of fact, I still really don’t. And yet for 4 hours on a Sunday afternoon we had become family-over a football team! Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast. But that is nuts! All that it took for me to enter in with these people was the fact that we wanted the same team to win. Haven’t you seen this? Sports have an amazing way of bringing people from all sorts of different cultures and walks of life together to celebrate something.

This false identity is almost a drug. For $59.99 you too can buy a jersey and be a part of it all. You can fit in. You can belong.

And it’s not just sports. We see it in art, movies, and music. So much of what we do and what we are passionate about brings us immediate connection with the others around us. They may or may not dress like us, share political or social values, or a number of other potentially more important points and yet it is enough (at least in short) to enjoy a small part of who they are.

I think we serve a God who is longing that his Church look like Bank of American Field. He desires for his children to rush in and high five each other like they do at the Friendly Confines. For us to see that as members of the body, children of the King we are all cheering for the same thing; that we are all running the race together.

Paul writes in Romans that though we are many members, we are one body. We have different gifts, but within the context of the body we are encouraged to use them. It doesn’t matter if you’re athletic, or artistic, or poetic, or rhythmically gifted. He goes on in Galatians to affirm that this isn’t about just difference of gifts. He starts verse 26 with an unreal exhortation: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”


See Paul is preaching at a time where identity amongst followers of God was HUGE! There were far more implications for being a familial Jew, a male citizen, or anything else at all. He goes on; “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.” Did you get that?! In the cheesiest of ways, we are all wearing Jesus jerseys! We’re all cheering for the same team!

It’s actually better than that! Paul continues, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Not only are we rooting for the same team, we are on the same team. We have been brought into the original family!

And while watching your team win a Super Bowl would be nice, It is far greater to be the one playing; especially on a team that has already been guaranteed victory by Christ’s work on the cross.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Everything's (Back to) Right

"You don't have to worry! It's all been taken care of for those who belong to Jesus" Romans 8:1 (RSV)

If you have ever spoken with me about movies, you know two things: 1.) I love them. And 2.) Big Fish is my all time, unquestioned, winner and still champion favorite. If you don’t like this movie, you’re dumb. Ok, that may have been a bit harsh. Anyway, near the end of the movie Will Bloom makes this statement in reference to his father’s tales,

“Have you ever heard a joke so many times you've forgotten why it's funny? And then you hear it again and suddenly it's new. You remember why you loved it in the first place.”

We all have, right? It may be a joke, a story, a quote, anything really. Something that once was so clear, returns to us again. Maybe even sometimes, there is an epiphany- some new discovery that allows you to understand it in a new way. Some new facet you were never quite able to see before.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that what I’m about to propose is a stretch. That my head got a little creative on this one. And yet, it is my blog, so I am going to continue.

Second to movies in my opinion is music. I guess what appeals me to both is the core element they share. Whether it is an Oscar winning performance or a Grammy nominated masterpiece, most of these art forms engage the oldest human metaphor; story. It’s why we enjoy the Redemption from Shawkshank, or understand the heartache as every country singer loses his dog, his truck, and his girl; in the same song no less! Story enables us to identify with others. It connects us like nothing else can.

A few months back, I was made aware of Matt Wertz’s song “Everything’s Right.” (You can hear it at this link: I enjoyed it when I first heard it. Two incredible people actually introduced it to me around the same time. And when two incredible people recommend the same thing, you gotta take heed. And so over the past several months I have continued to listen to it. Sometimes intentionally, and other times ‘Shuffle All’ happens to find it.

It was the other day though, that it’s chorus (as simple as it is) and the second verse shone to me in a completely new way. I’ll be the first to admit that this is ‘out there.’ That based on the lyrics it is pretty clear that Mr. Wertz is singing about a girl. But because I heard it while writing the last piece about humanity, it drew me to the resurrection.

Here’s the chorus, it’s pretty simple:

‘Hey, everything's right, said everything's right tonight
Hey, everything's right, said everything's right tonight’

Did I lie? Pretty basic. But as I look at John’s gospel (20) it seems to be the resounding message we get as the Messiah appears to his disciples. As he enters the room the first thing he says (twice actually) is “Peace be with you!” This isn’t a chaotic moment for Jesus. The fact that he desires, no demands peace is the first sign that things are good. He goes on to show them his hands and his side. Can you imagine?!?! Your leader, your friend, your GOD whom you thought was dead has just resurrected and he is in the room with you. You better believe everything’s right!

Wertz’s second verse is what I imagine happens that we aren’t told in this text of John’s. Wertz’s lyrics continue,

‘Smiles light up as we walk in
Old conversations begin again
Nostalgia's thick as the August air
It takes us back to a time when we didn't care, we didn't care’

I imagine the disciples sitting there with Jesus; laughing, joking, sharing. Reminiscing stories from their previous times together, it reunites them to a time where they simply enjoyed the presence of each other. Can’t you see it? James says while chuckling, “Hey Peter, remember that time you walked on the water?! And then fell!” Still others recall other incredible accounts, “Yeah, and remember when 5,000 ate from 2 fish and five loaves.” And still others ask questions. “Jesus, how on earth did you just put that guard’s ear back on?!” Things were back to right, back to the way they were before, back to the way they should be.

But it’s more than just this. There is a minor detail in this passage that can easily get looked over. One that allows us to see that Everything is (more than) Right. As a matter of fact, everything is put back to rights!

In verse twenty-two, Jesus does something a bit odd; at least to the untrained eye. It says, “And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” What? When I have read this passage in the past I am drawn to the obvious-the gift of the Holy Spirit. And yet I cannot help but wonder why it is necessary for Jesus to breathe on them. Has he found a new toothpaste he is recommending? Is he trying to make his friends squirm because he’s just had a bit too much decaf? And while I don’t mean to mock this in any way, it really is an interesting note John includes.

Unless of course we head back to Genesis. What does God do to bring man into being? He breathes the breath of life into him. It is what separates man from all other creation. It seems here Jesus is making an immediate parallel. He is drawing them, us back to the Garden. In this action, Jesus is saying, Everything’s (back to) Right. Where Adam failed, I have conquered. The powers that you have struggled against for so long have been defeated. You have been set free to live as you were originally designed to.

Although I don’t think it happened, I can picture Jesus sitting there amongst his disciples, whispering a chorus that had been in the works from day one…

‘Hey, everything's right, said everything's right tonight
Hey, everything's right, said everything's right tonight’

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More Human

"And then, he became a man. A living breathing, flesh and blood man. He looked, sounded, and interacted the way we might."
John 1:14 (RSV)

I guess you could say that I have the fortunate opportunity to write this morning. I am sitting in the midst of a group of people in somewhat of a food court. There are some sitting in pairs, but the majority of these people are sitting alone. As I look out the window I see two things: fog and docked airplanes. As I sit and wait. And wait. And wait, I am amazed at the number of people that are running past trying to catch their flights, get home, grab a bit to eat, or anything else one might do. These don’t seem out of place at all. As one sits in an airport it is actually exactly what you would expect to see. It’s what humans do in an airport. They are trying to get to places; meetings, families, interviews, vacations, and other things.

Likewise, I am currently coaching a college soccer team. When we take the field on any given day the guys go and do what you might expect them to; play soccer. They run, and kick, and defend, and score, and make saves. We try and win games; we try and get better. The hope being that by the end (of the season, career) the group or individual is advanced in their ability to play soccer. These same players go to class during the day. They attend a pretty rigorous academic school and spend the actual majority of their time increasing their minds and ability to use and apply them. In both of these arenas, they try and accomplish something more.

I also like to find myself at the gym from time to time. There is nothing particularly special about the one I attend. It has weights, and treadmills. Exercise classes and summer camps. What I love about gyms (as I have written before) is that people are there, mostly, trying to change themselves for the better. Whether it is to get stronger, more fit, more energy or some other reason, the general idea is that of betterment. That we might take better care of our bodies.

In all of these situations, these people are just being themselves, acting, being human. To do anything else would be either out of the ordinary or potentially impossible. It is with this understanding that people for the most part, go about their daily lives. With the exception of a very rare few, the majority of humanity is trying to better itself in some way or form. To leave this world ‘a little better than before they got here.’ I can’t imagine anyone reading this would disagree.

And yet, for whatever reason, it has been my experience that somehow the only place we don’t understand this is the church. Specifically, I see this in the area of growth in godliness and discipleship. In actuality if we are to break it down as we attempt to become more and more Christ-like we subconsciously believe that in some way we are supposed to become something different. I am not sure exactly what that is but to become more like Christ is seemingly a desire in our American churches to become less human. Sound weird? Think about it. At least for me it seems as though growth in godliness is about removing things, about becoming more spiritual.

And while I don’t disagree with those two needs, I think they are both very possible in the conditions of being a human; as a matter of fact I believe, more human.

Too often I feel we see spiritual growth as removal of a certain sin or pattern of sins. We sit around either by ourselves or in a small group and confess and beat ourselves up over the sin in our lives. We think to ourselves, if we could just get rid of this, this sin problem, we would be fine. We could grow. And please don’t misunderstand. I think this is absolutely a piece of spiritual growth. But I think it is just that; a piece.

There is something else about becoming ‘more spiritual’. I think that due to the respect for saints that have gone before we feel like to grow as they did we must take on their current physical state (which somehow we believe is simply spirit.) Again, I don’t discount spiritual fervor, spiritual growth; at all. It just doesn’t seem like it should be at the expense of what we have been created to be.

In the book of Genesis, God creates man and does something incredibly unique with them. He ‘breathes the breath of life’ (2:7) into him. Though other creation has life, there is something unique to man. Here we already know that we have been made in God’s image (1:26). There is something different; something more to being human. Adam is the first example of what this looks like. He however, goes on to mess it up. We know the story, we live the story. This story is our story. Daily, we choose to eat the apple. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves.

And yet, there is hope. There is a man. A flesh and bones, in every sense of the word, man. One who has come to put things to rights. He is referred to as the ‘second Adam.’ (1 Corinthians 15:47) Where Adam fell, this man was to do right; to fix things as it were. The writer of Hebrews notes that he was like us in EVERY way, and yet did not sin (4:15). In John’s gospel we first see that the Word put on flesh. It is essential he let his readers know just how human Jesus is.

You see, two thousand years ago as we look at the gospel accounts it is pretty clear that Jesus’ disciples have an issue grasping the fact that this very man is God. In 2010, I think we have flipped it. We find it very difficult to believe that God, is personified in this man named Jesus. The author N.T. Wrights notes that instead of trying to come up with our own thoughts on God, we are to look at a first century rabbi named Jesus and allow our image of God to be shaped around him.

So what exactly does this mean for us? Surely Jesus, being God had an advantage on us. While I cannot be certain, Luke is very clear that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God (2:52). Did you read that? Jesus had elements of growth to his life! At no point does he abandon whom he is as man in order to grow. Here He is the example of what growth looks like. I think if he were to come and speak to our churches today it might be very different than we picture. I honestly believe he might say (with a bit of pleading in his voice) “Repent…you have believed a lie about what God is like. Instead, look at me.”

That to grow in our faith, to become more like, to walk with Jesus includes every part of who we are as humans. That to sit around and attempt to become anything else would be misguided. No more than trying to fly from one location to the next; on the power of our arms with no plane. That we might desire to become more of what we already are: completely and totally human of a new generation in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Isn’t that the cry to the first disciples?

“Follow me.”

“You can be like me.”

“You can do what I do.”

It is no different today. Jesus is still crying out, in 2010, “you…can be like me.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kingdom Valuation

“Everyone else looks at WHAT you have done; how much you have accomplished. But I, the King, I care far more about WHO you are…” 1 Samuel 16:7 (RSV)

Currently, I am sitting in a Starbucks Coffee, just a bit north of Charlotte. The sun is just beginning to rise and with it my day is starting to take shape. I moved here about 6 months ago and other than home it will be the longest tenure of any city I have ever lived in.

That’s a big step for me.

I have relocated to 4 different cities in the last 3 years, at some point or another calling all of them home. This time period has also included fairly lengthy, though not ‘homey’ stints in other cities. In other words, I am not exactly the first class example of settled, or as I am often reminded, ‘grown up.’

As a matter of fact, even though I am 25 I feel more like a kid than ever before. I have almost no assets and if we’re honest live pay check to pay check; at best. I am woefully single, and steady wouldn’t exactly define my line of work. I don’t have a 401k, a real and active 10-year plan, or one penny saved for my kid’s college fund.

Six months ago, that was a big deal to me.

It was then that I was still living in Chicago. Based on my upbringing and the life path that most of my peers have chosen, the natural, almost necessary response is one we hear from the wise sage Lloyd Christmas, “Man, you are one pathetic loser.” And I felt like one. I was in a compromised line of work and an even more compromised state of life. I felt as though I shouldn’t be pursuing what everyone else had ‘simply because’ and yet I was so alone.

I was in a trap that thought life looked like a suit and tie, a wife at home, and a new car in the garage. It was basically the 2010 Dream for recent graduates. (Surely there is a Chicken Soup out there for this?) And even though this no way fit my paradigm, I bought into it, and big time.

As I looked around it seemed as though all of my friends were either married, or living the single life in the big city. Here I was living the single life in the married city. I was living at home with no real sense of accomplishment and certainly no understanding of value. As a matter of fact I thought I brought absolutely no value to the situations I found myself in. I was literally wasting away while my inner self was dying.

I couldn’t empathize with peers about marital bliss or market blunder. I wasn’t working toward any professional goal and was in no way close to owning anything, let alone a house. My social landscape looked like either a ramped up Cleaver household, or a dulled down Entourage experience. (1)

And my church life? Non existent. I simply couldn’t hear one more four-pointed sermon on prayer; each point systematically starting with P, R, A, and Y. (2) Many days I felt completely and totally worthless.

That’s a big problem.

And so I packed up and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. There had been a unique opportunity for me there and I decided to take it. Want to know the funny part? The morning I took off I didn’t want to leave. I almost couldn’t bring myself to get in the car and drive off. Nuts, right?! I was completely miserable (San Diego…) and yet didn’t want to leave. The thought of starting something new, something unknown was at the time a much bigger risk and scare than continuing to exist in emptiness.

And have I found true fulfillment and happiness here? Is Charlotte the Mecca for believers looking to redefine themselves? I don’t necessarily think so. I do think this time has allowed me to step back, to step away from ‘life as I knew it’ and take a look at what Kingdom life, Kingdom value, is rooted and established in.

The Kingdom life in no way is formed on the ideals and principles of the American Dream. Now, don’t read into what I didn’t say. These two can overlap. We continue to see in the scriptures that though this Kingdom of Heaven isn’t OF this world, it is most certainly FOR this world. That we need uncompromised people of character in the mess of life both claiming Christ’s truth as well as showering people with His love.

THE Kingdom perspective is completely and entirely flipped. In this Kingdom, value exists simply because of who we are and more importantly whom we belong to. It has nothing to do with what we have, or in some cases haven’t accomplished.

You see our real value has never been placed in what we have done. It has always been placed in who we have been created to be. And the answer to that question can be found from the very beginning. We are image bearers of the Most High; children of THE King. (Gen 1:26).

Though it is a constant struggle, my value cannot be attained, gained, or entertained by what I do in this life. It must be a consistent reminder that I am a human being; not a human doing.

This is a big relief.

Look at the book of Ephesians. I love it! Read just the first chapter. Look at what Paul is outlining. He is establishing value amongst the body. None of it has to do with on earth accomplishments. Notice what isn’t there. He doesn’t say, “Of all the churches I have visited, your youth ministry is rockin’!” Or, “Look at this sanctuary! Whoever was the architect of this…you are the man!”

No! He spells out all the things we are and have been able to claim from day one as a child of THE King. He encourages that they are a people that are “chosen to be holy and blameless”, “predestined to be sons”, “recipients of grace”, “the praise of his glory”, “included in Christ”, “marked in him with a seal”…and that is just the first part of the book! And we can stake claim to the exact same values!

So whether you are on wall street or in the poor house, we serve a God whose value system isn’t based on the worlds. We have a Father begging us to come home. To come and be wrapped up in his arms, to be coddled and rocked as he whispers to us, “you’re Mine.” I’ve got you” “You are my child” “It’s going to be OK.” I love you…”

And that…is the biggest blessing we could ask for.

(1) I see where this could be read into as exceptionally offensive. And that is not my intention. The reality is that some of my married friends are happy to stay at home because the reality is they are already with the person, or persons they care most about. There just isn’t a lot of motivation to take time or money to go meet and interact with people that can’t match up to the one(s) they live with I can only hope to one day have the same.

Likewise, much of the ‘going out’ life of my single friends in the downtown area was based on genuine community; community that had been established in work arenas, church landscapes, and conversations amongst mutual friends.

In these there is no problem; I just didn’t fit into either one.

(2) I am not slamming the evangelical suburban church here. I think my own spiritual desert was large in part due to my poor attitude and extenuating circumstances. I went in to church with a poor attitude and thus left with one; nitpicking the entire way. I am still not convinced the (capital C) Church looks like what we were brought up to think it looks like and am convinced more than ever it is not the hope of the world as so many pastors and leaders have suggested. That, I believe, is Christ himself.