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.”