Monday, November 7, 2011

Polarizing Pastor


“I don’t really care what others think about me. What are you going to do with me? What do I mean to you? Who am I, really?” (Mark 8:29 RSV)

I happen to really like Halloween. Now, before all of you conservative parents out their block this blog with other sites, hear me out. It’s not the gory, gruesome, satanic aspect of the day that excites me. It’s not even the candy; though I would have said otherwise as a slightly larger than normal youth. What I love about Halloween is the chance to get in costume. Too often I find myself daydreaming – wondering what it would be like to be someone else. And for the night, not only am I granted this reality, it is encouraged!

As such, even as an ‘adult’, I have put a fair amount of time into my costume over the last several years. This is a great idea in theory, until the following year when you pressure yourself to come up with something even better, even more creative.

Over the past several years, I think I have done a pretty good job. Halloween 2009 found me as a Heath Ledger Joker. The makeup job was fantastic, and my hair was just long enough to pull it off.

Last year, I went as the most interesting man in the world from the infamous Dos Equis commercials. The costume was a hit, as even some people from my own group didn’t recognize me.

This year however I was afforded the luxury of a theme. My particular group of friends here in Charlotte decided that we would go to the same place we did the year before. This time there would be a group theme of Super Hero.

I thought hard about what would be good. Initially I just figured going as myself would work. (C’mon, that was kinda funny…) Then some of the classics came in to my mind: Batman, Superman, Spiderman. And still some more rare and yet oft duplicated Quailman, Captain Planet, and some others.

I wanted my costume to stand out.

Then, brilliance.

In a bit of jest, I decided I was going to dress up as a pastor. Now, I know what you’re thinking. A pastor. One, that’s stupid. And two, what’s so super about a pastor?

I wasn’t just any pastor however. I dressed up as Steven Furtick, Senior Pastor at Elevation Church in Charlotte.

To provide a bit of context, Elevation Church sees somewhere around 9,000 attendees each weekend at 6 campuses. Pastor Furtick is a young, hip(ster?) pastor who dresses well and was the original founder in 2006.

What’s interesting is that between the size and enormity of the ‘Elevation Experience” as well as social media outlets, Elevation members talk about Pastor Furtick as though he is literally a Super Hero.

Those could serve as their own issues – none of which are why I am writing this.

What was amazing to me was the response I received at a local bar. What was originally intended to get some laughs from a group of friends turned into quite an event.

I had people come up to me and say,

“Aw man! That is awesome! I love Elevation! That is such a great costume!”

Others declared,

“Hey Man! F Elevation! That place sucks!”

There wasn’t a whole lot of in between.

As I have been able to think a little past the actual event I have come to realize that Steven Furtick is quite a polarizing figure. I cannot say I know the man. I’ve never even met him. The church seems to have solid theology and men I respect in the faith back him up. Again, these are not the issues at hand.

The reality is, as polarizing as Steven Furtick is, it pales in comparison to Jesus Christ himself. C.S. Lewis once noted that either this man was a madman, something worse, or in fact the Son of God.

In today’s world Christ is oftentimes not much more than a name used in frustration. Sometimes we pray in his name because someone is sick, or we need to pass a test, or we really want that new fill in the blank.

Sometimes he is Messiah.

Sometimes he is Friend.

Sometimes he is cosmic Genie.

Christ himself poses the question to his closest followers and begs the question of us today:

“Who do you say I am?”

He doesn’t leave a lot of room to put him on the shelf. The person of Christ must be wrestled with, and come to conclusion.

Because until we are able to answer that, we are just walking through this life as if we were someone else.

A concept just great for one night, but not recommended for a lifetime.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Parenting

“Stop acting like you aren’t hurt. Get over here. Let me hold you. I’ll affirm for you that it’s all going to be alright…” (Matthew 11:28 RSV)

I think I am starting to get pretty old. Not so much in age. Hopefully not so much in looks. But definitely with regards to the intangibles. One of my friends recently pointed this out to me. I was telling him how much I like NBC’s show Parenthood. I was explaining how great the character development is, how it is fairly funny, and how the writer is able to keep up so many different story lines. My friend proceeded to point out the following, “So wait a minute…you drive a champagne colored 4 door sedan, AND watch Parenthood. Wow…”

I thought it was a bit unfair. You’d have thought I was wearing socks with sandals; or ate dinner at 4:30. I can assure you that was not the case. Anyway, I do like the show Parenthood. A lot. I have recently caught up with this season, thanks to Hulu (and the fact that I don’t currently have television at my apartment.) I don’t know all of the details from past seasons, but enough about each character that I am able to pick up with no problem.

One of the main storylines is the relationship between one of the Braverman girls, Haddie, and her boyfriend Alex. Alex is a young man with a bit of a troubled past, to say the least. He indicates things have changed and that he really cares for Haddie. Long story short, Haddie is not allowed to date him, she fights it, moves out, fights with parents, causes a huge rift with parents, is allowed to see him, he wins over the parents. Are we caught up? Even though it’s television, I can’t stand the tension. There is still a clear rift between Haddie and her parents.

In the most recent season, Alex decides he is no longer feeling the relationship. He tries, and he fakes it, but ultimately he ends things with Haddie. She locks herself in her room and acts like nothing has happened.

Isn’t that what we do? When things get hard, when situations aren’t as we planned, don’t we hide away from the world and just act like we’re busy? To show that we are hurting or don’t have it all together would be a disappointment to everyone around us; to the fa├žade of ourselves we have put up for the world to see. We sit in our rooms, put our headphones in and tune out everything else.

But thankfully, Mama Braverman doesn’t give up that easily.

Late in one of the episodes, she knocks on the door. No answer. She knocks again. Nothing. She slowly opens the door to find her child curled up on her bed, listening to music, her cheeks stained by tears.

Haddie takes off her headphones, “Hi Mama…”

A confused dialogue takes places where Haddie wonders and Mom isn’t sure how to answer. She assures her daughter she isn’t the problem; a problem. Haddie sits up and starts to lose it. Her worth, identity, and character have all come into question.

She lunges toward mom and hugs her; tears streaming down her face. Mom wraps up her girl and whispers, “It’s ok. It’s ok, babe. It’s ok.” The camera pans to Haddie’s face, then her mom’s. Haddie. Mom.

Haddie is weeping and wiping her tears on her mother’s shoulders.

The camera pans back to Mom’s face. And while there are a few tears in her eyes, we see something else…

A smile.

While I am sure she struggles with the fact that her daughter is hurting, she loves the fact that her daughter has come to her; that she has sought refuge where she knows she will be safe and loved.

I really think Mrs. Braverman mirrors our God.

I think that while we choose to run away from Him and pursue our own ideas of greatness, good and bad, God keeps knocking on our door.

Keeps wanting to be with us.

And I cannot speak for you, but when I am at rock bottom – discouraged, let down, disappointed, it’s then that I turn to God. It’s then that I am on my knees, confused, wanting to be held.

I think much like Mom here, God doesn’t love that we are hurting, but he is overjoyed that we have come to him. He is ecstatic that we are back in His arms.

The best part of this is that unlike our character in the sitcom, we don’t outgrow our Father’s grasp. It doesn’t matter how big or how old we get.

Not even how old others think we get.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Kingdom Recess

“You know exactly what you’re doing. You have from day one. You don’t ‘go on lunch break.’ You don’t take a nap to recharge.” (Psalm 33:11 RSV)

Are you a surprises person? I mean, do you like surprises? For myself, as long as it is a good surprise I would say I really enjoy them. A few months ago, some friends of mine threw a surprise birthday party for me. It was awesome. I really appreciated everyone making the effort. I felt incredibly valued and loved. Now…it has to be legitimate. I hate it when people hold a surprise over your head; that’s simply miserable. I am also making the assumption that the surprise is in a positive light. Negative surprises are never a good thing.

Recently, I was pleasantly surprised by a movie I saw. My roommate and I watched the movie Unstoppable. Have you seen it? It’s the one with Denzel Washington and the train that well, is unstoppable.

Unlike in his other movies, Denzel Washington’s character Frank, is a hard ass that is pissed off at the world while it underestimates him. Despite these realities he rises up and saves the day.

Oh wait, that’s just like every other Denzel role. My bad.

Anyway, the scene is set at a train yard. (Is that the right term? A shipyard for trains? We’ll go with it.) Two seemingly low-end employees are responsible for moving trains around making sure they are on the right tracks. Though we don’t know much about the characters, it is very clear they have been doing this for a while due to their nonchalant attitudes about completing the tasks. This is probably somewhere around the thousandth time they are doing this.

One of the larger trains comes through and Dewey, played by Ethan Suplee (see also Louie Lastik, Remember the Titans) is responsible for making sure that the speed is correct and the track is accurate. In moving one of the trains Dewey fails to attach air hose to the rest of the train; meaning the air brake will not work. Though his partner notes this, Dewy says he will attach it after parking the other train.

You can see where this is headed. Dewey knocks the throttle to full speed and after falling out of the cabin cannot get back in as he watches the train slowly started to speed away; unmanned.

Dewey as it were, fell asleep on the clock.

If I haven’t already ruined the movie for you, go and see it. I think you will enjoy it. As I sat and watched however, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dewey. How many times in my life have I been Dewey? How many times had I fallen asleep on the job? My mind wanders to some classes I have sat through or practices where I have gone through the motions.

Thankfully I cannot think of any horrific atrocities that have occurred while I have been ‘out to lunch.’ Maybe your story echoes a similar sentiment. Maybe in a moment of weariness or fatigue, you haven’t followed through on your end of the deal.

So you are probably asking the same questions I am: why all of the tragedies in the world? Why the natural disasters? Why human atrocities?

I’ll be honest: I don’t know. I wish I did.

I do know that God doesn’t need our excuses. Just like he brought David into power through a harp (2 posts ago), He allowed Job to be tested.

God has never fallen asleep on the clock.

He doesn’t make mistakes.

Nothing is a surprise to Him.

As much as I don’t sometimes like it, I don’t think we are ever meant to understand all that God is and all that he does. The prophet Isaiah warns that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, his ways not ours. Though I love to have control and understanding, I have to loose this one to the fact that God is God and I am most certainly not.

I love the encouragement Isaiah 40 offers; no doubt you’re familiar. Even youths grow tired and weary. Young men stumble and fall.

How true is that?

I find myself tired too often. And Dewey himself is an example of our oft failures. But the promise is that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. In order to be a source of renewal, you can’t be asleep.

You can’t take a play off.

There is no vacation.

We serve a God who will never ‘be back in 5.’

He won’t grow faint, he doesn’t grow weary. God is at work around the clock. And while we may not always understand what he is doing or why he is doing it we are called to believe deep in our selves that God is in fact good. Not only is he good; you might even say he’s unstoppable.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Who's writing this?

‘Does the main character scream to the director, cut!? Does he yell at the producer to change the scene? I AM the writer, this is my show, this is my remarkable story.’ (Isaiah 45:9;12 RSV)

I happen to like commercials. I know this is a bit strange. As a matter of fact, my good friends back in Chicago give me a pretty hard time about this. That said, I think that good and clever marketing should be applauded. I love funny or ingenious ideas to try and get us consumers buying their product. Ultimately, I think it is what separates competing brands. Michael Jordan is why I grew up wearing Nikes and drinking Gatorade. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy driving a VW these days. And it actually explains why I really don’t like Under Armor stuff at all.

One of the biggest marketing competitions out there is in the arena of alcohol. All of these companies warn that their product should be used responsibly, trying to separate themselves from their calloused competitors. When in reality, they want you to consume as much of their product as you possibly can and probably could care less how responsible you are with it.

Alcohol ads are funny – both literally and figuratively. Think about some of the funniest commercials you have seen. My guess is that a fair amount of them are selling beer. They are also funny in the marketing way you were warned against as a kid. It’s always really cool, or funny, or attractive people that are consuming their product.

My favorite these days? All of the hard alcohol ads. Apparently, guys, only true gentlemen drink hard alcohol. They are in fancy dining halls and immaculate tuxedos, or at least suits. Who knew all I needed was to go down to the local grocery and pick up a handle, right? Surely, if I just had a fifth of my favorite liquor, I’d be set.

While watching a game last night one of these ads came on. Some good-looking dudes in black ties walked outside with some very attractive women. They escorted the women into the back of a cab and signaled for the driver to take off. In the background comes a voice…

‘There’s no point in writing a remarkable story if you don’t know how to end it properly.’

Now, I have no idea what happened in their night. One could try and put pieces together and make some educated guesses. This alcohol company is basically trying to say, use our product to have a great night but don’t be stupid and get us in trouble. That would be a terrible story. Just take a cab home. Ok, those are my thoughts on what they are saying, but I’m pretty close.

As you can imagine, this caught my ear. I love stories. I really love remarkable stories, and this line had me thinking. Is that it? Is all we need to drink alcohol with pretty people to write a remarkable story? Surely there is more than just that. The remarkable stories I have seen involve conflict and character development, triumph and struggle.

A common thread in great stories is an author that is outside of the story itself.

One who knows the characters.

One who has their best interest at heart.

One who ultimately knows the best way to take.

And this is exactly where I struggle. I look at the TV ad and laugh. Surely a good story has more than just good looks and alcohol. Yet these are the exact stories I choose to live on a daily basis.

Stories on my own accord.

Stories where I am the author; creator.

Stories, ultimately, without real purpose.

But there is hope. In the midst of this struggle we have an Author that is chasing after us. An Author whose story is beautiful and redemptive. An Author that truly loves the characters he is helping to direct. An Author who is beyond us and yet chose himself to become the protagonist in his own work.

You see the commercial is all wrong. It’s not necessarily our responsibility to know how a remarkable story ends. No more is it our job to know than the characters in your favorite movie, during the first twenty minutes.

Our job is to continue trusting in the Author; believe that he works all things for our good (Romans 8:28) and for what is good in his eyes (1 Samuel 3:18). Trusting that being a part of his Story is ultimately what is best for us.

What’s most ironic about the alcoholic product is that a good story probably wouldn’t start with their beverage. And it certainly wouldn’t bring about the best kind of endings. No, no product can do that. Great stories are original. Great stories are only written by an Author who loves it’s subject – not just trying to sell them some drinks.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Unusual Circumstance

“He does what he wants, when he wants, how he wants. He places and removes kings, gives and take away.” (Daniel 2:21 RSV)

Unless this is your first time checking this thing out, you know that I am in Charlotte, North Carolina. When I trace the steps backwards I could list the specific events that brought me here. But like many of you and where you are at, I am amazed at how, in fact, I arrived here. None of my background should indicate that I am in soccer at 26 years of age. As most of you know I was, I am, a baseball guy. I had a decent high school career and I was going to play college ball. God had other plans. Long story short, here I am!

Do you ever feel like this? Do you find yourself wondering, ‘How the heck did I get here?’ Yeah…it happens to me a lot.

As a matter of fact, I am sitting in the midst of a ‘what on earth am I doing here’ moment in my life. Despite a past littered with God’s faithfulness I find myself wondering what he has in store for me next. What skills, what abilities, what passions has He put in my life that He can use – how will he in fact use them?

This morning I was reading about king David, before he was actually king. I read about his anointing as king by Samuel and his battle against Goliath. I had read these before. I am not trying to take away from those realities, or the awesomeness of our God. The fact that the Lord looks at the heart as opposed to the outward appearance (1 Sam 16:7) should offer a guy like me encouragement. The fact that ‘the battle is the Lord’s’ is amazing. The reality that God simply doesn’t wage war the way man does is nothing short of awesome.

And yet today what stood out is a musical instrument.

Not even a cool one. Not an electric guitar, a set of drums, or even an awesome voice.

No, what stood out more than anything else was a harp.

After Samuel has oiled David’s head and anointed him the next King of Israel, there is a section in 1 Samuel before what I like to call “David Takes Off.” Before Goliath, before fleeing from Saul, before Bathsheba, before ‘David as we know him’ happens, he is called into Saul’s court.

He is not sought out because of his shepherding abilities, his military prowess, or even his good looks. Starting in chapter 16:14, we see that the Spirit of the Lord has left Saul. Additionally, the verse before we find out that the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power.

Because the Spirit is one of power and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7), it makes sense that when it has departed, fear exists. While Saul is being tormented his advisors suggest that someone come and play the harp for him in order to soothe his mind. In liking the suggestion, Saul asks where a good harp player might be found. His advisors suggestion?

That’s right…David.

He was brought into the presence of the king because of his ability to play the harp.

Not his military experience.

Not a knowledge of Samuel’s anointing.

Not because he has done a great job as a shepherd.

No, he is made known to his predecessor for the first time because he can soothe his mind and spirit by playing his harp.

God does not need an election to name a king.

As a matter of fact, it seems the pre-requisite for service to God is obedience. Not how tall or talented we are; not what kind of degree we have earned. Throughout the scriptures God takes people from circumstances you wouldn’t believe and uses them to further his cause.

He takes a speechless nomad and initiates the greatest escape of all time.

He uses a coward and traitor to start his church.

He initiates growth in his body with a murdering anti-believer.

He introduces a king; a forefather of his own Son, with a harp.

God is in the business of doing things for his Glory. I too easily forget this. Despite the own promise in my life, the anointing over me, I look at circumstances and daily realities and wonder how on earth God can use them. In the midst of struggle and question I often think how badly I’ve messed things up, how God could never use my situation.

And yet this story screams back, no way. As a matter of fact, all of the scriptures echo back the same sentiment. In the midst of my wandering journey, God is crying out “I love you. I am going to do great things with you.” It is in this reality that I must find peace. As confusing as my current situation is, we serve a God that introduces kings not with red carpet and trumpet processions, but rather stringed instruments.

Maybe I should learn how to play the harp…

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Crazy, Stupid.

“Love isn’t rolling credits or bought for 7 bucks. It’s more expensive than that. Love is cashing in all your chips.” (John 15:13 RSV)

I love movies – well, good movies anyway. Very few things beat a good film containing all of the elements of a fantastic story. Because of what movies cost, it is rare that I actually go to the theater anymore. I have become more of a netfilx, redbox guy. Can’t beat a buck a film. Anyway, seeing as it is summer time, there seems to be a new movie out just about every weekend.

Now, when I go to an actual movie I love to see the previews. Obviously, I can decide in 3 minutes whether or not that film will be any good; at all. This summer I have gone to the theater to see one movie. In it I saw previews for action films, dramas, comedies, and of course romantic comedies. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve seen a few. I’ll get even more honest; I have liked a few in the past.

With that secret out, I saw a preview for one that I can bet I will not see this summer; or probably at any point. It’s called Crazy, Stupid, Love. In looking at the website, the synopsis appears to be that of a man whose wife divorces him and he finds his way back into bachelor life with the help of a newly acquired younger friend. It seems to take a bunch of different angles from different characters in different romantic situations.

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this like every other romantic comedy?

The answer: Most likely.

And yet, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Not so much the movie, but the title. What about this plot makes this particular love so crazy, so stupid. Is it that a divorcee finds love again? Is it that he re finds it with his wife? Is it about something else entirely?

But as I have continued to think about it, I have come to believe that this title is in fact the only definition for love (1).

Anything other than crazy and stupid, fails to be love.

I look at my parents, and trust me; they are both crazy and stupid. You have to be to make it 28 years with kids like Scott, Ben, and I, and still be head over heels for each other.

I look at friends that have traveled hours just to watch a game of mine. That’s crazy and stupid.

And most of all, I look at Christ – who, by very nature, was love incarnate. John says that Love put on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:3). I know very little of deity, but I’m quite certain it has the upper hand on flawed humanity. And I live with and around enough humans to believe that choosing to interact with them instead of the Godhead is crazy and stupid.

Then there’s the cross.
People were sentenced to death on a cross to rid craziness and stupidity, not in the name of it.

The norm of the day, of our day, is to love yourself. To hoard, acquire, and mount up for your own good. But much like he did during his time on earth, Christ flips the definition on his head. That true love is actually given away. That true love is to give your own life.

That true love is crazy.

That true love is stupid.

That love is Christ laying down his life for us. (1 John 3:16)

Yep. Us. With all of our chaos and mess. Perfect Love puts on flesh and comes to die for us.

The verse doesn’t stop there. John goes on…”And we ought to lay our lives down for our brothers.”

There it is. We are called to the same kind of love displayed by our King. Love that is patient, kind, and not self-serving (1 Corinthians 13), all ridiculous ideas for 2011.

And while I haven’t seen the film, I’m guessing that there’s a happy ending because our hero ends up with some girl, or an altruistic sense of self. But we all know too well that neither music nor rolling credits happen in our own lives.

The reality is we deal with fractured jobs, broken relationships, and troubled pasts. Movies simply numb a lot of the painful existences we have to face outside of the theaters.

The beautiful solution however exists in the heart of a story still being written. It starts ‘in the beginning,’ and refuses to have credits, contrary to every other story we know. Unheard of, right? Crazy, stupid even.






1. With regards to its measure.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When It Reigns...

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like that opportunity you’ve been dreaming of. You put everything else aside in order to chase after it.” (Matthew 13:45 RSV)

One of the awesome advantages of being with a minor league soccer team is how much of the country you get to see. Awesome cities like Richmond, VA, Dayton, OH, Harrisburg, PA, and Rochester, NY just to name a few. Oh wait…

We are currently on Long Island after having played in Harrisburg last night. On the bus ride up here one of my good friends had me listen to a song on his iPod. This wasn’t just any song. This was another good friend of mine singing – it happened to be his wife. She is a worship leader with Elevation Church in Charlotte. I don’t attend the church, but I do know they put out some pretty impressive music stuff. It’d probably be worth you checking out. Anyway, it was the first release of a song she sang for their upcoming live DVD. I had heard the song when it was originally recorded (Yeah, we’re big time. We got VIP tickets; at least Ryan SouNders did) and I was moved both by the song as well as hearing my friend’s amazing voice sing it.

Now, as with anything, some background is necessary. These friends of mine aren’t just any friends. They were the first people I met when I moved to Cleveland. We have sat around more meals than I can count. They have encouraged and supported me in ways they could never know.

I don’t know all of the details, but for my singing friend, it has been a tough road. She has been ‘chasing’ music for quite a while and you can forget buying a break; as far as she knew there wasn’t such a thing. She recorded her own stuff and took any opportunity to play live – including at a frozen yogurt shop – that she could.

Through an opportunity via a friend of a friend of a friend, she landed an internship at Elevation. She would get the coffee, print the papers, etc, etc. It was by no means glorious and yet just being in and amongst musicians of high caliber one could tell that she loved it. Time went by and she was given the opportunity to sing some on the weekends. More time, more responsibility. When it was time for the DVD taping, she was going to be a featured back up singer and have the chance to sing a few solos.

So you can imagine the awesome moment it was to see her singing in front of a packed house. When her turn for a solo came she hit each note incredibly as she sang,

God let your Kingdom reign (2x)
Let all the earth, proclaim
God on the earth, let your Kingdom reign,
God let your Kingdom reign (2x)

It had taken 4 different cities, countless struggles, and a current disposition that she still hasn’t quite made it. But there she was on stage, bright lights, absolutely belting out a solo.

See, to the Jews this was, by definition Heaven; where things are as God wants them to be. This would ultimately come to exist on earth as a militaristic King came back, overthrew all Jewish oppressors and reestablished Jerusalem. In the process of waiting the Jews were to be God’s ambassadors to the world. They were to display his kingdom, reign.


Kingdom reign is current

Kingdom reign is process.

Kingdom reign can be painful.

I think for myself it is easy to scream these lyrics at the top of my voice in a worship service, or poignantly discuss it over a cup of coffee. The problem is that too often I much prefer to talk of Kingdom reign than see it living and active in my own life because of the realities I just noted.

I would rather celebrate someone else finding the pearl than risk going after it myself.

And yet our Creator begs us to enter into his creation; to journey with him. To display for the world his Kingdom, reign.

Sometimes this results in bright lights and big smiles. And others it results in jail cells with bakers and wine pressers; with everywhere in between.

This kingdom reign speaks into and moves into every facet of our lives. It invites us to understand that we are in fact the clay and that our Potter wants what’s best for us. That whether or not we can sing it out, our heart’s deepest cry is in fact:

God let your Kingdom reign (2x)
Let all the earth, proclaim
God on the earth, let your Kingdom reign,
God let your Kingdom reign (2x).

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Story Time

"Invite me to join your adventure. Then we can go do whatever you want!" (Psalm 37:4 RSV)

In the summers down here in Charlotte one of our responsibilities is to help coach and run youth summer camps. We get paid a little something and it’s a great way for us to engage kids in the community, build the Eagles name, and ultimately spread the gospel. In order for you to understand in the slightest bit, I will help to set the stage with a question. Where can you find 100 degree heat, 60+ kids aged 5-12, 6 hours to fill, limited water, ridiculous skits, and guaranteed sunburn? Yeah, you guessed it: A Charlotte Eagles Summer Camp! Now, you also find great laughs, the game of soccer, life change in youths, and an unforgettable experience for kids; it’s just unfortunately easier to find the struggles first, isn’t it?

And while there are probably several volumes in that thought alone, it’s not where I am headed. Today in camp, there was something pretty cool that came to my attention. We split our campers into two groups: The Mighty Mighty Micros (5 and 6 year olds) and everyone else. The Micros are only a half-day camp and they pretty much do their own camp with their own coaches. A friend of mine, Payton, is one of the MMM coaches.

Each day this week I have helped Payton with the MMM skit because they need an extra hand. Payton and I are on the “Adventure of a Lifetime” as we seek to show kids what that looks like from John 10:10. Before we started today, I came over and the Micros were playing ‘soccer tag’ and I got a chance to speak with Payton briefly.

He was laughing.

I asked him what was so funny and he proceeded to tell me what had happened during story time. He said, “I mean technically I tell the story, but basically I pause and the kids fill in the story all by themselves. It is so funny!” When I didn’t know what he meant, he continued…”Ok, so I started by saying this is a story about…and one of the kids yelled YODA, so I said, yes, this is a story about Yoda.”

He proceeded to tell me about a story where yoda met up with his good friend Spongebob Squarepants and they headed to climb a mountain in the Sahara Desert. He said that when kids suggested something ridiculous like killing of his friend, Payton would reign them in and correct their thought and ultimately, the story. He told me how much the kids loved the story. They felt involved and a part of what was going on. And by the smile on his face I could tell just how much he had enjoyed it.

As I continued to think about what just happened, my mind was blown.

We are these kids.

That’s right. No matter how old we get, we are children. And the amazing truths of the Kingdom are revealed through simple things such as these.

I have been challenged lately to think of God himself as a beautiful Author; a story-teller if you will. And hearing about these micros today opened my mind.

We serve a God who wants to let us in on the story!

We serve a God who wants to help us write our story.

Too often I wonder what God is doing, or why he is leading me into certain parts of the story that I don’t like. And yet much like Coach Payton, before things can get too far out of hand, God reigns me back in.

He brings me back to the core of the ultimate Story he is telling.

I find myself in the midst of a ‘choose your own adventure’ type story, and yet I am so concerned about where I want to head I am often paralyzed into indecision. Honestly, I don’t think God minds all that much where our story heads. It can be with Yoda, or Spongebob, or both. It can be in business or soccer or ministry or anything else.

I think he just wants to be with us in the story.

I think he wants to sit back and smile as he enjoys helping us write the story we are telling…

Right between soccer tag and snack time.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How does this thing work?

“But I’m here to show you what it’s really like to live. To show you the best possible, most life giving way to exist.” (John 10:10 RSV)

One of the most annoying things about moving into a new place is filling it – especially when you don’t have a lot to fill it with. As we moved into our most recent place, my roommates and I combined to have ourselves…drumroll please… a television, television stand, and DVD player. Yes, that is all. Couches? Nah. Kitchenware? No chance. Bed? Come on, let’s not be ridiculous. So as you can imagine while the last month has been spent carrying out our various soccer vocations, it has also been spent scouring craigslist and badgering friends for used (but still awesome) ‘stuff.’ And while we still aren’t finished, we are a long way from where we started.

Our most recent purchase has been a grill; but not just any grill. We are talking about the lean mean, fat reducing grilling machine, George Foreman Grill. It fits in our apartment, follows the no actual grill on the patio rule, and reduces our protein fat intake. Not bad at all. We ripped it out of the box and started grilling some chicken right away.

Because it is the beginning of the season, as a team, we are also working on getting settled. Guys are coming in day by day and different players are coming in on trial. As things have yet to be set, some guys living situations aren't exactly ready for them yet. Being one of the few groups of guys on the team not married and not with a host family, we get asked to host players from time to time. On this particular occasion, we were hosting a newly signed midfielder. Not only had he been newly signed, he had also become and brand new believer.

Like out of the box new.

Still very much fighting his old life with so many questions, we would sit and dialogue with this guy. I would love to say we perfectly and without issue answered every single question he asked.

I can’t.

I’d love even more to say he asked really easy questions. You know, the ones we are taught to answer perfectly, with scripture references and everything?

He didn’t.

This guy actually cared. He was legitimately curious. And he didn’t ask about Heaven, or ‘being in’, or saying a prayer. No, all of his questions had to do with today. He wanted to know why so much bad happens with a good God. Why Christians stand out as some of the biggest hypocrites out there. What to do when we call out to God and He doesn’t seem to answer, or maybe even care. What good is the Bible anyway? This guy’s stuff was tough!

It was apparent this guy didn’t need a faith that would get him to Heaven. This guy needed a faith that would bring heaven to him! In the midst of talking with him, I have come to a deeper understanding and realization of what I have thought for quite a while now:

I need a Jesus for today.

Yes, someday, we will inherit Heaven, and all its glories. We will get incredible crowns to lay back down at Jesus’ feet. Sin will be washed away. There will be no more tears, no more pain. It will be awesome

But there still is suffering today.

There is still sin,

There are still tears,

There is still pain.

If Jesus can’t be some source of hope for today, for now, how can I ultimately trust him with my eternity? Do I even want to?

And as I have wrestled with this I am blessed to come back to the same conclusion: the Christian life is the best life to live. I ultimately believe that forgiveness and grace far outweigh grudges. That patience and love beat out a ‘have it my way’ theory. That to serve and give to others defeats a me first attitude.

Ultimately I believe this to be the case for two reasons.

1. I see it in everyday life.

There are fewer things that catch our eyes with more clarity than beauty, redemption, grace, and mercy. The list goes on, but we love to see these stories unfold before our own eyes. This redeeming part of humanity is absolutely beautiful.

2. God’s word is littered with this reality.

Throughout the scriptures God give his people guidelines and ideas for how to live. I think too often we think of these as dos and don’ts - laws that get in the way of our living. The reality is, these have all been set up to protect us. These have all been put into place so that we might be able to live life the way it was meant to be.

And who knows better than our creator. Who would be better fit to help us understand the best way to operate other than the God who made us. The one who knit us together, knows our in and outs, the actions we take, and the words we speak.

As we continued to dialogue, I actually began to think about our newly acquired George Foreman. See, as we originally popped that thing out of the bag and threw the chicken on it, we all started asking each other, “Well how long does it stay on for?” “Do we need to flip the chicken?” ”What does this button do?”

So what did we instinctively turn to? The instructions, of course.

I mean, who would know how better to use the device than the original creator?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fulfilling Requirements

"Over here! Pick Me! Tag Me in! Come to me. I want to do this with you." (Ezekiel 36:36-37 RSV)

I’m back! Not so much to blogging, but rather to life as I knew it near the end of 2010. The past few weeks have been crazy as I have been resettling myself in Charlotte. I have moved apartments, added a roommate, picked up an additional job, and spent an inordinate amount of time at Chic-Fil-A. I am a bit more ‘in place’ at this point as I try to orient the next several months here.

As most of the 4 people who glance at this know, I spent the end of November and all of December and January back in Chicago. Yes, currently, I am doing Southeast summers and Midwest winters; I am a moron. While back in Chicago I work in house for a company called Crown Graphics. ‘The Shop’ as it is effectively called wears many, many different hats. Most days it is a silkscreen and embroidery business. On others, it is a budding soccer agency business (check it out www.bridgesfc.com). And still other days it operates as a research venue for new business ventures the likes of RedBox, Storage Wars, and Pawn Shops. Every day however, there is some form of joke or laughter that takes place; usually at someone else’s expense. It is inevitable. Those who are in or around ‘the shop’ joke that A&E should come in and do a reality show. I have no doubts people would watch it.

While in Charlotte, my role with Crown is different as I am not on site. I do more distance based sales, and am helping to build the Bridges agency. When I am in town though, I help with all of the day to day aspects of the print side. There are screens to be cleaned, shirts to be boxed and shipped, film to be made, and of course items to be screened.

Since screening is the majority of the business we do, it is guarded heavily. Though not a particularly difficult task, in theory, if you mess up it costs the business money. There is a certain art to it and while I am making it sound potentially more difficult than it is, there really isn’t a whole lot of margin for error. No new employee screens. It is a process in which over a period of time you are anointed an ability to take the steering wheel.

After lots of mess ups on sample shirts and ink order the task becomes fairly simple. It can be a one man job and doesn’t require a whole lot of thinking. On big shirt orders it can tend to get a bit tedious.

During one week I was screening a rather large order for a best friend of mine. (Check out his blog: www.chiphuber.blogspot.com). Chip is in charge of the Freshman Experience at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids. He has basically flipped the thing on it’s head in the past year and asked that we make some shirts for all of his freshmen.

The design on the front was a cool, albeit dizzying pattern that looked a little bit like something out of Dr. Mario. Want to disagree? I screened it over 500 times. I’m pretty confident I’m correct in my analysis.

On the back was a simple line; right below the neck on the upper back. In a skyish blue read the words: “Build a Life That Matters.”

I can’t imagine it takes much to see the ridiculous irony in this.

I sat there, listening to oldies, painting the phrase “Build a Life That Matters’ on over 500 T shirts. Put shirt on board, screen down, wipe the ink across, screen up, shirt on dryer. Repeat.

I screened in borderline agony as these t shirts screamed out to me, questioning, “Are you building a life that matters?”

It is a question that for those who know me, has more or less haunted me for a some time. Have you ever felt like this? We are told in the Scriptures that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). I cannot speak for you, but I for one have been given much. I have won the parent lottery. I am educated, well traveled, well experienced, and fairly well versed. The ‘much given’ part is definitely in tact.

And in a quest for ‘required’ I have been in 4 cities in 4 years. I have coached, played, sold, moved, input, and handed out just to name a few. I have yet to find that I have filled this required mandate. I have yet to find exactly what it is that is being asked.

So often I just want the simple answer. I want someone, I want God to just tell me what ‘much required’ is. I want to just know. Tell me so I can go and do it. Tell me, so that it can be done; finished.

Others’ grass seems so freaking green and it drives me crazy.

And yet in the midst of this tension, we are offered comfort.

My favorite analogy is that contrasting a hospital room and a rain storm. In the hospital room everything is so neat. Everything is clean. All of the sheets are folded perfectly. The word that gets thrown around in hospitals is sterile. Everything is sterile. It has to be. With all of the sickness and disease in a hospital you don’t want to risk the spread to other rooms and subsequently patients.

On the contrary, this morning as I went out to church I sprinted to my car through pouring rain. I tried to take a short cut through the grass and landed in a massive puddle. As I looked around the flower and tree beds, they were all overflowing with mud and mulch. It was disgusting. It was gross, and dirty, and anything but sterile. But this mess will result in beauty in the coming weeks. Spring will arrive and buds will be in blossom. Grass will be green and animals will be all over the place. The reality that any gardener will tell you is that growth happens in the mess.

Our lives mirror the exact same reality.

Our lives are shaped in process; in the mess. See, I had read the back of those shirts all wrong. My brain actually read, HAVE a life that matters (1). The beauty of what was actually written was in the opening word: BUILD.

Building is messy. There are wood shavings, marks on the floor, mistakes, trash to be taken out. A house isn’t just a take out of the box and add water product. Our lives are no different. Even Jesus grew (Luke 2:52). He was subject to the same mess.

And I could be wrong, but I believe we serve a God who loves to see his children in process. He struggles when we make wrong turns, he cringes when our own actions lead to pain, and he is ecstatic to see our successes and our growth. He loves to partner with us in figuring out ‘required.’

I have to believe that if God were a T Shirt guy, he might in fact have one that reads, “Building Lives That Matter.”









(1) Even that understanding is ironic and misplaced. Having a life that matters is already established as a follower of Christ.