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).