A Night I Don’t Want to Bring Up…but i can’t stop thinking about.

I’m sitting in the back of the car, wearing my letter jacket to keep warm in the Minnesota winter and my hands won’t stop fidgeting. The red and blue lights just kicked on behind us, and it was me who ran back into the car with the empty beer bottle. We were hoping they’d drive on by, but it’s after midnight and we are 3 teenage boys. Why didn’t I throw the bottle into the snow? Why did I get back in the car? I’m on the cross country team -even in the snow they can’t keep up with me. Billy’s riding shotgun and not saying much. Andy is behind the wheel of our parked car. And my hands won’t stop fidgeting. The policeman’s flashlight scans my lap from the outside, and his hand opening the door seals my fate. 

Even now, twenty years later, I can hear the bottle bouncing on the crystallized pavement and the other policeman’s mocking voice as I step out of the car and he sees my jacket. We’ve got an athlete! That evening cost me a season of basketball and my reputation as a goody-two shoes. In true adolescent form I was only disappointed to lose one of those. It was the first (and only) time since that tour you get in kindergarten I’d been in the back of a squad car. I heard my name over the radio. My parents woke up to a cop on their doorstep. I’d like a redo for that night.

That evening has run marathons in my memory over the years. Seeing it with adult eyes, it makes sense. I messed up. I was punished. I learned my lesson. Only one scene from that one night play has escaped my understanding over the years. Until now. 

When the lights clicked on behind us, my immediate response in the backseat was panic. Look forward, don’t move, don’t blink. Shove the bottle between my leg and the door. Maybe they’ll go away. Billy acted the same. But as soon as Andy saw the lights, he opened his door and walked towards the policemen with his arms up like he had robbed a bank. I mean, it was rapid response. Like he had been coached. All I could think was, What are you thinking Andy? Now they know we’re up to no good! 

Now I know Andy had the talk before that night. Andy is black. To me he was the starting quarterback and the best power forward in school, but he had been told by someone to never assume people will see his letter jacket without first noticing the skin underneath it. I never had a conversation like that. I’ve never had to think like that. Of the three people in that car, Andy was by far the most innocent, yet there he was in the freezing cold with his arms up in the spotlight.

I don’t know what to make of this scene anymore. I realize now it has a depth I couldn’t comprehend in the back of that car. Perhaps this is me being able to see a little more clearly a difference in the world I grew up in and the world Andy did. We may have graduated together. Played ball together. Gotten in trouble together. But it is a different world.

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St. Louis, Adrian Cronauer, and an Ancient Prophet: A Lament

Last night I read through the Facebook updates as the news blared in the background. Once again parts of our city were emblazoned with red and blue lights and the sound of bullets. A cocktail of frustration and anger bubbling into the streets. Only hours earlier I drove down that road, and I could hear the eggshells crackling underneath my tires. The summer heat has been mild in the shadow of the arch, but this is a hot week dripping with possibilities.

I pray justice for Michael Brown.

I pray justice for the officer.

I pray justice for the business owners who must rebuild.

I pray justice for our city.

Dead Poets Society reshaped my life. It led me to Thoreau, Uncle Walt -the classroom. John Keating is the nail my framed English degree crookedly hangs on in my office. The fictional story that hinges on the tragedy of a man taking his life because he feels trapped has echoed through our country as the nation mourns Our Captain. He was Mork, Patch, Dr. Maguire, Genie, Adrian Cronauer, Mrs. Doubtfire. Four generations claim him as their own.

I pray mercy for his family.

I pray mercy for our nation.

I pray peace for Dr. Keating.

An ancient prophet called upon his people for justice to roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream. The river appears dammed at this moment -held back by the insurmountable boulders of violence and despair in her path. A city, a nation holds their breath like a fish flopping on the sun-scorched earth, praying for the current to overwhelm her obstacles and break forth like the dawn.

The brokenness of the world glares back at us through the mirror.

Have mercy on us, O God, according to your unfailing love.

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Do you give the benefit of the doubt? Do you love?

God often serendipitously exposes my faulty wiring while I’m busy finding faults in others. Yesterday was no exception. I thought I’d surprise my wife by showing up at the office and taking her out for ice cream. She works at one of the largest hospitals in the country, and cell phone signals have a tendency to fade in and out under the heaps of concrete and medical devices. I arrived on the sixth floor ten minutes before her intended clock out. I called her cell phone. Nothing. I paged her (yes, the medical field still uses the preferred technology of drug dealers circa 1997). Nothing. I waited…nothing. Exchanging pleasantries with those walking out of the office, I began to stir. Where was my wife? Had she left early and was already sitting in our living room? Was she purposely ignoring my calls? I paged a few more times. Nothing. An hour passed me by as I searched my contacts for someone to text so I would appear as busy as everyone else in the lobby. Finally, my phone rang. I coiled to pounce. But it wasn’t the sweet voice of my wife on the other end but that of a man. “Hello, Jimmy? This is nurse so-and-so. Amber’s still scrubbed in and working overtime on a really tough procedure. What is it you need?” I shriveled into the bench. “Just tell her I’m waiting in the office.”

Why am I hesitant to give the benefit of the doubt to the love of my life? She’s busy working overtime, saving someone’s life, and I’m thinking she’s loafing about and absent-mindedly avoiding her phone? Who’s in the wrong here?

Has a variation of this scene played out in your marriage as many times as us? What about in your church? When Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, he showed them the most excellent way they were to behave. And he told them about a patient love, a kind love. A love that keeps no records of wrongs. I imagine 1 Corinthians 13 is read at the majority of weddings in America, but its original audience was a gathering of Christians -not a couple. Those people who sit across the auditorium from you, down the pew from you. Those who get into lengthy political debates in the foyer. Those who dump their children off at the nursery and then head out for coffee. Those who reek of smoke. Those who updated their status from the pub Friday night. Those who question your fundamental beliefs in the classroom. Yes, all those people and everyone in between. Paul says love them.

And part of loving people is giving those same people the benefit of the doubt. That means, when they say something that could be perceived as sarcastic or a dig at your personality, regard it as sarcasm. When they do something in ministry that affects your toes, don’t think they’re deliberately trying to step on them. And when they combat your comment in class, it’s more about something they’re trying to work through than shoot down your thoughts.

A church that doesn’t extend grace to herself isn’t able to extend grace to the world.

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Got 3 Minutes?

Could you help me out and answer this quick, 10 question, multiple choice survey anonymously? It focuses on your prayer life and how you use prayer. As a preacher, I love to tackle big ideology and concepts. I believe the more we know (not just facts, but how it pertains to the Big Picture), the more we can discern and adapt our faith. Where I find my preaching lacking is in the application stage. I just often assume that as a given. 

Thankfully, I am a part of a church that is gracious with her young preacher, and my brothers and sisters gently nudge instead of kick. I would like to help her by focusing on the application of faith on a day to day basis, and I can’t think of a better place to start than prayer.

So please take this survey and help me out. And thank you for your patience!

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Are Biblical Metaphors Still Making the Point?

(This week’s random meanderings)
Last Sunday our Church had a powerful service focusing on the betrothal between Christ and the Church. Connecting communion to an ancient wedding engagement asks us to accept the cup of marriage as we wait for our bridegroom to return. I’ve never looked at the Lord’s Supper that way before.
But this week has me chasing rabbits concerning Biblical metaphors. Do they pack the same spiritual punch for us as the first readers, and do we have the liberty to tweak those metaphors for current days so they still relay the original point?
In the first century, an engagement/wedding was much different than your typical American wedding of today. The bride and groom didn’t walk down the aisle as equals. Money probably changed hands between families, and I’m curious if the ceremony consisted of a time when the woman stated her vows. Because back then her promises just didn’t mean much. She was entering a covenant where her husband would be the decision maker. It was a patriarchal society. So, when the Church was referred to as the “Bride of Christ,” it was an acknowledgement that Jesus was calling the shots. There was a covenant bond, but not between equal partners. To mix my metaphors, Paul refers to Jesus as the “Head of the Body.”
Yet our society is significantly more egalitarian than back then, with the pants being shared between partners. Many more couples see their marriage as a 50/50 split -sometimes he steps up and leads, other times she steps up and leads. In this culture, how does the “Bride of Christ” metaphor get altered? Jesus becomes a foot soldier, another face in the crowd, my homeboy, instead of his rightful place in salvation history.
And speaking of foot soldiers, we could look at the “spiritual warfare” metaphor. When Paul tells the Galatians to put on the full armor of God, Roman soldiers were on every street corner. Everyone was aware of Rome’s boot on their throats thanks to the overwhelming presence of Caesar’s minions. So Paul’s metaphor was extremely political and contemporary. And in a violent-heavy culture like ours, where wars happen over oceans, should we be dressing up our children in Roman soldier outfits so they memorize a metaphor that no longer applies?
What do you think? Do we keep the metaphors we’ve known through the ages or do we alter them to fit the times? And what do you replace Biblical metaphors with?

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Sundae Only Churches

Last night our Church family had a sundae social to kick-off the summer, and here is the gist of my devotional for the evening…

Part of gaining wisdom is knowing humanity eats our ice cream cones from the top down (sorry son -you’re not there yet). So I’ll start at the top. Most of our frozen delights are topped with a small piece of fruit -mere window dressing for the healthy section of the grocery store, but justification for eating the whole thing. The rationale is complex but we feel we can eat it all because, hey, it’s got fruit on it! 

The step down from there is the second scoop. The second scoop is the adventurous one. When getting a double-decker, most Americans will chose the safe flavor first, followed by the outrageous. The second scoop is where we try something new. Why not? It’s layered in between a cherry and our favorite flavor -how bad can it be? Bubble gum ice cream was made for the second scoop. 

Next is Mr. Reliable: chocolate, vanilla, rocky road. The first scoop is home base. We feel comfortable with the first scoop. We let our hair down. If the cone was going to spill, it would’ve by now. Even a 1st grader can handle the rest of the way (you’d think). I don’t have much else to say about the first scoop, except, thank you for the inventor of the ice cream cone. At the bottom we have…the cone. That wonderful creation that is the real dessert -the ice cream and fruit were confectious appetizers. Not only pleasing to the taste buds, finishing a cone without spilling is like a double victory -appealing to the competitive senses also. Watch someone devour a cone sometime -it is unattractive…and no one cares. It is that awesome.

Now take these 4 segments of an ice cream cone and compare them to questions and relationships we have in our lives. “How you feeling today?” is the cherry on top -the window dressing for relationships. I’d ask this question to anyone, anywhere. It implies our relationship is a blank slate and you’re only going to throw a dab of paint. The second scoop is where we get a little adventurous, “If you were stranded on an island, what book or CD would you wish you had -but you can’t pick the Bible” (Church version). This is digging a little deeper into someone’s interests, but it’s still safe -that’s why questions like these are used as icebreakers at youth groups and conferences. The first scoop is where we get to the good stuff -home base. When someone asks you a first scoop question they are genuinely curious about your life. “How are you dealing with that bad news you told me last week?” It implies you’ve shared information in the past, I’ve thought about it, and now I’m curious about you -not just an update of information. You are important to me. The first scoop questions make us feel human. And the cone questions forge friendships: “What’s stopping you from having a better prayer life?” Cone questions involve vulnerability, trust over fear. They are questions you wouldn’t answer a stranger -a question that wouldn’t be asked by a stranger. It is the stuff of friendship.

When we think about fellowship, Christians being together, it is easy to think about bbq’s, baby showers, or vacation Bible schools. But those are sundae only activities (cherry and 2nd scoop). Those events usually stay light and smiley (and that’s ok). Real, vulnerable fellowship takes place in 1-on-1 conversations around dinner tables, over hospital beds, or neighborhood fences. And they take time. But they are valued and encouraged. This week, let’s make sure we’re not a sundae only Church! Let’s attack those cone questions like we’re at the beach and that thing is melting fast!

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3 Terms Misused in Church

Why do you keep using that word? I do not think it means what you think it means.

Conservative Christian: This is someone who believes the Biblical accounts actually happened and within the canon are examples, principles, and commands for how Christianity is to be practiced. When the Bible says, “Jesus said…” conservatives believe there really was a man named Jesus who walked the earth, ministered for a few years around the Sea of Galilee, was betrayed by one of his disciples, was crucified in Jerusalem, and then was resurrected. That all, and everything else in the Bible, is 100% Truth, historically accurate, and meant for present day application. Someone isn’t a conservative just because they attend a Sunday morning worship service, vote Republican, or are a little less hesitant than you to change things.

Moderate Christian: This is someone who believes the Biblical accounts happened, but those events are bound within their time and culture. The Bible is more “God revealing” than “Principle teaching,” so the examples and commands within Scripture are discerned as to whether they are to be applied today. Everything in the Bible is 100% Truth, historically limited, and meant for present day discernment. Someone isn’t a moderate just because they go to a worship service with a cool name, vote Independent, have a goatee, or are flippant when it comes to change. 

Liberal Christian: This is someone who doesn’t care if the Biblical accounts happened or not, and whether Jesus was an actual person isn’t all that important. What is important is that God left us a guide for who he is so we could understand his true nature. There are principles in the Bible, but even more importantly is the nature of God revealed in Scripture. The big overarching themes of the Bible focus on revealing who God is. The Bible is 100% Truth, perhaps historically irrelevant, and meant for present day revelation. Someone isn’t a liberal just because they wear jeans to worship, vote Democrat, or willing to make changes more quickly than you.

If you haven’t already caught on -you are not the bar by which everyone else is labeled “conservative,” “moderate,” or “liberal.” 


What do you think? Are these 3 definitions accurate? How have you heard these terms misused?

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