Outside the Window

October 4, 2014 § 2 Comments

Window “There is nothing less attractive than stingy Christians. We serve a generous, lavish God who delights in beauty and diversity, color and aromas.” Christopher L. Heuertz & Christine D. Pohl, Friendship at the Margins

Last evening, Katherine and I, along with our daughter and son-in-law, ate at a downtown restaurant for my birthday dinner. Baltimore has a beautiful skyline. At night it is spectacular. To eat on the main drag of the Inner Harbor with lights reflecting on the water, and boats at dock, as cars pass and people walk, is such a treat.

As we enjoyed the moment and one another I noticed the energy outside the window we sat beside. It always seems as though something is going on in the city, and on this night it was particularly exciting. The Orioles had just won the second of the best-of-five series with the Detroit Tigers for the American League Eastern Division Title, leaving only one victory to take the series. City buildings were lit up in Orioles orange and the air was filled with elation.

It occurred to me that there is always another layer of activity going on concurrently with that of our own lives. I sometimes miss this, and when I do, I become stingy, and the world shrinks to my own puny concerns and insecurities. Fortunately I am married to someone who won’t let me hide in the cocoon of my hermit-like instincts.

It isn’t that the details of my life aren’t important, but when reduced to being everything, my enclosed world becomes its own toxic little universe – and we weren’t meant to live this way. In fact we are never healthier than when we look and live outside of ourselves. I know this flies against every instinct, but it is true. And it is the whole point of the Beatitudes – Those who abandon self, find themselves. It is the magnificent counter-intuitive principle of the gospel.

Just think about when you have been happiest in your life, and you will recall moments spent in the company of others, and in an awareness of the world around you.

It is likely that pain, disappointment, our awkward peculiarities, and fear are the culprits behind our reticence to engage in the world around us. Bodies heal but inner wounds don’t, and our kneejerk response will always be to flee into our own skin. We are unfinished and something deep within doesn’t want others to recognize our discrepancies – I get that.

But take it from a borderline introvert – we come alive when we escape the tyranny of self, and enjoy the world outside our windows.

And each time we take the bread and share the cup, we rehearse Jesus and His vision of a healed universe, in celebration of His willingness to abandon the security of heaven, in order to enter into the hostility of a broken world that He created to be good…

…for us.

What good news…

peace.

Team Photo

September 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

“The goal of human existence is that man should dwell at peace in all his relationships: with God, with himself, with his fellows, with nature, a peace which is not merely the absence of hostility, though certainly it is that, but a peace which at its highest is enjoyment.”

Nicholas Wolterstorff, REASON [within the Bounds of Religion]

If you haven’t seen the moving video entitled, Made in New York, produced recently by Gatorade honoring Derek Jeter, the retiring New York Yankee shortstop, then sit back and enjoy – it is a worthy watch.

If anything has distinguished Jeter’s career it is that he is a team player. While he is unquestionably an exceptional athlete, it is his commitment to the wellbeing of the team that separates him and others like him.

Hey, I’m no Yankees fan! But those who play for the team – those who care primarily for people other than themselves, they are the ones that transcend the lines of demarcation that normally separate people. I think this is because they tap into what we were created to enjoy with one another, and all creation, before the fall cursed the world with isolation. They embody the selfless expression that community demands in order for it to flourish. In a year filled with painful sports scandals, both on the professional and collegiate athletic levels, it is refreshing to say farewell to a pro that ‘got it.’

This is partly why I believe the Baltimore Orioles’ season has been special (other than winning the AL East Division Title!). They have survived disappointment and injury – as a team. Last Tuesday evening in Camden Yards (picture below) was magic, because team and city converged in joy. It is always about the team, and the people/city the team plays for.

I often don’t get this. In a culture and society that is so individualized, it is easy to get lost in doing my job: preparing my sermon, writing my blog, paying my bills, fixing my house, etc, that I forget the grander, sweeter communal life of love, friendship, fellowship and faith I have been called into.

We weren’t created to live for ourselves. And we are miserable when we do. In spite of the fact that our selfish instincts often prevail against the messy, inconvenience of relationship and sacrifice and self-abandonment, it is when our darkest wishes come true, and everything is in its perfect order just as we wanted it, and we are left to ourselves, that we are at our most miserable.

So God gives us simple expressions of self-abandonment in order that we may catch fresh glimpses of Jesus, who exchanged glory for shame, and honor for love, that we may rediscover that the Father’s great delight is most beautifully enjoyed when shared together… with the team.

What good news…

peace.

Stadium

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Baltimore (AKA how the Super Bowl informs a simple Faith)

February 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Raiders “…I stay in the shallow waters and skim the surface for insights and truths that are often passed over by the deep thinkers.”

Ruth Tucker, Walking Away From Faith

With Super Bowl XLVII just days away, the excitement and anticipation have built to a fevered pitch in the Greater Baltimore region. So pardon the simple musings of lifelong sports fan. Along with family and friends, I have entered into the excitement – much to the surprise of those who have known me for many years to be an avid, make that rabid, Oakland Raiders fan.

A simple visit to my office will reveal various Raiders paraphernalia, including my treasured, framed poster of the 1969 Oakland Raiders, the season Daryl Lamonica threw 34 touchdown passes and won the AFL MVP. My Dad secured this particular picture by writing to Al Davis, the Raiders’ owner, on Eastern Airlines letterhead. I could probably list every significant play, win, loss, player (including number) and moment in Oakland Raiders history. And I’ll never believe that Franco Harris’ immaculate reception/touchdown was legitimate!

So why allegiance to the Ravens?

The answer is simple – Because we live in Baltimore. In nearly seven years I have grown to love what this city loves, including its teams, its Inner Harbor, its food (translation: crabs, crab cakes & Old Bay crab seasoning), and most importantly, its people. I’m from Miami and love that city, though friends will argue that I never loved the Dolphins, which is true. But in 7th Grade you go for the coolest uniform, and no team’s uni was cooler than the Raiders’. I digress…

Years ago I had the joy of working with Rev. Bruce Reynolds in youth ministry – He and his wife Jeanette hailed from Baltimore. They were Baltimore everything, from the Orioles to the Colts (long time ago!). Bruce is now involved in a ministry of humor, faith and encouragement for churches, clubs and corporations. Neither would have dreamed they would settle in Florida, and we in Maryland. Not to mention that lifelong friend in life and ministry, Ray Cortese (also a Miamian), was as passionate for the Baltimore Colts as I was the Raiders. His Johnny U poster hung in our college dorm room.

It is worth mentioning that several players for the Ravens played at the University of Miami (the U) while we lived in South Florida – players we watched compete in the old Orange Bowl. And amazingly, one player for the San Francisco 49ers played at Katherine’s and my alma mater, Belhaven College.

In my simple universe there has to be something to this.

I think it is that the contours, shifts and transitions we face and experience are about a story God weaves us into during the course of our entire lives. People, places, interests and affections are never static. Neither is faith. We are put into particular settings just when God wants us there. And for His own reasons, whether to grow our faith, to insert us into another’s life, or for purposes we may never know, He is knitting us into a sweet narrative that before we would not have imagined – a picture we would never have recognized – with all the sounds, sights, smells, encounters, faces – yes, even teams – that help complete His work on the canvass that is our lives.

The apostle Paul saw himself as ‘becoming all things to all men,’ believing that being situated in diverse contexts and cultures enabled him to ‘do all this for the sake of the gospel…’ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) – The temptation is to see this is as something God does through us for others, and undoubtedly this is part of what Paul is saying. But I’m not so sure it is only that. Could it be that He is working the gospel into us as well? I’m certain He is. And my guess is that wherever Paul was, at any moment, he was completely at home.

So my encouragement is to stop fighting and enjoy. Figuring out God’s reasons is like counting the stars – it ain’t going to happen! We’re way too linear to understand God’s plans for our lives. And every attempt to do so robs us of the joy of the moment.

And I guess this is my point. Wherever you are, for whatever reasons, God put you there, and through you He intends to be someone else’s good news, and they yours…

Go Ravens! (and Oakland, please, PLEASE, deal with your offense!)…

peace.

StaffRavensPhoto

The Power of Good News, (aka baseball wisdom, part 2)

October 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

I promise this to be my last Orioles post of the season. As you may already know, the Baltimore Orioles lost game five to the New York Yankees in the best three-out-of-five American League Divisional Playoff Series. This means that while the Yankees advance in pursuit of a trip to the World Series, the Orioles’ season is officially over. And while it was sad to see them lose, it was a great season.

There is something profoundly contagious about good news though. It spreads. It is like a city that becomes infected with baseball fever, especially when its team has been in the divisional cellar for over a decade.

Unfortunately many in Christian circles haven’t yet gotten that memo. For some reason many enter into the Faith with great joy and relief, only to confuse spirituality with some sanctified form of misery.

I’m not sure why this is. It could be that we forget that initial sense of happy relief when we first knew that our sins had been forgiven. Maybe it is that realization that conversion doesn’t mean perfection, and when those old sins continue to press, we get discouraged. No doubt there are all kinds of reasons.

Hey, none of us are immune.

But the scriptures are unequivocal with the promise of the new heavens and the new earth. When all things are made new, Joy will be the song of the redeemed. And every encounter with Jesus in this life – even the excruciatingly painful ones where we are exposed for what we are and confronted with who we have been – is intended to extract hints of this very joy that already resides in the hearts of those in whom the Spirit of God dwells (Galatians 5:22).

I think this is what the prophet Isaiah (55:11-12) is speaking to when he says that God’s Word (not only the scriptures that testify to Jesus, but Jesus Himself), never returns to him void, followed by that magnificent epitaph, For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace…

Game two of the Orioles-Yankees series was played here in the city at Camden Yards. The Orioles won to tie the series up. The stadium was packed. The crowd was wild. The city was electric. After, the streets were filled with uncontained joy. Something good had happened in Baltimore, and all were drawn into the celebration.

I have come to believe that the people of God are intended to be a city of contagious, infectious joy in a fallen world. When joy has escaped me, it usually isn’t about the circumstances so much as it is about my heart.

But there is no greater testimony to the power of the Gospel (the Greek word for good news, incidentally) in a broken world than people who bear witness to the fact that though sin and sorrow and tragedy often visit our lives, even with great force, something more deeply beautiful has happened within – because of Jesus – and this is carries the day. We are unfinished, but we are His.

Friends! What could be better news?

peace.

Something Greater than Our Selves

September 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

“God’s design for human flourishing cannot be satisfied in isolation. In a broken, fragmented world, the church is called to be the firstfruits of a new creation by embodying a reconciled community.”

James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom

This week I was struck by an unexpected dynamic that has swelled in our region. There is a thrill in the air in Baltimore. For the first time in 15 years, the Orioles, Baltimore’s Major League Baseball team is in the Pennant race. You need to know that this does something good to a city and region. The Orioles have captured the hearts and imaginations of the region. And let me tell you, there is nothing more fulfilling than hating the Yankees, as a community!

Last week we took our church staff to an Orioles game – a day game. Here we were, at the threshold of the city, a magnificent day, and in the most beautiful baseball stadium in country (Cambden Yards is unmatched in beauty, design and character), and tens of thousands came to share in the passion.

Following the game (a victorious fourteen-inning thriller) elated fans exited the park, slapping hands, shouting, ‘Go O’s!’ and feeling part of something greater than themselves.

The thing is that we were not designed to be alone. We are pack animals. Or put more tastefully, we were created to live in relationship. And we most thrive when we do. That was the core damage of the fall in the Garden. Relationships were severed. Two people designed to live in God’s presence chose to hide – from Him, and from one another.

It doesn’t have to be marriage, though that is a good thing. And we don’t have to be members of the same church (but if you’re looking, I know a great one you can consider). That isn’t the point.

The point is that to be alienated is to swim against the current of our intended state of being. To live outside of community is to short-circuit something within that makes us truly human. Remember? ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ – Genesis 2:18.

Yet ibeside us, then it only seems to follow that we have every reason to build impenetrable walls of protection around ourselves. Why risk further injury?

There’s no getting around it – We were created for relationship – with God and with other unfinished ones like ourselves – people who, like us, have been ‘damaged by the fall.’ And I suspect that in our most honest of moments, each would admit that, past the self-protective layers of rhetoric and isolation, we long to be loved and embraced. We long for someone who cares enough to break through. Because we know that our yearnings are deeper than our facades of resistance.

I love how the writer of Hebrews captures this relational need in the first two verses of his twelfth chapter. There is no ‘me’ in it. It is about ‘we’ being surrounded by that ‘great cloud of witnesses.’ It is about ‘us’ running ‘with perseverance.’ It is ‘a race marked out for us.’ And together we ‘fix our eyes on Jesus.’

Sometimes the Church can be so concerned with personal holiness that it breeds an oppressed community of terrified, isolated individuals who are made to feel like spiritual failures for saying, ‘I can’t do it on my own.’ Why wouldn’t people hide from that?

Well you need to know something: I can’t do it on my own.

And neither can you.

Let’s get over it. Together.

Because at the heart of our Faith is Jesus.

We need Him. Together.

That’s really good news.

Go O’s!

peace.

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