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

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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