March 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
This past week I was thrilled to meet up with an old friend and one of the most inspiring people I have ever known. When we first met, Jenni Gold was 10 years old and I was an 18 year-old volunteer church youth worker. Jenni has Muscular Dystrophy and was in a full body cast at the time, having had a steel rod surgically placed in her spine. Along with her parents, her two amazing sisters provided an environment of healing. The only thing they wouldn’t offer was sympathy, and this produced a will that far surpassed the strength of the rod in her back. We became fast friends, all of us. She fully entered into the life of our Youth Group. The word ‘limitation’ was not in her vocabulary. It still isn’t.
After graduating with a double major from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Jenni, along with her husband Jeff, moved to California, determined to produce movies. Today she is the co-founder of Gold Pictures in Universal City, CA. On Wednesday we reunited in DC to see a viewing of her Documentary, CinemAbility, a stunningly beautiful film about the history of the entertainment industry in relation to people with disabilities. She was also in DC to accept the 2014 American Association of Persons with Disabilities Image Award, presented by Danny Woodburn (‘Mickey’ on Seinfeld!).
In accepting the award, Jenni sited Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13, thanking Christ who gives her strength, and so revealed the source of her amazing will and character. Somewhere along the way, in all she has endured and overcome, as a little girl, and since, Jenni met Jesus. And He has provided everything she needs to be nothing short of amazing.
She mounts up with wings like eagles. She runs and doesn’t grow weary. She walks and doesn’t faint.
And she happens to have MD.
It is Lent. The world is broken. Suffering is part of the daily narrative.
But Jesus has come. And in entering into our brokenness by subjecting Himself to temptation, sorrow and pain, even death, by His resurrection He has assured that until He returns, and regardless of our circumstances, we may dance to the song of His redemption.
Friends, there is no greater news…
Taken on Palm Sunday in 1977 when Jenni joined the church
January 25, 2014 § 1 Comment
Tragic news has struck our community here in the Baltimore burbs. A fatal shooting rocked the Columbia Mall, where I write my sermons and blog each Saturday morning. Were it not for the fact that Katherine and I are speaking at a Marriage Conference in Atlanta this weekend, I would have been there.
But today, on every news network and, exploding on the Internet, the story of a horrid tragedy in our own backyard predominates. I am sick to my stomach and overwhelmed with sadness. The shards of our world’s brokenness have struck ‘home.’
It was only last week that we returned from Miami, my hometown, where we had our Mom’s funeral service. There were all kinds of sentimental moments in the experience. We enjoyed dear friends, ate the familiar food, cleaned the home we grew up in, took in the tropics, and returned to the last church I was a member of (pastors don’t retain Membership in churches).
But ‘home,’ at least here on earth in this sweet season in our lives, has become for us, Greater Baltimore. This place, this region – this home that we have come to love – is hurting.
Sometimes home hurts.
As we enter into adulthood we do so with all kinds of expectations for our lives. Our hopes are only good ones, and our dreams presume the distinct possibility that they are entirely attainable. This is how we think – and it is a good thing. We should interweave our natural longings for heaven into the people and world we live in.
Only this could transform what would be a most understandable response of repulsion, into a deepened love for a ‘place’ and people that have entered into a shared sorrow. In fact, I find myself anxious to rejoin our wounded community, and to get back to the church we have grown to love, the ‘place’ we now call home – and ‘my’ Starbucks – to freshly embrace what is now part of the landscape of our shared world. This pain has drawn me in.
And I find it inexplicably beautiful that the closer He moved towards His betrayal and death, Jesus’ love for His disciples became more pronounced – rather than less. I have to believe that His ‘joy set before Him’ (Hebrews 12:1-2) served as His promise of a one-day sweeter and deeper intimacy with His beloved friends.
This was the good news Jesus embodied.
Written with deep sadness…
July 20, 2013 § 5 Comments
“I read somewhere that a thing that does not exist in relation to anything else cannot itself be said to exist.” Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
The trees pictured here are from my old neighborhood, in fact the home on the left corner is the one I grew up in. Forty years ago our dad, my brothers and I, along with other dads and their teenage children planted these trees as seedlings. The work was hard and dirty – and it cost us two weekends. But it was never intended to serve us alone. It was meant for generations that will follow long past our lifetimes.
Isaac’s journey came to mind as I prepared to reenter the blogosphere after a break and some redesign. He was Abraham’s son, and at some point in his life as an adult, Isaac found himself back in the land his dad once owned – it would one day become Israel. Upon arrival his first task was to dig wells in order to establish a usable water supply (Genesis 26). As he surveyed the land, he discovered old ones his father had dug years before, some working, and others not. Rather than build all new wells, he wisely recommissioned the ones that still functioned.
Such is the story of our lives as Christ-followers. Who we are now is in some way shaped by all who have gone before us, along with our every experience, which in turn somehow shapes those who will follow – like trees that line a neighborhood.
The video below is from the Paul McCartney concert Katherine and I attended the other night in DC. For me, a former Beatles freak, it was one of those bucket-list moments – what a thrill! The Long and Winding Road paints a beautiful picture of an entire lifetime.
Listen, our past helps to shape us, but because of Jesus it doesn’t have the power to fully define us – Isaac’s story reassures us that we don’t have to fix every broken well, and we can enjoy the ones that still work!
Here is my cheap advice: Don’t think so much in terms of any one given moment in your story, or you will either drive yourself crazy with things you can’t change, or drive everyone away with foolish self-promotion. Instead, think of yourself as being on a road – a long and winding road, one that will take you where you were always intended to be. This puts everything into perspective, good and bad.
Sorrow, regrets, shame, broken dreams and sins long ago committed, even successes, all have a way of distorting how we remember our lives, and this easily leaves us feeling disconnected from something larger… something better. But worse, they rob us of the big story – the story that extends past and before us – the story of Jesus the Redeemer who entered into the pain and brokenness of the fall, and into our unfinished lives, with a resolve to heal our broken world and make everything new. It becomes a story He retells through the prism of the Cross and the triumph of the Resurrection – and every time – every time, friends – the story ends well.
What good news.
grace & peace.
March 4, 2013 § 1 Comment
N.T. Wright, For All The Saints
Forgive a belated post. I spent the last five days in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with a team of nine that did restoration work in a community ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. Three teams worked in three different homes, and one church. The before-and-after images of the homes two of the teams spackled, sanded and painted had to bring unexpected delight to the folks whose living spaces were invaded by the storm’s violence.
The team I served on laid a kitchen floor after stopping a radiator leak, first by constructing a sub-floor. The project involved a healthy chunk of time measuring and re-measuring every contour of the floor’s layout, then in cutting large blanks of thin plywood (sub-floor), gluing, driving screws, rolling, and then gluing again in order to situate the new floor into place.
For us novices, this installation was a two-and-a-half day project. Those who spackled, sanded and painted would say the same. Paid professionals would knock this stuff out in no time. We were doing our part.
It will be years before Jersey and other affected states are able to finally put the storm behind them. More remains to be done than has already been accomplished. This is the way of such devastation.
But it is also the way of healing.
As we debriefed one evening, it occurred to us that this is the way the Gospel enters, in the way Jesus would simply enter into a town or village, and brings flourishing into brokenness, at every level – a heart, a life, a home, even a community. You can break it down further: Injured marriages, failing cities, broken relationships and damaged memories all heal in the same way.
Even if one could point to a moment, it is rare that everything happened in a particular instance. No, it is normally after many dynamics converge into a quantifiable point in time. This after brokenness was unearthed, damage was acknowledged, and deep need and despair were felt. The sub-floor of brokenness.
And then, healing came.
When we enter into a broken community, or start a new church, or encourage a hurting neighbor, we do what the gospel does – we come to them, not to fix (because we can’t), but to enter into a greater narrative in God’s work of healing the whole world.
Last week, in the process we met friends we may never again see until the Feast. But for them, and for us, the gospel had come in a fresh and beautiful way – to all of us, just as it always does – with salvation and healing, hope and renewal.
It comes to a world that will remain unfinished, a world populated with people equally incomplete – until Jesus finishes what He has inaugurated – until He satisfies every yearning, heals every neighborhood and reconciles every broken part of His good creation.
And this just floors me…
It is the good news.
February 10, 2013 § Leave a comment
I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter From Birmingham City Jail
I celebrate Black History Month. Quietly, but joyfully. Each February I encourage our church members to do so as well, not only in heart, but also by taking in the culture, the food, the readings and the stories, often accompanied by a shameless plea to our African American brothers and sisters for a taste of the cuisine.
This year one of our families took this to heart and brought us to Darker Than Blue, a wonderful Soul Food restaurant in Baltimore, replete with live Jazz (pictured) and the lovely and peaceful atmosphere of a quaint dining establishment. And I was delighted when a member told me that she is reading through Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
I can tell you that we have been the beneficiaries of much more than good meals and evenings together. It is as though we have been welcomed into a trust forged out of pain and suffering.
A few years ago a friend asked why I do this, and why not other ethnicities that have experienced pain in their histories – a question worth considering. In answering, it may be worth starting with my own background.
In the early 20th Century the Ottoman Turks invaded Armenia and my grandparents (on both sides) were driven away by threat of death. One and a half million Armenians died in this attempted genocide, and the world’s relative indifference to their suffering became Hitler’s rationale for his ‘Final Solution’ (his plan for exterminating the Jews), to his skeptics.
My grandparents came to America by different routes, some via Iran and others through Egypt – all eventually came ashore at Ellis Island. America’s shores were open to them as with other people groups with dreams for living on our soil. They didn’t have to come – they chose to. And so Armenians celebrate being Armenians with Armenians!
We celebrate Black History as a nation because those who came from Africa didn’t have this luxury. They were forced to America by the slave trade. Men and women, boys and girls were treated like animals, considered property that could legally be beaten, raped, sold, even murdered. They were sold and auctioned publicly. Their ‘owners’ determined the limits of their rights as humans. The Slaves’ children were destined to the same oppressive existence.
Growing up in the sixties and seventies I remember the national and local tensions of the Civil Rights Movement, and then the Black Power Movement. The explanations from a white-leaning media. The rationalizations. The revisionist history. The images. The violence. The deplorable indifference to documented acts of injustice and cruelty. Jim Crow laws.
We’ve had the privilege of hearing stories from those who were ‘there,’ the stories behind the food and the stories of faith and resolve in the face of obvious national unrighteousness. A Vietnam Vet who, along with fellow black soldiers, constantly found themselves put on the most dangerous side of missions. A woman whose sister went to jail in Selma, and who herself rode the Freedom Buses. The stories are real, and the history is recent.
We deplore human trafficking today because we finally acknowledged the deep sin of our nation’s involvement in the slave trade, and then its nasty implications more than a century past Abolition.
But it wasn’t only a nation.
It was the Church too.
Many bought into the lie that said that one human being carried less value than another, simply based on the color of her skin – while teaching that ‘all ground is level at the foot of the Cross.’ From a Birmingham Jail Dr. Martin Luther King wrote, pleading local white pastors and churches to strong, persistent and determined action.
We celebrate courageous people like Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Dr. King and Harriet Tubman because they acted out of their conviction for justice when it was costly and they were quite alone.
But they shouldn’t have been.
So we celebrate. If we were not to celebrate then we would have no right to plead the cause of the unborn, or call the Church to care for the plight of the weak. We celebrate to not forget or grow cold and indifferent to the injustices we could otherwise so easily pretend to not notice. We celebrate because the gospel freshly informs us that there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
And this is our good news…
January 26, 2013 § 1 Comment
This week marks the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision to legalize abortion in the U.S. My friend and fellow blogger Tom wrote thoughtfully and passionately on the issue in his current post and it is well worth the read. I want to offer thoughts on the subject with hopes that an often-disregarded dimension might be considered.
First, I am pro-life. I offer this humbly and with deep conviction. In spite of the Church’s often insensitive and clumsy way of dealing with moral and cultural issues, I am convinced and bound by the undeniable biblical premise that God alone gives and takes life. And I believe that every abortion ends the life of a living baby. I know how thoughtless this must sound coming from a man, when in fact it is women who become pregnant – I get that. Really I do.
But for the Christ-follower, male or female, this isn’t a matter of choice beyond choices that have already been made by the time pregnancy occurs. It is about God’s prerogative to bring life into the world and the value we are called to treat life with – Life we see at birth and life we recognize even while still in the womb.
And what this means is that neither politics nor gender issues are the Church’s rationale for such conviction. Which makes it all the more difficult, because I am convinced that we are not a political organization and have wasted far too much credibility in our often-pitiful attempts to play with weapons of the flesh rather than those of the Spirit. But we are called to something.
There is a peculiar verse in Exodus 7 where God tells Moses, ‘…I have made you like God to Pharaoh…’ (vs. 1). He could simply have given Moses a plan to execute, but He adds this little statement, meaning that Moses would essentially be the divine presence of God on behalf of an oppressed people – to their oppressor. He would give them voice. This is the way God works. He always calls on the strong to champion the plight of the weak. Jesus never failed to notice, care for and serve the broken, and He would pass this principle down to the Church in His simple words, ‘In as much as you have done it to the least of these…’
In other words, the Church has been called to recognize and champion the weak, the broken and powerless as if it were God Himself doing the caring.
Because He is.
The scriptures call this justice.
But here is the thing – I know women who have had abortions – old and young women – women I hold dear – women who love Christ and His Church. Hurting women – women who carry sorrow with them – years of sorrow. Someone’s daughter – Someone’s mother – Someone’s sister. Women who feel they could never share their stories with the Church for fear of being driven more deeply into shame. And not only women who acted out of their own shortsightedness and selfishness, but women whose parents were more concerned for their own reputations, and pressured their confused and terrified daughters into abortions. Women whose husbands and boyfriends declared that love would be abandoned if they had their babies. Women whose pastors agreed it wise to quietly put their troubles behind. My blood boils as I think of these sweet women. This is what happens when it is personal – and it is. I see faces and names – and that is a good thing. And this means that I owe something to the women I don’t know as well.
You see, their lives matter too. And no amount of railing and accusation on my part, or on the part of the Church, can make them feel worse about themselves than they already do. And why would we any way? What they need is what everyone needs, what I need, and what we so passionately proclaim – that Jesus has the power and desire to heal our wounds and forgive our sins. That none of us is damaged goods to the One who makes all things new.
Here is the thing, friends: If the Church has ‘been made like God’ to the weak, then it has utterly failed in her mission for not recognizing the fragility of these dear and wounded ones.
In fact, I believe the Church has forgotten this many times over, and in her zeal to stand for truth she has often insensitively trampled the sorrows of many, and has violated the very principle of the value of life that she claims to champion in the first place, leaving many to feel as though they are damaged goods we are trying to sweep the world clean of. And this simply isn’t good enough.
And I guess this is where I want to land. Because the Church isn’t called to converge on Washington DC, though it should be unashamed in seeking justice for the unborn. It converges at the Cross. And whether in the womb, on the ground, or near the end of life, the Church is bound to love the weak, and to do so with such force of love, peace and grace, that any would feel safe to come out from hiding and rush to taste the sweet, healing waters of Jesus, the One who became sin and shame for us, that we may be made righteous – through no goodness of our own.
That would be such good news…
December 31, 2012 § 3 Comments
In a few hours the New Year will be reality. The Mayans have been proven wrong, and the world has survived. Though this is in no way an exhaustive list, take the encouragements offered as musings from the heart of a simple pastor and fellow sinner who remains unfinished to the core, but redeemed none the less.
An Encouragement to Remember Who You Are (ala Mufasa in James Earl Jones voice in The Lion King) – The fact is that life is a struggle between competing forces that constantly vie for our identity. Each offers plausible shortcuts to all kinds of good things such as respectability, success, fulfillment and peace. But they require energies and compromises that we weren’t created to bend our hearts around, and in the end they compromise us, and others. So find your identity in Jesus – Christ alone offers unconditional love without diminishing our dignity.
Be who you are! God likes you that way. And deep down, so do you. Sure, you will meet with some rejection – that is an unavoidable consequence of the fall, but the alternative is to live in a pretend world that fools everyone except God – Oh… and the person you see in the mirror each morning.
An Encouragement to Live for Something Greater than Yourself – Katherine and I saw Lincoln this past week. It is worth more than the price of admission – an amazingly well acted, scripted and directed movie. What struck me was that Abraham Lincoln lived only 56 years, just one year longer than I have been alive. They were hard years, particularly towards the end of his life. But what he was used for in those years! The fact is that God put you here for a good purpose. It may be as simple as being a good parent, as public as holding an elected office, or as undetected as providing some faithful service in a broken world. Just determine to not come to the end of your life and conclude that you set the bar too low. Every instinct will tell you that you can’t do this, and you’re right, but as our Director of College & High School Ministries said yesterday, (Patrick Allen), Because God is faithful we have the hope of what will one day be. – Rest in that faithfulness.
So Live! Look past your short lifetime believing that what you do and who you are count for something larger than yourself.
An Encouragement to Pursue Jesus – Let me challenge you to make this a year to deepen your roots with God. Enter the adventure that is redemption, only don’t rely primarily on secondary sources – With the Christian life Relationship is everything, and our relationship with God deepens in His Word. Facebook is great for social interaction, but quaint spiritual sayings on pink or light green backgrounds are no replacement for journeying into God’s story, and ours. A simple admission may help here: I do ‘personal devotions’ only three times a week (sermon prep doesn’t count). It’s true – My life is crazy, and spending time in God’s Word is not as simple as a New Year’s resolution. Sure, I reflect on what I read throughout the entire week, and I enjoy a constant life of prayer, but when it comes to the discipline of bible reading, I give more energy and passion to those three days than I would under some formulaic system borne of guilt. And don’t deny yourself thoughtful authors who stretch your faith and challenge you to grow. God has revealed Himself, and Jesus tells us that He can be found beyond our natural layers of self-protection, not only in His Word, but also His World, the broken and weak, the lovely and beautiful. Expect Him to make Himself known to you.
So discover Jesus freshly! And hey, sometimes all we can do is remain near until He shows up. I am confident that He will in some way you never expected, and when He does, you’ll realize that He was not only waiting, but also pursuing you all along – even in your doubts.
An Encouragement to Love – God has put people in your life – people you know and people you don’t know. Love them well. Don’t let those you know just assume that you care. Care. There is nothing sweeter than being loved beyond obligation. Whether your immediate family or your church community, in the end, you will be thankful that actively caring for loved ones is not among your regrets. Give strangers the gift of kindness, signaling to them that no one is invisible to God. Jesus even calls our enemies our neighbors, so love the ‘neighborhood’ God has placed you in, whether faces are recognizable or not, and discover that the world changes in small, kindness-shaped bytes. And you may never know what unexpected charity brings to the recipients.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Trust me, you’ll be disappointed time and again by putting yourself out there, even by those you most love, but an unloved and unloving, calloused heart is no match for one that is tender to the risks of love. And somewhere along the journey, you’ll remember that God didn’t wait for you to clean up before making you His.
For the New Year, this is good news…
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you… Philippians 1:3
December 14, 2012 § 1 Comment
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!
This morning Katherine and I left for Pensacola, Florida to attend our daughter Emily’s college graduation, to be held tomorrow. Within hours we will be reunited with all of our children, including our daughter-in-law, and Katherine’s sister and brother-in-law, so you can imagine the joy that filled our hearts in anticipation of the weekend together when our jet took off. However by the time it touched down, 27 people, including 20 children under the age of 10, had been senselessly and violently murdered by a gunman who then took his own life, in Newtown, Connecticut.
I have no answers, only anguish and devastation. My heart is heavy. Before I am a pastor I am a husband and dad, as well as an often-confused Christ-follower. This shouldn’t happen – but in a fallen world it does, and will again. Even as I write, our dear friends in Miami await their unjustly imprisoned son’s release from a Mexican jail. And this on the heels of a mall shooting in Happy Valley, Oregon that left two victims dead and one critically wounded, along with the shooter, earlier this week.
After the initial sense of horror, we were filled with profound thankfulness for our children’s wellbeing, but also an even deeper sorrow, realizing that we will celebrate something with our daughter that these parents never will with their babies. Throughout their entire lives we have prayed for our children and their safety. We prayed when they would fall asleep in their cribs, when they began to walk and put everything in their mouths, while baby sitters were watching them, when they first learned to drive, and every time they were on the road after and since. We prayed for them when working late, walking in parking lots, in classrooms, on flights, and while in college. All along knowing that ultimately we are not in control and have absolutely no way of protecting them – that their world is just as fallen as ours – that their lives are just as fragile.
And now young dads and moms will have to identify their precious ones who will not be able to respond to their expressions of love and tenderness, nor dry their tears. Somehow these dear folks will have to figure out how to make sense out of the rest of their lives.
It is Advent. We long. We wait for violence and death and rage and illness and sadness to be gone forever, when Jesus comes to heal our damaged world and make all things new, where everything that is wrong is transformed into what it was created to be.
Our consolation is Jesus. We don’t hold on to something – we cling to someone, and only a Father, whose Son died so violently and publicly – for us – can both comprehend our deep longing, and understand our profound sadness.
And while we wait, the One who entered into our brokenness, has given us one another – to celebrate, to love, and yes, to weep, comfort and be devastated – together. He has also put us in this world, and permits and desires for us to mourn with those we don’t know – To love those we haven’t met – And embrace those we can’t touch.
So today, and every day, no answers. Tomorrow, with great joy we will celebrate our precious Emily. When she walks across the stage and receives her diploma, we will look at her in the context of what transpired today. We will weep with a deep joy for every memory and this mixed with a profound sadness for others who may never know such gladness.
Until Jesus comes, I think this is the way it is supposed to be…
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
December 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
Currently there is a nationally televised Home Depot commercial that has caught my attention. It features people being helped, in every department – by Santa Claus, of all people! If you pay attention to the ad, you will see that at least one of the Santas is named ‘Noel.’ It is written in that black Sharpie kind of way on the apron that adorns every local Home Depot employee. (Chevrolet has a similar ad, but Santa’s nametag is ‘Nick’).
I love this TV spot, not only because of its creativity, though I am shallow enough for that to be sufficient, but also because one of the Santas is a personal friend. In fact, he is a fellow pastor and church planter in South Florida.
Steve Lantz is an amazing guy. He and Lynda, his wife of nearly two years, are expecting their first child in April. Because Lynda was the Campus Crusade for Christ Director for the West Chester University in the Greater Philadelphia area I had the privilege of meeting her soon before they married when she and Steve drove through Maryland. This past year they worshiped with us as well.
Steve has lived with the kind of longing that Advent focuses on. It is the hope of Jesus, and a vision for something that will one day be – something good – that in His coming, what has been empty will once again be to overflowing, and what has been broken will eventually be mended.
Part of how Steve raises funds is through acting. Early in his ministry he took classes in order to supplement his income while he mapped out his dream. For eight years he has served as the Chaplain for the Booker T. Washington High School Football team in Miami (and recently the State Champions), a job that pays little in spite of its own rewards. And he has worked as a short order cook in Downtown Miami.
He is driven by a vision for working among the poor and watching the gospel cause the Overtown neighborhood and community to flourish as a result of the justice, presence and power of Jesus in Miami.
I have found that it isn’t until I am willing to go ‘there,’ that is, to enter into the pain, whether in relationships, personal tragedies, or seasons of sorrow and doubt, that I really begin to connect as an agent of consolation and renewal.
There is something in all of us that is natively resistant to pain and suffering, but the gospel always draws us to enter into our world’s brokenness as Christ did in His Incarnation, so that we may be as tender with its pathos as Jesus is and has been to ours.
His willingness to do so is our Good News.
And that goes for Santa Claus too…
PS Here is a letter Steve put out last month, that describes all he is doing.
November 10, 2012 § 2 Comments
Last night Katherine and I saw the latest 007 movie, Skyfall. It lived up to expectations and was one of, if not the finest James Bond movie we have seen (of course I’ve seen them all). The action was over-the-top, the story was riveting and it was perfectly cast. And it didn’t end too soon, which was nice – it was longer than most – you know, one of those movies that you wish could keep going – well it did, and we were glad.
Part of what made the experience ‘work’ was that Katherine pre-purchased the tickets and I got there early enough to get us the best seats in the house. For us, the best seats are the ones in the second row of the second tier of the theater. The front tier has those seats that are right under the screen and undoubtedly are the cause of most of America’s neck problems. But in the second row of the second tier, there are rails that you can rest your legs on during the show. They are perfect – and I got them (yes, those are my shoes in the pic).
It got me to thinking, even as I sat waiting for Katherine (I won’t tell you how early I got there because it would provide evidence as to how desperately I need a life). But I got to thinking that this is who we are. We want an edge. We will come early and stand in line for the best seats in all of life. Already the ads are out, and will only intensify – Black Friday is coming and the name of the game is to get to the stores early enough to be close enough to the front of the line to get the best deals before anyone else.
This used to be our tradition. I would waken our son and daughters, and whichever of them could come out of their slumbers would stand in line with me at our Best Buy some time around 4 AM on Black Friday. A few years ago, when we visited our son and his wife in Florida for Thanksgiving, he repaid the favor and dragged me into sitting in line all night!
Here is the thing: Everything about following Jesus is the polar opposite of this – It is about taking the back seat and offering up the front of the line to someone else. It is about serving those one desires to lead and becoming great by making oneself the least.
I know it’s crazy and utterly counterintuitive, but when you think about it, there is no other way for change to occur, in marriages, in friendships, in love, in work and at play. The one who serves sets the agenda for putting the things into motion that we most desire – in life and with one another. The one who says, ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong,’ is the agent through which reconciliation breaks through where there had been cold hostility. The one that steps aside so others may shine counteracts the law of the jungle with law of love.
Yes, it is counterintuitive, but there is no other alternative, because our native instinct is to put self first. And in that scenario there is no room for anyone else.
It is also impossible, and only God can enable us to do what we so naturally resist. But I have come to realize that in every relationship, every conflict and every seeming impasse in love and friendship, there comes a moment when someone can change the physics of hostility simply by taking the path of humility rather than power.
God has to give grace for this, but He does, and He has. In Jesus we have One who demonstrated such selflessness from the time of His birth all the way to the Cross. His was a life of reserving the best seat in the house for someone other than Himself.
Friends, this is good news.