Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

I've often wondered why so many of the non-Jesus related Christmas songs get packed away with the rest of the lights, decorations, and tinsel on December 26. Winter has only just begun. "Winter Wonderland," "The Sleigh Ride," and "Let It Snow" should stick around until at least the first spring training baseball games in Arizona. This is especially true for the song "Let It Snow."

Today is Valentine's Day. It is also the second day in a row that schools have been closed because of a blizzard. It's time we start bringing together the idea of snow and Valentines. At first the two would seem like an unhappy couple. Snow is cold and icy while Valentines are hot and spicy. But songs like "Let it Snow" remind us just how snow and Valentines can work so well together. Take a look at these lyrics:

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

It doesn't show signs of stopping,
And I've bought some corn for popping,
The lights are turned way down low,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

When we finally kiss goodnight,
How I'll hate going out in the storm!
But if you'll really hold me tight,
All the way home I'll be warm.

The fire is slowly dying,
And, my dear, we're still good-bying.
But as long as you love me so,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow

Now if that doesn't describe the way a Valentine's Day ought to be, I don't know what does. So I will now declare "Let It Snow" the unofficial first Valentine's Day Carol. A little bit of "Let It Snow" mixed in with the chocolate, roses, and Hallmarks of Valentine's Day fits perfectly. You can't beat popcorn and an excuse to stay in with your Love. Snow days provide the perfect opportunity to put the hustle of the world behind you and focus, at least for one night, on the partner God has blessed you with.

Genesis 2 reminds us that God created humans to have a partner. Like Sam sang in Casablanca: "Woman needs man and a man must have his mate. That no one can deny." Come to think of it, let's make "As Time Goes By" the second unofficial Valentine's Day Carol.

My wife is the greatest blessing of my life. Let's put the kids to bed and let it snow. Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Looking For Control; Finding Peace

Looking for Control; Finding Peace

It's been said, "Never say never,"but I believe it's safe for me to say that I will never get a tattoo. I have no interest at all in marking my body in such a way. And yet there are thousands, if not millions, of Americans my age and younger who have gotten tattooed or will have their body tattooed.

A show on cable about a tattoo shop called "Miami Ink" has cashed in on the popularity of both tattoos and "reality TV." At first glance I didn't like the show. After all, I'm never going to get a tattoo. But after a few viewings, I've changed by tune about "Miami Ink." A typical show will follow the turbulent lives of the artists who work at the store. Injected into the continuous storyline about the artists are always two or three stories about the patrons of the studio. Some of these teen and twenty-somethings come to Miami Ink as a right of passage... making a choice to mark their bodies as an expression of who they are and what they want to be known as. But most come to the studio with a heavy heart. For example a young woman may ask for a tattoo in honor of her grandmother who died a month ago or a man may come in looking to have the name of his daughter tattooed on him to replace the name of his ex who dumped him a year ago.

Often the tattoo artists serve as priests for their customers. In the process of creating the design and then doing the actual tattoo work they listen to the concerns and sorrows of those they serve. At times it can be quite moving. And the patrons always leave the shop with a sense of peace... relieved... as if they had been touched by grace.

"Miami Ink" reminds me that there are so many people in our communities who are hurting and hungering for spiritual relief. For many the tattoo studio has become a source of relief; a place where they can for a moment take control of their lives by controlling a word or drawing on their body. I wonder how long the grace found in a tattoo lasts.

I believe that lasting grace can best be found in Jesus. I also believe Christian churches in the United States do not do a good of a job reaching out to the "Miami Ink" crowd, children of God searching for joy and peace.

What lessons can we learn from the pastoral care tattoo artists give to their customers?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Faithful Expectations

I moved to the Chicago area in August just in time for football season. With no Chicago baseball teams in the playoffs the eyes of the Chicago sports world quickly focused on the the Windy City's beloved Chicago Bears. What a season they had. They went 13-3 in the regular season, clinching home-field advantage with nearly a month yet to play. Now they are in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1986.

But as I read my Chicago Tribune, week after week the last five months, I often came away thinking that this Bears teams was lousy and Coach Lovie Smith was one of the reasons. For example, from the beginning of the season most of the sports reporters felt that Rex Grossman should not be the quarterback of the Bears. When the Bears beat Arizona in October despite Grossman's blunders the press wanted Lovie to replace him permanently with backup Brian Griese. Lovie said he would not make a change at quarterback. He also stayed positive by pointing to the Bears' undefeated record. But the press mocked Lovie and expected the Bears to fail.

When defensive lineman Tank Johnson was arrested for the third time since 2004 outside a Chicago nightclub in November and his best friend was shot and killed a few days later, the media insisted that Lovie drop Johnson from the team. He was too much a distraction and will hurt team chemistry. Lovie said he would not and pointed to the relationship of trust he had with his players. Once again the press mocked Lovie and expected the Bears to fail.

When the Bears closed the season on New Year's Eve against the arch rival Green Bay Packers sports reporters reminded Lovie of his promise to make beating the Packers his number one priority when he became the Bears' coach in 2004. They asked if that promise still mattered? Naturally, the Bears played a flat game, looked awful, and were soundly beaten 26-7 by Brett Favre and company. The media was furious blaming everyone in blue and orange, and especially Lovie. But the coach did not waver from his confidence and high expectations for his team. Lovie reminded the press that the Bears were the best team in the NFC and assured them that they would be ready for the playoffs. Again, the media mocked Lovie and expected the Bears to fail.

But here we stand today with the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Guess who was right? Whose expectations were fulfilled?

When Jesus calls the fisherman Simon (Peter) to "be catching people" in Luke 5:1-11 there is an interesting twist that is unique to Luke. Before his conversation with Peter, Jesus uses Peter's boat to move a few yards away from the lakeshore in order to speak to a crowd of people. Afterwards Jesus instructs Peter to put his nets out for a catch. Now Peter and his partners had had an awful night fishing. They were not able to catch anything. Many years of experience told Peter that throwing out the nets again would be a waste of both their time and energy.

So Peter's first response to Jesus' request to go out into the deep water to catch some fish was one of doubt. "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing." But it doesn't take long for Peter to find some faith. "Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." Guess what... They caught so much fish their nets began to break.

What expectations have you placed upon yourself when it comes to living your faith? How are you doing with your prayers? How often are you reading Scripture? Have you talked to someone about the Bible or Jesus? Are your expectations about being a Christian so small that in your mind all you need to do is go "to church" on Christmas and Easter and that's fine?

The media did not expect much of Lovie Smith or the Bears this year. And for a Packer fan like myself, it was kinda fun to see. Whenever someone in my congregation was excited about the Bears I would say "yeah, but what are you guy's going to do about Grossman?" Or I would ask, "What about that Tank Johnson thing?" Now that the Bears are in the Super Bowl there are no seeds of doubt for me or the media to plant in the minds of the faithful fans of the Monsters of the Midway. They are all Lovie disciples now.

After hearing Jesus' message along that lake, Peter was faithful enough to throw his nets in the water, though he was doubtful. But after Peter witnesses that miraculous catch he and his partners James and John "left everything and followed him" without hesitation. They even left that record catch of fish.

Do you need a Super Bowl appearance or a net full of fish in order for you to raise your expectations about Jesus and faith? There are so many things you are capable of through the Spirit. You will miss so much if you allow those negative voices that insist that you're not good enough to affect you. Lovie didn't change his tune all year. Nor has Jesus ever changed his expectations. Keep your expectations high and open your life to the spiritual blessings that are available to you. Not only will grow in faith, but soon you will even be catching people. Catch the spirit and bring others to joy in Christ with you.