Friday, October 23, 2009


I don't know all the details about what happened in Colorado last week. All I know is that the media is pretty angry. How dare someone play a hoax on them! They are the instrument through which truth is shared to the American public. If there is a boy in a giant balloon lost in the stratosphere, you better believe they are going to cover it. And when it comes out that it might be a big stunt, a way for a reality TV show family to get back in the public eye, oh boy you better believe they are not too pleased.

Like I said, I don't know about everything that has happened. I certainly didn't watch the whole thing live on CNN. What I know about it, I've read in the Chicago Tribune, that "old school" instrument of truth telling. They report that people are not happy. The police might arrest the father. Social Services might take the kids away. ABC might need to show re-runs of the reality series Wife Swap, so we can see for ourselves just how crazy this family is. If only the networks had bought one of the dad's crazy ideas for a show, none of this would have happened.

Personally I am suspicious of just how much "reality" is given to us through the media. If cable television calls Jon & Kate "real," then what is fake? Might it be possible that fame, fortune, celebrity are some of the phoniest things the world dishes out to us. Can't you just hear the lies running through the heads of those involved with the Balloon Boy fiasco? (yes, the media is calling him Balloon Boy)

There is a truth that surrounds us that can't be found in the media, fame, or fortune. The media serves up what it needs to serve up to get people's attention. Fame is dependent on other people being curious enough about you to wanna keep watching you. Fortune is a dead end because there is never enough stuff for security, happiness, or eternal life. They are all lies that take the life out of you instead of bringing you meaning and joy.

The truth that surrounds us is found in God's Word through Jesus Christ. "If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31b-32)." Living your life for Christ, instead of for fame, fortune, or media attention, feeds the soul and liberates you from phony lies of death. Love for others is a truth found in the Word and a recognition that every day and every gift is a blessing from God to be treasured.

There will be no end to the media's "three ring circus" and you know there will be many others who follow in the Balloon family's footsteps, searching for truth in the world of "reality" TV. But they will find no satisfaction down those paths. The path to truth is found in the Word, and it leads us to a fulfilling, life changing life of discipleship.

Friday, October 16, 2009

You aint so great!

History is loaded with great people. Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, created one of the largest empires in world history... all before the age of 32. Herod the Great, King of Israel, is responsible for enormous building projects in and around Jerusalem. Many of his buildings still can be found today. Peter the Great, Tsar of the Russia, transformed Russia into a modern, western empire. And to throw in some equal time for women, Catherine the Great, Empress and Autocrat of all Russias, expanded the empire, improved its administration, and continues to modernize in the style of that other "Great" Russian leader.

Now of course that's not the whole story of good ol' Alexander, Herod, Peter, and Catherine. Alexander the Great had all his rivals killed in order to secure the throne and in his quest to conquer the world and spread Greek culture he killed thousands and conquered peoples from Greece to India. Herod the Great was a puppet king for Rome, enslaved his own people to work his building projects, killed members of his own family to protect his position, and according to Matthew murdered innocent boys in an attempt to kill Jesus. Peter the Great enacted sweeping reforms in Russia by brutally suppressing any opposition. He squashed rebellions throughout his Russian Empire by killing thousands. Catherine the Great ascended to power a half century after Peter's reign, but continued his policies of absolute power with no remorse. She famously said: "I shall be an autocrat, that's my trade; and the good Lord will forgive me, that's his."

These are the figures in history we call great? Is there something about getting kicked around that we thoroughly enjoy? With fear and admiration we look upon these bullies with some sense of awe. "Ahh, If only I could be like him," one might say. Another person will think "I better be on her side, or I'll be the next one she kicks." And so in our worldly way of pondering these things when someone reaches the point where they can kick and kill millions of people around they are somehow entitled to have the two words, "the Great," go after their name.

Jesus sure knew what he was talking about in Mark's Gospel. After James and John ask Jesus if they could be his right and left-hand men as Jesus steps up to the kind of greatness they expect from him, the rest of the Twelve are furious. They want to be at Jesus-the-Great's side. Jesus calls them out. He gives them a lesson about greatness. "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them." Hmmm... Yeah that describes Alexander the Great, Herod the Great, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great.

"But it is not so among you..." Ahhhh... here's the lesson. It is not so among you. For followers of Jesus greatness is different. We are called to reject that natural instinct we have to both fear and admire the worst bully on the playground. Through the lens of the cross we see that killing millions of people does not make one great. Spreading influence and culture does not make one great. Through the lens of the cross Alexander, Herod, Peter, and Catherine are not great at all. They are bullies. They are murderers. They are sinners. They represent the worst the world has to offer... Jesus represents the best.

"But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all (Mark 10:43-44)." Alexander and his crew actually model the opposite of greatness. Greatness in the eyes of God comes through love and service. Greatness in the Kingdom of God is found through sacrifice and being selfless. The Emperors, Kings, Tsars, and Autocrats in history are nothing more than over glorified bullies. In many ways they are a human take on dinosaurs. Dinosaurs ruled the world for millions of years: a super-sized example of dog-eat-dog survival of the fittest to the extreme. Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed.

The Kingdom of God, is different. It is not so among you. Christians are called to take a stand against the norm of greatness the world has lifted up for far too long. Only God is great, and out of his love for this fallen, dog-eat-dog world, he gave us his Son be the gate through which we see a new truth and new creation. We worship Christ who is our King. He isn't great because of the worldly power he exerted on others. He is great because he died on the cross for us. "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45)."

Jesus is great because through his death, and resurrection, he exposes the greatness of Alexander, Herod, Peter, and Catherine as nothing but an impotent lie. Therefore "it is not so among you." Stop kicking yourself in the back. Stop lifting up rulers who only repay you with threats and force. Stop admiring the worst of them. A CEO who made billions cheating the people who work for him is not to be admired. A politician who cheats the people who elected him and then arrogantly insists he is untouchable is not a great man. An investor who swendles those who trust her and back stabs her way to the top should not be the plot for a great TV show.

It is not so among you. They are not great. They are dinosaurs. And their day of extinction is coming. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom of many." We worship the Lord and follow him through lives of service and love. Now that's GREAT!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Drop the Stuff and Run the Race

I can't imagine running in tomorrow's Chicago Marathon since running is not one of my favorite pastimes. Running over 26 miles sounds like wicked torture. But I started pondering this week: what if I ran a marathon carrying a big box of my favorite things. Could my favorite books, mementos, and good-luck charms give me the extra push I need to finish the race? No... not likely.

A rich man in Mark's Gospel approaches Jesus with an interesting question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" He really doesn't know and I'm sure this is a question that has been bugging him for some time. There must be some hole within his heart that's telling him that his life just is not on the right path. He knows about God's Law. He's learned about the Ten Commandments and follows them. Is there something that he is missing? If there is something missing he's certain he can find and posses it.

Jesus understands the rich man's struggles. He knows that the rich man's question is sincere. The poor guy truly wants the answer so he can find the peace of God's eternal life. Jesus feels terrible for the man and loves him, but that doesn't prevent him from giving the rich man the genuine answer he needs to hear. It is an answer that the rich man surly didn't expect. "Give away your stuff," Jesus says. "Then come follow me."

Oh the grief the rich man felt with this answer... a deep grief. Why? Because its the answer he least expected, but at the same time the answer he has known all along because it is the one answer he just is not able to follow at that point in his life.

If I were to ask Jesus this very same question i suspect his response might very well be: run a marathon. (Yes that opens a big box of issues, I know.) And being the loving, but challenging, Savior he is, he might even give me a little advise. "If you're going to run that marathon, you are not going to want to run it with a box load of stuff. Give it up."

Yes, give it up. It only ties us down. The baggage we carry, whether it be our stuff or our sin or our worries, prevent us from living the hope-filled, liberating life of faith we could otherwise be living.

This doesn't happen over night. I took a look at a marathon training website. It takes 18 weeks for a novice runner to train to run a marathon. It is a disciplined regimen of daily 3-mile runs, cross training, a weekly longer run and rest. The problem is that I would be out by day number two! A three mile run??? I think I'll need a 18 week training program just to get to that point.

Living a life of faith that reveals God's gift of eternal life to you does not come over night. Giving up our dependence and reliance on our stuff takes time and discipline. But you can start somewhere. If you are carrying a 30lb box of stuff... go through it one pound at a time. If you buried in your home with room after room of things you have hoarded... start with one corner. If you are used to keeping all of your money for your own use... start today by giving 1% of your income away. And if that sounds to you like a 3-mile run sounds to me, then give 0.5% or 0.1%. It's important though that you use percents instead of an amount, because its not about the amount you give, but the amount that God has blessed you with in the first place.

Nothing is impossible with God. If a life of living faith is the marathon you are facing then remember you don't do it alone. Through God's Spirit you will be encouraged and inspired. You can do this. Don't fall into the rich man's trap and depart in despair. You can do this. You do not need to live your life following the dead end trap of stuff.

Why are thousands of men and women running the Chicago Marathon this weekend? Because there is a sense of great joy and accomplishment that comes from knowing that you were able to finish such a daunting task. What a great feeling it is, they say.

Well, likewise, the rewards of living a life of faith are tremendous:
- Liberated from the dead weight of dead stuff.
- Greater understanding of the roll God plays in blessing you every day
- Helping others through your generosity
- A real faith in the eternal life given to you through Christ
- Receiving a hundredfold more than enough of the things you need to live.

Drop your stuff and come and run the race. Don't miss out on this life of faith another day!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Let's Play Two

Both the Cubs and White Sox played doubleheaders this past Wednesday. It's the final week of the baseball season and they needed to get the games in. There was a time in baseball history when several doubleheaders were scheduled right into the calendar for every team, long before the season began. But that doesn't happen any more. With the exception of Ernie Banks, players hate doubleheaders, managers hate doubleheaders, owners hate doubleheaders and the media hates doubleheaders. So, guess what, doubleheaders are planned today only when there are simply no other options.

I've had a week of doubleheaders in my own life this week and now that they are behind me I can understand where all these baseball folks are coming from. It is exhausting to change topics and switch gears on a dime. There is no time for batting practice before the second game of a doubleheader. The lineup cards need to be filled out for both games long before the first pitch of the first inning. From "Eleanor Rigby" to Ghost trailers... from Jesus' prayer for unity to youth learning to pray... from Clarence earning his wings to Peter denying Jesus three times... it's a lot to keep straight.

But what's cool, looking back, is that God has blessed me with the chance to have valuable conversations with youth and adults; with men and women. We talked about God and we talked about life. Connections were made and seeds were sown. I saw people this week I hadn't seen in months. Friends shared stories about their thoughts and struggles. It was an honor to be part of all that. Now that the week of doubleheaders is behind me I sit back and thank God that I didn't play the trailer for Paranormal Activity for the junior high kids learning about baptism.

Yeah, Let's play two. It's better than not playing at all. And hey, Ernie always seems to be smiling.