Saturday, March 30, 2013

Skeptical Easter Faith

I picked up Bobby Knight's new book from the library the other day. It's title caught my eye as I was browsing through the New Books Section: The Power of Negative Thinking. Go figure. The famous... strike that... the infamous former Indiana basketball coach would title his book The Power of Negative Thinking.  Look up bully or grouch or mean in the dictionary, and there you will find Bobby Knight.

Instead of being a book about the value of loud intense screaming and intimidation to get results, the book actually is a testament to Knight's deep seated belief in skepticism. A skeptic is someone who doubts, questions or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.  So add skeptic to the list of adjectives you can use for Coach Robert Montgomery Knight.

Throughout the book Knight throws in some of "Knight's Nuggets." His take on society's generally accepted conclusions:

A picture is worth a thousand words. Said, I'm guessing, by a lousy writer or an illiterate.

The boss won't mind if I'm a little late. What do you suppose this pink slip means?

I don't care what the weatherman said, it doesn't even feel like rain. Umbrellas aren't all that expensive, compared to pneumonia.

You can't always believe that gauge. I know there's plenty of gas to get us home. Remind him of that when he's walking two miles in snow to find a station.

Don't worry, Dad. This test is going to be easy. Better idea, Son: Study.

What a nice little dog. And what mean teeth.

Have faith that you'll be OK. Get a good doctor. 

You can do whatever you really believe you can do. Now, YOU are the coach I want to play against.

You can be whatever you want to be. Sure, jump out of a tree and try being a bird.

Knight doesn't even come from the school of Trust But Verify... It's more like Doubt, Verify... and then... Maybe. 

In Luke's telling of the Easter story there is all kinds of Doubt, Verify... and then... Maybe.  It is the skeptics' version of the Resurrection Story. The women can't believe the news that Jesus has been raised.  They then tell Jesus' disciples and they don't believe either. "But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11)." Peter runs to the tomb afterwards to verify if this might be true.

On Good Friday we embraced Paul's wise observation and confirmed it through our own experience that "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18)."  We can put it this way:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are skeptical, pessimistic and doubt everything under the sun; but to us who walk by faith and live in the freedom of our baptism it is the power of God to live in the spirit and embrace a truth that not only can't be verified but stands against the lies even the skeptics fail to question.  

When the disciples refuse to believe the good news they risk remaining in the darkness of despair and sin.  It is a darkness where no one can be trusted and you get what you can when you can.  This is the primary lie of the world.  It fools us into thinking that "home-spun-Midwestern-skeptical-common-sense" are wise words for life.   

But you know... there's hope... even for the skeptics. God does not give up on those skeptical disciples and will not give up on us. The cross stands at the crossroads between the world's kingdom and a new Kingdom of Heaven that frees us to live in the Spirit now. God does not give up on them and will not give up on us.  Truth waits and dwells within your soul.

The tragedy is how much you are going to miss in the mean time.  Friday night my Michigan Wolverines beat Kansas in an amazing comeback game.  The biggest win for Michigan in twenty years.  After Good Friday services I checked the score and saw that Kansas was beating Michigan 70-59 with four minutes left.  When I got home I didn't turn on the game and had no idea what was happening until I got a text after the game was all over: "Now to you believe?"

Oh boy, what did I miss?

We miss so much when we embrace the common sense skepticism of the world. We miss so much what God is doing right in front of our face.  When we live in the Kingdom of the Skeptics instead of the Kingdom of the Possible, which Jesus institutes with the cross and empty tomb, we miss out on truth. 

God's not going to give up on you.  Faith will become sight and the day is coming soon.  In the mean time don't miss the power of the Christ's cross.  With God all things are possible. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Cross

Jesus died on a cross.

The cross is the main symbol of Christianity.

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." - Jesus (from Mark 8:34b)

"For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." - Paul (from 1 Corinthians 1:18)

The cross is at the crossroads of life in the flesh and life in the spirit. On the one hand the cross represents death. It represents everything that we fear as humans: betrayal, punishment, disgrace, mortality, the end of existence. Those that hold worldly power use it as a weapon to hold on to their power. To survive in the world the cross must be feared and ignored. Stay away from the cross as long as you can. Like the grim reaper, when the cross appears at your door. It's all over.

But the cross stands at the crossroads and points our way to a reality the world fights against: life in the Spirit. By dying on the cross Jesus, who is the living Word made flesh, enters fully into the reality of the world and claims lordship over it.  He opens the door to life in the Spirit and proclaims to us that we need not live in fear ever again. We are free.

When we Christians wear a cross... or place a cross in the heart of our assembly... we are saying that we stand in the crossroads as well with Christ. We are children of the flesh and live in the world, but the presence of the cross reminds us that we are born of the Spirit as well.  We are free from fear and free to serve our neighbor in love. 

To pick up this cross is this follow Jesus. To pick up this cross and give our life to this cross... well that's the meaning of discipleship. We are not slaves to the selfish ambitions and priorities of the world. We "deny ourselves" and instead live in the freedom of the cross. We are free from fear and free to serve our neighbor in love.

Of course all of this is foolishness, according to the world.  Paul's observation of the truth, is also our experience of the world's contempt for the cross.  Just plug into the noise the media makes. While we may be a society of tolerance it still is expected and quite acceptable to belittle, criticize, and laugh at those who would "carry their cross and follow" Christ.  This is to be expected., though.  We were warned. Our call from Jesus continues to be to live the radical love of the cross. Love one another. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love. Love. Love.

The cross is the power of God giving us the freedom to live Christ's love. At the foot of the cross let go of the hate, the anger, the bitterness, our insecurities. Exchange the world's lies for the Lord's truth. May it define you. May it be what your bring to all of your relationships. We are free from fear and free to serve our neighbor in love.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What Are You Listening To?

When the women first discovered that Jesus' tomb was empty, "they were perplexed (Luke 24:4)." To cut through their confusion they listened to the very first proclamation of Jesus' resurrection when two men in dazzling clothes said to them "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while we was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again (Luke 25:5b-7)." They couldn't believe what the men said but still the disciples the news, nonetheless. Peter, listening to the women, immediately ran to the tomb to see for himself.  He couldn't believe it either. 

Jesus had warned the disciples and the women about what was going to happen to him, but were they too distracted, because of all the other noise about Jesus out there, to hear him?  There were those saying that Jesus would be the new King David.  There were those who were vocal about Jesus being a fraud. Just a few days earlier the voices were saying "crucify, crucify him." They heard Jesus' message, but it was just one voice out of many. The women and the disciples were not prepared for the truth.  

What are you listening to? Consumer Reports recently reported that the average American is exposed to 247 commercial messages every day. Just what message are they giving to you? If it's a message of hope, it is a hope that surely is connected to the product or event they are trying to sell to you.  

What are you listening to? Take a look at the old-fashion media device called a radio. If you are listening to music, what is the music's message? I was recently shocked when I took a closer look at catchy song I had been enjoying for a while.  Did he really sing that?  If you listen to talk radio, is the tone of the conversation or monologue a reflection of Living Christ's Love? How can the moves of a football team cause such passionate anger in March?  What did he say about our president?  

What are you listening to? 

We live in a world where a great deal of time, effort and money is spent to get you to listen. Others want to make the choice for you. But you know what, you do have a choice. You can choose what you are reading, and watching and listening to! 

Jesus Christ is Risen! We who are baptized in Christ are called share this good news to the world in how we live Christ's love and serve other people. Living for Christ means living in light... living in hope... living in truth. Expose yourself to media that is life giving and not life draining. If you like music discover how much fun the contemporary Christian music is being played on K-Love 94.3.  If you like current events and news, don't miss the often right-on-the-money commentary and views on Relevant Magazine's website, blogs and Twitter. 

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news. Don't miss out on this good news because you have plugged yourself into the 24/7 spending, ranting, and complaining cycles. Instead open up to the Spirit and start discovering a fresh voice... based on Living Christ's Love.  The voice is out there.   

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Flavor of the Day

On Palm Sunday Jesus was the Flavor of the Day.
I downloaded the app for the restaurant Culver's.  I like Culver's. They have their roots in Wisconsin. The Culver family is also Lutheran. I almost feel its my duty to like Culver's. The butter burgers are okay. The Reuben is really good. But for me, most important than butter on the burgers is that they have Wisconsin Deep-Fried-Cheese-Curds on the menu and yummy frozen custard... a Wisconsin dairy treat.

Frozen custard should be vanilla in my mind, but Culver's soups their custard to make all kinds of different flavors.  They have a "Flavor of the Day" at every location, so if there is a particular flavor you have come to enjoy you better keep an eye open for when that flavor will appear on the calendar. This is where the app is such a helpful tool. At the push of a button you can find out what is on the schedule at your closest Culver's location.

Today the flavor is Kit Kat Swirl and tomorrow will be Oreo Overload.  The problem is that, lets say I just adore that Kit Kat Swirl. (Which is a pretty good bet, because I enjoy a delicious Kit Kat.) The next time I come to Culver's there's a really good chance they wont have it.  For they have moved on to the next one: Brownie Thunder or Just Drummy.  "I don't want Just Drummy, I would like Kit Kat Swirl," you say with a air of disappointment.  It wont matter.  Kit Kat Swirl is old news... at least until the next time it comes around.  McDonald's has made a three decade odyssey out of the ever popular McRib sandwich: always appearing and disappearing for a limited time.

On Palm Sunday Jesus was The Flavor of the Day.  I'd say week, but by the end of that week, the people have long ago moved on.  Jesus was celebrated as the new king, enter Jerusalem in triumph. Here's a flavor that will stick.  Here's a man with authority from God. He will surly put and end to the Roman's reign.

It didn't take long for the crowd to turn.  Jesus was not going to be the new King David, because what the world needed was a King of Kings for all time.  While the crowds at "Just Drummy" just reigned on the cross: meeting humanity at the very worst humanity can dish or experience.  He was the Flavor of the Week when people didn't even realize that the flavor they truly hungered for was the Bread of Life with a side of Living Waters.

Part of the human experience is that we all have experienced being the Flavor of the Week at some point. We've been the "Kit Kat Swirl" admired and popular one day; sent out to pasture the next.

Jesus has been there. He meets us in our struggles and knows how it feels to be abandoned for something or someone else.  God reveals to us that we are all Children of God. Even as other may forget us and move on to the next, Jesus never does. He loves you and embraces you today, tomorrow and always. You are God's flavor of all time.

I'm sticking with vanilla.    

Saturday, March 09, 2013

What's Your Number 7, 77, or 119?

Last night the Chicago Blackhawks lost their first regular season game in regulation time since March 25, 2012.  For 30 games in a row the Hawks had make a point.  For the first 24 games of this season the Hawks did not lose a single game in regulation.  And, up till last night, they had won 11 games in a row.  Those are some amazing numbers for Hawks fans.

Well... for most Hawks fans.  Not for lifelong Hawks fan, Steven Schucker.  The Chicago Tribune reported that the only number that matters to Steven is 119.  119... as in the 119-day-long lockout that postponed the beginning of the NHL season.  In fact, for a long time it looked like there would be no season, just as there was no season in 2004 for the same reason.  Steven is fed up with greedy owners and blames NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman for all that is wrong with hockey. 

As a matter of principle, Steven vowed not to watch a single moment of NHL hockey this year.  Which, in light of his favorite team's amazing start, has made life very difficult for Steven.  Yes, difficult because it's so tempting to get on the bandwagon of enjoying the Hawks great start, but even more difficult because of the razzing he is getting from his friends.  Recently a "friend" posted on his Facebook: "Your (sic) a moron for not watching a sport because you don't like the commissioner."  At his favorite bars, Steven is immediately made fun of when they quickly turn the Bulls game off the big screens and put on hockey.  It's hard to hold a grudge on a matter or principle.  But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

It worked that way in the famous Parable of the Prodigal Son. In Luke's Gospel Jesus uses that parable to teach as lesson about forgiveness and the joy it gives God when one sinner repents.  The youngest of two son's is a bit of a scoundrel in that parable. He is offensive in how he insists on his share of the inheritance now, runs off with it, and then wastes it. As a last resort he returns home to dad and dad takes him in with loving arms: celebrating his lost son's return.

As a matter of principle the older son who stayed home refuses to participate in the festivities.  It's not fair and its not right.  Like lost our Hawks fan, the older son's principles stand on holding on to that grudge as long as he can.  I'm sure the older son's buddies did a bunch of razzing as well.  I can just picture them waving some of that delicious roast calf in his face... a delicacy that was cooked just for the occasion.

These are the principles that God stands on:
- I love all my children.
- I will rejoice for one sinner that repents more than for 99 righteous persons who don't.
- I will love all my children, even when it's difficult.
- I will not cut off from my children, even when they turn away from me.
- I will forgive them 7 times. 
- I will forgive them 77 times.
- I will give my children the freedom to live with these very same principles.

You do not need to be chained to your grudge.  Does Gary Bettman deserve forgiveness? I don't need to answer that.  Does the NHL and the Hawks deserve our attention? I'm not going to answer that either.  God's principles, or your principles, do not hinge on the actions of rich and spoiled owners and players.

But does God want you to be chained to a grudge of hate? NO

Does God want you to remain in the shadows of sin because wicked actions of others? NO

Be true to yourself and true to your principles... but may those principles reflect the same image that you were created in: God.

Forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Coaching Fundamentals

I'm attending a coaching conference this week near Tampa, Florida and I'm amazed by some of the new things I have learned.  I'm not amazed that I'm amazed.  I expected that.  Events like this always challenge me and help me see things in fresh ways.  My experience of learning coaching skills and then using coaching skills has been life changing for me. It's helped clarify for my my calling to be pastor of a church, to be a leader among followers, and to be an equipper of disciples. 

This is how I define coaching.  Coaching is helping others move ahead to live and act true to their unique calling from God.  To me it ties in so well with Living Christ's Love.  As a coach I'm called to help people discover #1: "Be true to myself."  Coaching give me the tools to help people discover the truth that God has planted deep in their soul and imprinted within their DNA.  It leads people to discover who they truly are, what God is truly calling them to be, and how they can be true to both in relationship with others.

Action in the coaching converstation is always going forward. The way Jonathan Reitz put's it, coaching is "X arrow X" (or X -------> X ) meaning coaching is helping the coachee identify where they are today, where they are called to go, and the route to take to bring those closer together.  Coaching gives people permission to discover the route themselves.  In fact, let me put it another way.  The coachee does the work because God has planted that truth within them.

God has given us all unique talents and gifts.  Every one of us is unique in all the world.  A coach walks along side the coachee to help them discover those unique gifts and hear the call about where they are going next.

I thank God for the training I have received and I'm excited about how I can use these skills to help people from my church, my fellow pastors, and other ministries from this area discover who they truly are and the steps to take to get to where they feel called to go.