Cheering for School

Regardless of where you land on the American school system, governmental standards, or the best way to teach kids, when it all comes down to it I just want my son to learn and develop into a healthy, fulfilled, and outward focused person. This is our hope and prayer for him.

With driving on the road, living arrangements, his own anxieties, and occasional other issues, we have bounced from school to school since he began. This isn’t necessarily conducive to his learning or fulfillment, etc.

After lots of prayer, and feeling God impossibly open doors that we were not planning to even explore, we now find ourselves in a position to be intentional about his school choice. We began sixth grade this week at The King’s Academy in Jonesboro, Indiana. This morning I dropped he and his friend off at a local church camp for the vision retreat King’s does every fall. As we drove in the driveway was lined with older students clapping and cheering for these younger students arriving. I dropped these two off at the front door where there were even more older students clapping and cheering as they walked through. I wish I could capture the joy on their faces or bottle up the excitement pouring off of my son or at least forever remember the biggest smile I’ve seen on his face in a long time. It was like a gauntlet of welcome and cheer, and my eyes wouldn’t quit leaking as I was suddenly overcome with emotion! My son has never been this excited for anything school related (except for the end of the day).

There are a number of reasons that Heather and I have been confirmed in discerning God’s will for getting off the road delivering campers and entering ministry at Hanfield United Methodist in Marion. Seeing his face this morning and hearing him say this will be the best day of school ever, is the best reason yet.

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Unity

The Church loves talking about the Prodigal Son – the redemption, forgiveness, and celebration are irresistible. How often do we examine the older brother and repent of our contributions of dis-unity in themodern Church? This message is a call to Unity.

Preached on 7/2/17 at Hanfield UMC.

Towards A Theology of Play

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Towards a Theology of Play

There is plenty of research and writing about the need for enjoying one’s Sabbath time. After a summer of driving my students hard towards a better understanding of God (believing that what we think about God determines how we act and live our lives) by exploring His attributes I wanted to give them a Sunday “off” at youth group. The purpose was less to explain the need for a Sabbath and have one (though we did) than to simply hope to redeem time off for these students. I’m a parent – I wish my son wouldn’t like to almost exclusively play (to my chagrin I realize my cultural conditioning in that statement). On the other hand, our culture makes much of work and commitments while making fun of those who seem to spend their time playfully. The generation coming up is perhaps more stressed than at any other time in history!

Despite this, I’m gaining a bit of a bookish reputation with my new youth group. Since I got here in April we’ve played a few games, but I find this to be a far less important aspect of youth group than helping teach our students a more vibrant faith (Vibrant faith is contagious, disciple-making faith). I’m having fun, I make our youth meetings fun even while we’re doing lessons, and I’m hearing from most all of these students that it is a direction they’re quite pleased with. Let’s be real though, many students come to youth group simply for a breather from “life” and to have some fun in the midst of their busy lives, especially now that school has started.

This past Sunday we had a game night. There was junk food galore, board games spread around, foosball upstairs, some football tossing outside, and an impromptu dodgeball game targeting those of us gathered at the different game tables. We had a blast. With about fifteen minutes left, though, I pulled them aside for a “Gotcha!”

Promised Play

Rather than playing (ha!) into cultural stereotypes glorifying work to the demonization of play, I wanted to help redeem the idea of play for our students and give them an ordained view of playtime (in community).

Psalm 104 celebrates the glory of God’s creation and the diversity of His creativity. Specifically, vv 24-26 speaks of something (Leviathan) created for play! Indeed, you can’t look at some of the creatures in our world and not see a playful Creator God!

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Cosmic Resurrection – Lesson Recap, 4/9/17

So often I think we Christians sell ourselves short around Easter and the resurrection. Don’t get me wrong, I love Reese’s Eggs (get behind me, Satan!), surprising our son with some Easter bunny gifts, and worshiping together with God’s people on the day that exemplifies a Christian’s reason for existence.

We so often hear people at Church talk about Christ dying for our sins, willingly suffering in our place, or rising again on the third day. I think we’re missing the forest for the trees here. Yes, Christ did those things, although we could debate each of them till we’re blue in the face with different theories of atonement or how the harrowing of Hell looked (it’d make a great movie!). As Bunny says in Rise of the Guardians, “Easter is new beginnings, new life… Easter’s about hope.” So often we still focus on Christ’s suffering and forget that it points our way forward… it changes everything. I wanted to attempt to help our students get beyond the suffering or even just personal resurrection – hopefully after this lesson they can begin to see that God’s work is so much bigger than their own eternity even while tying in the definition of faith.

I began our lesson with this fantastic clip from The Skit Guys:

Our Risen Savior: Peter and John on Easter Sunday Video « The Skit Guys

In this clip at least, Peter and John represent two worldviews, neither necessarily wrong or right. Peter presents a more worldly, business-like view: this is the problem, here are some solutions, let’s get it done. Christ is missing, we disciples can go recover His body, and GO! John appears to be less of a do-er and more of a thinker: Christ is missing, but did He give us clues about this and does it mean anything deeper?

By the end of the video both are putting the pieces together of the breadcrumb trail that Christ left them: parables (The Kingdom of Heaven is like…), lessons (I will rebuild this Temple in three days), and encounters (This day you will join me in paradise)… He is who He said is, the Messiah, and He is Risen!!

So what is faith? How do we go from a purely earthly understanding of the problem to something more mystical and unseen? For the purposes of our time together, faith will be defined as: Believing in something we can’t see or don’t understand. Shortly after this video could have taken place, all the Disciples were gathered together and Christ appears in their midst (Poof!). Thomas, now called Doubting Thomas because of these infamous words, said that he wouldn’t believe Christ was resurrected unless he could put his hand in the wound in Christ’s side and his finger in the holes in Christ’s wrist. Christ obliges in this moment and Thomas finally believes. Then Jesus told him, You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me (John 20:29, NLT).”

Nearly two millennia later, faith is all we have to go off of – faith in God, faith that Scriptures passed down are still what God intended, faith that the events recorded happened at all, etc. This isn’t entirely preposterous; we hold faith in many things – that the light switch will turn on the lights, that the air we breathe is clean enough to survive, that the drugs the doctor is injecting us with is actually for our benefit, that… the list could go on. Just because the origin of our faith resides in the ancient past does not mean it must be any less true or actual. So, can we, as a group, believe that Christ did come back from the dead? Yes?

So what is the significance of that?

We first looked at 1 Peter 1:3-6, NLT:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.

Followed by 1 Corinthians 15:12-23, NLT (especially focused on 17-19):

16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.</p>

So because Christ is risen we have great “expectation” and hope in Him – we are no longer guilty of our sins because of gracious forgiveness, our salvation invites us into paradise with Christ as with the thief on the cross, and we have another life to look forward to after this one is over.

The 1 Cor passage referenced above concludes by mentioning death entering the world through Adam and being defeated a new Adam, Christ. This calls to mind the perfected state and intent of our Creation in the Garden, but we rebelliously told God we didn’t want that. To this day the struggle plays out in our every day lives when we’re told not do “the things” and insist on coming back to them again and again “like a dog to its vomit” (Jesus, what a gruesome metaphor!). “Beyond the reach of change and decay” lies a promise that will not be broken and that our sinful ways cannot corrupt. Why? Because Christ rose! There’s that personal resurrection piece that must be mentioned on Easter, but it’s such a small part of it! Our sin in Adam corrupted all of creation like a cancer that begins in one cell and eventually ravages the entire body, so did our sin eat away at the Good Creation we were so long lovingly crafted to be. Christ’s resurrection and defeat of death does so much more – it promises the defeat of the death of ALL of Creation, and the resurrection of the world! Yes us, but we are specs of sand for what God is interested in resurrecting!

One final passage, from Revelation 21:1-5, NLT:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the One sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

Yes, Easter is about our forgiveness and resurrection into paradise someday, but that’s such a small piece of the story! If that is all we care about we’ve missed so much of what Christ implored us to learn (Love God, Love Neighbor, Make Disciples)…frankly it’s selfish!! And as God is so self-giving, Christ so self-less, Holy Spirit so self-sharing, how can we call ourselves children of God and still act so selfishly to think the cross and empty tomb are just for me? The defeat of death and the resurrection of Christ are only the first indications of a much a larger promise!! The entire world will be made new and Heaven (God’s presence) will be with us on this ball we’re currently living on! Earth will be renewed and resurrected! The cosmos will be redeemed from the disgusting disregard with which we have treated it (insert landfill, strangled fish, and oil spill photos here…). If Easter is only about us we’ve missed the point. Is your faith big enough to understand Easter isn’t really for you at all? It is for all of us and more! God is interested in resurrecting! The whole cosmos will be made new! If your idea of God isn’t able to work cosmic resurrection, it may not be a big enough (or orthodox) view of God!

The students are always given a practical piece of homework – this week, because of your faith and the promise implicit in the resurrection of Christ, be an agent of renewal to someone this week that you don’t normally associate with. Find somebody walking around like a zombie, a person living life as though life’s over, somebody dead in their spirit, and try to breathe new life to them. Maybe they just need a smile or a Polar Pop. Maybe they need a friend to talk to them or better yet to listen. Maybe they need someone to stand up for them. Maybe their home life is dangerous and they need a safe place (your house?). Whatever the case may be, if you call yourself a Christ-ian, then do something Christ-like and work to defeat the little deaths that surround us every day.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Go with GOD.
If you don’t hear it from anyone else this week, I love you.

At motion, how?

“Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit” – 21 Pilots

I have to confess my love for 21 Pilots. I am probably supposed to like something more mature or dignified, but my ears like what they like.

At the turn of the new year “heavydirtysoul” is heavy in my mind. I’m not big on resolutions. I’ve failed at keeping so many of them that I decided to quit making them. Rather than one big, herd-like push with all the other resolutionists every Jan 1, I’ve decided to take appropriate, intentional action as a problem comes up or an adjustment needs made in Heather and I’s lives. The weight I carried with me for most of my life? No spur of the moment new year resolution fixed that. Getting fed up being fat and intentionally making changes fixed it when I was actually ready (mature enough) to do something about it.

At the beginning of 2017, as with the end of any year and the beginning of another, I confess that it is difficult not to get a little introspective with where things stand with LIFE. Am I where I want to be? Where do I want to be? Is that where God wants me to be? Am I taking steps towards any or all of those things? This line of questioning could apply to job(s), family situation, living arrangement, passions, hobbies, etc. It inevitably gets a little deeper, though: What moves and inspires me?

….

I can’t judge your inspiration – mine is personal, as is yours. But are you in touch with some Source of inspiration? Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion essentially implies that an object at rest will remain at rest unless it is acted upon by an external force. Do you know what force is acting upon you? Have you intentionally sought out that force and made sure that your influencers are positive ones? Or are you lackadaisically letting any force move upon you… essentially one of the YOLO zombies that 21 Pilots references in their song?

Some of us are moved by family members or friends, culture, the media, religion, etc. There are deeper forces at work in our world, and I worry how many live like the lyric quoted above: “Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.”

As the calendar flips to an entirely new year, I pray you are not simply fleeing in your little corner of the world like a rabbit escaping the clutches of a dog’s jaws. Death comes for all of us, but does not have to be a fearsome specter haunting our waking moments. I hope the force acting on your, your source for movement, your muse or inspiration, is not something based in your fear for that is at the very least an exhausting way to live.

One of those other deeper forces at work in our world, I faithfully believe, is God. Not religion. God. An intimate, loving, benevolent, righteous, life-giving, abundance-pouring, sanity-saving, prisoner-freeing, God. Not an abstract thought system to get along with, but a Presence I have experience who has rescued me from the jaws of death… I am no longer a rabbit chased by the dogs. I can stand freely, not afraid of death. My soul is no longer heavydirty, and if your source of movement or force of life is not doing all of that for you, let’s talk.

2016 is over, and a new year is here. I have no resolutions to make. Because of the choices I’ve made, the path my life has taken, and the work to find rightness in this world, I’ve got a path laid ahead because of the divine Force that impacted my life while I was at rest. I pray you find something equally compelling. I pray death is not chasing you but rather something to be faced with confidence. I pray that whatever moves and inspires you (by your intentional choice or not) is life-giving. I pray that 2017 is a year of growth, improvement, challenges accepted, and life given. I’m excitedly planning on it for our family, and it is within reach for you as well. heavydirtysoul? Not anymore. Not ever again. Thank God.

Out of fuel, but not out of luck

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“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV
http://bible.com/59/lev.19.33-34.ESV

There are many things that will embarrass a man and wound his pride. Some men are more susceptible to this wounding than others, especially one they are somewhat deficient in the traditional “Manly Arts”. Of course I am referring to myself and anything mechanical – I’m a legitimately smart fellow, but machines confound me. Specifically, I am able to drive my truck, but I am not able to work on it.

As I was closing in on my target, a Mr. Fuel truck stop in Foristell, MO near St. Louis, I ran out of diesel with 2.8 miles to my target. With embarrassment and burning shame on the shoulder of I70W, I pressed my Onstar button amidst the whoosh of passing racecars traffic the honking of mocking horns. A gentleman from a local shop brought out my diesel and promptly left. Much to my surprise and confusion, my truck wouldn’t start. “Oh great Google, how do I start my truck after running out of fuel?”

As it turns out, my GMC Sierra has a hand pump on the fuel filter to run the diesel the 8-10 feet from the fuel tank to the filter. When it runs dry it spells bad news and takes awhile to re-dampen the works. So I get out the manual, call Pastor Brent (a master mechanic in his past life), and get dirty under the hood. Two hours later, I still have not succeeded – the wizardry of mechanical magic eludes me, even with the disembodied help of Google, Pastor, and the truck manual.

I finally just breakdown (my heart, not the truck) and beg God for this truck to start. As usual, I was asking for the wrong thing. After two and a half hours on the side of the interstate, but within half a minute of my prayer, a good Samaritan finally stops to see if I need help. Who happens to be a Christian. And who also happens to be the owner of an auto shop with a full time diesel mechanic. Who also happens to be in town on the Labor Day holiday instead of out partying.

We end up not being able to get the truck to start on the shoulder (all of our efforts drained the battery), but it’s OK says Dennis Harris, my knight in shining armor angel, because he’s got a tow truck and will pull me to his shop and work on it first thing in the morning. In the meantime, would I rather he put me up in a hotel or allow he and his wife to host me for dinner and stay in their spare room?

“Lord, I just wanted the truck to start. I’m not ungrateful, but staying with strangers goes against all conventional wisdom! Why won’t it? Why could I not? Why am I faced with this choice? I hate being indebted to others, but now I’m forced between a rock and a hard place. What do I do?”

“Why are you even asking? Allow Grace to be administered to you. Without complaint, please.”

“Again, Lord, you’re right. Please crucify my ego once again.”

As I sit here in the waiting area of Harris Automotive and Tire (please patronize this wonderful business if you have any automotive needs in the St. Louis area, http://harrisautoandtire.com/) I am struck by a number of things.

1) Americans prefer self-sufficiency. Receiving Grace is hard and pricks our pride.

2) Dennis and Tanya thought they were blessing me, but actually felt blessed by helping me.

3) Being forced to helplessly receive Grace reminds us of what Christ did for us and how helpless we are in the face of His Divine Grace.

4) I thought giving Grace was hard, but as it turns out receiving is by far the more difficult task.

5) I wonder about all those our churches are attempting to reach. Does it feel as awkward for them to receive free Grace and love? Rather than getting frustrated as the givers, ought this make us even more gracious and compassionate with them?

6) When giving Grace, don’t just give a little. Give till it hurts. Dennis and Tanya had to take my word for it that I was a pastor, let alone a good citizen. Regardless, they took me in, fed me, took care of my truck, drove me to and fro, and didn’t ask for anything in return.

7) When your fuel light dings and there’s a headwind coming at you, there’s less fuel left than you calculated.

I’m so grateful to serve a God who knows what we need and cares little for what we want. I wanted my truck to start. He knew I needed to learn even more about Grace and ego and the giving & receiving of blessings. In this case I ran out of gas, but not of luck. Thank you, Lord.

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What do you think? What lessons have you learned about Grace? Feel free to comment and share.

Duck Hunting

Duck Hunting, A leadership principle by Keith Drury.

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Re-discovered this piece from a professor of mine. I sure remember my singular form of duck hunting experience, and it was a huge bummer when I missed any. Perhaps that favorite game of yesteryear was a bit of a mis-leading experience when discussing “duck hunting” as a leadership principle.

So often a leader, or anybody with some form of influence, gets their ego hung up on what they’re missing out on. Especially in Christian leadership even one soul won for Christ is a victory, but so many pastors are more concerned with the numbers they missed that day than what they had. Sad but true.

I find this to be true of myself. My ego often got the better of me and let Satan trip me up with thoughts of inferiority when my other thoughts told me I was destined for greatness. I can tell you stories of Duck Hunting gone wrong, and I can back those stories up with personal data of what happens when a leader doesn’t keep their ego in check. Needless to say, I’m glad that I’m much appreciative for what I have these days.

What do you think? Do you focus on the ducks you hit or the ones you missed? Or would you rather talk about the NES game? You can comment here, but I’m sure Coach would be thrilled if you commented directly to him: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=161502633

Thanks!! Go with GOD.