My Life.Church Sermon I will never preach

This is too long for a blog, so if you don’t read it all, I get it.  Should you read it, I hope it encourages you.  I did the whole thing in a dream this morning, and I almost never share dreams, but, here goes.  Sermon follows:

I have listened to speakers speak here for years, and they begin the same way.  “I love Craig and Amy so much, you have an amazing church, and I am so delighted to be here today.”  It is that last phrase where I listen, you know, to hear what they say.  Are they saying, “I am humbled and honored, truly!” Or, does it smell a little more like “You are in for a treat!  I think I have something amazing.  In fact, a lot of folks think I am amazing!”

So how could I possibly be preaching here?

What I think happened was that we made a small mistake!  You know how when a manager walks to the mound and he starts to touch one fore arm, but he puts a couple of fingers on the other, like he wasn’t sure, and he could not remember who was warmed up in the bullpen?”

I am the bullpen.  I am that guy in the bullpen whose name is Tom, or Tim, I am pretty sure it wasn’t Tammy.  He is a member that we don’t call members at LifeChurch, but we have a couple of hundred thousand of those.  He tithes most months, but more people are completely faithful there.  He and Jill lead a life group just like 251 others at Stillwater.  And the Stillwater campus is a mistake.  If we had not added it when we did; we would not fit the profile where they hope to expand these days, but GT and Megan were commuting every weekend and God was working, and today, one in ten staff members in all the Life Churches have passed through Stilly.

That kind of “mistake”.

So, they called the wrong guy out of the bullpen.  In fact, someone might investigate where I got a uniform and dropped down into the bullpen with my glove and enough swag to act like I just got traded from a Canadian hockey team where I was the equipment manager.

Wrong guy.  I am a small mistake, but LifeChurch is a great place because I have been comfortable in the dark watching Craig on screen.  He is really taller in person.

Well, maybe I am here because you are a small mistake.  Maybe you have a sin or two because you somehow think they make you cool.  See, I swear for effect some days when teaching or making a point.  And like everyone who smokes I have it under control, except when my daughter in law, Fair Claire, sends a request through my son that I watch my mouth during Christmas in front of the grandkids.  You see, “under control”.

It is freaky, but sometimes when the stress is bad, or my health is in the toilet I swear more.  Isn’t that the dumbest thing?  I think I can pin my potty mouth on something outside me when the Bible says, “The stuff coming out of your mouth is the overflow from your heart.”  Oops.  My heart’s overflow must resemble my toilet overflowing.

So there you are, sitting in the dark, or with your computer using earphones so your family and neighbors don’t know that Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to you, but you seem to make more mistakes than progress in following Him.

It could be that you love Jesus, and are astonished that He left heaven, lived and did all those astonishing miracles, and got religious people angry at Him — and they crucified Him thinking, “That takes care of that;” only God raised Him from the dead to emphasize His boy was telling the truth.  All along.  Every day.  In every miracle for undeserving people.  Jesus was telling the Truth, and telling Truth so well that it turns out that Truth is one of His Names.  Truth has a Name above all names and it is — wait for it: Jesus.

And that right there makes Jesus, forgive me, unbelievable.  I mean Jesus was just like us except for the perfection thing, having Satan give Him the VIP tour of earth and testing, miracles everywhere, demons testifying to who He was when He was trying to be cool about it.  Okay, not exactly like me.  I am an example of human, I think.

And that makes me uncomfortable even in the dark some weekends at LifeChurch.  Jesus was true to His calling, true to His message.  And I fail my calling, and some days I fail His message that I deliver.  You know how people say Craig is the same in the pulpit and at home except when driving?  My wife and sons and daughter in law would all say, “He is the same in both places” with all their fingers crossed in back of them.

When Jesus walked out to the mound, Heaven rushed the infield to breathlessly watch.  When I walk to the mound, people are checking their programs and smartphones and shrugging at each other, “Who is that guy?”  No name on the back.  His pants are too big, and why can’t he stand up straight?  How come he isn’t even listed?

In spite of all that, I found some small things that surprised me in the Jesus story.

There is this day when Jesus has been feeding thousands and the people want to make Him an earthly king, and Jesus realizes that before He can address the crazy crowd, He has to get rid of His disciples.  All of them.  He puts them in boats and dismisses them, and only after sending away His own does He lose the crowd.  The disciples were wanting to drink the Kool-Aid.  They were ripe for everything except what Jesus was doing.

Jesus also had been handing out freebies on miracles, food, healings, casting out demons and He knew it was time to ratchet up the message, call people to faithfulness, to followship, to maturity — and people were walking away — and this is the part that froze my heart.  Jesus turns to His disciples and asks, “Do you want to walk away, too?”

And all of God’s plans and power, and all of God’s predestining, and all of God’s plan for planet Earth comes to this point.  Jesus hands the ball to failers (not failures by God’s grace) but failers like me.  Like you.

And obviously, at this moment, Jesus is thinking that handing the Gospel Football to these guys is maybe not going to work.  He is looking at Peter who suffers from foot in mouth disease.  The two Sons of Thunder who think the coolest thing about Jesus is that He can call down fire from heaven and maybe blow away an entire town.  Matthew is a never ending fountain of questions.  Mary of Magdala is still conflating a puppy love for followship.  And Judas, Judas is stealing from the till and will pointlessly betray Jesus at the critical time, just before Peter denies Him three times.

Do you want to walk away, too?

I don’t know any mature Christians who have not made some sort of truce with church and religion, and decided to still love Jesus more than what they see in other Christians.  Ouch.

Some of them believe Christ even though what they saw in me made believing Jesus tough, because what they saw in me made them want to walk away.  OUCH!

My wife, Jill has this thing that thunders in the silence, “Your Plan A was to use us all along?  Even with the Holy Spirit, what were you thinking, God?”

Which forces the question.  Is God missing something, a lot of somethings, or did God decide what was most true about us before He began the experiment?

I am a creature saved by God’s grace and I lust for if-not-sex then intimacies where I should not, and toys, and money that buys toys.  All are true.  Now for the HUGE question.  What is more true?

Life and faith have daunting conundrums.  The light coming out of these lights, is it waves or particles?  Yes.

Is Jesus fully God and fully man?  Yes.

Is God three or One?  Yes.

Am I a sinner or God’s dearly bought son?  Yes.

And Jesus knows how I struggle here!  Remember that night before they killed Him?  No?  Let me tell you how crazy this is.  The die is cast.  The trial members have been assembled in two houses.  Soldiers are following Judas to find Jesus, and Jesus is in this Garden with his sleeping disciples, yes they failed Him this time as well, and Jesus is sweating blood!  No kidding.  Think about it.  Sweating blood.  I would say He was really wrestling, wouldn’t you?  And here was the question.  Here was Jesus’ big question.  It was time to die.  It was time to suffer.  For better or for worse, there was nothing more Jesus could do for the disciples.  And it all looked impossible.

Jesus was asking for a bye.  Jesus was asking to be let out of this part of the contract.  He went from thinking about it, to truly tempted to bail out.  He was sweating blood.

Jesus was asking if God could be happy with less.

And God thundered back in silence to His beloved Son.  Sure you feel this drag, this bent to failing, and this understandable horror at dying.  Now, which is more true?  You’re wanting to bail out, or you are My beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased?

He knows when I want to fail.  When I want to be let off the hook.  When I want to be left alone.  When I don’t want to measure up.  How afraid I am to walk out to the mound some days.  When I want God to settle for less from me.

Occasionally God sends someone to remind me who and Whose I am.  Occasionally, He puts me in the stands to remind some friend, or student, or colleague what is most true about them — that he or she is a son or daughter of the High King and He was right to give her salvation and call her to follow Him.

But sometimes, God is silent.  He and heaven hold their breath to see me come through, to see me come true, knowing that I face bogeys.  Some days, I am sweating bullets, and God nods silently to His angels who will never understand why God trusts us, and he says, “Let the bet ride on my boy, Thomas.”

The angels can think of as many reasons as I can, maybe more why God should spread His bets, and God laughs, and according to Ephesians 1, He is gesturing that He was right to let anything ride on me.

God’s bet is riding on me because He has given me Jesus and Spirit, and watches to see me act on what is most true about me.

How about you?

 

 

Scary Answers

I teach a class called “Imagination” as part of the core curriculum for Entrepreneurship at OSU.  The OKSU OSU.  I teach and assign projects in an “Open Ended” manner, on purpose.  Even when I explain, “If I tell you how to do a journal entry, and what topics to cover, I would not have seen the 20+ formats I have seen work creatively for  so many students.”

Three students will drop the class immediately when we leave the room.

One bright eyed, intent student will ask, “How many words do you want in an entry?”

We have taught students in years of schooling that there is one correct answer, the teacher’s way of doing things, and no matter what the teacher says, she is absolutely looking for one answer in the discussion.  She will smile through all the other answers, but she ends the discussion when we arrive at the right answer.

In creativity, and in innovation, we can find hundreds of answers, and all might work. — with work.

Christianity seems similar.  Many people accept that we are a mess, in need of saving, and God did this elaborate, astonishing thing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we only have to accept.  One answer.  Does not demand too much to accept.

Craig Groeschel preached this morning in his Selfless series.  He described how to see God in the moment (even in the grind) and develop new answers, new growth, see the tough things through to the end.

Crickets.  Twenty people applaud, and the rest sit in super quiet mode, eyes a little glazed over.  Millions of correct answers — with work.  Too much for some people.

The on”oanswer fits all” is a great way to build audiences, to increase church attendance.  The millions of possible answers, the kind we must work out not knowing if we are right, trusting through the falling on your face times, and trusting God is guiding — builds Christ followers.

Graduate from the answers Someone else constructed, so you only have to answer “I accept” or “I am afraid” to the answers that mutate, grow, stretch us, slap us into next week, and force us to depend on God to follow God.

It is scarier, more demanding, and full of pitfalls, like all good adventures.

Urgency

I learned urgency where I think a lot of us did: in first grade.  I did not learn it in Kindergarten, because everything was measured and it was less than a half day and if you you were half way clever, no one even suspected that you ever went to the bathroom or restroom.  Really?  People were taking naps in there?

I learned urgency when seated in my little chair either paying attention to Mrs. Criswell or watching Billy Wiebold and Jim Holder eat paste; and my body would remind me.  I had needs.  I could feel a slight pressure that served to reassure me this was not going away.  It was only going to get worse.

And adults seemed clueless that this was fraught with peril.  Even when you don’t have to raise your hand and ask (Mrs. Criswell was forward thinking there), even when all you had to do was get up and go there was peril.  You see, getting up to go meant that every one knew.  I mean, every one was getting pretty worldly, so we all knew each other went to the restroom, and maybe resting came after, but they did not know I was going right then.

It paralyzed Kay.  Sitting there in enough petticoats to be in a movie with that unmistakable trickle running off the wood and steel chair onto linoleum, and the tears forming.  We all knew, then for sure. Maybe she forgot about that before she died or got married.

Anyway, one could sit there feeling a growing sense of urgency, while at the same time exploring ways to ignore it and hope it went away.  Possiblilities abounded, lunch could come two hours early, recess could be declared completely at random, or nuclear war drill would put everyone else under their desks and you blithely slippped in and out — unnoticed.

It’s funny, is it not?  We learn both urgency and ways to make it go away simultaneously, like countries, like churches, like global warming.

I learned Adult urgency from John Edmund Haggai.  Like any evangelist he had a great Thursday night sermon on the urgency of reaching the world for Christ.  Unlike all the rest, he also built an institute in a Third World locale, staffed with brilliant Third World faculty and leaders, and ways to get them trained and back into leadership positions in countries Baptists had no hope of reaching.

And here is the other wild thing about true urgency: it is not, like in the first grade, dependent on how we feel about it. It simply is.  Urgency is not a factor of age – I must do something about this before I die – or feeling.  It simply is.

John built the Haggai Institute when he was young.  You heard he was passionate about it, but it went far, far beyond how he felt about it…and millions of lives have been changed.

In the same way, it does not matter how I feel about climate change.  The world is hurting, species and habitats are vanishing, Christians believe they have been given dominion over the thing, so they should be the first, the most devout ecologists.

Quit sitting in your chair, jiggling your leg trying to figure a way to make this go away.  Get up, act on your urgency.  People are dying.  The world is suffering.

Sic ‘em.  Gotta go now.

To Mrs. Scott

Jill and I moved to Miami to be youth minister at University Baptist Church in Coral Gables.  The kittens learned to respect the iguanas in the trees.  The electric company came to cut back the ficus from the electric lines every nine months.  The services were translated into Spanish and Patois and our staff reflected that composition, and Mrs. Scott was one of my Sunday School teachers.

Her first name was Mrs.  for all of her students, and that went for me as well.  The dress and address were both regal. Formal but not stuffy or priggish or feigned. She had a ready smile and cool wit, and she and Mr. Scott were that evanescence we know as Jamaican. Coping with challenges in life was built-in, and even when the laugh lines around the eyes were getting a work out from a good life, she somehow conveyed that gravitas, which communicated she chose to laugh, chose to believe, even after having seen life.

Mrs. Scott’s children were reserved and brilliant.  Except for Jonathan who was one part ADHD before we knew the term, one part Robin Williams, two parts anywhere from the BeeGees to Hank Williams to Madonna, one part Billy Graham, and all of it kindled such that he appeared to have his hair on fire, even when calmly talking to you face-to-face.

Many, many a girl measured this Scott, and not a few took his measure with great hope, but there was a girl name of Kathleen, and if she chased him it was with a stunning shyness that entwined him and drew him to her.  Effortlessly.

When Jill and I left Coral Gables, I left the youth ministry in Jonathan’s and Wes’ hands, and expected the announcement of their marriage, and were devastated at the news of her MS.  Devastated alongside an entire church reeling with a second pastor’s wife with the dread prognosis.

Could Jonathan have had a larger music career if he had travelled more?  Undoubtedly. Could he have had a larger speaking career if he had spent more time on the road?  Assuredly.  But with the rock-solid resolution of the first Mrs. Scott, Jonathan stayed close to the second Mrs. Scott until last week.

She is Home, now.

Sigourney Weaver made a choice a few decades back.  She was looking at her mantle and wondered if she would want more Oscars on there or pictures of the grandkids.  She stayed home for the kids and grandkids.

Jonathan’s and Kathleen’s kids will be able to put the pictures of their parents together on their mantles and say the mystical, magical incantation with just that Jamaican lilt,  “And she loved him with her dying breath, and he no less.”

Old Chinese Proverb

I know.

You know.

But still, we think we might “get by” on this one.

You buy the used Subaru, love it, and walk out with only one key.  The second key is 175.00, and that is steep for you.

A year later, in the run up to Christmas the key vanishes.  It is what we now call “a crummy miracle”.  And they abound.  Dog leashes, baby’s anythings, the fifty you were holding for a rainy day…vanished.  Seriously passed into dark energy, awaiting physicists to find the other 93 % of the universe.  Think of it for a second.  Much, much more of the universe is missing than is found.

The replacement keys (it is time to purchase two, like we might have done in the first place) are 215.00 apiece.  After you have the car towed 50 miles to the dealership.

Old Chinese proverbs: replace the tire and spare now. Pay the insurance, electric, phone bills today, walk now, lose the weight last week. And buy the second key, while it is still cheap.  Saying what is wise takes no effort at all.

Doing what is wise is simple, but hard.   So hard.

We’ve Been Gypped

When I was young I had four grandparents, and a small constellation of older, wiser folks at church.  In a large church, the supply of old people over 40 seemed limitless.

Two things have happened since then.  I returned to walk down the halls of Sallie Curtis Elementary and was shocked at what they accomplished!  The entire world of desks, chairs, scissors, toilets, sinks, the height of tiles in the hallways, cabinets under the monstrous wall of windows to the outside: all of it was scaled for munchkins, me at that age.  The world was scaled for me, sized for my eyes cruising at an altitude of around three feet.  The wings where older students went to school were similarly scaled.

My world was scaled to make adults seem larger than life, from my perspective.  It was the same with wisdom.

Old professors, again way past 40, preached and taught at church.  Teachers who were merely 30 mastered our questions, taught science, math, geography, spelling, and dispensed justice in our universes of @ 30 kids.  A couple of times, the justice thing went against what I thought should have gone down, but I was obviously wrong in the face of advanced wisdom.

Well they are almost all dead.  I am older.  I survived 30, 50 and more.  I have seen the elected officials come and go.  It turns out we trust them as much as lawyers and preachers.  And I have collected degrees, studied, taught (ancient over 40, remember?), and watched my friends age and have their hair turn white or turn loose.

They are not so wise.  I know because I am not.  For all I have learned and experienced, according to  my confessions this morning, I am not wise on my best days, and far less on my worst days.

This is terribly judgmental, but I don’t see any others escaping their limitations and dumb human tricks: Pres., legislators, docs, producers, etc.  We all got older, I am just unconvinced that we got smarter, and certainly not wiser.

I hope they are building the desks and toilets even smaller for my kids and students and grandkids.  Otherwise, they will figure it out even earlier.  Now, I think I finally understand why entertainers told us not to “trust anyone over 30” when we were in college. We would have known sooner.

I now look for what I call congruence.  People tell you all sorts of windy things with which they live their lives.  The ones who walk their talk, live their truths, are more congruent.

I look up to them, sort of like walking out of my first grade room and being overwhelmed by the giant accommodations over in the fifth grade wing!

 

So, It’s true

Or Jill was right.

I was reading in the Old Testament, through a minor prophet, Zechariah.  It is not essential for you to know, but when he is called a “minor” prophet it does not mean he shunned certain keys when playing music.  It does not even mean he could not share the stage with “major” league, prophets.  It simply means he wrote less, and in some cases, I am thankful for that.

Anyway, he is barely getting started in his first chapter when he shares this startling image.

Verse 7: On (Feb 15, 519 b.c.), the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet … as follows:

8:  In the night I saw … a Man (an Angel or an image of God) was riding on a red horse, and it stood among the myrtle trees that were in the ravine; and behind Him were horses: red, sorrel, and white. 9:  I asked, “O my lord, what are these?” And the angel acting as my guide said, “I’ll show you.”  10:  The Man standing among the myrtle trees answered, “The Lord sends these throughout the earth and patrol it.”

11:  And the men on the horses answered the Angel of the Lord, “We have gone throughout the earth and behold, all the earth sits at rest.”

It reveals a startling thing.  One, Tolkien may have simply read the text more closely than the rest of us.  Strider’s job description is clearly outlined here!  Two, the word “men” is implied in the text.  It could be that “they” were the horses answering, which makes Lewis correct in the Horse and His Boy.  Which means Solomon was right, and there are precious few possibilities under the sun that qualify as “new”.

The rest of the chapter talks about God’s heart to restore Jerusalem, but does not mention Elrond or elves, in case you got your hopes up too far.