Tag Archives: church

Jacob’s Wrestling Match (sermon from 6/30/13)

8 Jul

Ordinary.

30 Jan

I had a 80-year-old physics teacher in high school named Mr. Webb that would read motivational statements off a bookmark to encourage “struggling students.” He was known to be a bit rough around the edges, so the administration figured a bookmark with 100 motivational statements would help him be more uplifting. So whenever a student would answer a question completely wrong, he, in the most sarcastic manner, would pull out the bookmark and read something like “you’re extraordinary.”

Everyone, seemingly, wants to be extraordinary. No one wants to be perceived as average. I’m not sure if this is something intrinsic to our human nature or something that has been imparted to us in adolescence and, to be honest, I didn’t listen enough in psychology to give you an answer. I do know that I’ve never heard an impassioned plea from a parent, teacher, or coach imploring a kid to “go out there and be average.” This kind of thing is good, I suppose. Perhaps it’s simply motivational rhetoric that could move someone out of their lethargy. I digress.

A few days ago I was reading Acts as a part of Center City’s Life Journal Reading Plan. This verse stuck out to me particularly:

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

This is the same Peter who in the previous chapter healed the crippled beggar outside the temple saying “silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth get up and walk.” This is the same Peter that told a group of onlookers after the healing, “you killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” This is the same Peter that people dragged the sick into the streets in hopes that his shadow would pass over them and heal them.

Unschooled. Ordinary.

How could ordinary men walk with such confidence and power? (If this is the definition of ordinary, I want it to be ordinary.)¬†Look at the last part of the verse. The people were astonished and they took note that Peter and John had been with Jesus. That’s it. Spend time with Jesus and watch what happens to your life. If you lack boldness or courage, spend time with Jesus. If you lack the faith to believe that God is who He says He is, spend time with Jesus. If you feel stuck, spend time with Jesus.

I’m not into formulas but this seems to be one that works.

Will all of life’s problems go away? Absolutely not. These same men were imprisoned, flogged, and beaten in the next chapter. But, “the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”¬†When you have spent time with Jesus it’s impossible to have the same perspective. Everything is different. Even your suffering is seen through a different lens. Jesus has that effect on people.

So spend time with Jesus and watch what happens. I dare you.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
-Jesus

Do Something.

29 Jan

“We care more about you than what you do for us.” We say that to folks a lot at Center City–and for good reason. Essentially we’re saying, “we care about you as a human being beyond your functional role here. You are more than a door greeter.” It is an important thing to communicate to people.

I am sick of “functionary relationships.”
Hello (insert function), I am (insert function).

These types of conversations don’t interest me much. I like talking to people–to souls for that matter. C.S. Lewis said (as I wrote about earlier in an earlier post), “you have never met a mere mortal.”

However, I think we need to be careful when make blanket statements like “God cares more about you than what you do for him.” My friend Steve Witherup says that sometimes you must reject the premise of an either/or proposition. If someone asks me if I am married or if I have brown hair, I would obviously reject the either/or nature of the questions and say both. I think that applies here. See, when we make the aforementioned statements we are pitting one thing against the other. We are saying that what we do is divorced from who we are. This premise, I believe, is a false one.

I am reading a book by NT Wright about the nature of Christian character and virtue. His contention, as well as the belief of many others, is that what you do is intrinsically tied to who are. A belief otherwise is due to what I believe is an anemic gospel message. It is a message that sounds wonderful, and it is. It’s just limited. It is a gospel that says God is only concerned with your eternal destination–as if God only cares about two days of your existence: the day you are saved and the day you die. The Gospel is more than that. The Gospel deals with all of life’s DNA. There is not one thing on the earth that the Gospel doesn’t affect. This clearly would include your character. When you accept Christ’s invitation for salvation you haven’t arrived. You have been put on the right path for the beginning of a journey. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying that we can earn our salvation or that what Christ accomplished on the cross is limited. I am saying we limit the implications of the Gospel by making it merely about our eternal status. Salvation is not just a “get out of hell free card.” It’s not just about life after death. It’s about eternal life. It’s about life before death. Jesus is both Savior and Lord. The implication of Jesus as Lord is that he rules the whole earth and his Kingdom has come and continues to come.

So, what does this mean for us? It means that God is in the process of forming (re-forming, transforming) us progressively into the image of Jesus. It means that all of life is included in the apprenticeship. It means that what you do today matters! It means that God cares about every second of your life. It means God cares about who you’re becoming. So do something. Because what you do matters.

Nike said, “Just do it.” Or as my Jordan t-shirt I’m wearing right now says, “Just Dunk It.”

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Update: Watch this!

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Belligerent Arguments concerning Metaphor

23 Aug

My college roommate and lifelong friend Justin McCain just moved to Charlotte to lead worship at Center City. We still fight like 9 year old children. At some point in each argument, we both belligerent and start tossing the equivalent of “my dad can beat up your dad” type jabs at each other. Our latest bout was on the topic of language and metaphor (with my level-headed wife moderating and acting as the voice of reason and sensibility). My argument was that metaphor is the backbone of language. A word only makes sense in relation to other words. You can’t define a word without using other words. We run into the limitations of language all the time. We try to verbalize feelings of love or suffering and our words fail us. Sure, we can use scientific precision with our words. We can attempt to take out all fluff–bare bones communication. It won’t work for long. Soon you’ll realize your need for metaphor. I dare you to stand at the base of a giant mountain and attempt to explain it without the help of metaphor. Try explaining falling in love without it. Attempt describing the birth of your first child without eliciting some other image or comparison.

If our words fail us with what we naturally experience on earth as humans, how much more so in relation to the Divine–the God who spoke the universe into being with his words. The God who is wholly ‘other’ yet intimately present. The God who is beyond time and space. Even that preposition (beyond) lacks the punch needed. In, over, above, through, within. All these were used by the Biblical writers. We hear statements regularly about God that are not literally true but are used to make an analogy to his nature. This is nothing new. When Biblical writers found themselves at the base of the mountain called God they created beautiful imagery to explain what they saw, felt, heard, and experienced. Take, for instance, a phrase we’ve talked about at Center City during our prayer series, “God bends down to listen.” This statement is called an anthropomorphism in Theology. The term is used for when we attribute human characteristics to a fully ‘other’ God. God doesn’t literally bend down to listen–that would assume he had a spinal column and couldn’t hear well. This gives us a picture of the Divine Father bending over to hear his children speak. It is a beautiful image. The use of this metaphor isn’t wrong, it is simply incomplete.

Any metaphor is by nature limited. You can only hang on to a metaphor for so long before you realize its limitations and move to another. The understanding of God will not fit into one metaphor. In fact, it won’t fit into a million. Our only chance at nearing closer to understanding is to elicit the use of many metaphors. A great example of this can be found in the Psalms. In Psalm 23 David uses the imagery of the Lord as shepherd. David also refers to God as a rock and a fortress. Isaiah calls God a potter. Metaphors aid us in explaining the Inexplicable.

So, is God father, lover, friend, bridegroom, rock, fortress, potter, king, cornerstone, lion, or shepherd? Yes.

Devour scripture this week and find a new metaphor for God that you’ve never pondered. Get a fresh image of God and worship Him for it.

In the end, Justin decided that he was merely arguing about the definition of metaphor (which I believe proves my point even more because I was arguing the limitation of language).

I win.

Prayer (week 5)

21 Aug

Last week we talked about moving away from the idea that prayer is a transaction. From that perspective God is a cosmic clerk that is forced do to what the customer demands. We concluded that God is not playing a part in our world. We are playing our part in His world. He does answer prayer but not because we twist His arm. This will frame our discussion today.

Have you ever been on a long drive and suddenly realized you don’t remember one thing about the past 2 hours? Maybe it’s just a phenomenon I experience. I have a neutral part of my brain. This baffles my wife. She will ask sometimes, “What are you thinking about?” When I say, “Nothing,” I literally mean nothing. I believe there can be weeks, months, or years of peoples lives that are caught in this “neutral phenomenon.” They have been totally desensitized to the world around them. They serve utilitarian purposes. Their whole personhood is function first. Their bosses speak to them only as functionaries. They live drab routines and are only jolted into consciousness when a tragic event occurs. This is one of my greatest fears–to near the end of my life and not remember most of it. Irenaeus said, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” I want to be fully conscious and fully alive every day of my life. Prayer is the vehicle to awareness. Prayer jars us out of the fog and places us in the center of God’s story.

Self-Aware
The importance of being self-aware cannot be overstated. Over and over David asks God to examine his heart. (See Psalm 139) In order to approach God in prayer we must first be sure it is the “real I” that prays. It should be your aim to come to Him purely, without pretense. This cannot happen without self-awareness. This should not produce fear. It is not as if when you “reveal” your true self to God he is going to be surprised. He knows the deepest, darkest places of your heart. Introspection, in the Biblical sense, doesn’t turn you into a navel-gazer that is unable to muster an ounce of confidence. God meets you in your brokenness and reveals His love. In prayer we get an true picture of who we are.

God-Aware
In prayer we are nudged back into the awareness of the God-saturated universe we find ourselves in. There is nothing random. Nothing chance. The presence of God fills the earth. We are drenched in his presence even now. Prayer reminds us of this. Conversations at gas-stations, interruptions in your day, children laughing, a call from a friend are all God-moments. Every shrub is a burning bush beckoning you to take off your shoes and experience God.

Open your heart to the God who knows you better than you know yourself. Open your eyes to the God-soaked world around you.

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