Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Drafted


Last weekend one of the things I used to live for took place, with little to no attention being paid to it.

There was a time when the NFL Draft meant just about everything to me. In fact, during my high school days, I happened to be sick the same Tuesday of April all four years of high school in the mid 1980s - the day the NFL held its annual selection of players and aired it on ESPN.

I grew up a sports fanatic. In the fall I played football, in the winter I played basketball, in the spring and summer I played golf and baseball. And I longed for a career in one of those sports.

During those Tuesday's in April in high school, I would dream of what it would be like to be sitting by that phone, waiting for it to ring from one of the NFL's teams. I would dream of what it would be like to here my name called on that day by some announcer on ESPN.

Literally, it was all I thought about. The Major League Baseball draft was a similar dream, though it has never been televised that I am aware of. More fortunate than most, perhaps, I was blessed enough to get to play small college football and baseball and even attended an MLB tryout. I wasn't quite fast enough, didn't quite throw hard enough, was a little too old, and therefore didn't get the chance that day to do what I did best - hit!

The dreams have long since faded of playing in the NFL or in the major leagues, my body couldn't take it and I have found other ways to spend my time - thankfully.

But Saturday, for just a few minutes, I switched the TV onto the draft for about 10 minutes. It hit me as analyst after analyst was poring over each player's statistics, times, body size, character and the like that this has to be an agonizing ordeal for these kids. Many of them have spent their entire life preparing for this one day - the day when they make it or not!

For some, jubilation. For others, heart break. As players plummet down the board and go undrafted, the questions must persist in their mind. Were my numbers not good enough, am I not big enough, strong enough, fast enough, did I make too many bad choices?

It all made me think.

It makes me thankful that I have been drafted, so to speak. But the team I am on isn't concerned with my numbers, with me being smart enough, big enough, strong enough, fast enough. My "General Manager" doesn't even care about the bad choices I have made.

I have made my share of mistakes, but Jesus Christ chose me anyway. He continued to pursue me, and knowing that I have absolutely no qualifications to be on his team other than a heart and desire for Jesus, he made a way.

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!," Jesus said in John 16:33.

I reckon we all have/have had trouble - times when we weren't at the top of the draft board. Times when we weren't strong enough, fast enough. Times when we didn't belong on any team, let alone God's team.

But Jesus Christ calls us anyway. He wants us on His team! And when he gets us on his team and gets us excited about the victory that we find in him - in living this life for him each and every day- he asks us to "Go!" and find other people to join the team.

And as we spend more time on his team, the Spirit continues to build in us a desire to spend more and more time with Christ, allowing him to share the finer points of the game with us. In those times he shares more and more of who he is and what he wants for our life. It is in these moments that the game is the best!

I thank and praise God that I don't have to be big enough or strong enough ("My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" - II Cor. 12:9); that my salvation is not based on me ("it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" - Eph. 2:8); and that all he really wants from me is my heart - that he really just wants my willingness to walk with him and talk with him every moment.

I don't have this "every moment" bit completely figured out just yet. I am human! But the longer I find myself on his team, and the more victories we enjoy together, the deeper he draws me in and the more I desire to be coached - every moment.

Are you still hoping to be drafted? If so, let's talk. If we're on the same team, let's celebrate victory together!

Grace and Peace!

Friday, April 24, 2009

One at a time

Track meets in Northwest Iowa are really not spectator sports. The wind often howls, the temperatures are ordinarily not too warm, and when you package those two things together, wind chills on an evening when the temperature reads 49 are more like 29. Not very pleasant!

But when you force your kids to be involved, to make themselves better for other things they are involved in - including life - you had better show up to watch.

So there we sat, my wife and I, on Monday evening in the frigid conditions mentioned above. (At least it wasn't raining!) As we sat, we cheered on the kids from our school, noticed how gifted some of the kids from other schools are and, despite our butts being nearly frost-bit on the aluminum bleachers, enjoyed ourselves.

But then came the 100m hurdle race. When the hurdles are coached well, practiced well and run well, it can be a thing of beauty. A girl from a neighboring school ran a flawless heat and was very impressive.

In a following heat, however, one of the competitors clipped the sixth hurdle. Down she went - face into asphalt, sprawled out for the whole crowd to see!

"Ooohhhh" rang through the bleachers.

As is customary, the hurdler got up and tried to finish the race. She hobbled over the seventh and eighth hurdles, and then bit it again over the ninth hurdle as she tried to complete the race.

"Nnnnoooohhh" was then heard as the crowd hurt for the young lady.

She eventually crossed the finish line, but did so a little beat up.

Made me think of life - our lives.

We can be running along, clearing hurdles and looking pretty good, can't we? Our form is spot on, we pick 'em up and set 'em down and reach whatever finish line is in front of us at the moment beautifully.

Once in a while, though, one of the hurdles seems to jump up and tackle us - to send us sprawling to the asphalt. And there we lie, bloodied, dinged, unsure how to proceed and wondering what the heck just happened.

It is there that we have a choice to make, isn't it? When we are sprawled out on the asphalt, bloodied and dinged, unsure of how to proceed.

I am pretty sure we have all faced something in our lives that we can relate to this scenario - perhaps it was something of our own doing that sent us face first into the pavement, perhaps it was something someone did to us that tripped us up and hurt us? Perhaps it was a disease, an accident, pornography, gossiping, alcoholism, (insert your malady here) that took you down and left you with a choice to make.

Sprawled out on the pavement when life strikes, we do have a decision to make. Am I going to stay down? Am I going to continue in this pattern? Am I going to try to get up on my own? Or might I change the pattern and seek guidance?

The world long told me to pick myself up by my own boot straps and to get out of whatever it was that had tripped me up and sent me sprawling, on my own. But one day, when I had fallen and couldn't get up, God made himself known in the way of other people and the Word.

I love this piece of scripture from the book of Hebrews. Read what Hebrews 12:1 has to offer us: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Hurdlers, in a way, understand this. They know that when they run the race, there isn't just one hurdle to clear but 10. They know that if they go down, they must somehow muster the courage to get up and try to clear the next one.

That's perseverance, isn't it? It's looking fear in the eye and walking (or running) right into the face of it. Perseverance is dealing with whatever it is that had us sprawled out on the asphalt, fully and completely, so that we might be able to continue on running the race marked out for us, isn't it?

We have talked a lot about this topic this week, my wife and I. Jennifer Lee over at Getting down With Jesus blogged of a scenario in her own life - where life has presented a major hurdle - and yet walking straight into that fear is part of the perseverance piece.

Chances are there are going to be more hurdles to clear for each of us. That's the other thing about persevering in this race. As long as God allows us to be here on this earth, there are going to be obstacles and hurdles that will be there - that's a fact. We are told in the Bible that "in this world we will have trouble, but I has overcome the world."

Whatever the stumbling block, I pray we call God into it with us. I pray that we rely on God, that we realize that he has a plan for us and that with Holy Spirit alongside (not out in front or behind, but beside you) that we run with perseverance the race marked out before us.

Grace and Peace!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Broken and beautiful

My prayer, which began in earnest on Palm Sunday, was that I might be led to the cross during Passion Week; that I might see Jesus in a different way this Easter; that I might experience the depth of his suffering; that I might get a glimpse into all that he endured just for me; that I might look anew at the ways in which I live and breathe and follow him.

It was an incredible week, to say the least.

Reading and re-reading the scriptures uncovered some things for me that I had perhaps never really read before, that I must have missed or at least forgotten about Holy Week.

It also drew me in closer to Jesus than I have been in some time. In the midst of personal struggle and a bit of a dry season, I needed to be drawn in.

Thursday evening we went on a journey during our Maundy Thursday service. We journeyed to the table - celebrating in the Lord's supper. We then journeyed to the Garden of Gethsemane and I really heard and understand for the first time that victory was won in Garden, when Jesus decided to take on the cross. And then we journeyed to the cross, where he suffered and died for me and for you.

Thursday night was a meaningful service for me, one in which I could hear Jesus ask from the cross, "What sin?"

Good Friday came and I spent much of the day, for lack of a better word, bothered. Bothered that victory had to come with Jesus hanging there - because of me - for me! I thank God that he did it, but the pain of it all is almost too much. It was my sin that nailed him there, it was me who turned his back on Jesus - who cut and ran. Oh, to not do those things!

But Good Friday also included Bible study. Six broken people who love Jesus, who love each other and are living life together. On this night, we continued to toil through the book of Job (we are officially halfway - yippee!), shared what was going on in our lives and then, dimmed the lights, lit some candles and again ventured to the cross. We took in this Youtube video - I would like to share it with you here...

video

This Good Friday - the day in which Jesus's body was broken and blood was poured out for the healing of the world, the healing of those who would call on his name - we broke bread together, served each other and enjoyed the feast.

Holy Communion - the Lord's Supper - is a very personal experience. He endured the most excruciating of deaths in which his body was literally broken and his blood poured out. He did it for me and he did it for you, if you believe.

It is the most meaningful of experiences for me to take his body, soak it in the cup and remember what he did for me. It is written: On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took the bread, broke it and said 'This is my body which is broken for you. Every time you eat of it, remember me.' And in the same way, Jesus took the cup, and after having blessed it, said 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood which was poured out for many.' Every time you drink of it, remember me.

An amazing thing, isn't it?

Jesus gave us these elements that we might never forget. He also gave us this supper, I believe, with the intent of celebrating it with others. Merriam-Webster defines community as a unified body of individuals. Communion, loosely defined, is the celebration of being in community with one another.

And so, on this night, six broken people whose lives are being put back together through the body and blood of Jesus Christ - and through the love and care of each other - intimately shared the body and body of Jesus Christ. Tears were shed, hearts were opened, and sharing occurred about the very personal meaning of the sacrament. I believe we were all touched by the body and blood, and the sharing, in ways we have not encountered before.

This is a meager attempt at explaining the celebration - but Good Friday will never look the same to me again. I saw him there, broken and beautiful.

Then came Sunday morning - where the church building was bursting at the seams and a cantata called "I've Seen Jesus" was performed. Beautifully sung music and incredible narration took us to what Mary Magdalene, Thomas and Peter all experienced upon coming to the empty grave.

They saw Jesus, ALIVE! He was both broken and beautiful before their eyes.

In this past week, Jesus was both broken and beautiful before my eyes. How about you? My prayer now is that I read and re-read the accounts of his time on earth following the resurrection, that it might become more and more real - that it might lead me ever closer to him - that it might help me better share his love with others - that I might be better prepared for his return!

Grace and Peace!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The burden


We all have them, right?  

Things we wish we hadn't done?  Things we wish we could take back?  You know, the burden!?!

A rude comment or something we said or did that was hurtful, embarrassing, or painful?

I sit this Saturday morning wondering what the disciples of Jesus, who was crucified yesterday, must be thinking today?

When Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the account of Matthew 26 concludes this way in verse 56:  (from The Message)  The disciples cut and ran.  In the NIV it says that the disciples deserted him and fled.

Here are these 12 guys whom Jesus had singled out, had told to drop everything they were involved with and to follow him.  And they did it.  While they followed him they saw signs and wonders, witnessed miracle upon miracle, and heard teachings that baffled the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.

They lived and breathed with Jesus.  And yet, when one of their own betrayed Jesus and the crowd came for him to arrest him - the other 11 betrayed Jesus, too.

Jesus foretold of Peter's denial, and he knew that the other 10 would cut and run, too.

After he had been handed over, tried, flogged, beaten and crucified - what must they have been dealing with this Saturday morning?  What was running through their minds?

Part of me can identify with them, I think.  Every time I louse things up (which is often, unfortunately) it is as if I have handed him over.  Every time I neglect someone in need, it is another swing of the hammer.  Every time one of those horrible thoughts enters my mind, and I allow it to germinate for just a moment, it is as if I spit in Jesus' face.  Every time I do what I want and know it is against his will, it is as if I cut and run.

Increasingly those feelings bother me.  There was a time when it didn't matter, because Jesus didn't really matter to me.  It was a story from a book written hundreds - no thousands - of years ago.  It had no significance in my life.

Jesus matters to me now.  Jesus is everything to me now.  The fact that it was my sin that nailed him there, that forced him to have to endure all he did on Thursday night and Friday is weighty.  

So are the guilty feelings of Saturday.  It had to be for the disciples, too!  All of the "what ifs" they had to be asking themselves this morning!   Uuuuggghhhh!  

And the sorrow of the death of their dear friend and King - the one they had hoped in - the one they had dropped everything to follow - must have been incredibly painful.

Praise God we know Sunday's coming.  They should have, too, since he told them over and over again that he was going to handed over to sinners, crucified and risen on the third day.  But even as he returned to them following the resurrection, they still doubted.

My prayer today, this Holy Week Saturday morning, is that we are able to take a few minutes between the grief of Friday and jubilation of Sunday and perhaps deal with all of the feelings that come in between - the feelings that accompany Saturday.  

The remorse...the guilt...the sorrow...the grief...the pain.

I pray we address them all so the fact that the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty - that Jesus is Alive - may be a time of celebration in our lives like none other.  That his sacrifice was not in vain and that it is extremely personal.  That Jesus' sacrifice on that cross gives us hope, life, grace and peace!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Beat down


It's Friday. Thank God Sunday is coming.

I sit in my office this Friday afternoon, needing to leave - wanting to leave - but unnerved by it all - by the beat down that occurred some 2000 years ago.

Last Sunday I preached the Palm Sunday message and encouraged those present to ponder why it was that we had to read that story over again. It was a message I needed to hear - one that God clearly laid on my heart to help me to understand the depth of his love for us - how Jesus Christ was the most humble of servants.

Triumphal entry? He knew that while people were cheering and celebrating his arrival this Sunday, that they would turn on him in a matter of days and that he would be betrayed, tried, beaten and crucified. And he entered Jerusalem, just the same.

Triumphantly! And he did it on a donkey - a humble servant entering the city unlike the King's of Old Testament times who always rode in on the finest of stallions. And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred. Entering triumphantly to fulfill his purpose on this earth - to fulfill what the prophets like Zechariah had foretold centuries earlier.

The encouragement was also to be led to the cross in this week. My prayer was that I might be led there, too. In reading and re-reading the varied Gospel accounts of this Passion Week, I have been more intimately to the cross than at any time in my 40 years on this earth.

Today is Friday. I don't like Friday. The weight of my sin and shame is too much to bear. Jesus hanging there - beaten and bloodied because of me - is more than I can bear. I know Sunday is coming - thank God I know that - but the pain of Friday is weighty today, my friends.

Toward the end of Luke's account, Jesus says, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." It was a notion that was on his heart from the moment he left the Garden of Gethsemane, I believe, and is what he still thinks some 2009 years later as we mark the day in which he was crucified.

The Apostle Paul called crucifixion the most humiliating form of execution - it would also have to be the most excruciating form of execution. And so as I sit and ponder what Jesus must have endured on that cross this afternoon, I do so most humbly. It was my sin that nailed him there; it was my failings that nailed Jesus there; it has been my voice yelling "crucify him, crucify him"; it has been me who betrayed Jesus; it has been me who turned my back on Jesus.

And yet...Jesus hung there, nearly out of life, beckoning his Father to forgive me - to forgive you. The beating and flogging he endured are beyond anything we can comprehend, but I believe it was nothing compared to the hurt and anguish in Christ's heart for those who were doing the beating. Had to be, how else could he utter "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing."

My life has been forever changed in this Passion Week. I have experienced things in my time of re-reading the scripture and in prayer, of being led to the cross, that I pray spill out onto others. Tonight, as we gather with dear friends for a time of study, reflection and communion, I pray that Christ's body broken and blood poured out for the healing of the world - for each of us - will transform our lives more deeply than we could fathom.

I pray that from this day forward that we might stop and think about what it is we are doing, that we might think about what it is we are doing here. I pray that we might live in expectant waiting of Sunday. I thank God that Sunday is coming!