Oh! Hi there!
I like to imagine that there have been people who wake up each and every day, longing for new fresh J-Blog content, click their way over to here, and sigh heavily with disappointment that I've been away for a while. Perhaps they even got excited when I put up a teaser page, suggesting that the site would be back up and running on February 14th. They may have even set a little countdown clock on their computer, and lived through further disappointment as that day came and went. A month later, those folks would be extremely happy to be here!
More likely than not though, no one noticed I was gone.
But I'm back! Things were nuts there for a little while, with all kinds of ministry travels and adventures and to-do lists. But things seem right to bring this thing back, to get the creative juices flowing, to write.
I also think the theme of this blog is going to shift just slightly. I mean to be honest, it's always been a sort of stream of consciousness thing, blogging about whatever really comes to mind, and I'm sure that will still be true moving forward. But I want to focus more on the two-wheeled life, what it looks like to live the #bikelife.
It all started with Lent, as I wanted to spend this year adding joy into my life instead of taking something away in the name of discipline. Bicycling for sure is one of those sources of joy in my life, something that no matter how miserable the weather, always seems to put a smile on my face. But an odd thing started happening in my life, that I would make excuses for myself every time the idea of cycling came up. "I have too much going on today, I can't ride." "I need to look nice in the office, so I can't ride." "The weather is just a bit below what's acceptable, I can't ride." All of these excuses combined together into a season where my bike sat in the garage, unused, and frankly feeling a bit unloved.
So for Lent, I decided that I would ride my bike to work each and every day. I politely informed my inner voice of doubt that I had spent entirely too much money over in my life, and had more than enough gear to face any and all weather conditions that were thrown my way. I have enough bags and backpacks to ride with any amount of stuff in any kind of weather. I have rain coats. I have snow pants. I have hand warmers. I have road bikes and mountain bikes. Let's get to it!
So that started exactly a month ago. The only days I've missed are the days that my wife needed me to drive the boys to childcare (which seemed reasonable) and one day that I slept in (which was just silly). Otherwise, I've been on the back of a bike both too and from work.
And you know, it's doing exactly what I wanted it to do. It's bringing me joy.
Which isn't quite the same thing as saying that it's been super enjoyable all the time. Case in point: today I rode here to Judy's Java Joint to drink coffee and work on the sermon I'm preaching on Sunday (which, incidentally, another reason for the blog's return is that it is a killer way to procrastinate when you have sermon writer's block). It is 23 degrees outside, and the headwind made me literally cry. Turning the pedals over even once was an incredible struggle. But I am here, and I did under the power of the bicycle. That's a pretty good day if you ask me.
I have a lot of ideas for content, including some new gear reviews, tips tricks and hacks, and even the occasional J-Vlog. Of course, if you want to know anything about the world of cycling, leave a comment and we'll see what we can tackle together.
And, welcome back!
Psalms 96, 147:1-11
1 Peter 2:1-10
Last night, before a meeting up here at the church, I got bit pretty hard by the bug of bicycling. I really wanted to get out on a bike and ride about. So I set out to go to work on the route that I had taken a thousand times before. I was coming down a particular hill, with a car behind me and another car oncoming. I looked ahead and noticed that this road that I had been on a thousand times before had been ripped up, and that they had put down a steel plate. Steel plates are no good for slick bicycle tires, so I quickly started to plot my line to steer clear of it and the cars around me. And that's when I noticed the gravel...
My wheels slipped out from under me. I knew I was going about 15 miles an hour or so, making a fall undesirable to say the least. Plus those pesky cars on either side of me. I was at about a 45 degree angle, and somehow, in time so slow I could see the flapping of a hummingbird's wings, I managed to pull myself up, right the bike, and keep riding without touching the ground. It was miraculous to say the least.
After the meeting finished, I knew I had to ride home. I was a nervous ball of anxiety and adrenaline, but failing to get back on the bike would have made it all but impossible to get back on later. So I hopped back on, said a quick prayer, and started to pedal.
It's amazing how much you can slow down when you are both scared of your surroundings and also pretty sure you were close to tasting death just hours before. So my ride home took on a different flavor than most. This was not a commute that stood between work and home. This was an opportunity to drink in my surroundings. This was a chance to hear the little chirps of animals scurrying in the woods. Or see the beauty of the changing leafs around me. Or, when I hit a particularly dark clearing, see the brightness of the stars. I had slowed down, and now I could see the beauty all around me.
In the morning Psalm today, we read that "all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens." It might not be super clear how much the writer is trolling the people who worship idols in that sentence. Idols at that time were little statues that people would bow down and worship as if they were gods. Someone had to craft those statues, which means it was someone's job down at the shop to carve a little man or woman out of wood, that someone would worship. An idol, by itself is incapable of creating. It has no generative power. It is, basically, unimpressive.
The God of Israel, however, has some serious creative potential. This God is not made by human hands, like some unimpressive statue. This God made the materials to make the unimpressive statue. This God made the leafs. This God made the stars. This God made the created order that I am all too often in too big a hurry to pay attention to.
As previously mentioned, I am all too often guilty of paying attention to things that I create. The things I buy. The idols in my bank account. But last night, thanks to a near death experience (sort of), I broke through and saw the God of creation at work in my life. It just makes me want to slow down more. It makes me want to take full advantage of all that God has made and done in my life.
So let's get out there, eh?
Psalms 12; 146
1 Peter 1:13-25
I have a kind of unhealthy obsession with bags and backpacks. It was worse when I was commuting by bicycle more frequently, because I lived with this assumption that there had to be one bag that would check all the boxes that I was looking for. Waterproof. Big enough to hold a day's worth of gear. Not too cumbersome on the ride. Good organization pockets. There had to be a bag that would fit all my categories, right?
And so the following scene would play itself out regularly for me. I would stumble across a bag that made sense, that seemed like it could check all the boxes. I would save my pennies, because bags and backpacks are unreasonably expensive. I would wait for the package to arrive in the mail. I would hype up to myself how this was the bag that was going to change everything. This was the bag that was going to make getting to work by bike easier. This was the bag that would keep my gear dry. This was the bag that would actually make getting up hills a little easier! And then I would use the bag for a week or two and...
That euphoric feeling I was hoping for, that desired outcome, that changed view on life, never came. It would be just hollowness. Emptiness.
And I fell into this trap again, and again, and again, and again.
(Fun fact: I wrote the first part of this post in the morning, and then went to a meeting which happened to be near REI, so obviously I went in. Guess what I almost did, immediately after writing about that hollow, empty feeling? Humans are so predictable.)
I think that's why Peter's words this morning caught me so hard:
"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."
The words empty way of life caught me in a big way, particularly in this holiday shopping season. I think we know when we're chasing emptiness, but usually it only shows itself in the end. We finally catch what we've been chasing for, and it leaves us feeling hollow and broken down. I think about the people who I pass by every day in the coffee shop or whatever, who aren't so much living a life as they are enduring it. And I keep thinking, we were meant for so much more.
To remind ourselves that Jesus wants to redeem us out of that kind of life is worth while. Sometimes we think that if we're not miserable sinners, then Jesus must not want much to do with us. In fact, Jesus came that we would have life, and life to the full (John 10:10). So Peter reminds us that the precious blood of Christ was shed to pull us out of our sleep walking ways, away from an empty way of life, and toward the goodness and fulness of life in Christ.
However your life shows its empty side, whether that's in consumerism or worry or fear or doubt or sex or whatever, you don't have to live like that. Christ has come to redeem us from it all! And that, my friends, is truly good news!
We had a good thing going here on the blog, and then Thanksgiving came, and with it a cold, so I didn't even want to look at a computer screen. But rest assured, we're back! We'll have another episode of Lectionerdy for you this afternoon, if you want to take a sneak peak at the texts. But first, I wanted to get some thoughts out about this time of the year.
Black Friday has always annoyed me. Even more so now that it's been sneaking it's way into Thanksgiving day itself, though that seemed to have dimmed down a bit this year. It's like we are thankful for just a few seconds, and then we have to run as quick as we can to buy stuff. Then we added Small Business Saturday, which is nice in principal. Take care of the little guys, shop local, all that. It's a good thing, but it is in fact ultimately still just celebrating rampant consumerism. Cyber Monday follows, which as someone who can barely summon the strength to get off the couch I certainly appreciate. But again, it's more buying stuff. Then, almost as an after thought, after we're all broke or in unending debt from the three days that proceeded, we celebrate Giving Tuesday. Whatever we have left over, that's what we'll give to someone who needs it.
Look, I can hear some of the objections already. Of course most will say that Black Weekend (a bit more accurate these days, eh?) is about buying gifts to give away to loved ones, and so there's a good bit of noble intentions there. I get that. But I think at the heart of it all is this insatiable need for more. We need more stuff. The people we buy gifts for need more stuff. More more more. And I think it's odd that we've actually set aside time to celebrate that as a culture.
And yet, hiding just behind all the chaos, the church is getting ready to celebrate something truly counter cultural. We're getting ready to celebrate a season called Advent. We're going to celebrate...waiting. In a culture of Amazon Prime two day shipping, we're going to celebrate patience. In the same culture that provided me a device to get my text messages on my wrist, we're going to celebrate long periods of silence. In a culture that seems drawn to flashy shopping experiences, well crafted item displays, lights and glamor, we're gathering around a lowly manger to wait brimming with anticipation.
So this year, I want to celebrate Advent.
I want to celebrate it more than just a change in my stole color for a couple weeks. I want it to be more than diet Christmas. I want to celebrate sitting still. I want to celebrate waiting. I want to celebrate rest and meditation. I want to celebrate everything that the Black Weekend seems to want nothing to do with. I want to recognize that the desire for a Savior that will set the world right is still something our world is eagerly anticipating. I want to celebrate Advent.
If you are interested in joining me in this celebration, may I recommend checking in with the fine folks at Advent Conspiracy. They have some good thoughts on how to live this out practically. To worship more fully, to spend less, to give more, and to love all. That sounds just about right to me. From time to time, we'll hop on the J-Blog here to talk about how that's going.
Let's shop a little less. Let's love a little more. Let's celebrate waiting.
Psalm 56, 149
Sorry gang. First miss of the new project. Hanging out at Laurelville, so full recap when I get back.
Psalm 36, 147:12-20
Can you remember a time when you had blown it?
It's taken me a long time to get over my over 10 year career in Seminary, because I think something about school always puts you on high alert for blowing it. Often times you find yourself in a position where a bad paper, or a less than stellar exam performance can be the difference between success and failure. And to any of our readers who are currently in seminary and dealing with the scourge of finals, our prayers are with you.
Something about the risk of blowing it can create a kind of anxiety that is unique all on it's own. Even when things are going well, there's a risk that right around the corner, something could go wrong.
Take the disciples for instance. In our Gospel lesson today, the disciples are traveling with Jesus, and they left something off the packing list. I imagine that one of the the 12 of them was in charge of bringing the food. Team chef, if you will. And somehow between Jesus offending the Pharisees and Sadducees and getting in the boat, the chef left the bread bag on the shore. Maybe he then tells his buddies to see if anyone can bail him out. No dice. The team chef has absolutely blown it.
Now the anxiety is filling the boat. Would they try to hide it? Would they be able to sneak someone off to town when they landed, get some bread, and get back before Jesus noticed? No that's not going to work. Now maybe they're wondering how exactly Jesus is going to react. Is he going to yell? Is he going to kick one of us out and make us go back to our fishing gig? Or maybe he'll just do that thing some people do when they're mad. No yelling. No screaming. Just disappointment.
And perhaps because they were filling in with their minds what would happen once Jesus discovered that they blew it, they missed entirely what Jesus was trying to say to them. Their Savior and King is sitting right in front of them, trying to give them a warning about the false teachers they run into day after day after day, but they just can't hear it. Their minds are elsewhere.
Look, we all screw up from time to time. We all have those moments in life that we wish we could take back. We recognize moment where we weren't our best selves. And I think it's only natural to imagine the disappointment that this brings our Savior. We don't want to disappoint the God who loves us so much, and yet we fall in to it again and again and again. Confession is critical to the faith. We come before God and each other and admit our faults, because we're not naive enough to think we don't have any.
But we can't get stuck there. We can't be so caught up in our thoughts that we miss what Jesus is saying in the boat right next to us. Especially because I think for most of us the word that Jesus whispers is "I've got this. Remember how I've gotten you out of that jam time and time again? There's nothing that will limit me from doing it this time too. So relax. Take a deep breath. Have some faith."
Maybe we blew it. Maybe even recently. But I think this passage is telling us today that Jesus has a much stronger word of forgiveness than we can even imagine.
Psalm 15, 147:1-11
Day two, and we're still going strong!
I was struck by our story in Nehemiah, which is unfortunate because it means I will have to type "Nehemiah" about a thousand times today. Nehemiah has returned to Jerusalem with some of the exiles with a specific mission, to rebuild the wall around the city. In chapter 5, we see that Nehemiah has discovered that the governors, the people who are in charge of this little band of Jews that has returned, are over taxing their people. The people are finding themselves in debt, and are unable to get out of it.
Nehemiah can't stand this, and for good reason. The people had been expelled from their land because they didn't quite seem to understand how to be justice loving people, so God sent them away. Now they've been back for the biblical equivalent of 5 minutes, and it's right back to where they started. The wealthy are getting wealthier, and the poor are getting poorer. So, Nehemiah is "very angry."
He goes before the governors, the ones who are getting rich, and he confronts them in an interesting fashion. "Should you not walk in the fear of our God, to prevent the taunts of the nations of our enemies?" Basically, Nehemiah is saying that if people keep acting unjustly, it's going to give God a bad wrap. If you're going to call yourself a Jewish nation (or, perhaps for a bit more relevance, a Christian nation) and your people are suffering, that speaks not only against you, but against your God.
After a whole bunch of awkward silence, these governors agree with Nehemiah. "Then they said, 'We will restore everything and demand nothing more from them. We will do as you say.'" Nehemiah wants it in writing, so he calls in the priests to have the people swear a vow. And then something awesome happens, something that you could miss if you're reading this story too quickly:
"And all the assembly said 'Amen,' and praised the Lord."
Think about it. The Jewish people are locked in a battle of politics. One side thinks the taxes need to be higher, the other side thinks that the taxation is killing the poor people. Again, try to find some relevance if you can. But what these people did that was so radical and even a little jarring to me is that A) one side agreed with the other based on evidence and sound reasoning, and B) they got together after the debate and praised God. They had a party. They let out an Amen.
Now, I don't have any illusions that the Democrats and the Republicans are going to get together and sing a praise chorus any time soon. We've been locked in this particular battle for far too long. Instead, I've been wondering this morning about all the times that I was wrong and needed to admit it. I've been thinking about all the times that my hard-headed side comes to light, and someone calls me out on it. My usual gut reaction is to dig in a little deeper, to defend my position a little tighter. But if I'm wrong, and someone shows me how wrong I am, I wonder what it would look like for me to give them an Amen. I wonder what it would look like for me to reverse course and go before God in prayer, all in the same breath?
So that's what I'm going to try to do today. When I'm in the wrong, when my assumptions need to be shifted, when I am found to be mistreating those around me, when I am not representing God well, my hope is that today and everyday I will be a bit more willing to turn around, to repent, and to go before God in praise.
Care to join me?
I find myself at a kill two birds with one stone moment, and I'm going to involve you all. You're welcome!
On the one hand, I very badly want to keep up with the discipline of reading the daily lectionary. I find that when I am truly diving into the word, I am much better able to keep my day in check. Too often I get sucked into my own head, my own grumpy thoughts, and my own agenda. The lectionary has this beautiful habit of pulling me out to see the world from a Kingdom perspective.
On the other hand, I have this blog that has been sitting here idle for a few months. For a little while, I was contemplating a Vlog like my friends Casey Neistat or Peter McKinnon (I don't really know them, but they feel like my friends!), but the first couple of passes at that seemed...well...
Plus, writing is my first love. I am not always the best at it, but as with all things I recognize that when I write more, I write better. So I wanted to dust the blog off, bring some fresh content, and get this thing rolling again.
And so, with those two thoughts on my mind, I welcome you to a new series at the J-Blog: Lectionerdy. My goal is to write every Tuesday-Friday about the daily lectionary. Saturdays will be touch and go, and Sundays and Mondays are surely out because there's no way I can blog and juggle twin toddlers at the same time. But my encouragement would be that we all read along with the lectionary every day, and I invite you to hop in the conversation with me. Think of it as a blog Bible study!
So with that long intro out of the way, today's texts are:
Psalm 123, 146
I have been reading the lectionary off and on for a whole bunch of years, and it seems like Revelation is always a part of the readings. Maybe they just want a constant state of confusion for everybody? But if you are jumping in with me to the lectionary right now, just know that it's going to be weird right out of the gates.
*Author's note: if you search Giphy for "weird," awesome things will happen. Trust me.
Today's reading deals with the apocalyptic vision of Babylon the Great, which at various points along the way is a city, a nation, and a lady. We could spend hours debating what John really meant with this image, what he was trying to poke at, but let's take a second and engage in a thought experiment, one proposed to me by the great Tony Campolo: what if America is Babylon?
"Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: 'Woe! Woe to you, great city, you mighty city of Babylon! In one hour your doom has come!' The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore..."
So what we see here is a nation that has been wealthy, and has engaged the nations of the world in that wealth through trade and commerce. We can relate, right? We are among the strongest economies of the world, and the strength of that economy has implications for the rest of the world. And it also seems from context that this place known as Babylon has fallen in love with the wealth they've amassed, They like being the center of the economic world.
And, scripture tells us, it only takes an hour for the whole thing to come crashing down.
Think about it. How quickly does the stability of money fall apart when the money fails us? How quickly can a market crash or a bubble burst send us into a tail spin, ripe with fear and longing and disaster? Some times disasters don't even need an hour to come to fruition. It could all come falling apart in a matter of minutes.
And the choir of the kingdom has an interesting reaction when this all goes down:
"Rejoice over her, you heavens! Rejoice, you people of God! Rejoice, apostles and prophets! For God has judged her with the judgement she imposed on you."
At first glance, maybe this seems a bit harsh. Are the citizens of the Kingdom really pleased at someone else's downfall? Are they really that vindictive?
Or is it that they recognize that when an unworthy source of trust fails, you find yourself opened up to new sources?
If money is the only thing you trust in, when it fails you will be in trouble. Your whole world will fall apart. You won't have a really solid compass to guide you through life. And you'll start looking for another one. Or perhaps you've placed your trust in a political party or ideology, and it turns out that they can't solve all the problems you are facing. Where do you turn?
I think John is offering us an out before we ever find that disaster in our lives. What if you placed your trust in the Kingdom now, before the other sources of trust fail you? What if your trust was neither in the donkey or the elephant, but in the lamb that was slain? What if your trust wasn't in the contents of your wallet, but rather in your ability to empty it for those in need? These aren't habits and virtues that have to wait until the end of the world. These are habits and virtues that are available to us in the here and now.
As always, comments are welcome. But my encouragement is to make sure you read all the lectionary readings for the day before diving in, just so we're on the same page.
See you tomorrow!
Greetings friends and family!
My last post on this esteemed blog was August 22nd. I'm so consistent it's unbelievable. Even the author photograph over there on the right is out of date by a lot. Those two babies we're holding are just shy of 40 year old adults (or at least they behave like it). So I blew the dust off the the blog and decided we should hop to a somewhat regular posting schedule. I don't know if any of you find the J-Blog interesting/insightful, but it does something beautiful to my soul to be able to write, so this may end up being more for me than you anyway.
Another thing that did beautiful things to my soul was our youth group on Wednesday night. I've spent an inordinate amount of time lately focused on the youth ministry side of my job, thanks in large part to being a part of The Youth Cartel's Youth Ministry Coaching Program. I've only been to one meeting with my cohort so far, but let me say this: if you are in youth ministry, beg borrow and steal whatever you need to from your church to be a part of this. But anyway, I'm reading one of the books that was recommended for us at the last cohort called Saying is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Spiritual Development by Amanda Hontz Drury.
I'm only about halfway through (review coming soon?), but it's really great. The argument that Drury puts forward that I totally agree with is that testimony is an incredible vehicle for shaping and identifying belief, and that the adolescent season of life is uniquely perfect soil for allowing testimony to do it's work.
Now, I hadn't read any of that when we made our plans for Veritas on Wednesday night. We do this one particular "worship night" once a year, where we borrow the farm across the street from our church, play flag football, drink cider, and have a campfire. There is something beautiful about worship when it's outside, around a fire. No screens, no song sheets, no band. Just voices and praise. I didn't even go over with a plan for songs to sing, I just let the kids shout out what they wanted to sing, so long as I actually knew how the song went. It was beautiful.
After our usual time of prayer though, we opened it up to hear Jesus stories. Our youth group has traditionally seen Jesus most clearly in fart jokes and funny stories apparently. Either that or they just like laughing. But oh my goodness guys, what I heard from our students on Wednesday night was a youth group thoroughly anchored in Jesus Christ. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a couple of tears stain my cheeks along the way. Not even because of the life changing dramatic stories, though there were a few of those. I got a little choked up because these kids are getting pretty dang good at seeing Jesus at work in their lives, and it's an honor to be able to share in that with them in some small way.
One of the manifestos of youth ministry these days is to un-program, to do less, to make less of a show of our jobs. For this incredible event on Wednesday, we spent a total of $100 on firewood and cider, and maybe an hour of time getting it together. I would also say that we saw way more growth and impact from our night this week than we ever did in the old days bringing in bands for thousands of dollars and months of planning. I have to be careful here, because good gravy am I lazy. There will be a temptation to do less in all the wrong ways. I think the corrective against laziness though is to be ruthlessly relational in doing less. I don't want to do less just because it will be easier. I want to do less because it will free me to hear the campfire stories that these teenagers are telling all the time, with or without the benefit of s'mores.
Listen up. It's story time.
A few weeks ago, because my wife is extremely organized and on the ball, she brought home a pair of the much sought after eclipse glasses that everyone was searching for yesterday. Until yesterday, I was admittedly kind of "meh" about the whole eclipse thing, but once I caught my first glimpse of it through those glasses, I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed at the sheer beauty of the moment. I was overwhelmed at a creator who could give us such wonderful gifts purely for our enjoyment. It was really cool. I snuck outside a few times to see the event in various stages of completeness (we in Pittsburgh never really got beyond 80%, but it was still cool), in-between feeding the boys apple sauce pouches.
Today I'm back in the office, gearing up for the coming ministry season. Ministry for all intents and purposes works on the school year calendar. We start getting busy a few weeks before the kids go back to school, getting geared up for youth group, trips, events, and the normal week to week goings on around here. So for me, today feels a bit like going back to school. As I'm hitting the reset button on habits and happenings, I thought the blog could use a good old kick in the pants. So what you read now is the 845 time I've recommitted to publishing a semi-regular blog!
Any time I do that, I wonder what it is I'm going to be focused on. There is so much of my life that I think is actually worth considering, that without focus we'll bounce back and forth like a kid with ADD in a room with sugar coated walls. Do I write about youth ministry, this being my 11th year of ministry at Westminster? Do I write about media stuff, which I am just really starting to get into here, but have absolutely no idea what I'm doing? Do I write about politics, because it absolutely interests me and let's be honest, everyone else is doing it at this point? What do I do?
What I resolved to is that I would love to write about all of those things, but to write about them through the lens of the Kingdom of God. I think that's something that a lot of people attempt to do, but don't always nail. A lot of people when they write about youth ministry, or ministry in general, tend to write only about leadership. Leadership is great, you need to be a decent leader to get things done in the church, that's for sure. But Jesus never mentioned leadership. It wasn't on his radar. He was way more focused on the Kingdom of God, and that came about through meaningful relationships and interactions, what we might call discipleship. Media is great, but can it be the vehicle through which we proclaim the in breaking Kingdom of God? What stories are out there that need to be told? Where is Jesus moving in people's lives, and how exactly do we capture it? And as far as I can read on Facebook, our discussion of politics has turned into a food fight where there are clear winners and clear losers, all the while forgetting that all the issues we toss back and forth impact real life flesh and blood people. I really don't want to have the food fight conversations any more.
So let's have a better conversation, you and I. Let's talk about how the actions we take, the work we do, and the conversations we engage in are impacted by the coming Kingdom. Let's be critical of ideas and be respectful of people at the same time. Let's find a way to teach our students how to have that conversation, and let's teach them how to keep their eyes open for the ways Jesus is moving in their midst every day.
As long as they're wearing protective glasses...
Longtime readers of the J-Blog know of my friendship with Ed Cyzewski, author and unfortunately for all of us fan of the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets. We pray for his healing and restoration. Anyway, Ed released a new book a little while ago, and invited me to offer up a review. Being the good friend that I am, I took nearly two months to read it, and even longer to actually get around to writing a review. This, as they say, is #twinlife. Anyway, I encourage us all to take a cue from Ed's author picture above. Sit back, relax with a cup of coffee, and read this review of an awesome book!
When I picked up Flee, Be Silent, Pray by Ed Cyzewski, I was in a mediocre place. I wasn't exactly in a "dark night of the soul," but I wasn't really thriving spiritually either. I would occasionally pick up this prayer practice, that devotional reading, another blog to consume. But everything fell well short of kick starting the spiritual engine. But then, and I promise that I am not over selling this, Ed helped me to have a spiritual awakening.
"God's love is already ours, and until we learn how to simply receive it, we'll get stuck in an anxious rut of performance, failure, and struggle." (Kindle Location 365) That sentence hit me like a ton of bricks, and wouldn't let me go. God's love is already ours. I had actually proclaimed this with tremendous frequency, sometimes from behind the pulpit. But I don't know until I had put it in terms of prayer, of silence, of contemplation, just how meaningful it was to me. The phrase that stuck with me for the months that have followed was "I want to dwell in the joy of God's love," a task made much easier when I was reminded that I already had God's love.
Cyzewski frames much of the anxiety that I was feeling from the place of an evangelical Christian. Truth be told, as a mainline Presbyterian I am not myself comfortable with the label of "evangelical" as our world knows it. I want people to know the Good News of Jesus Christ, but I don't so much feel the need to only vote Republican or believe in biblical inerrancy to do that. But the evangelicals I do know seem to fit the mold that Cyzewski is pointing to here. Their relationship with God seems to be (primarily anyway) one of what we as humans have to bring to the table in the relationship. Have you done enough for God lately? I don't think that's how God works, but I had never really thought about the anxiety that type of spiritual relationship must create for the evangelical. It makes all the sense in the world. And since I was feeling a bit of this anxiety in myself, perhaps it isn't limited to just those who wear the banner of evangelical.
My every hope and prayer is that evangelicals will read this book with an open heart and mind. My worry is that they will read something like this, and fear that Ed has started to "backslide," that's he's caved, that he gave in to prevailing Catholic ideology. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Far from backsliding, I feel like Ed has opened us up to a pathway forward in faith, one that the Church has known about for thousands of years. In a busy, cell phone dominated world, Ed has shown us the value of unplugging. In a over broadcasting Twitter society, Ed has taught us the deep value of shutting down and listening for a while. I hope the Church, whether evangelical or otherwise, is ready to listen.
So it would appear that I am a million years behind this story, but have you heard about the Hobby Lobby situation that's unfolded in recent days? Here's a news link that ought to do a pretty decent job catching you up. The long and short of it is apparently Hobby Lobby purchased a bunch of black market artifacts from the Middle East, and were shady about it at best. They were forced to return the artifacts and pay a bit of a fine.
First of all, I have no earthly idea why Hobby Lobby was buying artifacts. I don't think that I've ever seen the Ark of the Covenant laid out beside the glue sticks. Obviously there's something to do with the Museum of the Bible, which the President of Hobby Lobby also has a stake in, though there appears to be no legal connection in any of the court documents that came out.
But here's the rub. If it were any other big corporation that was behaving badly and got busted doing so, I'd probably not even notice it. Sad as it is, that happens pretty much daily in the United States. What makes this case special is how much Hobby Lobby was standing on their faith as their moral compass when discussing healthcare. They wanted to be labeled as a Christian corporation, and they have been.
Which is now very bad news for the rest of us.
I haven't really wanted to comment on this story, because again Christians being silly is a daily occurrence. My own hypocrisy could fill volumes, I'm sure. But I keep noticing this story because I keep noticing the reactions of my non-Christian friends to this story, and shall we say it's not pretty. They are (rightly, in my opinion) calling out the hypocrisy of raising a colossal fuss about contraception, while at the same time engaging in (perhaps) stealing and (most definitely) lying. They are making fun of a group of people touting their devotion to morality getting basically caught with their hand in the cookie jar. But the problem is they're not saying these things about Hobby Lobby. They're saying these things about Christians.
This is what happens when you put your faith, your hope, and your trust in your sense of morality, and then promptly A) brag about it and/or B) make people feel bad about their lack of morality. Your sense of morality has blind spots, even if it is heavily influenced by your faith. Yes of course, we want to be moral people. Yes of course, we do everything we can to limit the blind spots. Yes of course, we want to be seeking after righteousness and justice. But that's not where we put our hope. It can't be. It will fail us each and every time.
We have to...have to...HAVE TO put our faith, our hope, and our trust in Jesus Christ. We need to approach questions of morality with a deep and abiding sense of humility. Yes, there is right and wrong in the world. If you are reading this and think I'm saying anything goes, you're not hearing me. But what we have to be careful about is how much wrong we might be doing while we're proclaiming our rightness. It's why every night I have to pray and ask Christ to show me where I went wrong, where I might have blown it through the day, and I have to ask for forgiveness. A faith that is built on Christ's forgiveness and grace and the humility it produces is refreshing. A faith that is built on a faulty morality that leaves certain pieces behind is, well, really annoying.
The problem of course now is that we are all tainted with this. Claiming to be a Christian comes with this extra baggage. My response to my friends is that I'm sure I am just as guilty as Hobby Lobby. I'm sure I'm just as two-faced. I'm sure I'm as selfish as anyone out there. I'm sure of these things because I'm human, and I'm broken. But my hope is that Jesus Christ can put me back together. My hope is that Jesus shines brighter than my failures, brighter than my selfishness, brighter than my own sense of self-righteousness. And my deep and abiding hope is that while the news is consumed with the hypocrisy of Hobby Lobby, that Jesus could shine even brighter than them.
Come, Lord Jesus. We need you badly.
The busy busy busy summer has arrived! Two weeks ago I was on a mission trip in Wintersville Ohio (I'm going to do a whole post on this, but for the moment if you're in youth ministry and you're not using Group Mission Trips you're doing it wrong). This week I find myself limping my way to the finish line at Vacation Bible School, barely possessing the energy to brew another pot of coffee.
In the midst of it all, I had a bit of a spiritual break through. Only a tiny one, but a one all the same and one that seems to have stuck with me for the better part of a couple of weeks. I can't go into the gory details of how this came about (yet, all in good time). But the line that's stuck in my head the last few weeks has been "I want to dwell in the joy of God's love." And it has been magnificent.
God does in fact love us. Did you know? Like really though, deep in your bones, do you know this? If the answer is no, come and see me. We have some things to talk about. But if the answer is yes, as I would imagine it is for many of my readers, then how much time do you spend just dwelling in that love? How much time do you take up residence in the house that Jesus built for us, the place that he has gone to prepare for us? Have you stopped throughout your day to breathe, to reflect, to meditate on the goodness of Christ's love in your life? You totally, totally should.
What does this look like? For one thing, I've found the Divine Hours again (thanks to good friend Ed Cyzewski for this, more to come on the blog about him for sure). I've made some time in the middle of my day to sit in the sanctuary or the chapel at the church, and just listen for God. I try to ride my bike every single day, and use it as a bit of prayer time. But really, I don't do much of anything differently. I simply decide to live into what's happening already. God loves me. My choice in the matter is to sit with that more.
You would think this would all be painfully obvious to a pastor, but the truth is we are normal humans like everyone else. We can convince ourselves that our value is in our work. We can keep ourselves so busy with the ministry that we fail to see how Christ is ministering to us. We can preach awesome sermons and not pray once through their creation. It's very possible. I've seen it up close. Thank goodness in spite of my less than stellar track record, Jesus Christ still meets me. He still holds me. He still reaches me. He allows me to make my home in his love.
Usually for me these kinds of spiritual discipline rebirths are short lived. I get really excited about something for a little while, try it twice, and then quit. This feels different though. Instead of a shiny new toy to play with for a bit and then forget about, this concept of dwelling in the joy of God's love has been following me around everywhere I go. It's like a little stray puppy that just won't go home. It's waiting for me here at work, begging me to take a moment in the beautiful place I get to work in and reflect on the goodness of God. It's waiting for me at home, reminding me that my boys are not a chore to be watched, they are a family to be enjoyed, and God's love rings loudly through their joyful hearts. It's there in my commute. It's there in my diet. It's there in my life choices. It's everywhere I've been going, and it's got a hold on me. I don't mind that one bit.
How do you sit in God's love? Where do you most often see it?
So, this has been a pretty great week in J-Land. For starters, on Wednesday night, we got to welcome this little one into the world:
My little niece Lucy! Being an uncle is super fun. You get to have all the fun you want with the little girl, and then when she poops in her diaper you hand her back to your kid sister. That whole process feels right to me. Also, not for nothing, but when Lucy was born at 9:51 on Wednesday night, the score of the Penguin game was 1-1. About 10 minutes later it was 4-1, and we were watching the 5th goal get called back for offsides. I choose to see those events as related. The kid's a good luck charm!
As a result of her arrival though, I definitely feel like I've been thrown off of whatever pattern I usually have for the week. Today is a day where I just feel constantly behind on stuff, like I'm always a step or two behind even my own goals or desires. I am just now starting to dig my way out from under a mountain of e-mail (I blog so that I can procrastinate). I've got a sermon that still needs to be written. I've got some work to do before a video shoot this Sunday that I would very badly like to wrap up today. I am running about as fast as I can.
It will all work out. It always does. But it throws a spotlight on something that I've been desperately searching for, a pattern, a rhythm, a predictability to life. Obviously the birth of a niece is a pretty good disruption to that pattern, and I couldn't be happier. But even in the weeks where I don't have a niece being born (which is, in fact, most weeks) I don't have a real solid grip on the patterns of life just now.
And for me, I think part of that is that I need to start with the spiritual practices. Can I be honest as a pastor right now? My prayer life is pretty bummer. I used to have a defined rhythm, to the point that you could almost order my day around prayer. As things get busier and busier, that gets harder and harder to keep up with for some reason. It's among the first things I throw overboard.
My temptation in all of this is to throw out all the work stuff, all the busy stuff, and just get down to praying. But the reality is, that's never going to happen. E-mails keep showing up in my inbox, meetings keep getting put on the calendar, work keeps showing up throughout the day.
But then I remembered something I had read a long time ago, so I can't quite remember where to source it. But the idea was that the times for fixed hour prayer, a tradition the church has celebrated for thousands of years, were actually set by the market place. There were bells in the market that would ring to indicate opening, lunch breaks, coffee breaks, and closing. Or something like that anyway. The church decided that since you could hear the bells throughout the town, that they would co-opt the bells to mark the times for prayer. In essence, they didn't demand that the schedule of the day bend to their routines. They bent their routines to the schedule of the day.
I don't exactly know what that might look like for those of us who are youth pastors, or anyone else who doesn't exactly have a predictable schedule. Sometimes I'm in the office by 9, sometimes by 6, and sometimes not till noon. But maybe it's less about time, and more about activity. Maybe before I open e-mails in the morning, it's a good time to do the lectionary. Maybe before I take a break for lunch, I could do a quick walk to the sanctuary to pray for my friends and family. Maybe instead of just diving into writing a sermon, I can take a minute to catch my breath and focus on the Spirit dwelling inside me.
How do you engage in spiritual practices throughout the work day? Leave some love in the comments, and have a great weekend everyone!
Oh thank God. We have life! JG makes it 4-3
Not to be forgotten. 37:09 without a shot. That's horrible. HORRIBLE!
They could have pulled their goalie in the 2nd period...
Empty netter. I can breathe again.
Game Over. Pens 5, Preds 3. Somehow.
- Wow. The complete lack of offensive production could have cost us way more than it did tonight. Next practice they should just put a big target on the net.
- That said, this is kind of the story of the Penguins right now. Adversity Adversity Adversity. But somehow, wins.
- As the next game is on Wednesday night, Youth Group will last 6 minutes.
3-0 after 20. The Pens looked like mud in the first 7 minutes of that game. Really, it took us an overturned goal to wake up. Hopefully we can keep our foot on the gas, and Murray shuts the door.
Man. Crosby's all over the place right now.
Little bit dive-y there, but Preds on the power play. Time to see what they're made of.
Also, I missed this, but what's the deal with the catfish? Am I odd that the word that came to mind was "desecrate the PPG ice?"
Also, we're having a little bit of fun here, but it seems to me that booing PK Subban is a wee bit racist. I can't remember him ever hurting a Penguin player. He hasn't been the incredible pain in the butt that Ovi has been. He has never played for the Flyers. Far as I can tell he is talented, and happens to be black. I can't figure that out, but I'd love to hear some thoughts below in the comments. Respectfully, of course.
Well, a reminder that there is a lot of hockey to play.
Nashville makes it 3-1.
Little bit of life here from the Preds. Need to take control boys.
The only think Laviolette doesn't like is the score? How about James Neal taking the most stupid penalty I can imagine in the Stanley Cup Finals?
Guys, that last sequence was pretty boring. Let's put some rubber on the net, eh?
20 minutes without a shot? Simply unacceptable.
This is insanity. And this lead will not remain safe if we keep playing this way. Time for a talking to in the locker room I believe. Buckle up folks, let's see what's happening in period number three.
So I've been bugging my friends on Facebook for a long long time. Some people seem to love it, and others not so much. So during at least this game, I'm going to try to live blog the game here on the J-Blog. I think this will work, but maybe it won't, because I put exactly 5 minutes into the planning on this one. So let's see what happens, eh? Either way, LET'S GO PENS!
And for the super awesome hype video we feature...Coldplay?
Mike Milburry obviously just puked a little in his mouth because he had to say Sid and Geno were future hall of famers. Wonder when he's going to get back to celebrating Nashville's attempts to separate their heads from their bodies?
Also, if you need some help getting up for this game, just remember where Nashville's coach was just a few short years ago...
Level of interest in seeing the Mummy remake:
"Let's embrace this challenge." Can Coach Sullivan just follow me around and make me a better person?
Me when Jeff is up to sing the anthem:
Look out for P.K. Subban. I mean obviously, but on the bench he looked like he snorted a pack of pixie sticks. All hype.
Feeling it out. Feeling it out.
This kind of hockey is substantially less boring than the last series we were in.
Shots are 5-1, and yes Edzo is right. Nashville is in control right now.
Or is it...
TAKE IT BACK! TIE GAME!!!
Two words none of us want to hear: Murray hurt?
Murray's ok. All of Pittsburgh:
Jimmy with that 5-3 penalty:
Still thinking about James Neal's first contribution to this series. Hahaha.
Well, that was wild. Going to find some cookies before period two! The GIFs are taking up a lot of space, so I'll break these up by period.
Good morning friends,
I had some thoughts I wanted to share about the attack last night in England, and I thought the best place to do so would be at the Westminster Blog. Sorry to add another link, but I think it'd be great if the J-Blog audience would join in the discussion.
You can read the post here.
Praying for peace,
So if you are a regular reader of the J-Blog, the very last thing you read is that I was going to make a concerted effort to blog every day, and to focus in on how every day things are going in my life, how spiritual the every day mundane things could be.
That was on April 25.
The truth is, that's pretty symbolic of the whole season of life I was in for about a month there. I was really dedicated to writing out some disciplines, some daily activities I was going to do each and every day. But the funny thing was, as soon as a discipline or activity made it on the list, I stopped doing it. Even before I wrote it down, I had been in a pretty good habit of waking up every day and reading the daily lectionary, offering a few prayers up, and connecting with God each day. Then I wrote down that I was going to continue doing that, and it immediately stopped. How about that?
My spiritual director and I tried to get at the bottom of why that was happening, and truthfully couldn't come up with an answer. For a little while there, I held on to a few values, but did absolutely nothing about them in terms of living them out. It's like I wanted to look good, without actually doing any good. I'm sure no one out there knows what that's like.
So what else has been going on? I've been living into the media pastor side of the job a lot lately. We filmed the first episode of the first youtube series that Westminster is going to premier in the fall (I have three that we're working on!), and my goodness am I pumped about it. One of my goals this week is to work on a few previews, so maybe when those are up I'll post them here. We also got a drone to capture some really awesome footage of the church. I then promptly crashed that drone into the church. It was quickly recovered however, so no harm, no foul.
We're wrapping up the days in Veritas, with only three left to go. This is always a bitter sweet thing for me. On the one hand, I'll absolutely miss the kids, particularly this group of seniors. But on the other hand, I'll have my Wednesday nights back for the summer, which as a father means more to me now than it ever did. It also means that I get the whole summer to work on a few projects on the media side of things, so that when school does start back up again in the fall hopefully we'll have a lot of fresh content to put out there.
For now though, best to step away and get to reading. I have a huge reading list that I want to work through, some stuff for work (youth ministry, and also marriage counseling) and some stuff for me. Maybe book reviews should come back to the J-Blog? That's not such a bad idea. But first, I must get to reading.