Friday, July 27, 2007

Me, Tom, Bill and Pottsy at this gigantic, reflective, metalic, ominous, misshapen, outer spacey, egg-type thing in downtown Chicago.

Eating: The Sign of Life

When we went to Chicago last week, we ate the world famous Chicago-style pizza at Giordano’s on Rush St. It’s one of those things you have to do when you’re in Chicago. We were all looking forward to a big day of walking, shopping and taking in the sights, so everyone ordered a ton of food thinking we were at Big Ed’s Pizza back home in ‘the Ridge’ and we would be able to slam tons of hot, cheesy goodness… Well, to make a long story short, we got schooled. It was hot, cheesy and good, but it was way too much for any of us. I have never seen so much food left on the table at a restaurant, but even though we got served, we still had the greatest time just being together and eating…

And by the way, isn’t eating just about the coolest thing? I mean seriously, is there anything better than a really good watermelon? And let’s not forget about brownies and milkshakes… In my life I’ve met plenty of people I have a hard time getting along with, but I’ve yet to meet a piece of bacon I didn’t like! Tom always asks the question, “What if God hadn’t invented eating? What if people just photosynthesized… you know, you walk out into the sun for a while, turn green and you’re good to go for the day?” Praise the Lord He came up with something so much cooler and more fun! I mean, if there were no eating, we wouldn’t have words like ‘delicious’ and ‘scrumptious’ because we just wouldn’t need them.

I was reading about the resurrection this week in the book of Luke and was struck by one thing… food. Eating plays a big part in the raising of the dead in the book of Luke. It sort of becomes a sign of life… in fact, it is the crucial sign of life; the case-closing, convincing proof that the dead has been raised. In Luke chapter 8, Jesus raised a dead girl back to life and while others laughed at the prospect, Jesus told her parents to get her something to eat. In chapter 24, after Jesus Himself was raised from the dead, He spent a long time with two of His followers on the way to Emmaus, but they didn’t really get that it was Him until they sat down to eat and He broke the bread. Later, when Jesus appeared to His disciples, they didn’t believe what they were seeing with their own eyes and so He said, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate it in their presence.”

So why is eating such a sign of life? I think it has to do with how visceral and physically interactive it is… I mean, ghosts can’t take a piece of fish out of your hand, put it in their mouth, chew it up and say, “Mmm. Got any tartar sauce?” If someone eats, they are really alive and being nourished by what they’re eating. And there it is... the reason behind eating. You see, to get the nourishment out of food, you have to eat it, take it in. No matter how colorful and beautiful the presentation on the plate, it gets crushed, ground up, poured out and broken. Then it descends into unseen depths and nourishes you, giving you everything you need.

When Jesus gave us a way to remember what He did for us on the cross, it was a meal. Bread is broken and wine is poured out. He said they represent His body broken and His blood poured out. His death… His being crushed, His life poured out. With His death and resurrection He has washed us clean and gives us new life, filling us and nourishing us from inside in ways we don’t fully understand. Maybe I’m reaching here, but maybe my veggies aren’t just good for me because of their minerals and junk. Maybe Lucky Charms aren’t just ‘magically delicious.’ Maybe all the awesome food is telling us something about how the One we need more than anything was broken and poured out to give us life.
...And here's Michael giving a valiant effort against a foe that was beyond any of us:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Something From Nothing

Every Tuesday night in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago a group of brothers and sisters in Christ get together to worship the Lord at a service called THE BRIDGE, which is an outreach of Mission:USA. Pretty much everyone you will find at THE BRIDGE has a criminal record. They have all served time. Many have been in gangs and almost all have been slaves to a hard-core drug addiction. Some of the folks at THE BRIDGE are on work release from prison, are in drug rehab or live in a halfway house. It doesn’t sound like your typical American church and there’s a good reason for that… it’s not. There’s nothing typical about THE BRIDGE, and in fact, I’ve never seen anything like it.

We took 15 high-school folks from Christ Community in Oak Ridge, Tennessee up to Chicago to serve and worship at THE BRIDGE and it was an incredible night. The day started out shaky because we wanted to serve Glen, Jane, Mike, Gloria and Jed of Mission:USA by working around their house which they use for ministry, but the weather folks said that it would rain hard all day long with flood warnings. On our way to breakfast, the rain started and it hit us hard. But weather aside, there were other question marks… how would these kids do in such a foreign and intimidating situation? Would they be afraid of people they’ve never met who were so drastically different from them? Would they fearfully cluster up in a corner like a little huddle of petrified white faces? And what about logistics… the deli somehow forgot our order of 200 pieces of fried chicken that we intended to serve the folks at THE BRIDGE… would we have the food we needed in the 15 minutes we had to get it together?

In Romans chapter 4 Paul says that Abraham believed the promise of God even though it didn’t make any sense… God promised the ancient couple children of their own and even though Paul says Abe’s body was as good as dead and Sarah’s womb was dead, Abraham believed that God was able even to reverse death. In verse 17 Paul says that Abraham believed in “…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”

In the Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases that verse by saying, “…what only God could do: raise the dead to life and with a word make something out of nothing.” That’s what our day was like. Even though the radars and people with advanced degrees promised a deluge, the storm zipped passed us and cleared up just in time for us to serve our beloved missionaries. Our kids prayed right there in the grocery store and wouldn’t you know it… 200 pieces of blazing hot fried chicken were ready to go right when we needed them, and then we have our kids…

You would have thought they went to THE BRIDGE every week and had known those brothers and sisters their whole lives. They were giving hugs, clapping and singing together, listening to stories and praying over their new brothers and sisters. Tyler said, “They were the closest, warmest, most open group I have ever been around… I wish I could have talked all night.” He sat by a brother and after they sang praises together he leaned over to Tyler and said, “Are you going to sit with me in heaven? ‘Cause I got a seat for you!”

When it was all over, we sat in the vans as Joe and Connor talked with a brother named Noah. He is 25 years old, has been in prison four times, been stabbed in the head and lost one of his fingers to frostbite because he was living on the streets and sleeping out in the freezing cold. He told Joe and Connor how God has come into his heart and how much he needs the Lord to make it. He shared his prayer requests with our guys and after jotting them down, Connor asked if they could just go ahead and pray it up right there… Many people would have written off Noah as a hopeless case, but now he has an eternal hope and a friend and brother in Tennessee who will never forget him. Our Father truly is the One who calls the dead to life and with a word makes something out of nothing!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

O Happy Mourning

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
-Matthew 5:4

I have always wondered what that means. Does that mean that people who lose loved ones are guaranteed comfort after (or in) their grief? I don’t really think so, because some people never get over certain losses. Jesus said this right after saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” which meant that happy people are the ones who realize that when it comes to things that matter to God, they are broke… poverty stricken… bankrupt.

When I first realized that about myself, I found out that the awesome person I always thought I was isn’t real… in fact, that person never existed. It’s sort of like I had to have a funeral for him. The great thing is that after mourning over the death of whoever I thought I was, I’ve found out that Jesus never loved that person anyway. He loves the real me… the bankrupt guy… and that makes me happy.

So, I wrote this song and it’s a song about a funeral… my funeral, really. The funeral of whoever I thought I was… and it’s a really upbeat pop song about said funeral.

Everybody’s dressed in black exchanging empathetic eyes
They whisper greetings with their heads hanging low
A recorded organ plays hymns to cover up the lies
Like, “He was always so sweet and kind you know…”

“He looks so good.” I hear them say
And that’s all I wanted everyday
But the death of all I was trying to be
Leaves an empty room with only me

And I am not the man I thought I was
He is dead and gone away
I’ve grieved and now I’m happy because
He was never real anyway

I leave flowers at the grave and drive off smiling in my car
‘Cause I don’t have to keep that up another day
See, I fooled them all, including me that I was someone that I am not
But under that whitewash was death and decay

So I’ll leave behind the hidden ness
And embrace this brokenness
Instead of what I was trying to be
I hear that You love fools like me

And I am not the man I thought I was
He is dead and gone away
I’ve grieved and now I’m happy because
You love me more than him anyday

Friday, July 13, 2007

Empty or Full?

What do you do when life becomes a huge disappointment? Things didn’t turn out the way you had hoped and dreamed, your plans came to nothing, you didn’t become who you wanted to be and the people around you are not who you would like them to be. What do you do when you find yourself there? I don’t know about you, but I pout. When I don’t get my way, I sulk and mope around like my three-year-old when she doesn’t get dessert. Now, on the outside, I seem fine, but on the inside I’m down on the ground kicking and screaming, “It’s not fair!”

Case in point… this is a small example and it was a total trifle, but it works: we have been planning on seeing this one movie for over a year and have been looking forward to it like crazy. When it finally came out on Wednesday, we made plans to go on Thursday, but when we looked at the date and then looked at our money, we decided we couldn’t go. It was a hard but wise decision to make. –That was me on the outside. On the inside I was in a total funk… brooding and complaining in my spirit. Now I know that not getting to go to the movies is a stupid reason to pout. I know that life brings real problems that are much harder to swallow than this, but I think it shows how we all handle disappointment in our lives sometimes. And by the way, what are we really saying when we pout on the inside? Who are we pouting to if no one even sees it?

In the Old Testament book of Ruth, Naomi’s husband moved her and her two sons to Moab to live out a famine in Israel. Her husband died, her boys married Moabite women and then they died, leaving Naomi with two foreign daughters-in-law. She decided to go back to Bethlehem and tried to convince the girls to stay in Moab with their own people, but she couldn’t shake Ruth, so she took her home. When Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, everyone said, “Hey, is that Naomi? (Which is a name that means ‘pleasant’ or ‘delightful’) “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, (Which means ‘bitter’) because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”

The thing Naomi didn’t know was that Ruth was going to capture the attention and affections of a wealthy and awesome guy named Boaz who was related to Naomi’s dead husband and therefore in a position to marry Ruth which would save not only their land and the family name, but would keep them from begging and starving and give Naomi grandkids and joy she never thought possible! Naomi thought she was empty, but the Lord wasn’t finished yet! Ruth and Boaz made wedding plans in the middle of the night, and Ruth came home with a sack full of barley and good news. She told Naomi, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.”

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf told Gimli, “Despair is for those who see all ends beyond hope… and we’re not there yet.” Our Lord is always working everything out for our good and if we think we have a reason to pout, it’s because He’s not done yet! Just trust Him and hang on. The sun is going to rise after every dark night and He will fill the empty hands. One last note… I went to bed sulking and complaining in my heart on Wednesday night like a baby, and when I woke up on Thursday, I wandered into my kitchen and saw a strange thing… someone had scotch-taped a twenty dollar movie card onto our kitchen window (which is about eight feet off the ground) and on Thursday night the hands I called empty were filled with popcorn!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Standing Ovation

Well, we’re over halfway through the year and it’s been sort of a weird one for me. I mean, mostly it’s been awesome, but there has been this one weird thing that happened that keeps coming up… Back in February I stood up for something and defended the Scriptures in a private conversation with a friend and when we were done talking, I sort of thought everything was cool and the issue was over, but it wasn’t. Since that time the issue has been growing and spreading and every now and then it comes up to haunt me. Now, it’s not that I’m undergoing terrible persecution or anything like that, but it has been hard.

The friend I spoke with doesn’t want to be friends anymore and I keep finding out that people are talking about me and saying all sorts of untrue and hurtful things. As a result, I can’t really reach out to a whole group of people who are connected with this one person. Every time I think the issue is over, I find out in some way that it is spreading again to more and more people. Now it is even affecting the reputation of other ministries I work with. I know that I have brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world and throughout the ages who have dealt with much worse than slander, gossip and a tainted reputation, but I suppose this is how it starts… you lovingly testify to the hope you have in Christ and you get anger in return.

I’ve been reading the book of Acts lately and one of the things that absolutely jumps off the page in Acts is how much people got into trouble for believing in Jesus and talking about it. Christians were talked about, hunted, arrested, beaten up, stoned and killed. They reached out in love and were answered with uncontrolled rage, but they never stopped testifying about Jesus. Peter actually said that he had no choice… he couldn’t stop talking about the things he had seen and heard. In gentleness and love, but with undaunted courage and strength those guys stood up for Jesus, and many times they stood up alone.

When you stand up for Him, a lot of times you’ll look around and find you’re the only one standing… well, sort of. See, another thing I’ve noticed lately in the book of Acts is the way Jesus shows up when those testifying for Him are in the most trouble. And not only does He show up, but He shows up standing! When Stephen was being murdered by the Sanhedrin he looked into the sky and said, “Look! I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Usually Jesus is sitting there, but for Stephen, He stood up. In another place Paul was in a holding cell in Jerusalem because he was about to be ripped apart in a riot caused by his testimony. Luke says, “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

So far no one has thrown rocks at my face or thrown me in jail for the stand I have taken with Christ, but I do know what it feels like to be lied about and hated by people I love because I have testified about Him… and now I know that no matter what happens, I don’t stand alone because when I stand up for Him, I believe He stands up for me too.

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