Thursday’s Random Thoughts

So far I’ve worked an hour and a half this week making it the best workweek ever.

Conservative evangelicals can be reticent to read those on the outside like Buechner. But there is no one on the inside to compare him to. C.S. Lewis, though accepted by evangelicals, is no evangelical. No one writes like them on the inside. That I know of.

One of my favorite foods is lunch.

Cormac McCarthy’s genius lies not only in his able prose but in his ability to draw out the image of God…the humanity of the most dark characters, keeping them from being caricatures of their sins.

Less than two weeks till pitchers and catchers report. In other news I’m alluvasudden craving overpriced hot dogs and watered down orange drink.

When you’re snowed in, it’s best to already be living with your personal chef.

For every insult hurled our way by a Northerner because of our difficulty with snow, there was a wonderful act of kindness in the midst of the chaos. That’s a lot of kindness.

How did we get to the point where believers are comfortable retweeting ridicule by anonymous parody accounts?

A pipe without tobacco is like a skillet without sizzling pork.

A warm home is an echo of heaven and all it’s graces.

Learning As A Banker What I Did Not Know As A Pastor

Van Gogh, Exercising Prisoners

It is no secret I don’t like my job. For almost two years I have done almost everything I can to escape it. No matter how hard I try, I cannot. There are days the work is tolerable and there are days when I am not sure I can get through. I cannot sleep like I used to. A full night of sleep is like treasure. Debilitating anxiety seems to always be at my elbow. And just when I feel like I’m getting the hang of what is expected of me, change like a tidal wave.

But I’ve learned something while I’m here. I suppose I could have learned it elsewhere just as well as here. But God in his Providence taught me through my work at the bank a lesson I may not have listened to otherwise.

Back when I felt God’s call to ministry, it was born of my love for the gospel. I had discovered something. Something like gold for the poor. Fresh bread for the hungry. And it changed me and the trajectory of my life. And then as I trained for ministry, every taste of ministry in the church made me hunger for it more. I longed to teach and lead and counsel and all that comes with being a pastor.

I loved the gospel of grace. I loved it because of what it meant for me. And consistently I was seeing all it meant for others. The hurting and the failures. The Pharisees and the libertines. And I loved most of what it meant to be a pastor. I was motivated by these things, motivated to serve and sacrifice so much. But there was one thing not motivating me.

There is a saying among pastors with a kind of dark humor. It goes like this —”Ministry would be great if it wasn’t for the people.” It’s funny because ministry exists for the sake of the people. It’s dark and sad because ministry exists for the people.

I can honestly say I loved people while I was a pastor. But I look back, and if I’m honest, I admit I did not minister to them because I loved them. Concern for them was not a motivation, just a by-product of liking them and them liking me.

My love for the gospel motivated me. My love for my work motivated me. The need or desire to love people did not motivate me. I did not write lessons and curriculum and sermons out of love for the people I ministered to. I did not teach and preach and plan and counsel because of love for them. Love was present but not the driving force.

I’m not saying I didn’t love the great majority of the people I served. I’m not saying love was not present in my ministry. I don’t think anyone could call it a cold ministry. There was too much laughter and tears to say that. Love was just more filigree than fuel.

Over the last month, I’ve sat across the desk of a woman whose husband cheated on her and then left a couple months after she gave birth to their daughter. I’ve talked with a man not long out of prison after 20 years and he kept saying over and over “I just wanna get back on my feet.” A man whose wife took all the money and left and all he wanted was her back. The elderly losing their memories and memory and independence. A wealthy son not happy about holding $300,000 check from his father’s life insurance policy and holding a visible sadness I’ve also carried since my own father went on ahead. Not to mention all the divorces and financial difficulty and lost jobs and wayward children.

A few days ago I opened an account for a registered sex offender who probably could not imagine real kindness after I saw the scarlet letter on his ID. Someone asked me if I wanted to punch him and if it made my blood boil. No and yes. I did not want to punch him. Rather, I wanted to show him kindness, him knowing I know.

This has been a hard lesson. And often it has felt like a cruel one. But I suppose all children think the discipline they are getting is cruel. The pain must be seen in the past to be appreciated. And then owned. And then carried like the presence of God itself, in the midst of his people, going before them in all their endeavors. Because in the midst of his people is exactly where I found myself.

Not long ago I preached at my church and I realized something. Maybe for the first time I wanted to preach because of my affection for the people in front of me…knowing their hurts and pains and assuming they are dealing with much that my customers deal with daily. I preached for them because of love for them and not just a love for preaching.

That was new and different.

I was so used to thinking of preaching as an act of worship, I never saw the need to preach as an act of love. Of course, love for God and all he has done for us in Jesus is in play. But also love for our neighbor, the people I usually share a pew with. And a meal, sometimes. And a whole host of doubts and fears and failures and hopes and dreams about the tomorrows following Sunday worship.

This is probably par for the course for so many of you. Admittedly, I’m slow on the uptake.

However, I get the feeling there is no arrival in this learning. No graduation. No moving on to harder things. The temptation in the Christian life is to check a particular discipleship characteristic off the list and then work on something else. But loving others is the primary ethic of the follower of Jesus. It cannot be learned in Seminary. This must be learned in the crucible of the world as it is, where “beautiful and terrible things will happen.” A world marred and marring. A world where quite possibly in the thick of your own misery, you will look up and see someone else’s, and then have to decide if you will respond in love or not.

Laughing at the Gods

 

Back when I learned Greek Mythology in High School, I did not understand. I could not grasp the importance, the value of such knowledge. But some of the stories were entertaining. And I can very well remember the enjoyment when one of the gods fell into ruin and misery. These gods, so full of themselves, so self-important, deserved to fall and there was a feeling of justice when they did.

 

I have often written on the problem of celebrity in our culture and specifically in evangelical culture. The celebrity often gets in the way of the gospel – his or her image crowds out the image of God in the face of Jesus. And they end up wielding a power that puts them beyond effectual reproof or correction. We share a lot of the blame when this happens. We create them. Our hearts are idol factories.

 

There is another celebrity issue I cannot get my head around that makes even less sense.  A celebrity, such as Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus, falls hard into addiction and sinful destructive behavior and we take to the internet and make jokes at the their expense. We retweet and share others who are making fun of them. Why? I assume because they deserve it.

 

Their sins are so great, they deserve to be publicly mocked. Their mugshot…their image as a criminal, hangs in cyberspace for us to laugh at. And why shouldn’t we? We might as well cast lots on ebay for their gear while we’re at it.

 

Because we should be the last ones to do so. We should be the ones silent if we cannot love them. Why are we so slow to show them mercy in the public sphere instead of heaping up ridicule? Because our love will not get a laugh. It will not make us feel better in the insecurity of our ordinary lives.

 

Our knee-jerk reaction to the downfall of the rich and famous should be an echo of the grace we ourselves received. We should be quick to look on them with the same love we enjoy from God. The evangelical church so desirous to evangelize the world has so much trouble with “Love is kind,” when it’s a celebrity we didn’t really like in the first place. We want to change the world in the name of Jesus all the while ridiculing those who most need the very grace we have received.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

Look I’m no marketing guru but I think coupling The God of the Mundane with bacon would’ve been genius.

I can remember the first time I stepped into Toys-R-Us and walking those aisles, my mouth agape in wonder…an echo of what those first few moments are like for those who have gone on ahead.

Braggadocio and insults are now a fundamental part of the football experience.

Some people fear terrorist attacks. I fear writing a cover letter for a résumé.

Celebrities get away with behavior we would never condone in our children.

I’m not doing much writing because you have not bought me a computer yet, internets.

What’s that thing called when in the middle of the night you are attacked by a sensation of panic that overwhelms all attempts at reasonable thought? It’s on the tip of my tongue…

When we get audited at work, it is easy to hope someone else makes the mistakes. It is hard to prefer it is you because you care for the others.

My wife is a living breathing sermon of grace for my soul.

Books are more than things. So much more.

Random Thoughts for Thursday

The words of Jesus are like food for my soul. And I really, really like food.

A Progressive is a person who doesn’t like the violence of God in the Old Testament but never misses an episode of The Walking Dead.

A quiet evening sitting in the den with my wife is pretty exciting.

The landscape art of Alfred Sisley.

I’m glad we measure our weight in pounds and not wings because that would make losing weight that much harder.

When I get a new job, I’m gonna relish being able to look up into the starry night without having to fight the dread of the following day.

The Scriptures are an unrelenting reminder of our lack and God’s day-in and day-out provision.

While you’re watching reruns of Law & Order: Toledo, my 10 yr old daughter is reading graphic novels of Shakespeare in her spare time.

If you can be thankful for what you have learned from those with whom you have deep disagreement, then grace is certainly working itself through your whole being.

If the only ones who care about pastor Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism/ghostwriting are Progressives, then we can be certain that the neo-Evangelical/Reformed movement has spiraled downward into a cultural Christianity that worships celebrity and offers it no accountability. It has a standard of integrity below that which is expected of 18 year olds by professors, pagan or no.

Thursday’s Random Thoughts

The Church in the west has lost the idea that Christ’s power is made manifest in weakness. Though the celebrity pastors will tell you different in HD.

In the past few weeks I have sat across the desk from a lot of hurting people. From a new mom whose husband is leaving her for a younger woman to a criminal sex offender with a scarlet letter on his Driver’s License. It’s made me want to be a pastor even more.

I love art, especially paintings. I read books about artists and art-theft and art history. I have a desk calendar from the Met. I watch documentaries on painters as much as I can. But I disagree that we need to be having more conversations about art and faith. What we need is more conversations about plumbing and faith.

What if the Christian publishing industry said they would just do away with Ghostwriting in the name of integrity before a watching world?

In a few weeks I’ll help teach a Sunday School class on the attributes of God using Knowing God by Packer. I could not be more happy.

When you are dieting everything tastes like pizza. Except pizza, it tastes like the banquet at the world’s end.

My wife is an indescribable gift.

I never knew the entitlement I felt towards luxuries like vacations and working cars and so much else, until those were taken away. I wouldn’t trade the luxury of seeing that for anything.

If you compare your life to what people post on their Facebook page, you will despair or you will slip into envy.

Money is the root of all evil because the chief temptation is to think more of it will solve the problems we — as individuals, families, and churches — are facing at any given point in our lives.