God of the heavens, who decided a long time ago to make your home among us, we are grateful for your presence. As you are well aware, today in our city we have visitors who are not new to our city representing attitudes that have created large walls separating the good citizens of our city. Well intended Christian people have been praying since they heard about the rally, and they have been seeking your council and guidance as we all figure out a proper response that brings glory to your name. Good Christians have focused their efforts on these hours that are about to close, the rally is about to cease. Father of black and white, of citizen and immigrant, the one who offers salvation to the prisoners and the law abiding, to all those who are caught in the grip of sin, including me. Hear my prayer this afternoon as we move from this time of protest and counter-protest into the dawning of a new day.
Father, tomorrow your people will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the victory of your kingdom over all other kingdoms, the victory of your people over all evil. And as was our prayer this morning as we woke up, as the KKK came into town and set up to misrepresent you and your purposes in the world - I pray that I am not misrepresenting you. I want you to be honored, I want Jesus' resurrection to mean something in the community life of this city, not just in our church buildings. I want to pray that Memphis Christians become the answers to our own prayers.
Father, as we enter our church communities in which we are surrounded by folks who think like us and act like us and probably look like us - remind us that our risen savior is one who doesn't think like us or act like us or look like us. May we learn to love our neighbors like Jesus taught us to and did.
Father, I want to pray the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that we do not judge by the color of skin (or anything skin deep), but by the content of character . For King there was a standard by which we distinguish good people from those overcome with evil. In a city like Memphis we need standards, we need to distinguish good from evil. I pray for strong character in our city. I pray for fathers across our city and for mothers. I pray for teens in the suburbs and for the teens in some of the poorest zip codes in the country. I pray for every student and young adult in college, working, or searching for a job. I ask you to teach us all strong character that flows from the mighty river of Jesus.
Father, I want resurrection for Memphis. As we look back to the moments in which Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to your right hand side, as we look forward to the time when your people gather around that throne where Jesus sits at your side, give us the boldness to pursue the same story right now. In the wake of the rally, in the middle of the rainy spring, let us push up from the soil and grow into the strong trees of right living that we want to see in our city.
Father, thank you for hearing my prayer and so many others on this weekend. And please give all people who seek after it an experience of the resurrection tomorrow, but more than that, I pray that your people rise up out of the graves of apathy, moral superiority, racial superiority, greed, hypocrisy, competition, just to name a few - to live new lives empowered the Holy Spirit.
To you be glory now and forever more. In the Name of Jesus I pray - AMEN.
Today I turned 34, so I have officially lived longer than Jesus did on this earth. Notice that I have to qualify it for those of you who read this and thought that I was incorrectly stating that I have existed longer than Jesus. Never would I assert that. I do morn the fact that my religious ideas and teaching have not been radical enough to cause my death, but I'm guessing that my family and friends at church are grateful for this (thought perhaps have considered my ideas out there). I also know that if I live for another 34 years I will fall far short of Jesus' wisdom, courage, sacrifice, and submission. But today I can jump for joy because I finally beat Jesus at something. Sure, he has won victory over death and sin. He is over all and God has placed him at the right hand of the heavenly throne. Technically he is still alive, which is why I said "on earth." And technically he is on earth because his people, the church, carry within them the Spirit of Christ according to Paul. So, while my winning is diminishing, I'm still holding on to it.
I say all of this to say, I woke up this morning thinking, "WOW, I made it longer than Jesus did!" I really don't know what to make of this, but it just hit me. What also hit me was just how much I would be leaving behind if I died, there is something about being 30-something that moves you into a new realm in which the possibilities of your 20s begin to take root and start to become reality. When Jesus was wrestling with God in the garden, I think I understand it better today. Surely there was a better way. Surely God could think of it, or at least make it happen. Interesting enough, I'm grateful for the death of Jesus and his resurrection, and I'm grateful that as long as I live, I live the life of the resurrection in my earthly body and then in my heavenly body. I win (thanks to Jesus) whether I live long or die. Happy Easter (Resurrection Day).
I spent the late afternoon gardening with my 3 year old daughter B. She was into it for the first 20-30 minutes and then she chose to ride her tricycle around the "blocked in" (I moved my car so she couldn't get out) portion of the driveway.
After some more time passed, she wanted to take a walk around the block so we harnessed up Spartacus (our Jack Russell) and headed out for a stroll. B is really into flowers. She wants to pick all of them and "grow them" in her room (try explaining how that doesn't work to a 3 year old).
On the way around the block, she picked up a dandelion and began to blow on the seeds until they were all gone.
B: Daddy, I made a wish...
Me: You did, what did you wish for. (I was interested because who knows what might come out of her mouth)
B: I wish all of my friends could come to my house.
Me: That is a great wish B!
In that moment I thought about how her wishes will change from this simple, fulfillable longing for community to other things like a large toy to purchase, or some electronic device, or more things like a car, boat, RV, and the list gets bigger and bigger and more extravagant. But she reminded me of a fundamental truth today. From the time we are small until the time we no longer have breath, we want to be surrounded by friends. What I call "community." And if we all could return to our true wish, that often gets hidden under other distractions, I think B has it right - we wish our friends would come over to our house.
This post is brief, but I hope you can have a friend over to your house, and enjoy the community that blesses your life, as you bless others.
Let me just tell you young people this because I know it, I have lived it. Your choices have a way of coming back and choosing you. You think that a choice you make will just go away, but you have to live out the consequences and we are proof that the consequences have a way of choosing you...
Earl is an awesome follower of Jesus, but (in his own words) many who he used to be friends with wouldn't believe their eyes now. He leads a group of men, who have all been addicted and imprisoned because of their use and abuse. They share life together now that they are out of jail, and I was privileged to gain some wisdom for them tonight. Picture a room full of tough looking men, some with tattoo sleeves down each arm, most with hard skin...
But then they talk.
Absolute inspiration comes from their mouths. Earl looked around the room full of about 40 empty chairs and says.
I know when you look at this room, you see empty chairs. I see all of the people that should be in this room but didn't get the chance. I see my friends. I visit graves to talk to them. I visited my father's grave when I got out of jail and laid flowers on his stone. I told him, "Do you see what it took for me to be here, to do this."
The conversation is straightforward and real. It is a confession of the struggle to live life one day at a time without using. Another brother speaks up, I'd guess he was in his 50s and was talking about facing bad memories of his parents...
My mother asked me to visit my dying step-dad and I didn't want to go because he had always been a bully. I went for her though. He had suffered a stroke, and the doctor was sure he would suffer another one and that would be it. But in that bed he wasn't the bully I remembered, in fact he was like a little kid. His eyes were different and he told me that he loved me and I walked out of that room with tears in my eyes. I should have responded better, but I didn't know what to do.
Story after story, each man opened his heart and bore witness to the change they are receiving though the power of Jesus as Earl reminds us all that God is "right here in the room with us." Each one, fighting to think anything of himself and yet I saw them as GIANTS in the eyes of God. Why? Because tonight as I heard them tell their transformation stories, it was so easy to know that God is real, that God is active, and that God is the reason why these men live with hope and are full of peace and have a love for one another.
Earl leads this house full of men, and he confesses that he doesn't want to be right, he wants to see the mercy of God. He knows that each man will fall down, but he wants to see them get back up. It reminded me that the opposite of hypocrisy is not perfection, but integrity. These men have gone from a life on the street, lying and hiding, to being open and honest and they are learning to be authentic with each other and their families.
They know they make terrible choices, which is why they landed themselves in jail. JAIL - PRISON - such interesting terms. We associate them with a place with razor wire and bars and confinement . And to see these men pursuing freedom in Christ is encouraging and awe striking.
As I sat there, though, I wondered about me and about you. Sure, my choices haven't landed me in jail, but do I sometimes feel prisoned by them? Can I admit that I make terrible choices and need a community to hold me accountable? Have I been transformed in such a way that God is made alive to others in my testimony?
Every time I chose to believe I'm less than what God says I am...
Every time I act out of pure emotion instead of slowing down to hear the Spirit's voice...
Every time I hold onto some resentment because of past experience...
Every time I hide myself from others so that they can have a better image of me...
Every time I forget to seek the guidance of Christian Community...
My choices catch up with me and the consequences are more than I bargained for...
Thank you Earl for being a MAN OF GOD and showing me what CHURCH looks like tonight!
I remembered a random story today that is funny, but also provides a great lesson. We used to live in an apartment complex that was, well, past it's prime. To save money on rent, I worked emergency maintainence at night and on the weekend one week a month. Thanks to the awesome training I received on the work/study maintainence crew at Rochester College, this was an aquired skill set.
When people called, it was pretty predictable. They had no heat...they had no air conditioning...or there was water everywhere due to a toilet or a water heater or something in the vacant apartment upstairs. But one Saturday morning I received an interesting call.
A guy called and asked if I could come over to his apartment, he was hearing scratching...so I went over. Apparently a squirrel was trying to bury a nut in the ceiling of his upstairs apartment bedroom. I told him that I would have to call pest control but there really wasn't much I could do.
That's when it happened. He told me that he was a professional school student trying to study for his quarter exams and that this noise was distracting to him. He said, "I know you don't understand but I really need to consentrate and your attitude is unacceptable." And then he asked me to go on the roof and get that animal out of his ceiling.
He didn't know! He didn't know the fiery guy who was standing in front of him, or the level of education I had, or the fact that my wife was studying for the same tests. Yeah, I wasn't very nice that day. I said, "I have too much education to go up on this very thin roof (considering a squirrel can chew through it) after your pet and you're not as important as you think you are. So, call me again when the squirrel comes into your room, I'll definitely help it get out of here."
I think he was shocked...and I left...he didn't call back, but his roof was fixed the next week because I told the regular maintainence guys about it.
I wonder how people would respond to us if we stopped looking down on them and started treating them as equals? That's what Jesus did, and there is no way we were ever equal...ever.
We encounter people every day - the drive through at Starbucks and Chik-fil-a, our favorite restaurants (Mollys, Tracks, Huey's, Cafe Ecclectic), the gas station (with the cheapest gas), the grocery store (Kroger!), the home improvement store (actually if you find someone to help you in there, let me know your tricks), Walgreens (why are there so many?) and the list goes on.
I don't want to walk away from someone leaving them to think, "He didn't know..." or maybe worse "He didn't care..."
As a campus minister, I realize that many of these places employ students...and so I ask you to be extra nice to them!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.