Tag Archives: good

Nail’d It!

Recently, I have been watching a captivating show on Netflix called “Nail’d It!”  According to the streaming service’s website, the program is described in this way: “Home bakers with a terrible track record take a crack at re-creating edible masterpieces for a $10,000 prize.  It’s part reality contest, part hot mess.”  Here is what happens during each 30-minute episode: three amateur home cooks, with limited time, resources and experience try to copy baked goods worthy of Pinterest created by professional bakers with unlimited time, resources and experience.  The facsimiles never quite match the originals, but that is what makes the show so delightful.  The home bakers work so hard and fail so often, incurring the good-natured ribbing of the diverse panel of judges.  Yes, the end-products are woefully awful in comparison, but they are also delightfully ambitious.

This show appeals to be because it turns a particular cultural fascination on its head – capturing perfection through a post on social media.  There are millions of selfies that go unposted because of some imperceptible flaw that the sole picture posted does not contain.  There are hours devoted to staging furniture and furnishings so that uploaded photos of real estate are displayed in the best light.  We rarely expose our sub-par efforts, let alone our failures, to the scrutiny of public opinion.  Unless it is perfect, we are left to assume it is without value.  Social media has created a cultural expectation of quality where ‘good’ is rarely good enough.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15

I think Paul would have a tough time adapting to our culture, replete with social media’s expectations of perfection.  When he wrote to Timothy, he encourages him to give his best effort and, therefore, never feel needless shame.  He did not say that Timothy should cover the façade of life’s messiness with a veneer of superficial perfection, pretending that he could master every aspect of life and ministry.  Perhaps there is a blessing in knowing that we cannot do everything perfectly, but that we can always do our best.  Life is not expected to look like a magazine photo-shoot.  Life is often troubling to look at and imprecise, and that should be okay.

One of the more redemptive aspects of “Nail’d It!” is that the judges place a value on presentation, but they also value taste.  If it doesn’t look pretty but is delicious, the judges may still declare that entry the winner.  Mastering the fundamentals of baking counts for something.   Mastering the fundamentals of life and living counts, too.  This is true when it comes to relationships, service, ministry, faith, communication, compassion and about a million other things.  There is something deeply biblical in that.  Life does not always look pretty but treating the ingredients of life and living properly will, at worst, make it palatable.  Handled properly, it may even be delicious.

The cake with the elevated teapot is not the norm.  The photo of the beachside sunset is not typical.  The brochure with all the smiling faces is probably not real.  But the simple cake, the salt air and the full spectrum of human emotions are what life is composed of…and often times it is delicious.

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Running After More

 

Like many smaller churches, we have trouble meeting our ministry budget.  In the past, we have engaged in appeals and fund-raisers, but still our revenues are insufficient to cover our expenses.  Last week we discussed converting some of our land into a revenue source, but the scope and size of the project were not ideal.  We voted not to proceed with this project, but we know something needs to be done.

As the meeting progressed, the words Jesus spoke to the crowd, known as the “Sermon on the Mount” reverberated in my mind:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:31–33

We know that God knows what we need – food, drink, clothes – and that we ought not adopt an earthly obsession with chasing down these things.  We know that God instructs us to instead engage in heavenly pursuits and chase after the kingdom and righteousness of God.  This proper perspective leads the heavenly minded to gain the promises of God’s reign, as well as satisfaction of all their earthly needs.   One application of this portion of scripture is personal: in a culture of “keeping up with the Joneses”, we must not get caught up in running after the trappings of earth and instead seek the treasures of heaven.  Another application is ecclesial (church-related): Calvary ought not focus our energies on account balances but on kingdom building.

But what does it look like to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”?   Unpacking the biblical meaning of the “kingdom” is as hard as nailing Jello© to the wall.  Understanding the kingdom of God is akin to defining the United Kingdom: it includes both a reality (an actual place) and a conception (the nature and ethic of the ruling crown).  When we are told to seek this kingdom, we seek the habitation of heaven (for ourselves and others) and we seek to demonstrate the culture of the King.  We get a glimpse of this kingdom – the dwelling place and desires of the king – toward the end of Revelation:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Perhaps this means we are supposed to seek the presence of God (through worship), the removal of suffering (through instruction and service), the elimination of death (through prayer and evangelism) and the end of mourning and crying and pain (through fellowship).  These are the pursuits of those seeking His kingdom.  If we can do that, while maintaining what is right, just and true for ourselves and others, all His manifest blessings for this world and the next will be given to us as well.  Then, whether we balance our budget or blow it all, we will give honor and glory to God.

Plans for the Summer

Last Monday, Memorial Day, was the cultural beginning of summer and tomorrow, June 1st, is its start, meteorologically.  While I do not consider it summer until the air conditioners are placed in the windows (alas, no central air for us), I realize that it is that time again when we ask one another if we have made our vacation plans yet.  For those of us in New England, it is the time we take the ice scrapers out of the car and replace them with beach chairs; it is the time when we begin to enjoy ice cream in cones while on a walk rather than in bowls while watching TV.  It is a time for cookouts and campouts.

I hope you have plans for the summer – going to the lake or the mountains, spending time in the nation’s capital or at the in-laws, visiting a newest theme park or watching the latest blockbuster.  I hope that these plans for the summer, whether at home or away, includes the worship of the Lord.  I hope that your summer plans at your home church and the places you visit while on vacation allow you to offer our whole selves to God in grateful praise.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.  Romans 12:1

As Paul says to the church in Rome, this offering of ourselves is primarily a sacrificial act intended to glorify God.  The imagery he uses is one of an altar, the sacred place of righteous giving.  As a way of responding to God’s mercy, we give ourselves – our time, talent and treasure – with gifts that are of varied amounts (some can give an hour or a dollar, while others have more to give) in completely voluntary ways.  In light of all the blessings you enjoy because of God’s kindness, could you spend a bit of your summertime resources appreciating Him?

This offering, however, will have consequences.  When we agree to offer our bodies, we offer all its parts.  This act of generosity effects our talking, for our tongues have been offered.  This act of generosity effects our toiling, for our hands have been offered.  This act of generosity effects our traveling, for our legs have been offered.  There may be plans, on vacation or at home, that will need to be curtailed or delayed because we are offering our resources to Him.  The beach and the barbeque will have to wait.  It is always better to exercise your faith in flip flops than to forgo the blessing of gathering altogether.

Our rightful response to the blessings God gives us – our vacations and vocations, our purses and our purposes – is to be living sacrifices.  We are living sacrifices: continually, in every season and on every day, offering what He has given us to share.  We are holy sacrifices: set apart for His purposes.  We are pleasing sacrifices: demonstrating what is appropriate for Him.  I hope that this attitude is the highlight of your next season.

Together Together

Last week, a number of people in my family, including me, watched the series finale of “The Big Bang Theory”.  It was a fitting conclusion to the show, as we witnessed one of the main characters, Sheldon, uncharacteristically consider others more highly than he considered himself and utilize the spotlight afforded him through professional success to speak words of affirmation and appreciation to his typically disregarded friends.  It was an exceptional picture of the concept of community.  Those watching the program, 18.5 million in all, including the people in my home, were much less a demonstration of community: while we were all doing the same thing at the same time, we weren’t truly together.

‘Together’ is a word we like to use in the church.  We gather together, worship together, pray together, serve together, learn together, and rejoice together.  But is this togetherness similar to the relationships portrayed on television or to the relationships displayed in millions of homes on a Thursday night?  What does being together, from a biblical standpoint, look like?

All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts….  Acts 2:44-46

The other night, as part of a Bible study on Acts 2:42-47, we were discussing the word ‘together’.  The word is used twice in the passage, but two different Greek words are utilized: ἐπί (epi) is verse 44 and ὁμοθυμαδόν (homothumadon) in verse 46.  These two Greek words mean two very different things.  ‘epi’ is a preposition meaning ‘with or upon’, used to describe location or geography: in the context of verse 42, the disciples were in the same place or were locationally close.  ‘homothumadon’ is an adverb meaning ‘having or sharing in the same strong emotion’ and is used to modify an action emotionally: the disciples were sharing the same passion or were emotionally close.

The togetherness that the church aspires to experience includes both proximity and community.  It requires both being in the same place (proximity) and having the same heart (community).  We need to be together in the same place: we must see one another and breath the same air as we hear and do the same things; we cannot help one another if we do not know one another and we cannot know one another if we are never with one another.  We need to be together in the same spirit: we must embrace the same passionate pursuit – to know Christ and to make Him known – as we practice the disciplines of faith; it is not enough to do things together if we do it individualistically.

Spiritual growth and maturity require both proximity and community.  We need to be close geographically and close emotionally.  Think about that when you are making your plans for the weekend, and perhaps choosing to get together with others and be together with others at a church in your neighborhood.

Unsung Heroes

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”  Abraham Lincoln

Sunday is Mother’s Day, when three out of four of us will purchase a greeting card and over two-thirds of us will buy flowers for our mom (or our children’s mom).  It is the least we can do for those who have given us so much of themselves.  There is something in our mother’s kisses that are more therapeutic than the best medicine and something in her voice that is more comforting than the best psychotherapy.  Mom was likely the first to read to us, pray for us and cry with us.  She made sure, for most of us, that we had a birthday cake on our special day and a new outfit for the first day of school.  It is right and good to honor and remember the ones who endured painful labor and sleepless nights for her children:  God bless Mom!

As I think about Mother’s Day, my thoughts come back to a commercial I recently saw for the Portal from Facebook.  In the commercial, actor Neil Patrick Harris decides to call and celebrate his mother on Mother’s Day using the Portal from Facebook.   He sees that she’s not alone; she has company: the mothers of Serena and Venus Williams, Odell Beckham Jr., Snoop Dogg and Dwayne Johnson among others.   While Neil knows who they are, most people watching the commercial are unfamiliar with the women on the video-chat screen and are given only a clue by Neil’s references – Odell’s mom, Jonah’s mom and the like.  These women, no doubt, have done great things in their own right but are willingly recognized as someone’s mom.  We ourselves may not actually know some women’s names, only that they are so-and-so’s mom.  God bless you, Neil’s mom.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

One of the moms of the Bible who lived a life of seemingly quiet obscurity is Lois – the mom of Eunice, who was the mom of Timothy.  All we know about this woman is what we read in the verse I have quoted.  All we have as a historical record is that a sincere faith lived in her.  There are so many unanswered questions: Did she have hobbies or a favorite story?  Where did she grow up?  How long was she married?  Was she like the Proverbs 31 woman and worked outside (as well as inside) the home?  Was she tall, attractive and wealthy or petite, plain and poor?  All we know is her name, her heart and her grandson.  But, in God’s economy, that is enough.  God has blessed us with moms like Lois.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those who are known by the world only as someone’s mom.  God knows you are much more than that: you are leaders of industry, educators, medical experts, investors, inventors and artists – and then you go out the front doors of your home and do even more.  Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s How You Play the Game

The other night, I was watching a political town meeting on one of the all-news channels.  One of the candidates stated proudly that he was a soccer player, and my ears immediately perked up.  I was a soccer player, too.  I thought to myself that perhaps I should support this candidate, with our mutual enjoyment of all things relating to the pentagon-patched ball.  With the diversity of the field, it would be nice if I shared a common interest with one of them.  But, before I followed him on social media, I did a little research about his sports-related profession.

It is true that, as a child, this candidate was enrolled in an organized league and regularly participated in formal games, and it is said that he was quite the striker when he was ten.  He went to all the practices – some might say religiously – and was proficient at all the drills. However, during High School and college, those formal games and organized leagues were abandoned for more informal forms of the game.  He still participated in pick-up games and occasionally kicked the ball around, but it was always on his schedule and the rules were loosely observed.  But he was still, by definition, a soccer player.

After college, this candidate would take his soccer ball to a local park when he schedule allowed and began changing the rules of play (subtly at first but later more egregiously), so that before long, when he did play with his soccer ball, he allowed the use of hands and he tallied seven points for each goal.  In essence, he was playing a hybrid of football and soccer, if ‘foot-ccer’ was played on a boundless field.  The purist among us might argue that he was no longer playing soccer, but he was still, truth be told, kicking around a soccer ball.

At present, the candidate has not touched a soccer ball in many years, and some wonder if he even owns one any longer.  His schedule no longer permits him to go to the park, and even if it did, the ways that other soccer players play the game at the parks that he once frequented is displeasing to his sense of the game.  But he lives in a region of the country where people view soccer players more favorably than players of other sports, so he continues to profess that he still participates in the game.  But he is no longer, by definition, a soccer player.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  James 1:22

I appreciate that some people play soccer and other people do not.  I appreciate that some people once played soccer but play the game no longer.  But I have trouble with the conception of our culture that playing soccer is anything that the player thinks that means, regardless of the rules or the history of the game.  If you are happy just kicking a ball around in the backyard, please do not call yourself a soccer player.

Public Display of Affection

“But it was love, after all, that made the cross salvific, not the sheer torture of it.” – Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart

This year at Calvary, as we remember Holy Week, we are reflecting on the words of Mark’s gospel.  It was Mark who recorded that the crucifixion of Jesus began at the third hour (Mark 15:25) and, as a side note, we also know from Matthew’s account that it lasted until the ninth hour (Matthew 27:46).  Six hours is a long time to do anything: imagine being invited to attend the screening of a six-hour movie or enjoy a six-hour buffet; think about babysitting a three-year old for six hours or waiting for news from the ER staff for six hours.  These feats of endurance are nothing compared to what Jesus endured on the cross.

Crucifixion was a particularly ghastly method of capital punishment.  As was the case with Jesus, the victim was tied or nailed to a large wooden beam and left to hang until eventual death from exhaustion and asphyxiation.  Eventually the victim would slump due to muscular fatigue and the diaphragm would compress the lungs, depriving the vital organs of oxygen.  This macabre ‘dance’ – lifting the body with the arms and legs to breathe until they could no longer support the weight and collapse again – went on for hours, and sometimes, to speed up the process, the ones responsible for guarding the condemned would break their legs.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

To paraphrase the words of apostle Paul:  God, in Christ, showed us the extent of his love through his death.  The fact is that thousands of people were humiliated and horribly executed by means of a cross, and none of those deaths, in and of themselves, save us from our sin.  The cross is what we call the instrument of death, but it is not its cause.  The cause of Jesus’ death was love, willful, active and limitless love.  He chose to endure the dehumanization and shameful humiliation of crucifixion  (after all, he could have been executed at any time and in any age of human history) to fulfill the will of the Father, to serve as a sacrificial substitute for our sin, and in so doing expressed his love.

I would like to say that there are a few things lasting six hours that I would do for a loved one.  I would like to say that I would wait in the wind and rain, dig a mile-long trench or drive through a blizzard.  I would like to say that, but I am not sure I would do that.  I cannot imagine the great love required to endure the cross for six hours, let alone six minutes.  I cannot fully comprehend how much Jesus loves a sinner like me.  But I can appreciate it.  In my mind, I can picture myself at the foot of the cross, staring up at my suffering savior; I ask him, “How much do you love me?” and with arms outstretched, he replies, “This much!”

Remember to remember Him this Good Friday.

Batter, Batter; Swing, Batter

Last weekend the Red Sox began their new season, exactly five months after winning the World Series, concluding their best statistical season in franchise history.  Throughout the season, they led the league in wins (108), RBIs (829) and team batting average (.286).  To top it all off, their star player, Mookie Betts, was named the AL MVP.  By all means of measuring success, the Red Sox had a historic season.  The city was blessed to enjoy a rolling rally throughout the streets and the sporting goods stores in the area sold a bunch of merchandise celebrating the team’s victory over every foe.

Last weekend the Red Sox began their new season and, as of this posting, proceeded to lose more games than they had won.  The good news in anticipating the current season is that most of the key elements in prior success is still in place for the present campaign.  The bad news in anticipating the current season is that past performance is no guarantee of success in the present.  The slate has been wiped clean and the wins of the past season no longer matter.  Every team, both winners like the Red Sox and non-winners like the Baltimore Orioles (who amassed a mere 47 wins last season), starts on Opening Day in the same place.

As I think about the Red Sox, I also think about myself.  I remember all the victories I won last season: I battled temptation and won more times than I lost.  I faced discouragement, home and away, and won the season series; I went into the stadium of sexual purity and came away with a win; I stood in ‘the box’ against the enemy’s strongest arms (hurlers with names like lying, cheating and stealing) and bested them with base hits and deep bombs.  There were days that I did not have my best stuff, but over the course of the entire season I ended up with many more wins than losses.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.  1 Corinthians 10:13

But, like baseball, that was last season and while I have many of the same tools and much of the same training, I still must engage the enemy.  And, like baseball, past performance is no guarantee of success in the present.  This season, along with the regular adversaries, the measure of victory I have enjoyed has made me vulnerable to other forms of attack from things like personal pride and common complacency.  I am going to take it one day at a time, one ‘at-bat’ at a time: I will have to enjoy the success of victory only for a moment, accept the sting of loss only for an instant, and fight the good fight each and every day.

There is no spiritual World Series and the faithfully obedient will not receive a trophy at end of each season.  Still, the one who resists and remains after going nine innings with temptation is not without reward.  There is, for that one, a crown – of life, of righteousness, of glory – that will never be taken away.

Have a great season!

A Long Distance Relationship

During Sunday School last Sunday, we looked at the parable of the prodigal son.  It may be the most well-known story in the scriptures: a young man asks his  father for his share of his estate, which the father grants; upon receiving this windfall, the young man travels to a distant country and wastes the money on wine, women and song; after finding himself broke and alone, a famine struck the place where he was; in order to survive, the young man takes an awful, despicable job feeding pigs; after a while, the young man realizes how much better life was at home and determines to return hope, even if it is only as a servant; while he is travelling the road home, his father sees him far off in the distance and runs to him; the young man is fully restored and his return is celebrated.  It is a wonderful story, a reminder that every one of us (the young man) can be welcomed back by God (the father) if we come to our senses and turn back to him.

But what if that is not really the point of the parable?  What if the story is not about the young man?  In context, this story is the third part of a trilogy of stories: the first part is about the extreme measures a shepherd will take to find one lost sheep and the second part is about the extreme measures a widow will take to find a lost coin; in context, the story is about the extreme measures a father will take to find a lost son.  The actions of the sheep are unspectacular, the actions of the coin are immaterial, and (by extension) the actions of the young man are incidental.  What if the parable of the prodigal son is really about the loving father?

What if the parable is not really about coming to your senses so that you can be restored?  One of the details of the story that is often overlooked relates to a conversation between the father and the older son who remained with him:

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’  Luke 15:31

In the story, the father doesn’t forgive and forget; the young man doesn’t get a second chance or another share of the father’s estate.  His birth-right was gone and it was not being given back – it was all remaining with the older son.  One thing we could learn from this parable is that there are consequences to bad behavior: sin has ripple effects that could capsize relationships, ship-wreck careers and jettison treasures.  What if the parable of the prodigal son is really about the gracious reconciliation afforded by the father?

What if the most well-known story Jesus ever told was not about us, not about me?  What if it was about God, who lovingly allows us to make choices, lovingly allows us to go where we want, and watches the road so that He can be the first to welcome us home?  What if it about a father wanting to celebrate finding what was truly lost and truly found?  What if it was simply about the depths of a father’s love?

Now that would be some story, indeed!

How Do You Take It?

There is a new coffee shop in the neighborhood of the church, Ripple Cafe, which offers hot and iced coffee, free wi-fi and comfortable seating.  I visited the café last week and found their coffee and staff most pleasant.   I could easily picture myself taking my laptop and ‘working’ there on a sunny spring or summer afternoon.  I probably won’t do that, but I like to think I might; but then again, I said the same thing about the last three coffee shops that have opened in the neighborhood.  I would like to think that I am the kind of person that has deep conversations and composes thoughtful sermons in a café.

But I am more a Dunkin Donuts kind of person.  I want my coffee plain, with cream only, in a Styrofoam cup with a plastic cover.  In fact, I think I might be a coffee snob (or whatever the opposite of a snob might be, an ‘anti-slob’): I have a tiny bit of distain for those who are willing to spend a few dollars more for an inferior serving of joe in a mermaid-logo cup and I scoff at the pretension emanating from other purveyors who serve their multiply hyphenated fare that they pass off as their exclusive caffeinated blend.  I don’t need fancy titles, foamy additives or socially aware saying imprinted on cardboard sleeves; I want a good cup of coffee.

The truth is that I am not the center of the universe and not everyone shares my opinions about coffee.  All the coffee shops and all the coffee drinkers can mutually co-exist.  There might even be some positive interact with tea drinkers.  Good people drink chai lattes, as do those who are dark of heart.  Godly people consume espresso from tiny cups, as do the ungodly.  I hear that some of the morally upright even drink iced tea, through I cannot comprehend why.  There is a place for everyone, and everyone can find what they need in some place.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:28

I find it unfortunate that what is true about coffee shops is often also true about the church.  The followers of Christ tend to flock to where they are served what they prefer – there are churches that cater to the porcelain demitasse crowd and churches that cater to the 20-ounce paper cup crowd.  Occasionally, these diverse demographics are drawn together – at denominational meetings, retreat centers, funerals or weddings – and we politely sip what is offered, like it or not, but typically we stay where we get what we want.  I sometimes wonder if we could, as the church, share fellowship with those who treasure every sort of coffee concoction.

In the kingdom of God, there is neither ‘large regular’ or ‘americano’, neither ‘Sumatra single-origin’ or ‘Maxwell House’, nor is there ‘K-cup’ or ‘organic’, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.  And, for that reason, I will enjoy all the coffee my community provides, perhaps even trying something I might never choose otherwise, as I sit with my laptop at that cozy café near the church.