Monthly Archives: September 2013

So, what do you do when you fall short of a goal?

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I created this meme in February, shortly after reaching my goal weight of 260, down from 329.  Now seven months later I have to ask myself another question: “What do you do when you fall short of the goal?”

Sunday was the Quad City Marathon.  At 7:30 a.m. on Sunday a few thousand people gathered at the starting line, which was just a few blocks from where I was sitting as I prepared for worship.

That was not the plan.

I was supposed to be out there.  I was supposed to be taking on my next great challenge.  I was supposed to be conquering the half-marathon.  Instead, I was in my office, going over my outline one last time, making sure I had my sermon ready.

I consider preaching a tremendous honor.  I always find it remarkable that over 200 people are willing to gather and listen to me talk for 20 minutes.  I understand that there is a lot more than that going on in worship, but it is still a very humbling experience.  As an Associate Pastor, I usually jump at the chance to preach.  It is probably my favorite thing to do in ministry.  Yet on this Sunday, I was a little disappointed.  I did not let this affect my preaching, but I knew I was only available to preach that Sunday because I had fallen short of a goal.

In May I finished a 10-mile run in Chicago.  It was a great experience.  I met my goal of finishing the race in under 100 minutes.  Shortly after the race, I decided that I could go farther.  I set a new goal – run the Quad City Half Marathon.  Up to that point, I had made a habit of crushing goals.  Finish a 5K? Did that in June 2012.  Run a full 5K without walking? October 2012.  Run a 5K in less than 30 minutes? March 2013.  I even won a running trophy in June, something that I had not even considered possible.  I watched the movie “Spirit of the Marathon,” and was convinced that there was nothing that could stop me from the September half-marathon.  “Who knows?” I thought with much gravitas. “After I knock of the half in September, the Chicago marathon will be doable in October.”

Then the summer happened.  Vacation, lack of regular schedule, and various excuses hit me.  The next thing I knew, I had lost a few minutes off of my 5K, gained 10 pounds, and running 13.1 miles seemed impossible again.  I had a pretty good winning streak going, but streaks were made to be snapped right?

It hurts, but this will not defeat me.  I had a setback, but I will continue.  Since writing about my backslide in the middle of the summer, I have gotten back to running and lifting more regularly.  I’m back down five pounds, meaning I’ve kept under my goal weight for seven months.  I have a chest cold right now, so I’m not pushing the cardio-vascular, but I’ve gained strength during my cold.  I signed up for another race next Saturday.  It’s an 8K (roughly 5 miles), a distance I’ve never done.  I’m probably going to run another 5K at the end of October, and my goal is to set another PR.

Getting back to my first question; I think the answer is remarkably similar to what I did all those times I reached my goals.  “What do you do when you reach a goal?” The answer was simple. “Celebrate.  Then catch your breath, lace ’em up, and set another goal.”  What should I do after falling short of my goal?  Reflect. Then forgive myself, lace ’em up, and set another goal.

I didn’t run the Half Marathon, but there will be another.  I’m pretty certain that The Chicago Marathon will be run in 2014, and Chicago is beautiful in October.

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September 26, 2013 · 4:34 pm

The strangest of them all

ImagePhyllis Tickle calls it “The most difficult parable of them all.” David Lose calls it “The most confusing parable.”  The New International Version labels it “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager.”  The New Revised Standard uses the word “Dishonest” instead of shrewd.  The Common English Bible goes it different direction with the subheading “Faithfulness with Money.”

All parables have an element of strangeness.  That is sort of the point of them.  Jesus uses parables to teach about the Kingdom of God, which is a strange concept.  Forgiveness, compassion, self-sacrifice, these are counter-cultural concepts that take strange stories to understand. Some parables are strange because we don’t understand the cultural weight of words like Levite or Samaritan.  Some parables are strange because of the actions people take (who would plant a weed – one that gets really big – in a garden?) Yet despite the general strangeness of Jesus’ parables, the one found in Luke 16:1-13 seems to be the three-dollar bill.

It is a story of an owner and a manager.  The owner discovers that his manager has been dishonest, fearing that he is going to be fired, the manager decides to do some dealing.  Facing impending unemployment, he decides to make some quick deals so that “people will welcome me in their houses.”  He goes to a few of the owner’s clients and settles their debt at much lower rates.  Collecting about half as much as they owe, the manager figures that the clients will be grateful to him, and treat him well in the future.  The owner finds out about the tactics, and this is where it gets strange.

The owner commends the man for acting “shrewdly” in the NIV and NRSV, “cleverly” in the CEB.  What?  The manager, who was already identified as dishonest, goes about being more dishonest, and the owner praises him?  This one is a tough one to figure out.  Why would the owner praise him?  In most parables, the owner or master is supposed to be God.  Here we seem to have God praising a man that screwed him.  There is only small consolation in remembering that the disciples rarely understood Jesus’ strange stories either.

So what are we left with?  What is the good news?  I think it comes down to the same place that most of Jesus’ strange stories come to: relationships.  At the beginning of the story, we have many strained relationships.  There is a strained employer-employee relationship.  There are debts and debtors.  What are we left with at the end of the story?  Reconciled relationship and cancelled debt.  It makes no sense for the owner to praise someone for cancelling the debts people owed him.  He did not get what was coming to him, and yet he celebrated.

Perhaps a quick scan around the rest of the Gospel of Luke will help lift the fog from this confusing story.  Remember when Jesus taught the disciples to pray? Back in chapter 11, he tells them “Give us each day our daily bread.  And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.”  What if Jesus actually meant that?  “But wait!” you might be saying, “He wasn’t talking about money.  He was talking about sin, and you know, trespasses (whatever that is supposed to mean).”  All I have to say is, really?  You don’t think Jesus was talking about money?  This is the Gospel of Luke we’re talking about, the one that says “Blessed you that are poor… Blessed are you who are hungry now…” not “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” like the Gospel of Matthew.   It is in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  Later he tells a man to “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me;” (Luke 18:22).  Then he says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God'” (Luke 18:24).

And don’t give me the line about the gate in Jerusalem that was called the “Needle’s Eye” or some such nonsense.  There is no archaeological evidence of this mythical gate.  There are, however, many non-canonical uses of a similar phrase to explain something that is really, really hard.

On Episode 29 of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Eric and I discuss this difficult parable, and the lament found in Jeremiah 8:18-19:1

On Episode 29 of the Pulpit Fiction Podcast, Eric and I discuss this difficult parable, and the lament found in Jeremiah 8:18-19:1

All of this is to say, maybe Jesus is trying to teach us something about the nature of relationships and money, and our relationships with money.  Perhaps the manager was praised because he put relationships ahead of money.  You could argue that his motivation was less than pure, but in the end, he valued his ability to “be invited into people’s homes” over his ability to please his boss.  And maybe the owner cared more about his manager’s heart than he did about his bottom line.  The Pharisees didn’t get it.  They valued money, and understood that having money was the same as having God’s favor.  Jesus is reminding them that there are things in this world more important than wealth.  Perhaps the level of confusion that this parable stirs is evidence of how remarkably important it really is.  This one blows our mind, because it seems to go against all of our common understanding of fairness.

And that’s just it.  The Kingdom of God has little to do with fairness.  It has little to do with keeping proper ledgers and making sure that everyone gets what is their due.  The Kingdom of God is about relationships.  It is about reconciliation.  It is about forgiving our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  It is not an easy story to hear.  It is sometimes an even harder story to live.  It doesn’t make good economic sense.  Jesus had a funny way of not making  sense.

It doesn’t make sense to plant a weed in a garden.  It doesn’t make sense to ruin a whole vat of flour with some leaven.  It doesn’t make sense to turn your other cheek, throw a party for people that can’t invite you to theirs, leave behind a flock because one sheep strayed, or throw a party for your good-for-nothing son who finally came back home with his tail between his legs.

It doesn’t make sense that God would come to earth and take on flesh.  It doesn’t make sense that God would claim me as his own, or invite me to the Table of Grace.  It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would do all he could for a people that responded by nailing him to a cross.  It doesn’t make sense that tomb was empty, or that disciples have been able to experience Christ in the breaking of bread for centuries since he was said to be dead.

This strange parable is a doozie.  It is a challenge.  It is a challenge to look at what cancelling debt really looks like.  It is a challenge to take a close look at how I serve wealth over God.  It is a challenge to look at how I spend money, how I save money, and how I treat others.  It is a strange one, all right.  Maybe that’s how God intended it.

Listen to the Pulpit Fiction Podcast about this parable

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A beautiful story in a three minute commercial

I’m not sure what product this commercial is selling. I don’t think I’m one of their intended customers.  It, however, tells a beautiful story.  A story that is ancient and timeless.  It is a story of giving.  What does it mean to give and expect nothing in return?  This seems to be the heart of generosity, and the heart of the Gospel.

Jesus told stories like this.  He told a story of a father that gave a huge party when his wasteful son returned home.  He told a story of workers that were paid the same even though they did not seem to earn it.  He told a story of a wedding feast where all the invited guests didn’t come, so he brought in the people off the streets.

And he told a story about a man, beaten, robbed, and left for dead.  The man was passed by time and again until finally a foreigner found him.  This man took the beaten man, gave him medicine, brought him to an inn, and gave him a chance to live.  It’s funny, Jesus’ story that we know as The Good Samaritan didn’t have a neat little happy ending like the video above.  I’m not sure Jesus would have made a great marketing director.

Instead, Jesus gave us the greatest ending of all.

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Saturday Snack: Thai Hummus

We have a garden bursting with tomatoes.  This is very good news.  Usually this means salsa.  Lots of salsa.  The problem with salsa though is, it goes best with chips.  Lots of chips.  Avoiding chips has been an important part of my efforts to eat better.  So this year I’ve been using the tomato as the “chip” and dipping them in hummus.  The other day I came across a blog that suggested making a cashew dip.  I wish I could remember where I saw it, but I didn’t save it because it was such a simple idea.  I took that idea, and added a few things to make it my own.

Ingredients:
10 oz bag of roasted cashews
1 TB Sesame Oil
1 TB Siracha
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tp freshly grated ginger
Fresh basil leaves
1/4 tp kosher salt
1/4 cup water

Thai Hummus Step 1

I dumped all the cashews into the food processor, and blended them until they were small crumbs.

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Chopped two cloves of fresh garlic.  A tablespoon of the jarred stuff would probably work too.

I actually measured the Siracha.  You can taste it, but I would not call my finished product spicy.  I added the sesame oil, garlic, and grated the ginger into the mix.  I bought ginger a couple of months ago, peeled it, and put it in a freezer bag.  Whenever I want it, I take it out and grate it while it is frozen.  It lasts quite awhile.  I then hit the processor.  It lumped up pretty quickly, and I had to scrape the sides.  If you have a decent food processor you might not have the same problem.  I left the blade going and poured in the water slowly.  That helped get the cashews into more of a paste.

The finished product was a thick paste that could be spooned or spread.  The smoothness is dependent on how long you process it, and how good your processor is.

Here I just sliced one of my big tomatoes, and spread the dip onto it.  I will also use it with bell peppers, broccoli, pita bread, and pretty much anything that I would dip into hummus.  The blog I saw suggested adding it to grilled chicken

Here I scooped some onto one of my plum tomatoes, and I added a fresh basil leaf.  The basil was a very nice touch, but it is good without it too.

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Dedication, Loyalty, Friendship. The beer commercial I watched while chopping onions.

Not much to say here other then, “Watch this.” It is only a minute long, but it left me a little perklempt.

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September 7, 2013 · 4:33 pm