This is a picture I created for use as a facebook cover photo for Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas.
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Most of the time, when I talk to someone about the god that they have rejected, it turns out that I’ve rejected that god too. You know, the god of fear and closed-mindedness. The god of rejection and shame. The god that supports oppression, injustice, and bullying. The god that calls people to violence. The god that uses religion and ritual as a way to pacify the masses, or line the pockets of the powerful. The god that demands right choices lest I be punished with eternal torment. I’ve rejected that god too. Unfortunately, there are many people that have only been told about that god, and so they have walked away. I want to tell you about the God that I worship.
The God I worship loves me. God loves me for all my failures, imperfections, and bad choices. God loves me just as I am, and is working with me to grow into what I could be. God has picked me up, dusted me off, and reminded me that I am not junk. I am God’s. God uses my weakness for strength, and has replaced my shame with grace.
The God I worship wants me to love my neighbor as myself. God wants me to work for justice and act with kindness. God wants me to be vulnerable to others, not because God wants me to be weak, but because it is impossible to love without first being vulnerable.
The God I worship wants me to love God with all my heart, mind, and strength. God wants me to expand my mind. God wants me to challenge, for it is in challenging that we may grow. God wants me to look to the stars and wonder, explore, and dream about what is possible. God wants me to know not just the words of the Bible, but to know the heart of the Word. God wants my whole self, not just my Sunday self.
Today I saw my daughter enter a room. My heart leaped. I put my arms out and hoped beyond hope that she would see me and come. I wanted to see her smile. I wanted to make her laugh. I wanted to embrace and make her know that she was loved. That is how God looks at each of us, and even that is insufficient to describe God’s love.
This is the God I have found. Perhaps I should say more accurately, this is the God that has found me. This is the God for which I live and breathe. This is the God to whom I testify. This is the God whom I fail time and again, but who is willing to stick with me. This is the God of good news, the God of grace, mercy, and justice. I don’t blame or fault anyone for walking away from god. Odds are, I’ve walked away from that god too. All I can do is show you, tell you, demonstrate to you, and live out the love that is in me.
Yesterday was my 35th birthday. It was important to me to get to the gym. I’ve actually gotten to the point where going to workout is a treat, not a chore. As I was jogging on the treadmill I set the pace to my usual 5.5 mph. For the last few weeks I have set it at that pace for the first mile, then set it down to 3.5 for about an eighth of a mile. Then I finish with long stretches of 5.5 with some 3.5 walking in between.
In the last month I’ve run two 5K races. My goal at both of them was a 12 minute mile pace, and I achieved that both times. Now I’m ready to set a new goal. I want to jog the entire 3.1 miles. Yesterday as I approached the completion of the first mile, I was preparing to punch the speed down to 3.5. Then I thought of this saying.
“The workout begins when you want to quit.”
I don’t remember where I first heard that, but it struck a chord. I realized that for me to improve, I couldn’t keep doing the same thing. If I want to grow, I have to push through the barriers that I create. So I kept going. I was ready to slow down, but I didn’t. That’s when the workout started. That is when the growth started. That is when getting stronger happened.
I pushed through and found myself jogging past 1.25 miles. Then I thought about stopping. Again, I had to keep pushing. When I finally started walking, I had run for 2 miles. I completed it in 22 minutes – by far my fastest pace for that distance.
A good friend and I have signed up for two more 5K races before Halloween. I’m hoping to do at least one more. My goal now is to run a full 5K without slowing down to walk. The next step is making a two mile jog routine. The next is to not let the routine be the limit.
The picture on the left was circulating in my Facebook world today. When I saw it, I shared it immediately. These five reminders are just so beautifully simple. I would like to go to Metropolis, take a picture next to the Superman sign, and check out a little league game. I wonder if it effective.
The sign is posted at baseball fields and reads, Please Remember: 1. These are kids, 2. This is a game, 3. The coaches volunteer, 4. The Umpires are human, 5. You do not play for the Cardinals.
My daughter isn’t quite old enough to start playing, and I’m hoping she’s still a few years away from people taking it too seriously. I haven’t been to a lot of youth baseball games lately, but I’ve heard horror stories of adults behaving very poorly.
The sign got me thinking, what if I could use these same rules at church? What would they look like? It seemed like the sign on the left hit a nerve with a lot of people that participate in youth sports. I wonder if my sign will do the same with people that worship on a regular basis.
What the following was posted in your church, Please Remember: 1. We were all created in the image of God, 2. This is worship, 3. Visiting church is an act of courage, 4. Pastors are human, 5. You are not Jesus.
I love the Church. It can be a place of love, forgiveness, and hospitality. All too often it is not. What if this sign hung in our churches? Would it resonate? Would it make a difference?
If this is true, then my fat is in a deep depression. Since February 15, I’ve lost about 40 pounds. In a week, I’ll be running in a 5K. In February, when I weighed 329 at the doctor’s office, I set the following goals to reach in June: weigh under 300, bench press over 300 and run a 5K in less than 40 minutes. As of today, I weigh 288. I stopped gaining as much strength when I started to really take off weight, so I don’t think I’ll get to bench 300. I’ve changed the way I eat. I’ve changed the way I workout. I’ve changed my life, and it feels good.
I never served in the military, but thousands of men and women before me did. To them, I am forever grateful. Today I served at a funeral at the Rock Island National Cemetery. The Rock Island National Cemetery is on an island on the Mississippi River. When you cross the bridge you are greeted with a security gate that always has at least two uniformed guards. When they are told that you are there for service for a veteran or a veteran’s wife, they come out of the little kiosk, snap to attention and salute all the cars that drive by.
As we drove farther onto the island and then into the cemetery, anyone that we drove by stopped what they were doing and either gave a military salute or removed their hat and put their hand over their heart. Today, the island was particularly busy. Workers were all over the grounds preparing for Memorial Day. Every one of them paused as we drove by. I’ve done many services at national cemeteries before. All of them are emotional. Today though, was special. Flags lined the streets, and little flags were planted in neat rows alongside the stone markers.
When kids in my parents’ generation were graduating high school, they were thinking about going to Vietnam. When kids in my grandparents’ generation were graduating high school, they were thinking about going to Europe or Japan. When I graduated high school, I was thinking about going to a party to try and meet a girl.
Today I thought of the people I went to high school with that served in the military. They served for many reasons, and because they served, I didn’t have to. I wish I could say thank you to all of them. Today as I looked out at the lines and lines of markers, I said a prayer of thanksgiving. I thanked God for each of those markers, men, women, husbands, and wives that gave a part of their youth. They put everything on the line so that I could worship, speak, read, raise a family, pursue happiness, work for justice, and grow old in safety.
Sometimes “thank you” just seems inadequate.
When I was a sophomore in high school I was kicked out of a football game for kicking someone. It was a stupid. I was near the bottom of a pile, and I felt like the guy on the other team that was on top of me was taking his sweet time in getting up. Instead of just waiting for the guy to get off, I got mad, and started kicking. I don’t think I actually kicked anyone. I wasn’t aiming at anyone in particular. I was just mad and reacted. Unfortunately the ref saw me and said “You, 62 – you’re out of here.” I couldn’t believe it. So I stormed off the field in anger and sulked on the sideline for the rest of the game. Strangely, none of the coaches even said anything to me.
After the game, none of the coaches said anything to me. When I was back at school, had changed and was ready to go home, none of the coaches had said anything to me. I was a little perplexed, but also pretty nervous. I knew I wasn’t going to escape punishment. They must be letting me stew. I figured that at the next practice I’d be running laps around the field for the duration. I started to walk home, despondent.
I didn’t get far when Mr. Selke pulled up and asked me, “Do you need a ride?” Mr. Selke was an intimidating guy. With his hair slicked back and suit on, he looked like he could have been cast as an associate of Joe Pesci. He didn’t give sophomore football players rides home. He was not a coach. He was the Athletic Director. I lived about a half mile from school. I didn’t really want a ride. I just wanted to sulk my way home. “No thanks,” I said. “No, let me give you a ride,” he said. I realized that this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I’d say we had an interesting conversation on the short ride to my house, but that would imply that I said something. He didn’t raise his voice. The power of his words did not need volume. “You will not do something like that again,” he said simply. “Your family is too good for that. Your Mom, Dad, brother, and sister have given you a good name. And you will not do anything like that again.”
I didn’t run laps at practice on Monday. None of my coaches ever said anything to me about it. It was like it never happened.
When I think of that interrupted walk home, I am reminded of another interrupted walk of shame. In Luke 24 we find the story known as “The Walk to Emmaus.” The walk to Emmaus was a walk of defeat. It was a walk of devastation, confusion, and anger. Two men were going home – back to Emmaus. They were leaving Jerusalem after a tumultuous week.
They were devastated, because the man that they thought was going to redeem Israel had been crucified. We don’t know how long they had been following Jesus. We don’t know how much they had given up, but we know that as the walked home, they were walking in shame. they were walking in confusion, despair, and anger. Their walk to Emmaus was a walk of shame. And then they were interrupted.
They were interrupted by the living Christ. They were interrupted in their despair, and at first, they were annoyed by this stranger that didn’t understand their pain. “Haven’t you been paying attention?” they ask him. “Have you been paying attention?” he responds. He does two things for them after their encounter. He allows them to tell their story, then he tells them his version. Their version went like this:
“Because of [Jesus’s] powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.” (Luke 24:19-24, Common English Bible)
It was a story of despair, loss, and confusion. Jesus responds by telling them the story again. This time he starts with Moses. He tells of God saving the people from slavery. He tells of the giving of the Law. He tells them about the Land that God provided the people. He tells them about the Prophets that spoke the truth to power. He reminded them about the God that saves.
Eventually it was time to eat. So they gathered at a table, and Jesus broke the bread. When they saw him break the bread, it all came together. They knew that were in the presence of Jesus. They knew that Jesus had risen. They knew everything had changed.
While they gathered at the table, their story was no longer one of despair and fear. Their walk was no longer a walk of shame. It was a walk of triumph. In the breaking of the bread, this act of friendship, companionship, and relationship, they knew that they were in the presence of the living God. He re-framed the story. He re-presented the bread. He re-newed their hearts.
Like Mr. Selke did for me during my walk of shame, Jesus reminded them of who and whose they were. All of us need that reminder every now and then. All of us take long walks of shame. We take a wrong turn. We veer off the path. We forget who and whose we are, and suddenly we find ourselves someplace we never intended to be. We find ourselves on a path of shame – somewhere God never intended us to be. It is in the midst of such walks that Jesus has a funny way of showing up. We may encounter Jesus on our path when we are least expecting him to show up.
No matter where you may be on your path, no matter how lost, no matter how hurt, no matter how bitter, an unexpected encounter with the Divine can bring you back home. Be open to the Scriptures, and the story of God’s salvation. Be open to breaking bread with those that might surprise you. Be open and know that you never need walk this path alone. You never have to make a walk of shame again.