Rough Around the Middle

Rough Around the Middle

My wife couldn’t hide the sadness in her face.  I’m not sure if she even wanted to.  We were about to go out and get yogurt with our three kids after dinner to celebrate the kickoff of another new school year.  However, I spent that evening in an apartment with someone else’s kids whose mother had been arrested earlier that day.  Her children had been home alone for hours.  The confusion on their faces when I opened the door of their apartment was sincere.  When the four year old saw me he said, “It’s Jesus!”  His older brother corrected him, “It’s not Jesus.  It’s Pastor Scott.”  “What are you doing here, Pastor Scott?”  The truth is I was there to wait with them until their mother made bail and could make it home.  So I had come with Happy Meals in hand and a little lie about their mother’s car trouble.

                                                                ________________________

I kept staring at his Tag Heuer watch.  It was a beautiful watch.  I thought to myself if I could have any watch, it’d be that one.  I was looking at his watch to avoid looking at the tears coming down his face.  Less than four years in and his marriage was teetering somewhere between joylessness and divorce.  This handsome, very educated professional saw those as his only two options.  I saw him and his wife the next Sunday though sitting across from a man and woman that had been married twice as long as this young couple had been alive.

                                                               ________________________

“You need to come to church with us one Sunday.  They take that $h!t f#*king serious.  It’s awesome.”  I had never quite heard someone invited to church like that before.  But that’s how my buddy, who up until the last couple of months had never been to church, invited a mutual friend of ours.  I kept my mouth shut as this buddy of mine described the “Time of Preparation” we have in between our welcome and announcements and the beginning of our worship.  In this time at our traditional service our organist will play for a minute or so allowing everyone a chance to focus their hearts and minds on God.  I always assumed that nobody really understood what that time was for.  But in describing it he said, “At first it’s all like, ‘Hey everybody!  Welcome to church.’  And then they’re like, ‘Before we start though, we need to get f#*king ready.  We’re about to worship the God of the universe so prepare your hearts.’”  At this point our mutual friend looked at me as if to say, “Is he serious?”  To which I responded, “Yeah, it’s kind of like that.”

                                                               ________________________

We have a large Sunday School class that recently had a high percentage of African Americans in it (30% or so which is high for Presbyterians).  I was told that while in that class a white man weighed in with a very conservative take on the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman verdict.  There was disagreement.  My first thought was, “Uh oh.  Can we handle this?”  I was worried about the potential fallout.  Could we handle that kind of issue and stick together even with differing opinions?

_________________________

Preaching gives one a unique, visual vantage point.  I see it all.  Two weeks ago I saw a man who doesn’t believe women should hold positions of authority in the church sitting a few feet away from a woman who believes very strongly in gay marriage.  In that same service I saw a Congressman sitting a few feet away from a person who would never vote for him in a million years.  I saw a tattoo artist sitting next to a 90 year old matriarch of the church.  I saw a family sitting next to a felon.  There are people who can’t afford to go to the doctor sitting feet away from those who have elected to undergo cosmetic surgery.  Dirty blue jeans, Armani suits, people who hitch rides, people who leave multiple cars at their second homes- this is all part of a shift that has been taking place over the past few years in our congregation.

From the pulpit I love to look up and see these diverse stories gathered under a common roof.  It feels like the kingdom of God.  But in worship it is easy to be smooth around the edges.  We have enough in common to be there together.  But what happens when the family knows it’s sitting next to a felon?  What happens when the grandmother realizes that the nice girl that has been sitting in front of her for the last few weeks is an addict?  What happens when folks discover the stuff that’s just below the surface- that we fundamentally disagree about Trayvon Martin or gay marriage or our president?  Do we shake the hand of the man any differently when we hear him use the “F word” to describe how excited he is about preparing to worship the God he has just come to know and love?  How will the blue collar worker who puts in 55 hours a week treat the single mother of three on food stamps when he finds out she’s not even looking for a job?

The reason most congregations are homogenous is because true community is rough around the middle.  Once we start to move centripetally from the smooth edge of cordiality we’re in for a bumpy ride.  Real people are messy.  The only way for a community to handle the rough middle is to believe in a gospel that’s bigger than our baggage; to trust that a greater truth than our uniqueness is the commonality that we share in our redemption.
I think that’s what Paul is getting at when he writes to the church in Philippi, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with one another in the Lord.”  (Philippians 4:2).  We may not agree about personal issues or social issues.  We may have problems with too much wealth or with what leads to poverty.  We may struggle to value an addict or criminal.  Our politics and preferences will run afoul to each other.  Our neighborhoods and incomes may be the difference between night and day.  But if we agree with one another in the Lord, then these differences need not divide.  Beware of the homogenous church.  It’s the community that is rough around the middle which believes in a gospel big enough to sustain it.  If our gospel isn’t bigger than our politics then it’s a false gospel.  If our gospel isn’t bigger than our tax bracket then it’s a false gospel.  If our gospel isn’t bigger than breast augmentation or prison tattoos then it’s a false gospel.  At the end of the day, if we can’t agree with one another in the Lord, then our Lord is too small.  And a Lord that small isn’t worthy of our gathering together to worship him anyway.

-SBC

Parenting Anchors and Sails

Every child’s a miracle.  Well, if that’s true, then for my son Ebenezer it’s even more true.  His coming into this world stumped the medical professionals.  The problem is that he knows he’s a miracle.  He’s heard it his whole life.  Eben is mostly convinced that he is the awesomest kid on the planet.  His enthusiasm and optimism knows no bounds.  Literally.  One day we went to a local park to launch some small, solid-fuel rockets.  On the way over there he asks, “Dad, do you think it will make it to the moon?”  On the way to enter our first Pinewood Derby he asks, “How big do you think our trophy will be?”  His baseline assumption for anything that interests him is “I am probably awesome at this.” 

 

And here’s the rub.  He’s a normal kid.  Estes rockets don’t go to the moon.  Our pinewood derby car was average.  And he throws a little like a girl.  (Full disclosure: he might actually be a genius.  I’m just happy that he doesn’t know that IQ is something for him to think that he’s awesome in).  The parenting gauntlet involves daily statements like, “I really do like that story you wrote, Eben but no, I will not look into finding a publisher for your book Ninjas Don’t Eat Lunch.”  It is not right to dampen his spirits.  It is also not right to have him try out for American Idol one day convinced he’s the next Rick Astley.  Some kids need to be told this rocket is not good enough to go to the moon.  And if you want a rocket to go to the moon then work your rear off in physics, math and chemistry, become a rocket scientist, and build a better one than this.  The great thing about Eben is that he eyes the horizon and it doesn’t seem that far away because he’s all sails. 

 

On the other end of the self-perception spectrum is Tate.  His basic presupposition is that he’s pretty terrible.  While Eben asks “Will this rocket make it to the moon?” Tate asks, “Will this thing even fly?”  Hang around our house long enough and you’ll see Tate run down the hall screaming, “The family hates me.  Everybody hates me.  The world hates me.  Everything is a butt.”  When he does this my wife and I usually grin at each other because it’s funny.  Then I go to him and let him know that none of that is true; that we love him; that it doesn’t matter that his sister beat him in Mario Kart; that his value comes from a place in which Wii game performance is not taken into account.  But he can’t hear me. 

 

The good thing about having a kid as grounded as Tate is that he has fire in his eyes.  He pushes himself because he knows he needs to.  What he sets his mind to do he will give it everything he has.  He’s a fighter.  There is great strength in him because he’s all anchor.   

 

So, if you’re keeping score, that means I have one son who thinks he’s a combination of Chuck Yeager, Mario Andretti, and J.K.  Rowling and the other who thinks he’s a combination of a stomach virus, a traffic jam, and a pen that’s out of ink.  To the one, I have to remind him that he hasn’t done enough to reach the moon.  To the other I have to build his spirit by letting him know he actually could. 

 

Then there’s Tyler, my daughter.  When I say that her hair looks nice she doesn’t assume I’m suggesting she be a model for a shampoo ad.  She takes it at face value and finds delight in it but not identity.  When my daughter didn’t get the role she wanted in a school play she was not diminished.  The real disappointment in her voice sounded like contentment by the time she was done telling me how her audition went.  Tyler possesses both a sail and an anchor in wonderful balance.  The challenge is that she often uses neither.  She’s content in the current.  No need to dream.  No need to fight.  Much of her life involves furled sails and a dry anchor.   

 

At the end of the day I am a father of three opposites.  Hegel would be proud that at once my progeny represents the thesis, the antithesis, and the synthesis.  Each of them demand nuance in our parenting- from the way we encourage to the way we discipline.  Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.  At the end of the day every child needs to understand that there is a sail and an anchor and that they need both.  Parenting is the joyous work of helping them discover both and imparting the wisdom that allows them to know when to use each.         

-SBC

Peter, Come Home

The last eight weeks I have been slogging through a tough, fifteen-week sermon series in the book of 1st Peter.  I haven’t enjoyed it.  1st Peter is a bit odd to preach through.  I didn’t think it would be.  I like the book devotionally.  I just haven’t enjoyed it pedagogically or homiletically.  This fact has been weighing on me.  I actually told my associate pastor, “I don’t like 1st Peter.”  That seems weird for a pastor to say.     

However, I may have caught a second wind at the half way mark of this first Petrine epistle by way of my 11 year old daughter.  Taking her to school yesterday she asked me to put on Mumford and Sons.  I obliged.  Then she told me about a dream she had.  In her dream the band Mumford and Sons had a woman singing back-up harmonies.  Then she told me that in her dream they were singing a song about Peter (the one in the Bible).  I asked her if she could remember what the song was like.  She couldn’t.  She did remember the title of the song though.  “Peter, Come Home”.  Brilliant.  I had been praying for that same thing.  I just wanted this letter of his to fit, to make sense, to “come home.” 

I felt oddly comforted by this vague dream of my daughter’s.  Then I did a strange thing.  I wrote a song for her, and me, I guess.  I’m not a musician.  I’m not even a poet.  That did not stop me from writing my daughter’s dream.  The rough, folksy, acoustic, wordy, reflective, and harmonic lyrical stylings of Mumford and Sons and the Avette Brothers banged around in my mind as I wrote.

So, I guess I’ll ask you to listen to this song.  It’s about Peter- A disjointed man who loved Jesus and wrote a disjointed letter about Jesus’ love.  I’ll need you to provide the music.  And however you play the music in your mind, make sure someone in your band has an unkempt beard that may or may not smell like a craft beer.  (And if one of you musician types want to take a crack at it, I’d love to make my daughter’s dream come true.)

 Peter, Come Home

In the dark you seek in vain

Casting bad seed.


O, fruitless pain


What will she say


When it’s empty again


And you’re hungry for more


Than what fills nets


So lost and poor


Of all but regrets


From a life you chose


With this void of hopes


Casting yourself like Jonah


In your mind, swallowed


By sea and creature to go…

             

Simon, come home

            To this place of calm


             Seas and love.  Come sleep


             In the arms of the steady One

Haggard and deprived

Of humility and pride


You clean in vain


A web stretched and frayed


By the futility you claimed


On dark Galilee


But new day is burning


Hearts through words


Spoken by light


From One you never knew


You were looking for


This One who found you


With a voice of thunder


And shalom to be…

  

Simon, come home

              To this place of calm


              Seas and love.  Come sleep


              In the arms of the steady One

This narrow street

Trodden, rock-bled feet


Roll on to mountain peak


You are found and lost


In bright glory and fire


To be quiet and shine


As you follow and lead


Bruised knees, granite seas


Of confession and denial


And it’s not you on trial


Who eat food never caught


On shores of redemption


When I’ll send you to feed


I know you love me…

              

Simon, come home

              To this place of calm


              Seas and love.  Come sleep


              In the arms of the steady One

            


             Peter, come home


             To this place of calm


             Seas and love.  Go seek.


             For My Kingdom’s coming home


Mini Flash Wins Every Time

A red blur interrupted my peripheral peace.  I kept my face in my book.  (Alright, not my book.  I kept my face glued to the screen of my iPhone as I played Tiny Wings.  But let’s pretend it was actually a book; a book with words like tolutiloquent).  The red blur interrupted my periphery again with the silence of a hobbit and the speed of a mongoose.  Then it was on me.  A mask wearing, nylon clad pygmy superhero was pummeling the back of my hands that were covering my face.  I was a super-villain and I didn’t even know it.  (That’s the worst, right?  At least the Joker and Lex Luthor knew that it was coming.)  Here this whole time I thought I was a good husband, loving dad, and grateful pastor and it turns out I was actually the arch enemy of Mini Flash.  How did this happen?  Was this the end?

Then in a moment of clarity I grabbed the closest thing I could find and swung as hard as I could.  That pillow must have had some magical powers because Mini Flash flew off the side of my bed and like a hobbited cat with no legs, landed softly on his face.  Then, in a rare moment of cowardice and unchecked emotion for a super hero, Mini Flash ran away in the blur that brought him crying for his mother.  Turns out I’m an awesome super-villain. 

What is that thing in a kid that gets transformed by the costume?  When an adult puts on a costume one of a few things is going on.

1.        They are going to a party with a lot of booze- I mean a lot of booze.


2.       It’s Halloween and they are in that odd 7% of adults who really get into Halloween- booze or not. 


3.       A Trekkie convention, Comic Con, or some other themed gathering of gifted kids and home schoolers.      


4.       And then there’s, you know, couples costumes.

But at no point do these adults actually think they possess super powers or Klingon DNA.  It’s a costume.  However, in a child an existential shift occurs when the spandex, mask, and cape go on.  This existential transformation even has metaphysical implications.  All things being equal but the costume, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that my Mini Flash son beats his non super self in a foot race.  I can see it now…  It’s a Usainian moment as Mini Flash’s arms spread out looking left and right cruising the final 20 meters in a victory over himself sans the flash mask.  (All kidding aside, I’m going to test this when I get home.  No, not by cloning my son.  By using a stopwatch, you goof ball.  I’ll post results).

I think that’s kind of what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these… anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Children believe.  And their belief has wings on it.  And belief with wings on it is what the Bible calls faith. 

One of the great pictures of the gospel comes from Jesus’ story of the prodigal.  You know this story.  Kid number two asks for a share of the inheritance.  He goes splitsville to an ancient Mediterranean version of Vegas.  What happens there stays there including the money.  He’s destitute and ashamed.  He heads home simply wanting to be a slave in his dad’s house while working on a great contrition speech.  His dad sees him, runs and hugs him, and doesn’t even let him finish the speech.  Without hesitation the dad tells a servant to bring a new robe, sandals, and the family signet ring.  And they set toward the house for a party in the kid’s honor.  Wait, what? 

But that’s the gospel in a nut shell.  We’re selfish and messed up.  God loves us anyway.  And he puts Jesus’ own robe, sandals, and signet ring on us and says I’m throwing a party for you.  We have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ.  We have been credited with his obedience by the grace of the Father. 

Most Christians simply don’t believe that.  I look at my son and I see a funny little kid in a spandex outfit that thinks he’s Flash.  He looks at himself and thinks, “Dude, I’m a super hero.”  And Jesus looks at me and says, “If you want to truly know me, you need a little more of what Flash over there has.  He gets it.” 

Galatians 3:27 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  The truth is, if I actually believed that, I’d run a little bit faster. 

God Speed,


-SBC   

The Amazing Race

Sundays begin around 3:45 AM for me. My alarm is set for 4:00 AM but I rarely get to hear it go off. Usually my sermon has roused me by then. By 4:30 AM on Sundays I am showered and dressed. Going through my mind is an energizing hybrid of prayer and preaching. (Let it be known that by this time I have not typed a word of my sermon. But don’t be confused by this. A sermon is never done until it’s been preached. Any preacher worth their salt, even if they have had a manuscript of their sermon done since Tuesday, will know that a sermon is in some ways a living thing. And until it has had a chance to live those brief moments of its proclamation then it has been something less than a sermon.)

My sermons incubate in the pages of relatively expensive, Italian, leather-bound journals. Those pages receive the observations of my study, the wrestling prayers of my discernment, random thoughts and ideas for flow, illustration, and how it all fits into a much bigger picture. However, in my thinking, the sermon is still a thing that all of this is only hinting at. It’s like I’m trying to listen in on a conversation from across the room filled with the noise of my own invited distractions. And no matter what gets scribbled into my journal or trapped by Microsoft Word early on Sunday morning, those things are still not my sermon.

Whatever it is I wind up typing and printing out feels more like a leash for myself anything else. “Lord, do more than I have done,” is the only right prayer to pray for one who would hope to preach. That is not to diminish the hard work of good study and the wrestling over creative inspiration. However, if God were bound to the limits of my study and creativity then I would sooner choose to be mute than aspire to channel His Word through my own grit and whim. Study and creativity are my service to God. It is the least I can do. But Lord help the church if God’s work through the proclaimed Word is tethered to the least I could do.

Then I preach with ice-cold hands. Every Sunday. Sometimes I remember how to preach and sometimes I forget. But I am always glad it’s over even though I am humbled to have done it. Even when I am driving home after worship, regardless of how I well or poorly I think I have executed the task, I ask God to continue to speak to his people. It feels nice to be out of the way.

Eighteen hours after getting up I’m usually sitting on the couch with my wife watching The Amazing Race. The Amazing Race is a reality TV show in which teams of people race around the globe day after day trying to make it to the end. We watch them exhaust themselves on a race where no one knows what is coming next. They fight, they fail, they succeed. Some are not good enough to stay in the race. Some continue on. They do their best with what they are given. Each week it’s a new adventure- every team hoping they have what it takes to run one more leg- to move on. Each team that makes it seems road-weary and relieved. Every week it’s the same. Every week it’s different.

And that’s the way my Sunday ends.

~SBC

Confessions of a Sports Fan (and Pastor)

I root for Tiger Woods. I root against Tim Tebow. And I’m on the Lin bandwagon.

Sunday afternoon I paced back and forth in front of my
television as I watched Tiger Woods finish his final round at the Honda Classic. Other than the fact that he didn’t win, it was vintage Tiger. And I loved it. My daughter Tyler has always been my golf watching buddy. Sunday it
was fun for us to watch Tiger play like the old Tiger. It felt like the good ol’ days that I thought were gone. I wasn’t thinking about his infidelities and hubris. And to be honest, I never gave any thought to whether he was a good husband or dad “before the accident”. Truth be told, I don’t really care now. I never cared if he was
a role model. I didn’t need him to be. My kids don’t need him to be. Sure, a couple of years ago when my daughter asked me what people were saying about Tiger Woods, I cringed a bit when telling her that Tiger started acting like he was married other women besides his wife (serial adultury and dirtbaggery are tough to explain to an eight year old). That’s why I don’t root for Tiger Wood’s personal life. Just his golf life.

I root for Tim Tebow’s personal life. Not his football career. I am a Seminole. He killed us when he was at Florida- roostering up and down the sideline with garnet field paint on his face pumping his team up. I shudder to even mention it. I root for him to lose. At football. But I would be deeply saddened if he took ABC’s bid for him to be the next Bachelor. It would break my heart if he started making out with a few desperate gold-diggers in front of millions of people. It’ll never happen. And that’s why I root for his personal life. I hope he tanks in the NFL. And I’m pretty sure he will. I also hope he goes to prisons and shares Jesus with folks. I hope he spends years in the Philippines with orphans and widows. I hope he dethrones Mother Theresa in the “Least of These” Hall of Fame.

I’ve got a bad case of Linsanity. I love him. I love the story of a really good basketball player who was overlooked in high school, college, and the NBA because he is Asian. I love the fact the he didn’t quit, that he worked his butt off, and that he finally got his. I loved the pride that I saw in so many of my Asian American friends when ESPN was Linsane in the membrane for two weeks. I jumped on the bandwagon for what he was doing for the game of basketball. And when I found out later that he was a devout Christian who was considering career ministry, it didn’t faze me. I didn’t like him more. I didn’t like him less. I just worried about him more. Overnight fame, the promise of millions, and New York City are a terrible combination- every time. I would hate for Jeremy Lin’s sports success to infringe on his faith success- which is usually in a much healthier environment when it is incubated in struggle.

I want God’s Kingdom to grow through the work of His church. I enjoy sports. Those things do not mean I root for Christians to succeed in sports because they’re Christian. That also doesn’t mean I root against worldly pagans in sports because they’re worldly pagans. God will glorify Himself as God sees fit. If he does it through humbling a vain golfer, elevating a mediocre quarterback, or having the world notice an unnoticed point guard then that’s God’s business. However, God can also glorify Himself in the empty success of vanity, in the humiliation of one of His children, and in the train wreck that comes from overnight fame. I want God’s glory to shine. I don’t care so much how He chooses to do it. So in the meanwhile, Go Tiger! Fail Timmy! And hold on tight Super Lintendo!

-SBC

Pencil Problems

Change is tough. Ever since we rolled over into
2012 I have without fail written “2011” every time I have had an opportunity to write the date. This morning, for
instance, I wrote “2011” four times in the span of an hour or so. I didn’t handle it too well.

I keep a master hymnal on my desk in which I mark the dates of every hymn we sing in worship. But this morning my hand naturally reacted and before I knew it I had written 1/8/11. I corrected it. Then within minutes I wrote 1/8/11 on another hymn. I erased it, breaking the thin white eraser on my .05 millimeter stainless steel mechanical pencil. I don’t have any more erasers. (Well, I do, but they are aftermarket erasers and don’t do much more than spread the lead markings around creating more of a grey smear than revealing a clean spot of paper to correct a mistake on. Breaking my eraser off reminds me of this non-factory replacement easer problem and by now a simple “1” has me clenchingmy jaw tighter than a leotard.)

So, I am forced to draw a “2” over the second “1” lining up the longer vertical portion of the “2” so as to overlay the mistaken “1” as best as possible. Annoyed.

After a bit of tweaking on the order of worship I decide to date a third hymn (whose fourth
verse I am using as the song of response to our assurance of pardon, which is a change from the routine in its own right.) And before I even realize it’s happening I have written 1/8/11. Again.
I take my hymnal and throw it through one of the antique lead glass windows in my office, go to the storage shed and get a hose, siphon gas from my associate pastor’s car, dump it on the hymnal and set it on fire with the cigarette I had been smoking since I broke my eraser.

Change is tough. It’s tough because there is no such thing as “normal”. Yet part of the human condition is a desire for things to freeze the moment they are exactly right for us. But like King Solomon, in the wisdom hardened into him from a life of observing the world, said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, And a time to heal;
A time to break down, And a time to build up;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, And a time to lose;
A time to keep, And a time to throw away;
A time to tear, And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, And a time to speak;
A time to love, And a time to hate;
A time of war, And a time of peace.

In this series of juxtaposed couplets none of these things are designated as either good or evil. They’re just different. It’s pretty simple. Things change. Frustration and disappointment stem from getting really good at gathering stones together only to discover that it’s time to start scattering them. People who reject change in an effort to keep certain things exactly the way they want them are destined for discontentment.

Contentment comes not from trying to create still-points in a moving world but in discovering the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The Christian faith is the beautiful story of this True God undergoing change- becoming visible, incarnate, and even common, so that we could experience the stillness of His never-failing love for us.

It’s funny to think that God “changed” to show us that He is the one thing that doesn’t.

So, in 2011, don’t lament the change; embrace the God that doesn’t. Wait, did I just write 2011 again?

-SBC

Fear and Trembling

I sit in a coffee shop at the food court-esque lobby of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, Kansas. I can see the live twitter feed from the National Worship Leaders Conference between two well-groomed faux hawks scrolling on a large flat screen TV on the wall. Brushed aluminum Mac Books as far as the eye can see. I blend in quite well save for my collared shirt and boring right to left hair-part.

A thought has been growing like seed in the bad soil of my mind since being here. And it is this: The aim of true worship finds it beginning and end in God and is concerned solely with His Glory. To that end worship is a response, not an initiation. It’s a reply to God’s perfect “Let there be… It is very good.” For worship to be an attempt at an appropriately weighty response to this GOD, it must find its birth in a true sense of our own diminishment. It is as though the King of Kings has called us into his court by name. We know we are not worthy to be there and yet there is nowhere else we can be. In front of that throne all at once we kneel blushed with shame and yet aglow with the irony that this King’s desire is to be with us. Fear and delight comingle giving way before the truth of holiness and the grace of love found equally in abundance before this triune King.

This week concern has turned to legitimate panic as I hear people speak of worship as initiative. Worship is planned for the people who are being invited to participate. The dominant concern seems to be “How can we reach the worshipper?” It seems that God’s glory has become an afterthought. We have made worship about us. People work hard at making worship palatable for the masses in the name of Jesus. Instead of humbly entering the throne room hoping to honor the king we have sauntered in with our heads high and have asked the King to play jester. Reach out to us. Bless us. Entertain us. Meet our needs.

In pawning this off as worship we sell costume jewelry to the masses and advertise it as priceless. We nibble on the scraps beneath the table calling it the banquet.

Liturgical churches do this by appeasing their masses with the comforting form of ancient liturgy seemingly unaware that we have grown illiterate to its language. Contemporary churches do this by calling “worship” something that is not much more than a marketing strategy to the masses in order to offer well intentioned help in the name of Jesus who, ironically, is the King they have just asked to play jester.

Lord have mercy on us.

~SBC

Preaching

One of my preaching professors used to say “Find your voice.” I understood why one would say that to a preaching student. But I never agreed with it.

The “voice” of a particular preacher ought to be subject to the ears of those to whom they have been sent. Preaching is not about the voice of the preacher but rather the hearts of the listeners to whom God has sent his Word. If I am preaching to a group of prisoners my “voice” will sound different than it does to a group of business people. In the same way that the Apostle Paul became all things to all people that he might save some, so too must the preacher.
Any given Sunday the preacher is called to be a teacher, a prophet, an evangelist, an exhorter, or an empathizer. Which one depends on what God is up to with a particular people. And to be the right one at the right time the preacher must first listen to the text and the Spirit before he imagines what it will sound like when he opens his lips. One’s voice must become subject to the context of their calling.
We are not artists that choose our subject matter or presentation of it based on our whim or passion. If we do not die to ourselves before we step into the pulpit then we may have found “our voice” but have done so at the expense of the Word. Lord, save those to whom you have sent me if it is my voice they hear.
SC