Advent, Week 1

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.” Isaiah 64:1 (ESV)

We need Advent. Did you see the story about the lady who pepper sprayed a bunch of people? She wanted an Xbox game. She wanted a competitive advantage. She wants to post bail.

What happened to Christmas? We need to be jarred to God’s reality. You and I need to be pulled out of the trance of ConsumerMas.
Advent puts the brakes on our self-preservation tendencies. It puts us under the authority of the story of God’s salvation and brings significant questions to the table:

- Who is God and what has He done?
- What has God saved us from?
- How do I live in light of this truth?

I need to ask these questions. I need to have these questions asked of me. More than a day or two, Advent is a 4-Sunday ramp up to the Christmas celebration of Emmanuel.

Advent helps us wait. We need someone to shake us and call us to reality, otherwise we keep cruising along as if everything is fine. Spiritually speaking, we tend to be blind to our own emptiness because we’re going so fast, so hard, for so long.

Advent helps us anticipate, which builds tension. During this time of tension, we reflect on God’s great salvation through Christ. We serve a God who is living, loving, and free. He invites us to the same, but this invitation can’t be scoffed or answered without intention. We hunger for God to move, to show up, to renew. The longer we wait, the deeper our realization that only God and God alone who can truly “fix” everything by fixing us.

Indeed, God will pull back the curtains on Heaven and graciously get involved.

Model trains

The sun has yet to rise upon our kitchen table, littered with empty pop cans and drippings from yesterday’s dinner of wings and pizza, which served as a delicious foreshadowing of today’s thanksgiving feast.

Andrew is rubbing his forehead and thinking aloud that he has spent too much time on fantasy football. “As if that’s even possible” I retort, shaking my head slowly back and forth. Fantasy football is a brilliant combination of our imagination and the statistical reality of the NFL. Where else do we do this? Cram carefully measured data into our fantasy? I’ll tell you: model trains.

When I was a kid, I played with a Tyco HO scale model of the Rock Island Express. In the real world, trains travel across the continent and carry their cargo to consumers in urban centers and rural nothingness. In my bedroom, surrounded by the typical stuff of my 8-year old existence, the Rock Island traveled in a perfect circle, carrying nothing but the nickels I jammed into one of the boxcars. It frequently tipped over. Oh, the carnage!

I wanted my model train to mimic the real life existence of trains. In my head, it did. I played Fantasy Railroad every day for a month after my 8th birthday, which fell on November 17 — about a week before Thanksgiving. I remember having to leave my train circle to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house on this day 24 years ago. As I rode in the back seat, buckled in next to my baby sister, I thought about the mighty Rock Island Express and her cargo, which had to make it to the upper hemisphere of my track circle. Without the safe delivery of their giant nickel palettes, the people would go hungry. No trainman worth his salt would allow that to happen.

We didn’t go hungry that day. We feasted on turkey, pie, and I endured adult conversation the whole time. Then, it was back to the trains before bed. I fell asleep while mentally designing a Lego train station. I was thankful. I just didn’t know it yet.

SPE 100

Over the last few semesters, I have had the privilege of teaching a section of Speech class — SPE 100 — at Spring Arbor University. The 20 Freshmen/Sophomore students in class this semester show no shortage of creativity, energy, and engagement with the subject matter. I truly enjoy every class session.
Public speaking isn’t easy. If you’re naturally afraid of being up front, it can be sheer terror. If you’re naturally comfortable in front of a crowd, you run the risk of letting your guard down and just “rolling with it” every time. Both areas allow for improvement, and that’s why we’re in this class.
My favorite moments? 1) Seeing someone who was timid really let loose on a speech. 2) Seeing a natural speaker communicate with deeper intention. I’ve had the opportunity to see this again today. Sheer joy. I’m thankful to the LORD that I can be a part of student’s academic, professional, and practical development.

I don’t wanna say any names…

I’m sitting in a Tim Hortons and can’t help but overhear a conversation between three autoworkers who are having a tough time with work. It sounds like they’re stuck in the middle of a union/management issue. “I can file a grievance right now and I’d have my job back…”. Three guys. Shift just ended. The leader of their table keeps saying “someone else is on the chopping block” but he won’t say who. When asked, he simply replies with “I don’t wanna say any names, but…”. The bald guy at work is one of the bosses and I’m gathering that he’s our antagonist. “Rick’s the one who messed up your dye!” “Which one is Rick?” “The bald one.” Every time I hear “the bald one”, I wish I was wearing a hat.

Humans like trouble. We like conflict. I see it in myself. I see it at Tim Horton’s. I’m no therapist, but I get the sense that they keep going around and around on the same idea, offering high-fives whenever there is a new level of kindred spirit reached. I’m surprised someone isn’t yelling “Amen!”.

“You keep giving me bad parts, you know, there’s gonna be trouble.” I guess Rick — the bald one — won’t listen to that. The bald one is evil. The bald one is out to destroy the working man who catches dinner here at Tim Horton’s.

Where’s my hat?

“Rick makes $2,500 a week on the scrap! He’s a multimillionaire!”

“WHAT!?! Which Rick is this? The owner? TWENTY FIVE HUNNRED?

Where’s my hat? Do they sell hats at Tim Horton’s?

“So, Rick is the main owner?” “Yeah. Rick. The bald Rick.”

Welp… it’s about time for me to hit the dusty trail. Maybe go buy a hat.

All Saints Sunday

Oh when the saints
Go marching in
Oh when the Saints go marching in
Oh Lord, I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in.

You realize, of course, that this ol’ Gospel tune has connections that run deeper than a New Orleans funeral. It’s an American song, usually classified as a Jazz piece, played all over by all kinds of bands for all kinds of reasons. It is a fight song, a happy song, a party song. There’s a reason people like it. It’s just fun.

This morning at Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church, the SAU Jazz Band played When The Saints Go Marching In. They did more than just play the song. To use the musical idiom, they really “played it up” in our services. We put the tune into the original context, with the aim of redeeming it. Here’s how it went:

  • Today (Sunday, November 6) is All Saints Sunday. All Saints Day always falls on November 1, and this is the closest Sunday following.
  • All Saints Day has several different flavors across Church history. In our tradition, we recognize it as a day to remember those who’ve gone before, following Christ faithfully to the end. Today is a day of celebrating God’s glorification in lives given and lost for the sake of the Gospel.
  • What we don’t do is worship or venerate Saints, like St. Peter, St. Paul, etc. We expand it to recognize all people who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus, therefore, it’s a day to celebrate new life and to worship the Lord in response.
  • We then looked at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which talks about those who are asleep, and that they’ll be the first ones to be ushered into Heaven when Christ returns.
  • We will all, as God’s Saints, proceed to Heaven to be with the Lord. This gives us great hope!
  • What’s happening in Heaven? That scene is described in Revelation 7:9-17, which was then read aloud.
  • After that, the Spring Arbor University Jazz Band played Saints Alive!. We celebrated God’s grace!

    Happy All Saints Sunday! Thank the Lord — for what He has done through us and through those who’ve gone before. For more on those who’ve gone before, see Hebrews 11. You’ll be challenged!

    Bolts

    Our deck rocks, not like the hit bands MGMT and STYX, but like a structure that is about to let go of its integrity. I knew from the day that we bought the house that it would need help. Nails are awesome, but they come loose. Metal poles are great, but they rust. And having your Uncle Henry do the planing is never a good idea. For several years I’ve been mentally engineering various upgrades to ol’ shakes-a-lot. Some are simple and have to do with glue and wreaths, other plans are more complex and involve a 1,500 square foot addition on the house. Somewhere in between are bolts.

    Large and in charge, these 5/8th by 6″ galvanized bolts will hold additional wolmanized lumber up to the existing stuff, thereby helping the whole thing stay together and rock less. I can’t help but think of this as being temporary, since the next step will involve putting up a new deck that won’t need assistance from bolts, at least not more than would be originally installed. We’re not far from new deckdom.

    The catch is this: nothing lasts forever. Even if they had used the best materials (Trex, for example) and the best installation crew (someone else, for example), someone would have to eventually go in, reinforce, or make the decision to rip it down and start over. Nothing lasts forever. Old Tiger Stadium. Andy Rooney. The incredible fame and talent of the band STYX. It all fades. Ecclesiastes is right. It would seem hopeless.

    It’s not hopeless. Things are actually in very good shape. We look forward to all new. New life, new hope. New heavens, new earth. Old gone. New here. Think about this: the reason to rebuild a deck in heaven? Not because of decay or even bad construction, if that could exist in such a place. It would be because you wanted to build a new deck, just for kicks. If I had time and energy and endless resources, I think I’d do that. Who knows?

    Until then, it’s bolts. Temporary. Someday replaced. Their clock is ticking.

    Give Me My… NickelBack

    I’m looking forward to watching the Lions on Thanksgiving, which is something I didn’t think I’d ever say.
    A bunch of people are expressing their displeasure, not with the Lions, but with the band Nickelback, scheduled for the halftime show. A guy even filed a petition that is now running over 22,000 strong. Oh, the power of pop culture when it’s irritated with itself. You can read about it here.

    My question: if not NickelBack for T-Giving day, then who? Or… whom?
    Here are my ideas:
    1. Seger
    2. Foo Fighters
    3. Ben Folds

    We could just get a bunch of hillarious YouTube videos. David after Dentist. Kimmel Halloween Kids. Or even a video of U2, like this one.