Colossians – Prologue

What would it be like to travel forward in time and discover that some letters you sent to your friend were widely published, translated into hundreds of different languages, studied to the deepest possible level, and (strangest of all) bound in a book found in hotel room drawers around the world?

I would feel a tad uncomfortable.

What if you found out that your letters were hugely polarizing?  Some people based their lives, their religion, their very spiritual existence on this ancient correspondence.  Others count them as poppycock and fodder, written by an imposter or a hack or a huckster to control the masses.  Some people think you’re amazing and others think you’re full of it.  That is.. if you even exist in the first place and if you wrote this and not one of your devotees who wanted to create homage.

Bookstores, libraries, homes, glove boxes, pockets, coffee mugs, oven mitts, inspirational posters, and iPhones — all of them contain, in part, your very words.  Even your customary  salutations and sign-offs.

“Have you read so and so’s word in the letter to…?”

“Read?  Ha!  I wrote it!”  (But did I even bother to proofread it?)

After the initial shock wore off, which doesn’t take long because, after all, you’re accustomed to traveling through time, you start to read commentaries on your letters.  Some guy named Karl thought you meant something, but that’s not quite how you remember it.  Calvin has already decided what you said, not that you could’ve said any different.  And Rob Bell’s take on your stuff does what he does to everyone: makes your eyebrow raise (for a variety of reasons).

I’m pretending, I know.  We’re pretending together!  We’re pretending that the Apostle Paul, a.k.a. Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a. Marty McFly, has traveled through time to our present day and has beheld our New Testament canon.  No doubt this little puppet show has its flaws, most obviously being the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  And yes, Paul did write these letters for an audience, often a church, and intended them to move along from place to place.  He was a broadcaster and a blogger without the technology we know today.  If he had a YouTube channel, his backdrop would be a very real looking prison wall, and the chains on him would be so good you’d swear they weren’t CGI.  Most noticeable would be his tenacity, the grizzled look in his eyes, the telltale marks of a bruised martyr to be.  In a sea of endless talking heads, there’s something real about this guy, like he’s seen something or knows something we don’t but can, according to him.  And he doesn’t talk about himself, but he talks about Jesus all the time.  It’s like a never-ending story with him.  He’s almost a fanatic.  And the weirdest thing is that if he’d just shut his mouth he’d probably live the rest of his life a free man.  Prison to prison, beating after beating, a shipwreck or two… give it up, man!  Go back to tent making videos!  His walkthrough of interlocking skins to canvas has a bunch of thumbs up.  The interweb loves handmade, organic, indigenous, buying local, and all that.

It’s like something bit this guy.  A venomous spider or a fire ant or a praying mantis.  The last one makes the least and the most sense.

Colossians is one of those letters bound and distributed by the millions and around the globe.  My guess is that Paul would be a bit surprised, maybe, at the reach of his letters, but for him to take credit or enjoy the fame would be very uncharacteristic of him.  Instead he would drop to his knees and shout “See!?!  It’s Jesus!  What else could it be but Him?”

Paul is like Jesus in that he’s either out of his mind or spot on, or maybe some kinda halfzies where we have to pick and choose which one is true and which one is to be politely ignored.  Hard to do that with Paul.  Very hard to do that with Jesus.  They were, shall we say, committed to the end.  The Jesus ending we know well because we celebrate it every Good Friday.  It turns out to be an ironic setup for His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  Paul died the gruesome death of the faithful, too, but we see it differently than we do the death of Christ. In fact, it’s because of Jesus Christ that we interpret the death of Paul in a completely different light.  That tradition carries on today whenever a follower of Christ dies.  Dead?   No.   But that’s mysterious and glorious and complicated and simple.

Paul’s words have been preserved, not because we believe he himself wrote them but because we believe the Holy Spirit wrote through him.  It’s Paul’s handwriting and personality, but the words themselves are from God. The Church Fathers debated widely about this — we call these argument gatherings “councils” — and after much, much, much, we have the canon of the Bible: 66 books that are inspired and preserved for the edification of believers.  Paul’s letters are in there.  Not just his, but a fairly massive portion of the New Testament has his name on it.  In fact, one section, written by a guy named Luke, tells the story of how Paul came to be a follower of Jesus.  It’s surreal.

Though the human author Paul isn’t with us when we read, limited primary by the lack of time machine, the Spiritual author is with us: the Holy Spirit.  Third member of the Holy Trinity, the Breath of God, part of the blessed Three in One.  The Spirit who inspired these words is the same Spirit who is sitting with us, near us, in us.

Colossians is a letter written to a church.  And we, the church, read it as such.  Though we are not the initial recipients, we still receive this Word as authoritative, clear, instructional, and living.

We’ll start by simply saying that “the Colossians” are people who were part of a church plant in the city of Colosse…

 

 

 

 

Posted in Colossians | Tagged | Leave a comment

Bike Ride

“Let’s go on a bike ride, dad.  Maybe you should take our picture while we’re riding.”

Done, lad.  Done.  ‘Twas a good trip.

At this stage we usually go 3-5 miles.  I can see the day in the future where he can easily do a 15-20 mile ride with me.

He’s starting to ask about riding as far as we can (!) which is super exciting 50% of the time and then somewhat arduous the other 50%.  Portage, MI has a bunch of linear trails which means a circuitous trip is doable but not as safe for the younger riders.  We’re getting good at me pulling him, though it requires a bit of stunt work.  I don’t know if it’s genetics or metaphysical or what, but a dad’s arm holding on to anything, even objects in motion, makes everything safe for the kids.  As a father, I live by and rely on this universal principle.

What’s nice is this: some of our bike trips take us past drinking fountains.  It can get thirsty out there.  He once asked if we could drink the water from the Kalamazoo river.  I told him no, like the draconian overlord I am.  This is as unwelcome as our ridiculous parental guideline about helmets.  He said “for my next trick, I will do this next stretch without my helmet.”  That’s not a trick.  That’s how we did it in the ’80s.  We saw seat belts as optional second-hand smoke as unavoidable.  We rode in the back of pickup trucks and held on tight, sometimes with the tailgate shut.  Anyway, keep your helmet on.  I have to wonder what his generation is doing today that we’ll shudder at in 20 years.  Football and cell phones come to mind.

Meh.  Why worry?  Who, by worrying, can add a single hour to the day?  Live in the now.  Enjoy the season.  Ride on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family | 3 Comments

The Unicorn and the Butcher

My dad came out to spend a few days with us which was downright fantastic and pretty cool.  Most of the time was filled with the common weekend stuff — family whatnot, some schoolwork (on a Saturday, no less) and an evening around a backyard campfire.  At one point Emily sent the boys to get some groceries from Meijer.  “The boys” include me, our sons, and my dad, affectionately known as Oompah to Mac and Zac.  Oompah is an honest attempt to pronounce Grandpa by a wee toddler, circa 2007.  It has since stuck and sticks well.  The nod to Gene Wilder and his orange staff is not unnoticed.

Anyway, we went to get some groceries from Meijer.  If you’re not familiar, Meijer is a Michigan-based chain of superstores that sells pretty much everything from housewares to food, clothes and even fine cutlery.  It’s a one stop shop.  Some Michiganders call it Meijer’s because 1) it was started by a guy named Fred Meijer and 2) we pluralize everything like this: Ford’s, Kroger’s, Penney’s, GM’s, Burger King’s, Taco Bell’s, and the seldom heard Taco’s bell.

We made an obligatory stop in the Halloween department, what with it already being September and the pre-Valentines sale already in progress the next aisle over.  They’re coming up with some rather creative costumes for kids of all ages, which means that juvenile boys who laugh at fart jokes are especially drawn to the absurdity of costume.  My boys tried every mask on and really explored the space.  A giant Trump face?  It fits and goes well with an on the spot monologue about twitter and walls.  A Hillary mask?  Sure thing — along with a sales pitch for her tell-all book.  And then they found the horse heads.

The horse head masks have been around for a few years but this was the first year that the boys noticed and engaged.  And engage they did.  Man, those things are creepy (the masks).  A long brown face that terminates with unavoidable protruding teeth, peep holes are hidden within the horse’s bowling ball eyes, and a flared snout that muffles the voice of the user.  Sounds cute, right?  If so, I did a terrible job of describing it.  It is odd and unsettling, like when they sell sushi at a gas station.

The horse mask was topped only by the overwhelming presence of the unicorn mask.  Similar shape and feel, but a different color scheme: the unicorn mask is white and features the single ring toss ready horn (perhaps horseshoes) and the eerie affectations of a mythical beast head, animated atop an innocent kid’s torso.  It was pretty funny. We laughed a lot.  Dad giggled his Bobby giggle — if you’ve heard it, you know — a hearty, almost stratospheric laugh.  Joy flowed.

Then Mac had an idea.  He said “Hey dad, let’s go over to the meat counter where the butcher guy hands out meat” and I thought “sure, what could go wrong?”  I often think this thought right before things go wrong.

First off, let me say that one of the best ways to draw a lot of undue attention to your family in a store is to have one of the kids don a plastic halloween costume horse head.  I asked him to take it off as we walked through the home improvement aisles, again by the dairy, and yet again by our grocer’s freezer.  People looked at us for a long time.  Children were intrigued.  Children were frightened.  Parents watched like hawks.  The chill parents with tats were like “Hey, Zelda — check out the horsey!” to their kid, while the soccer moms were less than thrilled overall.  Pretty standard generalizations, I know, but it all came to the surface again with horsey.

11 year old Mac finally made it to the butcher counter.  The butcher, hesitation in his voice, said to my son the unicorn “can I… help you?”  And MacUnicorn said “Yes, do you have any fresh unicorn meat?”  Note that he asks for fresh unicorn meat, which implies that unicorn meat is a typical thing and that the fresh stuff is really what you’d want for stew, the grill, magical incantations, etc.  The butcher, calm and overtly patient said “no, we do not have any unicorn meat.”  Mac, never one to abandon a potentially workable bit, pressed on: “do you think you’ll get any soon?”  Butcher: “No.”  Mac: “Do you know where I can get some fresh unicorn meat?”

At this point, I should tell you a couple of things that were running through my head.  First, I was really entertained by my son.  Part of this may have been my idea, especially the part about asking for fresh unicorn meat.  But I was unprepared as a parent and a writer for his persistence beyond the reasonable sustainabilty of his audience.  Our butcher was not impressed, partly because he knew he was on the wrong end of a prank and partly because meat cutting is (evidently) nothing to be mocked.  Butchers are national heroes.  When it comes to what part, precisely, it is that we’re eating, we can only take their word for it.  Remember this the next time you go to Outback Steakhouse.

But back to the meat counter, where MacUnicorn was truly oblivious to the growing frustration of his target.  Mac asked his closing question: “Well… do you know where I can get unicorn meat around here?”  And the butcher showed why he’s a national treasure.  Without missing a beat, he said in a gruff voice “Wal-Mart.”  And that, my friends, is a very funny butcher.  Kudos, my meat-cutting friend.  Kudos.

Dad and I laughed.  It was a moment of sheer delight and embarrassment.

On the way out of the store, I overheard the greeters at the door saying “you get all kinds in here…” and I felt a sense of pride.  It was my family — my children — who fueled an evening conversation at someone’s house that began with “how was your day?” where the butcher tells his poor wife that some kid came in and asked for Unicorn Meat, and how dumb it was.  Or maybe… maybe he was worried.  Maybe he called his butcher mentor and said “they know…”

The next day I saw someone in the lobby and they said “Pastor Adam, I don’t know if you recognized us, but we’re new to the church and we were at Meijer yesterday and saw your son…” and I was like “please come back next Sunday.”

Either way, a fun time and a good family memory.  I wanted to save it here on RadBlog.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

Posted in Family | 1 Comment

I am the Mario Generation

Our 8 year old Zac and I spend a few minutes each morning playing Super Mario World. I’ve had this particular SNES deck since high school, played it regularly in college — more than a few classes were missed because of Kirby’s Avalanche — and now my son and I bond over Mario.  If you’re wondering, it is indeed Zac who plays Mario and I Luigi.  As it turns out, I like Luigi over Mario 10 to 1.  Mario is a facade propped up by Luigi.  But nothing more to say on that right now.

A discernable refresh rate on our ancient lo-def TV

Here’s my favorite part of our 10 minute arcade escapade before school this morning.  Zac said “Dad, I like playing Nintendo with you because we bond over Mario.”  I said “Thanks, buddy!.”  He said “You grew up in the Mario generation.  I like that, Dad.”

What a good kid.  Dads: play old school Nintendo with your children.  You and I are, after all, the Mario generation.

Posted in Child of the 80's, Family | Leave a comment

September 11 — In Context

In his book The Younger Evangelicals, worship theologian and professor Robert Webber writes:

The younger evangelicals are marked in a very special way  by the events of September 11, 2001.  They know that the world will never be the same, that the ideals of prosperity and the hopes of a pre-September 11 world of peace will never happen.  The rise of terror by militant fundamentalists is marking their world and creating an ideological battle of religions.  Life will be marked by issues of peace and war, a new form of American patriotism, a wave of conservative political philosophy, and a more disciplined life.  This cultural setting is radically different than the cultural setting of the post-World War II generation, which was resolved to rebuild their world, and of the post-sixties generation, which was bent on breaking from the past and asserting their freedom to reinvent ethics, religion, and the church.

The postmodern September 11, 2001 world has led to the recovery of the biblical understanding of human nature.  The language of sin, evil, evildoers, and a reaffirmation of the deceit and wickedness of the human heart has once again emerged in our common vocabulary…

The  younger evangelical approaches humanity with a more realistic and biblical assessment of our estrangement from God.

Though Webber wrote these words just several months after the attacks, his voice has a tinge of the prophetic to it.  9/11 happened, yes, and it just so happened to be a critical turning point for what he calls the Younger Evangelicals.  According to his taxonomy, I fit into this category as a rare GenX/GenY line straddler.  We are the ones who were fresh to the launch pad of career (the final years of high school/college and the first full time jobs) when this happened.  It is a touchpoint of specific meaning for people who are now in their 30’s.  We had hoped it will be the last drastic terror attack.  It wasn’t.  It’s still going on globally.  But what about how this generation identifies in the church?  Webber continues:

The younger evangelicals freely acknowledge that they differ with the pragmatist’s approach to ministry. [They are] not attracted to “showy worship and things that please my felt needs.”

Fascinating.  My “felt needs” seems pretty shallow given the injustice and evil of the world.  The needs are, sadly, more obvious than ever! I don’t think Webber is saying 9/11 caused this transition, but he certainly pinpoints the event that forced (or perhaps enabled) a paradigm shift that has considerable reach into our spiritual lives.  The terror attacks became a tangible and universal expression of the kind of devastation sin brings to the world.  Thanks be to God for His coming Kingdom, btw.

Today we observe the 16th September 11th since the first one of major significance.  We can count on two things. First, the world is broken and sin has twisted everyone and everything.  Second, Jesus is the King of a Kingdom that reaches and renews the broken world.  Implication: this is the time to be the church, especially in a Post-9/11 world that knows evil incarnate in every memory of the planes, the jumping, the collapsing towers.  This breaks the heart of the Father.  He will not leave us in this situation forever.  There is hope that affects us now: the Kingdom of God is here.

Posted in Hot Topics, Worship Pastor Helpers | Leave a comment

Success & Horror Stories of Communication (COM211)

I’m preparing to teach COM-211 (Business & Professional Communication) at Cornerstone University. Right now I’m collecting stories from organizations where communication 1) went really well and it as a win or 2) things went really poorly and almost burned the place down. As you can imagine, there are more horror stories than there are success stories, which goes to show just how under-appreciated effective communication truly is! It’s like the engine in my car: I don’t really think about it until something goes wrong, yet, like organizational communication, it requires regular maintenance and intentional care.
Communication theorists Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson wrote an often-quoted (and really clunky) phrase: “One cannot not communicate.”

I’m excited to spend five weeks with a cohort of working adults as we help each other with the ever present and ever relevant topic of organizational communication. If you have any success (or horror) stories of miscommunication in the workplace that will help the class, please change some names to protect the innocent and share.

Posted in COM211 | Leave a comment

The Hospitality of God

Fall 2017 is here. Students are back in school, college football is back, the weather is making the slow turn toward Autumn and the trees are swapping their traditional green for an unpredictable mash of yellow, orange, brown, and firey red — an offset array magnified by the intense angle of the sun against a slate grey backdrop, where the clouds appear threatening but offer no more than an offsetting contrast.  Our eyes hurt as nature turns up the color knob to 11, a last hurrah before our section of earth succumbs to another ubiquitous white winter.
This is the time of year when people make the call to get back into a new rhythm that they once knew before June hit, back when the kids got up early and the evenings were jammed with homework and brushed teeth before 8pm and those classic Tuesday morning panics when you can’t find matching shoes — one shoe red with white stripes, the other black with grey shoelaces, both right foot.  Then it all slowed to a smooth wave when school switched to off.  We had our three months of reprieve, and now school’s back in session and undeniably better than ever.  We’re all one year older and one year wiser, yet it still takes time to adjust as we recall exactly how all this works and who goes where and when.  It can be overwhelming and a bit disorienting.  Thankfully the trees try to cheer us up with wild variety.  Some days are cloudy and warm, others are well lit and freezing. It looks warm but smells cold outside, and hoodies are the norm at even formal events.  Apple Cider — not apple juice — is the drink of the month, and pumpkin spice is the flavor of the season.
We get really feisty about flavors, don’t we?  You can tell quite a bit about a person by asking their opinion about black licorice.  They usually love it or hate it.  I’ve never met a person who puts themselves on the fence.  It’s the same with ice cream flavors.  Can you remember ever asking someone what flavor of ice cream they want and hearing them say “whatever”?  Me neither.   I’m not sure if Neapolitan brings us together or tears us apart. I’m the guy who only eats the vanilla third, leaving the chocolate and strawberry for those who might appreciate it.  And yes, they do have pumpkin spice ice cream.  I have a friend who doesn’t like mint flavored toothpaste, or any other kind of grownup flavor toothpaste, so he uses kids toothpaste.  His toothpaste has Elmo on it and comes out of the tube all sparkly and enchanted.  I’m no dentist but I think he’s got good teeth, better than mine, so I’m not one to judge.  I only bring this up because I wonder if he’d like Pumpkin Spice toothpaste.
If you started a new semester, welcome back.  If you were on vacation for the summer and you’re home now, welcome back.  If you’re jumping back into church, into rehearsals, into games, welcome back.  I welcome you back.  Pumpkin spice welcomes you back.
It feels good to be welcomed.  When someone offers a welcome, they ease all the tensions of the new.  When we hear the welcome, we know its okay for us to be there, for us to intrude on a turf we haven’t seen in a while… or maybe ever.  It’s an invitation to engage, to enter without reserve, to be at ease.  It clarifies that our presence is not a hassle but a delight.  Nobody likes to feel like an inconvenience, or, worse, to be unacknowledged.  We are wired for hospitality, both to give it and receive it.
God made us for hospitality.  According to dictionary.com, hospitality is “the friendly reception and treatment of guests and strangers… of treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.”   God is like this: friendly, warm, generous.  We are made in His image, which explains why we respond positively to hospitality and negatively to unfriendliness.  If you want to snub someone, you aren’t ‘hospitable toward them; you’re inconsiderate and dismissive, and hopefully they get the point.  I know you’re not like this, and neither am I, but I’m sure someone in history has used that tactic.  We were made in God’s image, but that image is tarnished by sin.  So now, instead of hospitality, we have a world that is mixed on the reception of fellow humans.  People can be trusted, but not always.  People are generally safe, but not everyone is a good guy.  I might let you into my house, but only after you pass a background check.  Our guard is up in our culture.  Too many bridges have been burned.  People are robbed, taken advantage of, killed.  Hospitality is usually kept under a thin shield that only lets the perceived non-threat into our world, and we into theirs.  It is a broken world where we, generally speaking, don’t trust each other all that much.  We teach our kids not to talk to strangers.  We keep our windows rolled up.  When someone knocks on the door, we peer out the window or peek through the peephole and make a judgement call as to whether we’ll open the door or not.  Hospitality is conditional; the welcome is offered under certain circumstance.  A few bad eggs have ruined it for everyone, and now we have to take our shoes off at the airport.  It shouldn’t be this way.
Just as we don’t fully trust people and they don’t fully trust us, at least when we’re strangers, we sometimes treat God with the same distance.  We’re not sure what He wants from us, so we keep the shields up.  Whether or not we’ll be welcome in His presence is unknown, and the risk is simply too great.  It’s easier to ignore the hospitality of God than it is to take the risk and enter in, just as it’s easier to not offer hospitality to Him.
Isaiah 40 describes a God of comfort, justice, forgiveness, and protection.   When God speaks to us, He speaks words of hospitality: generous, welcoming, warm. He knows that we’re made fragile by the brokenness around us and in us.  He  takes the gentle approach, giving us a moment to realize Him as Holy yet approachable. He simply says “come here, if you want, and find what you need” and “why not give your life to something bigger than yourself” and “I can give you a purpose, an eternity, and I can take care of the biggest problem you’ve got, which is sin.”
That’s no fun to talk about: our problem — biggest of them all — is sin.  Yet God says “your sins are paid for.”  What a strange thought. Why start there?  Seems like a soft yet confrontational opening.  Perhaps it needs to be.  God grabs our attention by speaking to our souls without sugarcoating it, somehow balancing grace and truth like a level scale.  In our brokenness we need the gentle touch, but we also need a frank diagnosis that got us into this mess.
Jesus Christ comes as the lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, as far as the east is from the west.  But He doesn’t do this without our being involved and owning up to the fact that we’ve sinned.  Rather, in His gentle, shepherd-like way. He calms us and corrects us both, making sure we don’t topple over a cliff edge or find ourselves in the jaws of the wolf.  It’s like He cares enough to protect us and push us.  Just like a good shepherd does.
It’s because of the hospitality of Jesus that we are welcomed into His presence.  At the same time, He looks for our hospitality as an open door to His presence.  He stands at the door, but He knocks and waits for us to say “come in!” with the same warmth and generosity He shows us.  Why would Jesus be so bold yet polite?  Grace & truth… comfort & conviction… health through holiness.  Freedom to choose, to love, to surrender.  If He forces His way in, we don’t have much choice but to surrender, do we?  He’s far more loving than that, and He respects His Imago Dei in us, the image which gives us the freedom He intended while also giving us the identity we lost in the fall.
God is hospitable.  Jesus welcomes us into His presence with open arms.  The Spirit moves in our hearts to say in return “come in…” and we find ourselves as sinners in the warm, gentle presence of the King.
This is amazing grace.
Will we welcome Him?  Will we welcome not only His presence but His Lordship?   Will we surrender to His hospitality?
Will we welcome the stranger?  Will we display the hospitality of God to the world, saying “He is here, He is here, and He is good, not wanting anyone to perish…”
That sounds both gentle and blunt, doesn’t it?  Just like Jesus.
Posted in Preaching, spiritual formation | Leave a comment