My Body Mod

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/31/Tattoo_needle.jpgAt 42, I'm contemplating the statistical likelihood that I've already lived half my life.  The stereotypical male midlife crisis responses are threefold: affair, sports car, and earring.  Well, instead of cheating on my wife I'm adopting a baby with her.  And, because of said baby, instead of getting a convertible I'm converting to a minivan.

But the body modification choice seems to suit me.  Yet an earring is a little too out there for my taste.  So I'm going tattoo.  Maybe in my old age I'm getting frailer or loopy but since Amy has two (and I think they're really cool) I figure it would be neat for me to get one too.  I'll post a pic of what and where tomorrow.


Palm Sunday Sermon Transcript

http://www.preschool-plan-it.com/images/palm-sunday.jpgHere is a full transcript of my Palm Sunday sermon from yesterday.


MARCH 29, 2015

I did not grow up in the church.  So even though I have been a Christian for almost 25 years, the rhythms of the church calendar are still somewhat foreign to me.  But I think I get what Palm Sunday is supposed to be.  It’s the Sunday before Easter, when Jesus enters Jerusalem to kick off what Christians call “Holy Week.”  Palm Sunday is about this triumphant entry, and in fact what do you think of when you think of Palm Sunday service?  If you grew up in the church, you think of getting a long palm leaf and parading around the sanctuary announcing Jesus’ triumphant arrival. 

I want to take this morning’s sermon in a slightly different direction.  I want to focus not just on Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but also on what He chooses to focus on right after this triumphant entry.  Because I think this will give us another perspective on what Palm Sunday really means.  So let me read this morning’s Bible lesson, but let me keep reading past the triumphant entry part so we can see what Jesus says and does right after.

[read Mark 11:1-23]

Did you catch the structure of Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ actions after the triumphant entry?  Verse 11, he goes straight to the temple to scope things out.  Verses 12 to 14, he has this somewhat strange confrontation with a fig tree.  Verses 15-19, he’s back in the temple, this time wreaking havoc.  Verses 19-26, he’s back to talking about the fig tree.  Temple, fig tree, temple, fig tree.  When you see this kind of structure in Bible-era writing, you know the author is making a connection between two things.  So what is the connection between the temple and the fig tree?

Let me back up a second and provide some context.  The Gospel according to Mark is a dance between three main themes: calling and instructing disciples, winning the hearts of the people, and raising the ire of the religious leaders.  These three themes crescendo at the beginning of Holy Week: the disciples are eager to join Jesus in his triumph, the people are filled with worship, and the religious leaders are beside themselves with indignation.  The Book of Mark is just good drama: the disciples and the masses can’t believe they have found the Messiah, the religious leaders can’t believe a mere man is acting like the Messiah, and no one could’ve predicted how the thing ends even though Jesus foreshadowed it over and over again. 

But the ending of Holy Week is next week’s sermon.  So tune in then!  As for the beginning, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem with great fanfare, and you know this story.  His disciples obtain a colt for him, the masses spread leafy branches in front of him, and he parades into town to cries of “Hosanna,” which means “O save us.”

But there’s something off here.  The people are treating Jesus like a conquering ruler.  The leafy branch treatment is what generals would get when they came back from a military victory.  And, in case the people’s perspective isn’t clear from that, consider what they say.  Verse 10: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest.”  Translation: happy days are here again, because Jesus is taking us back to the glorious era of King David, when we were a free and triumphant nation with a conquering leader.

Only Jesus refuses to fit the part.  A military leader would come in on a horse, the symbol of war.  Jesus chooses a donkey colt, the symbol of peace.  You could stop right there and have a pretty good Palm Sunday sermon message: the triumphant entry of Jesus is not a brawny and conquering one, but one characterized by peace and humility.  That’s a good message. 

Except that for the rest of the chapter, Jesus doesn’t actually act very meek.  In fact, He’s pretty worked up.  A fig tree riles Him up.  And He gets downright violent in the temple.  What’s going on here?

Let’s start with the temple.  He goes straight from His donkey parade to the temple to check everything out.  He leaves without incident.  But when He comes back, all heck breaks loose.  He’s driving out people, turning over tables, and speaking fiery words.  What got Jesus so riled up?

More so than today, communal worship in a centralized place was important for people of faith.  The temple was where you came together as God’s people, to give your sacrifices and offer your praises and listen to God’s law.  It was a place designated for submitting oneself worshipfully to God’s authority.

What had happened over time was that people had set up tables where different animals could be purchased to be offered in worship to God.  Maybe some of these merchants were slimy, thinking they could make a buck off of people.  Maybe some merchants genuinely thought they were doing people a service by providing something they needed in a convenient and affordable way. 

Regardless of their motives, they had turned the temple into a place of transaction.  Not only their transactions, where they traded money for sacrificial items.  But they also turned worship into a transaction, whereby praising God was boiled down to rendering a burnt sacrifice to Him.

Even worse, where they set up shop crowded out the space on the temple grounds dedicated to non-Jews who wanted to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is why Jesus says what He says.  Verse 17: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.  But you have made it a robbers’ den.” 

The merchants were keeping God’s people from truly worshipping God, by turning the whole thing into a sacrifice transaction and by taking up the space for people from all the nations to come in the first place.  No wonder Jesus was so violent and upset.  The whole thing needed to be turned upside down.  Some people were treating worship like a transaction rather than a posture of submission and obedience.  And other people, from other nations, were being crowded out from being able to approach God altogether. 

Which brings us to Jesus’ encounter with the fig tree.  He’s hungry, He sees a fig tree in full bloom, He approaches it, He sees it has no fruit, and He curses it.  Seems a little petulant, no? 

But it’s meant to be a metaphor, which becomes clear when He explains things to His disciples, who ask Him about it later as they were passing by Jerusalem.  Leaves and fruit usually go hand in hand.  So when we see a tree in the distance and it is in full leaf, we assume it is bearing fruit.  A fig tree in full bloom but with no figs is not only useless, it’s deceptive. 

And so it was with the temple.  Bustling with attendees and activity, from afar you could look at it and say that worship of God was alive and well.  But look closer and you’d find people transacting with God rather than truly praising Him, and you’d find others longing to be part of the worshipping community but crowded out by useless activity. 

This is the conquest Jesus is seeking as He rides triumphantly into Jerusalem.  It is not the military leader defeating an outside enemy.  It is the Son of God trying to open the eyes of the people of God to their own spiritual fruitlessness.  What mountain do you think He is pointing to in Verse 23: “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.” 

Jerusalem, you may know is on a mountain, surrounded by mountains.  Jesus is not just saying that prayers of faith can move mountains, generically and metaphorically.  He’s also saying that prayers of faith can take a place like Jerusalem – where worship has been reduced to a mere transaction, where God’s people are crowding out other potential worshippers, where leafiness is abundant but fruitfulness is scarce – prayers of faith can take a place like that and throw it into the sea.

I’m not enough of a Bible scholar to understand what that means, whether the sea is meant to be place of rebirth or a place of judgment.  I fear it is the latter.  You can tell from this passage that Jesus is hacked off with what is happening at the temple.  What is happening there has gotten Him so worked up that He is cursing trees, driving people off temple grounds, and flipping over tables. 

You may picture Jesus on that donkey colt, calmly receiving the shouts of adoration.  But in the very next scene, He is anything but calm.  This is the beginning of Holy Week, and while we may be among the people singing “Hosanna,” let us not mistake what kind of salvation Jesus is really offering.  He is not redeeming us from some physical outside oppressor but rather from the spiritual waywardness of our own hearts and behaviors.

And so as you consider Jesus’ triumphant entry this Palm Sunday, and go with Him into the rest of Holy Week, I ask you to ask yourself the following three questions:

Number one: Am I bearing fruit or am I just trying to be leafy?  Leaves can be seen from afar and they suggest a healthy tree.  But God seeks fruit-bearers.

Number two: Am I crowding out people from worshipping God?  In our hustle and bustle, we can be doing all good things, and yet taking up space that could be made available for those on the outside to come in and join in worship of God.

Number three: Have I boiled God down to a mere transaction?  Do I consider worship to be about acts of sacrifice or offerings of obedience?  Recall the psalm that was read earlier this morning.  God doesn’t need our sacrifices.  He does desire our praise and devotion.  Call on him in the day of trouble; He will deliver you, and we will honor Him. 

I think that, as in Jesus’ days, there are a lot of people in this country that are playing church.  Looking all leafy from afar but up close no fruit.  Doing good stuff but crowding out others in the process.  Dealing with God in transactional terms instead of honoring Him by calling on Him in our day of trouble.

This week, Jesus is riding into Jerusalem for His triumphant entry.  He aims to be the One cherished in our hearts, in whom we take root and through whom we bear fruit.  Let us not be found leafy, crowding out others, transacting with God.  Let us be found offering our “Hosanna!” to the One who is honored not by burnt sacrifices but by calling on Him in our day of trouble.  Give Him room to be that God in Your life. 


Support Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia

https://ticketleap-media-master.s3.amazonaws.com/87ce9117-4e72-451e-8519-579cea00b5cb/hero.jpgI’m hoping you will consider supporting Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, which I’m on the board of, by attending and/or sponsoring our upcoming Sustainaball event on April 18.  See links below for more info.  It’s a really great event and a really great cause.  Hope you’ll join me in being part of it!


The Losing Battle

I haven't watched a lick of March Madness.  But I have watched some highlight reels from years past.  It's gripping drama: upsets, buzzer beaters, pandemonium. 

A lot of attention is devoted to the euphoria of hitting the game-winner, of advancing, of winning it all.  But there's also the agony of defeat: having a chance to win it and missing the shot, committing a costly turnover at an inopportune time, realizing your season (and, for most players, their playing career) is over in an instant.  The hurt of losing is more crushing than the high of winning, if that makes sense.

March Madness is kind of like life.  Sixty-three of the 64 teams in the tournament will end the tournament with a loss.  More than half of all shots taken will not go into the rim.  The vast majority of graduating seniors will see their playing days come to an end as soon as their last game's buzzer hits zero.  It's a cruel thing, that there's so much failure and so final an end to the magic of being on a winning team. 

But that's life.  We can be seduced, in this country and by the media we consume, to think that everything is winning and that the good times last forever.  But losing is part of life, too, and so are endings.  Wise is the person who is able to understand this.  My heart goes out to all the players who will be given this lesson very painfully this month, and hopefully they take that life lesson to heart.


In God We Trust

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51uLkSRVLEL._SL500_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg"Sovereignty" is a big church word that I don't often use on this blog.  (A quick search yields only six times where I used the word, out of 3,000+ posts.)  But the concept is a central one to my belief system, the notion that God is in charge and truly does know best.

A powerful example of faith in this belief is the late James Montgomery Boice, who passed away from cancer in 2000.  Here is an excerpt from his last sermon, in which he muses about God's sovereignty in light of his terminal illness (emphasis is mine):

If I were to reflect on what goes on theologically here, there are two things I would stress. One is the sovereignty of God. That’s not novel. We have talked about the sovereignty of God here forever. God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by. It’s not the answer that Harold Kushner gave in his book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. God does everything according to his will. We’ve always said that. 

But what I’ve been impressed with mostly is something in addition to that. It’s possible, isn’t it, to conceive of God as sovereign and yet indifferent? God’s in charge, but he doesn’t care. But it’s not that. God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything he does is good. And what Romans 12:1-2 says is that we have the opportunity by the renewal of our minds—that is, how we think about these things—actually to prove what God’s will is. And then it says, “His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Is that good, pleasing, and perfect to God? Yes, of course, but the point of it is that it’s good, pleasing, and perfect to us. If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good. So that’s the way we want to accept it and move forward, and who knows what God will do?
 God's sovereignty isn't cause for fatalism or recklessness or apathy, of course.   But it is a bedrock upon which to stand when life throws storms at you.  Think about it: even if you could change things, you wouldn't want to, because it would be less than the best that God has planned for you.

The process of adopting Asher has been, to put it mildly, tumultuous.  Unpredictable.  Heart-wrenching, at times.  Deflating and discouraging, a lot.  But, ultimately, we are in the hands of a God who is both in control and acting in our interests.  What a mighty truth to be rooted in.  I am still feeling shaky.  But at least I am aware of how close I am to solid.


A Just Economy

NCRC 2015 Annual Conference
Later this week my company will be sending someone to the 2015 annual conference of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which is entitled "Creating a Just Economy."  Here is a blurb from NCRC's event page:

This event is the largest national gathering of community non-profits, policymakers, government officials, small businesses, media, and academia–all focused on how together we can create a more just economic framework to improve the lives of American families, our workers, our older adults, our children and our environment, while strengthening global access to credit and capital.

Sounds like a good time to me!  Ping me if you're going to be there too.


Respectability Will Not Save Us

I simply must share this post by Stewart Coles, who is a friend of mine from my days at The Enterprise Center.  "Respectability Will Not Save Us" is a searingly personal narrative about the arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson.  Given that Amy and I are about to welcome baby Asher into our family, I am sensitized anew to the range of emotions our decent young African-American men face on a daily basis - fear, rage, shame, pride, defiance, exasperation.

Stewart has captured this maelstrom of feelings in a deeply powerful way.  I am extremely proud of my friend for what he is shared.  And I am extremely worried about how Asher will fare when he is the same age.