Wait A Minute…*We* Win?

In all my celebrating about the Astros amazing World Series win (yes, I’m wearing my “World Series Champs 2017” Astros logo hat even as I write this, why do you ask?), I’ve noticed something about the conversations people have with me, and I think it betrays a little something about how readily we get caught up in The World instead of The Kingdom.

I’ve lost track of how many times I heard some variation of the following addressed to me, since Game 7:

  • “Congratulations on your win!”
  • “You guys had a phenomenal team this year.”
  • “You should celebrate, you had a great Series!”

Notice anything? I’m being addressed as part of the collective “you” of “the Houston Astros,” as if I personally had anything to do with their win, was personally part of a phenomenal team, or personally had a great Series. I’ve had to catch myself often, instead of saying “Yeah, we had a great game,” I have to remember that “they” had a great game, and I got to watch. Sure, I’m a fan, and have been so for four decades. (Ugh.) But I have never had the privilege of being part of the Astros’ roster.

For years, smarter people than I have written about the science and the psychology behind fans’ identification with their teams. Fans of teams can become over-the-top exuberant when they win, or literally unable to go to work the next morning after a tough loss. It becomes part of some people’s identity as much as their nationality, their heritage, their…faith?

Huh.

See, there’s where I think The World is at play. By identifying so closely with a team that we address each other as if we were actually part of the squad, we do two things wrong. First, we run a risk of placing something ahead of God. And I’m not just talking about skipping church to watch the Big Game (like the Simpsons did). If I put my hopes in a baseball team, and the quality of my next day or days depends on the outcome of a game…then I’ve lost sight of God.

Second, by allowing or encouraging the notion that somehow I was part of the reason the team won, then I ascribe to myself a role I just didn’t have. (I certainly didn’t hit the double, three pitches in to the start of Game 7, that started the win for the Astros. Pretty sure that was George Springer.) When I do that, I forget about the gifts and graces God has uniquely given me, and I try to lay claim to ones that I most assuredly don’t have. God gave the men of the Astros–and yes, the Dodgers–some amazing skills, to be sure. And I honor that. But he also blessed me with some pretty cool ones, ones they may not have. I should be celebrating my own gifts and my own blessings from God, instead of trying to lay claim, even vicariously, to those of others.

This might seem a little “out there.” So please understand, I’m in no way saying that we shouldn’t be fans of a sports team if we’re to be Christians. Don’t get me wrong. Instead, what I’m trying to say is, we need to keep perspective in all our dealings with The World, so that we don’t get lulled or drawn into it, even by something as innocuous as the language we use to describe a World Series win. The Tempter would like nothing more than for us to puff ourselves up falsely, to lay claim to something that isn’t ours, so that we lose sight of the claim that really is ours–the claim on eternal life by staying rooted in Christ.

Because when it comes right down to it, the only “we win” we can claim is the biggest win of all–victory over the grave. And that’s worth keeping in front of us, even after a great Astros victory.

We Win!

Yes, yes, I know, this is a blog about exploring the path to and with Christ. But hang with me a sec, I have to take a detour here into something else I’ve had most of my life: my passion for the Houston Astros.

Game Seven of the 2017 World Series wasn’t the back-and-forth absolute gem that Game Five was. Nor was it the pitching duel of Game Four, the one Mary and I had the chance to attend (pic above is the view from our seats!). But in the end, for the first time in their 56 year history, the Astros shed their Disastros, their Last-ros, their baggage of all their horrible seasons and stood atop Major League Baseball as World Series Champions. And it was a marvelous, amazing feeling that in some ways I’m still getting used to.

I remember all the letdowns over the years, all the close-but-no-cigar games where playoff victory could have been ours. The long rivalries with the Braves, the Cardinals, and yes, the Dodgers that ended so many times in disappointment, were now all swept away. Being a longtime Astros fan is to know what heartache means. And still we had faith. And still we root for our Astros, hoping that one day we will know what victory feels like.

I came to follow the Astros when I was 8, the year my dad was reassigned to Texas for a year, the year I began discovering this thing called baseball, and your choices were the Astros or the Rangers, and the Rangers stunk even worse. And I stayed with them the rest of my childhood, into teen years–my first MLB game was when my dad took me up the road to Montreal when the Astros were in town. In fact, until only about 10 years ago I’d never been to an Astros home game–I was always watching them on the road, being the only one in the park with Astros gear on.

The first time I walked into Minute Maid Park, I had a feeling like coming home for the first time. I was no longer the oddity, no longer the outcast–I was surrounded suddenly by tens of thousands of other Astros fans, all in their Astros gear. I had come home, I was with my people, and they were beautiful,

I had the same experience last weekend, bringing Mary there. Sometime around the sixth inning, I remember looking around Minute Maid Park and just taking it all in, and commenting to Mary, “I don’t know why this feels like home to me, but it just does.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we too are fans of a team we’ve only ever seen in road games. We’re often in the role of being the one oddity, the one who doesn’t fit in, because our hearts are already in the Kingdom. And one day, we too will walk into our home stadium, be surrounded by those who follow our team, and finally feel completely at home for the first time.

I can’t wait!

Go Astros!

Ever since I spent a year living in Texas (in third grade!), I have been a lifelong Houston Astros fan. I came to love their history of amazing pitching–J.R. Richard, Joe Niekro, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Roy Oswalt. And as only a true Astros fan can do, I came to know their penchant for the late-season fold, the never-fulfilled promise, the hundred-loss seasons as well. Not for nothing is the traditional Opening Day greeting of the Astros fan, “Wait ’til next year!”

I remember watching the deciding sixth game of the 2005 NLCS against the despised Cardinals, with my heart in my throat, scarcely able to watch for the final out. And then it came, joyous release, the win-and-in, and the ability for the first time in 44 years of baseball in Houston to say, “We have a World Series team!”

Of course, we all know what happened next: the sweep by the White Sox; the dismantlement of the team by trades, retirement, and yes, scandal; and the three hundred-loss seasons in the early part of this decade. It was a dark time for the Astros fan.

Last night’s victory over the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS was a sweet, sweet vindication of the wait and the loyalty. Once again, a young exciting team has the right to host a World Series. Once again, we will play the Dodgers, after years of torment at their hands in the 1980s. And once again, hope and joy reign.

And I’ll get to experience it firsthand. Next Saturday, Mary and I will be in the stands as the Astros host Game 4. Minute Maid will be on. Fire. And we’ll have the chance to be caught up in the joy, for as long as it lasts.

But it required faith, and perseverence, to get through the tough years. Just as it requires faith and perseverence to get through the tough years in a job, or a marriage, or anything else this world has to throw at us. Which is why I’ve said, being an Astros fan is a great introduction to Christianity: requiring y-e-a-r-s of love in the face of bitter disappointment.

I’m so excited to be a part of the Astros’ journey…and Christ’s. So let’s go Stros!

Getting Fearless!

This past weekend was amazing, as I (finally!) got to welcome my bride into the Emmaus community!

I’ve previously written about my own walk, nearly 18 months ago, and the joy of sponsoring others like my daughter and another brother in Christ. But with all due respect to them both, this was far more meaningful because it was Mary.

Mary has been coming to a deeper connection with Christ over the past year, and it’s been tremendous to watch. She had been really reticent about Emmaus, and was finally persuaded to go…but even up to the last, she still was cautious.

E182-Logo

I knew it had great potential to be a God-driven weekend when I woke up Thursday morning, when I was to take her to the mountain 10 hours later: my Bible app’s scripture of the day was the exact same scripture that my own Emmaus weekend was based on:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Right, right…you got this, Lord! I had a good feeling when at the social hour beforehand, Mary and her roommate started chatting immediately and looked like they were hitting it off. All weekend long, I kept them in prayer, that they would seek his will and follow his path.

But by Sunday? Wow. The “R,” Glenda, said, “These are not the same women you brought up here Thursday night,” and she was right. I have a glimpse of what the Transfiguration must have been like, because Mary’s face shone in a way I haven’t seen before. (And wearing a flower in her hair? Talk about a change!) She really, really had a chance to immerse in God’s love and it showed. She met new friends, and heard a lot that she’s still processing. But already I can see, this was all God’s work, and I know from personal experience, the best news is, it’s only just begun.

Thank you, dear Lord, for your grace. It moves in all of us, and sometimes, it moves with a mighty rush that leaves us blown away. I am so grateful for being able to share in this experience with Mary now, and for the wonderful worlds of possibilities it opens for us together. May we always walk in your steps, hearing that voice calling “Follow me.”

A Path of Discernment

I’ve been sharing with you a little of my life and walk. I want to start a conversation that I think will run a lot longer, over the course of several weeks or months or who knows, even years, so up front I ask your forbearance, since I don’t know where this will go.

I have taught, and written, on the idea that into every life, God will issue a call. Through his grace, he will call each of us. All are given the most elementary call: come home, turn back to me, come back. And those who heed that call, find Jesus and find even more grace as they grow. Some of those, he will call into service–and I absolutely love the stories of people helping Texas recover from Hurricane Harvey. Some he will call into teaching, some he will call into counseling.

And some, yes, he will call into ordained ministry.

I find myself over the past weeks and months sensing a different kind of call for me: that Jesus has something else in mind than I’ve been doing for the past 25 years–heck, for the past nearly 50. But I am still very, very, very unsure as to what that new call is. I’ve talked a little with my wife, and she’s been gracious enough to say that if it’s a call into ministry, then she’s in, and I need to heed it. It’s very possible it’s a call to just “go deeper,” to turn more and more of myself and my world over to Christ, to become more like those giants in Christ that I see around me. And that would be fine. But I also cannot shake entirely the sense that it could be “the” call. My own pastor says he senses me being called into something, but he doesn’t know what it is.

I’m very uncomfortable not knowing. I’m the kind of guy who likes certainty, and so if there were a burning bush, I could handle that. Listening for the faint whispers…that’s hard, and I’m probably not very good at it. At least I fear I’m not.

With your indulgence, I will try periodically–maybe not every post–to explore where I am and what I am able to discern is happening. I have absolutely no idea where this will end up. But come along…this could be a fascinating ride.

One Tumultuous July

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)

Can I just share a little of what my July was like? In the space of the previous month, here’s what I’ve faced (in no particular order):

  • My mother’s sudden hospitalization for a kidney infection, with the attendant disruption to our everyday lives of being at the hospital frequently (she’s better now, thanks be);
  • The unexpected death of a coworker, who in the space of a weekend had an accident around the home and lapsed into a coma from which she could not recover;
  • A longstanding friend’s mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, same as my mom; and if that wasn’t enough,
  • Her husband was taken to the ER with a mild heart attack;
  • The utterly unexpected firing of a longtime friend in very, very murky circumstances that leave me worried for what comes next;
  • My boss being taken ill with serious abdominal illness, hospitalized, and only gradually returning to work during a very hectic time at the office that I had to cover (on top of the above list); and
  • Another coworker’s father in law needing emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm (they caught it in time)

And that’s just within the span of July, all happening to people around me who are part of my love and my life–and who therefore affect me with all of these goings-on. It’s overwhelming! This is a pretty scary list!

hairoutAt times like these, we can hear some pretty horrible theology from people. Well-meaning people, to be sure, but still, what they tell us can ruin our understanding of God if we let it happen. Things like, “It was God’s will.” (God does not will us disease! Disease is an effect of the brokenness we brought into the world from our expulsion from Eden.) Or “God never gives you more than you can handle.” (No! If anything, the Bible tells us, it’s more like there is nothing we can’t handle WHEN WE GIVE IT OVER TO GOD, not when we try to take it all on ourselves!)

And yet through this month of madness, I haven’t crumbled, I haven’t curled up into a ball in the corner. I have endured, and I am absolutely, utterly, completely convinced it’s only my faith in the power of Jesus Christ that has kept me together. I have been strengthened, indeed I have become “more than conquerors” by being able to turn to Christ, by placing myself and each of these situations in his hands, and by trusting in him to help me through. There are certainly days this month when it most certainly did not feel like “overwhelming victory,” yet here I am: assaulted, assailed, buffeted, but not breaking in the force of the storm. For that, I can only give everlasting thanks to Christ.

Come on, August, do your worst. I’ve got backup.

“At The Heart of it All”

Sunday, I had the second set of chances to preach recently. This time, I was filling in for our pastor who was at annual conference, and I spoke on the heart–how absolutely essential it is for the Christian, and how we can protect out hearts. Take a listen, and then let me know what you think!

My last (known) upcoming preaching gig is on July 9 at Silverbrook UMC…come and listen!