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!

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Expanding the Kingdom Through Emmaus

I’ve written previously about my amazing Emmaus experience, which was only about a year ago now…how time has flown….

Last weekend, I had the chance to introduce another brother to this experience, when I sponsored my friend Tim from church on his own Emmaus walk. It did my heart such good to see another heart opened to Christ in a whole new way; in so many ways, even just as a sponsor, I felt like I was walking again with Tim at his closing worship.

It’s led me to reflect on the growth I’ve enjoyed over the past year. Before my walk, I knew Christ was after my heart, not just my mind; since then, I’ve seen it over and over, how absolutely central the heart is to Christ’s kingdom. I’ve started teaching a Sunday school class for adults seeking their first steps in a deeper connection with Jesus, and I know I’d never have done that if I hadn’t had this experience of his love last spring.

The point of an Emmaus weekend is not only to grow in one’s own appreciation of God’s love, and to experience him in perhaps an entirely new and fresh way, but also to create disciples: people willing, or even on fire, who will go back to their home churches and help make a difference. In that regard, I’m already seeing changes in me, and I pray I will in Tim as well. At the monthly Emmaus gathering that occurred while Tim was “on the mountain,” I put in my first teaming application, with an eye towards perhaps guiding other men through their weekend this fall: something else I’d never have thought of before.

Who knows what the next set of Fourth Days will bring? Jesus does, and I look forward to seeing what he has in mind for me!

If you’re interested in taking your own walk with our local chapter of Emmaus, let me know!

New Year, New Opportunities!

I love the cartoon that shows someone making a list of New Year’s resolutions: “1. Gain weight. 2. Keep smoking. 3. Make lists. 4. Set reasonable goals.” I think that person went 4-for-4!

Already in 2017 I’ll have a couple of new opportunities to help bring about the Kingdom, and I’m looking forward to them. This weekend I’ll start teaching a new class at our church, intended for young adults who are either new to the church or who are reengaging with church after awhile. Called “Navigators,” it’ll be a chance for folks to explore Christianity–not a Christianity 101 class, but more of a 102 or maybe a 151 class, basic enough to make sure no one’s overwhelmed but engaged enough with where people are in their walk to make sure we’re covering what’s relevant. Sunday mornings at 9:45…come on by!

The other happens the following weekend: I’m fortunate to be able to have my daughter and my godson both walk at Chrysalis weekend C-94. As you may recall, in the spring I took part in an Emmaus weekend; Chrysalis is the teen version. I’ve been getting more and more excited for them as it draws near: I remember the incredible power of the weekend in revealing God’s love and in the work his Spirit still can do through me, and I’m praying they’ll be able to enjoy it similarly. Stay tuned!

But in the end, this is what a new year needs to look like: new opportunities to engage with Jesus, to be open to where he may be leading in building his kingdom. I’ve never taught a class before; I’m nervous about it, but also looking forward to it. In the same way, I’m excited for the kids to walk and to have powerful experiences of Christ, and to strengthen themselves as part of the Kingdom.

How are you opening yourself to hearing where Jesus needs you this year? How are you making yourself available to the Spirit to build the kingdom here and now?

Kingdom Life and the 21st Century

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.” Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”

But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.” 

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” (Matthew 8:5-10)

This passage always used to puzzle me a little. Is Jesus saying that faith is blind obedience? Is Jesus saying that a hierarchical, military-style leadership is what the Kingdom of God is all about? I don’t think so. Jesus is teaching about life in the Kingdom, yes, and obedience, but it’s not the kind we’re thinking of. Jesus knows that the Kingdom has a hierarchy–God is on his throne, angels are there too (and even angels have hierarchies–see Daniel 10, how one angel needed to call on a superior one in a battle), but we’re neither God nor angels–we are distinct and, yes, lower creations. And it’s when we start to imagine ourselves as bigger than we really are, that we start to commit the sin of pride that Satan did before his fall.

There is a way things work. The Roman officer knew it. He knew his place: he knew he could command others, but equally, he knew he was subject to the commands of those above him. And he understood authority. If the superior officer says something will be done, then he and his men made it happen. Similarly, this soldier knew that if Jesus were to give the word, his servant would be healed even from afar, because he respected the authority of Jesus to get things done, and he knew angels and the forces of heaven would move to bring about Jesus’ will. That’s the reason Jesus is so thrilled: Here’s a guy who gets it!

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If we’re honest with ourselves, there’s something about this that rankles us. We come from a 21st century Western mindset, born of the Enlightenment, that holds that we’re all special and empowered. We have democracies, for pity’s sake, we don’t have kingdoms anymore! Unless you live in Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Oman, Qatar, or Swaziland, you have no idea what it’s like to live in a true kingdom. Don’t like your leaders? Vote ’em out!

The Kingdom of God doesn’t work that way. We have one true King, and we are all subjects of his authority. Yes, it feels alien to us, with our representative republics and, at least as Americans, our history of overthrowing kings. But it doesn’t make it any less true. If anything, it makes it a little but harder for the 21st century American to take to his knees before the King.