Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Small Piece of Heaven on Earth

Continuing with the theme of the spring, I'm going to relate this post to heaven.

Yes, tomorrow is the beginning of heaven on earth. You see, each year the weather starts to change (at least theoretically) and we get 162 glimpses of heaven on earth.

Because, let's face it, there's nowhere where the grass is greener or the sky is bluer than at a baseball game. The sights, the sounds and the smells are simply amazing.

Opening day is tomorrow. In anticipation of opening day, I'm going to make some predictions.

Let's start in the National League.

NL East Champs: Philadelphia Phillies - Honestly, I can't see how anyone picks against them. Adding Cliff Lee to a team that was already great? Yikes. Coming in second will be Atlanta, and they will most assuredly be in the hunt for the Wild Card, which I'll get to.

NL Central Champs: Cincinnati Reds - I have a lot of faith in this team. They should be solid again this year and they'll win a lot of games. I'm really excited to see Chapman get some more time on the field, taking over the place Rhodes had maintained.

NL West Champs: San Francisco Giants - Lincecum will lead this team through their division again. Coming in behind them will be Colorado.

NL Wild Card: This one's a toss-up between the Braves and the Rockies. For the purpose of picking someone, I'm going to pick the Braves, which means that the NL looks exactly the same in my 2011 predictions as the NL looked in 2010 at the end of the regular season.

So, there ya have it. The Giants and Phillies will meet in the NLCS where the Giants won't be able to match the Phillies 4-man playoff pitching rotation.

AL East Champs: Boston Red Sox - This absolutely pains me to write, but the additions they made (Gonzalez and Crawford), there is very little chance of them not making the playoffs this year. Their pitching staff is still money, and they took Carl Crawford from the Rays, therefore they weakened a division rival while strengthening their own roster. Great off season for the BoSox. Yankees and Rays won't exactly be the red-headed step-children in this race, but Boston will come out on top in 2011.

AL Central Champs: Minnesota Twins - Their team is pretty well intact (in the era of free agency), and they have a great chance to win their division. Lots of people are picking Chicago here but Mauer will lead his team to another division title. He's one of the top 3 players in the game right now, and he makes his whole team better. My vindictive side tells me that Pavano is going to get hurt this year, but that's probably just my bitter side talking.

AL West Champs: Oakland A's - I originally thought this was going to be a slam dunk for the Rangers to win again, but after doing a little more research, it wouldn't shock me at all to see the A's pick up the division this year after finishing at .500 last year. They made some good additions and Texas lost their ace in Cliff Lee.

AL Wild Card: New York Yankees - Originally I had Tampa Bay winning the Wild Card, but after doing a little reading, I'm not so sure. So, the Yankees, being my favorite team don't have to do a lot to convince me. Honestly, though, it would not shock me if the Yankees do not make the playoffs this year. They have an extremely weak pitching rotation, even IF A.J. Burnett makes a turnaround (and that's a really big if). Tampa, Chicago and Texas will all be in the hunt for the wild card.

In the playoffs, Boston beats Minnesota to win the ALCS.

This, naturally sets up a Boston vs Philly World Series, which means that the World Series Trophy will be back on the East Coast, where it belongs.

I refuse to pick the Red Sox to win the whole thing, Philly will win in 6.

All-in-all, I'm sure that I'm wrong. I hope that I'm wrong and the Yankees win the whole thing!

Love Wins - My Thoughts

After exploding the Christian Blog-world, Rob Bell’s newest book came out. I own and have read each of his previous 3 books. They were all good, not life-changing, but good.

I’ve seen most of the Nooma videos.

I want to say that I’m surprised with this latest turn for Rob Bell, but, quite frankly, I feel like President Bartlet when he found out that Toby was the leak.

He said that this sort of thing was “inevitable.”

In Velvet Elvis, Bell said that Christianity was like a trampoline; Jesus is like the mat, and theology is like the springs.

He said, not merely implied, but said that if you removed some springs, that was okay, Christianity would survive.

I think he was right, there are some springs on the trampoline of Christianity that can be removed or moved and Christianity, as a whole will be okay.

But, if you keep removing springs, you end up jumping on the ground, and the trampoline loses its effectiveness.

When discussing the “springs,” Bell mentioned specifically the Virgin Birth as one that could be removed. This was the start down a road that Evangelicals didn’t want to travel down.

Just as Bartlet said to Ziegler, this sort of thing was inevitable.

At some point, Bell, if you keep removing springs, then what you’re promoting will no longer be Christianity.

Now, having read the book, I can say that it’s not nearly as controversial as people thought it would be.

The basic concept is that heaven and hell are realities that you can experience here on Earth. And, if we’re going to be honest, that’s true, sort of.

Because, heaven and hell are realities based on your connection to God. So, in essence, when you’re connected to God, it’s like experiencing heaven on earth. Haven’t you ever been a part of a really great worship service and thought that you must have just experienced something of what heaven’s like?

For Bell, heaven is a great big, socially just, green movement.

Hell, then, is the opposite. It’s consumerist, not environmentally friendly, and void of social justice.

And so, we can agree that given those definitions of heaven and hell, we understand why there’s a possibility of heaven (or hell) on earth.

However, at that point, my support for the thoughts in Love Wins ends.

Bell treats the Holy Scriptures like an essay, written by a college professor. He rips quotations out of their context to say what he wants, and he cuts and pastes the Scripture portions that he does use. (This is the way we’d treat an essay, we’d cut and paste the quotations for our own essay)

In all of the books I’ve read, I’ve never seen someone do that to the Bible. It’s as if he’s saying, “here check out this quote I found in the Bible, but I’m going to remove something from the middle of it.”

We do not do that to the Bible.

That’s one of the most important lessons I learned in college, we use entire Scriptures to teach from, and it’s this insistence that we don’t just yank verses out of their context that helps us to stop from proof-texting and reading into the Bible things that we want it to say as opposed to what it actually says.

Rob Bell focuses on very small portions of Scripture that say what he wants it to say, and then breezes over and past great big chunks of Scripture that would really harm his viewpoint. (This is incredibly evident in Chapter 3, most notably pages 68-69)

His explanation of Lazarus and the Rich Man is extremely shallow and leaves much to be desired.

I suppose we should be grateful to Bell, he’s opened up dialogue. That’s essentially what we want to do. This new movement of Christians (or Christ-Followers), if nothing else, wants to know that we can talk about anything. And, they’re right. We should be able to talk about all parts of Christianity and approach with an open mind. That’s a good thing.

However, we need to guard our theology. We have to.

It wasn’t until page 110 that I really had a problem. Bell implies that Christianity is a story. And he says that the story that people have been telling, that many, many people are destined for eternal, conscious separation from God is not a good story.

You’re right, it’s not a good story. It’s not meant to be. It’s meant to point us to the good story. The story that we don’t have to be slaves to our sin.

The story that Christ is bigger than death. He’s bigger than our sin. He’s the mighty conqueror of the grave.

That is the good story.

And the end of that episode of The West Wing seems to play out, Bartlet says to Toby: “When you walk out of here, there'll be people out there, perhaps a great many, who'll think of you as a hero. I just don't for a moment want you thinking I'll be one of them.

To Rob Bell, I was on your team, but I’m not anymore. And there are a great many people who think this book has revolutionized the way Christians should think about heaven and hell and that you must be some sort of enlightened genius to have figured this out.

I’m not one of them.

I’m not angry with Bell and I won’t be protesting at Mars Hill. I’m just moving on, in my own way. And since this is my blog, I decided to post about it here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Power of God

I’ve been sitting at my computer tonight... thinking. I’ve been listening to worship music (loudly). And really just thinking about God.

To be honest, I’m overwhelmed.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.”

“You won’t relent until you have it all.”

“There’s nothing we want more.”

“The slightest hint of you brought me down to my knees.”

“Come be the fire inside of me, until You and I are one.”

“If his grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.”

When I think of God, sometimes I think I’m really missing it.

Do I really believe that God is that powerful?

Do I live my life like I’m a child of the Creator of the World?

I’m an heir to the throne of God!

Sometimes I feel like the writer of another song I heard tonight, that I’ve made God too small.

I wonder what my life looks like. Do I really trust God?

I don’t want to be the kind of Christian, the kind of pastor, who lives a fake-Christian life. Acting as if there are things God can’t do.

I want to live my life in full obedience of Him, and I want to claim his power for my own.

God, help me to live like I really do trust you. Like I believe that you can fulfill me in a way nobody else can. God, give me the grace to believe your word when it says that you can do anything.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

My Preaching Process

I wonder, sometimes audibly, if people ever wonder about the process that is preaching. What goes into a sermon? Where did you get that idea? Whose idea was it to sing this song?

If you’ll permit me, I’d like to offer a glimpse into my preaching process. On Sunday March 6, 2011, I preached at High Street Nazarene. The sermon was entitled, “rethinking: communion” and it was not created that week.

When you have lots of time between sermons, you do different things to prepare for them. My way is not meant to be viewed as “the right way.” I had months to prepare, and so it looks a little different from what someone who preaches every week (and sometimes twice a week) might look like.

So, without further delay, a behind the scenes look into “rethinking: communion.”

At our church’s Christmas Eve service, I was struck with an idea for what I thought could be an awesome sermon series someday. As I’ve said many times, advent is my favorite time of year. It should be no surprise that my idea that day centered around that. I was thinking about doing a 4-5 week series called, “Rethinking: Advent.”

But my brain began to work in a different direction, I realized that Advent may only be one thing that could be rethought in the Church today. What if we did a LONG sermon series just called Rethinking?

So, on the envelope to a Christmas card one of my teens had given me, I jotted down a list:

Rethinking: Advent
Rethinking: Christianity
Rethinking: Politics
Rethinking: Communion
Rethinking: Church

I basically filed the idea away in my brain (I still have the envelope. It’s in my work office, I’m writing from my home office). I thought I could use it at some point.

As a staff guy, you get asked to preach on a certain Sunday. My senior pastor asked me to preach a few months in advance.

So, I know a few months in advance that I’ll be preaching. It gives me a LOT of time to prepare.

When my wife and I moved, I got a chance to make a bonafide home-office. I love working in that office. I installed white boards on the walls, and I basically wrote the entire sermon on those boards.

I asked my pastor if I could serve communion as a part of the service. He told me I was allowed, and it was off to the races with my idea for Rethinking: Communion.

The message took shape on my white board over the next 4-5 weeks. This picture is a part of that process. I spend time in prayer preparing for the message, and used commentaries to refine the message (and make sure that I’m not saying anything incredibly stupid).

I typed out a manuscript, but I don’t preach from a manuscript. It just helps me to lay the ideas into a logical flow of thought.

Finally, I typed out a Sarah Palin-style crib note. I just don’t do it on my hand. I make a small sheet that fits on the cover of my Bible, and I print the entire Scripture I read on there, as well as a very skeletal outline of the sermon, just in case I get lost.

The manuscript and notes happened this week, sometime between Tuesday-Friday.

My final preparation happens the day before I preach. I think I’ve done this in one way or another every single time I’ve preached. The first time was actually at half-time of the Ohio State-Florida National Title game a few years ago, I was scheduled to preach in chapel at MVNU the next morning.

I take some time and I go into the place I’ll be preaching, and I run through the sermon. I tweak wording a little bit then, and check how long it’s taking.

Sometimes I have to go through it 4-5 times. Sometimes I just do it once. I ran through it once for this particular sermon.

Then I came home and picked out what I was going to wear on Sunday. Why take the time to pick out what I am going to wear? I’m honestly not that obsessed with the way I look, but on a Sunday morning when I’m going to preach, I don’t want to be concerned all morning with what I’m going to wear, so I try everything on the day before (pray that I don’t look like an idiot) and get it all put together for the next morning. That way when I get up I can be streamlined in my focus.

Well, that’s really it. Thanks for reading... as always, feel free to comment =)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Raindrops and Coffee

Central Ohio has seen gray clouds and drops of rain for the past 2 days.

It hasn’t stopped. It just keeps coming.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is not a monsoon, it’s not the second great flood or anything like that.

It’s just... rain.

And I wish it would stop.

I was drinking a cup of coffee this morning, thinking about the rain. And I stepped outside to check out what our backyard looked like.

It looks like it’s in transition. As if, the rain is just temporary.

And, if we think about it, the rain is always temporary. Yesterday, I was talking on the phone to one of the our church’s retired pastors. We were making small talk about the rain, and he said, “Yeah, without the rain we won’t get any flowers.”

He’s right.

Sometimes the rain just seems to pour down on us for days. Sometimes it feels like the reality of the rain is all we can remember.

I realize that I’m slightly melodramatic, but on the second or third day of rain, I forget what the world looks like as the sun shines on it.

The rain becomes my reality.

But the great thing about being a Christian is that we have a God who can see past the storm. We have a Father whose reality isn’t the rain. We have a Savior who weathered the ultimate storm.

And that brings me hope. So, even on day two of this rain, even though I can’t remember what my backyard looks like as the sun shines on it, we need the rain to see the flowers.

So, send the rain.