Thursday, April 26, 2012

Great job, kid! Lessons from the Stanley Cup!

This is my favorite time of the year. The Stanley Cup! When the cup was in Duluth one day while we lived there, the line to see it was several hours long. And, some of my southern friends--right now--are asking, "What's the Stanley Cup?" While some of my friends may disagree (if they like), the Stanley Cup is the greatest sport tradition in the world! OK, at least in North America. It was first awarded to the top amateur hockey team in Canada in 1893, and it has been awarded all but two years since, for the past 70 years to the National Hockey League (NHL) champion. 

You might ask, "What's so great about it?" Well, here are a few things. First, the same cup is used every year. The winning team keeps it for one year. Oh yeah, and each person on the team gets his name inscribed on the trophy. Second, there's a tradition in the presentation ceremony. I will never forget when Ray Borque was finally on a cup winning team. The captain of the Avalance, Joe Sakic, deferred his right to hoist the cup over his head for the first victory lap and let Borque skate first with the cup in honor of his many years of greatness in the league. I watched that ceremony on TV live. It was an unprecedented act of deference. Even if the visiting team wins, the fans stay for the presentation. It's that important to the hockey fans. Everyone wants to see the Cup presented. Third, there is the hand-shaking tradition. After each playoff game, both teams line up and shake hands. Some hug. Some give congratulatory words. 

This brings me to the point of this blog. Last night, after the Washington Capitols dispatched the defending champion Boston Bruins in overtime, Boston goalie Tim Thomas said to the Caps' goalie Braden Holtby, "Great job, kid." Tim Thomas is 38 years old, and voted the best goalie in the league more than once in his career. Holtby is 22 years old. This is his first season of significant playing time. Even this year, he spent much of the year in the minor league (AHL). It was an interesting moment. You could actually hear Thomas say, "great job, kid," in the camera microphone. There is a tradition of appreciation for great play in the NHL. There is the unexpected. But after pushing, fighting, and smashing each other up, the players line up, shake hands, congratulate the winners, and console the losers. It can actually be quite moving. It is a sincere act of honor and appreciation for the game of hockey and for each other as hockey players. 

Many of you are wondering where this is going. Well, here it is. Jesus said, "Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (NIV). If NHL players can appreciate, congratulate, and console the other team's players, even after a hard-fought seven-game playoff series, surely we could learn to appreciate, congratulate, and console each other in the church. Followers of Christ beat each other up (usually emotionally, psychological, and spiritually, rather than physically), insult each other, and leave brothers and sisters lying in the gutter. I'm sure this should not be so. So, even if we see things differently than others, let's say, "Great job, kid," to encourage the good qualities and hard work of others. Let's learn a lesson from Lord Stanley! (Lord Stanley is the person for whom the cup was named.)

Just thinking! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter clothes

I wonder how many of you bought new clothes for Easter. I know that many people do. Grandmas (and great-grandmas) always buy the grandchildren new clothes for Easter. It seems to be a time to put on new clothes. I happened to be reading Ephesians during Easter week, and ran across one of the passages where the apostle Paul tells his readers to take off the old and put on the new. Here is Ephesians 4:20-24 (see also Colossians 3) from The Voice

      But this is not the path of the Anointed One, which you have learned. If you have
      heard Jesus and have been taught by Him according to the truth that is in Him, then
      you know to take off your former way of life, your crumpled old self—that dark blot of a
      soul corrupted by deceitful desire and lust—to take a fresh breath and to let God renew
      your attitude and spirit. Then you are ready to put on your new self, modeled after the
      very likeness of God: truthful, righteous, and holy.

These texts have always fascinated me. Just like we change clothes each day, we are to take off the old and put on the new. In these texts, the object of taking off is a variety of unacceptable behaviors, such as lust, immorality, wicked thoughts, greed, slander, and the like. I dare say that we all have a few things worth taking off. And, what do we put on: love, peace, compassion, patience, and truthfulness. We take off the clothes of the old life and put on the new life in Christ. OK, there is the nice clean spiritual discussion of these verses. But what about the ugly, hard-to-discard, old clothes. 

As always, for me, this comes back to a song, and not surprisingly, a song by Randy Stonehill. He recorded a song in 1990 called "Old Clothes." Here are part of the lyrics. 



So often we wear the old clothes of hurt, anger, and frustration. Because we have moved on to a new place, those old clothes don't fit. In fact, we know that they don't fit, but we wear them anyway. Sara Groves spoke of this same phenomenon in her song, "Painting Pictures of Egypt."  The song includes these lyrics

      I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt, leaving out what it lacked 
      The future seems so hard and I want to go back 
      But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I"ve learned 
      And those roads closed off to me while my back was turned. 

We escape an old life that we longed to leave, but we hold onto the old clothes--the things that keep us from moving forward into the brave new world that God has for us.We cling to the old because it is comfortable, even if it is outdated, dirty, and full of holes. 

But sometimes, it becomes even worse. On the CD "Second Hand Clothing," Eli laments the clothes left behind by his father, found in an old box. These lyrics are painfully poignant to many people that I know: 
      I'm looking through a box my dad just sent me
      Filled with hand me downs and things he once wore
      He passed along his blessings and his curses
      But mainly scraps and nothing more ... no nothing more
      And I pray to God his shoes will never fit me
      And I pray this isn't my inheritance

      I've spent my lifetime dancing with his demons
      They're constantly comparing him with me
      They tell their lies as they look into my eyes and say
      The apple doesn't fall far from it's tree ... and I pray oh Lord not me

      Old man didn't gimme much more than second hand clothing
      But Jesus wants more for me than second hand clothing, second hand clothing

Our world--whether our former way of life, our addictions, our choices, our failures, others' failures, our parents' failures, or just the challenge of the present and the future--leaves us a lot of second-hand clothing. But, we don't have to wear them! That is the miracle of Easter, isn't it? Jesus said, "Not my will, but yours be done," then he died, and then he rose from the death. He threw off the grave clothes, and now we can wear new clothes. 

We can wear the new clothes of new life. The problem is that we often must peel off layers of the old clothes--layers of hurt, disappointment, abuse, pain, betrayal, and self-inflicted destruction. Let's make that our prayer this year. Let's live in our new resurrection lives. Let's leave behind the old, ragged, dirty clothes to wear the new clothes that Jesus has for us. Let's refuse to put the old clothes back on. Let's remember the pain, the stench, the suffering of the old clothes and leave them off, wearing the new clothes of Jesus instead. Will you join me? 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Our "Hypocrite Song"

Sometime in the 1990's, I ran across a singer named Paul Falzone. I loved his wit and poetry, as well as his gritty voice. I never heard from Paul Falzone again. However, a few years later, I heard a singer named Eli. He sounded a lot like Paul Falzone--mainly because he was Paul Falzone. He had taken Eli as his stage name. Why the history? Well, good question. But I was reading in Galatians 2 tonight and thought about an Eli song, called "Hypocrite Song."  The lyrics are worth reading. Here they are:

     I've been quick to point a finger, At things I find outrageous   
     Well, I wonder who I'll point at, When I read my life on pages 
     When I've played my final number, It really won't take long 
     To realize I sang a hypocrite song 

     I thank the Lord that there's a Heaven full of hypocrites like me 
     So tell the angels to get ready, Cuz it may not be too long 
     Until I come and sing my hypocrite song 

     I preach about redemption, As I look you in the face 
    Then I'm convinced I must be dyin', But it's just somethin' that I ate 
     But it's Jesus who gives mercy to make a weak man strong 
     So he can stand and sing his hypocrite song 
     (Repeat Chorus)

     I can't wait to see my Savior, and look Him in the face 
     Shake His hand and plainly thank Him for forgiving my mistakes 
     And for helping me remember, that even when I'm right I'm wrong, 
     Then we'll rejoice and sing this hypocrite song 
     (Repeat Chorus)
     (copyright 1999 by Eli, Forefront Records)

I never wanted to see myself in these lyrics, but I did. And, I guess that is why I thought of this song when I read Galatians 2 tonight. In Gal. 2:18, the apostle Paul wrote, “If I reconstruct something I have worked so hard to destroy, then I prove myself a sinner.” Apparently the apostle Peter had come to Antioch to visit his fellow apostle, Paul. Peter visited with Paul and the Christians in Antioch, many of whom were not of Jewish heritage, nor did they keep Jewish law after becoming Christian. Earlier, Peter, Paul, and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15 and Gal. 1) had agreed that Gentiles who became Christians did not have to become Jews to follow Christ, since salvation was not found through faith in Christ rather than following the Jewish laws. Peter freely moved within these Gentile circles, even eating in their homes--until some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived in Antioch. Now Peter had to decide who to offend--the Jews from Jerusalem or the Gentiles from Antioch. He chose to placate the Jewish Christians, who apparently believed that Christians still must maintain Jewish purity laws to faithfully follow Christ. Gal. 2 records Paul's rebuke of Peter for his hypocrisy. Unfortunately, I can see myself in Paul and Peter--depending upon what spot in my life you want to look at! 

Isn’t this all of our hypocrisy? OK, maybe I'm generalizing too much, and most Christians have no problem with this. I just haven't met them yet! We turn away from people God sent us to love. We rebuild walls as quickly as God tears them down. We celebrate our freedom in Christ only to enslave ourselves again to the rules. We lay down our heavy burdens in worship of our God, just to pick them right back up again. (This reminds me of a song by Jeni Varnadeau, "Why Would You Go Back?")

We are not much different than Peter. Who are the “Jews from Jerusalem” who cause us to display our hypocrisy?  What are the stones that you pick back up? Even more importantly, what are the stones that you cannot lay down at all? What blocks you from hearing from God? What blocks you from the life of obedience and fullness? Imagine a life without them!! Imagine a life of faithwalking! I am!