Check, please.

When it’s okay for someone to neuse-hang a mannequin in the likeness of Sarah Palin outside their house and its called free speech and freedom of expression, but it’s not okay for a police chaplain to say the name of Jesus in prayer, well…I’ll take a one-way ticket to anywhere but here. That’s how I’m feeling today.

Where do we go, where do we go now, where do we go?

These words, immortalized by your friend and mine, Axl Rose, speak perfectly the question in the mind of so many people, Jesus-followers notwithstanding. The question of what we refer to as “God’s Will” is something that can oft times be slippery to say the least.

But how do we discern it?

Let me tell you a story. The year was 1995, early 1995. I was rapidly approaching graduation from college and had (months earlier) given God a clear timeline that I expected Him to follow, as it pertains to getting me a job. I distinctly remember advising Him that He’d better get me a job by the time I graduated. “God, what are you still doing here?!? I thought I told you what I want–now go make it happen!” That was the attitude with which I approached Him. Bad move.

But God, I suppose, chose to humor me. Funny God. In fact, I had a solid interview weekend scheduled before spring break that year, just as I had ordered. “Good job, God. You can stick around.”

So, there I was on the Saturday afternoon of my weekend-long interview visit in the sweet little Americana town of Winchester, Virginia. Those who had invited me gave me a car to drive around and gave me a few hours for a self-guided tour of the town.

As I drove through the quiet town, I decided to turn on the radio. I kid you not, these were the first words that came through the speakers, sung by Rod Stewart:

“Leave Virginia alone, she’s not like you…and me…she’s not like you…and me…”

Spiritual Law #1: “God loves you and Rod Stewart has a wonderful plan for your life.”

As it turns out, I dismissed the words of Rod Stewart as silly coincidence and took the job anyway. More on that later….like never. I’ll just suffice it to say that the next 2 years were fairly rough ones. Maybe I should have given more heed to Spiritual Law #1. Especially the Rod Stewart part.

God’s will is a complicated thing–but that’s our fault. I’ve found that there are 2 parts to God’s will. The first part is His “everybody” will, and the second part is His “individual” will. Most people I’ve found give only a quick, passing glance to the everybody part and really get mucked up in the individual part. And therein lies the problem.

God’s will for you and me is only played out and seen through God’s will for everyone. As I live out God’s will for everyone, His will for me becomes clearer and clearer.

My birthday was last month. One of the gifts my kids gave me was a dinosaur dig. Not familiar with the concept? It’s an idea that is pure genius and the guy who thought of it is probably at the bank right now, cashing another check. Essentially, you take a box, put a bunch of plastic pieces of dinosaur bones in the box, and fill the rest with mud. The mud hardens into clay, you slap a label on it called “Dinosaur Excavation Kit” or something adventurous-sounding like that, and voila–order the Porsche.

So, as my kids and I were collectively digging for pieces of the dinosaur puzzle, I was reminded that the revelation of God’s will only comes when we dig. And digging is dirty.

I’ve got a friend who is living the dig right now. He’s essentially said to the staff he’s on, “I’m outta here.” But outta here to where? Not sure yet. He’s still digging. But you’ve got to admire the kind of faith that would cause someone to pick up a shovel and start digging, while not being quite sure of what will be unearthed.

But we often think God is in hiding–giggling to Himself in a closet somewhere; thrilled to death that He has successfully hidden from us and left us clueless…again. But God’s not like that. To stick with the hide-and-seek analogy, if God “hides” at all, it is the way that I hide when I play that game with my kids. I’ll be careful not to be TOO quiet, or I’ll cover my mouth and in a loud whisper say, “I’m over here!” No, God’s not interesting in frustrating us. He’s interested in creating a passion within us to find Him, follow Him, and delight ourselves in who He is.

If "Good fences make good neighbors", then explain this…

I’m not kidding.

This sign graces the front yard of one of our neighbors up the street.
I’m no real estate sales expert, but I’m pretty sure this is not how you sell a house. But it IS how you send a message to the next door neighbor.
We’ve heard bits and pieces about the story behind the sign, but the more pressing question is this: What kind of anger must one have in order to post a sign in your yard like this? And furthermore, what kind of disregard for other’s opinions must you also have? Because its clear that the person who posted this sign cares nothing about any of the other neighbors either.
On one hand, I’d love to know the details of how they got to this point, but on the other hand, I’m pretty sure it would just sadden me.
Just imagine leaving your house every morning and returning every evening with this sign as your greeting; a reminder of how unwelcome and unwanted you are. A reminder of exactly how the neighbors feel about you. A reminder that no matter what, some people just want to get as far away from you as possible.
It’s the antonym of the kind of person I want to be. You meet me, and boom–you’re accepted. You shake my hand, and bingo–you’re a friend. Give me a hug and we’re practically family.
The sign also screams unforgiveness. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could imagine the exchange between these two families that leads them to walking out to the curb together, pulling the sign out of the ground, and setting fire to it in celebration of their reconciliation. Somehow, I don’t think that’ll be happening anytime soon.
Jeremy Bentham, an 18th c. philosopher once said, “It is vain to talk of the interest of the community, without understanding what is the interest of the individual.”
We as a community are nothing more than a collection of individuals and families, right? And so it is that when one of our individuals/families is in turmoil, so are we all. I’m afraid that this sentiment has lost its place in the 21st c. American suburb. As I type this, I look up and out the window to see a mother riding her bike alongside of her two children. Another fit gentleman runs by, enjoying the sun and the warm air. A group of teens walk by laughing with each other. My neighborhood is a sweet slice of Americana.
Except that we all but ignore the house up the street that posted that sign. Because quite simply, it’s none of my business. That sign, representing that disagreement has nothing to do with me, except for the fact that its on my street and gives a foul taste of anyone who drives, bikes, or walks by and sees it.
Pope John Paul II said, “…A community needs a soul if it is to become a true home for human beings. You, the people must git it this soul.”
So, in light of the sign, what is our neighborhood soul’s response? If, in fact, our neighborhood has a soul, has a sense, has intuition and initiative, what is our answer to the raging fire of animosity between our neighbors? I suppose it would be quite different if it were a literal fire than merely a relational fire.
I once heard that if a woman is under attack and the attacker were attempting to rape her, she should not yell, “Rape!” but should instead yell “Fire!”, because no one wants to see rape happen. But who doesn’t want to see a fire?!?

One of my boys.

This is my oldest son Crews, in his halloween costume. He’s a glow-in-the-dark skeleton. At least that’s what the package said. But alas, he is neither in the dark, nor does the costume glow, even when it is.

Scary, you say? Fiendish? Ghoulish? Unfit for an 8 year old boy?

The second he saw this costume, he just loved it.

Softie that I am, I conceded. On one condition…

I told him that we’d hang a sign on his back:

“Don’t die without Jesus.”

That should do the trick.

Rock Band

The other night, the high school small group that I lead wanted to meet at one of the teen’s houses to play “Rock Band”. Not familiar with this game? Surely you jest. If you’re not kidding, click here. And hold on to your hat.

And as I was rockin’ the bass guitar, sitting (then standing) on the end of the bed, I started thinking.
With three other people also trying desperately to keep up with their own instructions on the screen, I found myself part of a beautiful (and loud) masterpiece of music.
Certainly I could launch into how the cacophony of sound we produced is likened to the preciousness of fellowship or spiritual community. It could be compared to how each of us, in our own way, strive to contribute our part in the song of life–or something like that. But instead of that, I’d rather go in a different direction.
I’d rather do some surmising, if I may. These students that I was rocking out with are my disciples, in a real sense. I am their pastor and “small group leader”, and so I am the one charged with their spiritual nurturing. The responsibility of their own growth rests squarely on their own shoulders, but I definitely feel the onus of modeling Jesus in front of them.
You may be asking, then what the heck I was doing participating in the make-believe rock concert in one of their bedrooms? How could I, as a small group leader, sanction such behavior? And not only sanction, but pick up a bass guitar and play my part with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimmy Eat World, Styx, or Joan Jett? Where is the spiritual value in any of that mess? It’s a fair question.
And I suppose the answer is found in the reality of the hyperstatic union. That is, that Jesus’ disciples saw him both walk on water as well as burp after a meal. They saw him raise the dead as well as take a nap. And so certainly it isn’t right to think that discipling happens only when we are somber, or stoic, straight-faced, or studious. Discipling happens at every turn. And believe me, that can be a blessing and a curse. Because I’m not only a small group leader, and a pastor, but I’m a human being as well. And as such, fallible. Really fallible.
But I suppose that even though I’m not on the level (yet) of Jesus’ perfection, I still have a life to offer as an example of one seeking to walk where He walks, to think what He thinks, to say what He says.
So, as I whaled on bass, I was mindful that connecting spiritually comes in lots of varieties. And that discipleship just might sometimes happen with my fist in the air.