Cover Songs

     I love cover songs. I just discovered a cover of 99 Red Balloons (regionally by Nena) on Spotify by Sleeping at Last. I love how artists take the original lyrics of the song and makes them their own. Sometimes they change the tempo, sometimes they change the rhythm, sometimes the there is a key change, and other times they change the way the vocals are sung.Sometimes they do all of it.
     But when you hear a song covered by a new artist, you hear something that reminds you of the original artist, and yet you are compelled again to something that feels new. its the same song and yet it feels. Sometime has played it in a way that speaks to you in a new way. You are reintroduced to something great and inspiring and fun and deep.
      There is something that happens when we create something completely unique, but there is something else that happens when we recreate something. We mold it and bend it and shape it until it becomes less a part of the person who created it and more a part of us.
      One of my favorite passages in Deuteronomy comes just after the Ten Commandments. God charges his people to mark the commandments on their doorposts and to tie them to their hands. He even says bind them to your foreheads. My forehead? Really? I have never heard anyone fuss about not reading that verse literally. He tells his people to talk about the commandments. When? When you are walking and eating and when you lay down and when you get up. When? All the time.
But this isn’t because God wants us to be robots, speaking of nothing else. He want’s us to be cover songs. He wants these commands to be part of us like they are part of him. He says, “live these out so they become a part of you.” He wants the tempo and rhythm and key, and message to be lived out in our life.
     I think that we miss that all too often. We feel like God restricts us too much. Some of his notes are just too hard to play. But what he desires is for us to make his message our own. That we can live it in our context, in our way, with our unique intricacies and eccentricities. And when we  do, people will be reminded of the original artist but also compelled to something new. Its the same song, it just feels different.
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Yes, a pepper is a fruit. And this one gave me nightmares.

A few weeks ago my wife informed me that  we  were going to be eating healthier. I asked, “by we you just mean you right?” She indeed did not. And its for the best. That woman keeps me healthy.
Nonetheless I was making one of our newfound healthy receipies yesterday and it involves cutting a lot of vegetables. I say again, a lot of vegetables. We love peppers, and they are in this particular dish in plenty.
I should say I used to love peppers.
I had gone to the store earlier the week and hand picked these particular peppers (say that five times fast). I trusted their quality and looked foreword to experiencing their deliciousness.
Yet as I cut into this pepper and saw the seeds, what I discovered was mold all over the inside. I looked back at the outside, it looked perfect. When i was at the store it had seemed that graduation+021this would make a perfect addition to our dinner. But I couldn’t see the inside.
When I got the ingredients out to start making dinner I has only assumed this pepper would make it into the final product, but I hadn’t seen the inside.
The ancient Near east was not a desser in the first century, how many of us might imagine it today. It was filled with forestry, crops, fields, and fruit producing trees. When Jesus used metaphors, likening things to seeds, and trees, and plants, and fruit, he did so because everyone  would have known what he was talking about. Matthew, one of Jesus’ early followers, wrote about how Jesus instructed people to “bear good fruit.” he actually said any tree that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down.
Which leads to the questions: what constitutes good? what if I have a lot of it? Is this national competition good or just Brennan family pasta good? can I make up for the quality of the fruit with the quantity?
When we think of good fruit, we get an eternal image. How does it look? Does it have the right texture, color, shape? But fruit is no good if it isn’t ripe outside and in. Yes, by the way, a pepper is a fruit, and this one gave me nightmares. It may look good, but if it doesn’t taste good, if it is moldy, or expired, or compromised in some way, then no amount of looking the part will help it make the transition from bad to good.
On a trip to Costa Rica, I was encouraged to try this new fruit that our partners discovered. It was called Alien Fruit. It was spiky and red and rough on the outside. It was hardly an appetizing look. It wasn’t even sold in the USA (which also gave me pause). But when I pulled back the outside and ate the contents, it was incredible. We bought them by the pound the rest of the trip. I didn’t care how the outside looked. I didn’t have to eat it. The inside is what mattered.
At the end of the day, we know the inside is harder to get right, so we try to compensate with having a pristine outside.
There are plenty of ways we do this. We check our church box on Sunday and then do what we want Monday through Saturday. We say things like, well I am a good person. I do enough good things.
We get so caught up with looking the part, with checking the boxes, with making sure that people think we are “bearing fruit,” because wt think quantity is the goal.  Even when Jesus speaks about bearing much fruit in in the good of John, he does it with the presupposition that the fruit will be good.
I know for myself, I could spend a lot more time working on the quality and content of my heart than the content of my calendar.
So what did I do with the pepper? I threw it away. It was no good. it couldn’t be used. Can you imagine if I added it to the pasta but then I told my wife, don’t worry, the outside looked good! It would have ruined the dish.
What about you? Would you rather bear fruit that looks good, or fruit that tastes good? God would rather have us look less than perfect on the outside, than have mold all over the inside.
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Back to the Beginning

In my mind there is one opening movie scene that is greater than all the rest. Try as directors have for years, it is and will forever be impossible to top this cinematic masterpiece.

Some movies start off a little more subtle. I think about the type of movies that open with 4 minutes of credits to some b-roll or animated figures. Listen, no one wants to sit through the credits. That is why they are at the end, so I can leave during them. Don’t give me that bait and switch.

Others never really take off at all. You wait, and you wait and finally you just realize you have wasted precious minutes of your life on this dry, unentertaining film while you could have been doing something more important like posting a picture of your latest meal to Instagram.

But there is nothing like a story that really comes out guns blazing. And the opening scene that I am thinking of does just that. It is in fact, the opening scene to the Lion King.

How do you beat it?

I have actually reenacted a one-person version of that scene after the births of both my sons. The Doctor did not find is as entertaining as the Disney version.

Every story starts somewhere, but good stories start… well good. They have tension and excitement, and they make you want to hear the rest. If you have seen the Lion King, can you imagine never seeing that opening scene? Or think about your favorite movie, imagine never knowing how it began?

No one should come in at the middle of a story. But that is just what we do. We are born in the middle of a story. We live in the middle of a story. And most of the time, we don’t take the time to go back to the beginning.

The first 4 words of the Bible go like this, “In the Beginning God…” If this were the Fairytale version it would be “Once Upon a time God…”

I love how we take the opening chapter of Genesis and ask questions of it that wont really change much for us.

At the end of the day, the What, the When and the How of creation doesn’t do a whole lot for me in the here and now. When I struggle, when I doubt, when I celebrate, or when I am need direction.

At the end of the day, my relationships aren’t mended, my bills aren’t paid, and my spirits aren’t lifted by knowing the age of the earth.

What helps, what changes everything, is the Why.

Throughout opening scene of God’s story, the first chapter of Genesis, God just starts creating stuff. Light, land, animals, plants. He even created Spiders… sometimes I think God has a weird sense of humor.

And after he creates these things he keeps saying they are “good”.

This isn’t saying, “yeah they are ok.” What he is saying is, “this is just as it should be, this is perfectly good.”

But when we get to the end of the chapter we read that God creates something separate from everything else. He creats something that bears his very image. He creates us and says that we are very good.

You remember how everything else was just as it should be? We are the pinnacle of all of that.

And the why? God is good, he created a good world, to reflect how good he is.

Now in the middle of the story, we know that the world is not all good. But in the beginning, it was good, and it showed the goodness of God.

Fossil records, and carbon dating, and interpretation, and dinosaurs that only eat plants all don’t do much for me here and now.

When I want to know why bad things happen, when I want to know why the world is not as it should be, when I want to know why God doesn’t seem to notice.

At the end of the day, my relationships aren’t mended, my bills aren’t paid, my spirits aren’t lifted by knowing that God is good, but it changes my perspective, it gives me hope.

Genesis 1 reminds us that we are not accidents. We’re not mistakes. Regardless of what the world says, or the failures we endure, before we did anything, achieved anything, proved anything, we are very good. We are image bearers of a good God who created a good world to show how good he is.

That’s how our story starts.

cue catchy intro theme song-

 

 

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We love to hate people

$_57

I walked into Goodwill the other day and stumbled upon a great find. It was wrapping paper for 10 cents a roll. I immediately reached for Mr. Washington, secure in my wallet and informed the clerk I would take ten rolls.

Many people were appalled when I told them this because the wrapping paper was Justin Bieber wrapping paper. It was bright blue and orange and gloriously covered in candid’s from the Bieb’s career. Who wouldn’t want this? turns out, most anyone.

Weather its Justin Bieber, Richard Sherman, President Obama, Miley Cyrus, John Boehner, the Barrista who made your drink wrong, The guy who cut you off on the way to work, homosexuals, heterosexuals, news anchors, or anyone else, we all hate someone.

Many of us hate a lot of people.

 Everyone has their own hate list.

My wife knows that the guy who makes me shovel the sidewalk well into his area has been on mine for the last few years.

Who is on yours hate list?

I mean everybody from people you just prefer not to be around to people you would physically assault if free from consequence.

We have two ways of lying to ourselves when it comes to people we hate.

1: We say we don’t hate anyone but we strictly avoid anyone who we disagree with. We don’t have to technically hate people because we are never around anyone who isn’t exactly like us. We stay inside our bubble. We say we love people outside the bubble but we never go out to actually know them. I can’t say that I love my wife if I never see her, never talk to her and live in a different place. It doesn’t work.

2: Some of us don’t stay in the bubble. We say things like, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but we have a whole lot of trouble separating the two. Our actions toward the sin irrevocably affect the sinner as well. This manifests itself in small ways, like seeing a story on the news you disagree with and making offhanded comments, or in big ways, like angry Christian protestors gathering pretty much anywhere.

At best we tolerate people. We like them, in the most basic sense. And we confuse our like for love.

 Maybe we don’t actually love to hate people but we certainly don’t love to love them.

What is interesting is that Jesus spent a disproportionate about of time with people the world seemed to hate. From what we can tell from the Gospels, the world loved to criticize, loved to judge, and love to hate the people Jesus spent the majority amount of time with.

Many of the religious people in Jesus’ day viewed the people he hung out with as enemies of the church. They hated the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the drunks, the misfits.

 But not Jesus.

He walked into Jericho to a reception that filled the streets. But he called out to a man in a tree, who just so happened to be a chief tax collector, and spent time with him. The man was in the tree because the crowd despised him. Jesus called him about because Jesus loved him. The crowd mumbled criticisms at Jesus. He didn’t care.

Jesus was teaching in the temple when the religious leaders dragged in a woman caught in adultery and threw her at Jesus’ feet. They wanted to stone her. They hated her. They threw her down. Not Jesus, he picked her up, and sent her on her way.

Jesus called one of his first disciples. A guy who would be one of the founders of the early Church; his name was Levi. He was a also tax collector. He invited his friends, who are only known in Scripture as tax collectors and sinners. Others questioned why Jesus ate with them. Jesus ate with them anyways.

And why did he? His response is the same as it has been for 2000, because he came to the sinners, not to the righteous.

We think that to love everyone, we have to like everyone.

The Ancient Greek word that would equate to our word for “like” is the word Philia φιλία. It means friendship or preference.

He doesn’t call us to simply have Philia for people.

One day Jesus was standing on a hillside speaking to a group of followers.

He looked out and said “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

The word Jesus used here is Agápe ἀγάπη It means love in a deep spiritual sense.

He doesn’t care if we like people, but he calls us to love people.

Why? Because he did.

I don’t have to like my non-shoveling neighbor, Justin Bieber, or anybody else, but I do have to love them, because I love Jesus.

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What will historians use as historical sources in 2000 years? Will professors at the future universities of the world reference scholarly “selfies” and tweets that are detrimental to their research?

2000 years ago you had to be a ruler, a wealthy person of statues, a great war hero, or an infamous rebel to be penned in the annals of history.

Now we all right our own history, in 140 characters or less. We document our life weather we are a soccer mom, a college freshman, or a Billionaire.

Even though some stories get more press, more readers, and more interest, everyone gets an equal opportunity to tell their story. 

So what story are we telling?

Are we even telling a story?

I spend lots of time each week with the most tech savvy generation that has ever walked the planet, High school students.

And what I see is that they stories they are telling are the stories they think the world wants to hear, not the stories the world needs to hear.

And that is where most of us find ourselves.

The world wants to hear stories of success, so we pursue them and try to tell that story. The world wants to hear stories of vanity, so we try to look the part. The world wants to hear stories of “comfort”, so we pursue that ever elusive goal that is always slipping through out fingers even after the next promotion, or bonus, or milestone.

There has never been a time in the history of the world when so many have had an opportunity to communicate so much so fast. And those opportunities are only growing.

But is the story you are telling, the story you were created to tell.

Because there are stories the world wants to hear, but then there are stories the world needs to hear.

The world needs stories of irrational hope when international conflicts seem endless; Stories of unconditional love when the divorce rate in America hovers around half; stories of courageous generosity when millions starve, and freeze and die from easily preventable causes.

History is often a record of people who told stories the world needed to hear, in a time people wanted something else.  

May we all tell great stories.

P.S. I also started another blog How To Survive Christians. Check it out at howtosurvivechristians.wordpress.com

Scholarly Selfies

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Angry pastors scare me.

Pastors live on the outside spectrum of emotions. We are either overly happy, overly excited, overly concerned or overly angry. A lot of times we are overly angry, about what other people are doing, what they are saying, how they are voting, etc.

I don’t usually hear pastors get up on stage and talk about how angry they are about what they see as sin in their own life. They are just angry about what everyone else is doing.

A few weeks ago on the way to church I stumbled upon one such pastor on the radio he was so angry.

About everything.

He was yelling and condemning all sorts of people.  He said at one point something to the affect of: this is just how God feels about sin…

I was a little embarrassed.

Angry pastors scare me, 

That is because have a lot of friends who wouldn’t consider themselves followers of God. They know I am a pastor. I wondered what would happen if they turned on the radio and heard this guy. What would they think that I think about them? What would they think God thinks about them?

The other morning I heard my son on the baby monitor. I hear him every morning, but this morning it was a bit different.

He was sitting down crying, dada… mama… dada… mama

I walked into get him and he was upset when I opened the door. The room smelled really bad.

I walked over to his crib and saw that he clearly had a stomach bug. He had diarrhea that had come out of his diaper and was on his bedding too.

It’s at this moment I had a decision… do I call my wife in? Do I leave him and say, “clean it up yourself?” Do I pick him up?

It wasn’t even a decision.

I immediately picked him up and hugged him. I called his mom into the bathroom and she cleaned him off in the tub while I took his bedding to the wash.

That morning I though, as simple as that story is, it helps me see God, and how God sees me, so much clearer than some angry guy on the radio.

Perry Noble talks about a similar story in his book, Unleash.

My son couldn’t get out of his crib, couldn’t get out of his mess, couldn’t hide is mess, and needed his father to pick him up, clean him up, and clean his mess up. And when I heard him, I ran in to get him.

Two thoughts wreck me when I think about God and how he sees my sin.

1. He is fed up with my sin

2. He is embarrassed by my sin. 

And it is there that I miss grace.

Grace says, you can never fall too far, mess up too much, push away too hard. I will always be there.

When I walked into Patrick’s room, it smelled, it was a mess, and he looked up at me and said, “dada, out?”

There wasn’t an option in my mind. I picked him up, pulled him close, and said that I was going to take care of him. 

But Danielle and I didn’t just clean Patrick up then throw him back into his crib with a rag and a bucket to deal with his own mess.

We cleaned it up.

So when we laid him back down, his sheets were clean, his room smelled nice and he knew he was loved. 

But we also don’t hold it against him.

The only time we may bring it up is when he is older and we could joke about it. We would look back and laugh and talk about his he has grown. 

I know it is important to talk about repentance when we sin.

I know it is important to talk about conscious decision-making.

But at the end of the day, I think God wants us to know first that he is there no matter what, and he loves us no matter what.

I so often can think that when I mess up, God must be embarrassed with someone like me doing something like that.

The reality is God has seen it all.

He isn’t embarrassed. 

He doesn’t run. He doesn’t leave you to your own mess.

Gods not embarrassed by your sin.

God’s heartbroken by it. 

And what he wants to do is pull you close, clean you up, tell you everything is going to be ok, and give you a fresh start. 

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You can’t have Christmas without shepherds

If you know the Christmas story at all, you know it is not complete without the inclusion of the faithful shepherds who tended their flock late at night until they heard of the baby Jesus’ birth and went to see him.

My son recently received a children’s plastic nativity. Sure enough it came with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus who he affectionately calls “baby Jeeze”, and, or course, a shepherd with his sheep.

You just can’t have Christmas without Shepherds.

Why the shepherds?

I have never invited Shepherds to any of my birthday parties.

Shepherds are sort of conspicuous guests at the new baby’s birth.

In the first century shepherds were regarded as the lowest of the low. They were unclean and lived in the fields with their flocks. In some Jewish circles they were considered untouchables and subjected to segregation and prejudice from the community.

When Luke tells us that angels came and proclaimed to a group of shepherds that a baby wrapped in a manger was to be the savior of the world, the shepherds response would have likely been like:

Yeah, but not for us.

We are shepherds.

We aren’t who you want.

The religious leaders are just down the hill over there. They are going to be psyched!

The king is in his palace. He would like to know about this I am sure.

But God came to shepherds.

If he had gone to the priests, people would have thought: Of course! They are priests, God wants to meet with them.

If he had gone to the king, the rich, and the rulers, people would have thought: Of course! They are prosperous, they are rich, they are the elite! God wants to meet with them.

But when people heard that the shepherds were on the guest list, they would have been like, shepherds? Is that a typo? Did God make a mistake? What could he possibly do with them?

We miss this because our yard decorations all include plastic people with plastic sheep alongside the plastic baby Jesus. Most of us don’t know that back then you wouldn’t have wanted to be associated with a shepherd.

But you can’t have Christmas without shepherds.

After the shepherds heard about the news of Jesus, they wanted to go see for themselves.

They left running. Running was very undignified in the first century. People just didn’t run. But these shepherds did. This was finally the opportunity they had to be part of something.

No one talked to them. No one included them. But God was letting them into the circle.

They found Mary and Joseph and Jesus just as they had been told they would. Then they left and told everyone they met about the angels and about the child and everyone was impressed.

These guys who were to never had a role about shepherds because the pioneer evangelists. They were the ones who God used to begin spreading the word. And instead of being turned off or disgusted, people were impressed. 

They had never impressed anyone. They were the least likely people to impress people.

They let the world know about Christmas.

You can’t have Christmas without Shepherds.

Luke finishes this portion of his retelling by saying that it turned out exactly as they had been told. 

It takes a big risk to believe what God says.

It takes a big risk to go and see for yourself if this Jesus is really who he says he is.

It takes a big risk to overcome the disappointment that it could all be false.

It takes a big risk to step out and tell people, especially when you are the last person that God would ever want to talk to.

You are the last person God would ever want to use.

You are the last person he would want to include because you are the last person anyone else would include.

But you can’t have Christmas without Shepherds.

God went to the least  of the people because he wanted to send a message:

THIS IS FOR EVERYONE.

No matter where you are from, what you have done, what people say about you, what you do for a living, or how far away form God you are, God starts with you.

So what did God want with the lowest of the low? What did God want with Shepherds in the field?

He wanted to change the world. He wanted to send a message that his baby was to be for all people. It wouldn’t be such good news if it was only for some people. It wouldn’t be good news if it was only good news to the right people. But it was, and is, and always will be good news for all people.

If you are willing to risk it, God wants to use you in remarkable ways too.

We are all shepherds.

And you can’t have Christmas without shepherds.

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