Headlights

I get addicted to songs.
I wanna hear them on a loop until I get tired of it. Which is why I don’t like the radio because they overplay a song until it gets… overplayed. I want to outwear the welcome– don’t want the radio to do it for me.

Current kicks include: Multiplied by Needtobreathe; Fancy by Iggy Azalea; I Am by David Crowder; John Mayer’s cover of Beyonce’s XO. And leading the pack is “Headlights” by Eminem. Some will raise an eyebrow and ask, why would a self-respecting pastor listen to such an artist?

The answer is simple: I’m not very self-respecting. (ha-ha).

Hip-hop always resonated with me. It’s not like I grew up a troubled or grew up in the projects or anything like that. I had a very normal and loving childhood. The beats at first spoke to me then the lyrics, as I grew older. Tupac Shakur still has a big part in my playlists and when songs like “Changes” come up where he laments, although it seems heaven sent/we ain’t ready for a black president I always think, “Man, If you were still alive…”

Forgiveness is such a prickly thing. A lot of us don’t quite get the grasp of it. We think that when we forgive all the lingering feelings should be gone. But sometimes they remain. Sometimes we confuse forgiving with forgetting. Or forgiving with condoning.

And at the center of the song “Headlights” Eminem is the idea of forgiveness. Him working out his issues with his mother; regretting airing a lot of dirty laundry in public regarding his mom like “Cleaning Out My Closet.” He ends the song with “I’ll always love you from a far because you’re my Ma” which gets me because it goes against the sappy ending we Christians seemling always go for in our “safe” and “pure” brand of media (the ever happy ending because our confession of faith solves ALL problems). He’s working through his issues with his mother and he loves her and he’s over a lot of the anger and resentment he held on, but perhaps too much pain and still too real to bring himself to go back to the way things were decades ago.

Or, I’m just reading way too much into the lyrics of a pop song.

But here’s the music video for this song that was directed by Spike Lee. And know that it has a lot of language that’ll make you frown with disapproval.

The 3rd Type of Death

David Eagleman writes in “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives” about 3 deaths:

The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grace. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time. So you wait in this lobby until the third death. There are long tables with coffee, tea, and cookies – you can help yourself. There are people here from all around the world, and you can try to strike up a conversation with whomever you’d like. Just be aware that your conversation may be interrupted at any moment by the Callers, who call out your conversations partner’s name to indicate there will never again be another remembrance of him by anyone on the Earth. Your partner slumps out, face like a shattered and re-glued plate, saddened even though he’s kindly told by the Callers that he’s off to a better place. No one knows where that better place is, or what it offers, because no one exiting through that door has returned to tell us. Tragically, many people leave just as their loved ones arrive, since the loved ones were the only ones doing the remembering. We all wag our heads at that typical timing.

Death — it’s just… so permanent. I know. Deep.
I had the privilege of being with a family as they were going to take their loved one off of life support. (I didn’t realize how resourceful the Book of Worship was until this past week).
We shared a prayer together and spent the rest of the time just sharing stories about her, about one another, about… life.

The moment was heavy. I didn’t realize how heavy it was until I left the hospital room and felt the gravity of what took place. I know I sound like Marty McFly, but it was heavy.

But as soon as got in my car to drive home, the weight was gone. Maybe it was because I was heading back to the safe place where my wife would be waiting for me. A part of it has to be (and I speak honestly) that it wasn’t a loss that affected me personally — just professionally.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over the fear of death. That third death, when I heard Eagleman talk about in on NPR months ago, has stuck with me. I find myself thinking about it once it a while. I wonder when my name will be last spoken and by whom and why. Will I be talked about after my memorial service? Will I be talked about decades after I’m dead? All the while — why does it matter? Because, you know, I’m dead. Yet, there’s this desire that I exist after I’m gone. And I don’t know why it matters that I exist after I die. Is it too much sci-fi movies? And of course, I desire to exist in a good way after I’m gone.

To be completely honest with you — the assurance of the resurrection; the promise of eternal life — while brings a bit of peace, it doesn’t ease the fear and uncertainty that accompanies death. And as a pastor, death will always be part of the job. There’s no escaping that. And I always fear being asked the dreaded question of “why?” because I never know how to answer it — except, “I don’t know.” which isn’t satisfactory to any of the parties involved.

I’m starting to ramble now — but I remembered the story from David Eagleman today because of the tragic events from this past weekend Isla Vista. And I have nothing comforting or poignant to say because I’m left stunned and speechless. I didn’t realize how things like this takes on a different level of tragedy when it happens so close to home. And there’s this mixture of, I want to help… but I don’t quite know how.

I don’t know what else to say, but am reminded of a story of Corrie ten Boom, a holocaust survivor.
As a young girl, she encountered the lifeless body of a baby and realized that life ends at some point and her loved ones would eventually die. The thought of losing her parents and her sister frightened her.
One night when her father came in to tuck her into bed, Corrie — sobbing — grabbed her father and said, “I need you. You can’t die! You can’t!”
“Corrie,” he said as he began to comfort her, “when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”
She thought about the question. “Why, just before I get on the train.”
“Exactly. When the time comes that some of us have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need — just in time.”
Many years later, Corrie and her family were sent to Nazi concentration camps. She was painfully confronted with the deaths of her parents and sister. She endured and saw many hardships that she never could’ve imagined as a child. But she always remembered her father’s words and they proved to be true. “You will look into your heart and find the strength you need — just in time.” She always found the strength she needed in her heart, just in time.

May those people grieving find the strength they need in their hearts and in the hearts of others.

 

Encountering Grace — A Shameless Plug

Just taking the time to shamelessly plug myself. On my blog. As if I need more attention…

The Bible study I wrote about grace for the Converge Bible Studies is now available to purchase on the Converge website and Cokesbury’s website. It’ll be available on Amazon real soon.

My church graciously used the “Practical Prayer” (the first study I wrote) for one of their bible studies and I received a lot positive feedback. But that has less to do with me and more with the person leading the Bible study (It wasn’t me. C’mon, I’m not that guy) and the questions that accompanied each session (4 sessions in all). My church was raving about the questions and congratulated me on writing such excellent and discussion leading questions. But I didn’t have anything to do with the questions — that was all the editors doing. And they were great questions. I don’t think the study would’ve been good if I wrote the questions myself.

I think this goes the same for “Encountering Grace.”

The questions following the sessions are really great and can be really useful as discussion starters.

So, if you are looking for a bible study to do with your church or something to do for your quiet time, may I shamelessly suggest to you “Encountering Grace” that can be purchased here or here (or Amazon some time next week).

There are other great bible studies that Converge has put out (like Shane Raynor’s “Being Holy”) and will continue to release throughout the year. Great resources and studies for your small group and bible study groups. Please check them out!

…but start with mine first ;).

 

Heigh Ho Silver!

My favorite NFL team has a insensitive and racial team name.

My favorite basketball team was under fire — well the owner was — this past weekend for racist comments (and rightfully so. Shame on anyone who tried to defend him in any way, yes, Mr. Trump, that includes you, too).

On the way to the gym, I heard Commissioner Adam Silver's press conference on what he decided to do. And wow. I did not expect that. I hoped for that, but didn't expect it.

A lot of thoughts ran through my mind.
First — Donald Sterling has always been like this. There were all sorts of allegations throughout his tenure as owner. But the thing was, Clippers were awful. Awful. So awful it was easy to ignore them (and all of Sterling's glory) altogether.

But with Doc Rivers coming on, with DeAndre Jordan elevating his defense, Blake Griffin elevating his game altogether, and Chris Paul the best PG in the NBA — Championship is a bit more than just a pipe dream. We (yes, I said “we”) have a legitmate chance to win.

Success brings with it a microscope.
That's why integrity is important. Your integrity is who you are when no one else is watching; when pressure is so thick on you; when it really counts. Sure, you can fake it until you make it — but eventually, people will catch on to what kind of person you really are.

I'm also reminded of how we need to take care of little things. Because little things add up to become big things. Those who can be entrusted with little, can be entrusted with a lot.

David being a good and faithful shepherd for so many years proved to God what kind of king David would be. If he risked his life against lions and bears for his sheep, what length would he go for his people; his kingdom?

As for Adam Silver, 2 months or so into the job, he had this to deal with. People who were asking him to kick Sterling out; take charge or whatever forget that the commissioner works for the owners, not the other way around.

No matter how right a decision may be, doing the right thing always takes courage. And for Silver to lay down the law like he did, that was courageous. And I don't think it was as easy as we think it may have been. He was 15 minutes late to the press conference and TMZ leaked that Silver was looking to indefinitely suspend Sterling (less severe punishment than the one actually given); and Silver admitted that he had made the decision this morning. And I'm sure Sterling will file a lawsuit and am sure that Silver is expecting it. No matter how obviously right this decision was, I don't think it was that easy to make and any time you have to make the right call, it takes courage — otherwise, we'd all be doing the right thing every single time.

I kind of wonder what David Stern would've done and I, for one, am inclined to think it wouldn't have been what Silver did.

Hopefully, the Clippers can put this behind them and beat the Warriors tonight.
I hope that the owners vote to force Sterling to sell and this vote will take place soon.

On top of that, to further stick it to the Lakers, I hope that Magic Johnson, as he suggested, buy the team with his group and become the face of the Clippers.

 

Being a Christian Doesn’t Mean We Can Act Like A***oles

My Good Friday began with a conversation with a mother who adopted an African-American baby.

She was telling me that her son, now pre-school age, was asking about church and wanted to take him to a church. Only that her son has two mothers and knows that her family is not welcomed everywhere. She asked if they would be welcomed in our church.

And I was completely honest with her. I told her that she and her family will be whole-heartedly and fully embraced, welcomed, accepted by me — that I can guarantee 100%. I told her that our church would be welcoming — but don't know what will happen after. Because it's possible that someone from my church will love them; but expect them to “change” — to leave behind their decades together and become heterosexual folks (to which I began to wonder — is that “welcoming”?)

But I'm not writing this to talk about this issue — and won't approve comments dealing with this issue in the comments section — regardless of what side you're on.

She wanted to ask me if her family would be welcomed at our church because of a run-in with her neighbor who is a devout church goer and Christian.

He told them (in the presence of their child) that they were “N***** loving D****.”

I don't know the context this was said in. But whatever the context — that's not never okay. No matter what you believe or what side you may fall on this issue or any issue, being mean; using slurs… just not okay.

Maybe the mothers were in the wrong and upset the Christian neighbor — but to me, that kind of hate and use of slurs can never be justified. Especially to utter those words in presence of an innocent child. What does it solve? How's that redeeming? How's that Christlike? How is that loving someone the way Christ has loved us?

I fully understand that we are passionate about social issues and theology and ideology. I appreciate passion. It lets us know that we are alive. But we can discuss; debate; argue; converse without being jerks. Just because we may be assured of our salvation doesn't give us the license to be jerks. After all, we are called to love.

I have to admit, I was angry all Good Friday long. It wasn't until the near end of Good Friday service where I let go of my anger. We have a tradition of taking flash paper, symbolically laying our brokenness on it, nail it to the cross, and watch the paper (and our brokenness) go up in a flash, leaving no trace of the paper (and our brokenness) behind. As I began to nail my flash paper, I realized my own brokenness and darkness. I realized that, sure I may not use degrading slurs — but that I am jerk in many other ways. That I am not innocent; that I, too, have done harm.

I can't control what people say or do — but I can control what I say and do.

Shane Claiborne wrote that we could be the only Jesus someone may ever see/encounter.

And though I (will) fail quite often, I need to continue to try to be the best representative; the best ambassador for Christ that I am called to by

doing no harm, doing good, and stay in love with God.

 

Prayer Journal

 

Recently, I bought a Leuchtturm 5 Year Journal. It was, by far, the most expensive journal I have ever bought ($30).

But it's supposed to last you 5 years and gives you just a little bit of space per day.
I've been using it as a daily prayer journal. I've always liked writing my prayers down. I don't know why — and yes, I started doing this way before the movie or the book “The Help” came out (one of the main characters writes her prayers down as well).

I guess one of the reasons why I do it is, for one, it helps me to pray. I know that prayer should be automatic for us pastors. I can't speak for anyone else, but for some odd (and bad) reason, prayer is one of the first things that I forget to do. For reasons I can't really explain, journaling just helps me to remember to pray.

Another reason is that I enjoy looking back at my prayers weeks; months later. I like to see where my state of mind and soul were . I like to see how God answered my prayers because I learned that a lot of my prayers were answered, just not in the way I hoped, expected, or wanted it them to be answered.

With this new journal, I don't have that much space to focus on prayer requests. But it's a good thing, because often times, we treat prayer no differently than our wish list on Amazon. It helps me to frame my thoughts; my relationship with God; overall, reflect on who God is in my life.

I've had the journal for about a month and already there are days that I missed in my attempts to daily write my prayers. Looking back, I have to ask — what the heck? What was so wrong with my day that I didn't take time to pray? And usually, it takes me about 10 minutes (pray silently; write down as I pray; pray silently) — because the space I'm given is limited. How whack were my priorities that day that I did not pray? There's never a legitimate excuse. As Bill Hybels said, “If you're too busy to pray, you're too busy.” Yes, I do feel guilty about those empty slots in the journal. But bigger than the guilt, I am given a chance to correctly prioritize my day for the following day.

I can't overstate how important and vital prayer is to my (and everyone else's) soul, life, and faith journey. Unfortunately, I just need all the help I can get to remind me to pray. Journaling my prayer has helped immensely and I'd recommend everyone to keep a journal of their prayers.