Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Noah James

Dear Noah,
Your due date is August 26th and I can't wait to see you. I'm writing you a letter that you might never read, but it's my way of getting a few thoughts out there.
I remember thinking the same thought before your brother Truitt came into the world, but it's amazing how much I'm able to love a piece of God's creation that I've never seen before. There are nights when I roll over in bed and I place my hand on Kayci's belly just so I can pray for God's Spirit to rest on you. I plead with Him to give you dreams and visions for His work in this world. I want you to know right now that I don't care what you become when you get older; I care about who you become. I want to point you to Jesus in a way that it is so captivating that he will become your breath of life. I want your faith to far exceed mine. I hope to demonstrate a prayer life that taps into the presence and power of God. I don't want you to know Scripture so that you can get a sticker for memorization or become a member of the 66-Club for knowing all the books in the Bible. I don't want it to be a distant book like other history books that line the shelves of libraries. I want Scripture to come to life inside of you. I want it to be relevant. I want it to shape your imagination in ways that you feel the same sand Jesus walked on. I want you to experience the same joy Jesus had in befriending sinners and social outcasts. I want you to always lean on the side of compassion so that you will love the poor the way God loves the poor.
I don't care if you are a Republican or Democrat or even if you choose to live out your adult life in America. More than anything, I want you to be a sold-out follower of Jesus who is not afraid to take some serious risks for him. I want you to feel empowered by your parents to do some daring things with your life. I want to make a covenant with you and Truitt, just like I did with your mother on our wedding day, that I will pray for you every single day.
I hope that the day never comes when I will have to die for you, though I would do it without even having to think about it. But know this, I will choose every single day to live for you.
I want you to know that I am far from a perfect father, but I will try my very best to love you with every ounce of my being.

I can't help but wonder:
Who are you going to look like more--your mom or me?
Will you be a righty or a lefty?
Will you like Toby Mac as much as your brother?
What will be your first word? (it's okay to say "mommy" first. She's still mad at Truitt. HA!)
How will you want to invest your time and energy in this world?

There are a few decisions that have been made for you: you will not be a Yankee fan, an Eagles fan, or a Giants fan. Try it, and we'll put you up for adoption. HA!

For 8 months we have watched you grow. Your work-out routines have become more frequent and powerful. They keep your mom awake at night, and when she tosses and turns it keeps me up. But I see it as a way that God is preparing me to hang out with you during the night while your mom gets rest after feeding you.

About your mom, she is a Proverbs-31 kind of woman. She makes me want to be a better Christ-follower, and she is going to pour her life into raising you.

I'll see you in a few weeks, buddy. Until then, you might want to stay off of mommy's bladder.

PS--If you want to get in good with your momma from the get-go, you better come early. She's tired of carrying you.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Relational Pong

When I was in college we engaged in all forms of prank-wars. It was all about fun and one-upmanship. What began as fun became a war of out-doing someone else. The pride inside refused to allow someone else to "out-prank" you.
For example (I'll keep it rated PG):
We had community bathrooms and it wasn't unusual for someone to steal your towel while you were showering.
The next day you would hide a half-full gallon of milk in his dorm room.
When we moved off campus as juniors, one of our buddies stole a trampoline from a girl's house. The next day, her friends stole our dog.
Then, towards the end of that year, things got a little out of hand.
My roommate Jacob was a hunter. After killing a turkey, he cut off the turkey claw, stuck it in an envelope, and mailed it to Hailey.
A few days later, some brownies showed up at our house. It wasn't unusual to have cakes or brownies in our home. Three of us were in serious relationships and we always had people over. My friend Jay and I were cutting into the brownies when we were unable to cut through a piece. After working at it for a few minutes I picked the brownie up, only to discover a cooked turkey claw.
Back and forth...back and forth...

Throughout life we engage in all different forms of relational pong (an image used by Rob Bell). It is called revenge, retaliation, violence, one-upmanship, eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth.
"You put something into my court. I'll put it back in your court."
"You hit me. I will hit you harder."
"You kill one of mine. I'll kill one of yours."
"You bomb me. I'll bomb you back."
"You said what about me? Well, you're a ___!"
"They wrote what about me? I'll write something back."

We engage in relational pong.
Marital pong.
National pong.
Racial pong.
Political pong.
Social pong.
Religious pong.
Theological pong.
Blogging pong.

Where does it stop?

Jesus entered into a world that operated out of an "eye-for-eye...tooth-for-tooth" mindset. In the OT, forgiveness was something that God did. There doesn't seem to be a continual charge or expectation for humans to forgive humans. The result was disastrous. Fathers turned against sons and sons against fathers. Brothers killed brothers. Friends killed friends.

Jesus comes and says, "It stops with me. It stops at the cross. It stops at a cross-shaped life."

If anyone had reasons to strike back, it was Jesus. Yet he came saying things like:
"If someone hits you, turn the other cheek."
"If someone steals your coat. Give them your cloak."
"If you want to become one of my disciples, you must deny yourself, and take up a cross daily, and follow me."

The Christ-paradigm, or the Christ-pattern, is all about death and rebirth. It is about death and resurrection. As we enlist ourselves into this pattern and rhythm of life, we drop our swords, we loosen our tight fists, and we transform hate speech into something more redemptive and liberating.

I'm convinced that the call of Jesus is, "Stop with the relational pong. People in this world will not come to know me by your persuasive arguments and/or dominate force. They will be drawn to me because of the way you love each other."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dear ESPN, we are "favred-out"

Dear ESPN,
I'm writing out of desperation on behalf of all the American people and others around the world. Is there anything you can do to convince Favre that retirement is his friend? We are "favred-out." Coming out of retirement once is forgivable...twice is border-line ridiculous...three times and beyond is a sure sign that someone is unstable and incapable of making rational decisions. We all loved Brett. He was a proven winner. He was honest about his addiction to pain pills which modeled authenticity in a world of cover-up and isolation. He cared for his wife during her fight with cancer. We admired him for his competitiveness and passion for life on and off the field.
But enough is enough.
Please do something. We can't take it anymore.
An ESPN Addict,
Josh Ross

PS--Can you send Justin Timberlake to meet with Favre again? They seemed to have connected as can be seen below.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why Forgiveness?

What's the deal with forgiveness?
Center stage in the OT is God's graciousness to forgive.
What we don't see in the OT is the expectation and challenge for humans to forgive each other. Revenge and retaliation dominate stories.

Enter Jesus.

As Scot McKnight points out in his book The Jesus Creed, "Forgiveness gets a new shape with Jesus."
Jesus holds nothing back:
"Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
"Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."
"So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."
"Father forgive them for they know not what they do."

Philip Yancey is right, "We live in a dog-eat-dog not world; not a dog-forgive-dog world."

I'm preaching on forgiveness this week and I'm consumed by questions:
Are we supposed to forgive and forget?
Does God forgive and forget?
Why is forgiveness so hard?
How is forgiveness taught?
How do we prepare our children to be forgivers?
How is forgiveness about letting go of power?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day of Jubilee

I've never witnessed anything like it. It was bizarre and it was risky.
After preaching from "The Lord's Prayer" with a focus on "Give us this day our daily bread," I ended the sermon by pointing people to the communal function of this prayer. We've often interpreted this phrase as a call to personal reflection about our willingness to trust in God to provide. There is a sermon there; it just isn't the way this prayer functions.
Jesus teaches us to pray, "Give us..."
Jesus teaches us to pray with the world.
The church in Acts 2 and Acts 4 seemed to have been formed by these words of Jesus. They met each other's needs by selling land and homes. They grew because they knew how "to do" compassion.
My prayer this week was that Acts 4 would come to life at SVC today.
And...it did.
We had two baskets up front. Mark Taylor (a good friend and a minster at SVC) was holding one and Stoney Ramsey (a dear friend and a man of compassion) was holding the other. God provided me with $3200 in cash, and I had divided it into 4 piles of $800--2 for the 2 baskets in early service and 2 for the 2 baskets in late service. Then, I invited people to give whatever cash or change they wanted to give, because today we were going to take care of one another.
Then, it got bizarre. Very bizarre.
We have members like many of you do who are struggling with needs. Do they pay for healthcare or do they buy food? Do they pay off credit cards or do they pay the utility bill? Do they buy school supplies or new clothes for the kids?
I invited all who were in need to come and to take handfuls of money. (I know...it sounds crazy, right? I know of a couple of churches who have done something similar, and I was inspired.)
I rebuked the spirit of pride, embarrassment, fear, and shame. We have created a culture where we are unable to say, "I am in need." Needy people are often looked down upon as if they don't work hard enough, or they haven't managed money well, or they just haven't been blessed by God.
I begged those in need to not deprive people from the joy of giving. I pleaded with them to not deprive God of providing for their daily necessities.
And, it happened.
Within the first verse of the first song, people were waiting in line to drop money in the baskets. I was shocked to witness how many people were carrying cash. I had people coming up to me afterwards saying things like, "I never carry cash, but for some reason I went to the ATM yesterday."
I will never forget the lady who came forward with a handful of change and said, "This is all I have, but I want to give it." It was the story of the woman who gave her two coins lived out right in front of me.
We had people dropping checks in the baskets with the "Pay to the order of" left blank. These checks were for $50, $500, $1000 and the memo read, "Acts 4".
As people were putting money in the baskets, others were coming to take money out. There were plenty of tears and even more laughter. Widows were provided for. The needy were taken care of. The people who cried on the way to church today because they didn't know how bills were going to be paid went home rejoicing in the providence of God. We witnessed the power and activity of the Holy Spirit.
We gave away every single penny. We refused to count the money, but I'm assuming we gave away close to $10,000 today. I sent the basket of change home with a 20-year-old college student whose grandmother needed the money.
I am so proud of our people at SVC. I get to preach in front of people every Sunday who have surrendered their lives to the Jesus-story. They teach me something new every week.
Today, at SVC, it was a day of Jubilee. We were leaping for joy because the presence of God was alive and active.

Now, I'm drained. I'm going to sleep.

PS--I wish you could have been at the bank with me when I cashed a $3200 check. I handed it to the lady and I said, "Mam, I need a bunch of cash, preferably in all 20's." She laughed. I told her that it was for a day of Jubilee. Before I knew what was going on, I was explaining to the workers at Bank of America what Jubilee meant for God's people. They couldn't believe that there was a church that was going to give money away to people on a Sunday morning. The workers at the bank went home knowing about the power of God in Acts 4.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"Give us this day our daily bread"

These words are piercing me this week. When I begin to feel like I have a clear understanding of the meaning, Jesus turns my attention to another component behind these 7 words.
The plan today is to go with a friend to eat lunch at a soup kitchen in downtown Memphis. I'm eager to converse with people about "daily bread" who don't interpret this phrase from a white, middle-class culture.
Here's what I'm convinced of this week:
-This phrase takes place within the larger context of the Lord's Prayer. The danger in preaching the Lord's Prayer over 6 weeks is that it is easy to lift a phrase or verse out of the context. I don't want to do this.
-This verse is more than just simplifying one's personal life. The "us" means that we pray this prayer with other people.
-"Bread" is a theme throughout Scripture.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Kingdom of God

In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray a very earthly and political prayer: "Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, ON EARTH as it is in heaven."

Jesus taught his followers to pray this prayer during the reign one of the greatest empires this world has ever known. The Roman Empire would promise you a life of peace and prosperity if you would sign on to this phrase "Caesar is Lord." It was an allegiance with benefits. It could promise you a life of security, your children a good education, and land for you to live on.

It is in this surrounding culture and context that Jesus teaches people to pray, "Your Kingdom come."

The story of Jesus is loaded with “kingdom” language.
In Matthew it is “the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In Luke it is “The Kingdom of God.”
In Mark it is 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
All four gospels (especially the first 3) join in great interest to present Jesus as the King of an upside-down Kingdom…a Kingdom that would have no need for a president, dictator, or Prime Minister because Jesus alone could hold the title.
There would not be a need for a palace, mansion, or capital, because this Kingdom was going to flourish on street corners, market places, inner cities and suburbs.
There would not be the need for leaders of self-defense because this kingdom would win people over by truth clothed in love and compassion.


At times the word “kingdom” has been reduced to the church. There are those who have believed that the Kingdom came at Pentecost and that Acts 2 was the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth.
For those who hold this interpretation of “Kingdom,” when they say that we are attempting to grow “the kingdom” they are simply referring to “growing the church.”
This interpretation claims that the Kingdom points to Acts 2 (we’ve often read our Bibles as if Acts 2 is the ultimate climax of the NT)
Actually, the Kingdom points to Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t point to Acts 2, but Acts 2 points to Jesus

It is interesting that Jesus never defines the kingdom.
We are people who like concepts defined. We want elaboration, certainty and definition. After all, we are recipients of the enlightenment period...an era of reason and learning.
But Jesus never defines the kingdom. He only offers hints, analogies, metaphors and images. In Matthew 13, he tells 7 parables concerning the Kingdom, but not one time does Jesus say, "The Kingdom of God is..." It is always, "The Kingdom of God is like..."
Here's what we know about the Kingdom from Luke 17, "The Kingdom of God is among you...it is within you."
The Kingdom of God is greater than any kingdom we can imagine and we are invited to swear our allegiance to it.