CJ's Blog

by CJ Alderton of Patrick Crossing

Author: clergydude (page 1 of 35)

December 12

The Gaze of a Coach

I used to be a football official for the State of Colorado. My father-in-law talked me into it. He himself is in the Colorado High School Football Hall of Fame in recognition of his many years of excellent officiating. I myself am not. I lasted just a few years. Don’t get me wrong, the outfit was way cool. But as it turned out, I never acquired a taste for getting screamed at or that terrifying gauntlet gallop to my car after the game.

Anyway, football is a useful analogy for helping us to understand Jesus. He seems quite narrow minded in his closing prayer. He has limited prayer to a handful of disciples and for future believers. He explicitly says that the rest of the world, the unbelieving world, is not in his prayers.

So back to football! Why is this a helpful analogy? I’ve been to several NFL games and they can be quite a production. There is something going on everywhere. Some years ago we were “ready for some football” and attended a Monday night game – a big deal. The announcer asked us to look up into the sky. As they darkened the arena, a great number of disabled veterans parachuted down onto the field trailing flares and large flags. The last fellow, sporting two artificial legs, skidded to a stop on the 50 yard line. The place went nuts. It was beautiful. Then there were the mascots, the cheerleaders, the vendors, the booming music, and the crazy fans donning outrageous outfits.

And…none of it had a thing to do with football.

Sequestered far below the stadium were the teams. For several months the head coach had not focused on ANY of the aforementioned hoopla. His concern was with the 40 or so that would make the final cut, and more so, the eleven that would start on offense and on defense. That was it. He would shut out the masses for the success of the few. The fans, the media, the cheerleaders, the sponsors, and the vendors would not be in the “thoughts and prayers” of the coach.  The coach knew that if he could replicate his knowledge and his passion  – his “spirit” as it were – into the few, then those other things would work themselves out.

And that is not unlike our Lord. He glances at the world but he gazes upon his children. Tomorrow we’ll see how, because of that unchanging gaze, he reaches those in the glance.

December 11

You’re NOT in my thoughts OR my prayers!

Can you imagine someone saying to a person who is going through a tough moment, “I just wanted to let you know that you’re definitely NOT in my thoughts OR my prayers.” We would think the person a beast. In a culture that blithely bandies the phrase, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers” as one of many expressions of virtue signaling, Jesus’ words are all the more shocking: I am not praying for the world” John 17:9. To mention that we are praying (regardless of whether or not we actually are praying) is to indicate that we care. Therefore it stands to reason that if the world is not “in Jesus’ thoughts and prayers” then he must not care. But then there’s that bit about the cross and the dying and undergoing all sorts of suffering for the world – the world he says he is not praying for! Remember John 3:16? “For God so loved the world that He have His only begotten Son… He does care. Prayer may not be his way of showing it.

Now, if we keep reading, we see Jesus doubling down on this notion. To wit:  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…” John 17:20 There it is again. The world is not in Jesus’ thoughts and prayers but the future church is. That’s you and that’s me. He is praying specifically and exclusively for believers. Let’s add a bit from three other passages which prove that this is still going on undiminished:

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. ~Romans 8:34

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have a defense attorney with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. ~I John 2:1

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. ~Hebrews 7:25

We’ll not solve the entire riddle just yet. For now, just rest in the knowledge that for the day ahead, even if you’ve no time to pray for yourself, the Savior of the world is praying for you.

December 10

Doable

We acknowledged a hard reality yesterday. Very few Christians appear to be engaged with engaging the world with their faith. We’ve become either overly polite or overly intimidated. Perhaps in a world that has, as of late, taken such an aggressive stand against faith and God, our silence has been secured at the mere prospect of engagement. We don’t wish to cause any trouble. We certainly don’t wish to draw the attention of experienced opponents. They’ve several practice runs at obliterating Christian witness. They obsess about us. We don’t obsess about them. And it’s right there that we find surprising camaraderie with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t obsess about the unbelieving world either. In fact, from his own lips, we discovered yesterday that he doesn’t even pray for them: I am not praying for the world” John 17:9

Depending on what theological team you’ve been playing for, if any, these thoughts might appear blasphemous and confusing. Great! I likewise find blasphemous and confusing a church that talks about evangelism and rarely does it. If a potential cure is within reach, let’s at least consider it.

Now, when we point out that Jesus didn’t obsess with the unbelieving world that it is not to say he dismissed them out of hand. As the prayer continues he says this: I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17:14-16 He acknowledges the world as this sort of combative force that will do its best to upend and even destroy his disciples. It has already picked off one – the traitor Judas.

All of this will make an enormous amount of sense as it unfolds over the next few days. But for now let’s just ask this question: Which is more doable – today, this very moment: Going out and attempting to evangelize or offering prayers for your fellow believers? Note that I’m not asking which one is more easy. Neither of these is easy. Prayer is not easy. I’m simply asking which one is more doable. Which one can you do the moment you read this last sentence?

December 9

The “Other” Lord’s Prayer, continued

Here’s something fun to do. If you want to get a roomful of Christians to pipe down, just ask them this: “How is the sharing of your faith going? Any great stories you would like for the rest of us to hear?” There’s no greater buzz kill than that.

We can write and sing about sharing our faith. We can vote to set aside money in the church budget for those ends. We can applaud the efforts of missionaries and clergy. We can give a hearty amen to sermons about evangelism. But statistics tell us that few will ever get around to actually doing it, to actually sharing their faith – perhaps as anemic as 5% of professing Christians. The Scriptures refer to the life, death resurrection and teachings of Jesus as the Gospel, as the Good News. Most of the time, when we have a bit of good news we find it difficult to keep quiet. We’re busting to share it. But for some reason, for whatever reason, with eternal good news, we become mutes.

I’m not here to pile on. I don’t do guilt all that well as either the giver or the receiver. As one motivational speaker put it so eloquently, “Don’t SHOULD on me.” Well, I shan’t! No, we’re here to sleuth out something we might be missing with this whole evangelism thing. And, as we return to John 17 and this lengthy, closing prayer of Jesus – we come across a clue. Let’s listen in once more as Jesus prays over his disciples. As you recall, the herd has been thinned down to 11. Judas has left the building and in so doing the entire ministry. So, we find Jesus praying this: I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. John 17:9

Do you find it odd that Jesus tells the Father that he is not going to pray for the very world for which he is about to die? However we choose to label it, the line I am not praying for the world” sort of jumps out from the text. His prayer efforts are not for the unbelievers. His burden is not for the unevangelized. His focus is entirely upon those who’ve chosen to believe, for the already evangelized. Odd? Maybe. But if we keep tugging at this thread we might find something incredibly liberating. What if this is a model for our prayers as well?

 

To be continued…

December 8

The Chronicles of Kiwi, Part 20

I packed my bags tonight, pre-flight

Well, good news! While the trip down here to New Zealand was a drawn out affair – nearly 24 hours of flying and connections and what not – it seems the trip home shouldn’t be all that bad. It says, right here on my ticket, that we’ll leave Auckland, NZ at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 7th and that we’ll arrive home to Durango, Colorado at 5:48 p.m. on Thursday, December 7th. How about that? Only a couple of hours of travel…

Traveling   

Hmm…That two hour thing did NOT work out. So, a bit about the plane. The seat of my neighbor directly in front of me, 30 D, kindly hosts a monitor for me just as my seat, 31 D, hosts one for the passenger behind me. It’s a marvel. We can choose from hundreds of movies, music genres, internet ($19 for the flight), video games and the like. I’ve been glancing about. Someone is watching one of the Fast and Furious movies, another, Wonder Woman. I see Spider Man is still avoiding traffic congestion with his spidey ways – jumping from building to building. And surprisingly, several screens are ablaze with the latest offering from the Planet of The Apes franchise. I’ve kept the Flight Update Screen going most of the way and occasionally glance up to see if we’re still in the air and if there’s anything I can do to be of assistance. My vigilance seems to have paid off. We’re still in the air. We crossed the equator a little while ago. Our air speed is 568 mph, we’re at 38000, and it is -54F outside. I’ve got the fidgets. The cheerful and full-size lad next to me got the early dibs on the arm rests. I feel sorry for him so I’m not going to stake any claims when he takes a bathroom break. I think he’s stressed. He’s told me the same joke twice. He is stuck in the middle and allowing him a bit of elbow room seems a mercy. What would Jesus do…with his heavenly elbows? I’m assuming he’d rest them beatifically in his lap as I feel I’m being nudged to do.

LAX

We arrived very early to Los Angeles because of a powerful 135 mph tailwind. The friendly gale profited us little because the Customs Office wasn’t open. We had to wait on the tarmac – too early for the government by nearly an hour. Everyone is restless, standing up, ready to make their move but there is nowhere to go. We’re in a hurry to burst through the door where we will abruptly stop and do some additional lingering as we snail our way through customs. It will take us an hour and a half to do that. We get free of that mess and begin our next pause as we await our connecting flight, some four hours away.

Back to reality

During all of this waiting I have a chance to change out the New Zealand SIM card in my smartphone with my US SIM card and, in a flash, the texts and emails begin pouring in. The most plaintive and horrific is the news that there’s an active shooter incident taking place in Aztec, NM, the nice little town just down the road from us. It’s a sobering punch to the gut. I’ve many friends who live in Aztec: the mayor, business owners, musicians, pastors and educators. People are asking for prayers. This is happening in real time. I pray: “Oh God…let this end quickly.” This is too close to home. I’ve three teachers in my family. I’ve grandkids in school. The awfulness. I hate this. I hate evil. The memory of New Zealand paradise, less than 24 chorus old, now feels surreal. Three high school students will die in this pointless and cowardly act. Our area has now joined the sad and growing club of schools and towns that have had a “shooting incident.”

Evil makes itself important. Enjoyment of any kind in the face of evil seems blasphemous. That’s what evil does. It is joyless, demanding and severe. It sucks all the oxygen out of the room. It is self-enthroning. Evil will not countenance innocence, playfulness, joy, or gratefulness. I’ve known this for some time. It is why I began writing this thing called Graceful Notions. As it is, the world is aching under the boisterous, self-aggrandizing, self-importance of evil. The world needs a different narrative, a different voice – something else to think about. By God’s grace we’ll keep this good thing going…Blessings on all you dear readers. Make a good prayer today for Aztec, New Mexico.

December 7

The Chronicles of Kiwi, Part 19

A Surfboard and A Hymn

I mentioned yesterday that Hot Water Beach was beautiful, exotic and unpredictable. I also mentioned that it was dangerous. The water is constantly monitored for its powerful, shifting riptides. Visitors are told to limit their swimming to areas between the flag placements on the beach. Many push those boundaries out of ignorance or arrogance. Hot Water Beach proves it’s a place not to be trifled with.

On our last day I took a very long stroll down the beach taking one mental snapshot after another. The beauty can be overwhelming. It’s supposed to be. This is God’s creation doing its thing as the Apostle Paul once mentioned: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been createdRoman 1:20. It struck me that I should join with creation and offer my two cents, so I began to sing – nothing fancy, nothing new, just something fit for the occasion: “Oh Lord my God when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made. I see the stars I hear the rolling thunder Thy power throughout the universe displayed…Then sings my soul my Savior, God, to Thee. How great thou art. How great thou art. Then sings my soul my Savior, God, to Thee. How great Thou art! How great Thou art!” I even recorded a bit of it with a selfie video. By design, I was far away from the crowds.

I walked the half mile or so back to our dug-out spa and at the very moment I was stepping in to relax, we heard a woman scream – but not the kind mentioned yesterday. She was crying and pointing and then we saw it – her husband or boyfriend had gone too far out and had been grabbed by the riptide. She was moving up the beach shouting and he was moving down the beach and out to sea at an astonishing speed.

I joined the race in the direction of those trying to catch up with the distressed swimmer. One young, red-haired lad commandeered a surfboard and began to paddle out, beating the lifeguards by several precious minutes. He made the grab about 100 meters from shore and wrestled the limp body on board and started back. The lifeguards caught up to them about halfway in. As they reached shore, we watched the resuscitation begin to take place. The swimmer had just made it: by seconds; by an available surfboard; by the efforts of an athletic and daring young man; and by an incredible grab by that lad in the midst of an angry, churning sea.

As I stood there listening and watching the general commotion which surrounds a dramatic rescue, I happened to notice that all this was taking place at the very spot I had stood minutes before worshiping the Creator of the universe. In fact, the little lifeguard dune-buggy where the victim was being treated could have been a prop in my wee worship video.

I’ve often taught people not only to pray through problems, but to worship through problems. Worship magnifies God to heaven size and minimizes our problems to earth size. The Lord’s Prayer begins with worship, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name…” This worship releases to the earth his presence. In the very next line we see this: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The Scriptures teach that God lingers or hovers where worship takes place. The more frequent the worship the more “homesteading” so to speak, of heaven to earth. He lingers where he is welcome. He empowers where he his praised. We call the opening of a worship service an “invocation” for good reason. We’re asking God to show up. Praise is the welcome mat.

I in no way wish to distract from the heroics of the humble lad with a surfboard. He was remarkable. So were the lifeguards. They were the earthly instruments to save a soul from drowning. But I would be remiss in my observations were I not to share the fact that this distressed soul was brought forth from the ocean at the very place of worship. Perhaps it was a coincidence. Faith would suggest that perhaps it was not.

(Leaving on a jet plane in a couple of hours. Hope to keep these up while I’m in the air. If not, see you stateside)!

December 6

The Chronicles of Kiwi, Part 18

In Hot Water

Once more with the modest naming of things…

On the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, and located within the area of Mercury Bay is a place called Hot Water Beach. It is a beach…that has water…that is hot…hence the factual but lackluster name. But don’t be fooled by the dullness of the moniker. Hot Water Beach is incredible, exotic, beautiful, unpredictable, dangerous and quite popular – drawing around 700,000 visitors per year. We made up 8 of that 700,000 since our party of 4 visited it on two different days. Hot Water Beach was so named because of the underground hot springs which filter up through the sand between the high and low tides.

Because we were newbies, I strode up to the lifeguards to ask for some helpful tips. They told us to just sort of hen-scratch about with our toes and we would figure it out in short order. Once the discovery was made, we could then dig a pit and have our own little beachside spa. Sounded easy enough.

As we made our way into the three hundred person scrum, we heard random screams and loud swearing all about us. There was no sort of fight or brawl or disagreements taking place that we could see. No, it was simply the logical, artless reaction of innocent tourists who had been hen-scratching – as instructed – and who’d made purchase with the fires of hell. What made it worse was that most of those hen-scratching toes dug in way too deep and came up with a nice plaster of sticky sand to prolong the sensation – like burning one’s finger in a candle and getting a hot wax drip all at once – a twofer of pain. The temperature of the water lurking just beneath the beach reaches an agonizing 147 F. It’s just as well that they named this Hot Water Beach. Had it been left to the tourists a more colorful name would have prevailed.

It was enormously entertaining to watch the various outbreaks and reactions of the hotfoot. More than once we saw a party of as many as eight people have one of their sacrificial hen-scratchers squawk in pain and yell out a pejorative. You would think that would have settled it. Move on to where the thermostat has been bumped down a bit. Trust your brother’s shriek. But no! One by one, by one by one, they each had to have a bite of the apple! Eight sets of toes. Eight screams. Eight swear words. Moreover, I got to see a great example of American culture’s ignoble contribution to the world’s shared lexicon. All around us were Germans, French, Romanians, Dutch, Hindi, Japanese, Chinese, etc. – a true gathering of the nations. While they chattered away to one another in their native tongues, they all cussed in English! So, I flew halfway around the world to learn that we’ve taught the world to swear. Sigh.

A bit more about Hot Water Beach tomorrow. An action-hero story without any swearing!

December 5

The Chronicles of Kiwi, Part 17
Kunekune

I mentioned the other day my unfortunate shaving incident. I postulated a theory that the rich humidity of this island caused the swelling of my chin-skin, thus offering a ripe melon scenario for the three blades of my dancing razor.  I have noticed the humidity is having a similar effect on my waste line. I’m sure when I get back to Durango all this humidity induced swelling will go down and everything will snap back into place the moment I deplane.

Oh, the sweet, sweet lies we tell.

Speaking of sweet lies, yeast does marvelous things at sea level causing the pastry industry here to flourish. It’s something I had known but had forgotten to take into account in respect to my temptation meter. The variety of brilliant and unique tartlets, offered every inch of the way throughout New Zealand, has been astonishing. To be quite honest, once you’ve said this line, “Since I’m on vacation…I’ll just have one small bite,” it is game over.  Nobody in your party believes you. Neither do you believe them. You don’t believe yourself. These are vacation lies. The swine switch has been tripped. We each know that we’re setting ourselves up for an entire day of “small bites.” I’m having one now. Several of them. Hobbits famously enjoy a second breakfast. The Shire folk are just an hour or so away. They inspire me.

And it’s not just the pastries…I also discovered macadamia nut brittle. I’ve had the poor America cousin – i.e. peanut brittle  – all my life. I can take it or leave it.  But with macadamia nut brittle it is all , “TAKE! TAKE! TAKE!”  The brittle part is made of caramelized butter and honey and then a surfeit of macadamia nuts. That’s it. It is one of those foods that causes panic once you’ve tasted it. The lips are angry with the teeth for taking so long to chew while the stomach is saying, “Is that all you got? C’mon! Move it, move it, move it!” It is the closet I’ve ever come to grunting like a pig. Check that…I DID grunt like a pig. I went totally swine. It happens when you forget to breathe while eating. It was so good that I put my own life at risk. I bought some for my mother-in-law, took one nibble, and promptly downed the whole thing.  I just stood there dazed, with glistening, buttery fingers, wondering what had just taken place.

Should I survive,  I’ll file my last two or three reports from NZ before heading home. Until then I shall teach you the Maori word for “pig.” Again, hearing it in the Maori language just makes it sound so much better. The word is, “Kunekune.”  As with so many of the Maori words, they repeat themselves. We’ve met up with, Kerikeri (swirl, swirl) and Katikati (nibble slowly, nibble slowly).  And now we have Kunekune (pig, pig). Had I done more of the Katikati I wouldn’t now be writing of the Kunekune. But the Katikati turned out to be “impossible, impossible” in the presence of macadamia nut brittle.

December 4

The Chronicles of Kiwi, Part 16
The Birds

A bit more about the gulls.

Having grown up in the Midwest I was accustomed to birds with good manners. Our beloved Robin Red Breast would quietly hop about the yard each morning, leaning over to have a listen for some careless worm bumping into his worm furniture below. The extraction was over in a flash. Sometimes I would go out and lightly tap my foot on the ground and watch the robin bounce my way. He’d put his ear to the earth, look up, puzzled but thoughtful, lean in and eavesdrop again, look up, stand fully erect, confounded and gobsmacked. What to do? What to do? The mother of all worms was below his tiny feet. He eventually thought better of it and moved to another portion of the yard for his worm mining. Thus, my memories of the robins, sparrows, wrens, cardinals, doves and pheasants of my youth – all pleasant and benign.

When we headed to San Francisco for graduate school back in the early 80’s, I was naïve in my knowledge of either obnoxious Californians or obnoxious gulls. As I quickly discovered, the latter were the “wedding crashers” of ornithology. Yet, I found a way to leverage that audacious behavior into the new ministry for which I’d been hired – that of Youth Pastor.

Having a ministry within an hour of a beach is an asset. When you’ve been tasked with mentoring young lads and lassies into becoming mature, God-loving adults, you can’t just preach your way into their hearts – you must mold timeless truths around that which creation offers. Gulls worked perfectly for my wordless sermons. Here’s how it went down…

Not ten miles away from our chosen beach was Bodega Bay, the primary setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, The Birds. Predatory, flesh-munching birds were never far from anyone’s mind in Northern California. So, just when the young ladies from our youth group were settling in for some serious gossip and sunbathing, the guys were to surreptitiously drop bread crumbs in and about the designated area. Then we would sit back and watch. The gulls never disappointed. They would sweep in and it was YOWING and screaming pandemonium. Of course, afterwards, I would act innocent and somewhat wounded and say things like, “Ladies, we really need to have a chat about some of the language I just heard. I’m shocked…shocked. What would your parents think? What would Jesus do?” They knew better. I got a hand-full of beach flung at my face. Boom! I could now teach about forgiveness! You see how it all worked?

When the boys asked about doing the same with complete strangers I knew I had to draw a line in the sand…to show them exactly how close I felt they could get if they chose to do that. It was enormously entertaining – a Far Side cartoon in real time.

I admit the technique was a bit unorthodox. Yet, I knew that being a Youth Pastor would not last, but friendships might – and that was the point. I remain dear friends with the hundred or more young souls that were entrusted to me for a season. Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth across the country performing their weddings and receiving them as guests in our home. So, as I wrote about gulls yesterday, I did so with much affection. They were once a means to a very good end

December 3

The Chronicles of Kiwi, Part 15
Panhandlers in Paradise

We’ve arrived safely in Tairua, or, “Two Tides” if you wish to be all dull and Captain Cook about it. But “Two Tides” sounds to me like one of those  “loss leader” deals you’d get at Sam’s Club. (Buy 1 Tide and get the second absolutely free!) Let’s stick with the Māori word  – Tairua. It’s  much prettier.

I’ve been scolded more than once on this trip for my benevolent and munificent St. Francis like ways. I find it healing for my soul, pleasing to heaven, harmonically convergent with all of creation, and whatever – to fling leftovers at sea gulls. It’s hilarious. Why just today, while lounging at Sailor’s Grave Beach outside of Tairua, I wandered over and deposited the remains of a fried chicken breast in the midst of a few thoughtful looking gulls. Within seconds the alarm sounded up and down the harbor and that chicken got to fly once more – higher than she ever could in her chicken life. However, it’s a challenge for a gull to fly and eat chicken while also fending off swarms of  dive-bombing colleagues. Inevitably the breast was dropped causing a rugby scrum to ensue on the beach. That chicken breast was chased up and down Sailor’s Grave Beach. That made for a satisfying ten minutes or so. Hmmm…what next? I rooted around in the eats bag and noticed Jan’s half eaten chicken breast…She had gone for a walk. She was out getting in touch with nature in her own way and…Encore!

There are a variety of gulls that inhabit various parts of New Zealand. The most common, and the one I’ve seen the most is the Red-Billed Gull. This gull is a very natty dresser with bright red feet and matching bill, white body, gray and black wing and tail feathers, and  liquid gray eyes. When they squawk it sounds exactly like the first word in James Brown’s tune, “I Feel Good”…that iconic, “YOW!” (Hear here!)

Sea Gulls are nature’s panhandlers. I’ve learned from my experience with human panhandlers that you should never give them your home address. Addresses of Pastors from other churches? – Absolutely. But never, never, never your own. I’m no dummy. That said, I know enough not to feed a gull in the place where I’m actually staying. But one showed up yesterday to test that theory. As I opened the blinds to the back deck, a Red Bill landed on the railing, screamed “YOW”, and we began our stare off.  He was not at all threatened by me. In fact, he seemed rather certain of himself, a bit of a show-off. I could read his mind by his actions:

GULL: “YOW! I bet you didn’t know that I could poop on your deck while standing on one leg. YOW! UH-HUH!  They named a part of the boat after me. YOW! “

ME: “Uh, what part was that? Like the crow’s nest or something?”

GULL: “YOW! Guess again… Now, how about a piece of that bagel? “

ME: “No can do. That would lead to chain migration and one legged hijinks all over my deck.”

GULL: “And you call yourself a Christian? YOW!”

ME: “Yes, yes I do. And the point you’re making is a non sequitur. My Christian faith does not compel me to enable you, but it does give me the freedom to fling chicken bones at the beach….See you down there in a bit.”

GULL: “YOW!” And he flew off.

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