Flashback Friday

My Senior portrait. And do note that the t-shirt says Milligan, not Michigan.
My Senior portrait. Notice the Milligan t-shirt.

Today was the last day of school for Christy and the kids.

Cowan’s graduation is tonight.

And fifteen years ago, I donned the cap and gown and did all I could not to actually march to the tune of Pomp & Circumstance.

I like to say that during the early 80s, I kind of lived under a rock when it came to popular music. After you watch one of the more popular videos from my Senior year, you’ll see why I decided to climb back under that rock and spend my time listening to the likes of Rich Mullins, Tchaikovsky, Aaron Copland, and Simon & Garfunkel.

What if I can’t read the Neon Sign? I think it’s in Hebrew

Earlier this week, I got a message from a pastor at a local church we’ve been attending off and on.  He sent the message to his entire congregation telling us that he had received a ‘Word from the Lord,’ and that we didn’t want to miss this Sunday.  I really didn’t want to go.  In fact, I wasn’t planning on going.  Christy and the kids were going to a festival in Greenville with her mom.  I was planning on helping out with the breakfast that Emmanuel was having for graduates and their families.  Turned out I wasn’t needed.

So, I decided to go to said church at the last minute.  I was actually five minutes late and they had already sung one song.  After just a couple of songs, it was time for the revelation of the special Word from God.  Why this was different than any other Sunday is still a mystery to me.  Shouldn’t every message you have be a ‘Word from the Lord?’  If not, then what’s the point of preaching, really?   Anyway, that’s a different issue for different post. 

Usually, when someone announces to a congregation that they have received a special revelation from God, you expect some big new vision to be revealed (like when Gary Lamb recently announced their church was going multi-site), or some major shakeup is going to happen (many people had initially thought the pastor was going to announce his resignation…he didn’t).  Christy was secretly hoping he was going to challenge everyone associated with the congregation to adopt a child, and they were going to do everything possible to help families do that (adoption is yet another post for another time. I’m sure it’s in our future at some point…).  None of these ideas are even close to what he had to say…

“Don’t give up.  Persevere.”

That’s the basic thrust of his message.  It was, honestly, one of the better sermons I have heard from the guy.  He was passionate and had obviously put a lot of time, thought, and prayer into the sermon.  Even the songs we sang tied into the message, which I always appreciate.  Although this ‘Word from God’ seemed a little anticlimactic because it wasn’t anything earth-shattering or paradigm-shifting, it was still a message that definitely needed to be spoken.  It’s one that needed to be heard.

So, a few hours later I’m at Emmanuel’s graduation.  The man delivering the commencement address had one basic point that he expounded upon for about a half an hour.

“Don’t give up.  Persevere.”

Now, these two events have absolutely nothing to do with each other except for the fact that 1) They seek to honor the same risen Lord, and 2) I was the only one to have been at both places.  When messages/events converge that have nothing to do with each other at face value, but tell me the exact same thing, I’m usually one to sit up and take notice.

In my Elijah sermon, I spoke about waiting for a neon sign from God and how that doesn’t normally happen to people.  In many ways, I’m wondering if this was my neon sign.  I get the message – “Don’t give up.”  But here’s where I’m confused – Don’t give up what?

For the last few weeks, I’ve been wondering if I should give up on the ministry search for right now.  It appears that whirlwind tour will end up fruitess.  Some more churches have expressed interest and I’ve still been sending out resumes.  But we’re almost to the ‘point of no return.’  Once the kids start school again in July, we really don’t want to yank them out of school to move away.  That would be too hard on them.  So, I’ve considered putting the whole ministry search ‘on hold.’

In addition, this semester was rough for me.  I bit off more than I could chew in some ways.  On top of that, I had a general sense of apathy throughout most of the semester (as expressed several times in this journal).  I’ve considered giving up on seminary.  If I were to take a ministry position, I would probably have to give up on the degree anyway – at least for a while as I tried to get established in a church.

And then there’s thewhole idea of planting a church in Evansville.

So – I get the point that I’m not supposed to give up.  I see the neon sign flashing away.  I just don’t know what exactly I’m supposed to persevere at pursuing.

Maybe next time God will hit me on the head with a brick instead.  Or at least write the sign in English.  Or SpangDeutschLish, since I’m such a wonderful communicator in both Spanish and German.

The Proud Graduate

The proud graduate…

…posing with his teacher.  She was better than we’d ever hoped for in a Kindergarten teacher for Aiden.  If we’re still in town next school year, we’re hoping she gets Alyson, too.  We’ll see…

This Little Piggy…

Before the graduation ceremony, the Kindergarten classes performed the off-off-off-off-Broadway show, E-I-E-I-Oops!  Aiden was one of the pigs.   This is the costume we came up with for him.  He even had a curly pig tail made out of pipe cleaners. 

Everybody say it together now….“Awww…how cute!”

A brief update

It’s been one busy week! Finals are almost over. I have one more left. Well, it’s really not much of a final. We get to sit and watch the video of Dr. Shields’s farewell sermon – and critique him. After I’m done with that, I get to go help out at the kids’ school with Field Day. I seem to remember calling it ‘Health Day’ at Stockwell. But maybe I’m wrong.

They had a graduation ceremony for Aiden’s Kindergarten class today. I’ll post pictures tomorrow (stupid dialup).

In the meantime, here’s the sermon I preached for my final in Old Testament Preaching.

Simon Peter worked with his friends to pull the net out of the water. Nothing. They had been out on the water all night long, and not even one fish to show for their efforts. Peter sat down – hot, sweaty, exhausted…frustrated. He took off his sweaty tunic in a desperate attempt to cool off. He looked around at his friends in the boat. Here they were, 7 lifelong fishermen, with absolutely nothing to show for an entire night’s work. Talk about frustrating.

But it was OK. This was what Peter knew. There was something about the beating of the waves against the boat that was comforting to him. There was something about being here that helped him sort out his thoughts. He felt at home on the water. Well, most of the time he did. Except tonight.

Come to think of it, this night had become an illustration of his life over the past few weeks. Once they arrested the Master, everything had gone downhill. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be. He had promised the Master that he would die for him. He swore that he would lay down his life for the man he had followed for more than three years. The Master told him it wouldn’t happen. “Before the rooster crows…” he said. Peter knew better. Peter knew he would stand up for the Master.

But when they came to arrest the Master, all Peter could do was swing around his sword for a few minutes before he was overcome with absolute fear. So he did what everyone else did. He ran.

A little later, a friend of his managed to get the two of them into the Temple courts. He watched from behind a charcoal fire as the religious leaders beat him and mocked him and threatened him with the death penalty. Three times he was asked if he knew the man who was on trial. Three times he was given the opportunity to stand up in defense of the Master. Three times he denied being connected with the man in any way. And then the rooster crowed. Every sunrise since the betrayal served as a reminder of his cowardice. Every morning, the roosters mocked him as they sang their wakeup call. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.

Three days after they crucified him, Mary burst into their hiding place with the news that the tomb was empty. “Robbers,” he thought to himself. He and his friend ran to the tomb to figure out what was going on. He didn’t know what he thought he’d see there. But he ran anyway. And Peter, well…being Peter…went into the tomb first. He looked where the Master’s body should have been. But there was no body. Instead, linen wrappings had been folded up and placed where the body should have been. “How odd,” he thought to himself. “Where has the body gone?” He went home frustrated and confused. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.

They came to find out that the Master had come back from the dead. They had gathered in a secret hiding place, wondering what was going to happen next. When suddenly, He appeared! There he was in flesh and blood, talking with his friends. They saw his pierced hands and side. They knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was the man they had been following. He was once dead. Now he was alive! Then, just as instantly as he appeared, he was gone.

Peter scanned the Sea again. Dawn was starting to break. He began to see the faint outline of the shore. The roosters would soon begin their daily mockery of his failure. If only he had a chance to talk with the Master face-to-face. If only he had a chance to tell him how sorry he was and how horrible he felt for denying him. He should have stood up for him. He should have been there for his best friend in a moment of need. And he wasn’t. Not even close. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.

The Master was probably upset with him. After all, he appeared to Thomas. He even had him touch the nail scars and put his hand in the Master’s side. Peter had tried to say something to him then. But ‘poof’ – he was gone again before he could say anything.
Then he heard a voice coming from the beach. “Hey, kids! Have you caught anything yet?”

Talk about pouring salt in the wound. Couldn’t they dwell on their failure in private? Why make a public spectacle of their ineptitude?

“No,” they responded. “And leave us alone,” Peter thought to himself.

“Why don’t you throw your net on the other side of the boat?” the voice called back.

‘Great. Just what we need,’ he thought. Another joker trying to tell him how to do his job. He didn’t know why he even bothered to listen to him. Maybe because he had nothing to lose. It’s not like he could have been any more embarrassed than he already was. And besides, the roosters would be crowing soon stacking mockery upon mockery.

Suddenly, they felt a tug on the net. And before they knew it, the net was full of fish! And not just the little bluegill variety. These were monster fish! Peter felt the rush of adrenaline as he joined his colleagues in trying to pull in the net. Who was this guy? What did this stranger know that he didn’t? Some fisherman he was. He couldn’t do anything right. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.

Then, they realized who this strange voice was. “It’s the Master!” Cried one of Peter’s friends. And Peter couldn’t contain himself. He fumbled all over himself, trying to get out of the boat. With his arms flailing all over the place, he fell over his friends in the boat as he tried to put his tunic back on. As soon as he was dressed, he jumped into the water. He couldn’t wait any longer. He had to see Jesus face-to-face. He had to tell him how he felt. He had to beg the Master for forgiveness.

The swim was short, but it felt like an eternity. He couldn’t get to the shore fast enough. When he reached the shallow water, he stood up and practically jumped out of the water. And, finally – there he was. Water still dripped from his hair as he gazed into the face of the resurrected Jesus. Peter opened his mouth to say something – to pour out his heart and try to somehow make amends with the friend he betrayed. But he couldn’t say anything. He was awestruck.

After what felt like an eternity, Jesus opened his arms to him and said, “Come on, let’s have some breakfast.” Still speechless in the presence of the Master, Peter followed him to a breakfast that had already been prepared on a fire.

A charcoal fire. He couldn’t forget that smell. How could he? Every time he smelled a charcoal fire over the last few days, the guilt would overcome him. How could he even be in the presence of the Master? Wasn’t he disappointed in him? He had failed. Nothing was what he had thought it would be – what he had hoped it would be.

The once ecstatic Peter sat quietly as the rest of his friends joined them for a very memorable breakfast by the sea. As Jesus shared bread and fish with his followers, Peter drifted his way into the background.

After they finished their meal, the followers went back to the boat and tended to the fish they had miraculously caught. Peter found himself alone with the Master. This was the moment he had been hoping for. And he would rather be anywhere but there. After all, he was a failure. And now Jesus was going to let him know. He tried to explain himself again, but he could barely open his mouth.

After a few moments, Jesus leaned over to Peter. “Oh boy, here it comes. He’s going to send me away,” Peter thought.

“Simon, son of John. Do you love me more than these?”

What did he mean “more than these?” More than these fish – his livelihood? He would give up everything to show Jesus how much he loved him. Or what about his friends? Was he asking if he loved Jesus more than his friends did? He certainly sounded like it before the recent events. If he had known the cheer, he certainly would have been the loudest in the crowd shouting, “I love Jesus, yes I do! I love Jesus – how ‘bout you?”…”I love him more! I love him more!” But not now. Not after what he had done. So he answered the only way he knew how: “Master, you know I love you.” He winced after he said it. He knew Jesus was going to drop the bomb and tell him he knew nothing about love and then kick him out of the kingdom.

“Feed my lambs.” Huh. No condemnation. No humiliation. Just Jesus being the Jesus he always knew.

He asked again, “Simon Son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes,” he replied, a little more confident in his response.

“Be a shepherd for my sheep.” Sure, Master, Peter thought to himself. I’ll do whatever you ask.

Then Jesus asked again, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Three times. Three times he had asked. Peter stared Jesus in the face and a tear rolled down his cheek. He smelled the charcoal fire and couldn’t help but remember what he had done. Peter, the Rock, began to bawl. Through his tears, he said, “Master, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus put his hand on Peter’s shoulder and said, “Feed my sheep.” Then he continued, “You have been telling me for years that you are going to follow me to the death. That will happen at some point, but not yet. It’s time for your life to bring glory to God. I have a job for you and your friends.” No condemnation.  No humiliation.  No demand for an apology.  No recounting all of Peter’s wrondoings.  Just Jesus being the Jesus he always knew.

In the background, Peter thought he heard the sound of a rooster crowing.

And Jesus looked at him and said, “Follow me.”

The Master continues to offer that invitation to us today. No condemnation.  No humiliation.  No demand for an apology.  No recounting all of our wrondoings.  Just Jesus being the Jesus we’ve always known saying, “Follow me.”