My Sesame Street Lunchbox and Your Faith

You can restore my childhood by purchasing this (http://ebay.to/17COjrB)
You can restore my childhood by purchasing me this (http://ebay.to/17COjrB)

I would imagine that most of you are familiar with the elementary school practice of “show and tell.”  Each child brings an item from home, they stand in front of the class and they tell their classmates about that item.  The only “show and tell” experience that I remember clearly  happened during kindergarten.

I was five years old and I brought my yellow Sesame Street lunchbox.  I loved my Sesame Street lunchbox.  When I would get home from school, my mom would fix my lunch, put it in my lunchbox, and my little brother and I would have a picnic almost every day.  It was one of my favorite things!  So I brought it to class, stood in front of my classmates, and told them all about my yellow lunchbox.

Later, as everyone was getting ready to leave for the day, two little boys walked over to graciously inform me that Sesame Street was for babies and it was stupid that I had brought my lunchbox for “show and tell.”

Experiences like that make us afraid to share.  They make us afraid to show people how we really feel—what we really think.  It makes us afraid of risk and transparency.  I don’t know if you experienced that in kindergarten or in junior high, but once we’ve reached adulthood many of us become very hesitant to really let our inner thoughts and feelings out into the open, lest we “show and tell” and are subsequently ridiculed for what we have shown and told.

Where am I going with this?  “Show and tell” is really what sharing the Gospel is all about.  We tell other people what we have experienced—what we believe—what we value.  We “show and tell” what Jesus has done for us.

Nobody is going to be fought or argued into the Kingdom of God.  But if we’re afraid to “show and tell”—if we’re afraid of how people are going to respond—then they’re not going to make it into the Kingdom of God then either.  So we can’t argue them in—and we can’t keep silent.  So what do we do?  When your neighbor blasphemes, show and tell what Jesus has done for you!  Yes, they may scoff.  Yes, they may tell you that your views are primitive and silly and damaging.  They may tell you that your favorite thing is stupid and for little kids.  But who cares?

This is life or death business here, one that every one of us should be praying about and considering, to prepare ourselves to show and tell what Jesus has done for us.

Do you find it easier that you don’t have to argue someone into God’s Kingdom?  Or is it harder to be honest and make yourself vulnerable?  Sound off in the comments below!

This is an excerpt from last Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  For more, listen here or subscribe to our podcast here.

Jesus, Celebrity Atheists, and Picking Your Battles

Picture by Joe (http://bit.ly/1vvQDWq)
Picture by Joe (http://bit.ly/1vvQDWq)

People around the world disbelieve in the divinity of Jesus.  But you are not responsible to engage every one of them with the news of the Gospel.  No, you are responsible to engage the ones near you.

Why did Jesus engage the blasphemous people in Matthew chapter 9?  Jesus engaged with those men, (1) because He was near them and (2) because they engaged Him first.

Jesus didn’t write letters to the editor about the blasphemous article last week.  He didn’t decry the latest PBS documentary with Facebook posts.  No, He dealt with the people nearby.
And even then, He didn’t go door-to-door looking for blasphemers under every rock.  He waited until they made themselves known and then He interacted with them.  Here’s my point:

People around the world disbelieve in the divinity of Jesus, but it’s not our job to go hunting them down or to go after the big targets.

  It’s very unlikely that God has called you to convert the heart of Stephen Hawking or Neil deGrasse Tyson or whoever the celebrity atheist is this week.  Jesus didn’t bother with those guys!  He engaged those near Him who engaged Him first.

So if you have people you love who disbelieve in Jesus, you’ll want to engage with them.  That actually makes sense.  You already care for their hearts—you care for their souls and their futures.  So it makes sense you’d engage them.  This means family members, coworkers, next-door neighbors, friends.

If those people don’t believe that Jesus is God—that He came to save the world—and that He proved it with His miraculous power—if those close to you don’t believe, then YES you do engage them!  Basically, we’re talking about those whom the Bible call your “neighbors.  They’re near you physically and/or relationally.

How have you found yourself caught in this cycle of wanting to respond to public unbelief?  How did it work out?  Sound off in the comments below!

This is an excerpt from last Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  For more, listen here or subscribe to our podcast here.

What Is Jesus’ Perspective On Your Suffering?

Used with permission from http://bit.ly/1zjlt9H
Used with permission from http://bit.ly/1zjlt9H

Jesus has an extraordinary perspective on suffering–even on our own very personal suffering.

Well, how could He know what I’m going through right now?  He knows, because He felt your pain on the cross.  On the cross, He took the burden of your sin.  He felt the weight of your heartbreak and your pain, physically, emotionally, relationally.  He endured it all on that dark day that we call Good Friday.  Jesus understands your suffering.

But not only that, He suffers with you.  He is no detached Lord who watches us from afar, thinking, “One day, they’ll understand.”  What happened when Lazarus died and his sisters wept?  Even though Jesus knew that Lazarus would soon be raised from the dead to the glory of God—even though He had that eternal perspective, what did Jesus do?  He wept with them.

When you weep, He weeps with you.  When you hurt, He hurts with you.  He does not abandon us in our suffering, but He walks the road of suffering with us.

So when you suffer, unburden yourself to Jesus.  He understands, He cares, and He hurts with you.

Yet the news of the Gospel urges us to take one more step forward to this part of His perspective: Jesus’ suffering guarantees that our suffering will eventually end.  By bearing the brunt of our sin and suffering, Jesus has undone the eternal grip of suffering on our bodies and our souls.  By dying and being raised from the dead, Jesus has broken the stronghold that suffering had on you.

Your suffering will not last, because Jesus has promised to make all things right through His suffering.  So just because He chooses to allow your suffering right now—it doesn’t mean that it will never end.

How does this thought strike you?  How have you come to terms with it?  Share your thoughts below.

This is an excerpt from last Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  For more, listen here or subscribe to our podcast here.

The One Thing That Limits God’s Actions

Used with permission from http://bit.ly/1vuhPKE
Used with permission from http://bit.ly/1vuhPKE

Jesus’ power and authority in this world are bound only by His divine choice.

  Nothing on this earth binds the will of God!

If He wants to calm a storm, He calms a storm.

If He wants to cast out a demon, He says one word, “Go!” and they’re gone.

If He wants to heal a sickness, He heals a sickness.

But if He does not want to calm a storm—if He does not want to give faith where there is unbelief—if He does not want to convert people’s hearts, then He is not bound to do so.

The only thing that limits the action of God is the desire of God.

I hope by now that you’re seeing why this seems like a problem to us.  I hope you feel the tension.  Because that tension exists in our lives.

The struggles we have, whether physical, spiritual, relational, or otherwise—the struggles we have in every arena of life—these struggles are not bigger than God.  He could solve them with a word right now.

But instead, He has made an intentional choice to allow those struggles to continue.  He is Lord of every arena of your life—His will is ultimate and He can change anything He wants.

And that raises the question:

If He has the power and authority to do so, then why doesn’t He bring peace, freedom, and restoration to every arena of my life?  And more than that, why doesn’t He bring peace, freedom, and restoration to the whole world right now?

How have you come to terms with this difficult question?  Share your thoughts below!

This is an excerpt from last Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  For more, listen here or subscribe to our podcast here.

How can I be a Christian in my workplace?

What does it mean to share Jesus’ priorities when you’re at work?  What does it mean to be on mission for Jesus at the workplace?  Working for Jesus doesn’t mean that you hand out tracts at the office.  So what does it mean, then?

By attacking and undoing sin, Jesus was also undoing the effects of sin in the world. He came to undo sickness, poverty, and brokenness.  He came to undo sin and its consequences in the world.

So CPA!  How do you work for the mission of Jesus?  Lots of ways!  Be honest.  Respect the law of the land.  Be a good steward of other people’s money.  Show your clients what honesty, integrity, and excellence look like.  Because Jesus wants to undo dishonesty and greed and replace it with integrity and generosity.

Retiree!  How do you work for the mission of Jesus?  Wow.  There’s so much you can do.  You can pray for the work of the Gospel.  You can use your spare time to mentor the young—to communicate with missionaries—to be a good neighbor to the lonely person that lives next door.  Use your retirement to share the love of God and to fix what is broken.

Stay-at-home mom!  How do you work for the Lordship of Jesus?  You may very well have the most important job of anyone in this room.  Love on those little ones.  Tell them about Jesus and what He’s doing in the world.  Discipline your children—prepare them for the life ahead of them.  Teach them to be a responsible citizen.

Working for Jesus doesn’t mean you hand out tracts at the office.  It means you do your best—you work hard—you love those around you—and when you see brokenness and need, you do what you can to meet the need.  We are to live and to work like no one else does.  We set a new standard.

This is an excerpt from last Sunday’s sermon at Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington, LA.  For more, listen here or subscribe to our podcast here.

Why Racism is a Sin Worth Repenting

I grew up in Memphis, TN, where Rev. King was shot and killed.  While I can’t blame my hometown for my own struggle with racism, I can say that I was surrounded by racism in that place.  Friends would joke on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that it was “James Earl Ray Day.”  And I would laugh.  When I lived there, racial prejudice toward people of color was palpable.

Since that time, I’ve lived in several other places around the country.  But the one that exposed my racism most was Birmingham, AL.  While visiting the Civil Rights Museum there, I remember walking through exhibit after exhibit–seeing how people like me had caused such atrocities against black men, women, boys, and girls–and I felt a great weight.

That weight was not white guilt.  It was not feeling bad for the sins of my hometown.  It was not me atoning for slave-owning forefathers.  That weight was conviction for my own sin.  The foolish laughs, the angry words, the judging thoughts.  There in Birmingham my sin was exposed.

I was reminded of all this today, as I was reading Romans chapter 3.  The apostle Paul said this:

Is God the God of Jews only?  Is he not the God of Gentiles also?  Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one…

That phrase “of Jews only” really jumped out at me.  We’ve all seen the signs (if only in museums) that were placed by water fountains and restrooms that read the exact same way.  What is Paul getting at here about God and about race?

Yahweh, the God of Israel, is One.  His love extends equally across every racial and cultural divide.  And when we transgress that tenet of His character, it is sin.  It is an offense to God to speak against, to deride, and to fail to love those whom He loves.  In Birmingham, I first realized my sin.  Today, I continue to see it exposed.  And so I continue to grieve my sins of racism today.  And at the same time, I celebrate the grace of Christ that is enabling me to overcome my sin.

Why is racism a sin worth repenting of?  Here’s the reason:

God loves.  He loves with no attention to racial and cultural barriers.  And He wants us to love in the same way.  Through the Gospel of Jesus, He seeks to undo racism, bringing Jew and Gentile, black and white together into one family.  This is His desire and it should be ours too.

I hope you consider these things deeply today.

And for what it’s worth, if you know very little about Martin Luther King, Jr., I’d strongly recommend this book to you.  It’s been a real encouragement to me in the last several years.

Album review: Brady Toops

Brady Toops.  Heard of him?  If you’re like me, I’d never heard of him until a few months ago.  But, boy, am I glad to know him now.  Well, if owning his new album and corresponding with him via Twitter and email counts, then I guess I kinda know him.  Brady sent me a copy of his eponymous album (available for purchase on iTunes and free streaming here) and I am really hopeful that you’ll give him a listen.

The first thing that struck me about Brady is his voice.  Rarely do I stumble upon a singer who really understands that their voice is an instrument to be mastered.  Amazingly, the guy has never taken voice lessons.  In his words, his goal is simply “to try and translate the emotion and ideas of each song as accurately as possible into each tune.”  And, boy does he succeed.  Anybody can sing a traditional hymn or gospel/soul, but few are able to really communicate the longing for hope like Brady does.  Maybe it has something to do with growing up in small-town America and living in a faith community that values old-time hymns.  Or maybe it’s his closet love of Boyz II Men.  Regardless, Brady gets the job done.

I must confess that I don’t get too jazzed about quote-unquote Christian artists, not that Brady claims the moniker.  It seems that the genre of “Christian music” can sometimes get in the way of the creative musical process.  Sometimes, though, you find a musician who is deeply connected to the Faith, but is also remarkably gifted musically.  Folks like Sufjan Stevens, Jon Foreman, and (of course) Derek Webb come to mind.  Brady is another one of these talented musicians who doesn’t sacrifice the art to fit a market niche.  Whether you’re a Christian or not, these songs will feed your soul.  They really stir something in me, which is why this record has been my soundtrack for driving to church each week since I got it.  It helps me to look forward to something bigger, something better, something more meaningful than what most is usually offered to me.

I could elaborate on the songs or the man himself, but the best thing you could do is just listen.  Listen with an open mind and prepare to be surprised.  Brady Toops is a name I anticipate hearing for years to come and I hope you’ll join me in enjoying his new album.   I’ll close with a quote from the man himself:

“My goal with this album was to put together a collection of tunes that were honest and true. I wanted to make a record I could fully believe in. In the songwriting and production, I wanted the music to really go deep into the hearts of those who listen. I’ve been profoundly impacted by certain stories and songs over the years and the chance to give that sort of experience to someone is something I really enjoy.”

Brady Toops is available for purchase on iTunes and free streaming here.

Open Letter Concerning Syria

Below is a letter that Megan and I have sent to our Congresspersons, requesting them to stand for justice and peace when Congress reconvenes next month.  I urge you, regardless of your viewpoint on this issue, to be a part of the political process and contact those in Washington representing your interests.  Feel free to use any or all of our letter in your own letters to your Congresspersons.  You can find their contact information on these two websites:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

[Representative/Senator],

As citizens of the United States of America and the state of Louisiana, my family is wholly opposed to our country engaging Syria violently at this time.  When Congress reconvenes, I urge you to please keep our country from engaging in such acts of aggression.  My family’s concern is less from war weariness and more from ethical concerns.  Not only would violence be a hasty alternative to diplomacy in this case, it would also be perceived as US imperialism in a region where we have vested economic interests.

Yet my request is not simply for you to oppose violent intervention in Syria–but to request that you put forth a more constructive approach to the situation.  We need better diplomatic relations, if we are to ever be a constructive presence in places like Syria, Egypt, Iran, or otherwise.

Please protect American men, women, and children now and in the future by opposing any efforts to engage Syria violently at this time.

For justice and peace,
Rev. Jason D. Wood and Megan Wood

A review of the album you’ll have memorized by tomorrow afternoon

Derek WebbIf you’re a true DW fanboy/girl, you’ve probably already read my review for ex-fans.  If not, you can read it later.  Let’s talk to the nuts like me who still wonder about Solomon Mente and think about MLK Jr. when they listen to “Jena and Jimmy.”  Here’s what you need to know about this record before you buy the highest tier preorder tomorrow, so you can set your I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You coffee mug next to your Ringing Bell graphic novel.

Music
Musically, this album is an absolute treat, because it really feels like a retrospective of all his post-Caedmon’s work…well, that is, if he’s not in Caedmon’s anymore…but that’s another conversation.  I’ve found myself constantly thinking things like, “Man, ‘Closer Than You Think’ really would have fit on The Ringing Bell” or “Did he write ‘Lover Part 3’ for I See Things Upside Down?”  Of course, Derek has already said that “Heavy” is intentionally reminiscent of “Wedding Dress.”  I could keep doing this all day.  If you like any or all of his albums musically, you’ll find something to love here.  Probably the least represented album musically would be Stockholm Syndrome, but you can find traces in programmed drums and some nasty bass lines.

Lyrics
Lyrically, this album is a sequel to She Must and Shall Go Free [SMASGF], including old hymns with new music (“Thy Will Be Done”), new hymns with traditional music (“I Measure The Days”), intentionally theological songs (“Lover Part 3”), and really sweet love songs that I assume were written for Sandra (“The Vow”).  Every song on this album is excellent from a lyrical standpoint, though a couple take some digging to process.  Of course, we expect that from DW.

Album Construction
I’m picky about this, since “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” taught me that there must be a coherent logic to any good album.  Here’s what I’m seeing in this record:

Tracks 1-2
“I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You” and “Eye of the Hurricane” – Derek tells you the basic premise of the whole record, trying to rebuild his relationship with Christians who have been alienated by past albums

Track 3: Lover Part 3
The theological basis for this record (and frankly, every record he’s ever written)

Track 4: Closer
The necessary response to Lover Part 3, a reminder that the Gospel not only binds us to the Father, but also to one another in Christ.  This track seems to wrap up the “family business” of restoration on the album.

Tracks 5-8
These songs, flowing from tracks 1-4, are all about reconciled family members sitting down and talking about the Church again, like they did on SMASGF.

Tracks 9-12
These songs were an unexpected turn for me, because they got really intensely personal.  It was almost uncomfortable to get this sort of glimpse into Derek’s personal life.  But frankly, it’s songs like these that make it a real Derek Webb album.  Sometimes it’s not the theology or the music, it’s the raw honesty–the laying bare of a person’s soul that really strikes hardest:

“Nothing But Love” – a painfully beautiful breakup song that seems to be about leaving 
his church
“The Vow” – a repentant romance song?  Or is it a romantic repentance?  I’m not sure.  Derek and Sandra sound like Johnny and June on this one.  Really great.
“Your Heart Breaks In All the Right Places” – I really can’t describe this, except as a 
remarkably transparent psalm.  Just gorgeous.
“Thy Will Be Done” – a musical redoing of Derek’s song from the last Indelible Grace record.  Every time I sing this, I feel both terrified and relieved by its honesty.

So that’s enough for now.  I’ve had the record for two weeks and just checked on iTunes, which informs me I’ve listened to it 15 times.  The standard for fanboy status has been set.  Ready, set, GO!  And, because I know you want to hear some of the songs, go read this other review now…

Derek Webb’s New Record…wait, who?

 

Derek WebbMaybe you’ve seen me post the reviews for Derek Webb’s new album, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You.  And all you’re thinking is, “Who in the world is Derek Webb?”  I’m glad you asked.

Every person has a handful of truly formative people in their lives: friends, family, writers, artists, and musicians.  When it comes down to musicians that have influenced me, two names come to mind first: The Beatles and Derek Webb.  I don’t need to introduce you to our Liverpudlian friends, but Derek might need a quick bio.

Derek Webb is a folk singer par excellence, meaning he is an agitator at his core.  His is geared to speak prophetically into situations that should not be, casting a vision of something better.  This resonates with me, because I have often found myself in that same position.  Webb connects with me even more, because the target of his criticism is most often Christianity and the Church.  Now why would Christians need to be yet another person’s whipping boy?  Well, the difference is that Derek is not a detractor of the Church; rather, he places himself right in the center of it and calls for reformation.  This is a good and necessary thing for the Church.  It is a good thing for me.

Musically, Webb has spanned quite a variety of genres.  Starting out with a more traditional Americana sound on his first record, he has dabbled in indie country-rock, 60s psychedelic rock, hip-hop, and now on this record some amalgamation of them all.  Really, if I had to say this record reminded me of anyone musically, it reminds me a lot of U2 and late Beatles with hints of Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie.  It’s like the UK went to Nashville…or Nashville went to the UK?  I’m not sure.  It’s a blast regardless.

Bottom line, if you have any respect for me musically or theologically, give this record a shot.  If you like anything on it (which you will), talk to me and I’ll tell you which of Webb’s records to go to next.  Trust me on this one.  So you don’t know who Derek Webb is?  That’s not going to last much longer.  Pre-order his new album starting tomorrow (with immediate download) from derekwebb.com.  To hear some previews from the record, check out this other review of mine.