Every Song Becomes a Psalm

I always looked for God in music. Lyrics and melody always grounded me in a special way. Growing up in the evangelical church all music was supposed to be about Jesus. Yet even as I ventured outside the safe confines of Christian music, I still kept listening intently for God in every song I heard. I felt like there was something special about finding the divine in a thing considered secular by my tradition. Working later at a Christian camp, I felt like if I could ground a skit or a drama scene in a Coldplay song or something else a kid might hear on a radio that it might stick better with students. They could hear God pop up outside the confines of the church. And so I always listened for God in music. 

I have discovered that when you try to look for God—if you dedicate yourself to that quest—you will find God even when that was never intended. “Wonderwall” by Oasis is absolutely not a song about God and yet the line “Maybe you’re going to be the one that saves me” still stirs something spiritual inside of me. I projected my faith into the world and I found that faith in many places. The reward has been that, in the moments when I need it, every song becomes this connection to this faith that sustains me and keeps me afloat. I can’t not hear God calling to me from a car stereo.

Beeps, Boops, and Prayers

Saying “I had a medical scare” seems melodramatic. It was medical but I was never really “scared.” Concerned? Yeah. Spooked? Sure. It’s just that calling it a “medical scare” seems unfair to people that actually have medical scares. Semantics aside, I woke up Friday morning with numbness and tingling in my left hand and foot, which over the course of a visit to our local urgent care facility spread to my leg, arm, and—for a delightful short period—the left side of my face. 

The doctors at urgent care felt like this all warranted a visit to the emergency room and so I spent most of the day at one of the fine hospitals in our city undergoing a battery of tests. To cut to the chase, I didn’t have a stroke. Whatever was going on with the left side of my body was likely some sort of combination of a bulging disc between two vertebrae and possibly stress. So there are lessons to be learned.

To reach these conclusions, I had to get a couple of MRIs done. I had never been in an MRI machine before and I now have no desire whatsoever to get in one again. If you had asked me prior to Friday whether I was claustrophobic, I would have laughed and said, “Oh, of course not.” But after that session in a high tech coffin, I totally understand why people are afraid of enclosed spaces. I guess the thing I said at the beginning about never really being scared isn’t exactly true.

Turning Over Tables (Sermon Video)

This is video of the sermon that I preached this past Sunday at The Bridge worship service in which I tell the story of cafeteria crime spree in my middle school, look at the passage where Jesus drives the moneychangers out of the Temple, wrestle with another mass shooting, and talk about our calling as Christians to flip over tables in the world.

Turning Over Tables (John 2:13-22)

The cafeteria at R.P. Dawkins Middle School had a stage on one end. Unfortunately, its purpose was not to enliven our lunch period with musical dinner theater, but to make the room multi-functional for orchestra concerts, spelling bees, and for school administrators to make outlandish promises about high school to gullible 8th graders that high school could not keep. This raises a logistical problem. What are you going to do if a room is supposed to house dozens of cafeteria tables during the day but at night needs rows of chairs for a concert in which kids on the cusp of puberty sing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”? Hypothetically.

Well, the fine folks at Rudolph Periwinkle Dawkins Middle School made a reasonable and—I am sure—a very common choice: You purchase cafeteria tables that can fold up and easily be rolled into storage. Problem solved. Except…there was one problem these reasonable administrators did not anticipate. You see, it was a little too easy to fold up those tables. And middle schoolers have an uncanny ability to discover those kind of bugs in the system.

One day in the 7th grade—just as we were being dismissed from lunch—a band of juvenile ruffians stood up around their lunch table. Their ringleader pulled and turned the latch, the group folded the table up, and then—as if caught by flashing blue lights on some street corner in West Side Story—they scattered in every direction. A surprised giggle rippled through the hallway as we spilled out of the cafeteria. Suddenly storming out after us…well, we had this assistant principal who looked like Judge Judy. And we called her Judge Judy. She did not suffer fools. And she was upset. She came tearing out of the cafeteria seeking vengeance on the gang of pre-pubescent suburban scoundrels that dared to bring chaos to her ordered cafeteria. And when one rattles the unrattle-able Judge Judy, it turns what would have been an isolated incident into a lunch time crime spree unlike any I had seen in my young life.

Grant Us Courage

I saw my youngest son be brave today. It is the first day of school. His older brother has been looking forward to getting back to the routine, especially after discovering one of his best friends would be in his class. Liam has not been as eager to make the return. Holding his hand as we walked into the building, I worried about him. We dropped Jim off in his classroom and then weaved past new backpack-toting students and their doting parents.

We arrived in his first grade class. His teacher taught EA when she went to school here; which thrills us and helps him a little. Slowly we work our way over to a desk with his name on it. A girl from his class last year smiles and waves at him. He puts his backpack in the cubby and then sat down. EA and I stooped down to tell him goodbye. He hugged us both, used his arms to wipe tears out of his eyes, and told us goodbye.

He didn’t beg us to stay. He didn’t run after us like he did last year. He was nervous. He was sad. But without any prompting from his mom or I, he decided he was going to stay and try. I can only imagine how difficult that was for him. I know it was colossally tough. He has told us for weeks that he didn’t want to go back. He went back today and he stayed. That 6 year old is my hero.

Rebirth (Sermon Video)

This is video of the sermon that I preached this past Sunday at The Bridge worship service in which I wrestle with Romans 6, particularly the famous 23rd verse which states “The wages of sin are death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” I also get interrupted by Siri on my watch and whiff big time on a fish-related joke.

Rebirth (Roman 6:1-14, 23)

I am going to go against everything that Julie Andrews believed in and start at the end rather than the beginning. Romans 6:23—“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord”—is one of the earliest verses that I memorized. It is part of a series of verses known as the Roman Road. Has anyone here heard of the Roman Road? Not the Appian Way that led to Rome but the parts of Paul’s letter that is supposed to lay out the road to salvation?

In my church we were taught the Roman Road early on. You start on the road with Romans 3:23, which is our problem as humans: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Then you come to the consequence of our problem in the first part of Romans 6:23, that our sin warrants death. But then the turn comes when you double back to Romans 5:8 which tells us that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Then the road ends at our response in Romans 10:9: “For if you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That was the Roman Road: a quick and easy way to lay out the plan of salvation for little Baptist kids.

It may sound like I’m trying to knock that approach but that’s not my aim. As a teaching tool, the Roman Road was very effective. After all, it is still with me after all these years. And there are important lessons to remember along that path. We do all mess up and fall short of what God asks of us. God does love us so much that Christ came to earth to live with us, show us what love is, and die even though we mess up all the time. But it was presented as a quick and easy transaction; a way to go to heaven when you die. And I just think that the Christian faith is far more than a spiritual transaction that determines our afterlife. I need it to be more than that. As a result, I have been in an epic wrestling match with Romans 6:23 all week long and even late into last night.

Prison Break (Sermon Video)

This is video of the sermon that I preached this past Sunday at The Bridge worship service in which I took a big picture view of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and what we can learn from the joy that helped him rise above his imprisoned circumstances. I also talk about being locked up in a jail-themed escape room with middle schoolers and how praying over students at summer camp felt like a personal prison break. Hope you enjoy.

Prison Break (Philippians 4:4-9)

This past week, our middle schoolers did a local missions camp that we’ve come to call Light Up Music City. This is something that Katie Gossage and I threw together in a pinch a few years ago and it has become a cool regular part of our summer. For about half of the day, we serve somewhere in the Nashville area. This year we volunteered at Fall-Hamilton Elementary, Second Harvest, and GraceWorks Ministries out in Franklin. The other half, we’ll do something like canoe the Harpeth or go to Topgolf.

On Tuesday—by popular demand—we went to the Escape Game. For those of you who haven’t been to one of these, you are “locked” in some sort of themed room, you’re given a story like you are spies in a foreign country or you’re astronauts on a Martian space station, and then you have one hour to solve a series of intricate puzzles in order to escape from the room.

That is how I found myself locked into prison with five middle school guys one afternoon this week. I should have known we were in for an experience from two things the Escape Game guy said. First, he told us that Prison Break was the hardest room that they had. Then, he apologized that we weren’t starting on time. They had to clean up a little bit more because “it got a little crazy in there for the last group.” I gave him a quizzical look and he just kind of raised his eyebrows at me and I am still uncertain if I want to know what went down for the group before us. So with the reality that this room was the toughest to escape and the possibility that the prior group went Lord of the Flies on each other, he locked three of us in one cell and three in another and told us that getting out of our respective cells was just the first step of breaking out.

To Jim on His 9th Birthday

You were so excited to turn 9 today. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone who was as pumped to hit that age as you have been. 10? Sure. It’s double digits. And you will be ecstatic to turn 10 I am sure. But today you turned 9 and today that was the greatest thing of all.

Every year, I feel like I am going to do an increasingly inadequate job of writing these letters to you. The older you get the more enmeshed you are into our lives. It becomes increasingly difficult to remember a time when your presence didn’t fill our home, when your squinty, freckled smile didn’t greet us in the morning, when you didn’t crawl up into one of our laps.

And I know I have mentioned this before, but it also doesn’t feel like it should have been this long. Nine? How do we have a nine year old kid? You’re a year away from ending your elementary school career. And, yes, part of that is because Nashville public schools do middle school from 5th to 8th grade—which seems absurd to me—but the reality is still staring your mom and I in the face. You should not be this old, but it also feels like you’ve always been with us. Parenting is weird, buddy.