I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I knew this time would come.

We lost Arnold Palmer this week. Arnold Palmer was a kind of constant in my life. Some of my earliest and most cherished memories are of lying next to my Dad across his bed watching golf on his little black and white TV on a Sunday afternoon. We always rooted for Arnie. “Go for it, Arnie! Charge!” As I grew up and Dad taught me to play golf, I imitated Arnie’s putting stance.

Over the years, one sports hero after another let me down with their personal failures, but Arnold Palmer remained the genuine article. I’m in my sixties now, and I’ve come to realize how remarkable it is to have a hero who never lets you down.

Sunday night I turned on the Golf Channel and listened well into the early morning hours as the commentators interviewed friends of the “The King” without commercial interruption. Everyone said the same thing: Arnold Palmer was a true gentleman. He always had time for you. He made sure to sign every autograph legibly. Even though he was one of the most well-known superstars on the planet, when you met him he made you feel like you were something special.

I think this is a glimpse into the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Somehow, Jesus is not too busy running the universe to have special relationship with us. If we let him, he will make us feel like we’re something special to him, because we are.

Jesus is the accessible hero who never lets us down. When our time comes, he’s the constant who will still be there.

Odd truth

The late southern author, Flannery O’Connor once said, “You shall know the truth, and truth shall make you odd.” It’s a twist of something Jesus said in John 8:32 about God’s truth. The truth of the Christian faith will make you different from the rest of world, sometimes shockingly so.

Ephesians 4:22 says, “Put off your old self.” Now that sounds odd to us, but it’s the language of Baptism. In Baptism, we become new creations. We put off our old identity and put on our truest and best identity, the one God gives us.

Every day, all day, the world tells us, “You be you.” “Be true to yourself.” It resonates with us because we’re basically self-centered. The irony is, it’s the culture telling us that. It’s others telling us to be us. If we believe it, we’re really just doing what someone else says.

What makes a Christian shockingly different is not their appearance, the way they act, or their likes and dislikes. A Christian has just as many problems as anyone else.

A Christian, a real one at least, is someone who is less and less motivated by what the world says.

A Christian is increasingly motivated by the truth that the living God stepped into history in the person of Jesus Christ. The only rational choice for the Christian then is to start putting off the things of their old identity and follow the God-man, Jesus.

That may seem odd to some.

Seinfeld on making freinds

In an old episode of Seinfeld, Jerry said something like this:

“When you’re in your thirties it’s very hard to make a new friend. Whatever the group is that you’ve got now that’s who you’re going with, you’re not interviewing, you’re not looking at any new people, you’re not interested in seeing any applications. They don’t know the places … They don’t know the activities. If I meet a guy in a club or the gym, I’ll tell him, ‘I’m sure you’re a very nice person, you seem to have a lot of potential, but we’re just not hiring right now.’

“Of course when you’re a kid, you can be friends with anybody. Remember when you were a little kid? What were the qualifications [for becoming friends]? If someone’s in front of my house right NOW, that person is my friend. That’s it. Are you a grownup? No. Great! Come on in. Jump up and down on my bed. And if you have anything in common at all—‘You like Cherry Soda? I like Cherry Soda’—we’ll be best friends!”

Part of what made the early church so radical was that it brought together people of different races and social and economic strata who would never have come together otherwise.

There’s a movement today of people moving back into urban centers in order to experience the kind of community that the city has to offer. By its very nature, the church is equipped to meet peoples’ deepest needs for belonging.

The great advantage of being a city center church is that the church is one of the few places where you regularly see four generations coming together at once. You don’t need to fill out an application; there’s room here for everyone.


What are you working for?

My first job on active duty in the Air Force was as a crewmember on a B-52 bomber at a base in Northern Maine. Our mission was to deter nuclear war by being prepared to strike targets in the Soviet Union. Nuclear alert was boring duty, punctuated by the terror of practice drills that would send us to the planes and prepare to launch. What made it even harder was that the winters were long, the snow was deep, and the base was a couple hundred miles from a shopping mall.

Military life by necessity involves practicing over and over for something you hope never happens. It can get tedious. The thing that I most remember about that job was that almost no one wanted to be there.

The whining was overwhelming.

What got me through those years was knowing that what we were doing was really important because it was keeping the nation safe.

This Labor Day Weekend, the Bible passage from Ephesians 6 I’m planning to preach about involves slaves being encouraged to work hard and serve their masters with sincerity and respect. It’s hard for us to imagine. Shouldn’t slaves be trying to subvert their masters?

To be sure, the kind of slavery the Bible talks about was not the race-based slavery known in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries. It took human beings, led by Christians, way too long to end that.

Rather, this passage is about work and the God who gave us work as a gift to build up God’s good creation. Whatever we do, we do it for a higher purpose. Whatever we do, it’s ultimately for God and not just for others or even for ourselves.

How hard would we work if we really believed that work was God’s gift to us?