Playing tricks

When I was a kid, I wanted to be accepted by other kids. Don’t we all? But I remember in the
sixth grade getting invited to a party at a neighbor girl’s house. I was suspicious because the girl
didn’t like me, but since we were neighbors, my mom insisted that I go. It turned out the girl had
just invited me so she and her friends could play a trick on me.
Thinking back now on my young neighbor, I imagine playing that trick on me came out of her
own need to be accepted.
Years ago, there was a TV series called Cheers about a bar in Boston. The theme song went like
Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
A Rolling Stone magazine poll in 2011 named that the best TV theme song of all time.
To be accepted means to be recognized; received; approved.
None of the things we do to be accepted help much, and some of it isn’t good for us at all. Some
young men join gangs. Some young women starve themselves, thinking they need to be thin to be
accepted. The $4.4 trillion wellness industry makes promises bordering on the religious. It seems a
lot of grownups are willing to let themselves be tricked.
God knew all this about us, but he loved us so much that he sent his Son to us.
The only perfect person made the only perfect sacrifice so that imperfect people could be
The cosmic question is, why do we keep pursuing what the creator wants to give us for free?

Comfortable misery

Cortney Warren is a clinical psychologist who teaches in the UNLV School of Medicine. Her book is The Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Warren was an undergrad when she got interested in the topic of self-deception, and immediately she saw it “everywhere in everyone.” 

She said, “We lie to ourselves about the smallest details, like how much we ate today and why we didn’t list our actual height and weight on our driver’s license.” 

We lie about the “big things” too, like the reasons we choose a career path or who we choose to marry. Looking back on her own romantic life, Warren found that her fear of being left behind led her to make all kinds of poor choices when it came to men.

But she says there’s hope. “When we admit who we really are, we have the opportunity to change.” 

In church we call that “confession.”

Confession and accountability are key reasons we need church.

If you say you are “spiritual” and don’t need church, guess who’s lying? 

And of course when you lie to yourself you can’t just stop with little things. 

When the Allies liberated the concentration camps in Germany after World War II, people living near the camps said they didn’t know about the horrors happening inside.

But they knew.

Today, one of the worst things you can call someone is a “Nazi.”  But calling someone a “Nazi” is one of the worst mistakes you can make because you’re assuming that you would never look the other way in the face of evil.

Which is exactly what western leaders did in 1994 during the Rwandan Civil War, when upwards of 800,000 Tutsis were hacked to death by Hutus.

We all prefer to live a lie than believe the truth.

We tell ourselves that something is true if it “works for you.”

The Heidelberg Catechism calls this our “misery.”

So we need an outside source of truth…

We need to confess, again and again…

We need to remind ourselves of the wonder of the cross…

Lest we get comfortable in our misery.

Dream, alive and well

Ryan Cenk was a regular volunteer at the Tuesday night meals here at First Church, hosted by our friends at Outreached Arms. Ryan had battled brain cancer from infancy. The disease made it hard for him to see and walk. He looked younger than he really was.

But he had the advantage of having a great heart.

And he was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Ryan became an Eagle Scout, an advocate for the physically challenged, and a volunteer for many causes that mattered to him.

Before Ryan passed away in 2017 at the age of 22, he shared his dream of a night where the less fortunate were treated to a special meal.   

Ryan’s friends continue to make his dream a reality, and the dream continues to grow. This week was the fifth annual “Ryan’s Night to Remember” and it was the best yet. After appetizers and mocktails in the cafeteria, 115 guests sat down to a three-course meal in the chapel.

One volunteer said, “It’s something special to keep people thinking positive. It helps remind them that they still matter.” 

One guest said it “reminds us that someone loves us.”

Atria’s restaurant group again catered the food, with Atria’s owner Nancy McDonnell present to provide encouragement. Others donated desserts, flowers, linens, and more. Dozens of volunteers donated their time to serve, move tables, and wash dishes.

And they all said they were blessed by the privilege of serving. 

Ryan’s dad, Bill, has served here on Tuesday nights for over eight years, cheerfully carrying on his son’s legacy. When I told him I could see that Ryan got his character from his dad, Bill said, “No. I got my character from him.”  

Isn’t that how God’s Kingdom works?

Ryan Cenk

Why we drive

Cars have always meant freedom to me.

Back in my day at the Air Force Academy, underclassman couldn’t own cars. But a great incentive for sticking it out was the promise of getting a new car your senior year.

Out of 800 seniors, 300 had Corvettes.

Banks would loan cadets $4000, enough for a fully loaded Camaro. Corvettes were $5100.

My Uncle Don was a Chevy dealer, and I spent a whole day with him over Christmas break my junior year picking out a Camaro. But before I left, Uncle Don asked, if I could get a Corvette, what would it be like? That was easy; Corvettes back then had few options. But I had no hope of getting one because I didn’t have $1100.

A few days later, as Christmas break was ending, Dad asked, “You’d really like that Corvette, wouldn’t you?” Yes, of course, I said. Dad said that he would make up the price difference.

As a father myself I can imagine his joy in making my dream come true.

Jana and I drove our Corvette cross country on our honeymoon. It was our daily driver for years. During the three years we lived in Northern Maine we had no garage, and it sometimes got buried in snow.

We’re having that car restored for our sons now. We know it’s just a car, but it reminds me of Dad and Uncle Don. It’s as close to a family heirloom as we’ve got.

In his book Why We Drive, Matthew Crawford, a motorcycle mechanic with a PhD in political philosophy, makes the case that moving through our world is part of what makes us human. He laments how cars have become boring, cushier, and insulated from the feel of the road. He details how advances in safety led to “safetyism.” He says tech companies are betting that we’ll be OK with becoming passive occupants of self-driving cars. They’re betting we’ll be willing to give up freedom for the illusion of safety.

The author of Hebrews writes of how Jesus Christ shared our humanity “so that he might break the power of death…and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

Isn’t freedom from death the greatest freedom of all?

Imagine our Heavenly Father’s joy in setting us free.