this is a sermon i preached at community north baptist church a few weeks back. i hope it challenges you.
i woke up freezing and didnt want to get out of my bag. it was the kind of cold that makes being warm seem like a taste of heaven. after grabbing my fleece parka i slowly crawled out and made oatmeal and coffee, staring through cedars as the suns light dressed the sky and finally peeked over the rocky hill and back at me through the branches. the moment was as tranquil as it was chilly and in that moment i was at peace. it was a good start to a promising day.
we finished breakfast and offered thanks before packing it up to head for salida, near modesto. my good friend shayn grew up in modesto and still has family there so we arranged to stop in and have lunch with them on our way to san francisco. as it turned out shayns father remarried a week prior to our visit and shayn just happened to be in town as well so we were set to gather at his brothers house for a cookout.
we made our way out of yosemite national park and headed west on california state highway 120 to big oak flat where the road did a crazy zig-zag down a steep ravine to its base on the eastern edge of the moccasin reservoir. i remember when i saw the road ahead i thought i was going to be sick but brian did a great job of not driving like a madman and my breakfast remained in place.
hitting oakdale we veered onto state highway 108 and followed it due west across the northern edge of modesto, passing through what im pretty sure were mostly apple orchards. the neatly spaced rows and cultivated soil gave a sense of order and stability; an odd irony for a region that is experiencing quite a deep recession. in previous discussions with the davenports, the plight of this area has come up numerous times and although i knew that the davenport family would be warm and hospitable, i wondered how much living in such a place and facing such difficulties must wear on them.
we arrived a little earlier than we expected and were invited in by shayns brother josiah, who welcomed and ushered us in. shayn arrived shortly with another brother, josh and after introducing him to brian and jase we retired to the spacious backyard where multiple smokers were hard at work on a plethora of ribs and chicken.
im not sure why i was surprised by this because shayn never does anything halfway but i was, and i began to wonder just how big his family was and how many we would be meeting for lunch. shayn and josh had a brotherly discussion about how to bbq properly and we enjoyed the unseasonably cool weather in the shade of several large evergreen trees.
then over the course of about half an hour people started arriving and many of them werent related to the davenports, at least not genetically. in all im guessing maybe 50 people showed up, counting the children who ran and played together while the rest of us caught up, told stories, and laughed. we met everyone and were greeted with such warm enthusiasm i almost mistook myself for having been a long lost friend returning home.
and as we spent just a few fleeting moments in a backyard full of people i didnt know who treated us as though we were family, i thought to myself that i was experiencing church the way it was meant to be: a warm and inviting group of people who, even though their life circumstances are certainly difficult, gather together and love each other without regard for how broken they are. in other words – i felt right at home.
in a strange backyard full of people i just met.
and as we gave those who were interested a quick rundown of our trek i thought about how difficult we typically make church. we build elaborate walled mazes with steeples on top and we instigate unwritten yet stifling language and dress codes. we treat so many things as tools of satan that we end up with a tragic lack of creativity in our aesthetics and expressions of worship. to make progress we form an extravagant number of committees that rarely do more than slow down progress. our efforts at building community center around thinking up new ways to get people inside our mazes and debating how best to track their attendance.
but none of that was going on in the davenport backyard. there was no visitor card to fill out. no dress code. no hidden language to learn before i could understand what people were talking about. and as far as i know no committee meeting after lunch. just love and laughter and really amazing food – like what i picture when i think about the big party jesus promised to throw when he gets back, which is sure to make more than a few christians really uncomfortable in ways i wont bother mentioning at the moment.
time flew all too quickly and unfortunately we had to eat and run, as we tried to make san francisco early enough to see a bit of it before nightfall. as we said our goodbyes i asked god if i could be a part of a church that lived like this and before very long the ribs and chicken, baked beans and potato salad all caught up with me and i dozed off for the entirety of our drive to the city.
brian woke me just as we approached the bay bridge..
where we saw alcatraz in the bay, as well as the coit tower and transamerica building; all iconic landmarks of this city. it was an absolutely beautiful day as the sun shone and the air was cool and breezy. in june. i was instantly a fan.
jase had blown out his chacos in yosemite so we stopped off at REI and nosed around for a few minutes while he worked out his sole issue then he took us for a whirlwind tour of the city and we drove past the dragon gate and through chinatown.
as we passed the shops and restaurants the sights and smells were so enticing that i wished we had the time to spend a whole day there. but we continued and found our way past city lights books and over to lombard street..
and after slowly zig-zagging down the curviest roads ive ever been on we headed over to lucasfilms at the presidio and geeked out over yoda..
finally we cruised up to immigration point..
where i was struck by the woodrow wilson quote chiseled in the stone:
we opened the gates to all the world and said,
‘let all men who want to be free come to us and they will be welcome.’
this quote harkens from a time when we thought very differently about immigration than we seem to now. and while im not going to take sides on the political issues surrounding the current debate about immigration reform right now, one thing is clear: its quite a bit more difficult for people who want to enter this free land these days because of the maze we have built around getting in and all the additional codes we have added to keep certain types of people out.
and while the politicians will certainly argue whether or not this is beneficial to our country i could only stand there and think about the church and the mazes and codes we have added that keep people away, when it was at one time so much more simple for them to find freedom through jesus in our open arms.
and just how closely the methods of our faith follow after the methods of our nation seized my focus for a few moments and i choked up a bit. it seems we have lost our focus and our calling. we have drifted too far in both directions and been torn away from our moorings. we have allowed ourselves to get far too comfortable in this promised land and we have forgotten what made it great; a mistake that dearly cost our israelite forebearers.
and while it probably seems easy for me to throw stones – im hitting my own house. im as guilty as the next pastor who has allowed this to happen. but at some point the only way to bring about change is to bring about change and i knew i had to do whatever i could to let all who want to be free come and be welcome. even if they dont agree with me theologically. even if they dont speak christianese. or dress right. or want to be on committees.
because the gospel is bigger than the reformed tradition that has formed much of who i am. and its bigger than evangelicalism and the subculture we have created to contain it. and if we are not willing to change we may wake up someday to a world that has found god outside of our mazes and codes and moved well beyond us.
we met up with jases parents who were graciously hosting us for the evening in their small but cozy park ranger apartment off lincoln drive, just up the hill from baker beach and the golden gate bridge. they took us down to the san francisco maritime national historic park by the hyde street pier. they told us a bit about the balclutha as we walked over to capurros for a fresh seafood dinner.
after supper we quickly made our way over to baker beach where the sun hung low on the horizon and reflected off the golden gate bridge highlighting its deep red coat
i took off my boots and stepped into the surf, getting soaked to the knees while jase and brian took photos. the water was crazy cold, and the beach quickly dropped into the waves that pounded the sand along the coast. the sun danced behind a distant bank of clouds before it slid gently below the surface of the pacific just past the point bonita lighthouse
and so the seed of this trip – my desire to see the sunset over the pacific – came to fruition at the end of yet another wondrous day of discovery and realization. as dusk crept over the sky giving way to night we walked up from baker beach and climbed past the battery chamberlain on our way back to the park ranger apartments where we stayed the night with the maytons, who have always been wonderful people and great hosts.
after exfoliating in a shower for the first time in a few days we talked about the next days trek and decided to take make an excursion into muir woods on our way north to crater lake. i had not heard of muir woods and wasnt aware of their significance, and though we didnt know it yet, we would need our rest because the following day was about to put quite a twist in our adventure.
before we turned in jase took us outside to listen and we sat in silence for a long time as the pacific pushed and pulled. i could still hear it through the open window after i layed down and it was as soothing as any song ive ever heard. i remember thinking:
god is good.
life is good.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” ~Henry David Thoreau in Walden
a good nights sleep under a full sky drifted away slowly like a canoe on a lazy river as morning broke crisp and clear. i lay there wondering how different the valley would look from the floor as opposed to our previous evenings perch on glacier point.
originally we planned on spending the whole day hiking the valley and checking out the various waterfalls, but our timetable didnt work out quite as we hoped. when we awoke we decided to leave our reserved camping spot outside the park in order to try and find a better spot near the valley where we wanted to spend our day.
the road into and through the park is a winding maze to traverse and it took time. as we neared the valley we had mapped out a couple of possible campsites and headed to the nearest one. tamarack flat was a couple miles off the main road down and bumpy dirt path in a nest of trees next to a stream and meadow that was just pristine. unfortunately we drove around almost an hour before realizing it was full.
more time wasted.
we headed further northeast and pulled into white wolf, a larger campground right off the park road. this one seemed full too but after a brief discussion with the camp hosts it appeared there were a couple of openings, so we spent another hour driving, finding and setting up camp. it was further from the valley than we hoped and we had blown almost half the day finding it.
by the time we downed lunch and made it back to the valley it was mid-afternoon. i was extremely frustrated at having wasted so much time. but it occurred to me that this was a recurring theme in my life. i am constantly finding reasons to be discontent where i am and always wanting to look somewhere else for something better.
most recently i had made such a decision that uprooted my family for the second time in 2 years and moved us away from alpine, texas in hopes of something better in the dallas/fort worth area where we had been previously. it only took me a few months to seriously regret that decision, and yet here i was on the great adventure making the same kind of mistake.
which is pretty much how my whole life has unfolded. beauty all around me and i miss a lot of it because im unhappy where i am. i guess being discontent leads to even greater discontentment.
im not entirely sure what it is that churns inside me in such a way but i know it has cost me peace in multiple situations over the course of my life. i secretly like to think of myself as possessing patience and wisdom but time and again i prove that to be a delusion. if we had stayed at our campsite in the sierra national forest we would have been able to enjoy the absolutely mesmerizing beauty of yosemite national park for many more hours than we did. we would have had plenty of time to see nevada falls and vernal falls. we could have hiked to the base of half dome.
instead we drove around in a car.
trying not to kill bears.
as far as sucking the marrow of life i was failing miserably and as i reflected on this i was reminded of ecclesiastes 2:11
Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
my inability to be at peace in one of the most gorgeous locations in the world was a giant flashing red indicator of just how broken i am. i have spent immeasurable amounts of time and energy chasing after the wind. and once again god spoke to me. not in the same way as on the beach near santa barbara, but still clearly enough that i understood.
(and know that i am god)
of course i didnt stop to think about it at the time. i pushed right past it while trying to get in all the sights. because being still isnt something im very good at even if i like to think i am. even if god speaks to me and tries to get my attention while im on a journey to find and hear from him.
our first stop in the valley was to hike bridal veil falls which is like walking into the past. there were people around but the forest on either side of the trail seemed primitive. giant hunks of stone jutted out of mossy earth and stones the size of small cars huddled together near the stream at the base of the falls that feeds into the merced river. bridal veil earned its name as the wind whipped the water from the precipice into a cascade that flashed across the rock and gave birth to a mist that hovered around the base creating its own little weather system.
after taking a slew of pictures i stood there for a moment and was still as the mist freckled my face and shoulders. but it was only a moment as we were still in a rush to move on, trying to see as much as we could squeeze in before darkness came, which is certainly not the best way to experience a place like yosemite.
after bridal veil we drove over to the main lodge area and checked out the ansel adams store and the visitors center. i found out more about how glaciers carved this valley and how long it took them to do so, reinforcing my desire to be able to slow down and take it all in. but with daylight waning we hurried out and headed toward yosemite falls which was already shadowed as the late afternoon sun drifted slowly toward the elevated horizon of the enclosed valley.
we took a few pics and decided to head out into the meadow at the base of el capitan.
the sun was bright as we looked east toward half dome..
and yet was already beginning to set as we looked west toward turtle back dome..
in the fading light we paused in the meadow beneath el capitan..
and there as the light continued to relent i put my camera down and rested against a felled tree. slowly looking around, listening to the mixture of sounds ebbing with the wind i heard it again
(and know that i am god)
and i was still. and i knew god was. and i felt peace. the shalom that has come so rarely for me in this world always comes when i cease striving. so i ceased. i lost track of time and it seemed to have lost track of me. the wind murmured. the clouds passed. the stream giggled. the birds sang. and i was in the presence..
as dusk won the day we headed back to camp. i set about gathering firewood while jase and bryan tended to supper. there at the end of the day i felt refreshed and gathering wood seemed like a chore i would welcome every day if i could always do it in such a place. we lit a fire and devoured our food, toasting gods majesty and our enduring friendship at the close of yet another extraordinary day.
our experiences on day 8 marked a turn in my approach to the remainder of the trip. i knew there would still be days when we didnt have as much time as we wanted but i resolved to slow down as much as possible and enjoy these moments to the fullest. no more missing out on the wonder around me due to my discontent. i was going to carpe every diem from here on out.
i wanted to live deliberately…and not, when i came to die, discover that i had not lived.
this is a post from several years ago but given some of whats going on i thought it was worth rejuvenating..
im prolly dating myself here but theres an old pink floyd song from the wall called the show must go on. the key lyrics are below:
there must be some mistake
i didnt mean to let them
take away my soul.
am i too old is it too late?
where has the feeling gone?
the show must go on.
many thanks to roger waters for rending my heart.
let me explain. i have many roles as a pastor. one them is shepherding the youth of our community in bible study and spiritual disciplines. this past summer we went to three major events in conjunction with our local ministry efforts. they included a trip to dallas to go to six flags and attend a two day conference put on by the bgct (baptist general convention of texas) and attended by thousands. it was quite a show. the worship was powerful. the concerts were loud and exciting. and the preachers were dynamic.
our next trip was to onecamp in palacios tx where we met up with hundreds of other youth for a week of spiritual growth. palacios is right on matagorda bay and has beautiful sunrises despite the clammy humidity and near 100° temps. it was quite a week. the worship was powerful. the concerts were loud and exciting. and the preachers were dynamic.
finally we drove up to midland/odessa for rock the desert where we joined with thousands of others in a two day concert event featuring some of the hottest loudest christian rock bands around. the worship was powerful. the bands were loud and exciting. and the preacher was dynamic.
when we werent touring the state in search of a big christian event this summer we were here in alpine – a small west tx town without a walmart. and as pastor im responsible for their spiritual growth and well being. over the course of several bible studies and worship services ive noticed something.
the youth are bored and uninterested.
and im not even remotely surprised. im not sure exactly when these type of events became the thing but im guessing it roughly correlates with a drop in the quality of everyday spirituality among teens. we have placed our hopes for reaching teens in these big events but as a result we are raising yet another generation who will only be able to have a meaningful moment with god in a vast auditorium full of people loud music flashing lights and super-hyped preaching.
and im guilty. im as much to blame as the people who put the shows together or their bosses who gave them the go ahead. its true that i inherited a youth program already in motion on these events but i did very little other than ride along.
now we are planning a ski trip.
and it makes me want to shout – but not hallelujah thank you jesus. im repulsed by the lack of depth in the church today and im part of the problem bc instead of boldly speaking out about the vital necessity of everyday spiritual disciplines…instead of demonstrating how they can lead to shalom and what that looks like – i have become a cog in the machine churning out event-based entertainment-oriented christ followers.
so maybe im not cut out for this.
but maybe i am. and maybe its exactly why god brought me here. bc if theres one thing any of the teenagers in this town need its a real life – a life lived in a daily meaningful relationship with god.
and maybe we dont need to pack the vans and haul em off to yet another over-hyped event where we come out on the other side all pumped up and set up for a let down. maybe we dont need to feed into the mentality that fosters this entertainment based culture we live in. maybe – just maybe – we should pull back from all the hype and take a look at psalm 46:10?
be still and know that i am god.
i will be exalted among the nations.
i will be exalted in the earth.
yeppers…maybe its time to question some things…
a little while back i preached a sermon about the parable of the prodigal at my church and after addressing some technical difficulties it is now available. you can listen online or download it.
may your new year be blessed..
there are pieces of me somewhere in utah
beneath arches of stone
and in a canyon near flagstaff.
theres a piece across the big dam
on the vegas strip
and a handful in beatty and yucca valley.
i left a large chunk
on the shore in santa barbara
before leaving more in fresno
and quite a few around ansels old haunt
not to mention a couple in modesto.
some pieces remain in the city by the bay
where the sun sank into the pacific
and some are just across the golden gate
in john muirs woods
others i left at the base of mt shasta
or the high desert green of the oregon hills
with a number spread around a snowy crater
before that long drive through the night.
a bunch are in pike place market
being tossed with the fish
in the shadow of a needle
and theres a good number strewn across i-90
from the 5 through idaho
to the other side of butte.
there a scattering near the geysers
and a group along the hidden falls trail
to the west of jenny lake.
still more lay at the feet of the collegiate mountains
and a remnant are sprinkled along a lonely stretch of road
leading back over the mountains to aurora.
i left trying to find myself
and i returned with less of me to know.
but what remains is fuller
and even sometimes
a little more sad
but mostly im stronger
for having been in the wild.