Lessons Learned in NYC & DC, part 2

Two weeks ago, I gave the first half of my top ten list of lessons learned on our Student Ministry’s recent trip out east. Since I know that David Letterman is waiting on me to finish my list so he can use it before he retires, here are the “final four” of my Top Ten Lessons Learned during Spring Break 2014 (see the first six here):

My girls on the NYC subway
My girls on the NYC subway

4. There is no place like New York. Where else can you ride a ferry (for free) past the Statue of Liberty? Or join more than a million people who ride the subway every day? Or see the Tiffany Diamond? Or a Broadway play? Or hear 800 languages? Or gawk like a total tourist in Times Square?

3. You really can run into famous people randomly in New York. Well, if seeing someone get in a car constitutes “running into” them. On our way in to gawk at the Plaza Hotel, we saw Alec Baldwin getting into a car. You’ll have to trust me that we really saw him, because the best we got was a picture of his hand closing the door of his car.

Alec Baldwin’s hand

2. There is no place like Washington, DC. I love stepping off the metro station and standing on the National Mall, with all that history and culture (and yes, even politics), all within eyesight and a brisk walk. Every American should visit Washington. All expenses paid. Perhaps there’s a government program for that….

20140403_1326471. It’s great to serve. Our group got our hands dirty painting, cleaning out a vacant lot, planting, painting, “yarn-bombing,” raking, pressure-washing, and learning to be ready for anything. After all, isn’t that what a servant’s heart looks like?

I’m grateful for the opportunity to take this trip, and spend time serving with students from our church, and the adults who gave a week to serve with them. Wherever we are — NYC, DC, or Louisville; at home, school, work, or church — let’s carry a servant’s heart, and hands, with us. After all, serving isn’t about a one-week trip, or a special occasion — serving is a lifestyle.

Overlooked Verses

Some of the most powerful — and overlooked — verses in the Bible can be found in the “lament” songs. These laments are a part of the book of Psalms, and are very powerful in their sheer honesty and desperation:

  • Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? (Psalm 2.1)
  • O Lord, how many are my foes! (3.1)
  • Answer me when I call, O God of my right! (4.1)
  • Give ear to my words, O Lord; give heed to my sighing. (5.1)
  • O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger. (6.1)
  • Why, o Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (10.1; all quotes are from NRSV)

The words above come from the first verse of some of the first psalms. Six of the first ten psalms are a cry for help, and there are many more just like them in the rest of the book.

Lament is an oft-overlooked part of the Bible, and of prayer. We love celebration, and joy, and the feel-good elements of our faith. And certainly, there are many. But do your prayers ever give voice to pain, struggle, hurt, even anger and doubt? If not, you might want to rethink your prayer life — because the prayers in the Psalms are full of such realities.

In fact, Jesus himself is recorded as offering a prayer of lament from the cross. In Matthew 27.46, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — words that come straight from Psalm 22.

There are very few services where we can focus on lament and struggle, but Good Friday is certainly one of them. And while lament is never the final word on pain or hurt or sin, it is always a part of what we need to say. We must always remember the victory of Easter, but we also must never forget that we don’t get to the victory of Easter without first going through the defeat of Good Friday.

This year at Fern Creek Christian, we will have an opportunity to spend some time at the cross on Good Friday. We will spend some time reflecting on the darkness of that day — the darkness that had to be overcome before the light of Easter could dawn.

I am so grateful for Easter, and look forward to celebrating that at Fern Creek. But I am also grateful for Good Friday, a day when Jesus took on my pain, my doubt, my hurt, and my sin. And I’m looking forward to a few moments this Good Friday to remember that.

Lessons Learned In NYC and DC

Last week, I went with 20 students and 5 adults on a ministry trip to New York and Maryland. It was a neat week, full of cool experiences. Here is the first of two posts on Top Ten Lessons Learned during Spring Break 2014:

10. Be ready for anything. The high temperature in Louisville on March 30, the day we left, was 60 degrees. On that same day, we had to drive through a snowstorm in Pennsylvania.

20140330_202115
Ah, nothing like driving through snow on Spring Break!

9. Don’t get in the wrong lane when trying to drive through Manhattan. I did. At rush hour. And got stuck in the bus lane, trying to get through the Lincoln Tunnel. It was 20 minutes of life I will never get back, sitting in the wrong lane like I was some kind of tourist or something.

8. You can do some really cool things with yarn. We “yarn-bombed” a chain-line fence at the place where my sister’s church meets in New York City. It gave life to a small piece of Manhattan, got people curious, and hopefully pointed people to a place where life happens. Because shouldn’t life happen at church, no matter where that church meets?

photo 3
Kentucky Yarn Bombers!

7. No big cities have enough parking. Ever. While in New York, we spent a lot of time driving or avoiding potholes (wait, that’s essentially the same thing). And then, when we would get to our destination, we’d have to look for parking. On one of those occasions, we returned at the end of the day to pick up our vans, only to find out that the parking garage was closed. But how can they close a parking garage in the City That Never Sleeps?

6. Teenagers love their phones. They love their phones. I think, if given the choice between losing a few digits and losing their phones, they would let go of the fingers first. As long as they could keep their thumbs for texting.

Gathering around the phone in the middle of DC
Gathering around the phone in the middle of DC

5. We are a country with some amazing cities, and God is doing some pretty cool stuff in them. Our group rode the Staten Island Ferry, strolled along Fifth Avenue, and enjoyed some New York style bagels. We walked the National Mall in DC, got a personalized tour at the Naval Academy, and enjoyed time in the Federal Hill district of Baltimore. Even cooler, though, was getting to sample the ways God’s kingdom is at work in the city. At Community Christian Church in NYC, Hispanics worship alongside Filipinos, and white folk share communion with black folk. The Foundry is a new church plant rooted in service in the heart of Baltimore. And Revolution Church is reaching folks in Annapolis. God hasn’t given up on our cities; neither should we!

These are five lessons from my spring break trip. I’ll plan to share the next five in an upcoming post.

 

You Can’t Go Home Again

Last month I had the chance to make a quick trip to my parents’ home in St. Louis. While my daughter Sophie and I were there, we went to a pizza place I loved going to as a teenager. It’s called Pantera’s, and I found out there is one left. So I took my daughter and my parents there.

panteras

Let’s just say that it wasn’t what I remembered.

We walked in, and the first thing I noticed is what wasn’t there. As in, seating. There were two tables. Three chairs. And four of us. The glory that had been Pantera’s Pizza — the place of such great memories for me — had been reduced to a pizza delivery place.

Now, you need to understand how much I enjoyed going to Pantera’s when I was in high school. It was the place for the kids in my youth group at church to go on Sunday nights. I loved the pizza, I loved the video games (ah, Dig Dug, where have you gone?), I loved hanging out, and, yes, I loved being around the girls (I was a teenager, remember?). Pantera’s was about more than pizza; it was a chance each week to experience life.

There’s a lesson in all this (isn’t there always?). And for me, it’s a reminder that we can’t go back. Life can’t be lived in reverse. We have to learn from the past, but we can’t live in the past. The past is a good place to visit, but you really don’t want to live there.

In fact, isn’t that what grace is all about? It frees us from the past, while helping us learn from it. The grace of God gives us the opportunity to live our lives forward — giving us hope, no matter what our past has been.

At Pantera’s last month, we ordered our pizza, and then discussed where we were going to eat it. There was nowhere outside to sit, and I didn’t want to eat in the car. So we ended up sitting around one of the tables, with me sharing the third and last chair with my daughter. Even if there had been a fourth chair, we couldn’t have sat around all four sides of the table –- the place simply wasn’t big enough.

Going back to Pantera’s reminded me you can’t go home again, but you can revisit its memories. For the pizza tasted just about like I remember it from my high school days. And once again, I got to sit next to a pretty teenage girl. And it was good to spend some time — and life — with those I care about.

(Even so, it still would have been nice if there had been room for even one video game. No doubt I would have impressed my daughter with my mad Dig Dug skills.)