A Masters’ New Year Tradition

For maybe 4 or 5 years now, Annie and I have a tradition for New Years Eve.  Together, the two of us find every snack that is bad for us, find a groove in the couch to nest into, and together we welcome the new year in by gorging ourselves on sweets while watching movie after movie.   Hopefully, this is a tradition that Annie looks to continue for a long time to come.

The movies we choose for these nights, are typically not what we watch as a family, and as  of today, only Annie and I have interest in watching them.    One year we watched some of M. Night Shyamalan movies.  If you are unfamiliar; his works are typically horror or psychological thrillers in the mold of Six Sense (the “I see dead people” movie).

Someday, we will certainly invite Sophie to join us in this mix, but I think I would end up scarring the child, more than I have already done, if I expose her to our film choices.  Annie and I are beyond correction already.

Anyways, I think we are going to choose a tamer collection of films this year; maybe “The Pirates of the Caribbean” or something similar.   Maybe this is a good year to introduce Sophie to the tradition.    We’ll leave that up to her.

We certainly have a great time each year.  Last year, the two of us watched the full Lord of the Rings Triology.   We watched all three of the movies, and it certainly was no small feat.    This is a long time of movie playing, and staying awake required a great deal of sugar and mutual encouragement, but we did it.  The only interruption to the Masters Family Film Festival was an 11:55PM pause to watch the ball drop.

If you haven’t watched the Lord of the Rings, this is certainly a must see.  There is a scene in that movie that I would like to talk about today.   It came across my desk this past week, in the form of a sermon helps email.   But before we begin, and in the way of some needed back story, we must outline the story if you are not familiar.

It centers around a character named Frodo.  Frodo is a creature called a Hobbit, and he finds himself in the possession of a magical ring, which is the source of a great evil.

Realizing the possession of this wizardly ring has put his live and his hometown in jeopardy, Frodo decides to leave town with his best friend, another hobbit named Sam.

As Frodo and Sam are leaving their beloved village home, a land of streams and valleys and meadows and forests (a proverbial land flowing with milk and honey) they are filled with anticipation.   Not knowing exactly what’s in store, their apprehension increases with each step. As they cross a field, Sam stops. As a result, Frodo stops too..

“What’s the matter, Sam?” asks Frodo.

“If I take one more step,” Sam says looking a bit nervous, “I’ll have gone further than I’ve been before.”

Frodo considers the words of his best friend, smiles, walks back to him, puts his arm around him and delivers the perfect line.

He says “it’s a dangerous thing, just going out your front door, you never know what will sweep you up”

And, together, they take the first step, and the next, and then on and on and on.

There was a time, when faith came with a very visible risk and an enormous cost.   It was in your face and unavoidable.  

Believing in Jesus meant you very well could have burned at the stake, fed to lions in the coliseum, sent to the Middle East on a crusade, or even, if you were a peasant, told to work 23hours a day until you dropped dead from exhaustion.  Faith was costly.

Today, things have changed; at least in the United States.  

Turn on the news and you will hear likely hear about stories that talk of a different type of persecution.  

I heard just recently that Tim Tebow, the young up and coming Denver Bronco’s quarterback, according to many is “persecuted for his faith” because he is often so visibly in prayer on the sidelines..    I chuckle because he is a multi-million dollar professional, who gets to earn a living playing a game.   That is far from persecution.     Persecution is what we see in Iran, China, and parts of the globe where your faith can get you killed.

As I say this, I don’t want you to believe that there is no cost to our faith.   There is, but I am not sure we can call in persecution.   People may think we are naïve or simple minded, but odds are they are not going to come rushing through our church doors and kill us on the spot.

If it’s not persecution in the likes of the persecuted believers across the globe, what is our cost?  Does our faith come with great cost?

Yes, but our cost is more personal.    Our cost is seen when all of a sudden what we thought was important becomes trivial.   Our cost is in the relationships we allow to die because they don’t support the kind of people we are called to be.    Our cost is seen in changing our priorities and choosing a more difficult way, all in service to God.   Our cost is offering our life, our heart, and our trust to not only God, but his church, and to his children.    That is not without cost, impact, or risk.

I believe the hardest part of our faith, is opening ourselves up to others.  Its about coming to this place, and realizing that you are called to not only be willing to be a part of the life of the stranger next to you, but you are called to have them be part of yours.    I often say that the passing of the peace sometimes is the hardest part of our worship.   Extending your hand in fellowship and faith is costly and it’s risky.

As we do just that, I want you to remember Frodo‘s words to his friend Sam; “it’s a dangerous thing, just going out your front door, you never know what will sweep you up”

I say, that it can be a dangerous thing going through the church’s doors, because there is not telling what will sweep you up.    In that reality, we see not only our cost, but the excitement and the power of our faith.


(The illustration was referenced as:  Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers, 2006), pp. 33-34, the LOTR pic of Frodo and Sam is from the film itself and found at http://www.lordoftherings.net/, Tim Tebow’s Pic was accessed from Steve Higginbotham (2011) )

The Mouse Colony

There once was a huge colony of mice that lived among the walls of a great Victorian home.    For generations those mice called those walls home, and they came and went as they wished.

When they were hungry, they would venture out into the kitchen and grab some cheese and scurry back.    When they felt like exploring they would choose one of the home’s many rooms and throw caution to the wind. 

 Life wasn’t terribly exciting, nor was it terribly risky, but they survived, and they survived for generations.

Sadly for the mice everything changed overnight.

The Victorian got a new set of tenants; a young family of four.   Along with the family came a very large and rather unfriendly cat named Felix.    With Felix making his home within the Victorian, the mice were thrown into disarray.

When a mouse wanted cheese, the trip across the tiled floor of the kitchen now grew exponentially riskier.   Many a mouse never made it back across the floor.   Felix seemed to always have the upper hand and it wasn’t long before the mice feared ever leaving the safety of the walls.

At first it was okay, there was plenty of room within the walls.    Yet as expected, life inside the walls quickly got boring.   They never saw the sun, because they were cowering in fear deep in the dark.    They never got much exercise for they were afraid to run free.   It wasn’t long before a whole generation came into being that had never tasted the freedom of the Victorian.

The depression and the despair of their new lives quickly started to get the better of them.   They started to argue more.   They started to fight.   Soon the walls of the Victorian seemed to be the unhappiest of places to live.

It was a day when fights were at every corner that the King of the Colony decided he had enough.    In rage, and with the full power of his throne, he ordered all the mice to assemble for a great meeting.

When they had, the King told his subjects that he was tired of living a persecuted life.   He wanted to live a better life, and he wanted the fighting to stop.    He decided right then and there, that all the attention of the greatest mice minds needed to be put to work on solving their Felix situation.

He promised the greatest cheese treasures to the mouse who could figure out a solution.

Many ideas came before the king, but none seemed right until the great professor, from the great mouse university, requested the presence of the King.

The professor was direct and to the point.

“The problem is a simple one,” the mouse said; “The cat can hear us coming for miles, and he is a smart cat.    The cat doesn’t run in and jump, but rather it sneaks.   It sneaks in so quietly that we turn and we are surprised.   There is never enough time or enough chance to survive”

The king assured the professor that he understood the situation and wanted to hear of his solution.

 “The solution is just as simple,” responded the professor; “Sneak up on the cat, and tie a bell around his neck.”

As soon as he uttered the words, a dead silence fell across the king’s court, as if they were considering the plan.   As the words set in, it wasn’t a long silence before the court erupted into cheers.   In an instant they were celebrating the wisdom of this one mouse.    The King ordered cheese to be brought before the professor and for the minstrels to play.    It wasn’t long before the professor was hoisted up upon the shoulders of his fellow mice and the whole colony began celebrating the professor’s genius.

Sadly the celebration was short lived.    In the midst of all the joy, an elderly mouse slowly wandered to the front of the king… and asked a simple question.

“Who will put the bell on the mouse?”

For the second time silence fell among the mice.    This time, however, the silence was heartbreaking.   Slowly, each mouse quietly took a step back, careful not to make eye contact with their fellow mice.  They knew that the mission was dangerous and risky, and more than likely a mouse or two might get hurt along the way.    As they tossed these thoughts in their heads, one by one the mice deserted the court and hid in their homes.

Eventually no one remained out.

It wasn’t long before they decided to do nothing.     The mouse colony still lives in the walls, and doesn’t venture out anymore.  They decided to do nothing and to live in fear of the cat.

As I consider this story I am reminded of a quote, that says, simply, “If you want to change the world…change.”* I think that too often we are like those mice.   There is so much we want to change and we want the world to be different, but we end up being afraid and scared to take a risk.   In the end we do nothing.   

We open our Bibles and hear of the promises of God’s Kingdom and we start to imagine what a world like that would look like.   We daydream about it.   We wish for it.    We come to church, in no small part, to show our commitment to it.    Yet, in the end, when the time comes we slink away, hoping not to make eye contact, and lock ourselves in our homes, instead of taking the risk.

I want to remind you that our faith calls us to step out, and do the risky things for God.    For you and I, it may be as simple as passing along an invitiation or as hard as standing up for something or someone that the rest of the world views as useless.

Too often we want change, but in our own lives we avoid that change at all cost.   I hope you embrace the reminder that God wants us to be people who risk all for Love, for Grace, for his children, and for Him.

*(Note:  I believe this is an often repeated  variant of the famous “Be the Change that you want to see in the world” from Ghandi, Picture by Brian Kellet, 2005-CCL)   

The Italian Winemakers…

Photo by elfidomx, 2010-CCLEvery now and then I find a quote that I like and it sticks with me.    It becomes almost a game to figure out how to work that quote in the coming and the going of my life.   In the end, it finds its way into the occasional Facebook status, sermon moment, or carefully timed zinger.

This week the quote that got my attention was from John D. Rockefeller, who said; “With every right comes a responsibility; every opportunity an obligation; and every possession a duty”.  I like this quote.    They remind me of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben’s advice that “With Great Power comes Great Responsibility”* 

As I stewed on Rockefellers catchy words, a story came across my desk that spoke to them perfectly.   The story takes place in a small mountain town deep in Italy.   In addition to making a great point that we need to here as a people of faith, the opportunity to encourage and embrace the Italian culture and my Italian heritage made the illustration irresistible to me.

Deep in those sublimely gorgeous mountains of Italy, there stood one of the most prosperous patches of farm land in the whole of Europe.    Overtime every crop imaginable was grown there, and eventually the inhabitants decided to devote every inch of their land to the most noble and most sought after of all crops;  the grape.    In just a few generations, the vineyards that were in this small patch of land became some of the best and most famous wine producing plants in the world.  The demand for their wine was beyond their richest expectations.

As you can imagine, with everyone growing grapes in this small town it soon became evident that they would be in trouble if they could not find anyone willing to sell them all the other services and products of life.   The village was quickly falling into disrepair.  Despite their ever increasing wealth and the great success of their vine, the town was in trouble.

It wasn’t long before the roads started to crumble.   Next, a bridge collapsed.   Before they knew it, it was next to impossible to get their wine to market, many miles away.   Things got serious fast.

Thankfully, a town official had an idea.     In order to build a new bridge and repair the roads, every family would be expected to give a few barrels of wine to the town in the way of a tax.  They built a giant barrel, as large as a building, and it stood at the center of town.

It turned out that each family that made wine had their own unique way of making it, and each was almost as heavenly tasting as the next.    What was truly wonderful and entirely unexpected in the town’s edict, was what resulted when they put all the wines together, and allowed them to ferment together.  The resulting product was far beyond anything they had ever tasted, and they were soon commanding unheard of prices for their wine.     It was a beautifully simple secret recipe.

Slowly they were able to raise enough money to keep up with the repair and infrastructure of their town.   It was always a battle and they always had just enough, but they were enduring.  They were making it through.  They even started to hold a great wine festival and year after year people came from everywhere just to be a part of it.

Unfortunately do to some blips in weather and a problem with some of the soil, one particular harvest was less than what anyone expected.    After looking at his harvest, one particular farmer was worried that he would no longer be able to get enough from his sales to live a standard of life that was comfortable.  He began to stress and as a result thought of a rather devious solution.

When it came time to put his wine into the giant barrel at the center of town, instead of wine, he would fill his barrels with water.    There was so much wine in that giant, communal barrel, that his few would more than likely go unnoticed.     Despite the guilt that this elicited, a few days later the man made his donation of water.

It wasn’t long before he forgot about his deed.

Finally, the day arrived for the great wine festival to be celebrated.  It was met with a joy that the town had rarely, if ever, seen.  That joy was even more complete, considering the harshness of the weather that everyone had finally pulled through.    Many came from miles away, looking to buy as much as they could of that wonderful wine.   Many called it the wine of God, and they had been preparing for months for the journey to the small town.   The anticipation was great and contagious.

Finally the time came to tap the keg, and begin the sale.   The mayor came out to a roar of cheers.   After an official proclamation he announced that the time had come, and with the strike of a hammer tapped the barrel.

To the shock and awe of all who saw it, instead of wine pouring out….  It was water.     Everyone stood around that keg in silence as the realization of what they were witnessing dawned on each of them.   Each of the villagers had chosen to fill their barrels with water.

In the end, no one trusted in what they had.   They started to look at all that they had and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t enough.   They wanted to keep all that was theirs.     On that wine festival there was no wine to be had.    In the days that followed there were no new roads and no new bridges.   The trust faded, and no one was willing to put wine in the barrel again. They had held back, and now there was nothing.

It is said that even today if you find this village you would never know it.   The vineyards are all gone.  Instead of great hills of grapes, you know have asphalt and factories and tenement houses.     If you look hard enough you can even see the spot where that giant keg stood…   Interestingly enough it is the poorest part of the town.

I am sure that this is almost entirely internet folklore, but the illustration is perfect for our purposes.   Although we are not farmers, we are in a way making wine.    Wine is a Biblical metaphor that is often used for the Gospel, and so in a way we are planting the seeds and we are farmers of a different sort.

Like the townspeople mixing different versions of wine to produce something infinitely more wonderful, the same can be said of the church.   We come to our family of faith bringing more than we can imagine.   It’s in the diversity that accompanies our presence that the fullest flavor of who we are as a community is realized.  Once that flavor is released to the world, the wine that we offer is irresistible.

Yet, there is risk in our faith.   The risk is that as we all work towards that great festival moment, we too can find ourselves doubting what we have.   We can find ourselves asking is it enough?  Our gut might even be telling us that we need to hold things back.

We should heed the warning of those villagers, because there have been a great number of churches who when the barrel is tapped the richest of wine, or God’s wine, it doesn’t pour.    Because they held back the wine is lost.

The most often forgotten component of our faith is risk.

We are people who are called to reach out and to give all they are to the wine we are fermenting through the church.    When we find ourselves uncomfortable or facing risk, we need to take a deep breath and trust God.   We need to remember and celebrate that we are all in this together, and that day of festival, comes only when we all move towards it; together.

(Photo by elfidomx, 2010 – CCL)
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