Sunday, January 30, 2011

Something About That Name

We've been talking about the Lord's Prayer at the worship service I preach at occassionally.  This week I spoke about 'Hallowed be the Name". 
I go by a lot of names.  I’m ...
Mr. Murphy
Soon to be Grandpa
And Anita’s husband
Different people, depending on our relationship, call me by one of my names.  Those who know me well call me Dad, Mike, or Murph.  Some, wanting to show respect call me Pastor or Reverend.  I like Michael but it never caught on very well.  Of course, I’ve been called other things in my life.  Hurtful things.  But we don’t need to go into that I don’t think.
Several years ago I shared a speaking engagement with Michael Jordan’s mother.  Delores.  I wondered what I should call her.  I didn’t know her well enough to call her Delores.  I pondered calling her ...Mother of His Airness ...but settled for Mrs. Jordan.  That seemed to work.
I couldn’t fathom meeting the President and calling him anything other than Mr. President.  Nor could I be in Billy Graham’s presence and call him anything but Rev. Graham. 
There are times when I meet people and I wonder what the right protocol is.  And I usually just decide to go with the most formal and the less familiar.  For instance, if I ever met the Mayor of Chicago I’m pretty sure I’d say It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Mayor and not say ‘Hey, Richie'.   Probably wouldn’t go over well.  Not sure what I’d do with Bono and undecided about how best to address Lady Gaga.  Not sure Ms. Gaga works for me and just saying anything that involves the word Gaga kind of makes me laugh.
I imagine if I had a relationship with Mrs. Jordan, or Mayor Daley, or Rev. Graham over time I would be allowed to and would feel comfortable with using a first name.  But it would take time.
Names carry meanings with it.  Michael, for instance, means he who is like God.  I like it.  It reminds me of a bigger purpose for my life.  During my teenage years there was a guy we called ‘Wiener’.  Because he was.
In the Bible names are a big deal.  They carry weight. They are descriptive.  Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter which means Rock.  It says something about how Jesus viewed his disciple.  
Throughout the Hebrews Scriptures the people of God tried to name God. And as we read through the Old Testament we discover many names for the Lord. Up until the time of Abraham he was known as Elohim which stands for Creator.  To the patriarchs God was called El Shadai (perhaps meaning  “God, one of the mountains.”) God revealed to Moses a new name that appears thousands of  times in the Old Testament.  It was considered so sacred that the Jews never wrote the new name if full nor ever pronounced it.  They wrote only its four consonants YHWH. We say Yahweh.  Jesus revealed a new name for God, ABBA, which suggests an almost scandalous familiarity with the Creator. For ABBA speaks of a God who is as close as a Father.  A dad.  Throughout scripture the name of God is seen as holy. It has substance.  It stands for something. It is not meant to be uttered absent mindedly or flippantly.  The name has deep and rich meanings ascribed to it.
Holy indeed is the name of God. It deserves to be honored.
It’s good for me to be reminded of this.  I’m a pretty casual guy and sometimes I forget that I’m praying to a God who is holy.  Whose name is holy.  He is on one hand very familiar. Dad. And yet He is beyond the familiar.  He’s more than a cozy best friend.  He is the Lord of Lords, The Creator, The King of Kings,The Alpha and the Omega.  He is the bright and morning star. And to remind us of that Jesus tells us that Holy is the name. And holiness always deserves a response. Paul reminds us of that in Philippians when he says that that at the very mention of Jesus’ name someday “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus, Himself, is Lord.”
We all know that we live in a world that is habitually addicted to misusing the name of the Lord in violation of the commandment which tells us not to take the name of the Lord in vain. We use the words Jesus Christ as adjective and expletive in even the most casual of conversation.  Some habitually declare God’s surname as having only a damning influence.  And, most people, even though disturbed by such ugly use and abuse of the name of God do nothing to stand up for the holiness of His name.  We are too often quiet believing that our witness cannot be used by God to influence behavior.
But hallowed is His name according to Jesus. Throughout Scripture those who encounter the Living, Holy God stand in amazement at their encounter.  Just ask Isaiah.  Let’s turn to Isaiah 6.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
 “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;  the whole earth is full of his glory.”
 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
 And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
According to Albert Haase, in his book Living the Lord’s Prayer, adoration will almost inevitably lead to what he calls abomination ...where  we come to grips with the real us when we gaze into the eyes of a good and loving God. It produces in us a holy tension that produces in us a virtue called humility. Humility helps us to further see ourselves as we really are in light of the knowledge of the God who really is.  For Isaiah encountering the Holiness of God caused Him to see His sinfulness, to accept God’s forgiveness and then, and only then was He ready to live into His divine assignment.  He was humbled and then allowed to do God’s work.
Author Michael Crossly says:
If God’s name is going to be made holy on earth as it is in heaven, the consecration of God’s presence or name must begin in the ground of our being.  In the power of this name everything in our house – be it at the individual, interpersonal, and infrastructural level – must be honored; everything that profanes that name must be resisted.  Such is the task of those who belong to the household of that God whose holy name is revealed in the I Am. (Michael Crosby, The Prayer that Jesus Taught Us,  Orbis, 2002, pp. 61-62)
This means that God’s name is made holy, not just in our words, but in our very lives. We walk our talk.  But our talk does indeed mean something.  And when we say Hallowed is the Name, we are recognizing that although our relationship with God might be intimate in nature, it isn’t one of equals.   There’s a pecking order.  And in that pecking order one of our jobs is to look for all those things in our life that aren’t of the Lord.  And those things need to be put to death, resisted and fought against.  If we are  not committed to doing such things we will profane God’s name.    
When we make holy the name of God we should be driven to our knees, then to God's side, and then out into the world. And if that doesn't happens perhaps we have some soul searching to do.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Things I Learned Today

On the radio I learned that only conservatives can be Christian and POTUS was pretty close to being the anti-Christ. Almost turned the station off but the anger was so entertaining I just couldn't.  Sometimes Christian radio embarrasses me because of its inattentiveness to the meaning of Jesus's life. 

Discovered that Jay Cutler is a sissy. I learned that from Edgar from Ravenswood, a 53 year old bachelor who lives with mom and plays real football (the fantasy kind) with four other men who live with their mothers and spend their days calling sport radio stations.

Also learned that Lovie Smith shouldn't be rehired as the coach of the Chicago Bears because he doesn't show emotion like 'da Coach Ditka did.  Thanks to Ted from Alsip for that life changing moment.

Also learned that you shouldn't ever move to Washington to serve your country if you want to be mayor of Chicago.  

 I also learned at a little workshop that I'm not in the 'millennial' generation :) but have many friends who are and it is an interesting group of people. 

Also got an inkling that all that sitting together last night at the State of the Union was more for show than substance (that surprised me). Not really. 

And I grew in my appreciation for both the Breakthrough and Christ Church staff.  Fun to serve with people who are interesting and not afraid of talking about ideas.

And I wondered what would really happen if all legislation with earmarks got vetoed.  That would test the resolve of many.

And my day isn't even over yet.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thinking About Us

The recent shootings in Arizona reminded me how much I yearn for something better than we have.  In a me centered world, where we've forgotten how to have civil conversations, and where everything seems to be polarizing there's something inside of me praying for and longing for more times when I experience real community.

In a society that dwells on the ‘me’ to a sinful degree, we have a deep longing for the ‘us’.  We want to know that there is someone else who can share our pain and our joy.  We seem to long for community but at the same time can resist it.

I’ve been thinking about this as I've been examining the Lord's Prayer.  I'm stuck on the first word. OUR.

During Christmas something marvelous happened in Egypt that got my attention.  Coptic Christians had been attacked by Muslim extemists. Some moderate Muslim leaders made a promise of solidarity with the weary Christian community.  Thousands of Muslims showed up at Christmas Eve services to form a human shield to protect the followers of Christ from attack by terrorists as they worshipped.

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the slogan of those who came to protect worshipers.  One student said that ‘this is about us and them”. We are one.  The attacks were against Egypt as a whole and I am standing with the Christians because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

The emphais on ‘me’ shifted for a moment in time. And we get a glimpse of something different and begin to believe that there might truly be a better way.

On Monday we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. Dr. King often talked about a ‘beloved community’ where people come together, pooling their differences in order to discover a God ordained community of healing and helping.  And it feels right to us.  But it’s hard work.  I remember going on the Justice Journey a couple of years ago.  Standing in front of a picture of a black man, hanging from a tree limb, with Klansmen smiling and posturing was a sobering experience.  It was especially so, when a new friend, an African American, was weeping at my side.  I had nothing to say.  I could  only stand there in solidarity allowing him to process what I couldn’t fully comprehend.  I was understanding what the biblical notion of a ‘beloved community’ was all about.  It was about embracing the pain as well as the joy.  And how ironic it all is when one thinks that many of those murderous Klansmen were probably in church the Sunday before praying 'Our Father'. 

In Africa many cultures practice a concept called Ubuntu which states that through our interactions with others, we discover what it means to be human.  Desmond Tutu, an Anglican Bishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner  once said that "Ubuntu is  the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours.  I am human because I belong.  A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share.  Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others.  They do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.  They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are." (from Albert Haase's book Living the Lord's Prayer)

It’s the same thing scripture teaches us.  Romans  says “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

And so when we say the Lord's prayer we are praying the way Jesus prays.  It's in the spirit of Unbutu, of the Beloved Community, of the true meaning of the Body of Christ.  It's a prayer that battles against the individualism, the meism, and the selfishness that ends up tearing us all apart.

Because Jesus was always in the community of the Trinity He can only teach us His profound reality.  And in this time in history, where our country is being ripped apart at times by extreme partisanship and crippling anger and words …perhaps we need to live into the spirit of the prayer Jesus loved to pray.  And really embrace it.

When we’re conscious of that first word in the prayer ‘ the our’ we are admitting that we are not praying alone.   This is not a private prayer. Look at the text.  How many times do you see the words “I” and “Me”.  The words “I” and “me” are nowhere to be found. It’s a prayer about the us.

And when you pray it you are recognizing that you are not the only one in the world who has a concern to bring to God. To begin with the word “our” means that we understand that we are part of a community of God’s children all around the world.  When we pray Our Father we are confessing that we are a community of people.  A family.  Formed and shaped by new birth and together being shaped by the Holy Spirit.

Thursday morning I was praying the Lord’s prayer. And I prayed ‘Our Father’ and I tried to have my mind picture believers that I knew …near and far.  And I had a visual picture of a woman, named Margaret, who I met deep in the bush of Uganda.  She was suffering from HIV, no one sure if she had long to live or not, and she was the spiritual leader of her village. And I had this mental picture of her standing in front of her hut …arms outraised, praying to her Father, my Father, Our Father …and I finally understood what Jesus was getting at.  As I prayed …we were praying together …and that felt very right.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Quick and Slow

It’s one of the great faults of humankind to label and stereotype.  We all do it. You’ve heard and said it. “ All New Yorkers are rude, all Catholics worship Mary, all evangelicals are Republicans, all Chicago politicians are corrupt, all Asians are bad drivers, all Black people are good athletes, and everyone from Brazil is a heck of a soccer player.”  
I read an interesting article recently about Muslims in Egypt who formed human shields to protect Coptic Christians during Christmas services.  It was in response to the heinous attacks Islamic terrorists were making on Christ followers.  I was inspired by it. And I loved it because it turned a stereotype on its head.
Some people don’t like to read articles like the one about the Muslims in Egypt.  It rocks their world.  And who wants their world rocked, huh? We all should.  You see, too many of us are stuck.  We’re stuck in our politics, in our theology, and are infatuated by our opinions.  And we don’t want to change.
My take is that those who are capable of changing their mind are the most fun to be around.  You can count on them to apologize when they’re wrong and tell great stories about their ‘stuckness’.  Of course, they don’t just change for the sake of changing.  Nope.  They change because they become convinced that someone else’s sound argument is much more convincing than the idea they’ve been holding onto.
I love having conversations with people who are willing to think clearly and creatively about old issues.  Often, the give and take that comes from those conversations helps create some new possibilities in my stubborn mind.  Then I can change.  And there’s plenty of areas where what I’m holding on to is no longer adequate for the task at hand.
I’m beginning to realize that too much of our country is filled with people who don’t want to change.  “Don’t show me no stinking article about Muslims doing good things because frankly I’m just not going to believe it” they huff and puff.  And it gets pretty clear pretty fast that a good conversation is beyond possibility.
Sometimes we hold on to positions about things but can’t provide any evidence as to why it’s a valid position.  “I just do” someone says and then walks away from the conversation.  It doesn’t surprise me that people do this.  After all, we’re taught now a days that it’s better to get along by going along.  And very few people have been taught the ‘art of conversation’.  I actually think, too many, have lost their inquisitiveness. But certainly not their stubbornness.
I remember reading a letter from a guy named Jim.  It’s in the newer testament.  In it, he urges people to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” It’s good advice.  Everytime I’ve failed to listen I’ve cheated myself out of an opportunity to understand.  When I listen I’m more inclined to form good questions.  It helps put me in the posture of the learner instead of thinking that I’m learned.  And who hasn't wanted to kick him/herself for opening their mouth too soon and motivated by anger?
We’re living in a day and age where a ‘considered response’ is the needed response.  Popping off, sound byteing, and the knee jerk reaction have to be replaced by a new normal. May we be at the head of that parade.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Watching the movie ‘Crash’.  It’s not the first time I’ve watched it.  Nor will it be the last. 

We’re heading towards MLK Day. I’m reminded about how easily we stereotype and react.  We’re still far too reluctant to take the time to get to know people so we can judge them by the content of their character.  In fact, far too many people live in their own personal ghetto, hanging almost exclusively with people who look and act like themselves.

Crash is one of those movies that haunt me.  It’s beautiful film making.  You have to think your way through it. It challenges paradigms of faith and lifestyle.  In one moment, you hate a character.  In another, you’re emphasizing with him/her.

Life is like that.  What’s real in this moment can change in the next.  A stereotype today becomes a friendship tomorrow.  What we think is true right now is challenged by circumstance and relationship.

Martin Luther King Jr. talked often about a ‘beloved community’.  It is a place where people move beyond their own bias and prejudice and discover something fresh and new and good about another.  Is that what we want?

Too many don’t want what new, fresh and good.  They like what is old, tired, and predictable. They live for themselves not for what’s good for others.  They page through the Scriptures and find plenty of little verses that support their personal lifestyle and point of view.  And they have the audacity to call themselves people of faith.

So, I watch ‘Crash’ again and I have to resist the temptation to close my mind to what could be.  I so easily fall prey to the folly of my own prejudice.  So do you. 

This world we live in isn’t served well when we bow to the weakness of our reactive opinions.  In my reactivity my ‘sin’ lives large.  I judge others.  I live with bias.  I don’t want to move away from my comfort.  But that’ s not the way of God. 

The way of God is different.  It’s expansively good and forces me away from the narrowness of my cloudy vision.  It challenges my comfort and asks me to open my eyes to the possibilities of what could be.  And the way of God both scares me and inspires me.  It is in the inspiration of God’s way that I must root myself.   And so I pray that I ‘fear not’. For my fear paralyzes me.  The inspiration of what God is doing frees me.  As long as I have breath I want that freedom to give wings to what I know is good. 

Friday, January 07, 2011

Missed Opportunities

I’m starting to write this on New Year’s Night.  I had an opportunity to drive to Willow Creek to see a worship concert featuring Kirk Franklin.  Didn’t go.  OK. Maybe it was the Rose Bowl that stopped me but I really wanted to see Kirk Franklin.
There’s all kind of things through the course of my life that I’ve missed.  Sometimes it’s the result of having to make a choice between two or three good options.  Lots of times I chose to honor a commitment rather than choosing what might be more fun. Sometimes, though, a missed opportunity is due to laziness and inattentiveness.  Procrastination plays a role of course and that leads to some disappointments.  More often than not I regret not getting off my backside to experience something good.
I’m ashamed to admit that laziness, inattentiveness, and procrastination frame too much of the life I’ve lived.  At the end of every summer I bemoan the fact that I missed too many street festivals, too many concerts, and too many opportunities to host people at our home due to not being proactive enough.  The pattern deserves some prayerful attention.  Who wants to live with regrets?
Oh, I’m not a complete mope.  There’s plenty that I do and experience and I get a lot done. But there’s a whole lot more that I wish I would have said ‘yes’ to.  I wonder, at times, what plagues me. Why do I choose to do nothing when doing something else would breathe life into my tired bones?
Part of my issue is that I’m hardwired in the direction of introspection.  I’m an introvert.    Private time renews me.  Most of the time.  All too often renewing time moves towards wasting time.  That's a concern.  
Others I know don’t waste time.  They have different issues.  They’re always busy (a different kind of waste) They fill their calendars with all kinds of stuff that neither interests nor renews them.  Whatever is necessary to ‘keep busy’ is what fuels their being.  This should be an issue for them.  What is all that busyness trying to hide?
A few people I know seem to live in a nice sweet spot.  Busy with what is necessary and restful for the sake of renewal.  But it’s only a few. That’s why so many of us have this nagging discomfort with the pace of our life.
Very few of us have it completely figured out.  It comes down to life rhythms.  What do we need to be doing to be true to who God created us to be, to meet the obligations that we have, and do what’s necessary to replenish lives that do get depleted?

We all miss opportunities.  Sometimes it’s because we’re too busy.  We rush through life and miss messages and signals from God.  Sometimes we’re not busy enough.  We’re so busy taking care of ourselves that we ignore opportunities for real renewal and opportunities for serving. 
In the Christian church I find both kinds of people.  As a pastor I want to light a fuse under a whole lot of folks that need a more noble purpose for their lives.  And there are a whole lot of folks whose busyness distracts them from what really matters.  How best do you speak to those kind of lives?
I give the appearance of being busy even in the midst of my most slothful times.  That’s probably a more practiced deceit than I care to admit.  That’s posing.  It’s hypocritical. And even thought I just confessed it the question remains as to what I’m going to do about it.  And the truth is that I don’t know.  
How many of you have something in your life that you know isn’t good for you and you just don’t feel inclined to do much about it.  My guess is that this blog is being read by compulsive shoppers, closet drinkers, bingers, chronic status seekers, and bigoted boneheads.  Each knows that what they are doing is causing pain either to themselves or to others.  And yet they keep doing it.
It’s crazy what we do.  I can resonate with Paul when he writes in Romans “It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.”
In so many ways the battle inside me is very real.  Just as it is in you.  Much of what I battle is just old fashioned sin.  It’s crippling in its own way.  Blogging about it is a start.  It puts it out there in the light of day.  But there’s some interior work that needs to be done away from the light of public scrutiny.  It’s in the interior of my soul that posturing doesn’t work.  The opportunity to deal with those things that limit me in reaching my God given potential are the things worth dealing with. 

Saturday, January 01, 2011


Sitting here watching a Bowl game.  Occasionally I’ll grab the laptop and surf a bit.  I woke up about 9:00, made a cup of coffee, read a bit of devotional material and then rewrote my sermon. Then headed to the health club where I pedaled away while reading the Trib.  I’m trying my best to ignore my bigger ‘to do’ list and just relax.
Such is the start of my new year.
Scripture tells us that at the end of earthly time God’s intent is to make all things new.  Maybe it’s because I’m getting older but that yearning for the ‘newness’ of God seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.  And I wonder if it is possible to really live into ‘what is yet to come’ even now?  I think so.
New.  It’s a bit of an attitude. It involves discipline and resolve. Certainly, it requires abandonment of vices and coming to grips with the past. For sure it’s allowing God to do his work in us and despite of us.
New. The world yearns for it.  Yet we won’t trust God for it.  In vicious cycles of insanity we continue to do those things that cause hurt expecting a different outcome.  Why do we fail, so often, to remember  the victorious cycles of sanity that produce the color and vibrancy we crave?
New.  I think of the heroes and heroines in my life who have been given a vision of what God intends to do.  Often these are the quiet ones who go unnoticed but practice the simple gestures of kindness that brighten our day.  Others tackle the bigger issues of life, raising their voice for the voiceless.  They champion the abused, the poor, the neglected, the under resourced and the marginalized.  And in their example we get a glimpse of what heaven might be like.
New. Anita and I went to a movie the other day called ‘The King’s Speech’.  It reminded me of the beauty of the arts and the creative process.  The desire is to linger as one encounters the genius of others.  It happens at concerts, in art museums, at plays and with chance encounters with street musicians.  It’s a magic that transports me from the humdrum of life into a world of possibilities.
New.  Happens now.  As my spiritual director says:  “Find the presence of God in the present moment.”  In this moment lies all that is necessary for all that we need.  
In New Year 2011 may you find the all that God wants you to discover.