Contacting Craig

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Farewell to a Friend...Peter Zezel, R.I.P.

Peter Zezel died on Tuesday at age 44. Hockey fans will recognize the name because he played for 15 yearsin the NHL. Flyer fans especially will remember Peter in glowing terms because he was a tremendous player on the teams that went to two Cup finals against the Oilers.
Beyond his hockey career, Peter was my friend. I hadn't talked to Pete in quite a few years. An occassional e-mail here and there, but we lost regular contact after he was dealt to St. Louis. For the 6 seasons he played with the Flyers and then a few years afterward, we spoke regularly and socialized frequently. I met Pete at one of Joe Watson's summer hockey camps where he was a guest instructor. We were only 18 months apart and had similar, girls, and the beach. Peter had a beautiful 1985 Buick Regal Gran Sport. He had chipped it and had some other work done to it and it was blindingly fast. He loved that car and he'd crowd a bunch of buddies into it and go off on some crazy adventure as lots of 20 year olds will do.
In 1988 Pete was selected "Sexiest Male Athlete of Philadelphia" by Philadelphia magazine. He was embarrassed by it and never let it get to his head. Pete was just one of the guys, hanging out, playing shinny in the summers at U of D and hanging at Maloney's in Margate.
My most enduring memory as a friend will be the game against Boston in 1987. It was the last home game before christmas and I had gotten some tickets and went to the game with a friend. The Flyers were playing Washington the next night and then heading home for a few days for Christmas. After the game, I went out back where the buses were loading for the road trip to D.C. and I didn't see Pete standing outside and assumed he was already on board. Peter happened to glance out the window and saw me and ran off the bus calling my name as I walked away. He gave me a hug and we wished each other Merry Christmas. We talked for a minute or two and then shook hands and went our way. That's the kind of friend he was. In that moment, he wasn't Peter Zezel, Pro Hockey Player...he was Craig's friend Zez, and he wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas.
Godspeed my friend...I miss those days. Thanks for the memories on and off the ice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Face to Face With The Man of No Reputation...

This is an excerpt from some of what I'll be speaking about this weekend in Alabama, at the church of my dear friends Cindy and Dave Lewis...

Philippians 2:7 tells us about Jesus taking on the form of a human. It tells us how he relinquished His Heavenly form, (without relinquishing His holiness and deity of course) and wrapped Himself in human flesh. The KJV says "He became a man of no reputation". The NIV reads "He made himself nothing". The words are stunning. Jesus, the very son of God, willingly chose to leave the throne of Heaven and come to earth and become one of us. And He did it in such ignoble fashion. He truly made Himself nothing. As my dear friend Rick has said "He was born in a barn, and he died on a trash heap with spit running down his face...and I call Him Lord". He was undesirable and unlovely. He probably looked nothing like Jim Caviezel. What can we glean from this truth? What truth about our Savior can we extract from this fundamental fact...that Jesus came here and willingly made Himself nothing.
First of all He didn't have to do it that way. It was God's plan for Jesus to be born to a poor, unwed, teenage Jewish girl. He could have just walked into the scene at age 33 and started preaching in the temple. They could have done all the same things to him. He could have been born into a wealthy family, maybe come from better stock. As long as it was someone in David's family the prophecies would have been fulfilled. He could have allowed himself the luxury of owning a house instead of having "Nowhere to lay His head". But he didn't.
He chose to be lonely, hungry, poor, often tired, misunderstood, badgered, heckled, slandered, attacked by the religious zealots, falsely accused, tempted, isolated, betrayed, rejected, sorrowful, broken hearted, and frustrated with the progress of his closest friends toward their ultimate goal. He obeyed His Father even when it hurt. Why did He do all those things? Why were those descriptives accurate about his life? Why did He come here and live for 33 years in a lifestyle completely opposed to what He left behind in Heaven? Feeling our pain and touching our weaknesses had nothing to do with salvation. That required a sinless sacrifice and nothing more. That was the part only He could do. So why did He choose to actually be born here, grow up here, live here, minister here, (again...healing the sick was not required for our salvation...) and be brutally murdered here? And why did He stay here for three days and come back to life here and then go home to heaven?
My guess...because he knew our hearts. He knew how easily we might accept salvation, yet still allow fear to keep us away from Him. He didn't save us from a distance...He saved us from ourselves...because He became one of us. There are a lot more people in this world who fit the description of Jesus' life I just laid out. There are a vast majority of beaten bedraggled, homeless, accused, lonely, sad, sorrowful, burdened, betrayed people who need desperately to see a God who doesn't just save them out of angry, begrudging condescension. They need to see a God who adores them so much that He would pursue them through history and travel from one dimension to another and actually become one of them, while still being Him, and feel all those hurts and wounds and pains and emotions. Because He knew that mankind would create an image of an angry, resentful, never-pleased God who the average Joe would be afraid of. So He smashed that image and showed them instead, a poor, lowly, sorrowful, servant, who had been betrayed, ridiculed, misunderstood, and even homeless. They could approach that Savior. They could look into the eyes of a man who had been where they are now...and they could believe Him when he said "my yoke is easy and my burden is light"
He became nothing, because all of us nothings needed him to be easily approachable. He bested all our expectations and one-upped all our dreams. And now He waits for us all...come as you are...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday cont...

Jesus was facing His impending death. He knew this by now. He knew how bad it would be to take on the sin of the world. He knew that it meant separation from his Father. He knew it meant a battle for the souls of men even though He knew there was no good thing in those souls. He chose to come here, chose to live here and chose to die here, for us. In those last hours, I wonder what went through his mind. Did he write a letter to Mary and tell her he loved her? Did he find himself caught up in reminiscences of happy times in his childhood? Did He draw a deep breath and smell the salt spray of the ocean that last night in Bethany? Did he spend any special, individual time with his friends...time we don't know about...chatting and remembering? Did he choke on his words at any point? Was he emotional at all? When he performed the breaking of the bread, the liturgy we now use to celebrate His death, did it make him wince just a little? For us it is symbolism...for Him, at that was about to happen for real. Did He wonder how God was going to pull this little band together after He was gone? I know he trusted His father to do it, and take care of them, but did He wonder to Himself..."I don't know how, Father...they still don't seem to get it." Did He commend his few personal effects to one of his friends...maybe telling them to sell them and give the money to his mother? When he dipped the bread into the bowl and declared Judas the traitor...did his hand touch Judas' for an instant and did it break his heart? When he told Judas, "What you quickly..." was there breaking in his voice? Most of us have been betrayed by a friend at one time or other...few have known full well it was coming. Jesus was a man, after all...the Total would I have handled this? Thank God we never have to find out.

Stay tuned...

Maundy Thursday

"Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos"" ("A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you"),
This is the Latin phrase from which we get "Maundy Thursday". It fits the day perfectly. Jesus gives us this command in action first, later He gives it in word. This day began with a series of teachings, and the sun set on a final dinner with his closest friends, in a borrowed banquet room. At that dinner, He would be misunderstood by his friends...yet again...asked for favoritism, each man would proclaim his undying loyalty despite what Jesus said. Then He would send His betrayer on his way and turn his disciples tables upside down, yet again, by taking on a servants job and washing their feet. When this was over He would ask a handful of them to stay by Him through the night and pray for Him while He wrestled with His Fathers' will. His friends would fail him and sleep their way through the hour of His greatest need. He would wrestle alone, ask not once but three times, and with enough overwhelming urgency that he would break his capillaries and blood would mingle with His sweat. He would ask three times for His Father to change His plans and make a different way other than the cup of suffering He was being asked to drink. Three times His Father would say "No", choosing instead to strengthen His beloved Son with enough Grace for the task at hand. He would go and awaken his sleeping friends and the chill of the night would be interrupted by the glow of torches and the rumble of soldiers and the icy betrayal of the kiss of a friend. His friends would scatter and the one who remained within sight, would curse and use profanity in an effort to prove he wasn't a follower. Then the rooster would crow...and it would be Friday...

Throughout the day today, as I get time, I am going to try to post thoughts about the days' progression. Stay Tuned...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The man of no Reputation...

Last year...almost a year ago to be exact...I quoted this song in a post. I love this song so much that I am going to post thoughts inspired by it here again today. I wrote an entire chapter in my new book about it, and the title of one of the sermons I teach is the song title. I'd say it influenced me. Let me post the lyrics first, then we'll discuss it.

Man of No reputation- Rick Elias
It was said this man was of no reputation
Yet He could stop the rising storm
With a gesture of His hand
But He chose to use His hands to heal
Hearts of darkness, hearts of stone
Just like mine would be revealed
He was a man of no reputation
And by the wise, considered a fool
When He spoke about faith and forgiveness
In a time when the strongest arms ruled
But this man of no reputation
Loved the weak with relentless affection
And He loved all those poor in spirit just as they were
He was a man of no reputation
It was said this man brought only confusion
That He'd achieve his ends by any means
And the truth that it brings revolution
And for once they were right
The truth set us free
The hearts of the captive were his only concern
And the powerful knew their days were ending
He was a man of no reputation
And by the wise, considered a fool
When He spoke about faith and forgiveness
In a time when the strongest arms ruled
But this man of no reputation
Loved the weak with relentless affection
And He loved all those poor in spirit just as they were
He was a man of no reputation
One day soon the gates of heaven will open wide
And the Prince of Peace will come back for His bride
But for now we live on these streets
Forbidding and tough
Where push always comes to shove
And it's said love's never enough
Where a prophet in rags gives hope to a fearful world
No injustice, no heart of darkness
Will keep this voice from being heard
He was a man of no reputation
And by the wise, considered a fool
When He spoke about faith and forgiveness
In a time when the strongest arms ruled
But this man of no reputation
Loves us all with relentless affection
And He loves all those poor in spirit, come as you are
To the man of no reputation.

From the first time I heard it, I have been changed by it. I am blessed in that the writer is a dear friend of mine. I've heard it sung a few times but never enough for my liking. I've yet to hear it's equal. It presents Jesus as Jesus wished to be presented. Humble, non intrusive, unassuming. Jesus doesn't kick my doors in, He knocks and waits. He brings huge, radical, amazing changes into my life but seldom against my will. There is nothing at all about this Man that makes me feel I should fear him or run from him or that he judges me. He was homeless when he lived here. Those prosperity hucksters who tell us otherwise are lying...plain and simple. He shivered in his fair share of cold olive groves, or in the hull of Peter's fishing boats, wrapped in stinky fishing nets trying to stay warm. He felt the growl of an empty belly and was once so hungry he cursed a fig tree for not having fruit when he needed some. He knew hard work, learned in his fathers carpentry shop. He knew ridicule and what it felt like to be outcast. He was a man of sorrows...our sorrows. (He certainly didn't bring any with Him) He loved little children and blessed them. He loved and protected those whom the rule givers exiled. He turned the religious world on it's ear and threw opened the doors of access to God, to the rest of us poor rabble. He lived His 33 years like he didn't belong here. That's where He challenges us today. This is Holy Week. The week we remember and celebrate His death and resurrection. This week God has moved me to study also how He lived. How His heart ached to be home with His father and yet how He was going to miss His friends down here. He surely knew their lives would be different once he returned to Heaven. "Listen...I am with you always" was His promise, but it would be different. He wouldn't be present in the flesh. At least not His flesh. He is present in mine now...and yours if you know Him. The trick is living as He lived. Being an inhabitant of earth but a citizen of Heaven. Having God on our minds with each beat of our hearts. Living poor and hungry if need be. Being nothing, so he can be everything to us. Having nothing, if need be, so He can be everything for us. It's been an emotional 3 days and there are four to come. Take the rest of this week and do a little digging into this Man of No reputation.
Come as you are...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thoughts From Dominic Voillaume

"All that is not the love of God has no meaning for me. I can truly say that I have no interest in anything but the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. If God wants it to, my life will be useful through my word and witness. If he wants it to, my life will bear fruit through my prayers and sacrifices. But the usefulness of my life is his concern, not mine. It would be indecent of me to worry about that."
The last journal entry of Father Dominic Voillaume, taken from
"The Signature of Jesus"By Brennan Manning

Dominic Voillaume was a French priest who spent his life in the service of the poor. He died of cancer at a very young age. From what I've read of him, he had a magnificent grasp on the real force of sin in our lives and of the fact that, despite our best efforts, we are capable of nothing good on our own. His quote so eloquently explains that truth. I have been so guilty of trying to craft something great for God and missing the mark totally. God didn't save me because I had anything great to offer. He saved me because he loves me and whatever else He accomplishes with my life after that is completely up to Him. The only potential I have in myself is the potential to mess everything up. Surrendered to His will, however, great things can be accomplished. But that is strictly His doing! whenever I try to inject my will into it...regardless of how noble my intentions...I just end up wrecking it. Abraham learned this lesson with Ishmael.
So all any of us can do is wake up each morning, offer the day to God to do as He pleases, and enjoy the ride. In the end, it takes all the pressure off of us and we avoid what Fr.Dominic called the "indecency" of trying to do it ourselves.