Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Another Advent season has come and gone. So has Christmas day, and soon we'll be saying goodbye to 2014, hello to 2015. This will be the 31st time I've experienced this cycle. While I'm not old by any means, I've often felt out of place among my peers.

While in Sunday School as a child, I'd get caught up in reading the different stories rather than just hearing about them or acting them out.

In youth group I was an outsider because I wanted to do more than just play "Upset the fruit basket" and participate in lock-ins.

Among my classmates at school I didn't fit in as I was a Nazarene in a fundamental, independent, Baptist school.

When I went to Mt. Vernon Nazarene University in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, I was still a bit of an outsider as I hadn't grown up on any of the regions that financially supported MVNU (our regional college was Eastern Nazarene College just outside of Boston). So I tried to make up for it by doing everything they did and not paying enough attention to my studies.

That didn't work, so I took a semester off (for the sake of a long story that's what happened), eventually enrolled in Genesee Community College, where most everyone was either fresh out of high school, or adults looking to complete a certificate program. I didn't fit into either camp.

Houghton College gave me a sense of belonging, as there were enough "non-traditional" students there where I could fit in. At that point I was a couple years older than most of my classmates, but by that time the differences didn't seem to matter much.

Since then, it's been a struggle to try to fit in.

I don't wish to sound like I'm complaining, because really I'm not. Both of my parents were older than 30 when I came along, and in a way I believe that's given me an appreciation for older ways of doing things that easily gets lost among people my own age and younger. At the same time I don't dismiss out of hand new ways of doing things, new technology, or new ideas. Instead I try to blend the two where I can.

For Christmas I bought my wife a 5-1 record player (it plays records, tapes, cd's, the radio, and you can plug in any other device). It's become an "us" gift that we've bought old vinyl albums for. I was born in a time when records were still common, yet the compact disc was just a couple years away from being commercially available. I remember listening to records, then getting into cd's, eventually even getting into mini discs (anyone remember those) and mp3's (each sermon I upload is saved in mp3 format).

Yet, in this rediscovery of vinyl, I've gained a whole new appreciation for "analog" recordings. Now, to be fair, even though I record my sermons on a digital recorder and save them as mp3's, they are recorded in an analog manner. To me, analog recordings, simply sound waves preserved and deciphered by vibrations through a needle and interpreted by our ears, sound so much richer than digital recordings. Yet I wouldn't say that one format should be supplanted for the other. Instead, I would say there's room for all of it.

Why do I say all of this? What's the point?

Not fitting in too well with any group has, I believe, given me a unique perspective on a lot of things, not least of which is how we relate the gospel message, particularly holiness and righteousness, to people who don't seem to care about such things, let alone the belief that we are born into sin and we can't save ourselves.

Too many people I know, some my own age, want to dismiss historical doctrine in favor of new ways of thinking, new ideas, new philosophies (which are just repackaged old philosophies dressed up and dusted off) in order to make God more relevant. They wonder sometimes why I don't buy into what the Brian McLaren's and the Rob Bell's are teaching.

Yet I recognize that, for how wrong their teaching is, they have a point when it comes to communicating, and therefore I'm not always all win with doing things "the way they've always been done." At my first church I was appointed to a lady asked me why I never preached a sermon against the use of alcohol or tobacco, though I claimed to believe in holiness. My response to her was I could preach a sermon like one of those, I've certainly heard them enough growing up, but it wouldn't be holiness I'd be preaching. I told her that I saw God's holiness not as abstaining from those things, though we'd be better off for it, but taking on the full characteristic of God moreso than abstaining from certain substances.

I've rarely been caught up in trends, whether it's a trend to abandon traditional doctrine or it's a counter trend to uphold tradition for tradition sake. I desire what's real.

As I bring this reflection of the past year to a close, I've come to realize that while I've long desired what's real, maybe this year than most other ones I can recall I've desired that more. Life is too short and too precious to chase after cheap imitations. But with that there's also a sense that we shouldn't just write something off because it's "new." If it's real, there's room for it. The vinyl records I'm beginning to acquire are real. The music I have on cd's and mp3's is real music. The format is different, but the music is real.

Hold on to what is real.

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