24 December 2012

The Anonymous Genius

In 1972 the greatest chess player the world had ever seen went missing. Bobby Fischer had come on the field like news from another world: Thirteen years old and he took the U.S. junior championship, fourteen and the professional title was his, and on he went, like some mischievous sprite sprung from mythic fable, until he sat across the table and stared down the board at the Russian world champion, Boris Spassky during the height of the cold war.

After that match, one chess master called Fischer’s victory, “the story of a lonely hero who overcomes an entire empire.” The unthinkable had occurred: a twenty-something youth from the city of Chicago had slain the Great Bear and won the world title.

And then, with as little warning as when he first appeared, Bobby Fischer vanished. Every once in a while he would materialize: once in 1977 to defeat MIT’s chess computer, and once again some fifteen years later in a rematch against the former Russian champion. 

There were rumors of him living in Budapest, reports of his appearance in the Philippines, Japan, and Iceland, but for all intents and purposes, the greatest chessman the world had ever seen had folded his hands over his chest––and POOF!––disappeared, like a magician from a stage.

Then one day, on some online chess site, an anonymous player showed up whom no one had seen before. And once again, as if in repeat of Fischer’s first rise so many years before, that anonymous player began dispatching his opponents one after the other, grandmasters themselves, including Nigel Short, who was then considered one of the world’s greatest practitioners of speed chess.

“I am 99 percent sure that I have been playing against the chess legend,” said Short to reporters. “It’s tremendously exciting.”

At first, this anonymous player might have been dismissed as a novice or nut, because he was opening his matches with these reckless moves that seemed to go against centuries of received chess wisdom. The only problem... was that he was winning. 


Because to each and every game, Bobby Fischer carried a secret weapon: a deeper understanding of chess than the conventional wisdom was based on.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been following the career of a very different hero through the Gospel of Luke. But like Bobby Fischer, Jesus came on the scene of his day, literally like news from another world––an anonymous young man come to overthrow an entire empire by acting according to a deeper understanding than the conventional wisdom was based on.

18 December 2012

Will It Be Okay?

From a video I wrote for Family Life Network:

It will be okay. These are the words of self-comfort: a skill that each of us learns in a world rife with disappointment. Whether with a thumb in the mouth or a prayer in the dark, we need something to help us cope. But is that all our faith is? An invented answer to the need for self comfort?

Is that all that Christmas is? With all the flying reindeer and industrious, toy-making elves, and an entire mythology invented around a rotund holiday saint, it might be easy to get confused at this time of year. It might be easy to just lump it all together: reindeer, elves, and the Christmas story itself, and call the whole thing holiday make-believe.

And since it might be easy to do that, to get confused and lump the historical part of Christmas in with the mythological part of Christmas, the first thing that I want to tell you about Anna, the subject of our sermon this morning, is that she was a real person. How do I know?

03 December 2012

Jesus in the Country, Kicking at the Stones

Lately, my four year-old son has been having night terrors.

 My wife and I will be stirred by the sound of whimpering coming from his room, and walk down the hall to discover that he’s awakened in the dark and seen the shadows of branches coming in through his window and clawing on his walls. 

To his four year-old mind, those crooked shadows have no business being in his room, intruding on his night time peace. But the thing about my son is that he’s a reticent little fellow, slow to share his feelings. It gets to the point where he will physically hide his smile when we know full well that he is beaming on the inside. And this reticence extends at times to our evening prayers, and he’ll get shy about praying out loud. 

So as I tuck him in at night, I try to find other ways to engage him with God, and instead of making him pray, we’ll sing Jesus Loves Me or some other song together.  

But this past Wednesday, my son started the longest conversation he and I have ever had about God. 

We were lying on his bed with the lights turned out, and he wanted to know where God was. When I told him that God was everywhere, he pointed to different spots in his room and asked me if indeed God was present in all of those places, and I told him, "Yes, son, God is in that spot––and you know what else?––God is even in those shadows on the wall.

Well when he heard that, his face brightened into a grin and he said, “Yeah, God will smash those shadows into pieces!” And then we sang that Veggie Tales song, “God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man,” and he fell blissfully to sleep.

God is bigger than the boogie man. He is bigger than than the shadows on the wall and the thing under the steps and all our imaginary fears. And he is bigger than the real evils in our world, like disease, and ignorance, and the spiritual parasites that thrive on the dark. God is bigger than the boogie man, in whatever form the boogie man takes, and so is God's son. 

He proved it one day in a town called Capernaum...