Category Archives: Personal

Sermon: "Jesus Eats Fish"

I had the privilege of preaching last Sunday on the Gospel text of the week, Luke 24:36-48. I have only preached a handful of times at Hope, and I’ve been experimenting with different styles of preaching: preaching from manuscripts vs. outlines, doing verse-by-verse exegesis vs. theological explorations, and so on. This time I preached from an outline and used the text as a launching pad for a sermon on docetism. I have also tried to shorten my sermons and got this one right into my target 15-minute time period.

You can listen or download the file below.

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Signs You are in a Funk

Maybe no one else experiences this, but my life seems to run in cycles of varying levels of contentment and productivity. The majority of the time I feel like things are clicking along, life is in order, things that need to be done are getting done.

Recently, however, I have been in one of my periodic funks. The end of the day comes and I feel like I have had absolutely no spare time in the day, yet I look back over my day and I feel like I accomplished nothing. The scenario seems to be the more busy my life is, the less actually gets done. I have a few symptoms of my optimal lifle rhythm getting out of whack, and so I looked back over the past few weeks and, sure enough, my personal symptoms were there:

  • No personal reading. Whenever I stop reading things for my own pleasure, my brain tends to decrease to startlingly low levels of creativity, energy, and motivation.
  • Not a lot of time for writing. Usually this means I’m not blogging, but not always so. Although I have been writing my “How I Built a Church Website for Free” series, it is not the kind of writing that really energizes me in life and ministry. I just thought that the series might be helpful to some people. Apart from that, the blogging has been a little lax over the past few months.
  • Lots of time on the computer. When I am spending lots of time on the computer, it’s usually a sign that I am in a funk. I think I am doing productive, helpful, or intellectually stimulating tasks while I’m on the computer, but in reality it just eats up time that I should use for doing other things.

When I am in one of these funks the house tends not to get cleaned, we eat out more, work is less exciting and more difficult to focus on, and I seem a bit distant to most people. I’m not sure what triggers these. Maybe nothing does. But I do know that the above three symptoms are signs that I’m in one of these funks. Usually committing myself to reading, writing, and shutting down the computer is enough to pull me out and move the rest of my life back in the right direction.

So that’s how I know I’m in a funk. What about you? How you do know when your life is getting off-track and needs a little bit of prodding to get back in line?

Tweaking the Look

I wrote a few weeks ago about the new Vigilance WordPress theme I switched to recently. Until yesterday I was running the theme pretty much as it came and finally got around to tweaking it a touch. I’ve changed up the font, link color, and added a few random pictures I found in Flickr to the content bar across the top of the site. The pictures either reflect some interest of mine or just look really cool. Hopefully I can keep adding to the collection.

The blue font color that I’ve picked out for links may not be the exact shade I’m looking for, so it might get tweaked. If looks matter and you read via RSS, you may want to check out the site.

Oh, and, like other people I’ve struggled with whether or not to place ads on my site to try and at least cover the expenses of hosting the blog. After going ad-less for a long time I put some Google Adsense ads in the top right corner of the page. I think over the next few weeks I’m going to do some experiments with ad placement and see what works. I’m really trying to use it to target search engine traffic, so I’ve moved the ads from the corner to actually embedded in the post. If the ads bother you the RSS feed is ad-free.

A New New Look and iPhone Access

I dropped the new WordPress theme I added to this site a few weeks ago because I just didn’t like it enough. After going back to the old theme for a while I came across the Vigilance theme and loved it. I haven’t customized it at all yet, but plan on doing a few tweaks soon. Check it and Titan out at Jestro Themes.

On another note, I added a cool plugin to let you access MattCleaver.com from your iPhone or iPod touch (or G1, too, I think). I don’t know how many people will actually use it, but I think it’s just kinda neat. Get the plugin here.

24 Hours of Lemons Houston Gator-O-Rama Race Racap

Remember that ugly BMW that I wrote about in November? Well, last weekend was the race, the 24 Hours of Lemons Houston Gator-O-Rama.

I may write some detailed posts (or start a dedicated new site) about the journey the car has taken from an almost-junkyard-heap to an almost-race-winning performance machine. As for now, I will spare the details and give you an overview with pictures.

Yes, you heard that right, an almost-race-winning car. There were 96 other cars running in the race and after going nine laps down at the very beginning of the race and falling to around 67th position, we clawed our way back up the standings to finish 6th. The car, which is essentially a stock 1986 BMW 325e ran flawlessly (once we made our quick fix at the start of the race) for thirteen and a half hours of racing action.

Not only was it reliable, but it was quick. My brother Drew set the 6th fastest lap of the race. We think we have a shot at winning the next race if the car can hold up and be as reliable as it was this go around.

More later, but as for now, check out the pictures below on CleaverMotorsports.com.

Solomon's Porch: Your Average, Everyday, Cutting-Edge Church

I’ve been in St. Paul, MN for a little while taking an intensive class for my M.A. degree at Luther Seminary.  Last night a few of us decided to go to Solomon’s Porch for our Sunday church experience. I mean, if you don’t have a home congregation you might as well go somewhere “hip,” right?

As a somewhat distant, though very interested, observer of the emerging church, I have read plenty of blogs and magazine articles about Solomon’s Porch and their lead pastor (not sure what his real title is) Doug Pagitt.  I thought this would be a cool opportunity to see in real life all that I had been reading and hearing about, and it was honestly pretty much what I expected: quite anticlimactic and ordinary.  And I mean that truly in the best way possible.

Obviously when I say ordinary I don’t mean mainstream.  When you walk into the Great Room (think sanctuary) and see it filled with tons of couches all arranged pointing towards a couple of stools sitting in the middle of the room you realize that the environment is anything but typical church fare.

When I say that the Sunday Gathering is ordinary and anticlimactic I mean that the community and leadership embrace a super-flat ecclesiology.  Lines between staff and laity seem blurred, and there is no such thing as a celebrity. You’ll see what I mean in a second.

So, here’s the play-by-play. There are about 12 or so of us from the seminary who decide to go to Solomon’s Porch, and of course we don’t want to be late, so we arrive obscenely early. We walk into the Great Room and walk right past Doug Pagitt, who is sitting on a couch chatting with someone. We all sit down together in a little corner, and are pretty much the only ones in the room besides those who are preparing for some part in the gathering. Yeah, we don’t stand out at all.

Doug finishes his conversation and comes over to us and introduces himself, “Hi, I’m Doug.” I think to myself, Wow, he is really big. He acts like your typical guy and does the whole small talk thing, asking us what brings us there, where we’re from, yada yada yada.  We give him the brief seminary shtick.  He welcomes us and tells us to make ourselves at home and feel free to participate as if this place were our own, but tells us we can’t all sit together.

So we all spread out around the room and meander as we try and kill some time before the gathering is supposed to start. Thankfully most of our group tries to maintain our level of inconspicuousness by whipping out their phones and cameras and taking pictures as they walk around. I wonder to myself what communities like Solomon’s Porch think about being a Christian tourist spot.  It seems so antithetical to their ecclesiology, but I’m not sure how you avoid it (especially when you write a book about your church).

According to the website, the Sunday Gathering Starts at 5:00 PM, but at 5:00 the room is still quite sparse.  Some music is playing and people are mingling, and the room starts to fill and get louder, but the Gathering proper doesn’t seem to start until sometime after 5:15.  Or does it? I know everything (okay, well maybe not everything, but almost) at Solomon’s Porch is done with theological intentionality behind it, so maybe the 15-25 minutes of mingling is an essential part of the worship experience. The start of the worship gathering is not initiated by a single person or a call to worship, but by the organic gathering of this Christian community.

Or maybe they are just undisciplined and can’t start anything on time.  Not quite sure, but I hope it’s all the theological mumbo-jumbo I just spouted.

A little after 5:15 someone gets up to initiate what seems to be a call to worship, although she doesn’t call it that (I forget what it was called), and a responsive reading is used to initiate what would typically be thought of as the worship service.  We sing a song, Doug gets up and says something about it being Epiphany, and the younger children (under 5 years old I think) are dismissed. We greet the people sitting around us and then sing some more songs.  All the songs, by the way, are unique and original to Solomon’s Porch.  Since I have no taste or expertise in music, I will not even try to describe the genre, other than I liked it.

As a regular part of their Gatherings a member of their community often shares from their own life how they are connecting their faith to what they do on a regular basis.  This week was unique in that Doug was the person-of-the-week, so we not only got to meet Doug and hear him “preach” but also heard a little bit about what makes him tick personally.  Really cool.

Then came the sermon (yes, he actually calls it a sermon), which covered Matthew 19:1-20:17.  Yup, that’s a lot!  And yes, it did seem kind of rushed, but he tried to tie together a lot of passages that often get isolated from their context, which was fresh.  I wish he would have closed a little bit better and tied up the implications of the ending of the passage with the beginning.  I don’t know if he was crunched for time or designed it that way, but it seemed to be missing a little bit.

After a song we had communion, which seemed almost like another short opportunity for fellowship.  People were walking around and mingling in the midst of communion, which had a surprisingly natural feel to it, which surprised me. Should communion look more like that? In many churches I’ve been to people tend to use the down time after they’ve taken communion to whisper and write notes anyways; maybe we should just make all that stuff explicit and a part of the liturgical act of communion rather than trying to hide it all and maintain a certain level of piety.

Another song later and it was all over. I wish I could observe some of the other things that go on during the week that are integral parts of the community. It’s hard to judge a church like that simply by a couple of hours on Sunday night, but it was a fairly profound experience.

As I stated earlier, it was very ordinary. You walk up to the church and there are no flashy signs saying “As Seen in Christianity Today!” or “A Church on the Cutting-Edge!” Instead, you get the feeling they don’t want to be the tourist destination that we had made it that evening. Though their pastor is a “big deal” in emerging (and anti-emerging) church circles, you get the feeling that most people in the church don’t know or care about that.  And Doug doesn’t project himself as someone more important than anyone else. In addition to Doug, Tony Jones was also there, again with no fanfare.  In the same room are two of the leading, most well-known, influential voices in the emerging church, but here they’re just Doug and Tony. This is so different from the cult of Christian celebrity that seems to be pandered about in most mainstream churches. We need more of this in the church today.

A few things were peculiar. There was very little female leadership. I assume that is not by design, but I just found it odd that a progressive church like that doesn’t intentionally try and get women up front. Maybe they don’t feel they have to push things one way or the other but simply allow people to serve as they feel called.  If that means that they are led mostly by men, so be it.

And, as youth ministers, at seminary studying youth ministry, most of us noticed there were very few in the middle and high school age range.  Maybe there were more present at the 7:00 PM Gathering. Youth ministry in the emerging church is a topic that would be interesting to explore.

If you ever get a chance to go to Solomon’s Porch, it’s obviously worth your time if you are familiar with the emerging church, if for no other reason that to realize that the heavens do not open when Doug sits on his stool. It’s amazing how anticlimactic innovation appears. Maybe the everyday and the extraordinary are anything but.

Maybe there’s hope for your church after all.

Of Sickness, Lock-Ins, and Schoolwork

All of the above has kept me busy and/or in bed.  Sometimes both at the same time.

I’ve been sick for about two weeks and can’t seem to shake this crud I’ve got.  It’s not something that makes me bedridden, but I’m just exhausted all the time.  I bet I could sleep for 14 hours a day if I wanted to (and sometimes I actually do).  That makes it really hard to get motivated to get things done.

Combine being sick with having a lock-in right in the middle and you don’t get a recipe for a quick illness recovery.  Yup, we had a lock-in on Friday night, which was fun and all, but I would have much rather slept.  But I did get to play Rock Band for the first time, which was pretty sweet.

And of course, it’s the end of the semester, which means I’m rushing to get all my final work finished that I have been putting off in favor of 14-hours-of-sleep-a-day.

It will all get done.  It always does.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make a Racecar

The blog has been dormant for about a week due to a special project I’ve been working on.  This October my younger brother Drew was a driver in the Houston race of the 24 Hours of Lemons, an amateur endurance race for cars that have been bought and race-prepped (excluding “safety” items) for $500 or less.  After Drew participated in the race with some random guys nice enough to let him jump on their team and finished 26th out of 77 cars he, my dad, and I decided we would like to give it a go ourselves.

So we decided that if the race came back to Houston in 2009 we would try and put a team and car together.  On November 15th the 2009 schedule was released and Houston had a race scheduled for February 28, which is a very short period of time to find a decent $500 car, get it race-ready, and find a team of drivers (each team must have 4-6 drivers).  So when November 15th hit and we realized the race would be happening in just three months we went into car-finding mode.  We scoured Craigslist, eBay, Autotrader, and any other website we could think of for any usable car in Texas, Olahoma, and Arkansas.  We eventually decided we wanted to pursue a 1986 BMW 325e that was in the Dallas area.  Since dad is in Houston and Drew is in Arkansas I was the one who had to handle looking at and buying the car.

Our Lemon - A 1986 BMW 325eAs you can see, the car is a piece of work (click on the picture to be taken to a Flickr photo set). The body is in pretty rough shape, the windshield has a pretty big spider crack in it, the power steering pump has been ripped off, the interior is an absolute mess, and the transmission linkage is broken and the car is stuck in second gear.  But it runs!  I drove it around the block after it got towed home.  Hopefully the transmission will be a pretty easy fix and then for the most part it will be drivable.

For the next month and a half we (and by “we” I mean my dad and brother) will work on getting the car race-ready, mostly over Thanksgiving and Christmas break while Drew is home from college.  Dad and Drew will be two of our four drivers; the other two will be guys they know who have some good driving experience.  I will be the crew chief and work on race and pit strategy.

So, now that we’ve got a car in-hand I can return to some more regular blogging and podcast activities (next podcast is tomorrow morning).  I may provide some more random updates about the car as things happen, but will definitely post after March 1st when the race is over.

Wish us luck.