03 February 2007

Drunk on Jesus

I spent a good part of my adolescent years in Wichita, KS. Actually, I lived in a suburb (if Wichita can have a suburban section) of Wichita: Hayesville. I was/am the proverbial preacher’s kid. My father, whom some of you know, worked for Children’s Hospital before receiving the call to forsake career and comfort for the work of full-time ministry. My earliest memories of being alive are found in two places: my family (of which I’m a twin, one sister, and two incredible parents) and my church.

There are many things that shaped my early on. Some sociologists tell us that we shape our primary convictions or core convictions by the time we are twelve years old. We spend the rest of our lives building upon or deconstructing those core convictions—for good and for bad. “Children are the world’s best recorders, but the worst interpreters.”

My dad drove a school bus when we were younger. Not because he wanted to necessarily but because he was a great dad: the church we served barely paid him enough money to pay the mortgage and buy groceries, let alone support a family of five. Every Friday, dad picked up Jason and I on the big yellow bus (we were the coolest kids on Maywood St.—who else got to go for joy rides after hours?).

My dad never complained. I recall one time being confused by my mother’s emotional outburst upon opening the mailbox. It seems that several of the church members knew our financial straits (and the squirrelly payment tactics of the church treasurer) and decided to leave our family a sizable sum of money. Both my mother and my father were constantly hopeful, full of energy and dedication to the church and to our family. Lights in a dark world; wisdom in the midst of foolishness; speaking psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

My (twin) brother and I had two best friends growing up: Brian and Chris Lemons. Both were standout soccer players at an early age. Both would go on to become all-state performers. Brian was the one everyone looked up to: highly intelligent, athletic, spiritual, and full of life. He was the one we all wanted to be.

The Graves family moved back to Michigan after an awful church split and Brian’s family remained in Wichita. We stayed in touch sporadically over our teen years. Brian was selected, during his senior year of high school, to play on the United States National Soccer Team as its starting goalkeeper. Brian had opportunities to play at several universities upon graduation. He chose to play for a small college in Nebraska that some of you are familiar with—York College. At York, Brian was a BMOC—Big Man on Campus. He was passionate about his faith in Christ, and determined to break down the artificial walls constructed between various ethnic groups. He detested legalism in the church. He despised racism. He was the epitome of a young follower of Jesus trying to make a difference, under the guidance of God’s spirit, in the lives of those who surrounded him.

Brian died in a fatal car crash ten years ago this past month. I was at a friends house (still in high school) when the phone rang. It was my mother, weeping profusely, “Josh, Brian’s dead.” My body went numb and soul froze. I don’t remember much after that. Brian Allen Lemons. Born in 1977, dead at the age of 20. So much promise, and potential snuffed away by the cruel jaws of death. He would never marry, accomplish all goals, or even bring children into this world. If you don’t question God over these sorts of incongruities in life, you might want to rethink the God you worship.

Thousands showed at Brian’s funeral in Wichita up wearing t-shirts that bore the slogan, “the power of one”—a testimony to Brian’s influence: light in a dark world; wisdom in the midst of foolishness; speaking psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

All of these memories came flooding back to me because of the death of Adam Langford and Moses Kimezi : two beloved leaders in the work this church is so closely tied to in Jinja, Uganda.

I was with one of John and Sara Barton’s close friends and former in Uganda this past weekend as I taught at a conference in California. This friend recalled similar stories of Adam Langford. The parallels of Brian and Adam were astounding. Here’s one of the ironies of this story for my family: Adam Langford’s teammate at Oklahoma Christian on the soccer team was Chris Lemons the brother of Brian Lemons. Apparently Chris and Adam were extremely close during college. Chris lost his brother ten years ago, now loses a dear friend almost ten years to the day.

A few stories emerged out of the last few weeks that show you what kind of zest and vigor Adam embodied. Having never met him personally, many of us are reliant upon these stories to shape his character and demeanor.

Apparently Adam lived most of his life under the shadow of his older brother Ben Langford who’s on the current Jinja team. According to many, Ben was an amazing high school athlete. In the ninth grade, Adam told the soccer coach he’d like to play for him.

“What’s your name son?”
“Adam Langford.”
“Langford…Langford…say, are you Ben’s brother?”
“No, Ben is my brother.”

During Adam’s junior year, he was a part of school history winning a state championship in Oklahoma. The final game came down to a shoot out. The score in this overtime session was tied: 4-4. The younger brother was faced with the ultimate opportunity: miss the kick and the match goes into a second overtime. Score and he’s just marched his team to a state championship! What’s happens next is the stuff legends are made of.

Adam felt the tension—it could’ve been cut with a knife. He walks over to the student section, which is dead silent, staring at them. In a burst of emotion from somewhere deep inside, Adam lifts his hands in the air as a conductor preparing a symphony. Adam, in the tradition of Babe Ruth and his famous “point” in the World Series of , declared victory before he’d even scored the goal!

As this story is being relayed to me, I’m thinking, “Either way this guy’s going down in history. He’ll either be the hero who called his own shot or the goat who choked after a cocky display of male testosterone.”

Adam’s story (or Moses, or Brian, or my dad for that matter) is not merely a story about interesting people—they’re stories of people who’ve been filled by God’s spirit to overflow capacity. “Adam Langford and Moses Kimezi died January 16 as they worked to take good news to the poor and proclaim the joy of Christ. Both Moses and Adam were like that: the spirit of Christ oozed from their pores and their quick laughing smiles…Adam Langford was the kind of person that people were drawn to, whether children watching him balance a soccer ball on his foot, coffee growers he was helping the day he died, Source Cafe employees he worked alongside. Adam was in Uganda to proclaim good news to the poor, and he died in a tragic way but the love and joyful way he lived his life will make an indelible impression on Ugandans for decades to come.”

Lights in a dark world; wisdom in the midst of foolishness; speaking psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

Coming Alive

A writer whose name I’ve long forgotten wrote this concerning Christian vocation, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Instead, ask what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is people who’ve come alive.”

All of this has been heavy on my heart and stabbing at my soul. And then, I open up Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and read these words:

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The NIV really messes up the interpretation of this text in verses 19ff. Instead of reading, “19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” the NRSV rightly translated this text “19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The NIV makes this sound like a command from Paul. Oh contrare mon frere. This is not a command, this is a description of what the spirit-filled life looks like. It’s not "do this, do this, do this." It’s “don’t be drunk on wine, be drunk on Jesus. And when you are drunk on Jesus you will find yourself living like this: singing praises and worship to God add the oddest times, in the strangest of circumstances.

In the Church of Christ tradition, this passage has been used to defend acapella music. We ignore the worship context of I. Co 11-14 when Paul talks about women who are leading, prophesying, etc. in the church. And in this passage, we create a context (we say that this is talking about corporate worship) that isn’t even there! How does that work exactly!

Examined or Enacted?

I love to study, read, reflect and study some more. I loved learning the Greek language in seminary. I enjoyed studying the Arian controversy in the early church and the debates among the Patristic Fathers (the what and the who?). I become fixated in the details of the narrative when I study the Civil Rights Movement, or the Bay of Pigs Invasion. I love to learn and drink deeply from good books.

But here’s what I’m slowly learning, the older I get. The Bible isn’t so much interested in being examined as it is interested in being enacted. The students I teach and serve at Rochester College are teaching me this. Most of them don’t know the first thing about the New Testament when they come to my class. They are brilliant by the end of the semester, but that’s because they have a great teacher!

These students can’t explain the synoptic problem, the messianic secret of Mark, or the authorship debates regarding the Gospel of John. They don’t know the Council of Nicea from the latest hot video on MTV. But many of them get it. They understand that Scripture wants to be lived out more than it wants to be litigated by reason and analysis. They understand that God desires for his children to perform the text, not live in years and years of pondering.

Some of our churches "got too many people who know too much Bible but don’t intend to do a thing with the knowledge they possess."

Paul reminds us this morning that we are to be, all metaphors aside, drunk on Jesus.

We choose to be intoxicated with the love and power of Jesus. We do not desire to be inebriated on individualism; sloshed on selfishness; or wasted on worldly ways—rather we choose to be consumed by the power and presence of God in our lives. We choose to follow in the tradition of St. Paul, Brian Lemons, Adam Langford and others—drunk on Jesus for life.


Eric said...

Josh, the memories continue to come flooding back through my mind. They have been since I first read this last night. Thanks for sharing these words. As I was reading, I was reminded of the words at beginning of this pericope, "Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us..." I was blessed with the chance to watch both Brian and Adam do that in their lifetimes. I am still graced with the gift of watching Chris Lemons and you do that daily. Thanks for not only preaching these words, but for living into them. It is a blessing to call you friend and brother.

Bradford L. Stevens said...

Great post Josh! Words to live by. In light of your comment on Ephesians, I thought you might enjoy this story coming out of St. Louis: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12579116/

Next they will be calling us "winebibbers"!

Anonymous said...

My parents and I went to the Brasil meeting. Both my mom and my dad are feeling a little better about it and are talking it over. I would still love to go but I'm praying for guidance in my decision. Thank you for everything! I will keep you posted.

Whats goin on with you though? Sorry I havent posted or commented in a while, it was nice to see you today =)

I have class tomorrow night so I'll try and talk to you later.


Emily said...

Though Brian died at such an early age, the circle of influence that he has had before and after his death is amazing. It's the same with Adam and Moses. People all over the world know of them and lives have been changed for the better due to the way that they lived their lives.
I sometimes think about how dangerous working in inner cities can be. I think about how easy it can be to get sick and die while in a foreign country to spread the word of God. It's easy for people to wonder why anyone would take those chances.
But even if one's life is cut short, the trade-off is immeasurable. Brian and Adam are perfect examples of the unimaginable influence one person can have in such a short time when he or she allows him or herself to be used by God. Because of them, people know the love that Jesus lived.
When I think about that, it confirms that no matter my doubts, the life that I'm letting God steer me to is exactly where I am supposed to be.

Thanks for sharing with us these examples of brave followers of Jesus- and more than that, for being one. :)

Josh Graves said...


Thanks for the thoughts. I hope I was accurate in my recollection of Brian and Chris.

Thanks for your friendship!

Josh Graves said...


I could find what you were referencing, is there another way to access the story?

Chloe, great news indeed! Keep me posted.

Emily, good thoughts. You wrote "Brian and Adam are perfect examples of the unimaginable influence one person can have in such a short time when he or she allows him or herself to be used by God. Because of them, people know the love that Jesus lived. When I think about that, it confirms that no matter my doubts, the life that I'm letting God steer me to is exactly where I am supposed to be."--glad you are on the journey.

trying to write ... said...

great post - felt really challenged in my walk - thanks ... btw the quote is by Howard Thurman

Josh Graves said...

The story Brad referred to in the link is an interesting story about a church called the Journey in St. Louis.

Check it out when you can.

Courtney Strahan said...

Josh, good sermon/lesson tonight! i can't stop thinking about "the irresistible revolution." i got to a point while reading where i said "either, i can't finish this book or, i can no longer go to school..." but, coming to the last chapter, i realized i had to do both. perhaps this is a discussion that is meant to be face-to-face? because i could go on about this book for a while...so good.

and, i really liked this post, too. then hearing you talk about it on Sunday made a bigger impact. i wish i could be as drunk on Jesus as much as Brian, Adam and Moses were...they were obviously great people and great blessings.

Josh Graves said...


You are on the journey my friend. How's the Australia plans coming for this summer?

Courtney Strahan said...

About those plans...As far as I know, they're going. How well? I am not sure. I decided not to make the trek Down Under. What a tough decision to make...But, I feel it was for the best, and I feel that God wants me home this summer. And, honestly, part of it was because of the money. I have tried to help plan the transportation side of the trip because I have a good friend back home who is a travel agent but, because I am not actually going on the trip, the faculty sponsor has sort of shown me the door...they didn't exactly say it outright but, actions speak louder than words. I'm heartbroken because the ministry there, the people...are so close to my heart. All I can do is pray and hope that the trip goes according to God's will.

Anonymous said...


I heard you are going to Nashvegas to do some great ministry over spring break?

Courtney Strahan said...

I am and I am pumped! Yeah, I don't really have any qualitative language for how much of a blessing this is/will be.