Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wise as Serpents...

An Inkling
Here’s some wisdom for living from some youngsters.  “Never trust a dog to watch your food.” (Patrick, age 10)  “When you want something expensive, ask your grandparents.” (Matt, age 12)  “Never smart off to a teacher whose eyes and ears are twitching.” (Andy, age 9)  “Never try to hide a piece of broccoli in your milk.” (Rosemary, age 7)  “Don’t flush the toilet when your dad’s in the shower.” (Lamar, age 10)  “When your dad is mad and asks you, ‘Do I look stupid?’ don’t answer him.” (Heather, age 16)  “When you get a bad grade, show it to your mom when she’s on the phone.” (Alyesha, age 13)
Is that not the way the world works?  With some bumps and bruises along the way, these youngsters have already learned that it’s well to understand how things work around here.
So Jesus observed when he told his disciples to “be wise as serpents.”  The world can be a harsh place, and it is well to understand how it works. 
But Jesus wants more of us than shrewdness.  So to his “serpent” directive he added another, that we’re to be “innocent as doves.”  It seems an odd pairing:  “wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.”  But Jesus knew that shrewdness and scheming are not the same thing.  We can know the ways of the world without living by the values of the world.
Jesus wants us to be effective – wise as serpents.  So study up.  Observe the world around you and what’s current in the culture.  But know that Jesus wants you to be effective for him – innocent as doves.  Such character is formed in us by God, as we are presented to him through the various disciplines of the faith, such as worship, study, prayer, fellowship, and service.
God’s intention with you is to do worldly-wise one better. 
May it be so!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


An Inkling
From time to time someone will ask me about fasting.  “Why fast?  And if so, how?”  With Lent commencing this week, fasting comes to mind.
It’s strange that fasting is strange.  Fasting was both assumed and common through most centuries of the church’s life.  Now it is neither.  What is common is the assumption that desires are to be satisfied immediately, and the expectation that every meal should be a feast.  Few of history’s kings feasted as sumptuously as we dine daily.  And yet our prompt and plentiful platters have not fully satisfied our hungers.  Thus the questions about fasting.  And thus the attention Jesus gave to the Old Testament wisdom that “one does not live by bread alone.”
Fasting is a means of giving attention to a deeper hunger by shunning the satisfaction of a lesser hunger.  It is that deeper hunger which engages us more intently in our prayer conversations with God.  However it is that body and soul are wired together, the satisfaction of physical hunger often quells spiritual hunger as well.  Conversely, shunning physical hunger for a season serves to enhance spiritual hunger in ways that earnest efforts alone cannot.
How does one fast?  Begin by asking your doctor if it is safe for you.  If so, then start small.  Skip lunch and pray once a week.  Then build from there.  Try a day long fast (not from liquids!) and use some of that mealtime for additional prayer.  See what you learn.  And fill out your learnings by studying some master writers on such things.  I suggest Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline or Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines.
We are entering the season of Lent, a time when Christians have traditionally given extra attention to various spiritual disciplines which posture us in readiness for God’s transforming work in our lives.  Fasting is just such a discipline, and the feasting of Easter is well-prepared thereby!
Hungering for something more,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Master's Calendar

An Inkling
Do you remember the “Oracle of Delphi”?  Here’s how it worked:  a priestess sat on a tripod seat over a fissure which emitted vapors from deep within the earth.  As she breathed the vapors she would fall into a trance, and would ramble and rave.  Priests would record her words and then convert them into poetry, which would then be given as oracles to the inquirers.
Our oracles work differently.  Barometers, thermometers, and high altitude wind gauges breathe the vapors and then speak forth data, which “priestly” computers convert into weather prediction oracles.  I doubt that the Delphi Oracle hit it right very often.  But the local weather oracles have been amazingly accurate, especially considering the complicated weather systems that have been blowing through.
I wish they had been wrong!  But because they have been right about snow over and over (and over and over), we’ve had to adapt our church and personal calendars over and over and….  We’re long past Plan B, and on to at least Plan E or F by now. 
As I was mulling over this week’s weather oracles and a possible Plan F, I thought of James’ little reminder (4:13-15, from The Message):  And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.”  You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.  Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.”
The weather oracle helps us make a Plan F.  But Plan F will happen only if the Master wills it.  So, whether or not the weather oracle is right and Plan F actually happens, is truly secondary.  I’ll take the Master’s certainty over mine any day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Snow Daze

An Inkling
Wow – 10 to 14 inches of snow last weekend, and more predicted for next weekend!  Maybe this will be one of those legendary winters we tell our grandchildren about.  And it looks like exaggeration won’t even be necessary.
We transcend so many of life’s finitude fences.  We leap over distances in cars and jets, over fatigue with stimulants, over time limits with multi-tasking, over language barriers with translation software, and over information obstacles with Google. 
But we don’t leap over snow.  A formidable finitude fence rises one tiny flake at a time.  It’s a fence we cannot leap – at least not in Richmond.  Our northern neighbors leap more readily, but even they are slowed down.
Once the snow “fence” has gone up, we all must decide:  should we stay within its confines or dig our way out?  For me, the decision was specified as, “should we have Sunday morning activities or not?”  After watching a jillion weather reports and talking with several folks, I decided we would go for a scaled back Sunday morning – 11 o’clock service only.  Later, as I watched the ticker of cancellations, I saw that we were one of only seven churches meeting for some sort of service.  So a few churches dug through, but the vast majority decided the better part of wisdom was to sit tight.
Digging through is exactly what we did.  John Korman organized several good guys to come and shovel paths.  I suspect his invitation was tempting as an escape from the cabin confines.  Then 63 adventuresome souls came for worship.  It was a delightful service.  We baptized Carter Schumacher, and the praise was especially sweet.  I guess there is something about the extra effort to come that prepares the heart.
What we’ll do next weekend, I don’t know.  Shoveling through the barrier was an adventure once.  Next time the feeling of adventure will be harder to come by.  Stay tuned.  If we’re canceling, we will again notify by multiple means.
You all have faced the same challenges this week as you’ve decided whether to dare digging out and going to work, school, etc.  However soon we venture forth, these snow days serve as one of God’s periodic reminders that our capacity to transcend life’s limits is always tentative.  Whether sitting tight or venturing forth, look to him.  He has gifts for you in the midst of these snow days snow daze.