Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
How did a 4th century Bishop from Myra, in modern day Turkey, get morphed into a fat guy in red at the mall with kids in his lap? It’s hard to imagine.
Many have written in recent years tracing the course of the Santa legend. Bishop Nicholas was known for his generosity, and thanks to a couple of miracles associated with his ministry, he was designated a Saint. Over the centuries legends accrued about St. Nicholas, with each country giving the legends their own flavor. For example, the Dutch came up with the story of Sinterklaas (a “dutchification” of St. Nicholas) filling Dutch children’s shoes with nuts and candies, according to his magical knowledge of their behavior. Other spins on the story found curious combination in America’s melting pot culture, setting the stage for a formative twist on Santa, Clement Clark’s 1822 poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” From there it was but a hop to Coca Cola’s artistic embellishments of Santa’s rotundity, and then to his throne at the mall, where Santa is orbited by tearful children, fawning parents, and a photographer. While the steps are traceable, it’s still amazing how we got from the good Bishop to the photo prop Santa.
What a striking contrast to another story, one that has remained constant across the centuries and cultures – the story of Jesus’ birth. There have been some cute stories that have grown up beside the Christmas story, such as that of the drummer boy. But the central story of Jesus’ birth has remained the same since the gospels first told it. It’s hard to improve on the truth!
Parents often worry about whether Santa will eclipse Jesus at Christmas. They need not. Santa can’t compete. Certainly we must make sure that Santa is not all that our children hear. But when they hear the story of Jesus’ birth, they will surely be drawn to its wondrous mystery.
O come let us adore Him!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
I’ve posted pictures here that I’ve wanted to share with you since Thanksgiving. They show our grand Thanksgiving-eve venture with our sister church, Westwood Baptist. Pastor Michael Black and the saints of Westwood came that evening for dinner, and then we joined in worship. What a grand time it was!
Okay – what’s the big deal? So a couple of neighboring churches get together for a joint meal and service. Is this significant? Yes, I believe it is. Here’s why:
It’s a privilege. For years most of us at St. Giles didn’t even know that our closest church neighbor was an African-American Baptist Church. That’s because Westwood is tucked into the midst of a neighborhood that most of us had never seen. In the days of segregation it was supposed to be that way – unseen. But thankfully in this season God has brought down many of those barriers, and we have the privilege of building a visible relationship that shows how we’re joined in Christ with our neighbors.
It’s fun. The saints of Westwood have a joy about them that is contagious. We’re seeing that in the conversations we have in our planning meetings with them, in the joint ventures the women have held, and in the two Thanksgiving services we’ve had together. It’s fun to get to know a “long lost sister,” and all the more so when we discover she’s so joyful.
It’s stretching. Baptists and Presbyterians? Can you mix passion and reserve? We’re doing it, and it hasn’t been too arduous. To the denominational distinctives add our African and Anglo church cultural differences, and you can see that we’re getting a good stretching. That’s a sign in itself that God is at work.
It’s promising. What might come of this? We’ve had some intimation with these early joint ventures, but we’re just beginning to see the possibilities. This is something God is doing, which makes us all the more eager to unwrap this promising gift. Pray that the Lord will form this new relationship with our long lost sister in ways that bring him honor and joy.
Here’s to Michael and the Westwood saints,
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Did you know you’re called to preach? “Who? Me? You’ve got to be kidding!”
Nope, I’m serious. And we had a great example this Sunday of how that can work. The video of Arlene’s witness touched the hearts of everyone who heard it. She is answering God’s call to preach!
How? By telling what God’s been doing in her life. She had “preached” to me in bits and pieces over recent weeks, telling about what she had seen the Lord do in and around her. She didn’t know she was preaching, but she was – only not in a pulpit expositing scripture. We need that flavor of preaching too. But her preaching arose from simply letting her observations about what God was doing flow into her daily conversation.
Having heard her “preach,” I asked if she would be up for sharing more broadly with the congregation. In her case the video provided a good means for doing so. And so many were blessed.
It’s how you’re called to “preach” as well. Whether you ever stand in a pulpit and exposit a scripture passage or not, every day brings you an opportunity through word and deed to hold forth on what God is doing in and around you. That’s a big part of what Jesus had in mind when he sent his disciples out to tell the good news. Now their calling is yours.
How can you find your preaching voice? Let’s help each other learn. It’s our common calling. And as the good news finds expression through you, someone’s going to be touched with the love of God.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
It’s a striking title: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. So Eugene Peterson entitled one of his books. How does that look? I’ve seen an example.
Some years ago Collie Burton, James Anderson, and Don Coleman sensed God’s calling to bridge the gaps here in Richmond. Knowing that Jesus has reconciled us to the Father and to each other, they determined that the gaps between churches, races, and sections of our city could not be ignored. Christ’s gifts of reconciliation and unity had to be realized. So they began a journey, and it has become a long obedience in the same direction – years spent in the pursuit of what God called them to do, and often without seeing much headway.
But they persisted. And not only did they persist, they kept finding new approaches. They wrote and distributed a book with their vision for reconciliation and unity. For years they facilitated a pastors’ breakfast here at St. Giles. When that ran its course, they gathered a couple of new pastors’ groups in other settings. From one of those groups, where I’ve participated, a new approach sprang forth, named “Bless Richmond.”
It was aptly named – a gathering of Christians with a single intent: to bless Richmond. How? By honoring Jesus in worship, by building relationships across the traditional lines of division, and by serving the poor.
You can see some of the worship in the cell phone video Sarah took, as we sang an African praise song. What a joyful time! The 2000 or so people brought with them over seven tons of food, which will be distributed through the Food Bank. Worship leaders from several churches joined to lead the praise, and pastors from various churches led the prayers. What a marvelous way to bless Richmond.
And it happened in large part because the Lord used the long obedience of some of his servants. Let’s travel that road together! Thanks Collie, James, and Don for leading the way.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Sarah sees it the minute I walk in – a tension in my brow, a drawn corner of the mouth, a dimness in my eye. And so she asks, “Hey, you look troubled. What’s happening?” I do the same for her when I see that “look” on her face.
As often as not we’ve not been aware that we were troubled. We’ve just been pressing on and tending duties, focused on the particulars of the day. But at a deeper level something was troubling the subterranean waters of the soul. And the “waves” showed in our countenance.
“Countenance” is helpful word, but not one we use much. It means our facial expressions in their full range, from the obvious to the subtle. We learn to read these reflections of the soul in those we know well.
And we bless them when we call forth an explanation of what we see, be it a bright or a dark countenance. The face hints at what the heart needs to speak.
When the countenance is dark, we serve each other by enabling our loved ones to express what’s stirring around in the deeps. Troubles identified and expressed verbally somehow become more manageable than those lurking in the depths and showing only in a wave on the brow.
It’s what Paul was getting at in his letter to the Philippians: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. When the Lord sees our troubled countenance, he offers the same question as Sarah offers me, “Hey, you look troubled. What’s happening?” He’s not too busy! He wants to hear! And we need to speak. Let your requests be made known to God.
Paul’s wise heart prescription is followed by a dear promise: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May his peace not only guard your heart and mind, but lift your countenance!
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
When each of our daughters turned 16 their most exciting gift was a set of keys for the family car. Talk about excitement. Keys! Wheels! Freedom! Great is the joy when coming of age. Do you remember?
The shine got taken off my joy very quickly on my 16th birthday. I got my driver’s license in the morning, and that afternoon I went driving by myself for the first time. I still remember that feeling of freedom. Unfortunately, I also remember the crunching sound of the family Buick rear-ending a VW van. I was only going about ten miles per hour, so the dents were minimal, and the car was still drivable. But my ego was totaled.
What followed was an object lesson in God’s grace. I made the embarrassing call home, and my dad drove over immediately. He certainly didn’t brush the matter off – I had indeed made a mess. But neither did he condemn me. When it came time to go home I was ready to ride rather than drive. But he pointed me to the driver’s seat. It was a dramatic demonstration of forgiveness, the kind of forgiveness that brings a second chance – God’s kind of forgiveness.
You may recall that when the prodigal returned home, he wanted simply to be a servant. He had blown it as a son, and didn’t want to risk such responsibility again. But the father would not hear of it, and again outfitted his son with a son’s robe and ring (Luke 15).
When we blow it while coming of age, as we inevitably do, we often want to opt out of the new responsibilities, and to regress to some safer age and stage. But God’s forgiveness is such that we find ourselves back in the driver’s seat. He wants his daughters and sons to grow up, and that means taking up the full coming of age challenges. But it is his grace alone that makes those coming of age challenges bearable.
None of us drives far without some new dents. You can count on the Father to answer your call and come immediately. And you can count on a grace that will bring you back to the driver’s seat in the wisest of ways.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Last week I was on study leave in Montreat (a Presbyterian enclave in the N.C. mountains). It was a week with many surprising turns of joy.
For one, there was the joy of unstructured time. While this wasn’t vacation (I did a lot of reading, sermon planning, etc), having no schedule was a joy, especially for one whose calendar is usually crowded. It was fun, and a good change of pace, to make up each day as it came.
Another joy came with the beautiful fall leaves. Who but the Lord could make even the “last throes” of something like leaves so lovely? A glance in any direction was a reminder of his creative brilliance.
Still another joy while we were there came with the visit of some friends from our years in Georgia. Through our church there Sarah was part of a covenant group with Susan, Tammy, and Cheryl. Since we moved here in 2007 we have managed to keep up with them in bits and pieces – often only at Facebook depth. So having some time to hear the next chapters of their stories was a joy. They gave both current perspectives on the dramas in their lives, and retrospectives on what had happened over these years. In both they honored the Lord simply by speaking aloud of his ways with their lives.
I can never get enough of that. One of the greatest joys in life is following people’s stories. Sometimes people apologize that they are “going on” as they recount what’s been happening, but I’m always fascinated to hear yet more examples of how God works in our lives, both “on stage” and “behind the scenes.” The only problem is that we seem never to have enough time to explore the stories fully. For the more we probe and reflect, the more amazing we see the Lord’s imagination and wisdom to be.
It just makes me look forward all the more to when we’ll be together in the presence of the master story teller himself, and have all the time needed to hear the whole story. If the joy we already have in the snippets we hear now is any indicator, then hearing whole story will be a joy (currently) beyond telling!
To be continued…
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Here is the third of three Money Talks I gave in worship the last three Sundays. I was out of town for this one, so I put it on video. The dear St. Giles folks can’t escape me. Ha!
Thanks for your partnership in being stewards of what God has entrusted to us!