Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How's It Going?

An Inkling
“Hey, how’s it going?”  Ordinarily that query leads to a report of life’s details.  When asked by one of life’s daily friends, we answer simply, speaking of a work project or a coming trip.  But when we’ve just seen someone for the first time in thirty years, “how’s it going?” is a more challenging question.  Thirty years of daily life details make for an unwieldy answer.  So other categories must be sought.
I just saw this play out last weekend at a reunion of our high school and college youth group.  My brother, Kirby, and Sarah and I were in Austin for the first reunion of “Koinonia” since we were all together in the mid 1970s (thanks to Facebook).  Now we’re all in our 50s, and a lot has happened in life. 
People answered “how’s it going?” in many ways.  Most of us showed pictures of family.  We described careers and residences.  All of us had some sad stories, and some had quite a few – likewise with happy stories.  Mixed in with the reports of now were the reminiscences of yore.  It was great fun.
It was also instructive.  As I’ve thought back on our brief reunion, I’ve realized that some were quite at ease describing a larger trajectory and purpose of life.  Their lives with the Lord served as the string for the “pearls” of their stories, and even gave them a means to interpret the harsh turns they had known in life.  Others sought to describe the broader sweep of “how’s it going?” with selected details or the trappings of the American dream.  That didn’t work so well.
For the last generation scholars have been debating about the validity of “meta-narratives.”  Those are the overarching stories by which individuals and groups interpret “how’s it going?”  The debates about meta-narratives are complex, and I’m obviously not very conversant. 
But I just witnessed a case study in how hard it is to describe “how’s it going?” without a string for the pearls.  And the farther I go with the Lord, the more convinced I am that the only string which finally works is our relationship with Jesus.  It’s part of what Paul was describing to the Colossians – “in him (Jesus) all things hold together.”
So, “how’s it going?”  What would you say?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We Get the Picture

An Inkling
It’s one of our well-worn clich├ęs:  a picture is worth a thousand words.  That’s true not just in the news business.  It’s also true in our life with God.
Jesus knew this.  It’s not that he whipped out pictures from his wallet to show us the Father or the scenes of heaven.  Actually he relied on words – a thousand of them plus!  But you know his words – he spoke in pictures:  wide ways and narrow gates, a house built on sand, yeast in dough, and a shepherd who lays down his life for sheep.  It’s well to define words, categorize types, organize concepts, and so on.  We have to find ways to speak intelligibly about our beliefs and our experiences with God. 
But we inevitably do what Jesus did:  for every spoken concept, we attach several verbal pictures to illustrate.  That seems especially helpful when we talk about the Holy Spirit.  How do you describe the Spirit?  Jesus himself painted pictures:  the whence and whither of the wind, an Advocate/Counselor/Comforter who draws alongside, and the One in whom we’re clothed with power. 
This past weekend the Lord used Brad Long to stir the Spirit’s presence in our midst.  I’ve been interested to hear how people describe what the Lord did.  Not surprisingly, it’s been mostly with pictures.  Barbi said that it’s like the Lord upped the current from 110 to 220 – and it comes with different plugs.  Janet said that it’s like what happened in 2 Kings 3 when the Lord brought water from out of nowhere to refresh a parched land.  Brad himself said that his Sunday preaching felt like wading through syrup until the Spirit came with freedom and made it a dance.  And that was just one of the comparisons to a dance.
It’s that last picture that I would lift up for you as a prayer request.  The Session has its annual retreat this Friday and Saturday at Richmond Hill.  With a thousand words they will pray and discuss what God is doing in our midst.  Pray for them to have a clarity of concepts.  But pray with a picture in mind too.  Pray that they will readily follow the nudging leads of their Divine Dance Partner.
He is the One truly too good for words.  Even the pictures don’t do him justice.  You have to get to know him – which happens to be exactly his intention.  And we get to do so together – wow!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A New Voice in Heaven

An Inkling
We heard this week that Jim Simmons passed away.  He was Pastor of the Clear Lake Church in Houston in the 1970s.  When Sarah was led to Christ by a high school friend at age 15, she had no church.  So she headed from church to church, until she found Clear Lake Presbyterian, where Jim served.  With guitar in hand, Jim helped lead the worship as well as preaching, and he focused many of his efforts on the youth of the church.  Sarah and her friends grew by leaps and bounds as followers of Jesus.
My family moved to Clear Lake when I was 18, and we joined Clear Lake Church too.  Jim quickly became a key component in my call to the ministry.  Jim had lots of ministry “tools” – talents that enhanced his ministry.  But it wasn’t the tools that struck me, or even his presence at important moments – he married us.  It was his passion for Jesus.  I don’t remember anything in particular that Jim taught us, but I remember his passion, and it was that passion which God used to fan my own.  If God could use Jim to change lives, maybe he could use me too – so I hoped.
Last fall Sarah and her best high school buddy, Terri, met in Lubbock, Texas, to visit Jim.  It was a poignant visit, for Jim had walked away from the Lord for some years for reasons fully known only to the Lord.  But then in recent years he had been called back into faith, and was just as zealous for Jesus as he had ever been, though his greatly diminished health left him witnessing to that zeal mostly from the couch through Facebook posts.  While he was away from the Lord he deliberately separated from his many children in the faith, including Sarah and Terri.  So for them to get to see him, back in the saddle with Jesus, was a joy both for them and for Jim.  God’s mercy was illustrated in so many winsome ways in Jim’s life.  And God’s kindness was shown to Jim through this visit from two of his spiritual daughters.  It touched both his heart and theirs.  Gratefully, when God prompted they went.  For they didn’t know just how short the time was.
Which leads to these questions:  whom did God use in your life as a young Christian?  Do you have a spiritual father or mother?  Are they still around?  Might you go see them?  You will surely bring joy to their hearts.  And God will likely do something in your heart as well.  He certainly did in Sarah’s and Terri’s.
And another thought:  you never know how God might use your passion for Jesus.  When we think of our effect as Christians, we get entirely too focused on our talents and roles.  God uses us in those ways.  But it’s your passion, your heart afire, that he most uses to kindle other hearts.  And he does so in ways beyond what we can design or manage – a great gift in itself.
Thank you Lord for Jim!  And if I know him, hoping that he “rests in peace” doesn’t quite capture what he’s surely up to.  It’s more likely leaps and bounds and hallelujahs.  There’s a joyful new voice in heaven.