Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Knowing Your Place

An Inkling
“Where’re you from?”  I felt like I needed an answer, and “Texas” was as close as I could get.  But it wasn’t true.  My parents were from Texas.  I didn’t know where I was from.  The only place we had was where Boeing assigned my dad, and that turned out to be plural, not singular.  I was not alone in that.  Most of my peers in the suburbs were like me – they had wheels, not roots.
“Where’re you from?”  Now I answer, “Richmond, Virginia.”  I’ve never felt so quickly at home anywhere I’ve ever lived.  Even after being here four years, there is still a delight for me in being here.  Maybe at the ripe old age of 55, a fellow who learned young how to roll, is finally learning how to root.
Both skills are useful in life, for God directs us toward each at various times.  The scripture recounts multiple occasions of each for our instruction.  For example, God rooted his long-transient people in a land of their own.  And Jesus uprooted his disciples, who left their nets to follow the one who had no place to lay his head.
It’s well to ponder such stories, for over the course of our lives we have multiple occasions for both rolling and rooting.  These play out geographically, vocationally, relationally, congregationally, etc.  For most of us one or the other tends to be more familiar, more comfortable.  But God works in both ways, and is with us in both modes.  And finally, even in this life, we begin to learn what we will fully know in the Kingdom, that our place is with him.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fixing Our Wanters

An Inkling
The scripture says it many ways, but this one is particularly lovely:  Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).  On first reading we take that to mean that God gives us what our hearts desire.  But there’s another way to read it – that God transforms what our hearts desire.  Not only does he give us what our hearts desire, he gives us new desires for our hearts!  In other words, he fixes our “wanters.” 
Most of the time people do what they want to do.  Occasionally people will discipline themselves to do what they should do even if they don’t want to do it.  But that usually doesn’t last very long.  Witness the shelf life of New Year’s resolutions.  It’s when we really want to do something that we find a way to do it, and we keep at it.
I was reminded of this last week on our Kazakhstan trip.  One of our team members, Tim, went because he really wanted to go.  And he had to want to go strongly, for there were dozens of reasons not to go – e.g., it cost a lot of time (half of his annual vacation), it cost a lot of money, it took him apart from his wife and two teenagers, and the trip came at a pressure-packed time in his banking job.  But Tim went.  People do what they want to do.  And what Tim really wanted to do was lovely indeed – to see and to bless the two children that he and his family sponsor.
We can tell people what they ought to do, and occasionally they will do it.  This was the Pharisees’ approach, and they were perplexed that their directives didn’t work better.  (Actually the “ought to do it” approach didn’t work so well in their own lives either, despite their careful efforts to project the image.) 
Jesus took a different approach, the Psalm 37:4 approach.  He wanted the delight of our relationship with the Lord to reform our desires – to fix our “wanter.”  And so he described our new life in him with images like this:  The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44).  The man doesn’t see it as a burden to sell it all so that he can acquire the treasure; rather he joyfully does, despite the cost!  People do what they want to do, and so Jesus strategically shapes what we want to do, wedding freedom and obedience in a union of great joy.
May it be that our delight in the Lord would give him full access to our “wanters.”  They need fixing!  Upon repair, those wanters put us to doing some amazing things, some Jesus things – and we’ll not let anything stop us.
Imagine that!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Adorned by Love

An Inkling
I am writing this week from Kazakhstan.  Do you know where that is?  I know I didn’t, until I came to St. Giles and learned about our partnership with an interchurch group that enables us to join in blessing orphans ten time zones to the east.  I first came here in 2008, and am most grateful to be able to come again.  
Many of the state’s orphan care efforts are admirable.  But even where it works as well as possible, there is a huge love deficit.  That’s where we come in.  We just show up and love the kids.  They show us their rooms, what they’ve made in school, and their pictures of family – if they have family.  I’m not particularly gifted in working with children.  But this takes no great gifting – just a willingness to show up and love.
That love has found a particular focus for me this week in Anastasia.  She is the little girl that Sarah and I have begun to sponsor through Interlink.  She’s eight years old, and has been in the orphanage for most of her life.  She’s not an orphan in the classic sense.  Her parents are living, but they have yielded her and her brother to the orphanage, due to their inability to care for them.  If anything, that’s a sadder legacy than having no parents at all.
Anastasia is like the other kids, hungry for love, and for someone to be especially focused on her.  That’s been my job this week.  My tear ducts have gotten a good workout in the process, and especially so the second day I saw her.  I had brought her a box of brightly colored ponytail holders that Sarah found for her as a gift.  We weren’t certain what she would like.  But all doubt was removed when I saw her on that second day, with all of the ponytail holders in her hair at once – as you can see in the picture.
I lost it.  Just seeing her with every color in her hair at once – her proud effort to receive this simple gift fully – was as beautiful a sight as I’ve ever seen.  May it be that we would receive the full rainbow array of adornments given by the One who has not left us as orphans (John 14:18).  In his love he would make us beautiful.  And my guess is that our eagerness to sport his adornments might well bring tears to his eyes.
Of course in my case I trust he has something other than ponytail holders… Ha!
P.S. – My friend, Tim Brown, who is on the trip too, saw my blog post and made this youtube video to fill out the picture a bit. Thanks Tim!

Monday, May 9, 2011

In the Blacksmith's Shop

An Inkling
One value of conflict is that it makes us think through why we believe what we believe.  Unchallenged beliefs can remain vague and confused.  Not so beliefs that are challenged.  As they say, “Iron sharpens iron.”  We find ourselves in the blacksmith’s shop courtesy of a biblically unfaithful choice made by our denomination this week. 
Here’s the short of it.  Last summer the General Assembly (our national governing body) voted to remove from our church constitution the requirement that ministers and elders must live in fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.  The proposal then went to the 173 presbyteries around the country for their consideration.  Three times in the last ten years we have defeated similar proposals in the presbyteries.  But this time it passed, with the majority gained this week.
Knowing that this biblically unfaithful proposal would likely gain a majority vote sometime in May, our Session has begun to talk about how we will respond.  The Session’s letter to you can be found on our church website (see the link just below).  In the coming months the Session will enable us as a congregation to discern God’s guidance.  There will be several options for faithful response, and we will be seeking the one to which God is guiding us.
In the process the iron of our beliefs will be sharpened about such basic matters as:
·      Sexual ethics – what does the Bible teach?  Considering the ferment in our society about sexual ethics, it’s well to have clarity.
·      Biblical authority – why should we care what the Bible says about sexual ethics? 
·      The nature of God’s grace – is God’s grace a love and acceptance that prompts transformation, or is it simply an unconditional positive regard?
·      Our relationship with the historic and global church (beyond our denomination) – what does it mean that this action divides us from the historic position of the church, and from almost all of our global partners?
·      The nature of the church – yes, we’re one in Christ, but how much diversity of belief can a church handle without making itself crazy?  Whatever that threshold is, it looks like we’ve passed it.
·      Etc, etc, etc.  These are just some of the basic matters that we’ll be addressing as we seek God’s guidance.
I don’t know what all God is going to do through this.  But I know the blacksmith shop in which we find ourselves belongs to him.  And I know that we’ll be sharpened for more effective service.  That’s to the good.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Reporting From Japan

An Inkling
How was the trip?  The short answer is, “very good.”  Sarah and I had never been to the Far East, and so when our daughter, Dorothy, and her new husband, Brandon, landed there courtesy of his Navy Chaplain duties, we decided to make the big journey. 
It has been a wealth of new sights.  As I write this on my way home, I’m still processing it all.  Here is some of what I observed (along with a few pictures):

It was fun to see Dorothy and Brandon’s new life together.  Family traits and values show, but they show differently in a new setting and season.  The greatest joy of the trip by far was seeing how they are serving the Lord in such a different place.

We visited lots of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.  I was fascinated by the various facets of these faiths, as adherents seek to make sense of life and its limits.  I prayed for those we saw burning incense and bowing to various idols, that they might come to know the One who sent his Son for us.

At one of the shrines we saw a hillside of baby Buddhas.  We were told that they place such images to remember lost babies, some of which are by miscarriage, and most of which are by abortion.  It was one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen.  Abortion is a scourge in their land, as in our own.  May all such heartsick moms meet the One who alone can heal the heart.  And may both their land and ours be delivered of this scourge.

We saw lots of young Japanese people wearing shirts and jeans with English phrases emblazoned on them.  Most of them were either misspelled or entirely nonsensical.  Apparently English is fashionable in appearance, and the sense of it is irrelevant.  I didn’t know what to make of that.  I’m eager to be back where English at least makes some sense!

And I’m eager to be back with the St. Giles family!  You’re the biggest part of why “there’s no place like home.”
Homeward bound,