Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Bite Out of the Big Apple

An Inkling
Have you ever been to New York City?  Wow – what an impressive place!  I’ve only toured once, and I was the proverbial Gomer Pyle, gawking and “Shazam-ing!” 
And NYC is even more impressive when you think about all the ways it shapes our daily lives, for good and for ill.  More than any other single place it impacts our arts, business, finance, media, entertainment, publishing, education, and fashion (though admittedly this last one has not impacted me!).  Cities multiply both the assets and liabilities of humanity, and NYC, as the greatest city ever multiplies the most.
So it’s striking when the Big Apple has such a big bite taken from it by the mere collision of high and low pressure areas.  What does it mean that the heights of human potential can be brought so low so quickly by an air mass?
Here are a few observations and wonderments:
  • Have you noticed that God is never without ready resources to remind us of our limitations?  I’ll leave to others judgments about how directly God acts in such traumatic events.  But whether it be simple air masses, or a simple bacteria, or a simple mistake, our towering achievements do not long exempt us from very real limitations.  Wise is the one who keeps limitations in view.
  • Why is it that adversity seems to work so much better than normalcy in pointing people toward sacrificial service?  Police, firefighters, and line crews are bright spots in such a dark moment.
  • How many events of heightened weather intensity will it take to overcome the climate change skepticism, and to enlist a broad swath of humanity in efforts to care more effectively for God’s creation?
  • And finally, it has been a huge relief to have even a two day pause in this all-politics all-the-time season.  Now if those winds will just blow on through!

Hurricane Sandy has been a good reminder that there is One more impressive than our grandest achievements.  May his greatness and goodness be made apparent in a thousand ways, even in a Big Apple with a bite taken out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Her Loveliest Season Yet

An Inkling
Fall is my favorite season.  I was reminded of that Monday as Sarah and I celebrated her birthday by driving out to Montpelier.  The autumn colors were amazing, and the cool dry weather made for a delightful tour of James and Dolley’s place.
With the beauty of that day and it being Sarah’s 57th, I got to thinking about life’s seasons.  We married when we were just entering the spring of life, only half way through college, but we thought ourselves well enough seasoned.  By God’s grace our early spring marriage served all the more to season us, and he has now granted further seasons.
In that spring I saw my bride blossom as a young woman.  She was beautiful in so many ways as she finished college, worked every way she could to help me get through seminary, launched as a mother of three daughters, and learned the complex roles of a pastor’s wife.
That beauty grew yet richer as summer came.  She brought great love and wisdom to our girls in their childhood and teen years.  She came into her own as one gifted for ministry, serving both in our congregations and in local and national ministries.  Then late in her summer season, she launched our three daughters as brides.
Now it’s fall.  And as beautiful as she was in her spring and summer, I would not have imagined that there was something lovelier still to come.  But so it has.  As with the beauty we beheld all around Montpelier, I can testify of Sarah that she is even lovelier now as a middle-aged grandmother than she was in the blossoming of her spring and the fruitfulness of her summer.  Her long walk with Jesus, far from sapping her, has seasoned her beauty in the most amazing ways.
And it all makes me eager to see what God does with her in winter.
How is he seasoning you?
Still smitten,

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hidden Treasure

An Inkling
I love Paul’s image:  We have this treasure in earthen vessels.  (2 Cor. 4:7)  It explains so much about how life works – the treasure of new life in Christ, and yet a new life that is held in a very “earthen” vessel – the ordinary stuff of day-to-day living.  And it is so for us both as individual Christians and as a church.
Case in point, our Elders.  It’s hard to tell from the perfunctory highlights of the elders’ meeting which we print each month.  So allow me to describe more fully what happens at our meetings, using Monday evening’s meeting as an example.
There was treasure.  We began with singing and prayers of praise.  Someone shared a word from the scripture that had been tugging on his heart.  We broke into small circles to pray for all manner of needs – from the coming election, to our mission in Kazakhstan, to an elder at home with sickness.  We shared our “God sightings” – ways we had seen the Lord at work in our midst.  And we shared insights from our study book, Right Here, Right Now.
The treasure which shone most brightly came with the visit of Liz, who made her initial profession of faith as she shared how she had come to know Jesus.  God has done marvelous things with her, and we were deeply moved.  She’ll complete that profession of faith in worship soon.
But also prominent in our meeting was the earthly character of our life together.  Some of the elders arrived with fatigue and troubles pulling at them.  Not everyone is on a spiritual mountaintop when we gather.  We engaged in a dozen half-finished discussions.  Arriving at a treasured conclusion that this is God’s plan often comes only by traversing a long and winding road, complete with barriers and detours.  And our business included such tedium as discussing the details of a “Global Missions Policy” and reviewing the monthly financial statement.
Paul goes on to state why the Lord has put the treasure in earthen vessels:  so that it may be clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  You and I each, and all of us together are an ongoing testimony to this truth.  How earthen we are, both in our limitations and our failings.  And how glorious is the treasure of new life in Christ!  So the contrast between the treasure and its vessels brings glory to him.  May it be so here!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Who's Here

An Inkling
It’s a well-traveled story.  Bishop Hugh Latimer was preaching in a service where Henry VIII was attending.  Yes, that Henry, the one who needed to be confronted by the grace and truth of the gospel on several fronts.
At one point Latimer paused his preaching and launched into a soliloquy:  Latimer!  Latimer!  Latimer!  Be careful what you say.  The King of England is here.  He paused, and then continued, Latimer!  Latimer!  Latimer!  Be careful what you say.  The King of Kings is here.
We don’t even stop to think – we automatically adjust what we say according to who is in the room.  And it’s well that we do.  For example, none of us would want to describe the recent scandal at the office to a spouse in the same terms with a seven year old in the room as we would without.
Trouble is, as Latimer preached to himself, we usually forget One who is always in the room.  And that is regardless of who else is there – the king or a seven year old or enemies or friends or...  And that is regardless of what the topic may be – scandal or politics or prayer or…
So let’s do what we usually do – adjust what we say according to Who is in the room.  And the same goes for writing blogs!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

There's Life at Westwood

An Inkling
I’ve had a number of people ask how worship was Sunday at Westwood Baptist.  (Their pastor, Michael Black, and I did a pulpit swap.)  I can’t speak for the preaching, but the rest of the service was truly joy filled.
Westwood Baptist is our closest church neighbor, and we’re now into a third year of a forming sister church relationship.  I hope they are benefitting even half as much as we are. 
Getting to gather with friends in Christ of a different stripe is instructive in lots of ways.  For example, baptism can happen with lots of water (theirs) or a little (ours).  And a church culture can be formed along African American patterns (theirs) or Anglo patterns (ours – despite our bit of ethnic diversity).  If our sister church were of similar stripe, it wouldn’t be nearly so instructive – or interesting!
Here is some of what I observed Sunday.  The saints at Westwood are enormously expressive.  They don’t just sing, they SING, along with clapping and swaying.  They don’t just pray, they PRAY, with boldness and passion.  It’s not just individuals who vary in how they worship best – reserved or expressive – so do whole congregations.
They have high expectations of their people, and they state them plainly.  This was clear when it came time for the offering – the call to give a tithe and beyond was very bold.  It also showed in their announcements.  They don’t just invite folks to upcoming events, they exhort them to be there and on task.  The Westwood saints aren’t shy about encouraging each other to faithfulness.
They also have high expectations of their preachers.  In a dozen different ways they told me they expected to hear a word from on high.  We, too, believe that the Spirit uses the exposition of scripture through preaching to bring God’s word home to his people.  But our friends at Westwood describe it in ways that told me they really expected something prophetic.  I found myself both encouraged and a bit intimidated by such high expectations.  But it certainly helped me to focus on being open to the Spirit and ready to be used by God.  That has to be to the good.
May it be that God will use us to bless the saints at Westwood.  I know he’s using them to bless us!
With prayers for Michael and his flock,