Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Time for a Happy Dance

An Inkling
I finally crossed it off my list.  High on my prayer list for six years has been the request that my parents would find the time right to move from Texas to Virginia, where they could live near the rest of the family.  And now they have!  We moved them into their new home yesterday.  It still looks more like the staging area for an invasion than a home, but we’re getting there.
Part of my morning prayer ritual is to make my way through my prayer list, addressing the Lord about this and that need.  I probably make it through my list about two thirds of the mornings.  So in six plus years that’s about 1500 prayers.  That seems like a lot.  But then I also have some prayers still pending answers that I’ve pursued for nearly forty years.  I don’t even want to do the math on those!
As I think back on the course of these prayers, I recall that some days I’ve been quite bold, quoting the “you do not have because you do not ask” verse, and laying claim to all the prayer promises as I’ve tried to prompt the Lord to move it along.  But then other days I’ve been in the mode of the “they that wait upon the Lord” verse, trusting God with the when and how of it all, and looking for where he’s at work in the meantime.
Have you ever had that kind of back and forth in a long-term prayer pursuit?  In a way it seems schizophrenic.  But I heard someone offer a better image:  think of it as a dance.  The back and forth motion of prayer is led by a Dance Partner who knows exactly what he is doing.  And we can trust that each of the motions is part of the larger dance of which he’s made us a part.
And then, of course, when the answer comes, it’s time for the happy dance!  May your Christmas be just as full of happy dances as ours this year!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Might the Plain Bear the Beautiful?

An Inkling
It’s the most important spiritual gift for youth ministers:  whacky!  Check the New Testament lists, and I’ll bet you find it somewhere.  I know you’ll find a good example of one so gifted in Mark Oestreicher.  He both ministers to youth and enables others to do the same.  He has that most important gift in spades.
Thus his annual list of "the 50 worst and weirdest nativity sets."  Check it out.  You’ll find laughers, groaners, head slappers, and jaw droppers.
One man’s kitsch is another’s high art.  So it’s well not to be snobbish in one’s artistic judgments.  In fact, there’s something about a Messiah born in a stable that somehow seems closer to kitsch sensibilities than to those of elite art.
But…. some of these are so kitschy that it got me to thinking.  What cultural forms can serve as platforms to display the gospel’s beauty?  And which (intentionally or not) are mere caricatures?
And more to the point for a non-artist like me, which cultural forms in my life and church serve well as platforms for the gospel’s beauty?  And which are mere caricatures?
May the Lord’s own beauty, borne by our plainness, point all the more to him!
Ho!  Hol!  Ho!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Glory of Which We Sing

An Inkling
Some years ago when I lived in Texas I went with some church friends to throw a Christmas party at the local state mental hospital.  Once we had cleared the security arrangements we set up refreshments and decorated the living room of a particular unit.  Then we were joined by about 45 patients, whose mental illnesses took many forms. 
After refreshments we invited them to join us in singing Christmas carols.  As we sang some slept, some wandered, some mumbled, and others fidgeted.  But most sang with abandon, and we truly made a joyful noise.
When we finished singing, a patient named Shirley stood and announced that she wanted to sing a solo.  Shirley was a little woman of about 50, with unevenly cut blonde hair.  She began singing “The First Noel” a capella, her nearly blind eyes scanning randomly.  She sang fairly well, al­though she had to pause midway to be reminded of the words.  It wasn’t what you would call beautiful, but it was glorious in its own way, and she was roundly applauded.
“The First Noel” will soon sound in worship here, along with many other carols, and a full service of Christmas music on December 22.  Well-practiced voices will split the carols into harmonies, the whole being guided by instruments expertly played.  Jeff’s and Clayton’s directing will call forth the best sounds from the best singers.  And though more beautiful than Shirley’s solo, they will be no more glorious.
How fitting that carols would be sung each Christmas in such different ways!  For on the first Noel a Savior was born who would save us, both in the insanity of our human brokenness and in the heights of our human a­ccomplishments.  We need his saving touch in both our worst and best moments.  Thank God he is powerful to save in each!
Such is the glory of which we and Shirley sing.  And I think it must bring joy to the Father’s heart.
Sing it!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Saint C.S.

An Inkling
While the broader culture remembers JFK on the 50th anniversary of his death, the church press is remembering another who died the same day:  C.S. Lewis.  I’ve been using a devotional this year with readings from his works.  With that daily dose I’ve been reminded again and again of the amazing gifts the Lord brought through Saint C.S.
In an era when liberal and conservative Christians rarely read each other’s luminaries, Saint C.S. is quoted by both.  He showed liberals that the great story really is true, and he showed conservatives that such truth need not be wooden.  And he did so with a flair and humor that also brought the great story home to thousands who didn’t yet believe.
Here are a few of my favorite Saint C.S. quotes:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.  (The Weight of Glory)
It would be rash to say that there is any prayer which God never grants.  But the strongest candidate is the prayer we might express in the single word encore.  And how should the Infinite repeat Himself?  All space and time are too little for Him to utter Himself in them once.  (Letters to Malcolm)
The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.  (The Four Loves)
Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self.  Sameness is to be found most among the most 'natural' men, not among those who surrender to Christ.  How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.  (Mere Christianity)
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”  (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)
And that’s the short list!  Thank you, Lord, for Saint C.S.
Read on!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How About You?

An Inkling
Let’s have a show of hands – who is AGAINST:

  • Christian unity?
  • Worship?
  • Prayer for our city?
Just as I thought – not a hand.  Then you must be FOR Bless Richmond, where the three will be combined and the Lord himself present!  Our own James Anderson is the central planner of this event, and I’ve been part of the preparation team myself.
You can see the video here of last year’s event.  This year Bless Richmond is again at the U-Turn Sports Academy, at 2101 Maywill Street.  We’ll gather at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24.  The price of admission is a can of food.
The Lord is showing up.  How about you?
Looking forward to it!