Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Its Time

An Inkling
My friend told me that they had laid out of church for quite a while, never quite finding the right place, but that when they had come here it had clicked for them.  He wished they had come sooner, and he sensed that they had wasted some valuable years.
Maybe so.  We can waste time in life.  The biblical threescore and ten passes oh so quickly.  So we do want to seize every opportunity that the moment affords.
But in another sense the time has to be right for us to take certain steps.  Some growth cannot come sooner. 
Our Christian life is more like agriculture than manufacturing.  Factories produce on a schedule, and efficiency is at a premium.  But how can we schedule things of the spirit?  And as for spiritual growth, it is anything but efficient.  It’s more like farming:  the time has to be right before there can be a harvest. 
In what season does the Divine Gardener have you?  What opportunity has ripened?  It’s time to reap.
Each in its season,

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Open Fellowship

An Inkling
Our senior adults group is called “The Open Fellowship.”  I like that name.  It’s meant to convey that this is a group which welcomes all.  But there’s more to it than just that.
The Open Fellowship gathers monthly for lunch and entertainment, and goes periodically on expeditions to musicals, or trips to fun places.  At their monthly lunch last week they were entertained by a couple of guys singing hits from the 50s and 60s.  And these guys were good – so good that Joe and Marge Stortz could not help themselves – they had to get up and dance.  So right there in the entryway they added dance to what was already a joyful lineup – good food, fellowship, and great music.
It’s what I mean by the Open Fellowship being open in ways that go beyond simply welcoming newcomers.  It’s open to whole new ways of living in joy together, such as just getting up and dancing for no good reason, and leading up to that, the decision of their leaders to invite a couple of guys to sing hits. 
That kind of openness takes “welcoming” beyond simply giving permission to enter, to giving good reason to want to enter!  It makes this fellowship one of St. Giles’ venues for how life together in Christ should work – continually opening into new expressions of joy, whimsy, and creativity.
And in that way it offers a reflection of the ultimate “open fellowship” – the life of love within the Trinity, often described as a dance.  It’s that supreme openness which has welcomed us.  And so we as a church get to follow suit.  It’s almost enough to make me want to learn to dance…
Thanks for showing the way, Open Fellowship.  Thanks Joe and Marge.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Making Your Own Syllabus

An Inkling
On the top of my office book shelves are the “books to be read” – about forty of them, more than three years’ worth at my slow pace.  As I survey the shelf, I see that they include several that people have given to me – either in their excitement, or hoping that I will do some particular remedial work.  Either motive is fine with me.
Here’s how I came to have the others:
  • Some I got to prepare for preaching or teaching a certain series.  For example, I have been reading books focused on the intersection of Christ and culture for about ten years.
  • Some are by authors who have been my main mentors.  I read almost everything they publish.  In years past that was C.S. Lewis, John Wimber, Tom Smail, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and Eugene Peterson.  More recently I’ve focused on Tim Keller, Ross Douthat, and James K. A. Smith.  Some of their writings are pastor specific, but most are not, and I highly recommend them all.
  • Some of my “books to read” are remedial.  For example, in recent years I have been trying to fill in gaps in my art history – lots of big gaps! 
  • Some are sample books of a rising star.  People ask me if I’ve read the latest popular author’s book, and usually I haven’t.  But when I find that he/she is shaping the church I serve in a significant way, I make it my business to see what it’s about.  Sometimes the excitement is warranted, and I gain a new favorite.
  • Some are relaxation reading, usually biographies and history.
  • Some are about the Holy Spirit.  This remains my favorite focus for theological reading, and I always have one or two in the queue. 

That’s my “books to read” plan.  How about yours?  What grabs your heart?  What’s worth your time?  If you continue with your current plan, what will be its effect upon you over the next decade?  If you would like a different result, how, then, would you shape your reading now?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

If Only and Next Time

An Inkling
The talk in the men’s locker room yesterday was predictable:  it was all Monday Morning Quarterbacking.  Everyone had opinions about the Redskins’ painful loss on Sunday. “If only’s” were flying right and left. 
And it’s true that if a couple of the suggested “if only’s” had been tried, R.G. III might not have gotten hurt, or the Redskins might have won.  Of course we discovered these “if only’s” from the comfy seat of the Monday Morning Quarterback…
It’s virtually unavoidable – when we care about something, and it turns out differently than we wished, we lapse into “if only’s.”  And we do so not just with sports, but in many arenas of life:  politics, purchases, investments, health, jobs, and relationships, to name a few.  “If only.” 
“If only” doesn’t help anything.  The words are irrelevant to those who can’t go back and do it over.  But “next time” offers a possibility for wisdom.  What can we learn from yesterday as we move into tomorrow?  The Redskins’ players and coaches can learn something from what happened, and so can we – in many arenas.
That’s just good, basic wisdom for moving forward in life.  We who follow Jesus have an additional reason to know that “if only” is irrelevant:  it’s the promise that somehow, every time, the Lord works some good in all things for his people (see Romans 8:28).  That assurance lets us enter the “next time” without a panic that we might blow it again.  It puts the spring of resilient hope in our step – a very good way to live.
And now on to the “next time”…

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


An Inkling
Following closely on the heels of the season to be jolly is the season to resolve to do better.  Thus our annual attempt at New Year’s resolutions.
Put your discernment powers to work on these lists and determine whose they are:
  • No more perching on her chest at night, staring in her eyes, and waiting for her to wake up; no more bringing mice and birds to the back door to show off my hunting abilities (the family cat).
  • No more chasing the stick unless I actually see it leave his hand; no more rushing by a passing dog without taking time to properly smell his backside; no more burying treasures without remembering where to find them (the family dog).

Human lists are even funnier!  At least it strikes us as funny that we would keep trying our annual resolution ritual when our track records have been so poor.
But there’s a reason for our poor record.  Many of the things we resolve to do are not the sorts of things we can do simply by trying hard – things like:  be more loving, be more forgiving, think first of others, etc.
Dallas Willard is so helpful here in distinguishing between the sorts of things we can choose to do (what he calls spiritual disciplines), and the results of those things (like being more loving).  Thus you can resolve for 2013 to set aside time each morning to pray and read the scripture, to have some time of solitude each week, and to join others for worship.  Those are resolutions you really can keep.
And the results are beyond anything you can simply resolve to do, such as becoming more loving, forgiving, etc.  These come as gifts from God, and they will indeed make for a Happy New Year!
So what will you resolve for 2013?