Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Better (Very) Late Than Never

An Inkling
My first realization that some found the Confederate flag offensive came in 1972.  I was a junior in Lee High School, in Huntsville, Alabama.  We were the Lee High Generals, and our gym wall featured a huge mural of General Lee on his horse carrying a rebel flag – until we came to school one day and found that the flag portion had been painted over.  For an Alabama school in that era, integration had gone fairly well for us.  But my white friends were offended that someone would mess with General Lee, and our thoughts did not go much deeper than that.  Maybe we would have thought more deeply if we had bothered to ask our black friends what they thought.
I had grown up reading Civil War history.  My scout troop camped at Shiloh and Chickamauga, and I was well versed in the battles of that war.  In the romanticized ways those stories were told to me I came to delight in how the underdog south and its generals outfoxed the damnyankees (one word).  For me the stars and bars were a symbol of independence, bravery, and regional pride.  So I took great pleasure in the banner of General Lee with the flag, and had a hard time understanding why anyone felt the need to paint it over.
But I was not seeing with the eyes of those descended from the independent and brave people my ancestors enslaved.  The flag obviously meant something else entirely to them, and particularly so when they repeatedly saw its most enthused supporters waving it at rallies filled with contempt for them.  Sometime in my twenties my view of the flag changed.  The thinly veiled contempt of many flag enthusiasts for the black people who had become my friends persuaded me that the banner was now fit only for museums, and not state houses or public rallies.
It’s amazing that we’re still having this same conversation 43 years later!  I am grateful for the Republican leaders in South Carolina who are taking a political risk to do what some wise Huntsville school leader did with a paint brush all the way back in 1972.  Better (very) late than never.
No longer proud,

P.S.  The best simple statement that I’ve seen about the flag by a white Christian southerner came from Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist leader.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Diligent Prayer for Those Who Pray Diligently

An Inkling
The zeal is there.  The discipline is there.  And since it’s a group discipline, camaraderie is there too.  They have so much going for them – and yet they lack the one essential.
I’m talking about Muslims, and their celebration of Ramadan begins Thursday, June 18, and goes for a month.  The one thing they lack isn’t a thing, but a person – Jesus.  Without him human efforts to know God, even with such zeal and discipline, go nowhere.  With Jesus God makes himself known, and known in a way that goes far beyond the camaraderie of religious rigor, to a fellowship of love and grace – just what the human heart was made for.
If Muslims in their Ramadan zeal can fast from food (and drink!) from sun up till sundown for a month, might we who know Jesus find a discipline of prayer for them through the month?  You might try the prayer booklet I bought for download at:  http://www.30daysprayer.com.  Or form your own discipline.  But let’s not miss this month to offer diligent prayer for those who pray diligently, but still need Jesus!


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Something to Celebrate and Emulate

An Inkling
How do you learn to pray?  We learn some through instruction, but we learn prayer best by praying, and then by paying attention to the answers.
That’s been happening in a wonderful way in one of our children’s classes.  Gilpin Brown sent me some pictures of this class that I didn’t fully understand, and so I wrote his wife, Pam, the teacher, to find out what was happening.  Here’s what she wrote:
Each Sunday I begin the class with prayer and ask each child one thing they are thankful for, and then ask for anything they might want to ask God for.  When they give prayer requests, I write the child’s name and request on a colored strip of paper. These strips go in the prayer basket and then we pray.  Each week we begin by seeing what God has done that week – I read the requests and the child who made the request tells us if God has answered it yet, or if we need to keep praying.  (I teach that He always hears and answers, but His answers can be yes, wait for my timing, or no.)  If the prayer was answered (and obviously many are !!!), the child who made the request adds the strip to the chain and we watch it grow week by week!  When we hit 100, I made a big deal out of it and we paraded with our chain outside and in the sanctuary, stopping to thank God along the way – and Gilpin came to take photos.
I’ve read some good books on prayer, with very helpful insights.  But Pam and the kids are teaching us some facets of prayer that the books cannot:  simplicity, persistence, and celebration.  Thanks to Pam and her kids!  And let’s follow their lead.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Figuring It Out

An Inkling
“Figures lie, and liars figure.”  Such is the dismissal we hear of politicians and others who manipulate statistics to get what they want.  And it is well to be cautious about figures.  They don’t tell the whole story, and they can be used to mask the real story.  Thus the saying. 
But they can also illumine facts that we would otherwise miss.  I was reminded of this over the weekend as Jim Singleton taught at a retreat for elders.  Jim’s a professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary, and one of the most insightful teachers I know.  And he loves numbers.
As he commented on the faith, the church, and our culture, here are some figures he used:
  • The word “disciple” is found 269 times in the New Testament, and the word “Christian” only 3 times.
  • 80% of U.S. congregations are either numerically plateaued or in decline.
  • The U.S. is the fifth largest mission field in the world – that is we have the fifth largest number of people who don’t know Jesus – behind only China, India, Indonesia, and Russia.
  • Among the generations in the U.S., here are percentages of those who consider themselves a part of a church:  Builders, 74%; Boomers, 50%; Gen X, 27%; and Millennials, 20%.

Those numbers don’t tell the whole story.  But they do illumine particulars that we may have overlooked.  As we think about what it means to be Jesus followers in this time and place, we need to figure such things into the equation.
Counting on you,