Sunday, October 30, 2005

In Memoriam

"At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this," she said 30 years later. "It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in." (Bree Fowler, AP)

Days that change the world start out the same as any other day. One doesn’t know when the alarm bursts through the quiet of morning what that day will bring. All one can do is face the day.

Rosa Parks died this week. When she was 42 she made history merely by not getting up. As she recalled later, she hadn’t planned to make history. It was, for Ms. Parks, “a day like any other day.”

She was required by law to give up her seat on the bus to any white person who might want it. She was asked to get up, and refused. She was arrested, jailed, and fined.

I am 42 now. I confess I don’t spend much time wondering each morning if I am going to make history on this day or that. I don’t expect to make history today.

You know how it goes. Sometimes we try to make history, or at least to have such an effect on people groups of people. I was talking to someone the other day who, like myself, has worked in different congregations over the years. This person was opining having received news that much of the ministry done years ago seems to have been undone since.

I encouraged this person to look not at whether or not the direction of the ministry was different, but whether or not lives had been changed. They had indeed.

Rosa Parks’ legacy is known because people joined in. But she didn’t act in that expectation. She just acted because it was the right thing to do.

Go and do likewise.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Are we yet alive?

Someone told me once that God created high school football so there would be a halftime for the band to play.

I think this person happened to have at least one child in the band. I recall clearly that this particular high school didn’t have very high expectations of their football team. But the band was awesome!

One might reasonably argue that high school bands deserve more attention and support than they receive. One could certainly make the case that fine arts warrant a larger piece of the financial pie. To claim that football was created to showcase a band, however, is wrangled reasoning and loose logic.

Sometimes Christians have used the same kind of argument, however, in favor of heaven. Too often Christians have presented the perspective that this life is merely preparation for an eternity in either heaven or hell.

I was confronted in an interview for ordination over this very matter. In answering the question, “How do you understand eternal life?” I failed to mention whether or not I believed in life after death.

Of course I do believe in life after death. Why, then, had I answered as I had? Because I had long since refused to sell the Kingdom of God as something available only after death!

The Jesus I was reading about in the scriptures was the One in whom all God’s promise and future for humanity resided. This Jesus spoke relatively rarely about life after death. This Jesus, so far as I can tell, never once issued an altar call holding the fear of eternity in hell over his hearer’s heads.

This Jesus I read of (and was in fact getting to know) taught of the kind of life all could have in the here and now. He talked of, and lived, a life lived in the presence of God. He even had the audacity to claim that “I have come that you might have life, and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10)

When Jesus made this promise, he did not mention life after death. He didn’t, and I don’t, because Jesus came to offer us a different and better quality of life here and now; not just after we die!

I lived for years without knowing this kind of life. Like most people, I had good days and bad days, but the assumption was always that something was about to go wrong, or the other shoe was about to drop. The river running in the depth of my soul was the river of sorrows. This river bubbled up to remind me that “Life is just one dang thing after another.”

It just grieves my soul that so many people still live there because God wants so much more for us! Jesus said that he came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Do you want abundantly more of the life you have right now?

I understand my mission and purpose in ministry to be to live the abundant life as much as possible, and to bring others with me! It doesn’t mean everything will suddenly go your way, but it does provide the peace and hope you may need to get beyond feeling like “Life is just one dang thing after another.”

Find the life that God wants you to live. God wants you to have the joy that comes from knowing Him now; not for us to muddle through this life until we can get to the next. He created us for this life, and created this life to be lived; not merely as a precursor for another.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Time was running out and I just could not make it work.  I was setting up to present a program on prayer.  I had spent the afternoon going over my notes, praying for our time together that evening, and preparing a Powerpoint© presentation to aid my program.  Now, as the women were gathering, I felt a bit rushed to get all the technology set up.
For some reason I could not figure out, the laptop refused to send a signal to the video projector.  I tried over and over again the simple steps I had always used.  At the height of my frustration I rebooted the computer, hoping that would clear up the problem.
It had worked the last time I needed it!  Only a couple of weeks ago I had a similar occasion to make a presentation, and everything went fine.  This time, though, minutes were flying by.  Those gathering for the program were being friendly, and, frankly, I am not sure how friendly I was in return.  It HAD to work!
Sometimes at this point in things I stop just long enough to mutter a prayer something like, “Okay, God, I need some help here!  This is supposed to work!  Make this work!  Please?”
As it was about time for me to be introduced, I just happened to notice that the cable plugged into the back of the projector was not also plugged into the laptop.
While I have no doubt God could have made the laptop and projector communicate wirelessly and cover for my ineptitude, the appropriate action at the moment was mine, not God’s.
Sometimes we are so easily distracted with busyness we can lose sight of the little things, seemingly simple actions that make the big picture come together.  In the midst of our distraction we easily turn to “god the vending machine” hoping for a quick fix from heaven.  Usually the fix is up to us getting our attention in the right place.

Friday, October 14, 2005


Pictures, attractively framed, adorn the walls of the hotel room I will call home for these two days of meeting. As hotel art goes, these samples are not unattractive; one even claims my attention and draws me closer.

The print is neither signed nor named but welcomes consideration. As I draw closer I also notice the quality of the frame. My mind suggests care might actually have been taken in the decor of these rooms.

Then I see them. Two Phillips-head screws centered, one in the top the other in the bottom of the frame.

This picture, and now I realize the other two are also, is anchored solidly to the wall with screws. These screws were not designed to be on display, much less in the midst of art.

In my mind I smoothly segue to the unattractive things of life. I think first of how easily we allow difficulty, weakness, pain, even failure and sin to soil the otherwise artful appearance of our lives.

Then I thought further. (I usually do) The screws are not bad or wrong. The impropriety here is not the screws in themselves, but that they are visible and blatantly draw one's eyes away from the beauty of the art. The utterly mundane appearance of the screws distracts disproportionately from the art.

There is much in live that is not bad, wrong, harmful, or sinful that yet does not belong in the presence of art. Our culture has generally lost the boundaries between what belongs in public and what is best left out of view.Many things, like these screws, belong out of view not because there is anything wrong with them, but simply because their use is functional and their purpose does not include being seen.

Even if the beauty is only hotel art, can we not at least hide the screws?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Logistics of Ministry

     I had a fascinating conversation last week with a man who went ashore at Normandy about a month after D-Day.  That was just a part of the story, though, of a young man getting whisked out of college into the service of his country.
     As amazing as every detail of the story was, I have to admit that one thing impressed me more than all the others.  As he spoke, I imagined the US ramping up for war.  The sheer number of people and supplies that had to be moved, dealt with, moved again, and so on was staggering.
     Having to deal with administrative things myself, I quickly thought of all the paperwork such a mobilization must have required!  I also marveled at how, according to his story, so many different people and industries worked together toward the ultimate goal, and apparently did so nearly seamlessly.
     Perhaps I was impressed with the logistics because earlier in the week I sat through (and I am NOT making this up) a meeting the purpose of which was to talk about how that particular group would be organized once we started having meetings.  A meeting about what to do at the meeting!  Worse yet, I don’t think we got anywhere in the course of the hour long meeting.
     The institutional church has become so bogged down in procedure and method we have too often and easily lost focus on what we are to be doing – reaching the world with the good news of Jesus Christ.
     I am convinced that the reason the US was able to mobilize for WWII so well was that we all had a common mission.  Everyone’s abilities and tasks were a part of the bigger task.  Each person did what he or she could do, and the combined effort was blessed.
     Would that the church would find her mission so urgent that we would focus on our mission rather than on the procedures or organizational structures supporting it.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

May I Help You?

“Have a nice day!” Almost every service-sector employee manages to finish a service call or sales session with this friendly, innocuous statement. In most cases it is as meaningful as the “how are you?” asked by an acquaintance speeding past you the other direction on the sidewalk.

When I was in orientation at McDonald’s, roughly 25 years ago, that fast-food giant was king of customer service. I learned quickly how much difference it could make for a customer if I, the immediate of the golden arches greeted and treated him or her with respect and attentiveness. Everyone I served in that capacity would be treated like they were the only one that mattered at that moment. Smiles were common.

So imagine my frustration at being told a friend would call ahead to a place of business I needed to visit. “Sometimes customers feel ignored there; I want you to be treated right,” she said.

If there is anything that disturbs me more than poor customer service, it is special treatment that comes dependent upon “who one knows.” I don’t want to be treated better than the typical customer simply because I am recognized or a regular customer. In fact, it seems to me that the better new customers are treated, the more regular customers a business will have.

Let’s move on from customer situations to the point of this column. God doesn’t treat people better or love someone more based on who they know or how many times they have been to church. God is no respecter of persons, Paul wrote to the Romans.

So, how do God’s people fare? Do we prefer those we know? Do we treat some people better than others?

There are far too many in the church today for whom religion is nothing more than a spiritualized “have a nice day.” What would the world look like if those of us who are the church actively and eagerly pursued serving the world?