|Eternity Equals Urgency!
|Thursday, January 04, 2018|
Saw something weird on a flight to Cincinnati the other day.
We were wheeling away from the gate. The last of the last-minute fiddling with overhead storage compartments was completed as flight attendants mashed the large plastic doors shut on backpacks, winter coats and roller boards. Time for the obligatory safety demonstration.
It began with a reminder that seatbelts should be worn “low and tight across the waist.” We were comforted by the knowledge that in the unlikely event of a water landing, our seat cushions could be used as a flotation device. We were encouraged to look around and find the nearest emergency exit nearest us. I did. I always do. I count the number of seats forward and the number of seats backward and try to commit these to my fragile memory.
But I’m pretty sure I was one of the only ones who made the effort. Craning my head, I didn’t see a single passenger engaged with the fight attendant’s safety demonstration. No one even appeared to be watching. People were reading or staring out the window, or fidgeting with their phones (in airplane mode, of course ).
Right about the moment when the attendant held up the plastic yellow cup that—in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure—”will drop down automatically,” I noticed that even the guy doing the demonstration appeared bored. Disconnected.
Process this with me for just a moment. Here was a plane full of people and few paid any attention as life and death instructions were shared (albeit in a near monotone voice). The safety card in the seatback was mentioned, but scarcely glanced at. Yet it offered essential, even critical insights for avoiding death. And nothing about the person conveying the life-and-death message suggested the least hint of urgency.
You'll forgive me for abruptly grabbing the throttle and steering this blog into two turbulent questions. First, is it possible this scene is a picture of how many of us react to God’s rescue message? Is it possible we’ve been so comfortable for so long strapped into our Sunday morning seats that we’ve lost touch with the eternal life-and-death rescue message contained in our Bibles?
Second—is the flight attendant I saw a metaphor for some of us who stand in pulpits week after week and fail to to be possessed by the horror of the hell that awaits every non-believer? Have we lost the sense of danger that even now defines the destiny of every unsaved soul?
God help us be alert. Engaged. Concerned. God help us recover the sense that eternity equals urgency.
|Gold, Mercy and Franklin
|Thursday, December 28, 2017|
The holiday we call Christmas is now in the rear view mirror. Said another way, it’s a mere 362 days away. Better get shopping! Or not…
Our daughter and son-in-law do a terrific job of underscoring the Advent season. Every night, they pull out a gorgeous rendition of the Christmas drama titled The Advent Book, which features fold out “doors” on every thick page each revealing a key scene in the biblical account of Christ’s birth.
The book is passed around to their kids (who have now mostly memorized the whole story). They delight in opening up the doors on every page revealing artwork and Scripture that propel the narrative along.
We were privileged to be with the kids for several readings and observed five-year old Caleb’s interpretation of the visiting magi. Like the rest of the kids opening the rest of the pages, he was anxious to demonstrate his mastery of the story. With grinning certainty he catalogued the gifts given to the holy family: “gold, mercy and franklin.”
We chuckled quietly, then observed at least two other occasions that Caleb insisted on mercy being one of the three gifts (“franklin” was later correctly modified to “frankincense”). Intriguing that he swapped the gift order around, placing mercy right next to gold.
Gold is an obvious gift. I’m not sure where the “Franklin” fits in. But I do know we could all do with a little more mercy. And not just at Christmas.
What if this year you were known as the most merciful person in your entire family? What if you were the most merciful person at your office? What if this year your town initiated a Medal of Honor for displays of uncommon mercy—and you were the nominee?
Wouldn’t that be something? It would. It would also be expensive. It might cost you a kind word to someone whose politics you despise. It might cost you your quest for revenge over an injury decades old that still stings. It might cost you an outrageous gift to someone you secretly feel is undeserving.
Mercy is always expensive. Ask Jesus. “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Christmas is over. The New Year is upon us.
Let mercy begin.
|The Word Became Flesh
|Thursday, December 21, 2017|
How would you feel about leaving your family for six weeks? There’s probably no cell phone coverage where you’d be going. No internet either. Those things require electricity, and there’s precious little of that where you’re headed. That’s why you’ll be traveling with generators.
What if I told you your destination would be oppressively hot—more than 100 degrees—every day? Travel will not just be rugged, but ridiculous. Paved roads—not likely. Cruising through shallow rivers and muddy creeks—a near certainty. Did I mention that the danger doesn’t end once you arrive? Often, that’s when it really begins.
This is the mission that workers sign up for when they join Theovision, the Ghana-based ministry whose aim is that everyone be able to hear the Bible in their own language.
Theovision has so far recorded audio Scriptures in more than 370 languages spoken by over 75% of people in 36 African nations, reaching approximately 700 million people across Africa. But this progress comes at a price.
Many of these translations are done in hostile areas. The recordings must sometimes be done at night and in secret.
As the Theovision team goes out with their audio equipment, they eat what the local people eat, speak as they speak, sleep as they sleep—even dress the way they dress. All of this with the goal of making the gospel message available to people who have never heard the ultimate Good News.
To visit Theovision is to be amazed, caught up in a remarkable story-in-the-making. But how very much like Christ Himself.
Did He not eat as we eat, live as we live and sleep as we sleep? Did He not go to our weddings, weep at our funerals and taste the salt of our tears? All of this, so we might understand the ultimate Good news.
|World's Most Unlikely Worship Band
|Thursday, December 14, 2017|
It may be the world’s most unlikely worship band.
Can I tell you about it?
I’d showed up for a regular appointment at a local senior retirement center. For several years, they’ve let me serve them as a speaker at their Christian worship service, held Wednesdays at 11:00am sharp. Except this time, the start time wasn’t as sharp.
The fact is, we were late. Our piano player and sound technician (a husband and wife couple) were delayed. A lot. Fortunately, there’s a guy who owns a nice Bose radio, and he played a CD of reverent piano solos while we waited. And waited.
The canned music was calming, but not the voice of the lady who coordinates the service. She was on the phone desperately trying to track down the missing keyboard lady and her husband. Me, I was going over my notes, as I always do when getting ready to speak, scanning my iPad—lost to the world. That’s when it happened.
The Bose radio began playing the strains of the iconic hymn, Amazing Grace. At first I thought I heard humming. I glanced up from my notes and then heard one voice singing. Then another.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. Soon the whole room was alive with spontaneous singing.
I once was lost but now am found, ‘'twas blind but now I see. This singing crowd, filled with wheelchairs and walkers, could not have been more sincere. Or worshipful. They sang because they were gripped. They sang because they’d connected. They sang because they couldn’t not sing.
Honestly, I was caught off guard by the lump in my throat.
In a world of Chris Tomlin and Joel Houston and Hillsong United, these people reminded me that true worship doesn’t require projectors and screens and lights and guitars.
True worship is a thing of the heart—with or without the official keyboard player.
|Thursday, December 07, 2017|
At first it didn’t really sink in that Monday night.
It was the last meal, the last time Diana and I would be with my parents in the home I grew up in. They’d lived there since the sixties. That's a whole lot of memories. I stole away for a moment and took one last walk around.
The Sumac bush was still there, all sprawled out by the front porch. There in the front yard, we kids played sixteen-inch softball, learned the basics of football, and tossed lawn Jarts. Seemed as big as Wrigley Field back then.
Turning toward the east corner, I came to the tall skinny evergreen behind which I shared my first kiss.
The peonies on the side of the house were gone. I remember the summer Mom and I were weeding around them. I seized the moment to fake a concern for snakes in the grass (hardly likely in northern Illinois). Having ratcheted up Mom’s pulse rate, at an opportune moment, I tickled her feet with a long stick—a chuckle neither of us have gotten over.
I ambled through the backyard garden space where one summer I followed up on a resolution to grow a watermelon. Faithfully, I watered the sprawling vine and harvested exactly one small excessively seedy watermelon. Yet it was remarkably sweet.
Meandering around the property I came to the collapsible picnic table Dad made, still latched to the wall. To this day, I’m not quite sure how he designed and built it. How many summer suppers did we eat out there? Eight of us. Together. Meal after meal.
I’m happy that Mom and Dad have a new home. But leaving the old place is sort of strange. Nostalgia aside, it’s a great reminder that ultimately, our home can never be here on earth.
Jesus said to His followers—then and now—“I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.”
That’s where our real home is, and always has been. With Jesus. Forever.
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