Thursday, August 28, 2008

Finding Faith: One Woman's Story

One afternoon when I was a sophomore in college I was sitting in my dormitory room minding my own business when someone knocked on the door. I opened it and found two young women clutching Bibles to their breasts. My heart sank. With my parent's help, I had avoided organized religion most of my life, and these two - with their gleaming eyes, their earnest faces, their modest plaid skirts and sensible shoes - these were just the sort of people I had hoped to continue avoiding as long as I could. The Holy Spirit had sent them, they said. Could they come in? While I was thinking of a suitable reply, they did come in, and I was a goner. They sat down on my bed, opened their Bibles, and began to ask me questions.

"Are you saved?" one of them asked.

"Well," I said, "that depends on what you - "

"No," the other one said, writing something down on a pad of paper.

"Do you want to be saved?" the first one asked, and both of them gleamed at me while I thought how awful it would sound to say, "No."

"Sure," I said, and they leapt into action, pulling me down to sit beside them on the bed, one of them reading selected passages of scripture while the other one drew an illustration of my predicament on her pad.

"Here you are," she said, drawing a stick figure on one side of a yawning chasm. "And here is God," she said, drawing another figure on the other side. "In between is sin and death." she said, filling the chasm with dark clouds from her pen.

"Now the question is, how are you and God going to get together?" she asked me.

"I don't have a clue," I said, and they both looked delighted. Then the one with the pen bent over her drawing and connected the two sides of the chasm with a bridge in the shape of a cross.

"That's how," she said. "Jesus laid down his life for you to cross over. Do you want to cross over?"

"Sure," I said, and the look in their eyes was like one of those old cash registers where you crank the handle and the little "Sale" sign pops up. They told me to kneel by the bed, where they knelt on either side of me and instructed me to repeat after them: "I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior and I ask him to come into my life. Amen." Then they got up, hugged me, gave me a schedule of campus Bible study, and left.

The whole thing took less than twenty minutes. It was quick, simple, direct. They did not have any questions about who Jesus was. You are here, God is there, Jesus is the bridge. Say these words and you are a Christian. Abracadabra. Amen. It is still hard for me to describe my frame of mind at the time. I was half-serious, half-amused. I cooperated as much out of curiosity as anything, and because I thought that going along with them would get them out of my room faster than arguing with them.

I admired their courage, in a way, but nothing they said really affected me. Most of it was just embarrassing, the kind of simplistic faith I liked least, but something happened to me that afternoon. After they left I went out for a walk and the world looked funny to me, different. People's faces looked different to me; I had never noticed so many details before. I stared at them like portraits in a gallery, and my own face burned for over an hour. Meanwhile, it was hard to walk. The ground was spongy under my feet. I felt weightless, and it was all I could do to keep myself from floating up and getting stuck in the trees.

Was it a conversion? All I know is that something happened, something that got my attention and has kept it through all the years that have passed since then. I may have been fooling around, but Jesus was not. My heart may not have been in it, but Jesus' was. I asked him to come in and he came in, although I no more have words for his presence in my life than I do for what keeps the stars in the sky or what make the daffodils rise up from their graves each spring. It just is. He just is. (Excerpt from Barbara Brown Taylor, "The Preaching Life")

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pirates or Poison or Pajamas?

I took this picture earlier this summer in a farmer's market in Eugene, Oregon. I wasn't sure what to think of it. Can you supply a caption?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thanks to a Mysterious Stranger

Last weekend Suzanne and I made a fast trip to D.C. to see Sam and to meet all the fine people who have given our son such a wonderful summer as a ministry intern. We were so pleased to attend worship at First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. and hear Sam preach in that great historic church. What a warm and gracious congregation. Dr. Langley was a mentor to Sam, Lon was a buddy, Deborah supplied some orientation and teaching, Jean was a great co-worker in the office, and Charlotte provided room and board with grace and motherly care. And countless others came alongside Sam in friendship and encouragement. And of course, we are deeply grateful to each one for taking an interest in our young son so far from home.

But one man was missing, the one person who made this whole summer internship happen for Sam was gone to Scotland by the time we made it to Washington. Dr. Dennis Lambert, whom we have never met, took it upon himself to bring this all to pass, and I regret very much not being able to meet him and thank him personally. I guess I'll have settle for a letter for now.

It reminded me a little of the old westerns, where a mysterious stranger rides in and rallies the townspeople and rescues the heroin and saves the day. But finally when it's time to say thanks or at least find out who this mysterious stranger really is, he's gone, riding off into the sunset. Clint Eastwood made a career out of that plot. And what about the Lone Ranger? How many times did we hear someone say, "Who was that masked man?"

So, here's a question for you. Have you ever had a moment in your life when a stranger did some act of kindness for you or your family and then was gone, off into the sunset, without you even knowing who they were or being able to say thanks? I'll bet we all have, at one time or another, been blessed by some mysterious stranger. Someone helped you change a tire in a storm or brought some unexpected help or gave some life changing advice or kept you from making a big mistake. I'm asking you, "Who was that masked man?" Perhaps one way to say a tardy thanks to them is to tell their story now. What about you?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Six Random Things About Me

One of my friends and blogging buddies, Shane, gave us a little window into his life by posting on this subject and tagged me to do the same. So, here goes. Can't get much more random than this:

1. My first car was an enormous 1970 Dodge Polara, maroon with a black vinyl top. I once drove my entire intramural football team across campus and through town to visit an injured teammate at the hospital - seven guys inside the car, six more in the trunk. I bought the car with over 100,000 miles on it for $425, I drove it 90,000 miles, and I finally sold it for $350. Not a bad deal, huh?

2. When I was a kid my birthday often fell on Super Sunday, the day of the Super Bowl. In fact the last time my Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl was the day I turned 10 years old, January 11, 1970. And, back then, I was a big Vikings fan, so the Chiefs spoiled my big day.

3. My first girlfriend was Carol, my fourth grade sweetheart. I remember trying to give Carol a kiss on a church hayride, but the ride was rough and each time we tried to kiss we ended up bumping heads. After the third bump she pushed me away and said, "Forget it." It took me years to work through that experience.

4. I preached my very first sermon on November 10, 1975 on a Sunday night at First Baptist Church in Grandview, Missouri. It was a youth night so all of the students had a part in the music or the scripture reading or passing the offering plates, and I was supposed to bring a sermon. I worked on it for six weeks and timed it out several times at 25 minutes. When the big moment finally arrived, I stood and gave them everything I had prepared and then some. It lasted 11 minutes. I had no idea at the time that I would end up in the ministry.

5. I love to play chess. My dad taught me to play when I was still a preschooler and I have enjoyed teaching our kids to play. Two out of three really enjoy the game. I don't get to play as much now as in times past, and my computer beats me with annoying regularity, but I still enjoy the game.

6. One more random thought. I love peaches. Peach pie, peach cobbler, peach ice cream, peach jam or preserves, peach ice tea - you name it, I love it. God's greatest gift to our taste buds and no doubt a major part of the menu in Heaven - peaches.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Just Too Cool for Words

It was back in the long forgotten days of long hair and disco music, the age of Farrah and the Duke boys and the Bee Gees. I was in high school and my older brother was in college studying for a semester in England. Mom noticed in the paper that Woolco, that synonym for style and sophistication, was having a big sale on polyester leisure suits for men. Big news indeed. So, off to the store we went scoring for me a big-lapel, flare-leg leisure suit in kind of a rusty, orange color, complete with a cool, silky shirt with a huge collar that actually matched the suit. And, no, we were not drinking - stone cold sober.

Back home a little later, Dad was admiring the suit and especially the $49.95 price, when he had a very practical thought. We should get one of those for Jerry, my brother in England. My mom asked the obvious question. "How are we going to do that, Melvin?" But Dad was way ahead of her. "Drew, go in there and try on Jerry's suit. His old brown one is still in the closet."

"C'mon, Dad," I protested. "You know I can't wear Jerry's clothes." (Jerry, 5'- 8", 125 pounds, me, 6'- 1", 190 pounds) But Dad had it all figured out. "Just put it on." Shaking my head I went in the other room and tried to put on my brother's old suit. I walked out to the family room holding the pants up with one hand since they wouldn't fasten and feeling like Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies. Trying to stifle his laughter, Dad just smiled and said, "Now, remember how that fits."

Dad and I walked into Woolco (Mom decided to stay home for some reason.) and headed straight for the rack of leisure suits. A young gentleman offered his help and was sorting through the 42 Longs, when Dad grabbed a green 36 Regular and said, "Here, put this on." The salesclerk started to protest, but my dad was a distinguished looking man in a real suit and tie, so he bit his tongue while I tried on the suit. I stepped out of the changing room rather sheepishly and stood in front of one those three panel mirrors. I was holding my unfastened pants up as best I could with my arms and legs hanging out and a good five inches keeping me from buttoning the jacket. It was comical and the clerk started snickering in spite of himself.

But Dad looked up with a straight face, looked me over from head to toe, and said to the chagrined salesclerk, "That's it. We'll take it."

"You what?" I couldn't stop laughing as I retreated and put my own clothes back on. Dad never said a word to the clerk, never gave any explanation for our ridiculous purchase. And guess what? About a month later Jerry came home from overseas and his snazzy new leisure suit fit him perfectly, a job well done.

God, forgive us for everything we did and everything we wore in the 1970's.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Old School Prayers

Saturday we took our kids to the mall for some back to school shopping, and I got to spend three hours in a big bookstore, just browsing and reading and sipping Starbucks. It was a really good day. I love books and I watch for the latest novels from two or three of my favorite authors. And, as a pastor, I try to keep up with the latest books on leadership and theology and preacher stuff.

But sometimes the latest is not the best. It seems to me that on some subjects the old books are better, deeper, richer than the new stuff. One such subject is prayer. For me the old school guys knew more about the practice of prayer, its purpose, its passion, its power than most of the recent books I have read. When it comes to prayer I treasure the older books on my shelf, some passed down to me from my father and other mentors and friends. Authors such as John Baillie, E. Stanley Jones, Thomas Kelly, Richard Foster, Andrew Murray, E. M. Bounds, and Oswald Chambers have often stirred my thoughts and challenged my shallow prayerlessness.

So, let me share an old school prayer with you on this Monday morning, a prayer that I keep taped to my monitor to help me begin each new day. It's a morning prayer from John Baillie's "A Diary of Private Prayer."

O Holy Spirit of God, visit now this soul of mine, and tarry within until eventide. Inspire all my thoughts. Pervade all my imaginations. Suggest all my decisions. Lodge in my will's most inward citadel and order all my doings. Be with me in my silence and in my speech, in my haste and in my leisure, in company and in solitude, in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening, and give me grace at all times to rejoice in Thy mysterious companionship. My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Remembering a Moment of Madness

On the way to Texas our mission team stopped in Oklahoma City at the Memorial to the bombing of the federal building in April, 1995. It is a beautiful and moving tribute to the victims of the bombing and a disturbing reminder of the horrific results of violence and hatred in our world, even in our own land.

Among the many questions such an tragic, numbing event raises in our minds is the question of God's justice, His righteous judgment against evil in the world. When we come to stare evil face to face, it can bury our own faith in the dust and debris, in the bloodshed and broken hearts, until we are ready to shake an angry fist in the face of God who seems passive or powerless to intervene. "Where are you, God? People are suffering. Innocent blood is spilt. Somebody's children are sacrificed on the altar of hatred. Why don't you do something, God?"

Maybe you've been there yourself. Perhaps you have been the victim of violence or abuse or some senseless tragedy. And you know how it feels to have your faith shaken down to its cracked, weathered foundation. In those dark and angry moments, the questions we demand of God are not unfamiliar to His ears. Our questions are Calvary questions. He has heard those words before.

An old hymn gives voice to our stubborn hope in the final purposes of God.
This is my Father's world, O let me ne'er forget, That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet. This is my Father's world. The battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heaven be one.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Better Not Be Bored in Beijing

What would you guess is the most unpopular Olympic sport of all time? Tough question, considering the variety of weird events that have been included in years past. There was the Live Pigeon Shooting event in the 1904 St. Louis games. 300 pigeons bought the farm, God rest their souls.

Most boring? How about the 10k walk or curling or synchronized swimming? They may be tough, but they're not exactly riveting. Well, according to Floyd Conner's book, "The Olympics' Most Wanted," the least popular sport in all the annals of the Olympics is, you guessed it, croquet. Only one spectator, an Englishman, paid to watch the croquet matches at the 1900 Paris Olympics. And wouldn't you know it, the French swept the medals.

Actually, for the most part, I enjoy the Games with their pressure and drama and dedication. The Olympic spirit, at least what remains of it, is a positive, much-needed antidote for today's wild and warped world of sports. As the games begin, I hope at least one honest, dedicated, non-doping, play-by-the-rules, patriotic athlete wins some worthy event to make us all proud.