Saturday, March 28, 2015

"The End is Still to Come" (Part 1)

We live for the end.  We love good endings.  We love to read the book that is full of mysterious twists and turns and our minds begin to imagine the end.

 “How will this end?”, we wonder, and the temptation to turn to the last page can become overwhelming.  How can the author bring together all of these plot lines and solve all of the main character’s dilemmas in the remaining pages?  So we keep on reading, because we know that the end is still to come.

Sometimes the story is so good that we don’t want it to end.  We would rather stay lost in the writer’s imagination. We don’t want our tour through fantasy-land to end, because, well, this is the life we want to live and, even though we cannot live that life, we can imagine it. So, we slow down our reading pace, drinking in each word, like the first sip of morning coffee or the last sip of evening wine. 

And sometimes, well, the story is just not very good. We want to skip to the end and get this dreary read over with. Or we just put the book away. Enough.

What kind of story are you living? What kind of ending do you imagine for your story? Do you want to keep reading?

It’s the Sabbath before the Sunday on which the crowds adored the main character. They loved His story.  They thought they knew how it would end: the king is coming!

But wait, is he a king or criminal? Who could have dreamt that this is what the Author had in mind? Their songs become jeers?  Their palms become swords?  Holy Week!

We live for the end. We love good endings.  Imagine that this story isn’t just the old, old story. Imagine that His story is your story too? How do you want it to end?


Saturday, March 21, 2015

When Life Makes You a 16 Seed

Sixteen seeds have a 98 per cent chance of losing their first (and thus only) game in the tournament.  That’s life for a 16 seed. So, why bother playing the game?

(First a little background for the uninitiated.  There are over 300 colleges and universities which have men’s basketball teams at the highest level, called “D-1”.  Of that group, 68 teams are invited to an annual single-elimination (“lose and go home”) basketball tournament. The better teams play the lesser teams first. The best four teams are placed, or “seeded”, in the first round of games against the worst of the 68 qualifying teams, called “16 seeds.”  For over thirty years no “16” has beaten a “1”.)

So, why bother playing the “16 v. 1”  game? Because when you are a 16 seed you believe you can win.  Each year at least one 16-seed player declares, “We can beat anyone.”  They believe it. They are champions of their own conference, and they have won something like 20 of their 25 games, and they believe in themselves. And then the game is played and they lose. Every time. Reality sets in.  The game is over.  No one cares.

You would think that “David loses to Goliath” should be a headline, but it’s not. People expect David to lose to Goliath, except in the Bible story.  We want David to win, but, let’s face it, in our lives, Goliath wins more than he loses.  And yet all kinds of “Davids” keep taking up 5 smooth stones, trying to slay life’s giant enemy. I wonder if when Jesus was a little boy he played with a slingshot, pretending to be the superhero he admired from the temple stories.  But then, maybe not. Maybe he knew that he was born to be a 16 seed, always playing a 1.  Oh, he would have his moments, but then, in the end, the enemy won. And he knew it was going to happen. But, Jesus kept playing.

Why did Jesus bother to play the game of life if he knew he was going to end up dead on a cross? Well, maybe the cross isn’t the end of the game. Maybe the game isn’t over. Maybe all the “cross-watchers” are wrong. Maybe the people who give you no chance to succeed in your life don’t know that the game of life isn’t what it appears; that David still beats Goliath; that good conquers evil; that the faithful are rewarded with the victor’s crown. The game isn’t over, friend. Keep on playing.  Someone cares.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What Are You Teaching Those Children?

It all went so quickly.  Martha had been ill, but not this sick.  So it was a surprise to Joyce and her siblings when they received the call: Martha was in the hospital. It was early evening.  Then a second call came: hurry to the hospital.  And then there they were,  Joyce and her siblings, looking at Martha as she prepared to take her last breath.  Joyce, wanting to offer words of comfort, hunted for the Bible and turned to Psalm 23. Realizing that she left her glasses at home, she reached out her arm as far as she could, but the words were just a gray blob. So Joyce summoned up old Sunday School memorization lessons and she started reciting Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd…”  She surprised herself at how well it came back to her. She could see the expression on Martha’s face change as the familiar words were repeated.  Then Joyce asked Martha if she would like to pray. Martha somehow managed to nod in assent, so Joyce and Martha and the others bowed their heads, folded their hands, and everyone followed Martha’s lead in saying “Our Father…”. And then Martha slipped from this world through the thin veil and started her dance into the world to come.

As I prepared for the funeral I couldn’t help but think of all of the church teachers and pastors who taught Martha and Joyce where to find Psalm 23; of those formative leaders who coaxed Joyce into memorizing “the whole thing.”  I marveled at the fact that someone taught the family the Lord’s Prayer, and that it had been used enough to remain in the memory banks of these adult siblings.  As I delivered the funeral message, doing my best to put Martha’s life and death into perspective for the mourners who survived her, I saw the children, assembled there to watch and learn how to mourn for their aunt, a lesson they will need to use often in the next 60 or so  years of their lives.

And then it struck me.  The question flooded my mind “Will those children know Psalm 23, or even where to find it, when they spend the last hours with their siblings in 60 years? What are you teaching those children?”  I could say that the church lost the culture wars to work schedules which exhaust parents; to youth sports leaders who discovered that their activities were a better option for many than Sundays in church; or a dozen other excuses for our failure to reach the very children the church is charged with teaching.  Or, I could choose to not accept defeat. I could choose to rally the church and parents to start learning how to reach and teach the precious children who will one day be at each other’s bedside grasping for words that would be their only comfort in life and in death.  I choose to engage in the mission for the children.  You?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What Are You Afraid Of?

Rebekah Gregory knows fear.  She knows it in a way that most people never will.  You may recognize Ms. Gregory’s name as one of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Despite many, many surgical attempts, she lost her lower left leg and she now walks with a prosthetic leg.  For nearly two years she lived in fear of her attacker, Dzhohkar Tsarnaev.  Try as Ms. Gregory might, she could not shake the images and the nightmares and the fear of confronting evil again.

Ms. Gregory, a fit 27-year old woman, blond hair, brown eyes, looks for all the world like a woman in control of life.  But, she wasn’t.  The tragic consequences of the bombing were with her, and will be for the rest of her life.  She was asked to testify at the trial of Mr. Tsarnaev, who faces the death penalty. She described her emotions to a television news reporter as beginning with a sense of dread as she approached the court room.  In a letter to her assailant she describes how she came to an amazing realization as she faced him in the courtroom.  She told the reporter, “When I walked into the courtroom and was able to look him in the face I realized that that fear was gone and I wasn’t afraid. He became nobody to me again.”  She posted a letter to the defendant on her Facebook page in which she describes how facing this person was “the crazy kind of step forward I needed all along.”

I don’t know what you deepest fear is these days.  Perhaps it is a fear caused by someone who you can, in a safe environment, come face to face with and find the beginning of healing.  More likely, what we fear is not a person but a more undefined dread. Mostly it is the loss of control; a loss of security; a fear of an unknown future.  Like Ms. Gregory, our prescription is to face our fears head-on, to find a way to control the fear so it does not control us.  What steps can you take to begin to overcome your fear?

For a 90-year old woman I know, her fear is for the future of this world.  She describes how watching the evening news causes her to cry out, “Lord, how long?”  And then, one Sunday, she sang with God’s people the words “for the darkness shall turn to dawning…and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light.” Here was here source of hope.  What she found was a way to know that our present and future life is not random. That which we hope in is greater than that which we fear.