Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Love Story About Golf

I was scheduled to play a competitive match against another golfer, so I was focused on being focused. Then the pro shop put another single golfer with us, which is perfectly fine. Except.

My partner’s first question was whether I minded if he played music on his big speaker. As politely as I could, I told him that in fact I did mind. Not the best start to building a friendship. It soon became obvious that my friend really needed his music or he was not nearly as good of a golfer as he imagined in his own mind, so after every bad shot (of which there were many) he uttered some sort of expletive, each one growing louder.

My new friend was playing expensive Titleist Pro V1 golf balls. He lost two of them in two holes, and he became even more upset with Jesus.  We searched far and wide but, alas, they were lost.

After nearly four hours together, he asked me what I did for a living. I had been waiting for this moment.  As soon as I told him I was a pastor in a local church there was this very awkward silence.  He asked me which church, and when I told him he suddenly became very interested in our location and history.  What a transformation!

On the final hole he hit his ball well behind the green and we thought it landed in a parking lot.  But, as we drove toward the area we saw a ball lying on a cart path. I jokingly said he should go check out the ball because perhaps someone had found one of his expensive lost Pro V’s and left it for him. He walked over to it, picked it up and returned to the cart with this strange smile, saying, “You are going to like this. It is a Pro V1. Read what it says.” He handed it to me and I saw that someone had inscribed it with green felt tip ink and the words, “Jesus Loves You.”

I could not have laughed harder or louder.  He offered me the ball.  I said, “No, I think that is one you should keep. Because it’s true.” He put it in his pocket. The rest is up to the Spirit.   

Saturday, June 1, 2019

'Rubber Time', or Never Be Late Again

Does ‘time’ own you or do you own ‘time’? I am annoyed when people are late; I get upset with myself when I am running late, manufacturing excuses as I zoom down the road trying to make up time; if I wait on a service provider more than 10 minutes for an appointment I will usually complain and/or leave.  So, yes, ‘time’ owns me.

Maybe I have it all wrong, and the people who don’t worry about being on ‘time’ are the smarter ones.  Doug Bratt, who writes commentary for a Calvin Seminary website, describes how his Indonesian friends refer to ‘rubber time’.  Meeting times are just suggestions.  Indonesians are, Bratt writes, often 30-45 minutes later in appearing than the time originally agreed upon. But, and here is the key, when they show up they are really ‘present’ in the moment.

I think this is a brilliant approach to punctuality.  You will never be late again if you simply train your friends to know that you live by ‘rubber time.’  You are stretching the definition of being ‘on time’ to arrive, say, within the hour.  But, and this is critical, when you show up you will not look at your mobile device; you will not be thinking about where you need to get next; you will be fully engaged in being present in the moment and in the lives of the ones you are with. 

Now, if you decide to try this (or maybe you are already living in ‘rubber time’), I make no promises about how often you will be invited to dinner parties. I give no assurances that your dentist will see you when you arrive.  But, I guess if the ‘cable guy’ and delivery companies can give us three hour windows for a so-called ‘appointment’, why can’t we all try it?

Bratt suggests that perhaps we should look at Jesus’ promise that he is ‘coming soon’ (Rev. 22:20) as a ‘rubber time’ event. Jesus isn’t late, as we in the western world define time. He is going to show up ‘soon’. He isn’t ‘late’ to the promised party, he is just fully engaged elsewhere for now. But, when Jesus does arrive, we will see him face to face. And time will matter no more.

I cannot wait!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

"Planting Weekend"

Memorial Day Weekend, here in the Upper Midwest, is for many gardeners the official start of the planting season.  There is a (fairly) good chance that we won’t have an overnight freeze until the late Fall, and the balance of sun and rain should be healthy for life. Memorial Day Weekend, around the United States, is for many, but sadly a dwindling number, a weekend to remember lives which have been sacrificed for the freedoms which our nation enjoys.  In the lexicon of Paul, bodies which are ‘planted’ in the ground are but seeds which will grow into new bodies. (I Corinthians 15:42,ff.) So Memorial Day Weekend is a time to hope in things planted, seeds that will grow into beautiful flowers and that from the ‘hallowed ground’ will grow miraculous bodies. It is a weekend to exercise our capacities to remember, to hope, to commune. It is a time to exercise our faith that seeds planted in faith do not die in vain.

Faith (by Karen S. Bard)
“…all things are less than
they are,
all are more”   -Paul Celan
Consider the seed.
Consider the flower containing the seed.
Consider the stem, that shy messenger, carrying the secrets
of the underworld into the daylight.
Consider the root, fingering its way down, intimate
with the stones, the amazed dirt-
consider the seed, the stem
within the seed, the root
within the seed, the flower
within the seed.
Consider your left palm, warm, familiar, cupped
around a handful of seeds.
Consider your faith.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Music of Heaven

“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty”. “Worthy is the Lamb”.  As you read these song lyrics a tune probably comes to your mind.  Music: melodies, harmonies, lyrics, rhythms, brings our minds to different places, creates memories of people (old flames, grandparents) or places (worship spaces, ballparks).

The lyrics above are taken from Revelation 4 and 5’s songs, the music of Heaven. These are the lyrics all of God’s children sing gathered around the Throne.  But, which notes should go with those words?  Did God give Handel a special revelation of what those notes should be, as captured in Handel’s Messiah?  Maybe Jesus prefers the Hebrew tunes he grew up with, the ones he sang in synagogue as a boy.  Perhaps the angels in charge of worship like to mix it up, ‘I’m a little bit country; I’m a little bit rock and roll.’  I don’t know how ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ would sound in a country twang, but there must be someone who has tried it and people who love it. And what of all of the millions assembled there whose memories are triggered not by organs and cymbals but by African drums, South American flutes, Canadian brass?

I join those who believe that Music was woven into the atmosphere of the Universe because God loves to be praised with music.  He set people free to pluck notes from the air, but God’s ‘middle C’ in Michigan sounds just like a ‘middle C’ in Madagascar.  It is all God’s music.  Just like God loves many languages, God loves many melodies.  Perhaps the songs around the Throne will be like modern churches: if you like hard rock worship tunes go to church X; if you like organ-accompanied 18th century hymns go to church ‘Y’;  and so on.

We know the lyrics to the music of heaven. But we await the revelation of the melodies. I personally am hoping it sounds close to the final minutes of Mahler’s 2nd, the Resurrection Symphony.

When you gather around the Throne I suspect that whatever style of music gets your motor running, you will be able to jam to it like there is no tomorrow.

Because, well, there will be no tomorrow.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!” (Psalm 150) AMEN!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Languages of Heaven

How many languages does Jesus speak?  On earth he spoke his local dialect, a version of Aramaic, and we can be quite sure he read and spoke Hebrew; maybe some Greek, a little Latin. (English, in case you are wondering, was still five centuries in the future.) 

Then, after his Resurrection, Jesus ascended into Heaven, and there he is, in his new body, surrounded by people from ‘every nation, tribe, people and language.’ (Rev. 7:9)  How does he communicate with them all? Well, Jesus is God, after all, so, we can imagine with some certainty that he knows every language.  But, what about the rest of the ‘great multitude.’  They praise God on the Throne with thousands upon thousands of voices in thousands of ancient and modern tongues. While the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can understand the cacophony of words and songs, can the people understand each other? Is there a language of heaven, or does everyone retain their own language which they knew on this Old Earth?

There is, as you know, this odd little story tucked in Genesis in which the LORD intentionally confuses the one language of the people of the earth into many languages. (Genesis 11:1-9) This in turn causes the people to scatter around the world.  The rest, as they say, is history.

We live in a world which has many ways to speak all sorts of threats, hate, war. Wars and rumors of war will never cease on this Old Earth. Even if we all understood each other’s languages, we will not all ‘understand’ each other, our fears, our anger, our territorialism.  We try, most of the time, to speak diplomatically, translating words as best we can to help us know what we are trying to say and why we are trying to say it, but we are not very good at it, speaking generally of the human race.

And yet, one day, there we will all be.  The people we mocked, detested, hated even, gathered around the Throne waving palm branches in our white robes.  And then, at last, while we may not be speaking the same languages, we will finally understand each other, why we each and all exist.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Destruction's Day: Reflecting on the Great Fire of Notre Dame

Thoughts on viewing the ashes of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France, Holy Week 2019

Nothing is indestructible.  The fa├žade of strength hides a weakness which can trigger destruction. So it is with buildings and human beings.

Nothing lasts forever.  On this earth, a century of work can be destroyed in a day.  Do not put your hope in things which ‘moths and rust’, or fire, can consume.

What makes a monument significant is unseen.  Monuments are cherished because of the dreams they represent.  A spire is a symbol of human aspirations to be with God. Spires fall. Spirits rise.

Destruction has it’s day.  But it is only a day.  Hidden underneath destruction’s ashes lies the spirit’s desire to resurrect that which has been destroyed. Death is the last enemy.

Friday is destruction’s day.

But, Saturday, underneath Friday’s ashes, hidden in tombs, the Spirit stirs, undoing Friday’s day of destruction, recreating.

Sunday dawns, for cathedrals and churches and synagogues. For trees and plants and flowers. For oceans and rivers and lakes.  For you and your loved ones and your God.

Sunday is Saturday’s Hope realized. 

Resurrection has a Day.  On its day the sun does not set. Human beings unite, across continents and oceans, overcoming races and languages and politics, to dream of restoration. Resurrection.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Surprise Endings

I am reading a very long tome called Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln and his compatriots. It is something like 750 pages long. It’s a good book, full of fascinating characters, and a story which holds up a mirror to our current national divisions. So, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy reading it, but as I got to page 150 I was thinking, ‘This story is never going to end!’

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? 

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 the story 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. 

Today is the Sabbath before the Sunday on which the crowds adored the main character. They loved His story. The king is coming! They couldn’t wait to see how his story would end.

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. He’s dead. End of story. Or is it?

We live for the end. We love good endings. But we are all writing His story into our own stories. In your life, is Jesus an irrelevant, dead man or a living King?  How do you want the story to end?

This Holy Week  don’t skip to the ending.  Live the whole of the journey. Perhaps you will discover that that the ending is still being written, that, SURPRISE, His story is your story. Keep on writing.