Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Boy Named Sue Probably Should

                                   A Boy Named Sue Probably Should

It's one of the first, if not the first things you learn about a person. You might first see their face, assess their smile or the lack of it, or check out the color of their eyes or their overall shape before you hear it. If you are on the phone or being told about another person it is either the first thing you remember or the first thing you forget. It is a person's name.

Names must be important because everyone has one. In the south and southwest they often have two names, just ask Becky Sue or Billy Jack. Even God has a name and when God became flesh and dwelt among men He announced His name to his earthly parents before He was born. You will also notice that God had a habit of changing names of people He encounters. Abram he changes to Abraham; Sarai to Sarah; Jacob to Israel; even Cephas to Peter. Each name change He gave signified a change of outlook, character, and expectation. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message translation of the Bible, says "naming is a way of hoping. We name a child after someone or some quality that we hope he or she will become---a saint, a hero, an admired ancestor. Some parents name their children trivially after movie stars and millionaires. Harmless? Cute? But we do have a way of taking on the identities that are prescribed for us. Millions live out the superficial sham of the entertainer and the greedy exploitations of the millionaire because, in part, significant people in their lives cast them in a role or fantasized an illusion and failed to hope a human future for them."  A pastor in 16th century England would not "admit vain or idle names" of children at their baptism. He knew a name meant something.

I fear we have forgotten the message contained in a good name. We have settled for labels. Labels are easier   somewhat helpful but too often just lazier. We label people instead of getting to know them. They are republican or democrat. They are Catholic or Baptist, Christian or Muslim. That is a label, not a name. She is a lawyer or businesswoman. Label, not name. He's a jock or a nerd. Label. "Hello, Coach." " How's the Preacher?" "Politician" "Engineer" "Computer Geek'' "Goth" "Gang Banger" "Young" "Old" "Geezer" "Fossil" and then they go down hill and can get nasty. We forget the person, the name, and see a hard-headed old geezer preacher who is a stubborn as a mule or we see a young, arrogant, video playing punk with no manners or goals in life. There was a time when both were about 7 pounds and 21 inches long and their parent (s) named them David. What their parents saw then, God still sees now.

I find it interesting to look at lists of the most popular names of babies. For girls in the US in 2011 the top five (NameLab internet source) were Sophia, Isabella, Emma, Ava, and Emily. A trend toward older names and a slight slant toward a Latin influence is detected. For boys it was Jacob, Mason, William, Jayden, and Noah. ( In England, Mohammad has come in the top 35 for the first time,2011) I find it interesting that on the girls side only a couple of the names were from the Bible, not that I think  too many young parents think of the Bible when naming their kids. On the boys side, seven of the top 20 were "Biblical" names like Jacob, Noah, Matthew, Andrew, and James. I am pretty sure that the bible wasn't consulted because of the name not there. The apostle who wrote most of the new Testament and took the gospel west ( eventually to us) was not in the top 50. "Paul" isn't popular anymore. Apostles and Beatles stars  lose their clout after a while, I guess.

One of the powers that the New Testament church possesses is the naming of persons (apologies to Mr. Tournier).  One can treat people as persons, humans made in God's image, and call them by name.  The church can refuse to label and embrace the humanity of a person by calling their name. We can speak grace to a person by the way we use their name on our tongues,  in face to face encounters and by how we speak of them to others. (That is why the New Testament sees gossip as so insidious.) People in church can speak prophetically to others by attaching to a person and their name solid virtues and values so that when a person sees us, they see themselves as the one we see as encouraging, helpful, servant-hearted, merciful, kind, wise or loving. That kind of prophecy lifts and gives something to live up to. It is about building each other up in love and it begins with a name.  In Acts 4, Joseph, because of his actions, was called Barnabas, son of encouragement. Jesus did this with Cephus, pebble, who he said would be Peter, a rock. Jesus did this with Nathaniel in whom He saw no guile. He did this with John who had the nickname (label) son of thunder. He spoke in to him love and John became the disciple Jesus loved and wrote the epistle of love, I John.

In Revelation 3:17 Jesus tells the saints who hang in and overcome that He will give them "a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."  The white stone was given to slaves who had been freed. It was their "papers" or passport. It often had their free name on it not their old slave name. It was a way in which a troubled church in troubled times was reminded that in Christ they were free from sin and hell and free to live as sons and daughters of the Living God. This kept their spiritual eyes looking up and forward even in the midst of the decay all around them. We need that message today and the world needs that message from the church today. We can share a profound truth of God's love, grace, transformation, and hope with the simple use of a name. What will you call the next person you encounter?


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wishing Prayers

                                                          Wishing Prayers

The bible doesn't say anything about wishes. I wish it did.

The dictionary says a wish is to want; a desire; a longing for something. We all do that. We wish we were there; we wish they were here. We wish we had seen that game, sunk that putt, had one more day of vacation. We wish we had a little more money and maybe a lot more time or vice-versa. We wish we hadn't said that or that they, usually someone we love, hadn't said what they said to us. We wish our kids had better jobs, or better paying jobs, or just had jobs. We wish our daughters hadn't married that kid but sometimes we are later glad they did. We wish we were smarter, thinner, stronger, and nearly anything ending in "er."

When you analyze wishes, and I realize that in itself is probably wrong, you find yourself playing around with reality, its past, and its consequences. That's why wishes are a lot like balloons you fill with you own wind and then release them to watch them fly away for a moment only to make their flapping sound and fall on the floor. Wishes don't change the past, alter circumstances, or make for a brighter future.

When you wish, where does it go? The Disney folks would tell us to wish on a star. Legend tells us we can wish on a shooting star or the evening star if we want them to come true. It seems pretty risky to throw your wants, desires, and longings for better, greater, more wonder in life out in the air like that. There's no telling in our electronic, internet, cloud server days who or what might get hold of it.

I have to confess that when it comes to wants, desires, and longings, well, my prayers may be a lot like wishes. That's probably not a good thing. My prayers contain praise, wonder, confession, and just meditating on the Living God and His awe but a big part of them ask. But, and I'd never tell God this, a lot of times my petitions feel awfully close to wishes. I use the word pray and I pray for Joe Bob's cousin's cancer surgery in Milwaukee to be successful. I pray about people's illnesses, surgeries, and marriages. I pray for people to be saved and some who are to act like it. I pray for a lot of victims these days from war, famine, senseless violence, terrorism and accidents. I pray a lot for my wife, kids  grand kids and family. I try to balance my prayers with just being with the Lord, in His word, praising, thanking and not asking so much. But truthfully, my wants, desires, and longings for people I love and a world gone mad with immorality get away from me and I ask a lot. They sound a lot like wishes. I've never read in the Bible the term wishing prayer and I doubt any theologian would sanction such a prayer, but I don't seem to be able to help myself sometimes and I find myself offering wishing prayers.

What is the difference between wishing and praying? I guess the line is pretty thin at times but one thing I know is this: a wish has really no where to go. It is flung out to stars, genies, and the air. Ahh, but a prayer, a prayer goes somewhere. It flies with the speed of thought to a real Someone who can hear, discern, and in His way and time, answer. Prayers are longings, desires, wants, and hopes grounded in His reality and given to the God who Himself gives us the ability to hope, dream and desire. He doesn't change the past with our prayers but can change our futures ( I was once going to hell, but Jesus changed that), sometimes He changes our present circumstances but most often He changes us to be able to meet our circumstances with His love, endurance, wisdom, patience, and joy.

I will probably keep offering wishing prayers. I figure God can sort them out better than I can anyway. Maybe a prayer is a wish that knows wheres its going and Who will receive it.

The Bible doesn't say anything about wishes, that doesn't keep me from praying.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Peril of Peaking Early

                                                    The Perils of Peaking Early

I have always loved the Olympics, especially the summer games. My earliest recollection of the games were the 1960 Rome Olympics. I could read just a little. There were grainy pictures on the television I suppose but I don't remember them. I remember the pictures in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram and my dad explaining the Olympics to me. The 1964 Tokyo games had more tv coverage and I could read better by then. Most of the events I watched were not live but films shown later. I remember Bob Hays  and his bobble-head running style and hardly any one being in the same frame with him because he was so far ahead. I had a vague sense of the rivalry with Russia that grew with the cold war.

I don't know if it is my age or the ugly part of human nature that seems to seek out villains so we will feel better about ourselves or our position, but I miss the cold war rivalry with the commies. With every race, throw, jump, or game, it was as if our way of life in a free democracy was being confirmed every time we won. If we lost the commies cheated with drugs, paid athletes, and sympathetic iron curtain officials whose families were probably held captive until they helped the commies win.(Proof--1972 men's basketball) Of course, we still have Communist nations, mainly China, at the Olympics but since they hold the mortgage on America we can't whine too much lest they foreclose.

These Olympics have also shown what a competitive disadvantage the USA has in the "backyard" sports. With the exception of beach volleyball and one skeet shooter, the US has been getting their butt kicked. "Backyard" sports? Those are the games we usually play in the backyard for fun. (Remember, I grew up on a farm  and we literally shot shotguns in the backyard.) Ping pong--China.  Trampoline--China, Russia.  BB gun shooting--China, Romania. Bow and Arrow---Korea, Italy (we did get a silver in one archery contest) What we will have to do is what we did with the winter Olympics. The USA was pretty bad at those until we combined some sports and got them into the Olympics. We combined snow, snowboarders, and really crazy kids and created snowboarding half-pipe, snowboarding downhill racing, skiing and twisting and dancing in the air and got those in the winter games. Since we have lots of crazy kids that had learned to creatively fall off mountains we excel at those sports. We will need to do the same for the backyard sports in the summer.

If we had a sport that combined bb gun, trampoline and skeet shooting we might do well. You could fix targets to the trampoline guys and shoot the targets as they jumped and twisted. More points if you hit the target while he's twisting and turning. Of course, if you shot out an eye you would be disqualified and be forced to watch "The Chrsitmas Story" every Christmas until the next Olympics. I'm still working on the rules for putting ping pong and bow and arrow together. I'd like to get the ribbon twirlers in here somewhere since I never understood that as being a sport anyway. Durn commies did that better too. I think maybe putting it with synchronized swimming and sharks might be interesting.

I will watch the last week of the Olympics and enjoy the contests but I'm not emotionally invested or attached like I used to be. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat aren't felt in sport for me like they were when I was 20, 30, or even 40. For the most part, excellence in sport comes early in life. A gymnast is old at 20. A sprinter is done by 30. A basketball player is ancient at 38. Even gentle golf has to have an old man's tour for those over 50. What do you do when you have dedicated most of your life, all of your energy of mind and soul to your sport or business for that matter? What do you do when you peak at 16, or 26, or 36? Even if you are one of one percent who made a lot of money at it, what is the next 50 or 60 years of life about for you? I knew, briefly, the world champion shot putter. You don't know his name. After he set the record he mentioned in an article a feeling of emptiness that overcame him. "Is that it?" he asked. If what we do doesn't fill that God-shaped hole in our soul then we will ask after every achievement, '' is that it?"

...but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do : Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."     Philippians 3:12-14

Not yet peaked,

PS: I wonder what anthem heaven plays when we receive the prize and the crown? I like to hear your suggestions...........

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Broken Heart

                                                   A Broken Heart

He wasn't entirely old by working world standards, about 62, but in ministry terms he felt 90. He drove over to the next town twenty-five miles away to be alone and not be recognized by any church members. Besides that little town had a neat park with a little lake and at 42 degrees that afternoon the chances were he'd have a park bench, if not the lake, to himself. It was a bit dumb, at least he felt that way, but he wanted to get cold and shiver and feel, feel anything even if it was pain for a while. That would surely beat this numbing pall and depression that had settled over him.

He found a bench and found himself alone with his pity. He was a few hours from standing before his elder board and announcing he was quitting. After thirty eight years in various forms of ministry he was finished, tired, worn out. It was over. He thought the thought of quitting would bother him, scare him, saddened him. It hadn't. He was worried about finances a little but not much else. That fact alone, that the idea that quitting hadn't bothered him much bothered him most. So here he was, alone, thinking, praying, wondering, seeking and trying to hurt.

He hadn't noticed a man had come right up behind him. He about jumped out of his wits when the man spoke..."it's a bit brisk isn't it? I kind of like it. This cold wind makes me feel alive and invigorated. And this is my favorite bench too, mind if I sit here a bit with you?" Before the old pastor could speak his new bench guest was down beside him. He wanted to protest. He wanted to leave. But he was a pastor, he had been trained to tolerate, stay, listen, like a good dog. He was paid to be nice. The meanest thing he could muster was silence. The way the stranger had started off, he was afraid that the intruder would start chatting. He didn't. He sat silent. The old pastor noticed the man was younger, maybe early thirties, thin. He seemed thoughtful and if there is such a thing as a gentle demeanor, he had it. Yes, he felt he'd been invaded, but the invader wasn't aggressive, thankfully.

After being quiet a while, the younger man spoke. "I love lakes...come to them often... the sound...the rhythm, they have a healing touch for me. I've not seen you here before. Are you from around here?" "No," the old pastor gave in a bit, " down the road a bit. I just needed to be alone and think." Maybe the younger man would take the hint. He didn't.  They were silent a while longer. The young man spoke gently again. "Aren't you a pastor, I seem to recall your presiding over some funerals I've attended."  "You are observant. I pastor in the next town over, at least for a little while longer?"  "Oh, are you changing churches?'' The young man's gentle manner, quietness, and manner of speech had some how  won confidence from the old preacher. He wasn't sure why but he began to tell the young man what was going on in his heart and head.

"To be honest, in about four hours I will walk into an elder board meeting I called and announce I'm quitting. I just don't think I can do this anymore." "Well, sir, let me be honest with you," the younger offered.  "I'm in the ministry, too, and maybe I showed up here today to listen to you.  Maybe that will help a bit, it's pretty obvious you are hurting."   "Well, thanks. I wish that were true. The trouble is I'm almost beyond hurting. I don't know if I can hurt anymore."  "What brought you to this point where you are about to leave nearly 40  years of ministry?" ("Odd, I don't remember telling this young man how long I'd been in the ministry. He's pretty observant, pretty obvious with a little math I guess." ) "Well, it's not one thing, it is a lot of things, seems like everything. This world I can hardly recognize anymore. The work of ministry is getting harder and harder. The church seems so irrelevant. Our morals are in the toilet. In Arizona, it is illegal to have home churches in some towns. New York kicked churches out of schools they had rented for services for decades. The Supreme Court had to rule on that case to let them in. If you hold to Biblical values anymore you are the minority and are called bigoted and intolerant. Our demonination is debating same-sex marriage. They are actually debating it! I can't remember the last time a young couple wanted me to marry them that wasn't living together. Shoot, older couples are coming to me to be married and they have already moved in together. This moralistic, therapeutic, deism in our world is killing us and I don't think I'm having any effect whatsoever in moving people to faith or along in the faith. I might as well quit!"

The old preacher got it out finally. The pain, confusion, the frustration just flooded out. The young man listened. He listened well. He mumbled barely audible words while the old preacher went off. He said something about Elijah in I Kings 19: 13-14. When the preacher hit on the ills of the world he said something about John on Patmos and saints in catacombs. But mostly he just listened. Finally, after the smoke of the pastor's rant had cleared a bit, he asked the a question: "If you could sum up in one sentence why you are leaving the ministry you were called to and loved for so long, what would it be?"
"I guess you could say that my ministry has just died... it died of a broken heart..."
The young may stood and pulled his coat around him a little tighter and extended a hand to shake the old pastor's hand goodbye.  The old man reach to take his hand and noticed an ugly scar on his wrist. The young man held the old man's hand firm. The old man looked up and saw the younger gazing deeply into his eyes, more like his own soul really. "A broken heart, huh? Ironically, that's why I went into ministry."

Revelation 3:11-13