Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Where's That?

                                                 Where's That?

I've spent a lot of my life explaining where I was from or even where I was. People hadn't heard, didn't know. It wasn't their fault. They weren't ignorant or not well traveled. They just came from different regions, larger places or traveled too fast to notice the smaller environs of my dwelling places. I heard, "where's that?" a lot, often with an aire of disdain if not disbelief.

I grew up on a farm about three miles south of Milford, TX*. "Where's that?" you ask. Here we go again. It happened when I went to college at Howard Payne University. "Where's that?" It's a small liberal arts college in Brownwood. I pastored in Bronte. "Where's that?" It's between Abilene and San Angelo. "Shouldn't that be pronounced 'Bron-te`, like Emily or Charlotte? Yeah, tell that to the folks in west Texas who call it Bront with no `e on the end.  And so it went. In a place everyone in Texas knew, Bryan, I pastored West Oaks Baptist Church. "Where's that?" You could tell them you worshipped in an aerobic center and then a former barbeque restaurant. People just looked at you funny. Everyone in the panhandle knew Hereford when I lived there. If we came back to the DFW area or went to a pastor's conference  and people asked where I was pastoring these days it would happen again. ''Where's Hereford?" It's 45 miles sw of Amarillo and then came the blank look. If they hadn't actually been there or through there, it didn't exist. Trust me, if you ever got close, your nose would know it existed.

Now I live outside of Whitney, a community called White Bluff. "Where's that?" Same song, about the seventh verse for me. I am a lot more comfortable with the explanations now. Part of it is aging with grace. Yeah, right. Part of it is not only the grace of aging but the grace of understanding that no one truly knows where any one else is from or what they have been through. We might know the town but not the traffic that town had on some one's heart. We might recognize a street but do we ever know how another person experienced that street?. Most probably it was mixtures of joy and sadness, affirmation and abuse, grief and elation, life and death. Those experiences are everywhere, city or country, big or little.

I've also discovered in my travels that God never has to ask "where's that?" He knows. He knows where I am, my rising up and my sitting down; when I go out and my lying down. He just knows. One of the saddest scriptures is in Genesis 3: 9. After Adam and Eve had sinned they turned the local fruit stand into the first clothing store and hid themselves. God came walking through the garden in the cool of the evening to visit with them. They are no where to be seen. Strange... so God asks a strange question. In English it is "Where are you?'' In the Hebrew, it is one word and the "are you" is implied but the single word is simply 'where.'  O, to be sure, God knows where they are.  He is calling for transparency. He is seeking confession. I believe I can almost hear His broken heart calling out "why?"

But what we get is one word: ''where?''

Has God ever called out to you "where?" When I found myself in fear instead of trust did I hear Him say 'where?' When I resided on the corner of pride and stubbornness, did I hear 'where?' When I longed to move to anger, vengeance did I hear a whispered 'where' on the Wind? I've put my heart in a lot of places that He could walk by and cry 'where?'

But He always knew. In Milford He knew where I was and where He would send me. At Howard Payne, He knew what bench I prayed on in the cool of the (late) evening. In tiny churches in big towns or bigger churches in small towns, I never had to explain. He knew. He knew where I was. It was a promise He made and kept: "I'll never leave you nor forsake you." (Heb.13:5)

The promise is still good today. He knows where you are. He just knows.


*between Mountain Springs and Forreston

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Tall People

                                                   The Tall People

You look around and wonder, are there any tall people any more?

Oh, not the height measured by feet and inches but a different kind of stature. The world seems to be filled with pancake people, flatlanders, dirt-eaters. It wasn't always so. There was time, at least there was a moment, when tall people were noticed. When, in comparison to the masses lying prostrate the tall ones literally stood out in their standing up. How was it so then and where are they now?

There was a day when the world was flat, long before Columbus proved it wasn't, at least in terrestrial terms.  But flat it was in ancient Babylon's day and suspicions remain that it still is. It was flat because the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, said it was to be flat. His image of gold set high before the people, the army band assembled, and when they struck up the national anthem, rather than rise and sing, all citizens were to fall flat and worship. And all did, but three tall men.

They knew the world was not flat, at least not the world beyond Nebuchadnezzar's grip. That kind of flatness belonged to Another and to any other they stood tall. The pancake people at their feet spoke from the dirt, where else can flat people speak from, and angrily called to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to get down and grovel. "Come on man, get down here with the rest of us. You got to go along to get along. You might get us all in trouble and we've had enough trouble since this King took us out of Judah. You don't have to worship the old tyrant in your heart. Just get down here with everyone else and get it over with. Besides, is this moment of bravery worth the consequences? Live to serve your Lord many days and serve this earthly lord just one."

But the tall people wouldn't listen to the pancake people, for they knew that the day they had to worship and serve the Most High God was this day, and this day only. So they took their stand and uttered their statement of faith that their God could rescue if He so chose, "but if not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." Their fate was set as their bodies were bound yet God had a different agenda than the nation's ruler. For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the Most High God had intentioned flame and fortune. But make no mistake, the victory was secured not with emergence from their furnaced apartment but when they were tall in a flat world.

The spirit of Nebuchadnezzar still calls to people inclined to flatness in our days. The images erected are not as blatant but the call is the same. "Worship me-- worship success rather than thank-God for it; worship the sport rather than enjoy the game; worship the material riches rather than use them for other's good; worship power and politics rather than see them as avenues for justice to flow; worship the self and taste the hopelessness of empty promises and breathe deeply the aroma of immorality so close to nostrils pressed in to it." This spirit of Nebuchadnezzar allows for in-between men today, not too flat, but never tall. Men "too decent to enjoy sin in its ugly rawness yet not dedicated enough to enjoy the feast of the fullness of life."*

The world bows down in flatness to all that is deemed great. But there were tall men in ancient Babylon, at least a few.  You look around and wonder, are there tall people today?

Help me to stand,

*Quote from Clovis Chappell, Methodist pastor early to mid 20th century who inspired this article

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Living Backwards

Do you ever read the stories about Jesus and wonder how he became such a successful savior? It looked like he started okay with the birth, angels, and wise men. True, Bethlehem, a feed trough bassinet and the shepherds were a bit of a stretch but everybody loves a rags-to-riches, underdog-makes-good, log cabin to White House story. That story from Luke 2 about him impressing the Jewish rabbis at the Temple when he was twelve was good, too. Then it kinda gets awkward.

To be honest, it goes downhill after that. He isn't heard of again until he is about 30 years old. By then he is simply a tradesman and he quits that. He calls a bunch of fishermen, a tax collector, a terrorist (the Zealot), and a few relatives and in-laws of these characters and they go out to save the world. Good luck with that.

Turns out he didn't need luck. He was good. Jesus preached really well. He healed like only God can. He fed more people on less than McDonald's at lunch hour. He was smarter and quicker that the lawyers and preachers of his day. He could have been king. But he kept saying these backward, awkward, counter-cultural, this-ain't-your-granddaddy's-messiah kind of things. It was like he had no intentions of being king or even the messiah, at least not the way most folks defined messiah.

He tells a rich, young ruler in Luke 18 to sell all he has and follow him. Everything? Can't we negotiate that price? Maybe two more per cent?  It's hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Ouch. Jesus kept doing other backward things. He tells people that the first shall be last and the last first. Unless you get next year's top draft pick from being last this year that doesn't work very well. He teaches that if you want to gain your life you must lose it. He tells his disciples that the greatest in his Kingdom must be the least, like children. He tells everybody that if they truly want to live they have to die... to self, sin, Satan, the world...gosh what's left?

Last to be first? Lose to gain? Least is greatest? You gotta die to really live? Did Jesus really teach that? Does any one really believe it?

It's backward living. It goes against everything big time sports, business, banking, marketing, Hollywood, Washington, Las Vegas and lots of performance based churches tell the world is the way to make it. It's no wonder they crucified him.

By the way world, how are your methods working out?