Monday, March 31, 2014

Know Your Audience

Recently, local public radio stations were promoting their annual fundraising efforts and asking for pledges to keep the station on the air. I had to chuckle when I heard one of them proudly say, “We are in the homestretch of this campaign.  We know our listeners. They are passionate, intelligent, and inquisitive.”  At first blush I thought it was a rather pompous and arrogant statement. Yet we know a key to successful fund raising is to know your audience.  

All of this made me think, what about those who constitute a Christian audience on any given day?  How would they be described?  I am sure many are passionate, intelligent and inquisitive. But is that a complete description of the Gospel’s listening audience? I don’t think so, at least not according to the Bible.

The Bible describes those sitting in the pew (and standing in the pulpit) as sinners, in need of a Savior. We’re like lost sheep that have gone astray. Even with all of our passion and intelligence and inquisitive minds, we can’t save ourselves. Our human cleverness comes up empty at the foot of the cross.

This kind of honest look in the mirror is often avoided, even in the church. We don’t like to be told we fall short nor do we easily accept that we cannot save ourselves by our human effort. Paul told the church at Ephesus “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” I guess that is why the cross will always seem foolish to some audiences while to us it is amazing good news!   (I Corinthians 1:18)

We are headed down our own homestretch of another Lenten season, and if we are paying attention and listening, we know what lies ahead:  the cross, sign of the power of God’s love to save us. We are the audience hearing the good news of the Gospel. How can we be described? Paul wrote about believers as “us who are being saved." We may be passionate, intelligent, and inquisitive, but if the world knows us as people “being saved” then that description is the best one of all.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What About the Lilies?

After seeing me coughing and sneezing and feeling miserable, Corrine was worried and insisted I see my doctor to find out if I had a cold or allergies.  It was allergies.  

Many of us suffer with allergies during this most beautiful time of the year when dormant flowers and tree blossoms literally spring alive and decorate the landscape.  I don’t know about you, but even though those Bradford Pear trees are spectacular they make me reach for my nasal spray.

Since Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, do you think he suffered with allergies?  He seemed to love nature and often drew upon it to make a point.   One of his most famous is, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow….” (Matthew 6:28).  

I am not sure how many of us “consider the lilies” and practice the punch line that comes in verse 34, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.” 

When you stop to think about it, there is a lot to worry about and everyone who is alive has some worry.   As for me, I am the world’s biggest worrier.   I am not proud of it, but I worry about everything, even worrying that I worry so much!  I need to consider the lilies!

I don’t know what you might be worried about today, but Jesus does offer this sound guidance.  Take each day as it comes.   Yesterday is past and gone, and who knows what tomorrow may bring. 
The key to all of this is found in verse 33, “But strive FIRST for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  

So today, just for today, rest in the assurance that God cares about you and all your worries.  Today is the day you have. You can choose to worry yourself sick or use the day to rejoice and be glad in it as you strive first for the kingdom of God.

As I consider the lilies of the field, the more I see the secret is to stop focusing on my worries and focus more on God’s amazing love and care.   What about you, do you need to consider the lilies?   If so, let’s do it together.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Better Than March Madness

By now you probably know which basketball teams were invited to the NCAA big dance.   I am not exactly sure how you fill out your tournament brackets, but in our house we toss out all records and go with team colors, mascots, and catchy names! 

What do you think James Naismith would think of today’s game? When he invented the game of basketball, they actually used a basket.  It took a few games before they realized they could cut out the bottom of the basket, thus saving them, and future players, the job of using a ladder to get the ball out each time a basket was scored. The game has grown and evolved since then from only thirteen rules to over one hundred today.

Yet, one unwritten rule has always been the rule of good sportsmanship.  Do you ever wonder if we have lost our way with today’s madness of win at all costs?   When it comes to big time college sports, do you ever think the phrase “student athlete” is an oxymoron?  Even so, we still see teams shake hands at the end of the game. It is nice to know that remnant of sportsmanship is still alive.

If you want to see the epitome of sportsmanship, watch the YouTube video of the title game between Desert Chapel High School and Trinity Classical Academy.   With forty seconds left in the game, the Trinity Classical Academy coach, who was ahead by twenty five points, sent in Beau Howell. Beau has autism, but is source of inspiration to the team and all their fans. He had never made a basket in a real game in his entire life.  This was his moment.   He took two shots and missed them both!

Now here is the best part. A timeout was called and when Beau went back into the game with twenty seconds left to play, a player from the opposing team gave him the ball and directed him to the hoop.  Beau took a shot and missed again, but the opposing player got the rebound, gave it back to Beau, and moved him closer to the basket. This time, Beau sank the shot to record his first ever official basket.

The fans, players, and coaches erupted with applause and smiles and a few tears.  When the opposing player, whose team had just lost the championship game, was asked why he did it, he simply said, “Why not let him score in the biggest game of his life?”

I wonder where the young man who gave Beau the ball learned the grace that makes him so admirable to us.  Can we do the same with our young people?  God’s holy word does stand as a guide to us.  The prophet Micah said that we are required to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God.  Justice, kindness, humility, on or off the court those traits sound like the best of sportsmanship and life.  Can we teach them to our youth by our words and our lives?  The task certainly seems worthy of our best effort.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What Do You See?

Recently I came across the story of young boy from New Zealand who has a bucket list.  Ever since the
movie “Bucket List” hit the silver screen in 2007, it seems that everyone has some kind of bucket list they want to work through before they enter the Pearly Gates. What caught my attention was that this twelve-year-old boy was not dying, but was going blind.

His family is now embarking on an international sightseeing tour. The boy’s mother said, “This year we’re going to try and fill his world with as many beautiful images as we can.” They call it building a visual memory bank.

Their plans made me pause for a moment and ask myself what is in my visual memory bank. There are many private and personal images that are holy and sacred, like standing in the delivery room beside Corrine as each of our two children were born- a breath taking experience. I can also see my father lying in his hospital bed and me bending down to kiss him for the last time. I can see Corrine and I standing in awe at Acadia National Forest in Maine, where the ocean kisses the mountain. I remember that a tear came to my eye when I first saw Michelangelo’s statue of David in Florence, Italy.

It is not every day that you get to see a child born, watch a loved one die, stand on a mountain, or travel to Italy; and that’s just the point. There are amazing and spectacular sights all around me all the time, if I only take the moment and open my eyes to see them. I need to notice simple and beautiful sights, like the smile on a friend’s face or the twinkle in someone’s eye. I need to take time to notice daffodils, cherry blossoms, and camellias as they start donning their new spring clothes.

There is so much for me to see. Yet, I sometimes feel like I am blind to the beauty that is all around me.  I wonder, does that ever happen to you? Are you taking notice of the wonderful images that fill your lives? Every day we have the delight of waking up to new beautiful sight. Remember that hymn, “Morning Has Broken”? It ends with the words, “Praise with elation, Praise every morning, God’s re-creation, of the new day.” Let’s keep our visual memory banks fresh and full with the wonders of each new day.