The Power of an Unplanned Visit

So, I woke up late.  And Christy woke up late.  And Zach didn’t want to wake up at all.  Bless him, Josh was on the move.

Our mornings at this point call for getting the boys ready for school in time to take Christy to work, and then get back to put the boys in the taxi that takes them to school.  So, we get everyone to the car, but several minutes later than we would prefer, and as we back out of the driveway, we see the taxi pull up, about 10 minutes early,  in front of the house (instead of the side of the house, where we have a sidewalk to the street – this will be important momentarily).

As I swing the van around the front of the house, Christy opens the window and tells the driver, ‘We’re just taking me to work, and he’ll be back with the boys within 10 minutes, okay?” But even as she’s saying it, I can see the look of confusion and irritation clouding over taxi-driver’s face.  “You want to take the kids now?  You’re going to get to school too early” (and Christy’s going to get to work too late, I”m thinking).  Of course he does.  So, I swing the van in front of the taxi, and tell Josh to run in the house to get his and Zach’s backpacks.  I run up to the house with him, to unlock the door, and grab Zach’s pack from him to carry it to the car; as I hit the first step of grass (remember that sidewalk that the taxi didn’t pull up to?) WOW I’M FLYING/HORIZONTAL AND DOWN on my side in the snow and slush.  In the clothes I planned to wear to the office today.

Now I’m mad at the taxi driver.  I’m mad at unusually warm January weather melting this snow.  I’m mad.

Boys in the taxi, Christy back in the van, race her to work, almost 10 minutes late, then head back for home, trying to figure out what to wear today.

As I get out of the van in the driveway, one of our churchgoers pulls up and says, “Good morning! Have you got a few minutes?” Well no, I sure don’t, because I’m wet and irritated. “Sure, let’s go inside.”

And we proceed to have a great 45 minutes of getting to know each other better, some useful insights on a task I’m going to do later this week, and encouragement about what I do as a preacher.  By 9:00, the entire kerfuffle – yes, I said it: kerfuffle – that was 7:55-8:15 is gone.

Community is a blessing.  And God, the Author of Community, is good.

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday, at age 62.  He was a writer of considerable skill, and had become one of the public faces of New Atheism.  I just read a comment on his life which quoted a speech he gave in October at the annual Atheist Alliance of America convention in Houston.  The point was that Hitchens clung fiercely to his denial of God right to the end:

“We have the same job we always had: to say that there are no final solutions; there is no absolute truth; there is no supreme leader; there is no totalitarian solution that says if you would just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you would simply abandon your critical faculties, the world of idiotic bliss can be yours.”

Other than the assertions that there is no absolute truth and there is no supreme being – which someone as smart as Christopher Hitchens had to know he couldn’t prove – I would say the job of the Christian overlaps very much with what Hitchens saw as the job of the atheist.  May we never give up on inviting people into the Kingdom, a place where there is no totalitarian reign, where freedom of inquiry will be rewarded with joyous understanding, where the active embrace of our critical faculties serves the end of knowing God, caring for the world God has given us, and cultivating the beauty within it.  I do see that as bliss, and if it is idiotic, then let me be a holy fool.

 

Looking Beyond the Planet of the Apes

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was released for home video this week.   This isn’t a review of the film, but I was reminded of a statement from one review I read which resonated with me.  The reviewer was talking about the extraordinary quality of the visual effects for the film, and said that this film was the first he had seen in which the CGI became invisible – he wasn’t watching cartoon apes, or actors in ape suits; his eyes told him that he was seeing apes.  I have to agree that I thought the visuals were extraordinary, and didn’t make me think of the trickery, but only served the story.

As CGI has gotten better in recent years, and as it continues to get better, it allows storytellers to unhinge themselves from reality in the service of telling the story.  Impossible characters like the apes in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” become possible.  A city can be folded on top of itself in “Inception”.  This has to be thrilling for the creative people who make films, and it opens up new vistas for those of us who watch them.  Now, if we can imagine it, we can see it in photorealistic images.

For many of us, entertainment is an escape from reality, and so the more thrilling and absorbing it is, the better.  We have a virtual world of entertainment available to us now, and it is enticing to sink deeper and deeper into it when our lives (and the world around us) are unappealing.

But as I thought about the CGI marvels of “…Planet of the Apes”, it made me consider howI believe Christians should function in the world.  I believe that we, too, are capable of presenting something more compelling, more thrilling and beautiful than the everyday that so many people are eager to escape.  If we are actually living the reality of the Kingdom, we should be able to show people a better life, one that in its own way is even more beautiful and extraordinary than anything we can dream up.  It’s not flashy, but it’s fully three dimensional.  Can you imagine it?

Revival

I’m heading home after two days of participating in “A Conversation on Revival”. The event was intended to bring together a variety of church leaders to think about what revival is and what it has to do with the present church in America.
You might have started wondering as soon as you saw the word Revival. People (even the people at this event) define the word in very different ways. Revival as “special annual service” or ” summer nights in a tent with a sawdust floor” doesn’t grab me very much. However, revival as a season when the Lord gives his people a special awareness of the presence and power of Christ (which J.I. Packer called awakening the “slack and sleepy” church) is far more exciting to me, and this was largely the focus of the event.
What causes such a season to occur? How can we prepare for it? What can we expect to come from such a season? These were some of the questions on our minds.
There are two things that particularly stand out in my mind. First, a season of revival is a time when the supremacy of Jesus Christ becomes the focus of the people. Many of us would like to believe that Christ is at the heart of our life and ministry already, but the reality is it just isn’t so. The church is so often self-centered,  and is deluding itself into thinking it is Christ-centered. In revival, the church becomes Christ- consumed.
Second, we must pray more. If we actually want any of what we say we want as the church, we must seek the Lord much more intensely. And, the truth is that when we do we will see that what we wanted even then in our intensity of prayer was far less than what Christ is delighted to bring.

More Thoughts on Family and Church

It is hard to blog on vacation, as the days tend to run until they crash, and there is little time for solitude.  I had half of an idea typed out, then a family crisis (threat level: powder blue)* happened, and when I returned to it, it was gone. However, I’ve finished the book Think Orange, and it certainly continued to push my thinking about how church and family intersect.

*My own Family Crisis Threat Level scale features the following colors, in order of ascending threat: Pink, Powder Blue, Violet, Black. There is little significance to any of this.

The key that catches my attention as I think about the ideas the author (Reggie Joiner) proposes is this: I have pastored for almost 15 years, and I have never thought about children’s and youth ministry in terms of equipping parents to do what they have been charged to do. And now that the idea has been laid before me, it feels as if there can be no going back. This is going to have to mean change.

For members of St. Paul Church who may be wondering, “Oh no,what does this mean?” – well, I don’t know. How much change it will mean depends on how much others will be willing to follow this trail. But I won’t be able to do the things I do in the same way. The whole thesis feels like one of those things that should have been obvious but wasn’t.

Away we go!