Monday, May 29, 2006

The Return of How To Get Here

And you thought there were no new ways to get to Attention Span... how foolish of you! Just look at the new routes to Attention Span!

The Extended Attention Span Training System - My new 6 week course being offered one week a year for the next quadrennium. (Let's see how extended everyone's attention span is on this one.)

gilligan's island hybels - Not Gilligan, but maybe the Professor...
Posted by Picasa Posted by Picasa

bill hybels and aunt edna hell - Not Aunt Edna, but what about Dame Edna?
Posted by Picasa Posted by Picasa Hell is a whole 'nother topic.

are rutabegas good for you - What were those four basic food groups again? Grain... milk... sugar... brussel sprouts... Nope. Rutabegas will kill you. It's official.

does jimmy buffett still slobber - If he doesn't, it's gotta be hard swallowing a cheeseburger in paradise.

nude in Egypt - It's a small village just down the road from Cairo. Lots of tourists, but they never visit more than once.

the secret to being a good dunker - Use a big cup and not too much glaze on the donut.

legs april indianapolis flat tire blood - Sounds like a bad experience with a tow truck, doesn't it?


lyrics from songs i sang with pastor ed at the all star week - Well, I did some things during all star week I now regret. And what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas. But since we really knocked 'em dead during the big variety show, here's what we sang:
Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl
with yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there
she would merengue and do the cha-cha
and while she tried to be a star
Tony always tended bar
across the crowded floor, they worked from 8 til 4
they were young and they had each other
who could ask for more?
At the copa (CO!) Copacabana (Copacabana)
the hottest spot north of Havana (here)
at the copa (CO!) Copacabana
music and passion were always in fashion
At the copa....

Also, always in fashion, is the road to Attention Span coming from the Christian Carnival, which was posted this past week at Wittenburg Gate.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


It was a pretty warm day. A Saturday. Temperatures in the mid-80's. Perhaps why it seemed so different was that it was the first day of the year in the mid-80's. We had been spoiled (or overcome) by cooler weather all spring, and Saturday the heat broke loose.

The family had all had some projects they finished up outside. It was time to come in and get our inside things done. I was on the old workhorse computer in the basement, readying materials for church. My wife was seated at the "good" computer in the living room while the kids were relaxing in front of the television, trying to cool off after playing outside all morning.

Then around 4:00, it happened. The power went out. Mind you, this was hardly the first time we've lost our electricity in the house. But it's the first time I can remember losing the power in the middle of the day with no thunderstorms anywhere around the area.

What was remarkable was that we all seemed lost without the electricity. I scraped together pieces of what I had been printing for church and took them over to the office (where electricity was fully operational). When I returned home an hour later, the house, and everyone therein, was sleeping. One on the couch, two on the floor, the other in an upstairs bedroom.

"What a waste!" I thought. "It's a great day outside." It was a great day. Sure it was warm, but there was a steady cool breeze blowing. I decided not to wake anyone and went upstairs to read. "They'd surely never make it as Amish!" I snickered to myself.

As I laid on the bed, re-reading Philip Yancey's "The Jesus I Never Knew," the breeze blew through the window screen. As my eyes began to grow tired, I set the book aside for a few minutes and thought about just how comfortable I was and how unlikely it usually is for me to be comfortable during a power outage. Usually I'm watching for storms, checking the sump pump in the basement, lighting candles so that I can see. But on this Saturday, none of that was necessary. There was no storm, no water needing pumped and no darkness in the middle of the afternoon. "What a great time for the power to go out!" I concluded.

Around the neighborhood, others had differing opinions about the timing of this outage. Saturday was high school graduation and there were a handful of graduation parties lacking any way to heat food, or cool guests. As the hours passed with no resumption of power in sight, these neighbors didn't think it was such a great time for the power to go out. And putting myself in their shoes, I can't say I blame them for their anger. By the time the lights came on, almost six hours later, we needed lights, and the parties had already broken up.

Isn't it odd that what God thinks is perfect timing for our lives is often considered by us to be the worst possible time for anything to happen? "Lord, why did I have to crash the car today? Couldn't you have done something so the other driver would have seen me coming?"

The truth is, there is never a good time for disaster in our opinion. Or consequences of our own actions. And because we can't find a good time or reason for the bad things that happen, we blame God, all the time not realizing that God thinks the timing is just fine. You see, He can use all those bad times, even when all we see is disastrous timing.

Like me, lying on my bed with a cool breeze and a good book in hand thinking about this being a great time for a power outage, God's timing isn't always popular. Somehow in our minds we get the idea that we know better than God. That God should take our advice on timing things out.

Idiots, aren't we?

"Lord, help me remember that You are God, and not I. Even when I don't understand Your timing, remind me that You make all things work for my good -- in Your own time."

Saturday, May 27, 2006


I haven't really commented on the Da Vinci Code here at Attention Span. For one reason, I really haven't been around much to do any extraneous blogging. But secondly, there isn't much I could add to the 14 ka-jillion posts on DVC around the blogosphere. But it's amazing how subjects come together.

The "What is Christianity?" debate on the comments of my post, Fakin' It, tie in incredibly well with two posts at Al Mohler's blog written earlier this week. They each deal with DVC and Gnosticism. Understand that the Gnostics were branded as heretics by the early church and that they believed there was "secret knowledge" about God that we had to seek out which is key to our salvation.

The first post is called "Da Vinci Christianity" and deals with the use of the terms "Christian" and "Christianity".

The second deals with the same idea through DVC and also the Left Behind books. In The Danger of Gnosticism -- And it's Attraction, Mohler discusses the idea that the Church has the wrong idea about Christianity and that the truth is somewhere else.

I'll probably expound on these ideas next week, as time allows.

And while you're at Dr. Mohler's blog, scroll down. He also picks apart a Brian McLaren interview on the subject and offers facts in response to DVC claims.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Walking Metaphor

"A walking metaphor," I thought to myself.

I had noticed her as she drove into the gas station. She pulled up to the pumps across from me with her head slightly askew. As she stepped from her car I could see why her head was situated the way it was. She was holding her cell phone between her ear and her shoulder and was carrying on a conversation with someone. At least I think she was. I really don't remember her saying anything. She was a mildly attractive young woman in her early twenties, or as attractive as a person with a phone stuck to her head could be. A pleasant smile was on her face, but there was a distracted look in her eyes.

I went about my business of pumping a few hundred dollars worth of unleaded in the ol' pickup and headed inside to pay. When I got inside, I noticed that she had finished pumping gas and in the process of paying at the counter. She was hunched over her purse, digging for spare change in the crevices near the bottom. I still didn't hear her speak, but I did see that the cell phone was still trapped there on her shoulder as if she had some sort of superglue accident. Eventually she found the nickel she was seeking, gave it to the cashier, and turned toward the door -- her head still tilted to one side.

I watched her as she walked back to her car, got in, and drove away. The phone never left its spot, nestled near her cheek behind a layer of light brown hair.

A walking metaphor.

That young lady, who surely must have a hands-free device on her birthday list somewhere, seemed to be lost in her own little world on the other end of that phone connection. Whoever was there seemed to keep her attention. Yet she was in the midst of driving, pumping gas and paying a cashier with only a minimum acknowledgement that anything existed beyond that phone conversation.

In a way, that's a great picture of some Christian walks I've seen. The connection with Christ is at full strength, influencing everything in life. Faith is a lifeline, just as that phone call seemed to be for the lady at the gas station. And that is fantastic. Except...

I've worked in retail and have tried to communicate with someone who can't seem to be torn away from a cell phone call. Let me tell you, not much will make me feel more disrespected and worthless than for someone to treat me like I was some kind of vending machine instead of a living, breathing human being. The caller seems to be telling me that even though I'm trying to communicate something important, I'm not worth a pause in her conversation. I don't know how the cashier at the gas station felt, but I would have been offended by the phone girl's rude behavior.

I often ask myself if I treat other people as Jesus would. OK, sure, maybe it's the old WWJD question, but I think it's appropriate if it makes me consider my own behavior. In doing my job or running errands or whatever I'm doing, do I treat people like I would like to be treated?

Taking it the next step further, do I, as a Christian, ignore those outside of my faith? Am I, like the cell phone girl, too caught up in my own faith that I look right past those who need what I have?

People used to use the phrase, "Too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good". And while it's hard to envision a way that I could be too heavenly-minded, the walking metaphor of the girl on the cell phone brought it home. How many times have I acted superior to those people gathered on the street corner or huddled together outside a building smoking? How often has my own attitude gone from shaking my head at someone's poor decisions to utter disgust at that person?

"Lord, help me to see people as you see them. I don't want to be so lost in You that I don't try to get others in on our conversation."

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fakin' It

Back in my school days, I played the trombone. I wasn't a virtuoso or anything, but I was decent. The guy who sat next to me I'll call Roger. Now it could well be that Roger was a decent trombone player too, but I didn't see much evidence of it.

For you non-trombonists, the slide of the trombone has seven positions depending upon how far out it is slid... or slided... or slud. Whatever. Anyway, if you watch a group of trombonists playing the same melody, the slides moved in unison. It is almost like a dance. Or a one-handed macarena.

Roger usually faked playing the trombone. For years he sat beside me with one eye on the position of my slide. Think of a game of "mirror" trying to do what the other person does. Now think of it going on in every band situation for six years. I would place my slide in the third position and Roger would slide his slide somewhere near third position about a half second afterward. Then I would fully extend my slide and see Roger following suit shortly thereafter.

It really got annoying at times. I'll admit there were times I pretended to play and just moved my slide around to watch ol' Roger copy me. There were also times I was more "Christian" and simply urged Roger to stop watching me and to try his best to keep up with the music. Nothing ever worked. Eventually, Roger quit band, ending six years of fakin' it.

I was reminded of Roger last week at my son's music concert. One of the bands had a "Roger" in the trombone section. He wasn't just playing harmony. He was about a half second behind through all three songs. Just fakin' it. And I was reminded of the guy who tried to fake his way through six years of tromboning.

It's kind of obvious that there are people who fake Christianity too. Learn the expressions. Join the cool church. Carry a Bible. Talk about praying. But never actually selling out to Christ.

On Dan Brown's (of DaVinci Code fame) website, Brown answers the question, "Are you a Christian?"
Yes. Interestingly, if you ask three people what it means to be Christian, you will get three different answers. Some feel being baptized is sufficient. Others feel you must accept the Bible as absolute historical fact. Still others require a belief that all those who do not accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to hell. Faith is a continuum, and we each fall on that line where we may. By attempting to rigidly classify ethereal concepts like faith, we end up debating semantics to the point where we entirely miss the obvious--that is, that we are all trying to decipher life's big mysteries, and we're each following our own paths of enlightenment. I consider myself a student of many religions. The more I learn, the more questions I have. For me, the spiritual quest will be a life-long work in progress.
So let me get this straight, Dan... you're a Christian, but also a student of many religions?

I've heard that kind of talk before from people who are fakin' it. Most of us have met them. They take enough of Jesus to call themselves Christian, but dilute it with gallon after gallon of New Age or Islam or Kaballah or whatever the Spirituality of the Month is today.

But the thing is, most of these fakers have convinced themselves they're for real.

I really wish Roger would have just gone back and studied the trombone and practiced so he didn't have to try to mirror my actions. But more than that, I wish those who are faking a Christian walk and pretending to have a relationship with Jesus would go back to the Book and deal with who Jesus really is.

We hate giving up our own preconceived ideas... our notions of how God should be and how He should do things. But if we blend in enough Christian stuff, maybe no one will notice.

But to God, it's obvious picking out the fakers. It's like seeing the trombonist moving out of sequence. Those folks stick out to me. God notices the spiritual fakes even more easily. And He judges by one standard -- are you trusting Christ to save you or are you trying to trust yourself?

Fakin' it won't get it done.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Two Places at One Time

Yes, it's a new post! Finally. Taking on a new job has done strange things to my daily routine. I'm just not in front of the computer much right now. It probably has a little to do with warmer weather and a lawn which continually needs mowed. I've started a few posts, but I don't seem to get the time to finish them. It's a shame I can't blog and mow at the same time.

I actually sat down to watch some television last week. Anymore that's a rare occurrence and I probably shouldn't have made time for it, but that's water under the bridge now. My wife wanted to watch er. We used to watch that show faithfully, it's not much fun anymore. Ron, of Northern 'Burbs fame, suggested that the show had jumped the shark, but I think it's been steadily walking across the shark's back for a few years now.

Anyway, since I knew one of the er characters was going to die on that show, my morbid curiosity got the best of me. Well, it wasn't just that. It's just nice to sit on the couch with my wife for a while since we've only been communicating electronically during waking hours lately. It'll be nice when her job cuts back to part time again in a couple of weeks.

But I digress...

On that episode, amongst all the nonsense that has become a part of most prime time television, was one line that struck a familiar chord for me. The character who was killed was a doctor in Iraq. His wife had been given the news about his death and somewhere in the grieving process she offhandedly said something like, "I was probably watching Celebrity Poker on TV when he died." And I realized that I had pondered that same feeling before. Maybe it's natural for us to think about things like that. Like while something earth- shattering is happening somewhere else, I was doing something completely trivial. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I was eating a donut. Why should that matter? I don't think I could have prevented the plane from hitting by being more vigilant. Unless of course I would have had a couple of 44 caliber donuts pointed at the cockpit door. But that's just foolishness.

There is a feature I love on my Sirius satellite radio. Of the seventy or eighty music stations on the bird, you can only listen to one station at a time, but my receiver has a feature which allows me to store up to twenty songs in memory. Then when any of the music stations is getting ready to play that song but I'm listening to a different station, the radio will beep a warning and the display will tell me which of those songs in memory is going to be played. Then I just have to hit one button and the station is changed just in time to hear the song.

Let's say for some reason that one of my songs in memory is Copacabana by Barry Manilow. (The reason would have to be demonic possession, as I can't think of another possible reason to store that piece of music!) But if I'm listening to a Jimmy Buffet concert on the Jimmy Buffet station when Copacabana is played on the 70's station, I'll get a beeping warning in time to allow me to hit the magic button so that I can hear each golden note of the music and passion, which is always in fashion at the Copa. Granted, I'd miss that part of the Jimmy Buffet channel, but it's almost like being in two places at the same time.

A lot of times it's very tempting to try to live in two worlds at the same time. In a way we have to. We are called to be in the world, not of the world, as countless preachers have said. But we're supposed to stick out... to be different. It's a much easier road to be "one of the guys" at work -- making rude comments about co-workers or the boss, gossipping, telling and laughing at dirty jokes, using profanity and the like. But that's not what we're called to be.

As Christians, we're called to be possible targets for other people's humor. We are to be different. We're the ones who are actually supposed to love and care about the lady who wears too much make-up and the guy with the body odor problem. We're not supposed to be preaching, "You people are horrible!" to the assembly clustered around the water cooler, but we are to live by example. Instead, we often take the easy way out and do what we cannot do in real life -- try to live in both worlds.

The thing is, we really can't live in both worlds faithfully. It's like when I try to listen to two music channels at the same time. I cannot do it. The best I can do is to get snippets of each song, ending up with only a fraction of each. It's the same deal in the Christian walk. If we try to spend 9 to 5 in one world and 5 to 9 in the other, we're shortchanging Christ. He wants all of us, not just the parts when "the girls from work" are around. And we can't try to live as part of two worlds at one time.

If I had a dollar for each person I have met who tries to compartmentalize their Christian time and their secular time, I'd have enough cash that I wouldn't be getting up to go to work right now. But I've met enough. And many more.

"Lord, give me strength not to treat you as a part-time Savior and a part-time Lord."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Stop Thinking

How easy it to live without Jesus!

I've been watching and learning for most of my life, and I've discovered that it's really pretty simple to do. People do it every day. All you have to do is not think. Well not exactly stop thinking altogether, but do your best not to consider anything spiritual in nature. All that stuff that we don't really understand? Ignore it. It's a piece of cake!

I can easily wake up in the morning, eat my breakfast, do my work, have lunch and a conversation, finish the work day, come home and watch TV and go to bed. If I don't like what's on TV, I can go to a movie or read a book or mow the lawn or work in the garden or play with the kids or watch a ball game or work on the car or play cards or search the Internet for "Drunken Bobsled Spectacular" or any number of things. The world is full of activities that will take up my time -- often without me even realizing it.

Spending my day without acknowledging Jesus is habit-forming.

Living without Jesus is simple if I talk like I appreciate Him. Prayer? What's the point when I can just look spiritual enough to fool my friends. I can even spend an hour in church on Sunday or in some kind of home Bible study group and just go through the motions. I really don't have to do anything more than pay Jesus lip service in front of the people I want to express.

Living without Jesus is simple. Until...

When tragedy strikes, ignoring Him isn't so easy. I'm faced with the "WHY?" question, and I can't ask Jesus that question if I don't consider Him in a position to give you an answer.

So the solution becomes -- again -- filling up the emptiness with other things. Psychology, therapy, other people, anger, wild and outrageous behavior -- they all are poor substitutes for Jesus unless I... stop thinking again. For some odd reason, we must be reminded continually of God's presence to remember Him unless we have developed the habit of thinking.

The Christian walk is a habit. It's not mindless. In fact, it's just the opposite. To live without Christ is mindless. But when we let our Christian habits become drowned out by all that the world heaps upon us, every entertainment and diversion that can be imagined, that is how we live without Jesus. Instead we must stop ignoring the spiritual and stop simply giving it lip service. And beyond that, we must be a living and breathing example to others not to stop thinking.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Problem With "How To Get Here"

Back at it again. It's a searcher's paradise, and these are the roads they used to get here:

2006 email contact of rich pastors in north of usa - Oh, and could you filter that list down to just the ones who will donate a few thousand to my favorite "cause"?

how to turn a small church from half full to full of people - Make Oprah your pastor.

cute single guys under 15 - I'm hoping this was just a search by some lovesick teenage girl trying to find my 14 year old son. I think. On second thought, I really can't see much good coming out of this string at all.

how to make a weapon by a pen - Ink drawings? Well, I'm not exactly gifted in that area, but I can draw a pretty mean stick figure...

cross instrument of death - Just out of curiosity, are we talking about Cross Pens? If so, see above search string.

how does tanya tucker feel about homosexual people - I'm not sure. Just don't give Tanya a pen!

the antichrist behind the XX winter olympic games - It's good to see that Tim LaHaye is still releasing books...

bassett hound purpose - I'm guessing it has something to do with the effective dispersal of jowl slobber in the average house.

One last thing...

As I look through the search strings which land people at Attention Span, I'm often disappointed to see strings beginning with "sermons on..." I've seen "sermons on grace" and "sermons on sin" and "sermons on unconditional love". I'm guessing that these aren't from people who are looking to be preached to (or preached at) via the world wide web. I'd bet dollars to donuts (whatever that means) that these searches are from pastors, desperate for a decent sermon to deliver on Sunday morning.

Before I cast too many stones, I do understand that some weeks are just too draining to spend hours upon hours pouring over Scripture and commentaries and lexicons. It's mentally exhausting to find illustrations and applications every single week. I've been there, facing the same temptations. But let me say also that as a pastor, this is what we are called to do.

Living in a microwave world, we almost come to expect a source for easy answers, easy solutions. So why is it so tempting to take the easy way out? Why are pastors googling instead of praying? Pastor, any sermon you find online isn't as good as the sermon God wants you to preach. You'll find it in the Bible long before you find it on the Internet.

Let this be the scolding some pastors need. Or let it be the encouragement. Either way, preacher. Get off google and get back to the Book.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Prayer Complaints

Perhaps I'm a curmudgeon-in-training. Last week, I whined about people repeating God's name while praying. Today, how 'bout a new complaint?

It's not a new complaint... in fact I remember having the discussion back in graduate school. And this may not even ring true with many people. If you don't lead corporate prayer very often, you may never even notice. But it hit me again yesterday as I attended a National Day of Prayer service in the town where I work.

I've been to a few prayer services in my time. I've never been a big fan of simply praying along with long corporate prayers. You know what I mean. The long-winded guy prays aloud, and we're supposed to agree with everything he prays, and he goes on and on rambling over every possible topic including a few which make no sense to you and soon your own mind is rambling from what you have to do when the service is over to whatever it was that you ate that is giving you that horrid feeling in your gut. Sure it can happen in a 30 second prayer, but if someone tries a 15 minute corporate prayer it takes serious divine intervention to keep one's mind on track.

I've much preferred the "concert of prayer" approach, where the audience is actively praying while being occasionally prompted by a leader about certain areas to be praying for. That takes me out of the audience mindset and really gets me into the prayer. But still I find myself sitting (or standing) through some long corporate prayers, trying to keep my mind off my inner rumblings.

Yesterday was one of those corporate prayer services where we, the audience, tries to "pray along" with the leader's words. Actually there was a series of pray-ers to lead the assembled group. One was a redundancy guy, with the occurances of the word "Father" going well into triple digits within five minutes. But a couple of others brought back this old complaint: It seemed as though they were preaching while they prayed.

Now, I'm not one to criticize a preacher getting a chance to sermonize briefly, but is prayer the place for it? One of the prayer leaders was praying something about a church who had made a movie that will come out in the fall, and then finally asked God to bless it. I thought I was picking up some sort of radio commercial through the public address speakers for a moment! Another spent a lot of time obviously talking to us during the prayer. And I have to admit, that bothers me. To my way of thinking, the audience of a prayer is not those assembled around the speaker, but the Creator who hears from on high.

When I'm in a conversation with someone, it's considered rude or impolite if I suddenly turn and start speaking to someone else. Why is that not rude toward God?

As I mentioned earlier, we young pastors had this discussion in school. We were taught not to make announcements during the prayer. You know the type...

"And Lord, we ask that you would bless the Ladies Aid group tonight who will be meeting at 7 o'clock, Lord, and that those who attend would please bring a ball of yarn and a hot glue gun, Lord..."

Yes, I've heard almost that exact prayer.

But in school, somehow I was led back to John 11:41-42, when Jesus was praying just before raising Lazarus from the dead.

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

Was Jesus preaching while He prayed? It sure seems that way. Granted He said nothing about hot glue guns, but is there a secondary audience for corporate prayer? I think we'd have to say 'yes' if we took this seriously. Yet at the same time, Jesus' focus remained upon glorifying the Father, and maybe that's where our "announcement prayers" fail the test.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Closer Than We Think, Revisited

My wife called me from work today with news of a tragedy in our little town. Nothing has been confirmed, but the story around town is that a 16 year old student from our local school was found dead this morning. Suicide by hanging.

It's always striking to hear of a story like this. Of course I'm just assuming it's true, but even if it's not, my mind has been taken back a little more than a year when I wrote this piece:

I saw the picture and paused. It looked out of place. Page two of the local newspaper is not where you expect to see the picture of a pretty 18 year-old girl. Page two is for the obituaries. Sadly, the picture was not out of place.

I read through the words, trying to make sense of things. I see young folks like this in the obituaries once in a while. Usually it's from a tragic traffic accident or a long battle with disease. Last month a young woman was gunned down by her deranged father. But this obituary had no corresponding news item -- not even in this small town newspaper. So I continued to read. Family members were listed, including a couple of names I recognized. Funeral arrangements, memorials, the name of a local church she attended. . . it all seemed so wrong. What happened? I re-read from the beginning. Then I noticed that according to the obituary, she died "at her home." There was nothing about a long illness or any further information. Knowing funeral directors and obituary writers, I knew what this probably meant. Suicide.

I realized that I couldn't be sure, but it didn't stop my mind from wandering. What was this girl of eighteen living through which she thought could only be solved by ending her life? A boyfriend leaving? Pregnancy? Abuse? Shattered dreams? What could have been so horrific to make her think this was her only way out?

I will fully admit that I don't understand teenage girls. I didn't understand them when I was a teenage boy, and the fuller knowledge hasn't come just yet. I do realize that problems in the mind of a teenage girl are often magnified to an incredible degree by worrying about other people and their reactions. I know that priorities are different. I know that there is pain and angst, even among the happier teens. And I wonder what kind of private torture is going on in the hearts of people I think I know.

When Jesus spoke of "the least of these" in Matthew 25, he used the examples of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. These were the people who were in need and were so often turned away, like the robbed and beaten traveller who was ignored by even the "religious" until finally being rescued by the Good Samaritan. But when I hear the words "the least of these" two images flash in my mind.

One image comes from my time as a young adult working for college credit at a television station. This was an independent station at the time, with no network programming to fill air time in the less favorable time slots. Often in the late evening, the channel would show long form public service announcements and video from charitable organizations. It seemed that much of the video at that time focused upon the terrible famine in Africa, back in the days of the "We Are the World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas" charity records. And the video from these programs featured the same type of scene almost every time. The workers at the station had a simple name for these programs -- "Flies on Babies" because that's mostly what you noticed while watching. Over and over again, you saw small, malnourished babies with large eyes and many flies crawling around their lips, nose and ears. The viewer instinctively brushed his face, shooing these imagined insects. I am reminded of those fly-plagued infants when I think of "the least of these."

The other image comes from the time I have spent in neo-natal intensive care units (NICUs). Three of my four children have spent time in an NICU. One of them never made it home. Perhaps that's why this image seems so fresh in my mind; a small human form weighing less than two pounds, attached by wires to countless machines with blinking lights and beeping alarms. The chest labors to move up and down. The arms and legs are spread apart so that the caregivers can check the infant's bodily functions. The fingers are incredibly tiny. The entire baby looks so fragile. These miniature children also flash to my mind when I hear the phrase "the least of these."

But I flash back again to the picture of that 18 year-old girl who must have felt so lost that she saw no other answer in this world. It seems that her picture belongs among "the least of these" as well. Couldn't Jesus have easily included, "For I felt hopeless, and you gave me hope?" And if a teenage girl with at least some background in a church could feel so hopeless, then I pray that God would show the least of these to me before all hope is lost.

As Christians, we often drop the ball in caring for the hungry and thirsty, for the needy and the sick, and especially those in prison. However, even in principle, we know that the church must be doing what she can, corporately and individually to help these people. But there are also needs where we may not think to look. In "good" families. Behind the faces of smiling people. Maybe, just maybe, there are needs we can meet by responding in love to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps "the least of these" is closer than we may think.

May God show you "the least of these" who pass through your life, and my He grant you the strength and wisdom to do as He would do.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Still Large, but No Longer in Charge

I recently took a new job. I've cut my participation in the family business back to almost nothing and have taken a job locally. My old work involved a ton of driving, but the new job requires only short trips around town. But there are many other differences too. One difference really didn't hit me until after I'd been on the job for a week or so.

My full-time work career began back in 1983 when I got a job at a radio station in Muncie, Indiana. I was just the midday disc jockey, happy to be getting a (ridiculously small) paycheck. Suddenly about nine months later, other staff members left the company leaving me as the senior member of the air staff! I was given the title of Program Director and put in charge of the on-air product. Pretty heady stuff for a 22 year old.

After I left Muncie, I worked for a year in Battle Creek, Michigan at a top 40 radio station. A year later I moved back to Indiana to take a management position at a different station. Since that time, every job I have had has carried with it a certain amount of authority. In radio I was a manager. In the family business I made many of the decisions and signed the contracts. As a pastor I was given a certain amount of authority. In all of those jobs, I held a position of importance. Decisions were rarely made without running it past me first.

In my new job, it's not like that. I do what I'm supposed to do. Sure I can make suggestions, but this time it's me who has to run it by someone else. That's a little strange for me. There is much that goes on at my new company where I am neither concerned nor consulted. It's been twenty years since I have had a job like that. It sure is different.

I think we all have a little "control freak" inside us. It's that selfishness portion of our sinful nature. I was discussing that with a friend last night. He claims he's a bigger control freak than most people. I didn't argue. I figured only a control freak would argue about something like that, right?

When the little "control freak" within is confronted with the notion that the world doesn't revolve around "me" the freak freaks. We all like to think that we are so incredibly important that the movers and shakers should care about every facet of our lives. Decisions should be based on "what works for me."

Of course we eventually figure out that's not the case. But the shrieks of the inner freak still echo through our heads every time we are inconvenienced.

It's a humbling experience not to be in control. But after careful consideration, I think I like it. I'm ready to serve. I've been giving orders far too long.

I am reminded that I am not in charge of everything, since I have a Creator who already holds that position. I wish that God would run everything by me for approval before it happens, but He doesn't seem to have my email address or phone number. And it's just as well since I've seen how badly I can screw things up.

"Lord, help me always to remember that You are God and I am not. Give me the faith and the strength to trust You more."