Monday, June 26, 2006


I stood this afternoon watching a family's possessions go up in flames. I don't know how the fire started, but by the time I arrived at the inferno, the blaze was out of control.

It's a helpless feeling, watching a fire burn. Even the firefighters weren't fast enough to be able to save much of the house. On the back porch, a metal swing set slowly melted into a pile of charred, twisted metal. A child's plastic slide turned into a jumble of melted plastic in primary colors. The destruction was incredible, and I found myself and many other onlookers had little more to say than, "Wow."

I spent a little time with the people who lived in that house. The parents had left two teenage boys in the house while they ran an errand a few blocks away. The boys smelled smoke and went to investigate only to find that a wall in the rear of the home was engulfed in flames. They got out unharmed, but were afraid that their father would be mad at them... as if they had done something wrong. Mostly, I think, they felt bad that something like that could start without their notice.

The family had no insurance. They were renting the house, but everything inside was theirs including an envelope of cash by the back door which was to be applied for rent and utilities. A newer car was parked in the driveway beside the garage. It caught fire and is a total loss. The father was in the process of switching transmissions and had let the insurance expire two days ago. Gone are the computer, the camera, and the "stuff", but also gone are family pictures and presents made by the boys "for Daddy" from years gone by. Like the father told me, "I never would have thought it could be gone so quickly."

The pastor in me was immediately reminded of the biblical teachings about the temporary nature of earthly possessions. But this was no time for preaching. Besides, the parents seemed to understand that lesson anyway.

Still what struck me as I watched the flames dance along the roof of the home was the word picture Jesus used to describe hell -- the flame that never goes out. At times it appeared that the firefighters had extinguished all the flames, then suddenly I would see a different patch of fire breaking out. It never seemed to be ready to go out. My studies have shown me that Jesus was using Gehenna, or basically the city dump as an illustration of what hell is like. In Gehenna, the suffering never ceases. The flames never go out.

Standing in the yard behind that burning home, I could feel the intense heat coming from the flames. It was a hot day anyway. Muggy. Sticky. Firefighters had to take breaks from the flames to cool off for a bit. I can not imagine suffering that doesn't end. Like fighting a fire that never goes out and having no moment of cool respite from the heat, the suffering of everlasting life without God's presence is beyond me.

One other thing I noticed as I watched the dancing tongues of fire... the blaze had an effect on much more than one house. All the neighbors were out watching the residence burn. Seeing something like that will remind them of the need for smoke detectors and care in handling fire hazards.

Smoke filled the air in that residential neighborhood contaminating the houses across the street. Those people will be airing out their homes for a couple of weeks, at least. Some items will always smell like smoke. When I made it back into the office, I smelled like smoke and I was only on the scene for 90 minutes.

Next door to the burning house was another home. That home was damaged on the side nearest the fire. The vinyl siding was melted and even the insulation beneath was exposed. Then on the other side of the house which was on fire was another house -- this one untouched by the heat and flames. Sometimes we can be affected by the disasters around us to the point where we become part of the damage. Other times we are left untouched.

Tonight, the family is in the hands of the Red Cross. Immediate needs are being met. Certainly there are many who will step up in the next couple of months to help get these people back on their feet. After all, it's easy to see the need when a family has lost everything. But when a person has no relationship with his Creator, too many people refuse to see a need and too many who are lost refuse to accept it.

So many lessons in one fire.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

How To Get Here - 6/21/06

And you thought I'd forgotten... Ladies and Gentlemen, the long-anticipated return of How To Get Here -- the feature which asks the non-musical question, "So, how do so many people end up at Attention Span?" Just look at the new inroads to Attention Span!

emails of the rich pastors in the usa - I'm guessing that this searcher goes by the name of Mubaso and claims to be in the Ivory Coast and will give up a cut of his multi-million dollar fortune if these rich pastors will send over a couple of million in seed money.

indycar hygiene product - I'm not sure what this searcher was thinking, but I can tell you it's not wise to brush your teeth with oil-dry. However there's nothing like driving 220 m.p.h. to get rid of excess cologne smell.

history of asparagas - Would someone PLEASE get this searcher a real hobby?

cross bread bassett hound - OK, a cross on Good Friday, the bread and the wine... that much I understand. But please explain again how a bassett hound fits into the gospels. After feeding the 5000, weren't there 12 bassetts full left over?

a name was laura, she was a showgirl, copacabana - Oh great! Now I'm getting hits from Barry Manilow fans who don't know IT'S LOLA!!! I'm not sure if that makes me better off or worse because I recognized the mistake...

duct tape wallet with hosanna - Kinda like Certs with retcyn, right?

things that can be used as a weapon - Apparently McGyver is doing his homework in the blogosphere.

false preachers have big churches and dress up flashy with diamonds - This hit didn't come from google. It was from

And of course, there is always the road from Christian Carnival #127, hosted by The Bible Archive. And if you're lost with the whole "robots made from five lions" theme, join the club. Some days I feel more out of touch than others.

And for some more great Summer reading, there is always Christian Carnival #126 at Nerd Family, Christian Carnival #125 at Random Acts of Verbiage, and Christian Carnival #124 at Parableman.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A fig

There are some days when I feel like the fig tree that Jesus cursed in Mark 11.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

We labor as a church, often not very hard, and seemingly spend an eternity in "not the season for figs." And it gets discouraging. In a small church, it's easy to see the people who take their faith seriously and those who have other reasons for filling a pew on Sunday morning. I know there are people who are living as witnesses for Christ and some who are unafraid to speak out about "the hope they have" but it has been so long since fig season.

About three years ago, a woman showed up one Sunday. She had visited our church occasionally while growing up some twenty years earlier. She wanted to give her life to Christ, and I prayed with her, talked with her and assigned her a mature member to work with over the next two weeks. Two weeks later she had disappeared off the face of the earth, skipping meetings and finally moving from her apartment, leaving no forwarding address. The fig was probably made of wax.

It's been a long fruitless period. Members are maturing in their faith. We've reached out to a bunch of people in the name of Christ. But no fruit.

Yesterday my wife noticed a man walking around the outside of our church building just before donut time. "Get out there and see who it is, Pastor," she scolded me. She either thought this was a case someone so spiritually starved they couldn't make it to the doors or that someone was hiding outside, ready to bolt through the doors at offering time and escape with the plates.

When I found the man outside, he was sitting on a bench, looking at a Bible. It was beginning to rain, so I asked him to come in. He said the rain wasn't so bad -- that he was being washed anyway. But he came in and sat down to talk with me.

In the five or six years since his father had passed away, this man had experienced all sorts of pain... much of it his own fault. But over the past few months, he has been on the road back to God. Much of that progress has been accomplished with the help of one of our members. On Friday he accepted Christ. On Sunday he came out to join his friend at church. It was a fitting day to come back to church; Father's Day. It was losing his earthly father that had sent him spiraling into depression. It was finding his heavenly Father which has given him hope.

Finally, we have seen a fig.

There are so many more we've been watering and nurturing. Here's to hoping for an entire bushel in the near future!

It's so hard to be patient when you know how much is riding on each decision.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Old Hippie

He turned thirty-five last Sunday
In his hair he found some gray
But he still ain't changed his lifestyle
He likes it better the old way
So he grows a little garden in the back yard by the fence
He's consuming what he's
growing nowadays in self defense
He get's out there in the twilight zone
sometimes when it just don't make no sense

He gets off on country music
cause disco left him cold
He's got young friends into new wave
but he's just too d**n old
And he dreams at night of Woodstock
and the day John Lennon died
how the music made him happy
and the silence made him cry
Yea he thinks of John sometimes
and he has to wonder why

== Chorus ==

He's an old hippie
and he don't know what to do
should hang on to the old
should he grab on to the new
he's an old hippie
his new life is just a bust
he ain't trying to change nobody
he just trying real hard to adjust
That song came to mind today after spending an hour of conversation with someone I'd never met before. It's really not fair to call him an old hippie, but that's what he reminded me of, especially when I got my first look at him. Receding salt and pepper hair pulled back into a ponytail. Goatee. Tough, leathery skin. And a look in his eyes that seemed to convey many years of going against the grain of society. But he wasn't a leftover from a time of naive protest. He wasn't an idealist, trying to change the world. He wasn't a man who "tuned out" almost forty years ago. He was one of the most interesting people I've ever met.

I'll call him Mack, although the name doesn't seem to fit him. A more thoughtful moniker would be more apropos. But to keep things simple and confidential, Mack it shall be.

Talking with Mack would have made me take up blogging, even if I wasn't already doing it. He has a very reflective manner about him. Carrying on an intelligent conversation with him brings one to the point of self-reflection. My assignment was to interview Mack, but I took more away from the conversation than I ever imagined I would have.

Mack is the product of an abusive home. Things weren't good when his dad was home, so he started spending a lot of time in the woods beyond his backyard while growing up. He felt a real connection with God's creation, although I'm not sure Mack ever understood the "God" part of nature. The woods was his refuge and his comfort zone. He said that Show and Tell was always his best subject at school because he would bring in all of the cool things he'd find in the woods.

After struggling to pay for two years of college, Mack was offered a full-ride scholarship -- in drama. His mom had pushed him into the arts every chance she had, and Mack was pretty good at it. It wasn't his first love. Nature and the Great Outdoors still held that rank. But being offered a free education, Mack took it. After graduation he was moderately successful as a professional actor -- even doing some TV and movie work. But something wasn't right.

Somehow Mack found his way back to nature. He taught himself how to start a fire with sticks of wood and how to dress hides. He told me he's still trying to get back all the knowledge he had as a 4th grader. But he's a wealth of knowledge, and he's trying to pass it on to a world who doesn't seem to be interested in learning it.

He's turned to teaching about nature in a historical setting. Schools will bring him in to teach how Native Americans used to do things. But as Mack says, "It's not just Native Americans, it's how all of our ancestors used to do things." The old ways mean something to Mack. But in a world of Blackberries, pet spas and gated communities, nobody wants to listen.

I found Mack to be a very private person -- which made interviewing him rather tricky. He doesn't brag about having worked in the entertainment industry. People have known him for years without the slightest inkling of a show business background. He is also the direct opposite of materialistic. He admitted that he's a failure as a businessman, but that it really doesn't matter to him. He's not in it for the money.

Maybe it's that lack of greed in Mack that makes him stand out from the crowd. Perhaps it's the sad intensity that comes across as he recounts the road he's travelled. Whatever it is, Mack seems very genuine.

He's not a religious man, he told me. He had it and lost it, returned to it, then lost it again. But he calls himself "very spiritual" and I believe that. As a Christian, I saw in him what I would like to see in other Christians and even in myself -- only with a clearer understanding of the Divine. But it wasn't my job to hand him a Chick Tract or even engage in apologetic debate. It was my turn to listen and to learn from Mack's experience and wonder how he missed God in the process.

Mack is a little paranoid. He's into preparedness. You know, the "What do you do if..." kinda stuff. And I'd sure love to have him around if my county was nuked and I was trying to figure out how to build a shelter and cook whatever was lying around. But all the preparedness brings him back to his "home" -- the outdoors. Nature.

For three weeks in the summertime, Mack has the time of his life. He takes small groups of kids with troubled backgrounds and teaches them about what he loves. While no one else around will listen, these kids connect with him. Mack looks into the eyes of an eleven year-old boy with a horrible home life, and the two connect in a way nobody else can even understand. Without even giving details, the two understand. Mack says he sees hope in kids' eyes. He shows youth that there is more to this life than the trouble that kid has at home. I saw the end of one of those sessions today. He really reaches kids.

The preacher in me sees evangelism methods in the way Mack reaches the lost. Mack sees it as reaching the ones whom society has given up on and who may well have given up on themselves. Mack gives them earthly hope, not eternal hope. But somehow the hope he gives is strangely similar to the realization that we are loved by God.

Mack said that he is into what is real, not what is unreal. To him, that means that the falseness of materialism and greed and fame and glamour isn't worth the time we devote to it. What Mack calls real is nature. The stuff that has been there for years and years and will be around for years and years after we've gone. Although he's not coming from a Christian perspective, the Church -- and by that I mean all Christians -- should be a little closer to Mack's point of view. Is a worship service only to be held in a building with padded seats and air-conditioning? As I sat on a bench beneath some shady trees on a summer day, speaking with a man with little regard for Christianity... I could sense God's presence. I could picture Jesus laughing with drunks and hookers. I could hear Him telling the Twelve, "How difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom." I could imagine a choir of Jewish children singing,
"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"

I sometimes feel that I spend a lot of time teaching people who do not care to learn and talking to people who do not care to listen. Mack feels that way too. Kindred spirits, we are. He, a old hippie-looking naturalist in the midst of an unnatural culture. I, a struggling God-pleaser in the midst of self-pleasing culture.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Thought Provoking

Over the past few weeks, my time to read other blogs has dried up to near nothing. For that I apologize. I am poorer for not being able to read all from those on my blogroll and those who I'll be adding to my blogroll in the next couple of weeks.

But in my short periods of "blog-readin' time" I stumbled across two posts which merit your attention. They aren't really long posts and they don't use too many big words, so don't start with your excuses!

The first is a modern-day parable of sorts from Catez at Allthings2all. It's the story of a pre-Christian woman and her experiences with a Christian and a non-Christian. It's called, The Merciful Stripper. Read it yourself. I don't want to spoil it for you.

The other post is from Steve at the recently-renamed Random Pokes (formerly "whatever").
Steve tosses around the idea that we guard our privacy and value our own property so much that we end up spending more money on "meeting places" and less time on true hospitality. It's all in the post, Can't See the Neighbors for the Trees. And when you turn the idea over and over in your head a few times like I have, you start to see the connection between the Christian's actions in Catez's parable and the behavior that Steve points out.

See if you don't agree.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


It was the first one of the season. Granted, it's not a part of the season that I especially look forward to, but I have simply grown to accept it.

As I was walking from the van to our kitchen door Sunday night, I saw it. It flew at me with a singular purpose. Like a piranha attacking a chunk of meat dropped in the water or parched desert hiker charging for an oasis, it came at me. And landed on my right forearm. I quickly smacked it with my left hand and flicked the carcass away with my forefinger. The season's first mosquito.

I hate mosquitos. Many a night I've wondered aloud to God why he came up with such a creature and asked quietly what they could have been like before the earth was cursed by sin. Bloodsuckers. That's all they are. Well, toss in "disease-spreaders" and that pretty much completes the resume. But I've never had much luck second-guessing the Almighty on affairs like this, so generally I file such thoughts away under "Questions For God's Spare Time" and forget about it.

But it's been awhile since I've seen anything come at me in such a ravenous fashion. Once in a while, after a long day away, my 4 year-old daughter will come running up to give me a hug, knocking us both over in the process. But there isn't the "hungriness" that this tiny insect had in the squeeze of a small child. On the other hand, there is no love shown in the charge of a blood-starved mosquito.

Somewhere in between, or perhaps more as a combination of both, is where I want my spiritual life to be. I want to feel so deprived of spiritual nourishment that I all but attack my Bible when study time comes. By the same token I want to come rushing up to my Heavenly Father, aching with so much love, that I cannot wait to feel His loving arms around me.

It's interesting that if I stay away from Him for any length of time, the spiritual malnutrition doesn't intensify my loving feelings -- it only urges me to stay far away and fend for myself. The taste of freedom brings up a desire for more freedom. I can easily find myself wandering farther away until something or Someone shakes me back to reality. I cannot manufacture the moment of wrapping my arms around my Creator or of a renewed feast upon His holy Word. It must come naturally... like a mosquito coming for food. Or like a child charging into the arms of a loving Father.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Content in Our Tents

I'm not a morning person. Never have been. It's not that I don't like mornings, it's just that I wish they didn't come so early in the day!

So when I had to roll out of bed on a Saturday for a 7:00 a.m. meeting, it was tough rolling. The inside of the sheets felt much cozier than the outside of the blankets. Add to that the thought of sitting through a (snore) business meeting, and my body wanted no part of the outside world. I was perfectly content to lay there with my wife waiting for her alarm to go off in another hour and a half. But being at the meeting was part of my job, my responsibility. So with heavy heart and even heavier eyelids, I managed to drag myself out of bed and downstairs to get dressed.

I've been studying David over the past couple of months. Great guy, that David. Well, most of the time. Still there are so many inspiring examples we can glean from the life of the shepherd boy-turned-king. The one passage that seems to get everyone's attention is his battle with Goliath. Not many biblical references have been turned into sports cliches, but the old David vs. Goliath metaphor is not only used, but has racked up too many miles.

In all the verses about armor and slings and giant heads, one detail hides from us. He hides from us in his tent. You see, for 40 days Goliath, the Philistine champion challenged the Israelites to send out their champion for a one-on-one battle. Who was the Israelite champion? We're not told of any champion. The only person we are told about is the king who stands head and shoulders above the rest of the men. Saul. It was Saul's fight. And where was Saul when Goliath was out trash-talking every morning and every evening? You got it. Hiding in his tent. Not wanting to go into battle.

I've read 1 Samuel 17 about a ka-jillion times, but never was I as stuck by the visual image of a cowering King Saul as I was this time through. As the Philistine champion's voice rang throughout the valley, Saul was walking around with his fingers in his ears, afraid to come out of his tent. He knew something had to be done, but if he stayed in his tent maybe, just maybe, Goliath would get tired of the game and go away. The tent became Saul's refuge and friend. Venturing out would mean that he might have to do something. Had David not bailed Saul out, there's no telling how long Saul would have remained content in his tent.

But how can I come down hard on Saul? What idiot would want to go out and be destroyed by a 9-foot, 9-inch monster? Oh, sure, there's David... but who else?

Of course David saw the battle as something completely different than Saul was seeing. David saw a victory with the power of the Almighty. Saul saw a crushing defeat with an army of Israelites.

There are many times when I look and see no chance to overcome a challenge. I can see instant defeat. I can imagine no earthly hope. And so I try to elude the battle entirely. I hide in my tent until I realize that the battle is exactly what I have been called to fight.

I see many churches as well, content in their tent, er... sanctuaries, avoiding all challenges that Christ has put before them.
Evangelism? "EEK!"
Putting God before ourselves? "DOUBLE EEK!"
Abandoning traditions which don't honor God? "Let's put our fingers in our ears and sing, 'Give me that old time religion, it's good enough for me'!"

How many Christians and how many churches are sitting today, content in their tents, hoping that the battle to which they have been called will simply go away?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ladies Man

It has been brought to my attention that I'm something of a ladies man. Well, perhaps I should rephrase that. Let's just say that I will boldly go where other men don't usually go.

Carol from She Lives mentioned that I'm the only male who joins in the conversation at her blog. I suppose that's a badge of honor. Right? But then I often find myself more interested in the conversation among groups of females than the huddles of men. It seems like the ladies talk about people and real life more often than the men do.

Don't get me wrong. I'll stand and discuss sports with the guys all afternoon long, especially during football season and IndyCar season. Even the handle "rev-ed" is a play on the word "revved" -- a racing reference I assumed when I first gained Internet access. A big chunk of my on-line time is spent talking sports with men. So it's not that I am not interested in the things guys talk about, but I'm not put off by the gals' talk.

Each group has it's conversations that I don't really care much about. Although I love racing, I really get bored listening to the story of how ol' Pete dropped a new V6 into the old Road Runner after he pulled the tranny to fix a couple of blown seals. By the same token, any discussion of window treatments, panty hose, hair coloring or laundry problems will usually inspire more glaze over my eyes than you'll find at the local Krispee-Kreme.

Still I'll usually hear more about personal struggles and family concerns from women than from men. That's natural, I suppose, for the male who is taught to be strong and "keep that stuff to yourself". And maybe it's just the pastor's heart within me that draws me to "real life" talk. I don't mean personal gossip or anything like that, but concerns for a person's well-being and spiritual questions and things which really make someone happy. That inspires me, challenges me, and helps me to be a better pastor.

Of course as a pastor, I must have a mighty broad (no offense, ladies) field of knowledge. You see, I get to hear about everyone's medical issues in all their gory detail. In my neck of the woods, I have to know a bit about farming and animals and gardens and rainfall totals and weather patterns and the guy who used to live down the road but moved into town so that his sister could take over the home place but then moved out by the old elevator over behind where the old gas station used to be. Needless to say, it's hard keeping up with all that! Where was I?

Oh yeah, men and women. A quick survey of my badly-needing-to-be-revised blogroll shows that among My Daily Routine and the Walking the Walk sections, the blogs are about 50/50 male and female. I guess that's a good balance. The Big Shots and the more pastorly blogs are predominantly male, probably because there are more big shot male bloggers and male pastors.

Anyway, if I assume I'm normal (a real danger in itself) then I ask myself what is the problem with all the other guys? Have they been forced to endure too many recipe conversations? Have they found themselves trapped in too many fashion faux pas discussions? Well there is that possibility. I've been there too, brothers.

But I think what stands out to me is that our Creator has a plan for everyone. He made us male and female. Our gender tends to help determine our interests and personality just as our culture and upbringing does. Beyond our gender differences there are more differences until we come down to the point where we realize that we are all individuals with individual interests and individual personalities and individual temperaments and individual talents. All that should be obvious to us.

Still even with our individuality, we are social animals. We interact with one another, often having to reach beyond our own interests to maintain friendships and conversation. Even more, our interaction is part of the love we show to others -- whether part of the body of Christ or not.

I'm proud to be a ladies man, so to speak. And a man's man. Because I find that I learn a little something from everyone. The Lord uses most everybody to beat something into my brain, or at least to make me more understanding of other people and their needs and struggles, their joys and loves.

"Lord, continue to use each person you bring into my life to conform me more and more to Your image."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen

In this life I've seen everything I can see woman,
I've seen lovers flying through the air hand in hand
I've seen babies dancing in the midnight sun,
And I've seen dreams that came from the heavenly skies from above
I've seen old men crying at their own grave sides
And I've seen pigs all sitting watching, picture slides
But I never seen nothin' like you.
Do Ya - Electric Light Orchestra

I see trees of green, red roses too.
I see them bloom for me and you,
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white.
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night,
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands, saying, "How do you do?"
They're really saying, "I love you."

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow,
They'll learn much more, than I'll ever know.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Oh yeah
What a Wonderful World - Louis Armstrong

Over the past two months I've seen some mighty intriguing things. Nothing as odd as babies dancing in the midnight sun or old men crying at their own grave sides, but I've found them interesting.

I've watched an old man attempt to preach the gospel over a public address speaker in his Chevy to a crowd who was only annoyed by his presence. I'm a big fan of persistence, but I'm not a big fan of screaming Bible verses at people who don't care what the Bible says. Find another way to share, brother.

I've looked out the windows of a country club onto a perfectly manicured golf course. There I saw a golden retriever and a boxer have a swim in the water hazard and go tearing across a few sand traps. None of the country club members saw the canines marring the course. I stood quietly with a smirk on my face.

I've seen a woman fighting cancer. Each time she thinks a battle is won, another battle begins. Yet her faith remains strong that the One who sustains her will also save her -- whether on earth or in heaven.

I've noticed many who are still living with grief over the loss of a friend or family member. Whenever that loved one comes to mind, something in the voice will get either quiet and melacholy or harsh and bitter.

I've gazed into the eyes of angry taxpayers, furious that a project had gone many millions of dollars over budget. And I've seen politicians tell me something that I knew at the time was completely untrue.

I've watched a young man all but confess to killing another man over a wad of cash. He made his plea while his family called to him, "Don't admit to nothin'," and "They can't prove you did it." They thought he should accept no responsibility for his actions. One of the family members even muttered under her breath, "At least he still has 24 hours to change his mind," as if accepting his punishment was a huge mistake. In watching those people, I was reminded that there are far too many times we refuse to take responsibility for what we do.

I've seen community pride as a new public building was opened and dedicated.

I've seen patriotic pride in the eyes of a veteran on Memorial Day.

I've seen selfish pride in the attitude of a group of young women who thought too much of themselves.

I've seen human pride in the attitude of someone placed in a position of authority.

Finally, I've seen Christian pride among a group of believers gathered to call out to their God and to call attention to their faith.

And I think to myself, "It's not always that wonderful of a world, is it?" But the next one sure will be.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

God Plans Ahead

Weird. That's the word that keep coming to mind when I try to describe how I feel tonight.

I don't like missing worship services on Sunday -- especially as pastor. Last Sunday I was on vacation (a 24-hour vacation, but a vacation nonetheless) and so was not in church. Whenever that happens I just don't feel right. I need that corporate worship time. Like my cell phone beeping for a recharge, I've been spiritually dragging all week. But I knew that Sunday was coming, and I prepared my sermon and the whole service to honor God.

At our church, we have Sunday School, then coffee and donut time, followed by worship. But this morning at the end of Sunday School, a sweet old lady came mighty close to a diabetic coma. Her class is held in the sanctuary, so she sat in her pew only minimally conscious. Larry and June came in and noticed that Hattie wasn't looking right. When I looked, they were right -- Hattie looked wrong. The lady knew what it was immediately -- very low blood sugar. Hattie is a diabetic and so is Larry, so June knew what she was up against.

We tried to communicate with Hattie, but she was slipping in and out. June told Larry to go get their daughter Donna because Donna was trained for this type of job. On top of that Donna had brought her dad, Larry, out of similar states a couple of times.

Donna managed to get a cup of orange juice and a cup and a half of root beer down Hattie and after 15-20 minutes Hattie started to perk up again. In the meantime we called 9-1-1 and they managed to get to the church just as Hattie started looking normal again. Eventually they took her to the hospital to check her out (She was fine by then). The ambulance pulled out of the church parking lot at exactly the scheduled halfway point of the service.

So I had a 60-70 minute service and just over 30 minutes before everyone was planning on leaving. Right before we began, the pianist walked up to me and asked, "Well, what now?"

"Beats me," I answered. "We'll just let the Spirit lead."

For many that answer is trite. It's a "Christianism" to throw people off the trail so they won't find out that the order of service is written in granite. Today it was no "Christianism."

We started with prayer and testimonies. The Lord was leading many of us this morning. One of the testimonies became the "text" for my 4-minute sermon. We sang. But most of all we rejoiced in our shared experience. Hattie is loved by everyone, and her experience really brought us together.

So we had about 35 minutes worth of "church" this morning. And it feels partially unfulfilling. Maybe it's because I've got a great sermon that's going to sit on the shelf for another week. Or maybe it's because it wasn't a tidy service with all the loose ends tied up in a pretty bow. I'm not really sure.

But we really didn't have just half a service today. All that happened glorified God. And we saw His involvement. You see, Larry and June were planning on being at their lake cottage this weekend -- two hours away. They stayed home and were in the church only because Larry had a bad toothache and couldn't see a dentist until Monday morning. If June hadn't noticed what was happening with Hattie and knew what to do, things would have been much worse. Their daughter Donna has an odd work schedule and can't be at church three out of every four Sundays. This Sunday she was at church -- the person who had the knowledge, the training and experience for just such a sitaution.

The skeptic and the cynic would simply attribute all of this to coincidence and move on. But I know better. I know that God plans ahead.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Emotional Rollercoaster

I don't know how much publicity this story has received outside of the local area, but it sure tugs on the old heartstrings.

I won't attempt to tell the whole story, but here is the condensed version. On April 26 a semi crossed the median of an Interstate highway and hit a Taylor University van. Taylor is a small Christian college in northeastern Indiana. The reports came out that 4 students and one staff member were killed in the crash.
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Listed among the dead was 18 year old Whitney Cerak (right). Badly injured was 22 year old Laura VanRyn (left).

The dead were mourned and buried. The university awarded them posthumous diplomas. VanRyn's family stayed by Laura's bedside as she finally awoke from her coma and began to interact slowly with those around here. Laura's sister began a blog to share Laura's progress with hundreds of friends, classmates and well-wishers.

The blog reads like many similar journals kept to inform friends and family during a long illness. Laura began to make noises and eventually form a few words. At one point she was handed pen and paper and asked to write her name. This is taken from the post from Lisa VanRyn on Wednesday -- about 36 hours prior to the time I type this:

What may come to us as a shock, does not shock the One who made us. We have some hard news to share with you today. Our hearts are aching as we have learned that the young woman we have been taking care of over the past five weeks has not been our dear Laura, but instead a fellow Taylor student of hers, Whitney Cerak. There was a misidentification made at the time of the accident and it is uncanny the resemblence that these two women share. Their body types are similar, their hair color and texture, their facial features, etc. Over the past couple of days, as Whitney had been becoming more aware of her surroundings, she'd been saying and doing some things that made us question whether or not she was Laura. Yesterday, we talked with a Spectrum staff member and began the process of making a positive ID. We now know without a doubt, that this is Whitney.

The family who thought they had lost a daughter experienced the joy of seeing her back again almost five weeks after they had laid her to rest. The other family who had kept a vigil at bedside found that their daughter was long gone.

In one family I see the amazing rebirth and the words of the parable ring through my mind: "We had to celebrate and be glad. For he was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is now found."

Then I feel the gutwrenching heartache of the VanRyns, who have gone from watching their daughter making good progress to realizing that she has been dead for five weeks.

The latest post on the blog is from Carly Cerak, Whitney's sister. It has only been posted for two hours and already there are 70+ comments. Here is the heart of that post:

I couldn't get this verse out of my head as we drove down to Grand Rapids. I did not believe my sister was in the hospital; I thought for sure this was a mistake. When I walked into the hospital room I was shocked and overcome with joy. Soon after we saw Whitney, our family met with the Van Ryns and our joy for ourselves was pushed aside by the pain we felt for them. It is hard because our joy is their pain. The Van Ryns have been amazing to Whitney and we are privileged that if under any care besides ours that she was under their great care. However, we know the pain they now feel all too well and our hearts break with them. There is a deep connection that has been made between our families and together we look to God as we walk through this.

The heartening thing about each of these families is the faith they have shown in their own circumstances. There is every reason for bitterness from the VanRyns, but that is not what they have shown. One would expect the Ceraks to be unconcerned for the VanRyns, but that's not the case. Their own joy is tempered with acknowledging the hurt that is present in their own happiness.

God is our God in good times and in bad times. Perhaps there is no better example than this ride with two families on an emotional rollercoaster of life and death.

Please remember these families in your prayers.