Monday, June 19, 2017

Not Forgotten

"God has no abortive processes or forgotten [people]."

Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner wrote this in his Ecclesiastes commentary, reflecting on the enigma of time and enduring work of God (3:1-15). Allotments of times, stages of life, and seasons come and go. Humans, like dogs, return to dust (3:16-22). The fruit of our labors ends up in the hands of other men. We are, all of us, forgotten.
But God does not forget us. None of us:

From the second story window of Martin's Supermarket, I watched a widow walk to her car. Her husband died two years ago. Her grief has lost its edge. Those who accompanied her through the valley of the shadow of death have moved on to more current crises. They forget her unless they see her. God does not forget her.

I talked with a former missionary after yesterday's service. He spent no more than two terms abroad. He returned home with little to show for his great sacrifice. He toiled in various trades until retirement rolled around. Most people see him as a kind old man, forgetting (if they ever knew in the first place) his contributions to God's kingdom. God does not forget him.

A young man confessed his struggle with pornography recently. Over the years, some close friends challenged him, prayed for him, encouraged him. The young man made progress and relapsed and progressed some more. Years passed since his initial confession. The struggle, although lessened, lingers, but his friends have forgotten his regular need for accountability. God does not forget him.

Recently some peers shared their struggle with infertility. They had moved beyond "just trying" to various forms of intervention. They called on doctors and drugs to increase their odds. They asked friends to call on God. Each month marks a failure to conceive. Each new birth announcement, often shared by friends who have momentarily forgotten their struggle, resurfaces their pain. But God does not forget them.

Add to these personal accounts, the biblical narrative, replete with barren wombs, enslaved people, aging prophets, and unfulfilled promises. Waiting, wandering, and exile describe a vast portion of the biblical plot. Their plight results from their forgetting God.

Bud God does not forget them. "[He] has no abortive processes or forgotten men." None of us.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Show Care and Listen Hard

Listening is hard work. I especially feel this after preaching a sermon. (My congregation probably feels this during the message.) Post-sermon conversations are shrouded in fog. I'm coming off a holy mountain, my bald head shining with perspiration but bereft of thought. I stutter through small talk, nodding and blinking and shifting my weight. I have to pin down my thoughts and focus my eyes; they tend to wander.

This happened again yesterday. Ironically, I began our worship service with a call to Hear others' hearts. It is the second principle of our current theme: Show care to show Christ.

Up until a month ago, I explained this opaque phrase with anecdotal stories. But a recent session at a church leaders' conference compelled me to Brand and Wear my church's mission.* So I did what every good pastor would do: I made CARE into an acronym and a purchased a T-shirt with our meme.
The acronym took three or four iterations, but I finally landed on the following:

Sphere of influence -  pray God uses you where He places you
Hear their hearts - approach others as an active listener
Offer help or hospitality - let your home and hands give credence to your words
Words of hope - let God speak through you when the time is right

I am currently in a CARE campaign, Teaching the theme on Sunday mornings and Wearing the shirt midweek. I've noticed when I wear a shirt advertising my church, I'm not self-conscious, but wearing a shirt saying "Show care to show Christ," has helped me redouble my friendliness (or zip up my hoodie).

So back to my bad listening: Following the sermon I engaged someone in conversation. I asked a question and received a response. I asked another question. Another response followed. By my third inquiry, I realized I was less interested in answers than filling air space. I registered the words the woman said, but her heart was far from me. And when I looked into her eyes, I could tell: they brimmed with tears.

The man who had just taught the "Show Care" brand (and wore the shirt to sell the theme), failed to apply the product. Listening is hard work if the goal is to hear another's heart. I paused, letting the air space stretch out. I confessed to God my callousness. I asked the woman another question, but this time tuned my ear to her heart. It beat.

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*Dave Ferguson led the session at the RightNow Media Conference. He shared the BLESS theme of Community Christian Church (CCC), as an example of developing "missional intentionality" in his people. BLESS, like SHOW, is an acronym. Ferguson borrowed his template for creating cultural change at his church from Andy Stanley, whose process includes six-steps: "Name It, Brand It, Wear It, Teach It, Institutionalize It, Recognize It." Dave Ferguson did not wear a shirt that said "BLESS," but the graphics people at his church designed some cool signage.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Bathing in the Morning Breeze

I took a sensory bath* this morning. By the light of the waking sun, under the cover of a thick fog, to the melody of a hundred birds, against breath of a gentle breeze, I ran. My calves pumped, feet skipped, arms danced, and brow perspired. My morning jogs summon echoes of Eric Liddell: When I run, I feel God's pleasure.
Image result for when i run i feel his pleasure
While the love of running is not universal (a straw poll of fellow church members yesterday proved the point in a 14-2 vote against running), the human impulse for sensory pleasure is. We all enjoy having our sense of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell stimulated. For some, the smell of charcoal spells ecstasy. For others, the sight of rainfall moves their soul. Most kids like to spin. Adults opt for floating down a lazy river.

Somewhere along the way, culture mistook sensual for sexual and turned pleasure into an adjective for adult store paraphernalia. When society insists on seeing humans simply as evolved animals, it is no surprise we lift all restraints and celebrate every sexual impulse.

But sex alone is not the problem. The God-given gift of sensual pleasure has also been distorted by gross indulgence in food, media, sports, material goods, and chemical enhancements. Consumerism does not offer a sensory bath, but a deluge. In Why Everything Matters, Philip Ryken's exposition of Ecclesiastes, he writes: "Most Americans today experience more pleasure than most people in the history of the world. Yet in spite of our prosperity - or maybe because of it - we still suffer from poverty of the soul. The taste of pleasure has grown our appetite for this world beyond satisfaction" (pg. 31).

Ryken goes on to argue "God is not a spoilsport." He wrote sensual (or sensory, if you please) pleasure into the script of human existence. Such pleasure was intimately anchored to his presence in the Garden of Eden. Our ultimate longing is to be at rest with God. Our penultimate pleasures should always point heavenward.

Followers of Jesus need not blush when we consider sensual pleasures and sensory baths. (Disclaimer: I was not naked when I enjoyed my sensory bath this morning, but my shorts were short!) Instead, we must recover the fact that God created us to become loving cultivators and mindful curators of pleasure. Consumers of pleasure selfishly indulge; connoisseurs of pleasure gratefully receive.

I implore every child of God to enjoy a sensory bath. Taste and see (and touch and smell and hear) that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).

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This post was inspired by my sermon entitled Pleasure from Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.

* I learned the term "sensory bath" from an Empowered to Connect parenting training Liz and I attended for foster and adoptive parents. Many "kids from hard places" have sensory-processing issues. Sensory baths employ exercises (e.g. spinning) and tools (e.g., weighted blanket) to engage the senses to heal the mind. After the training, we sandwiched our daughters with pillow cushions, and they loved it. The neuroscience of the sensory bath is fascinating, and underscores our God-given potential for healing, not just emotionally, but I imply above, spiritually. Our senses can help reconnect us to our Creator.