Saturday, August 8, 2015

Faithfulness: It May Take You to Unimaginably Wonderful Places

Recently I was sharing with a group of lay ministers about the need for faithfulness. This group really doesn’t need to learn about being faithful… they tirelessly come alongside people in need and walk with those suffering in crisis or laboring under the frustrations of this life. But I wanted to encourage them to keep on being faithful, even when it seems their efforts aren’t making much of a difference.

I used the example of NASA’s New Horizons probe that recently gave us our first pictures of Pluto. When NASA launched the probe in 2006, if you were to draw out the probes trajectory, you would see that at the point of its destination, nothing was there… just empty space. And at times it feels like that’s where we are headed as we do ministry in the church, as we care for people: they aren’t getting better, their lives aren’t coming together… we’re going nowhere.

Or so it seems. If we could see the whole picture, we would notice that something interesting is on an intercept course with our projected path. And at the point of meeting, something amazing happens. We can’t predict it. We can’t orchestrate it. But we can remain faithful and discover what amazing moments lay in the future… a future perhaps years away.

I had one such moment this past week. Years ago, I worked with college students at the University of South Carolina. In fact, Merry and I started that college work at the school and I remember recruiting freshmen to come to social events and to the first weekly meeting. Two freshmen… high school sweethearts looking for another group meeting… stumbled across our gathering. They decided to stay. Over the next few years, Merry and I sought to love this young couple, share the love of Christ with them, and invite them into our home and lives. And just before her senior year, the young lady came to faith (the young man was a Christian before coming to school). I thought this was the high point… the great payoff for our faithfulness.

I was wrong. As I mentioned earlier, it came this past week while watching a promotional for Slugs & Bugs, a group that produces Christian children’s music. At the start of this video, three young boys talk about how wonderful the Slugs and Bugs music is because it teaches you about God. Who were these young children? The sons of that young couple that stumbled “by chance” into our first college meeting at USC. It was an incredible privilege to see the love Merry and I poured into those 18 year olds bear fruit, not just in their faith, but in the faith of the next generation! That was a destination I didn’t even dare imagine when we started that journey almost 20 years ago.

So my encouragement to you is this: you are not in control, so don’t try to outsmart your situation or manipulate the people you are seeking to love “for their own good.” Keep being faithful and you may be amazed by the things that end up on an intercept course with you: things so wonderful you didn’t dare imagine them.

You can find the promotional video here.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Good Friday Tornado Relief Efforts

I wanted to share with you both the destruction and the hope I saw today. Service International has been organizing efforts all week to help the people of Maryland Heights and Bridgeton as they cope with the devastation from the EF4. The scope of the damage was hard to take in and the massive effort of people from all over the St. Louis area was amazing.

I videoed some of it to share with you. Please pray for these families hit so hard and thanks God that no one was killed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Omni-Presence, the Mystical Communion of the Spirit and Non-Locality

This blog entry was first posted on "Mercy Corner" a couple of years ago, but I was teaching on the Holy Spirit recently and thought it would be of interest to some folks in our new church family.

WARNING: I get kind of geeky and philosophical here.

A colleague and friend posted this article on his Facebook page recently: Science, Spirituality, and Some Mismatched Socks, by Guatam Naik (you can find it here:

Being trained as a scientist and a theologian, I was fascinated with the quatum phenomenon described in the article. Quantum Mechanics is the study of sub-atomic particles (like electrons and protons), the things that make up those particles (like quarks and gluons) and the particle behavior of light (photons). (yes, Quantum Mechanics covers more than this but this isn’t a sceintific blog!) One of the inviolable laws of this science (or any science for that matter) is the fixed and unsurpassable speed of light: 299,792,458 meters/second. To put it in more tangible terms, the universal speed limit is the speed of light and at that speed you could circumnavigate the globe in 1 1/3 second.

Now, it is too complicated for this setting to explain all aspects of this experiment, but in 2008, scientists (Nicolas Gisin, pictured at left, along with colleagues and students) took two photons with specific characteristics (a certain spin), ‘entangled’ the protons with a laser (meaning there characteristics become related), shot these photons along two different fiber-optic cables of exactly equal length, to two Swiss villages some 11 miles apart. During the journey, when one photon changed characteristics (switching to a slightly higher energy level), its twin instantly changed its characteristics in a corresponding way (switching to a slightly lower energy level). But the sum of the energies stayed constant, proving that the photons remained entangled. More important, the team couldn't detect any time difference in the changes. “If there was any communication [between the particles], it would have to have been at least 10,000 times the speed of light.” There is some mysterious connection between these two things that defies space. The instantaneous relation between the two particles is refered to as ‘non-locality’; the aspect of these things that seems to defy location. Leading physicist Bernard d'Espagnat looks at this result and prompts him to affirm “life's spiritual dimension.” The writer of the article summarizes it this way: “Dr. d'Espagnat's big idea is that science can only probe so far into what is real, and there's a ‘veiled reality’ that will always elude us."

I firmly believe that the Creation not simply bears the marks of its Creator but reflects the nature of its Creator. We see this in things like the noumenal/phenomenal or ‘one and many’ tension of the world as it reflects the ‘one and many’ we see in the Lord himself (the Trinity). Perhaps we see more parallels here with this idea of relation that defies locality. Perhaps ‘non-locality’ is not quite the right concept but something connects things that is ‘omni-local.’ And so to the connection betweem the risen and still embodied Christ to his people as well as believers separated by half the globe is something that is real but difficult to conceive intellectually (Quantum Mechanics is wonderful at confounding the mind!). There is a mystical communion of Christ's Church within itself and with their Savior. To say that something is ‘mystical’ does not refer to its immateriality (just as the use of the ‘spiritual’ in the New Testament also does not refer to immateriality, but to refers to power over against the weakness of common flesh). Jesus is still an incarnated being and our union and communion with him and each other is not something solely between the constituent part of us that we call the spirit alone. In our whole being (body and soul), we are united to Christ and commune with his Church. And it is the Spirit of God who is this connection. We are bound, really and inseparably (unlike the ‘entaglement’ mentioned above) to each other through the mediation of the Holy Spirit.

This leads Paul to talk about how the shame of one part of this mystical body is the shame of it all. This has profound implications for us as we think of our brothers and sisters in poverty living a mile or two from our comfortable air-conditioned homes; as we think of our brothers and sisters facing persecution and famine in northern Africa; as we think of our brothers and sisters half way across the globe recovering from a devastating earth-quake or tsunami. Locality is irrelevant. They are us. Not in some kharmic sense, but in that we are one body. The mystical nature of the body of Christ is a wonderful and powerful thing. It’s a shame we don’t think on it as often as we should or treat it as the real thing that it is.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday Dinner: An Ordinary Gathering... an Extraordinary Community

We wanted to share with you an ordinary idea (having people over for lunch) that can have extraordinary results (people building community and loving each other well). Carla and Ely Britton had this idea and shared some of the results with us via e-mail (including a picture):

"Since Christmas we have been trying to get a few people from WCF over for dinner but kept running into scheduling challenges. We finally had the date set (at least 6 weeks ago) for 3/26. Then it snowed and the Gardners could not get out of their subdivision. Through God's grace... the food held until Sunday after church when we were all available... We would strongly encourage anyone to invite someone you do not know over for a meal. We had a great time getting to know one and other!!!"

Pictured from left to right: Kenny Jaworski, Steve and Megan Gardner, Ely and Carla Britton, Chris, Cari and Abby Lowe (photo taken by Chris and Cari's other daughter, Lauren Lowe, age 12).

Have you thought about inviting folks over for lunch after church on Sunday? Don't underestimate the power of good conversation over a shared meal. Something extraordinary might happen: you might find that the people around you really love you... and that you love them!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When Tech Says 'NO' But God Says 'YES'

“We have a tech problem with the video”

These are not the words I want to hear 15 minutes before a worship service. I went into the control room and some very knowledgeable and experienced tech people couldn’t figure it out. The computer was working. The DVD player was working. The switch box that controlled what appeared on the screens (computer or DVD) was working. Even the audio was working. But we could not get the DVD picture to show on the screen.

For a pastor, there are few frustrations greater then something going wrong with a worship service just before it starts. This was a big “NO” life was throwing at us… was throwing at “me,” so I thought in my self-centeredness.

So… at 9:28 am (service starts at 9:30 am), I went up to our substitute music director (our regular director was on vacation in Hawaii) and as he was playing for the prelude I told him that he would lead the worship service and that I hoped to be back very soon.

I drove to my house, not knowing if I had a sermon there (we rent space for our worship service and my office is split between my home and the Clayton campus of our church, 20 minutes away). I had some sermons on the home computer but our printer had broken just the week before. I had hard copies of sermons but I had recently moved them all to the Clayton campus… or so I thought.

There was a folder of sermons from James on a near empty bookshelf. I grabbed it and headed back to my car. I leafed through the sermons as I drove (yes… a bad call, I know). “No, not that one… that one doesn’t fit… maybe this one.” I hurriedly walked to the front of the YMCA theater and sat down to look over these very unfamiliar notes. And just then, one of my daughters moved over to my lap and began to cry, distraught that she had left her baby doll in one of the back rooms of the YMCA. I decided compassion from my daughter took precedence (though I wasn't sure this was the right call).

I walked up on stage with the most tenuous grasp on my notes, hoping that this would not be an unmitigated disaster. These are the kinds of moments that God orchestrates that He might show Himself more important than our preparation (though preparation is part of being faithful)… more important than our abilities (though He gives and uses them). Life might have been saying ‘no’… but God ended up saying ‘YES’ and it trumped all other things. God used our weakness to bring about a wonderful encouraging service of worship… because we were looking to Him. We had to!

The sermon series has been called, “How God Turns ‘NO’ into ‘YES,’” and we experienced some of that this past week at WCF. And it was sweet.

Let us know about your stories of God pulling the trump card and turning your ‘no’s into ‘yes’s.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Do We Say When We Talk about Japan?

You're watching the news... how do you respond to what you are seeing? Of course, our hearts go out to all those who are suffering and we should respond in some practical compassionate way to help them (Central Presbyterian is currently putting together a plan to get our folks involved with relief efforts... more on that later), but how do we make sense of these events?

Many people will say in the heartbreak of seeing the devestation, 'how could a loving God allow this?' This is a very good question... not simply because it's to the point, but it's honest.

The most rudimentary form of this question takes this shape: why do bad things happen to good people? Who has an answer to this question? Do Christians have an answer? Does the Bible? Does the pastor have an answer? When I am asked this question, I let people in to my own struggles with it. I don't hope to have some "objective" justification for suffering but I do present what I think is a personally satisfying resolution to suffering.

So, to ask the question again: "why do bad things happen to good people?"... well, I am not sure what qualifies as 'bad' and I am certain 'I' don't qualify as good (I don't mean to speak for anybody else). Oh, I am not a man guilty of capital offenses, but I am guilty of pride that has broken the hearts of my wife and children. I am guilty of brutal selfishness, offering less than my best efforts at work and therefore less than what I am paid for, thinking other people are not as important of me and at time wishing other people would simply disappear... certainly the root of murder. I am not a good person. Therefore, whatever joys I have in this life are more than I deserve.

And defining 'bad' is also more difficult than at first glance. Our personal definitions of 'bad' and 'good' matter a great deal. They depend on what we think are worthy goals... right goals in our life. Is happiness our pursuit? Pleasure? Knowledge? What? 'Bad' is usually defined as something that hinders us from these pursuits, death being the ultimate 'bad'. Yet, we all face death.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a man with a bright future in Soviet Russia. He had education, a keen mind and an ability to write. He served faithfully in the Red Army but his criticism of Stalin in a personal letter to a friend led to his imprisonment in a labor camp. Was this 'bad'? Solzhenitsyn wrote about his imprisonment and how it changed him... in his mind for the better:

"It has granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of my youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first strivings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and then all human hearts”

(from Cancer Ward)

He later wrote:

“And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me, bless you, prison, for having been a part of my life.”

Perhaps we call some things bad because we simply don't have eyes to see the good.

Japan, however, falls into the category of horrific. I don't have a great answer for it except to say that I believe God will redeem all pain and death in the resurrection - that restoration of our bodies and reuniting of body and soul... that God himself, who is good, suffered the most horrific evil (death on the cross and the suffering of divine wrath) to accomplish this. We either chose to take refuge in this or face a bleak "unyielding despair" (Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's Worship"... see below for the full quote) without him. And this is no answer at all.

Bertrand Russell, from A Free Man's Worship
That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end of they were achieving; that his origin… his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism… can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all labors of the ages, all the devotion.. all the noonday brightness of human genius are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system… are so nearly certain that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand…. [O]nly on the firm foundation of the unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"In Their Own Words..." No. 2: What Is Being a Parent All About?

Here is another entry in our "In Their Own Words..." series. This time, we ask about parenting.

So... what is being a parent all about?

What do you think? Add your thoughts in the comments section.